Sunday, June 19, 2005

A bad outcome, and some other possible factors for Petro's recent stand

I stood as the Greens candidate for Kooyong (against Petro Georgiou) in 2001 and 2004.

In 2001, Kooyong received the highest Green primary vote % of any conservative held seat in Australia (10.7%, +6.67 swing)

In 2004, Kooyong received the tenth highest Greens primary vote in Australia (12.54% +1.82 swing) despite a very negative "anti Greens" PR campaign waged by the Murdoch Press and the Liberal and National parties. Kooyong was one of only 3 seats in Victoria that swung (-1.36%) against the Liberals. The others were Corangamite and Higgins.

In both elections, my platform included ending mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

While Petro has taken an admirable initiative in proposing his private member's bill on ending mandatory detention (I have sent him two emails of support), it think it is interesting to note that:

  • He has nothing to lose by this initiative as he is on the outer circle of the Howard government.
  • He has had an undistinguished career on the backbench for 8+ years. There is not really much to show for his claimed "influence in the party room".
  • He has been losing votes in a blue ribbon seat - Kooyong is now held by less of a margin (9.58%) than Aston (13.15%), which was a marginal seat in 2001.
  • He stands to gain votes on this issue in Kooyong, where the treatment of asylum seekers has been causing a lot of ongoing serious concern for both conservative and ALP voters.
  • He has now done a deal with Prime Minister Howard and gained some concessions, but not ended mandatory detention, in exchange for not tabling his private member's bill.

The outcome looks to me like it is being regarded as:
  • a "win for Howard" - softening the Liberal's stance slightly (but little substantive policy changes). Letting the children out of detention is a good thing - but they should never have been there in the first place.
  • a "win for Petro" - for his bold initiative and "taking on John Howard". He has gained a lot of uncritical media on this issue - despite not having delivered much. He has not succeeded in ending mandatory detention.
Unfortunately it is a loss for Australia as we still have a policy of incarcerating innocent people - in breach of their human rights - as a deterrent against more coming, and we have granted further discretionary powers to a minister (Vanstone) who has proven her reluctance to use them.

It is also a loss for our democracy. Yet again, our parliamentarians don't have to vote on an issue that is of critical importance to the social health and international reputuation of Australia. Howard has gone to extraordinary lengths to stop the proposed private members bill.

Every vote in parliament should be a conscience vote, rather than along the "party lines" which are written by apparatchiks.

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