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The Government Just Isn't Very Good At It.

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 12 Dec 2013

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (19:14): Mr President, during my contribution I will have to bear that in mind as well.

The PRESIDENT: That is very good.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, so keep an eye out for me. I hope to be heading west at 800 kilometres an hour by the time the adjournment motion is moved tomorrow night, which is obviously the last sitting night for the calendar year 2013, so I hope you will forgive me for taking the opportunity tonight to offer up a few reflections on life and work in this place. As anyone who is watching the ongoing debacle of the Western Australian count, recount, court challenge and so on would be well aware, there is nothing quite like a political near-death experience to remind you how much you value your time in here, your colleagues, the achievements and challenges and, most of all, the huge privilege we have to work in this place.

If anyone is watching this on a ratty little YouTube video after the fact or is listening on the radio, I can confirm that the chamber is basically empty, as it so often is, particularly at adjournment time. So my audience tonight is, with great respect, not the people in here but mostly people outside this building, particularly people who could not be bothered to cast a vote on 7 September. They either did not turn up at all and risked a fine or showed up and, as our scrutineers discovered-and there were an alarmingly large number of people who did this-took the time not to vote but to draw reasonably detailed renderings of genitalia or make some sort of swearing contribution on their ballot paper.

A lot of Australians do not vote. Younger people or people who are simply disillusioned for whatever reason-because of the general idea that no matter who you vote for some politician always seems to get elected, because of some affinity with Russell Brand's spectacular rant over not bothering to vote because the whole system is just a waste of time or because of the view that their vote does not matter, that there is no point-this is partly for you.

I take this opportunity to congratulate my government colleagues for making their way over to those benches and commiserate with my ALP colleagues. It has been fascinating to observe the Abbott team, who were so brutally effective in opposition-and hats off to them for it-turn out to be absolutely hopeless at being the government. It has been absolutely hilarious. They are just not very good at it. The more practice they get, the worse they seem to become at it. It is extraordinarily entertaining. They are like the kid who accidentally ties his own shoelaces together. They are stumbling around from debacle to disaster in a series of spasmodic policy lurches that would be hilarious if people's lives were not being ruined all over the place.

We have heard, even earlier on today, quite a bit about a mandate-'Respect my mandate'-from Tony Abbott and various others in the government. But this is one of the most perceptive things that I think has ever come out of Mr Abbott's mouth. He said on 1 December 2009, coincidently the first day he was the Leader of the Opposition:

Oppositions are not there to get legislation through. Oppositions are there to hold the government to account, and unless we are confident a piece of legislation is beyond reasonable doubt in the national interest, it is our duty, as the opposition, to vote it down.

That was actually quite perceptive. It was quite an effective rendering of what it means to be an opposition or a crossbench senator in here. I am not a member of the executive. Your mandate as the executive depends on your ability to weld together a working majority in the House of Representatives and to be able to pass legislation through this parliament. The people who voted for me and the people who voted for the majority of those in this chamber did not vote to have you destroy the effective action we have managed to pull together on global warming, which is surely the most significant challenge that confronts our country. They certainly did not vote for me to just wave through the kinds of obscenities that are occurring at the moment in the name of the national interest, depending on various tortured definitions wheeled out by George Brandis.

The PRESIDENT: Order! You need to refer to someone by their correct title.

Senator LUDLAM: Thank you, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: You asked me to interrupt you, and I did.

Senator LUDLAM: I warned you that you would need to keep an eye out. Senator Brandis is a manifestly inadequate Attorney-General because we are seeing the global surveillance industrial complex reeling under a steady drip of revelations as to its inner workings-and these won't stop; this is probably just the beginning. At last the truth is starting to come home here in Australia. The government's formidable foreign policy objective of alienating a different country every single day has been a profound success, with Timor-Leste most recently added to that list. Well done on that!

It has obviously made parliament a really interesting place in which to work. In the last sitting fortnight we have been able to block the reintroduction of temporary protection visas, have I think taken a big step towards rescuing university funding, have stepped up in defence of the Clean Energy Act and most recently the Climate Change Authority, have forced your spectacularly awkward backdown on schools funding-and I think most people are still trying to work out exactly what it is that you are up to-and have brought a measure of honesty and common sense to the national discussion about government debt.

It is said that calm seas do not make good sailors. I am very pleased to report to this chamber, on behalf of colleagues and friends back home, that there is a remarkable feeling of determination setting in within the Greens. We have had a big surge of new members and it has been a delight to see new energy come into our tough and resilient party. I am very proud of everything that we have achieved. I am a bit daunted by what is to come but confident that collectively we are up to it.

I farewell Felicity tonight, who has been working in my office for five years, effectively, since day one, and who is off to an extraordinary international adventure. Thanks, Flick, for everything that you have contributed to getting us this far. And I farewell Giovanni, who has left us and is also leaving our shores. I think it is good to get out of this place from time to time, because it reminds you when you get back what an extraordinary place this is. Thanks to both of you, for all your dedicated work in getting us to where we are today.

I particularly want to thank everyone who put their hand up to be a candidate in 2013, as you took your place to represent and advocate for our collective work. You made us proud, you made me proud and you made a difference. In whatever capacity you are out there working for a green future, either big 'G' or small 'g', make sure you rest up, take time out to appreciate everything that is good about our home state and try to unplug from the churn, at least for a brief spell. I am offering this advice freely and unsolicited to all my colleagues in this place. The work is relentless. We are away from home a lot of the time, away from family and away from friends. I hope everybody manages to get a good break and come back refreshed.

If you are listening to this and you think your vote does not matter, just consider for a moment the margin in the ballot in Western Australia, which is still up in the air. Tomorrow we will have a directions hearing in the High Court and we will see where that goes. Senator Pratt, who is here, is strung up in exactly the same awkward situation as I and a number of other candidates are. The margin swung between 14 votes or maybe 12 votes or possibly even one vote. If you are out there and you think your vote does not matter, bear that in mind for a second. Perhaps one individual said, 'I can't be stuffed; what on earth is the point?' That vote could have been the one that swung the outcome in a different direction and changed the balance of power in this chamber, in the Australian Senate. That is how powerful your individual vote is, whether you know it or not.

Having worked with people from Burma and Tibet and with Palestinian refugees, and having spent time in detention centres with people who have fled war, terror and totalitarianism overseas, I know that a vote is a precious thing. If all you do with your democracy is drop a piece of paper into a box every three years, then you are doing it wrong. Democracy is obviously about a lot more than that. But at the very least I would encourage people to take another look at the shenanigans and the goings-on in this place.

Mostly we are people of good heart. Most people who show up here-not necessarily in the Greens but in the major parties-take a big pay cut, and most people turn up here to serve, one way or another, our view of what the public and the national interest is. Sometimes it can all go wrong at an institutional level or once you scale up these collective endeavours, but nonetheless most people show up in here, I think, with goodwill and a willingness to serve. I have very much enjoyed my time here and look forward to many long years, with Senator Pratt and with others, as we bring the Green agenda forward.

Senate adjourned at 19:24



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