(Excuse this being a little bit old, but I’ve been a bit busy the last couple weeks.)
Before I go any further I think I need to make one thing clear – any time I write “new paradigm” I’ll donate $10 to charity – so when I say it was nice to see some evidence of the new paradigm last week in a speech made by Greg Hunt, you know I mean it.
Now Greg Hunt, I think I can say without too much fear of contradiction, has disappointed me more than any other Liberal MP. This of course doesn’t matter much given my life or this blog is not generally geared to going around praising Liberal MPs. But Hunt has disappointed me more than all the rest.
Because he was the one I liked the most.
I only came to know Hunt in 2006 when a mate of mine told me about Hunt’s Masters’ thesis on environmental policy, which argued for a market based system for pricing carbon. I watched him throughout that year and 2007 and thought him a smart performer. He also did well in the early period of opposition.
At the end of 2008 I did a recap of the political year comparing the two front benches in cricketing terms (as always seems easiest when talking about politics), using the analogy of the first year as the First Test in a best of three series. Here’s what I wrote of Hunt then:
The other young bowler, Greg Hunt, has impressed with his leg spin. He is future Captain material, and with better fielding may have returned better figures. He is a dasher with the bat as well, and looks to be given a greater role in the next two tests.
So not exactly holding back in my praise was I?
But when he stood by Abbott over the dumping of the ETS (horribly bad and in need of repair though that legislation was), well that little part of me that thinks maybe one day I’ll vote Liberal (yeah I know, a very little part) died.
I think he made a dopey decision because I look at Turnbull now and I don’t see him having paid too dear a price for crossing the floor. In the end talent will out; there was no way Abbott could have been able to keep him on the back bench; and his stance would have boosted his credibility in the long run with the moderate side when his time came to go up a level.
And now when I see him talk about direct action, well hell, the bile it rises…
What will that happen to his career from here? Who knows. But I still have hope for Hunt, if only because a speech he gave on the last Thursday of the first sitting week.
I didn't mean to hear it – I was only listening because the Green’s Adam Bandt was due to give his maiden speech, and maiden speeches are often interesting listening.
Hunt was up giving his address in reply to the Governor General’s speech. Quite often these speeches are used as opportunities by Government members to blather on about how great the Government will be, and for opposition members to blather on about how bad the Government will be (check out Senator Abetz’s speech on 30 September as a prime example). Others use them as a chance to thank their staff and all who helped them get elected, and then they outline the areas they want to focus on in the next parliament, and then they either blather on about how good is the Government or they blather on about how bad is the Government.
Hunt however took a massively different tack. Embracing the changed parliament, he announced he was not speaking as a member of the Liberal Party:
… we come as national legislators, irrespective of our party and irrespective of our origin. It is in that third capacity that I wish to address and respond to the Governor-General’s address-in-reply today. I will have ample opportunity elsewhere to set down the local agenda for Flinders and the portfolio agenda in the area of environment and climate change. This is the one chance to set out in this particular, unique parliament the three primary legislative agendas I have as an individual member of parliament on a non-partisan basis for this coming term.
What followed was an amazingly personal and well composed speech.
Now as a guy with an Economics degree I hate any policy based only on personal experience. It usually leads to dumb results. It’s the whole, “I know someone who got pregnant to get child support, so we should get rid of child support for single mums” type result that irks me.
Go for the full data and evidence and then make your policy.
But that doesn’t mean policy should never start from personal experience. In fact all good policy should – after all why is any policy devised if not to impact on people’s lives somehow – there has to be a reason for it. The important fact is that the personal experience gets tested by the data and the evidence and the costs weighed up.
Let me begin first with my own family situation. The last time I saw my mother before she passed was in a mental health institution in Goulburn. She suffered from a form of bipolar related to manic depression. It is not something about which I have talked much. I do not want to overstate the circumstances. Her condition was not permanently debilitating but it was significant.
The final occasion on which I saw her was in the institution in Goulburn and it was a shock. I mean no disrespect to those of good faith who served that institution, but it was a difficult circumstance. It has stayed with me ever since I saw her for the last time in 1992. When she passed away subsequently, I was overseas and she was living at home.
Now long time readers of this blog (yeah, you seven know who you are) will know that I am a big softy. Heck I’ll watch the Pantene Advert every now and then just because I like to see if it will still get me emotional (it does). So when I was listening to Hunt speak, I have to say it was getting a bit dusty. I couldn't imagine getting through saying those words of Hunts were I him and not having to stop and compose myself.
Hunt then outlined his purpose for speaking:
As a consequence of that fact, I was approached recently by the Satellite Foundation. The Satellite Foundation is an organisation dedicated to assisting the children of mental health patients or mental health sufferers. There has been much good work done over recent years in this parliament about the issue of mental health, work done on both sides of the chamber, but it is unfinished business.
One element, however, which I believe to be entirely inadequate is the subject of the work of the Satellite Foundation—that is, the care, protection, development and maintenance of those children of mental health sufferers, those children who have parents with much greater debilities than that of my own mother, Kathinka Hunt. It is a need that is profound and significant in the cases of many children throughout Australia today.
So the first legislative goal which I will pursue as a member of this parliament, not as a member of either party, and on which I will seek bipartisan support is to work with the Satellite Foundation to establish a national program for the children of mental health patients.
So it’s not just a case of do “anything” – and it is not about him – in fact he downplays his own experience.
Hunt then laid out the stages and programs he’d like to see legislated:
I would like to see two elements to this program agreed upon during the course of this parliament. First, that there should be a national program of camps for young people under the age of 24, not just under the age of 18, who are the children of mental health sufferers.
The second element of this program is that there should be a permanent national counselling regime set in place across state and territory borders, which will give these young people a way forward during the course of their life and a sense that there is national support, state support, local support, and above all else community support to make sure that they do not walk this journey alone.
Sounds bloody reasonable to me.
He followed this by announcing the second area he was going to focus on getting some legislation through the parliament:
The second program which I want to deal with as a member of parliament rather than as somebody who is partisan either way—so working with members on both sides—involves a very simple task—that is, to establish a school to give parents of vision impaired children in Victoria the choice as to whether or not there will be specialist education for blind and vision impaired children.
Maybe there are good reasons why this should not happen. I’d like to hear them.
And not to be satisfied with two things, Hunt went for a third:
The third of the personal goals which I will work towards with both sides of this House is a national Indigenous blindness program for the eradication of avoidable Indigenous blindness in Australia.
There are 3,000 Indigenous people who have lost vision from avoidable cataract blindness and that is 12 times more than the national average. In addition, what we hear from Professor Taylor is the belief that 94 per cent of vision loss in Indigenous Australia is avoidable.
He then ended in the most magnanimous way one could:
There will be many opportunities for partisan issues and for grievances across the chamber, but with respect to my mother for the first time in this House I acknowledge the conditions she suffered and I hope to be able to do some good work for others in that space.
I will cut this speech short in respect of the historic opportunity for the member for Melbourne to give his maiden speech in representation of his party.
Now I have never professed to be an expert on health policy – and one would always like every disability or illness covered to the maximum amount by the Government, and of course that cannot happen. But hearing Hunt do what must have been like ripping open a scab he thought nearly healed (but which of course never perfectly will) I desperately wanted to see the full evidence and data on his three policies analysed.
Personal, strong, clear, supported, impassioned, heartfelt.
I did listen to Bandt’s speech, but despite it no doubt being very good and important given his status as the first elected Greens’ MP, it didn’t resonate.
For me the speech of the day had already been given.
Let us have more of the same.