There's real power in the margins

THIS week I am torn about what to write about. This is not due to a lack of inspiration so much as too many issues, statements and events that incense me.

I thought about writing about Tony Abbott suggesting anyone who questions the content of a free trade agreement or the looming Trans-Pacific Partnership is xenophobic. This ridiculous statement belies the demonstrable negative impact these agreements and the reckless pursuit of trade liberalisation have had on Australian agriculture and manufacturing.

I thought about writing about Warren Truss’ hypocrisy lecturing people about their need to stop their excessive expectation on the public purse while spending over twenty-one thousand dollars on a charter flight to tell them. I am not sure if it was arrogance or simply that he can’t recognise what acting with a gross sense of entitlement is.

In the end though I think that enough people are appalled and incensed by these clowns and probably even more terrified by the alternative. Herein is the real issue: we can all talk about it, but how do we fix it?

It is easy to be critical of the political circus in front of us. It is easy to be an armchair expert and declare from the safety of our home, or the bar, what should be done. It seems many people may prefer to talk about how things should be done in the safe belief that they can’t make a difference anyway. Too many start with the assumption that things can’t be fixed and we are too insignificant to make a difference. Too often I hear: “That is all well and good, but how can you make a difference anyway?”

Here is where we find the real rub. We can make a difference and the proof is all around us. This is why I remain committed to the process and ideals of the Country Party movement I co-founded.

Where is the proof, you might say. Well, let’s start with the fact that there are seventy regional seats in the federal parliament of Australia. That is seventy out of one hundred and fifty. That is a lot of seats that should have major concerns about the ongoing centralisation of power and the increasingly disconnected and disinterested bureaucracy shunning us.

In the last election, Cathy McGowan won the more-or-less safe Liberal seat of Indi in rural Victoria. On her own it is a lonely fight in Canberra, but what she achieved is very significant because she took a seat from one of the big boys based on a community campaign. She made a safe seat marginal.

I have spoken about this in previous blogs. I proposed that marginal seats get more favourable political attention by both sides of government in their pursuit of the balance of power because small swings make a difference. Tony Windsor has given us some proof.

In Tony Windsor’s book, he recalls a conversation with Barnaby Joyce about securing essential and reasonable funding for hospital and road upgrades in the electorate. In that conversation, Joyce volunteered that until Tony Windsor withdrew from the 2013 election race, the Coalition would have funded essential hospital and road upgrades. After Tony withdrew, these funding commitments evaporated, proving that ours seats need to be marginal to be assured of fair and favourable political treatment.

Further to this admission, as appalling as it is, is a stunning indictment on Barnaby Joyce, a Cabinet Minister, that he can’t secure the necessary funding for his electorate unless it looks like he might not be able to win his seat.

What value is there in him as an MP?

Coming back to my main point, we can make a huge difference to how regional Australia is regarded politically in this country by running serious candidates in Lower House seats with the express purpose of making these seats marginal.

The incumbents will deliver the funding commitments we deserve based on what we earn for the country rather than just how many people live here. Ultimately, these candidates do not even need to win to deliver the necessary political outcomes we need, they just need to be competitive so that the incumbents can’t take the win for granted - we saw this in the recent NSW election.

The only criticism I have of Cathy McGowan’s campaign is that it is simply too hard to replicate the political infrastructure required in her seat across the rest of our regional seats and the movement behind her is not focussed on regional issues to be leveraged successfully for our needs.

As an independent, Cathy and other independents remain politically isolated and so far unable to leverage a wider rural influence.

Furthermore, there is no effective way for independents to leverage an outcome in the Upper House, where a few good men and or women can make a huge difference even without Lower House counterparts.

It is in the Upper House that we can make the difference for rural and regional Australia. Tragically, this is where the Nationals, who currently hold the seats, do not make the necessary difference.

So, it is essential that there is a credible and committed movement that is active and co-ordinated across regional seats that can be branded to simultaneously contest the both houses of government.

This is why we need another sustainable, credible and undistracted rural and regionally focussed political party in Australia.

This is how we can collectively win back the political respect and serious consideration we deserve in Australia. This is how we can make a difference and deliver action in addition to our assertions, and I believe we owe it to our kids and to ourselves to get on with it.


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