What’s happening to politics?

The tragically popular political art of beating up on asylum seekers has got me thinking again about what parliament would look like with more Peter Andrens in it. http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s1727860.htm

Geraldine Doogue: I’m curious to find out why people to go into public life and whether It is a worthwhile aspiration?

Peter Andren: Well I’m afraid that too many go in power hungry. They go in wanting to be a minister.

Geraldine Doogue: Is that a bad thing?

Peter Andren:
Well perhaps not, perhaps not. But I think on the way you could lose sight of some important matters. And I think you have to compromise, I mean I can’t put myself in the head of a party politician because I’ve never been one and never wanted to be one. But I know so often, they’ve said to me I wish I had the freedom to speak up on that matter, but I can’t.”
Peter Andren:
It was definitely a sense that we were overturning everything I thought Australia stood for. A fair go society, one that should and could handle even hundreds of refugees at a time to at least process them humanely. It was about dignity of the individual. And to so see this opportunity. I could see it as a political opportunity that was being grasped, to turn the direction of public opinion and the agenda for the upcoming poll. And I said at the conclusion of that that if this is the way to win government in this country then it’s a poison chalice.

Geraldine Doogue:
What happened after that in the subsequent days ?

Peter Andren:
Well I returned somewhat shaken to my office and Tim Paine my wonderful assistant at the time said, that was fantastic. And I thought well yep, I hoped it was and I felt that I had done the right thing. But I noticed in the parliament as I was speaking there was a sense on the government benches that they thought I’d put my foot in it in a big way and that I’d undone my election prospects. I sensed that. There was nothing said. There were some interjections made that I can’t recall now. But a fair degree of hostility. So I went home that night to the flat and I got down on my knee and said, God help me.

Geraldine Doogue:
Because you felt so what, exposed?

Peter Andren:
I felt exposed, I felt that it was going to be – it was a big call. Here the government, the Prime Minister had been involved in it personally to ask me to facilitate what he was presenting as an absolutely crucial piece of legislation that had a lot to do with our national security. And as the night went by I started to get phone calls from people who said, well done. You may feel lonely down there but stick with your conscience, along those lines.

One of those who phoned him was the Anglican Bishop of Bathurst Richard Hurford.

Richard Hurford –Anglican Bishop of Bathurst:
I felt that he should know that I wasn’t just one of those people who say, oh well I’m part of the silent majority. But some of those who are not in the front line as he is in terms of our political life should know that there are those who are praying for him, wanting to support him in his public life, and who really value his authenticity.

In supporting the Asylum seekers the major parties were convinced that Peter Andren had committed electoral suicide but he became more popular than ever increasing his primary vote by 11 per cent in the 2001 election, transforming his electorate into the second safest seat in the country.

Antony Green: (Election coverage 2001)
And if we look at the seat of Calare, Peter Andren has been returned with an increased majority…

Brian Costar, Professor of Politics Swinburne Uni:
Peter Andren’s ability to increase his majority in the 2001 Federal election in the wake of the Tampa probably has to be one of the most interesting case studies in Australian politics of recent years.

About 16% of those surveyed on the Tampa issue said that Peter Andren’s stance had changed their mind.

Bob Brown, Greens Leader :
Peter Andren gave the people of Calare the leadership that John Howard failed to give to the nation. And we’re all the poorer that Peter wasn’t the Prime Minister, John Howard was.

Geraldine Doogue:
How much do you think it is your duty in a way…
to shift a bit in line with community sentiment. Because there could be an argument that there has been a shift in this community, there’s been some extraordinary changes worldwide, a-la September the 11th, we have found out things that have disturbed us, and in a sense it is the requirement of our representatives to shift a bit.

Peter Andren:
Well I can only be consistent in adopting a process of analysing every piece of legislation or whatever motion before the parliament. And as I did with the Prime Minister’s Iraq motion supporting our troops. Now I moved an amendment to that saying of course we support our troops, but we should not become engaged in that conflict without the specific approval of the United Nations Security Council. And that, at that point represented I think 70 to 80% of the Australian population at that moment. And yet we have a government moving contrary to public opinion.

Geraldine Doogue:
But you could be behaving just as you’re saying the big parties do. Like if you for the sake of argument ignore or decide that your electorate’s fears aren’t justified aren’t you repudiating them?

Peter Andren:
Well I take as many steps as I can to explain my position as issues are coming up. I mean obviously with something that’s introduced in half an hour into the parliament, a rushed piece of legislation, you’ve got to make a snap judgment. But I’m happy and comfortable in taking a position on matters of controversy that may in the short term I believe be not supported by the majority…”

And also:

“Bob Brown, leader of the Greens, ventured the view that most politicians still come to this demanding and thankless work because they want to make a difference. Yes, maybe, but if we put their values to one side for the moment I think we can see the result of a generational transformation in our career politicians — at least at the national level. The terrible work of intra-party politics, of committee work, of selling the Government’s, or the Opposition’s line on a whole range of policies weighs so heavily on these overworked people that they scarcely think about their constituents — except at election time when they feel a little more vulnerable. The branch party members have vanished. But there is something more: politicians no longer recognise themselves or understand what they do in received notions of Millean representative democracy and popular sovereignty. Collectively at least, as members of a Party, an Opposition or a Government, they no longer believe that sovereignty lies with the people. That notion has been stood on its head. For them professional, grown-up, big-league, politics is about aggregating and managing big interests. For the most part they no longer believe that it is their duty to obey public opinion but rather that it is their job — with the help of an army of media advisers and spin doctors — to bend, cajole, and manage the public into an
acceptance of whatever the system can deliver within whatever parameters are set by big interests operating in an increasingly globalised economy. Grassroots, face-to-face, town-hall, and party branch-based democracy of the post-war and later Whitlam times is now eclipsed as a motive force for big politics. Political communication is done through the Media. My point then is that nation-building could only make sense to this generation of professional politicians as a tightly managed top-down process.”

Michael Pusey, ‘In the wake of economic reform…new prospects for nation-building?’, in Australia Under Construction, ANU e-press

In lieu of a parliament of Peter Andrens, I hope plenty of Labor MPs do the decent thing and stick their necks out.