Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett launched his Senate re-election campaign today at the QUT Gardens Theatre in Brisbane. Bartlett has been a federal Senator for Queensland since 1997 and is now seeking his third term. Around 250 people turned up today for the launch and heard a speech from former Queensland Democrat senator John Cherry, endorsements from high profile citizens such Julian Burnside and Frank Brennan and finally the keynote speech from Senator Bartlett.
The launch was kicked off by Democrat State President Liz Oss-Emer who asked Aboriginal elder Aunty Carol Currie to issue the welcome to traditional lands. Then former Senator John Cherry spoke. Cherry was a trenchant choice of speaker. His defeat in the 2004 election by 1 per cent after 159 counts elected Liberal Russell Trood and handed control of the Senate to the Government for the first time since 1981. Cherry stated he was the victim of an electorate that “forgot to think” and it must not happen again. Cherry stated that the Democrats were instrumental in turning the Senate into the most powerful and effective house of review in the world prior to 2004. They now have three months before the next election to put their case and urge the voters to “think before they vote”.
There then followed five testimonials. Julian Burnside QC described Bartlett as “completely honest” and performing a crucial role in senate committees. Yassmin Abdel-Magied (young Australian Muslim of the year 2007) praised his support of Muslim youth. Afghan born and former Nauru detainee Chaman Shah said that Bartlett was the only politician who gave the detainees hope. Bobby Whitfield of the Liberian Association of Queensland praised Bartlett for his practical approach and support for those marginalised and oppressed. Finally Frank Brennan paid testament to the “power of good” Bartlett did especially for minority groups.
Andrew Bartlett began his own speech by thanking those who turned up. He appealed to his supporters to take the campaign out in the community as he cannot compete with the advertising budgets of the big parties. He said Senator Cherry reminded the audience of how the Democrats began after the constitutional crisis of 1975. Bartlett pointed to the pledge made by former Queensland Democrat Senator Michael Macklin where he promised not to abuse power by blocking supply and bringing down the government. Bartlett made a similar pledge.
Bartlett then launched into policies. He was critical of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices legislation which he said “must go”. Bartlett called for more flexibility in the workplace without exploitation of employees. He re-affirmed his commitment to fight nuclear power and condemned what he called “the drastic decline in numbers of Senate enquiries”. Bartlett said we needed laws to protect our freedoms and called for a Bill of Rights.
Internationally he supported those in China, Vietnam, Burma, West Papua and Zimbabwe who fight for freedoms we take for granted in Australia. Bartlett claimed that the independent voice of the smaller parties gave them greater freedom to speak out on human rights issues. However he also supported “those who have no voice” in this country. He pointed to the example of ex-service personnel who are often neglected on their return.
Bartlett opposed what he called the unrepresentative views that emerged in 1998 in Queensland epitomised by the Pauline Hanson scare campaigns. But, he said, it was not about opposing Hanson herself but opposing the anti-refugee actions supported by both major parties, as well as opposing the “anti-migrant dog whistling” and the public attacks on African and Muslim refugees. Bartlett pointed out there was a great diversity in the wider community “if only we listened to them and gave them the opportunity to speak”. Bartlett said a strong democratic framework does not occur by accident, it must be encouraged.
Bartlett then went onto indigenous policy. He said the first priority must be clearing the massive backlog of land rights claims. The Stolen Generations report needs to be addressed as well as the Stolen Wages Inquiry. Bartlett said that “no one should wrap themselves in the flag” without acknowledging that Aboriginals lack what most of the rest of the population enjoy. He also said the wrongs of the past cannot be undone but must be acknowledged. Bartlett supported the move to protect NT’s children but it needs sufficient resources to make it work for as long as it takes not for “the ten second grab”. Bartlett said he wanted to see action taken against child abuse in all communities.
Bartlett then addressed the problem of growth in greenhouse emissions. He said the Democrats were responsible for the first parliamentary enquiry on the subject in 1991 and that government inaction since then amounts to “culpable negligence”. He said the decisions we need to make are tougher now than they were 15 years ago. The issue demands “honesty, common sense and working together” and everyone must change their behaviours. Bartlett discussed his own goal to be carbon neutral, cut emissions and offset the rest through a trading scheme.
Bartlett then discussed taxation and said “the easiest thing to do is offer tax cuts”. But Bartlett reiterated the Democrat position since the 1980s that what was required was indexation of income tax thresholds. He also reiterated his position against the proposed new dams in Queensland at Traveston and Wyaralong which he condemned as a “waste of money”.
Bartlett concluded by saying this federal election was “like no other” and Queensland was a key battleground. He exhorted his supporters to “take on the job to continue the fight”. He said the Democrats offer the community a “strong, effective voice for the issues that matter”. He closed the launch by repeating his campaign slogan “choose common sense” and asked his supporters to make every vote count.
Andrew Bartlett is a former leader of the Democrats and is now its deputy leader. The party has been long embattled with a declining vote in the last two elections. They could lose all parliamentary representation in the next election. The term of all four remaining senators (Bartlett, Andrew Murray, Natasha Stott Despoja and leader Lynn Allison) expires in June 2008 with both Murray and Stott Despoja announcing their intentions not to re-contest.
In 1997, he was chosen by the Queensland parliament to replace Cheryl Kernot after she defected to Labor. In his maiden speech (11 November 1997) Bartlett described his first political experience as a nine year old helping his mother hand out how-to-vote cards for the DLP outside his local school. The event introduced Bartlett to political disappointment at an early age; the DLP was wiped off the political map in that election.
Andrew Bartlett graduated in arts and social work from the University of Queensland. During this time he also played in local bands and became involved with 4ZZZ community radio both on air and behind the scenes. After a year of social work, Bartlett got his break in politics in 1990 when he was appointed electoral officer to Democrat senator Cheryl Kernot. After three years he left to work for another Queensland Democrat senator John Woodley whom he served until his own appointment to parliament.
Bartlett is a strong Senate campaigner, a thoughtful blogger and an active citizen who is often found at protests, demonstrations and public meetings throughout Queensland and elsewhere. He has served on numerous high profile parliamentary commissions including A Certain Maritime incident (Siev X) and is a strong believer in the power of the Senate as body of review.
With his party polling at five per cent or under and a strong challenge likely from Larissa Waters of the Greens, it will be a very tough ask for Bartlett to win re-election. In his favour is his strong image of integrity and excellent record in the Senate. Depending on how well he does on preference deals with the slew of other parties expected to line up, he may yet be returned to parliament for a third term.