From Integrated Questions

Can the Democrats Side-Step Questions They Dislike?

Last night I attended a YACSA Pizza and Politics night in town. About fifteen people showed up to listen to short presentations from:

Senator Simon Birmingham – Federal Liberal Senator and #2 Senate Candidate for SA;
Ruth Russell – Lead Democrats Senate Candidate for SA;
Sarah Hanson-Young – Lead Greens Senate Candidate for SA; and
Tony Bates – Lead Family First Senate Candidate for SA.

Unfortunately, the ALP representative was a last minute apology.

The presentations at the start of the night were fairly routine. They all ran slightly overtime and were full of the standard policy statements.
Simon Birmingham proved himself an articulate and confident voice, with a sound understanding of a wide range of issues. Though I disagreed with a number of his positions, I was impressed with the depth and bredth of his knowledge.
Ruth Russell was her usual self and seemed to love to name-drop. You’d have thought she was stumping for Senator Stott-Despoja between ideological flights of fantasy with, seemingly, minimal groundings in hard facts or data.
Sarah Hanson-Young was a fairly typical young Greenie – fiery, passionate, and angry.
I have to give bonus points to Tony Bates. His speaking style was perhaps a bit reserved and formal for such an event and his spiel was not especially convincing. However, he was willing to come to an event where he was unlikely to have any supporters (and indeed, everyone present was anti-family first). That takes a certain amount of courage and determination. His willingness to engage with us was not unimpressive.

The question period went for over an hour and was by far the highlight of the evening. Numerous questions were answered and several things became apparent.

* The Democrats and the Greens agree on so much they could practically be one party.
* The Democrats like to say “Natasha Stott-Despoja” an awful lot. You could be forgiven for thinking that it was the Stott-Despoja Party and not the Australian Democrats.
* There is a big difference between experienced, competent candidates and fresh faces.
* Family First is not the pure evil it is often made out to be.

I was surprised when Mr Bates explained that Family First had a policy of completely free tertiary education. I was also somewhat appalled. I am, and always have been, fully against free tertiary education. The current pay-when-you-earn-enough system is fairer and more effective in my opinion. One could mount an argument that the current thresholds are too low, or the rates are too high. Overall though, it seems to me that it is unreasonable to ask people who are earning below the median wage to pay for other people to earn above the median wage.

I was less surprised when Mr Bates explained Family First’s manufacturing policy. They are protectionists. I have seen this policy from them several times before, it is effectively an infant-industry argument and I am curious as to how well they could implement it. Personally, I think many Australian industries have been coddled for far too long. If they aren’t export competitive after sixty-years, they aren’t going to be.

Ruth Russell had to before the night finished, as did Sarah Hanson-Young. So, unfortunately I was unable to ask them my question. Fortuitously, Sandy Biar and Aleisha Brown stood in for Ms Russell. Mr Biar is the Democrats candidate for Adelaide and I have met him on several previous occasions through student politics at the University of Adelaide. Ms Brown is their candidate for Makin. I had never met her before, but know her name from around campus where she is the current President of the Democrats Club.

I asked them to explain how they reconciled Compulsory Student Unionism with a belief in Freedom of Association. Ms Brown demonstrated her inexperience in a stammered and broken response in which she outlined the importance of student services and how they have been cut since Voluntary Student Unionism was introduced.
Mr Biar then stepped in and delivered a more articulate response, albeit one that contained no additional content. I was most disappointed. The Democrats were once a bastion of civil-liberties and civil-rights. They now seem to be a collection of angry, bitter radicals.

After the formal proceedings closed, there was some opportunity to mill around and speak to the various candidates. I spoke with Sandy Biar about the VSU question I had raised and he indicated that he actually supported VSU, though that was not Democrats policy.

This came as a shock to me. What happened to the Democrats being a collection of like-minded individuals who were not hampered by a need to toe the party line? Is this indicative of a broader change within the party? Are the Democrats now as restricted as Labor and the Liberals? Does the policy of conscience voting exist in theory alone?

Events such as last night’s YACSA Pizza and Politics are phenomenal means for young people to interact with their representatives and candidates. My only regret is that the evening couldn’t last longer.

Furthermre, it seems to have had a limited impact on my voting intentions. My current intentions for the House of Reps remains the same (an unfortunate state of affairs induced by my disdain for the Liberal’s Tracy Marsh and wariness of Sandy Biar, leaving me little choice but Labor’s Kate Ellis). My impresions for the senate race have modified slightly. Family First shall move from their traditional place at the bottom of the ballot, to be replaced by long-time competitor for last place by One Nation. Family First will now sit at second-to-last (unless a particularly nasty one-issue party stumbles along). Simon Birmingham was fairly impressive and I’ll probably include him in my top ten.

Yes, I vote below the line. Always have. Always will. This year I aim to meet every Senate candidate for South Australia and every candidate for the seat of Adelaide (along with as many other candidates as I possibly can). I suspect that shall be quite the tall order. This blog will hopefully record how I go and detail a few interesting meetings with politicians of various stripes and sizes.

Edit: I fixed a few spelling-errors and added the hyperlinks. Daniel. (22:30 17-Oct-07)

2 thoughts on “Can the Democrats Side-Step Questions They Dislike?

  1. actually, there’s a big difference between the greens and the democrats.the democrats voted for the gst, the greens don’t.the greens have principles, precedents, and policies. The democrats make up policy as they go, and they even vote against their own policy at times… see’s pretty rich to write off the greens with a handful of words when you’re trying to make an informed vote below the line in the senate. you say you won’t vote for the liberals or the democrats in the lower house, but you refuse to consider the greens’s great that you’re seeking to meet candidates and hear what they have to say. but there are many more candidates for you to meet.


  2. I know there are differences between the Democrats and the Greens. I could argue about whether they count as large or otherwise for months.My point, poorly stated as it was, is that at the event they presented a nearly identical view on everything. There was nothing but the personality of the candidates to differentiate them. Indeed, more often than not the Greens response to the question started with “Actually, we broadly agree with what Ruth just said”.The Greens have principles, precedents, and policies? Yeah, I’ll pay that. I disagree with many of their precedents and policies, but they do have a nicely developed set.The implication you make that the Democrats lack these things is as accurate as it is well-considered. Precedent is set in history and though you may not like the Democrats precedent, they have definately set their fair share – else you would not be able to flog the dead horse that is the GST vote. The Democrats policies can be found here. As for principles, I believe if you read this key principles list, you’ll find that they also have some of them.As for the Democrats making up policy as they go along. Yeah, it’d be nice to see a larger set of developed policies from the Democrats. However, I have to give them points for being willing to admit they got it wrong and change their position. Far preferable to parties locking into an ideological mindset which turns everything black and white, for us or against us, with us or evil. None of the parties, not even the Democrats (perhaps, especially not the Democrats), are willing to review their policies with vigor and an open-mind. None of them are willing to admit they got it wrong. None of them are willing to admit that what is brilliant today may be woeful tomorrow, and what was woeful yesterday may be brilliant today. Times change. Policies and legislation need to change with them.I don’t think I wrote the Greens off with a handful of words anywhere in this post. Show me where I did so. Certainly, I did not talk in great deal about them. That had little to do with my opinions on them and much to do with not seeing anything new or interesting from Ms Hanson-Young on the night.I note that you do not complain that I wrote One Nation off with out an explanation of any sort. For that matter, I wrote Family First off with little reasoning, despite having expressed how impressed I was with Mr Bates.As for the House of Reps; I only discovered that the Greens were running a candidate for Adelaide tonight. If I have not seen their name on an event (or a stobey pole), then they’re just going to have to wait until November 2nd for the AEC to declare nominations and for me to find out. There are plenty of candidates who are actually getting out and talking to their would-be electorate to keep me busy until then.That said, I will be attending the Australian Conservation Federation’s “Our Future Environment – your call” Public Forum on November 1 – which the Greens candidate for Adelaide, Peter Solly, will be speaking at.This is the only event listed on the Greens page for Mr Solly.


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