House debates

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Matters of Public Importance

Local Government

4:09 pm

Photo of Alan GriffinAlan Griffin (Bruce, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

Given that the member for Blair is still here, I will start with a few comments about his contribution on the matter of public importance. Members might recall that earlier today the member for Blair started with a quote from Macbeth, who was ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripped’. I think he got the wrong Shakespearian experience. He should have seen Ian McKellen’s recent fantastic performance in King Lear. That play is about an old king, a king who has had a long rule, but beneath him all is not well. What we see is a situation not dissimilar to that facing the Howard government. We see the siblings on the front bench all fighting amongst themselves about who will take over and what will happen next. We see them continually briefing journalists. They are very, very unhappy. Initially the king sits above it and does not quite know what is going on. But, over time, he eventually descends into a situation which is nothing more than tragic; he is just losing it. That is probably the most appropriate Shakespearean play to use when talking about the Howard government today. Beyond that, what else can I say about the member’s contribution? We had references to fat posteriors and patsies—not a lot of it parliamentary and not a lot of it relevant. Then again, that is what we would expect at this time, in this place, in this sort of debate.

Before that, we had the contribution from the member for Hinkler, who introduced the matter of public importance. He talked about cynical and ham-fisted policies. I must admit that I was not paying attention when he said that and I was not sure who he was talking about. Apparently he was talking about the Premier of Queensland, but I thought he was talking about the Prime Minister. When we look at some of this and the movement that has occurred on this issue in recent times, that is what we have actually seen.

The member for Hinkler also said that the Labor Party’s approach to this issue is inconsistent with the approach it took to the Kennett coalition government reducing the number of councils in Victoria. His rationale for Kennett’s actions is that Victoria is infinitely smaller on a geographical level, but I had a funny thought here. Although it is obviously something that we must take into consideration, I thought this was about people, about population. I thought it was about a democratic process and not how many square kilometres councillors represent; it is about the number of people they represent. It appears that this government’s rationale for taking action to ensure democracy is based on the area represented, not the number of people, and I think that is sad.

The member for Hinkler made an interesting point about a conspiracy theory. He said that this is about reducing the number of conservative councillors and reducing the gene pool of conservatives in the coalition in Queensland. I would like members to focus on that for a second. He said that what we are going to do is reduce the gene pool of the Queensland conservatives—reduce the gene pool, or puddle, of the National Party in Queensland. I thought they had been doing that pretty well themselves. As a conspiracy theory, it appears that the gene pool has already been hit, and pretty hard. The drought in Queensland and around Australia is not only about water.

I ask members to focus for a second on the notion of John Howard as a champion of local democracy. How often have we seen that? Can anyone suggest when we have seen that? We all know—and we have seen it consistently in the way he has reacted in recent months—that there is only one poll that counts for this Prime Minister, and that is the next opinion poll. He focuses on the next opinion poll and what he must do to get himself out of the mess that he has got himself into. I suppose there is one other factor—that is, it depends on who produces the poll. We all know that if it is a poll that the PM wants to listen to—that is, a poll he will take notice of—it is best if it comes from Mark Textor. We all know that Textor gives him his lines.

I quote from an article by Sid Marris from 7 August:

Mr Howard’s latest confrontation with the States follows the revelation this week of a warning from the Liberals’ pollster Mark Textor that the Coalition was unpopular and needed to capitalise on voter discontent with State governments.

Frankly, that is what we have seen today. We had the ridiculous situation at the start of this debate, before matters were brought to order by the Deputy Speaker, of several members of the coalition getting up and trying to make a cheap political point about the fact that the Leader of the Opposition was not present during this debate. I might add, when they were speaking, neither was the Prime Minister present. Why did they make that point? For a pretty clear reason: they see this as an opportunity to try and drive a wedge, because that is what it is all about. The points of order they raised were about that, and the nature of the contributions to this debate so far by both speakers on the other side was exactly that.

But we can make some points about this issue. Labor believes that, with forced amalgamations, people want and are entitled to have their say on the matter. We do not oppose that; we have supported it. In fact, more than that, who actually said it first? That was back in May, and who was it? Was it the Prime Minister? No, it was not the Prime Minister. It was the Leader of the Opposition, who made that fact very clear.

There is another point that the coalition really have to get their head around: on one hand it claims we are controlled by the states and in a situation where we do their bidding and yet, when Kevin Rudd is clear that on occasions when he disagrees with the state government he will take action or an alternative position, we get attacked. There is nothing consistent about the coalition’s actions on these issues—nothing at all. Their only consistency is in trying to take a state issue and create a federal political impact. That is what it has all been about.

But Kevin Rudd has been clear about this. He has been clear about the fact that he does not support forced mergers of local councils. He supports a local choice and a local voice for the people of Queensland. He sees that as an important principle that should be maintained.

As I understand it, it was not until 7 August that we saw some action by the Prime Minister on this issue. It took him a long time to catch up, as it has taken him a long time to catch up on climate change and on so many other issues, particularly over the last year or two. We continually see him make mean and tricky attempts to capitalise on issues, but he is always behind the game—a man who really is not up to scratch now on the challenges we face as a nation into the future.

I will come back to the point about Victoria and what happened with amalgamations down there. The fact is that it was completely driven by the conservatives, and at that time there was not a boo out of the federal coalition. We all know what John Howard’s real attitude is to things like local government. In 1988, when Howard was Leader of the Opposition—


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