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)