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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 3290


Mr PORTER (Pearce) (19:35): The people of Western Australia face a historic Senate election. For the second time since Federation, WA will be the only child of Australian politics. Minor parties and independents of near infinite variety have emerged to each claim status as the greatest friend of the state. Ten candidates in the election do not even live in WA. One recently said that he might visit, if there was a compelling reason to do so. Whether it is a compelling idea to represent 2.5 million people—I think you should at least meet one of them—that will be for the Western Australian people to decide. Perhaps the most dubious minor party claim to best-friend status has received the greatest attention, that made by the Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. As a Western Australian, I found his short speech sufficiently distressing to warrant this even shorter response.

Senator Ludlam, you criticise the Prime Minister for using three-word slogans but then explain the Greens' vision as for a country that values 'education, innovation and equality.' Aside from being characteristically vague and, perhaps, a little trite, this is a three-word slogan. Another three-word slogan springs to mind: four legs good, two legs bad. That is six words, but you get the point. In any event, double standards are not the issue.

Senator, you criticise the Prime Minister for taxpayer funded travel in the course of doing his job, but you did so in a speech you wrote on a plane, which was a part of the taxpayer funded travel that allows you to do your job. But cheap shots can be lived with.

Senator, the closest you come to economic analysis is to characterise the world of government as a binomial choice between what you call 'predatory capitalism' pitted repetitiously against the public interest. In this zero-sum game, you claim the Abbott government consistently chooses against the public interest. This is because, in your words, it is on the side of a number of groups that appear in your speech as the villains of the piece: biotech corporations, oil and gas companies, uranium miners, a US intelligence agency, and, last but not least, the very scary sounding Hollywood copyright industrial complex. The truth is of course more complicated. Capitalism is not always, or even particularly often, a purely malign predatory force that consumes the environment and destroys individuals. Neither is it, of course, always perfectly beneficial. The predominance of government tempered free-market capitalism in our social and political systems has acted as an engine of amazing growth and prosperity. The harnessing, by the free market, of humanity's natural desire to better their personal circumstances by growing wealth has led to fantastic technological and scientific advances and the immense improvement of the human condition, in direct parallel.

To me, Senator Ludlam's economic analysis is unsatisfying because it is more simple caricature than complex economic reality. But, importantly, this disagreement can be aired without calling you names. What I find so thoroughly depressing about Senator Ludlam's speech was the swift and casual descent into deeply serious personal abuse—the type of mean spirited vitriol that represents the worst excesses of poor parliamentary conduct.

Outside the confines of the privilege that protects parliamentarians, if one citizen called another a racist or a homophobe, it would be a very serious defamatory matter indeed. But, in parliament, Senator Ludlam accused the Australian Prime Minister of being a homophobe and a heartless racist. The only basis for the accusation of homophobia appeared to be his personal and temperately expressed view on the statutory definition of marriage. The accusation of heartless racism the listener must infer, rested simply on the basis of the coalition's policies designed to stop the people smuggling trade to Australia's shores.

Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom of marriage law reform. Likewise, disagreement may be expressed on the merits of offshore processing—although dispute with the proposition that coalition policy has so far worked to stop people smuggling, and is thus saving lives, is increasingly hard to reasonably sustain. However, surely even the most robust disagreement does not require labelling those that take alternative views on such issues as racists or homophobes. Border protection was a central election policy supported by a solid majority of Australians. Senator Ludlam's disagreement with the views of such Australians does not warrant them being labelled as racists. Change to the definition of marriage involves a complicated intersection of public policy, faith and conflicts between group and individual rights. It is a deeply personal issue for many and those Australians who have reservations about such a change do not deserve, on Senator Ludlam's standards, to be called homophobes.

The last parliament was tainted by a slide away from civil argument and a descent into personal abuse. Senator Ludlam's speech was no doubt aided in 'going viral', by favouring the later over the former. In my view, there are prices too high to pay for publicity.