Another letter to an expat friend


Dear Gill,

We’re halfway through the election campaign and not a day goes by without a swag of promises.

One of the latest, and this will amuse you, John Howard has become the champion of Tasmania’s old-growth forests!

This emergence of his environmental soul will last just long enough to persuade greenish conservatives on the mainland that they can vote Liberal in the Senate with their consciences intact.

But the Senate campaign is only the support act.

Labor has pulled off a coup in the main game by securing Green preferences in marginal electorates. This could put them over the line in quite a few seats. In exchange, Labor will direct Senate preferences to the Greens. Oh what a tangled web they weave . . .

Maybe it was always so, but I get a stronger sense these days that voters are really hungering for political representatives who are straightforward and transparent and not handcuffed by their parties.

Gone are the days when people running as independents were almost universally seen as egotistic losers with more ambition than sense. There’s quite a bit of interest in independents this election.

Peter Andren, from Orange, in the electorate of Calare, is a phenomenon. Last election (his third win) he secured 75% of the final vote. And he was totally upfront about his sympathy for asylum seekers “ and this was in the ‘Tampa election’!

He refuses large donations to his campaign “ doesn’t want to be beholden. And he doesn’t direct preferences. He has educated Calare voters to make up their own mind about who they give their preferences to. As a result he has made how-to-vote cards virtually redundant in his electorate. (Now wouldn’t that be a boon for the environment!)

In the adjoining seat of Gwydir, Bruce Haig is again taking on John Anderson, the Nationals leader. Bruce is an ex-diplomat and served on the Refugee Review Tribunal. He is one of RAR’s firebrands. He’s a farmer these days, although I always think a rather unlikely one. I get the sense with Bruce that he is just itching to get back into public life.

But this election he is being realistic: he wants to peg back the Nationals’ vote and get the issues that matter to him onto the agenda: Medicare, Telstra, public education.

But perhaps most of all “ truth in government. Bruce is truly passionate about the way the Howard government has corrupted the public service, about basic freedoms that we have lost or are in danger of losing, about the overly close relationship between the Prime Minister’s office and the Australian Federal Police.

Further south, in Hume, which takes in part of the Southern Highlands, another farmer is standing as an independent: Arthur Schofield, ex-president of his local Liberal Party branch. He’s probably been expelled now that his nomination is in.

I met Arthur through Cootamundra RAR. Each time I’ve seen him in recent months he has chuckled gleefully about the prospect of being tossed out of the Libs. He reckons the Howard Government is ‘a rump of the US Republican Party’ and that John Howard ‘has Bush’s arm up the back of his shirt’.

Arthur is having a tough time mounting a campaign because he’s basically doing it on his own “ and the shearing is on. He farms 1000 acres on his own. His wife says she is worried that he is doing too much and that the farm they’ve built up over 30 years will suffer.

Politicians who have left their parties and continue on as independents seem to suddenly become human beings. A few days after he was dumped as the Liberal candidate for Wentworth, Peter King attended a pro-refugee rally and spoke out against the Howard government’s treatment of asylum seekers. Didn’t hear a peep out of him while he was a Lib. He’s got a chance of knocking Malcolm Turnbull’s ambitions on the head.

Tony Windsor (ex-National) is another one. Early last year, when Peter Andren was trying to get the parliament to debate whether Australia should join the war in Iraq, Tony Windsor stood beside him. Five votes were needed for the debate to take place. Not one member of the ALP joined them. Minutes before, several Labor MPs had addressed an anti-war rally outside the Parliament. But in the chamber they sat on their hands.

I don’t care how good their reasons were “ it was pathetic. They were complicit in closing debate down, in silencing dissent.

Thank God for the independents. They are as close to transparent and straightforward as we are likely to get.
Some news next week on the belated campaign ‘launches’ “ yes, I know you thought they launched their campaigns nine months ago, but that was just the taxpayer-funded preliminaries.



Keeping track to keep Australia’s overseas aid on track. Anthony B Zwi, Natalie J Grove, Maria-Theresa Ho, Medical Journal of Australia. Volume 183 Number 3. 1st August, 2005

Terrorism, poverty, rank high in public mind. Matt Wade. The Sydney Morning Herald, 12th September, 2005.

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