Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hunting for something new

(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.  13911-opposition-spokesman-greg-hunt

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.

Well Greg Hunt last Thursday put forward his personal experience for some policy. And I found it shatteringly well done:Greg Hunt

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.


Ashraf Ghebranious said...

Wohoo! First to leave a comment....

Unfortunately nothing to add. :)

Welcome back Mr Grog.

L said...

Yeah, welcome back! I haven't actually read the post yet but I'm sure it's good.

Anonymous said...

yup, you're back with a vengeance!

Good to see this; I hadn't seen Hunt's speech reported elsewhere. Nice to see there are some humans on all sides - and I agree, this would have been a very personally hard speech to make. But it sounds like he did his mum proud.


apropos your single-mum-for-baby-bonus comment, my security word is "dolesita"

Andrew Elder said...

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed ... the liberal dilemma, they always let you down.

Interesting that Hunt's mother was treated at Goulburn. Hunt's father was a State MP in a government accused of cutting health services. Interesting development, that.

ddummer said...

Thanks for bringing attention to Greg Hunt's speech, I'll go and look up the full text. Very glad to read your posts again!

Pip said...

Welcome back Grog. Top read as always.
I don't think anyone else wrote about Greg Hunt which just goes to show how much you are needed.

Roger said...

Makes you wonder whether one sitting day per week of Parliament shouldn't be Party-free. You know, a day when Parliamentarians are encouraged to be human beings.

What structures do to us...

John Kerrison said...

Let us have more of the same. A good read Grogs.
And welcome back.
We'll have more of the same from you too please.

Bob Blanchett said...

if Hugh Taylor says 94% of indigenous blindness is avoidable you can take it to the bank.

mollymalone said...

Hey, you survived the crisis and can still blog! Excellent. I agree about Greg Hunt - he seems a good bloke. There are a few in the LNP crew, but they're all constrained by being in an Abbott-led government. (MarieR)

Anonymous said...

If you dig, you can find a human being under most politicians. With many of them, you only need a plastic beach spade. Unfortunately, for some, the rescue would be much longer than the 69 days those Chilean miners have spent underground.

Dong said...

Great to have you back. There is some good stuff in that speech. But why can't he defend what he said he believes in, or does he truly believe that the direct action plan will work?

Curi-Oz said...

I found you only just before the big brouhaha and have hoped you would return sooner rather than never, so I am glad to see you posting again - and such neat, clean thoughts so clearly outlined. Thank you.

D Mick Weir said...

Excellent stuff Grog.
Like others I knew nothing of Mr Hunts' speech.
You have proved once again why bloggers are needed.
You certainly deserve the title of The Redoubtable Grog

nappin said...

I will start by agreeing that Greg hunts speech and manner were welcome and good. But then it becomes a question of ethics. If Greg Hunt can be a reasonable politician representing his constituents (including those that ask for help), why does he then switch to Coalition mode and become unethical (IMHO) as his part in the race to recover Government under T Abbott? It is difficult to believe or trust someone, even when they are genuine, when you know they can turn on you in an instant.

Anonymous said...

Dear Grog,

so pleased to have you back, man of courage and conviction are you,.

please keep. keeping on.

Anonymous said...

grog i left the last comment and now have read the post

i to lived with a mother like this.
to tell you the truth if he was from any other party i would contact him. I didnt know I lived with a mother like this because i thought it was how all mothers behaved, but now i do know.
under the circumstances re the leader of the opposition i would feel it impossible to contact him
but now that i know a foundation exists like this one i may be be able to contact them and offer some advice ect.
thank you for bringing this to my attention.
sorry i dont have an on screen name here as i cannot get my head around going through all the red tape so to speak to set one up.

would you be able to put a link to the foundation here please

tandah said...

Nice, decent!

Unknown said...

Kudos to Hunt for bearing his soul & wishing for kinder, and dare I say it, more socially responsible politics than his party has generally displayed over time. However, one swallow does not an alternative government make, and frankly, I find Hunt to be the quintessential small-'l' Liberal in that his heart may be in the right place, but that place is a loooong way from where his courage is stored. He'll always be a disappointment to me, albeit, a touchy-feely disappointment

Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming back Grog!
Cat (from over Possum's way).

2353 said...

Great post highlighting a great speech.

I also hadn't seen Hunt's speech reported elsewhere and had never heard of the Satellite Foundation. If any of the media or politicians are reading this - how about a bit of support.

The thing about the Victorian Blind School was relevant as well - as the one that exists in Melbourne is under threat of/has closed because it was "uneconomic".

On a much baser level - where were the NewsCorp hacks when this speech was being made - out planning another assassination job? They should have been reporting something of genuine interest and for the greater good of the country.

Anonymous said...

So glad that you are back - and what an excellent post first up after "intermission" ... :)

Unknown said...

Journalism and Journalists could learn from you.

Welcome back,

Anonymous said...

Wow, and only 4,000 innocent kids were incarcerated and abused when he was in government.

Excuse me while I puke over his hypocrisy.

The best speech of the day was Ken Wyatt.

Jason Wilson said...

Nice post, Grog. Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

How ironic that all the "journalists" that bagged you and bloggers generally missed this story! I guess if their is no conflict and a political winner then it falls outside their remit these days.

Storm said...

Great article! And BRILLIANT to have you back! :)

btw my wife suffers from depression. She recorded an album which has alot of it's influences, which everybody can download for free if they want:

Clytie said...

Pleased to see you return, Grog. Thanks again for some news we won't see on the "news" sites.

It is heartening to see a politican speak with sincerity. I look forward to seeing him act on his promises.

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

Well, well, well, look who's baaaaack!

Must be Good News Week.

Diogenes said...

I see you are reading Dark Sun. I read the superb "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" a few years ago and have been reading about Oppie ever since. He's become one of my heroes. Teller was a complete farkwit so I haven't been able to bring myself to read Dark Sun. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Greg Jericho said...

Anon - Ken Wyatt's speech was good - but it was on the Wednesday, not the Thursday.

Greg Jericho said...

Diogenes - I think The Making of the Atomic Bomb is one of the great non-fiction works of the 20th Century.

Am a bit worried about Dark Sun - the tone does seem a bit different - and yes more focussed on Teller.

Greg Hunt said...

Dear Grog,

as the subject of your post I am also pleased that you are back on line blogging.

When you were named, and having been the subject of some earlier perhaps not so flattering comment on The Gamut I was approached by press asking whether I was outraged that a public servant was blogging politically. There was also a push to have you disciplined. My very clear statement then and now is that free speech genuinely matters -and that the only free speeech that matters is the part with which you disagree.

So keep blogging - if you don't feel intimidated by direct criticism of your ideas (while defending your right to speak out) then i won't be offended by your criticisms...although as is the wont of my profession i will probably scoop up any morsels of support!

Many thanks for shining a light on the Satellite Foundation and the work they are doing for children who have parents with mental illness.

Greg Hunt (if you want to check the authenticity of the post just call my office and ask to be put through)

Anonymous said...

Great post Grog.

And fabulous response from Greg Hunt. It's great to see a politician from either side with strong values and convictions. And with a sense of perspective about his profession.

MissHeliotrope said...

I do wish the small l libs were in charge of Them. It's not nice to have the really, really mad (in a non-mental illness denigrating manner) as opposition. It's not healthy for any of us. & makes me sad.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Now if greg Hunt could just stand up to the leadership of his party and tell them what is truly in his heart about the environment and how to tackle the issue of Gloibal Warming, then I would truly be able to say that he has gone up in my estimation. If he took a principled stand and surrendred his position as Shadow Environment Minister, and went to the backbench, I might also, like Grog, think twice about voting Liberal federally.
It ain't gonna happen though. That much I can be pretty confident of.
Also, whilst it is admirable that he stood up in parliament to bring up these causes that he obviously feels strongly about, and with reference to my previous comments, it is essentially small beer.

Anonymous said...

Yet I note that since stabbing Turnbull in the back to win power that Tony Abbott has poisoned the chalice and that even reasonably spoken and positive members like Greg Hunt have turned negabores and acerbic, grunting out rote one liners without an intelligent thought behind them. In some cases it's obvious when they grunt out the opposition or OO talking point they are insincere.

If Greg is so principled and concerned on important social matters, some as pointed out close to heart, then why is he not standing against Abbott's overwhelmingly negativity for negativity's sake even if it means that negativity causes social harm or denies much needed government policy or help?

Patricia WA said...

Dear Greg Hunt, Good to see you comment here and to read your belief "that free speech genuinely matters -and that the only free speeech that matters is the part with which you disagree." So how about practising what you preach and standing up for those things with which you once agreed when Malcolm Turnbull was leading your party?

My sympathy with you for your mother's sad fate. My own experience has been that depressive illness does seem to have some genetic endogenous features as well as reactive and environmental. It must surely be very depressing for a man of your intelligence and talent to be less than true to his once clearly stated principles.