Woolly Days attended the Politics in the Pub session tonight at the Brunswick Hotel, New Farm. Organised by the Community Action Network and New Farm Neighbourhood Centre, the session was attended by the candidates of the Brisbane electorate with the one notable exception. Yet again, a Liberal candidate absented himself from a community forum. This time, it was the turn of Ted O’Brien who failed to make the event and "offered his apologies".
The seat of Brisbane has been held by Arch Bevis since 1990 and he won in 2004 with a margin of 3.9 per cent. Bevis is a Labor front bencher and Shadow Minister for both Homeland Security and Justice and Customs and he was one of six speakers who did attend, the others representing Family First, Socialist Alliance, the Greens, Australian Democrats and the CEC. The session was chaired by Jason Wilson of Youdecide2007.
Family First (FF) candidate Mark White was first to speak. White started off by saying a passionate society began with a passionate community. White said democracy is precious and pointed out how lucky we were compared the problems in Pakistan and Burma. He said FF protected some of the less-privileged members of our society such as those on disability pensions, those affected by Workchoices and new arrivals. He said immigrants “need our compassion” and FF does not see them as “economic commodities”. He also said the party supports an increase in foreign aid. He found it “offensive” when people portrayed FF as extremist. He said the party had acted strongly on policies such as tax deductions for first-time home buyers, child care choices, reductions in the fuel levy and is in favour of imposing a carbon tax which does not disadvantage low income earners. He said the Senate contest was crucial this time round and endorsed Jeff Buchanan as a “sensible and committed” candidate to join Steve Fielding in the Upper House. He pointed out that FF voted with the government on 110 bills out of 197 which was a 55:45 split that showed the party's dedication to balance.
Arch Bevis was the second speaker. Bevis is seeking his seventh straight term as the member for Brisbane. He began by talking about climate change which he said was the “major national issue” dominating his thinking. He said Australia had “dropped the ball” on climate change in the last decade. He said under the Keating Government Australia was a major world player in global warming discussions and the lead up to Kyoto. By the time Kyoto was signed in 1997, John Howard was in power and he argued for a rise in Australian emissions which Bevis said was “an odd thing to do”. The Prime Minister then failed to ratify the Protocol. Ten years later and Australia does not have a seat with full voting rights for Kyoto 2. Bevis pledged that Labor would immediately ratify the Protocol and pledged a 20 percent reduction in energy targets by 2020.
In health, Bevis reiterated Kevin Rudd’s provision of $2.5 billion in funding and lauded Rudd’s promise that “the buck stopped with him”. He went on to discuss Workchoices which he denounced as “unfair and unAustralian”. He said that workers in the US have better rights than here, which he said “would have been laughed at 10 years ago”. Bevis said he was a union official and appears in those anti-union Liberal ads. But he said he was proud of the work he did as a union official. He warned that the government intervention in IR law was not yet complete. He quoted Senator Minchin whom he called “one of the Liberal hardheads” as saying the government would abolish the award safety net after the election if it won. “If after 25 November John Howard is still Prime Minister,” he said, “don’t think you’ll see the end of reforms”.
The third speaker was Ewan Saunders from Socialist Alliance. He began by saying this election was historic for “lots of people he knew” that only knew a Howard Government in power. He said Rudd’s Labor were not a real opposition and “not much of an alternative” to the government. He said the Socialist Alliance was founded in 2001 as a “desperate need” for a party to stand for workers’ rights. He said they would “tear up” all of workchoices, as opposed to Rudd’s “Workchoices Lite”. He said they would also deal with climate change “the issue of the century” by reducing 60 per cent of emissions by 2020 and 90 per cent by 2030. “Tomorrow is too late to act” he said. He also said the Socialist Alliance was opposed to such measures as nuclear power, the NT intervention, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the anti-terror laws. He said Socialist Alliance was an activist party that takes grassroots action for working people in Australia and around the world.
Elizabeth Guthrie from the Greens spoke next. Guthrie runs her own Interior Design business where she provides her clients with economically achievable and ethically sound design choices. Guthrie began with an allegory of a fire in the forest where all the large animals argued on the best way to put it out. Meanwhile while the arguments raged, a hummingbird was taking tiny drops of water from the lake to the forest to put on the fire. Guthrie said she was like the hummingbird “doing all I can” by standing as a candidate for election. She said she was unlikely to win in “a safe Labor seat” but was determined to “speak for the people in my electorate”. Guthrie said the Greens had “well rounded policies” but preferred to speak about the underlying values. “People want to be represented by an accountable, responsible government,” she said. “I’m prepared to stand up and fight for what I believe”. She finished by saying this election was “your chance to take a drop of water to the fire”.
Don Sinnamon from the Democrats spoke next. Sinnamon said that although “John Howard does not know what an apology is”, he did and proceeded to say he was sorry for the sufferings of indigenous people. He said people “were sick of the election” and the media had turned it into a litany of false choices such as Howard v Rudd and Howard v Costello. He said the election was a chance to “make our voices heard”. He decried much of the government agenda including its castigation of the hundreds of thousands of marchers against the Iraq war as “a mob”, the unfair treatment of the unemployed, asylum seekers and those in same-sex relationships. He said the silence of the ALP on these issues was “disgraceful”. He said Australia needed a Bill of Rights, citizen initiated referenda and direct democracy. He finished by saying the country “needed democracy, not a dictatorship of special interests”.
The final speaker was Nick Contario of the Citizens Electoral Council (CEC). He said that there was a looming global meltdown of financial systems due to the sub prime mortgage crisis in the US. He said Australia’s large public debt left it vulnerable and there are 1.8 million people who are ‘mortgage stressed’. He said the country was “living beyond our means because we have destroyed our means”. He said the CEC would reinstitute a government owned national bank and would restore “essential economic infrastructure” that would turn Australia into a “truly sovereign nation state not just a quarry”.