Passion and Compassion: Scott Ludlam provides what Australian politics lacks

Originally published 20 March 2014 by Aphra.

At 10pm, on a recent Monday evening, Western Australian Greens Senator, Scott Ludlam, delivered a scathing attack on the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Unless you have been hiding under a rock or have renounced your addiction to social media, you would be aware of Ludlam’s takedown of the PM. The video has now gone ‘viral’ (at last check the number of view on You Tube was 670,131) and its reach has extended well beyond Australia’s shores. While not yet as infamous as Julia Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech’ (which has just over 2.5 million views), Ludlam’s monologue, delivered to an almost empty Senate chamber, struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of Australians. In case you missed it, you can watch the video here.

Ludlam’s final address in the Senate before the Western Australian by-election, was intended to welcome the PM to the western state; yet welcoming his message was not. Hushed and gentle in his tone, Ludlam outlined a set of menacing conditions upon which he warned the PM to take heed of before venturing out West: the first of which requested that he (Abbott) leave his “excruciatingly boring three-word slogans at home.”

He had more devastating advice for the PM:

Every time you refer to us as the “mining state’ as though the western third of our ancient continent is just Gina Rinehart’s inheritance to be chopped, benched and blasted, you are reading us wrong.

He continued, in blistering form:

Just as the reign of the dinosaurs was cut short to their great surprise, it may be that the Abbott government will appear as nothing more than a thin, greasy layer in the core sample of future political scientists drilling back into the early years of the 21st century.

He wrapped up by warning that:

Western Australians are a generous and welcoming lot, but if you show up waving your homophobia in people’s faces and start boasting about your ever more insidious attacks on the trade union movement and all working people, you can expect a very different kind of welcome.

And the final nail in the coffin:

Prime Minister, you are welcome to take your heartless, racist exploitation of people’s fears and ram it as far from Western Australia as your taxpayer-funded travel entitlements can take you. We want our country back. Through chance, misadventure and, somewhere, a couple of boxes of misplaced ballot papers, we’ve been given the opportunity to take it back: just one seat, next April 5, and a whole lot more in 2016. Game on, Prime Minister. See you out West.

Not surprisingly, Ludlam’s speech, which took a swipe at Abbott over a vast array of issues, ranging from immigration policy to shark culls, has taken the Internet by storm. Eloquent and full of passion and compassion – Ludlam offered exactly what the major parties have lacked.

One of the best commentaries of the event came from Jazz Twemlow, who described it in The Guardian as the exact speech Gen Y has been looking for: “At first, I assumed Scott Ludlam must have announced Winter is Coming while twerking with a grumpy cat. His name kept popping up on my various social feeds…” While imagining the Senator twerking with a grumpy cat is absolutely hilarious, Ludlam’s speech potentially holds more sincere implications for the nation.

Ludlam is clinging to his seat in the Senate by the skin of his teeth. In the initial result from the September 2013 election, the Greens Senator was not re-elected, with the Liberal party winning three seats, Labor two and the final seat going to the Palmer United Party (PUP). A shadow of doubt was cast over the legitimacy of the result and was challenged by the Greens and the Australian Sports Party; a recount occurred and Ludlam was later elected, albeit marginally. The recount saw Labor’s Louise Pratt lose a seat, along with PUP’s Zhenya Wang, while Wayne Dropulich of the Australian Sports Party, gained a seat. Since then, the Australian Electoral Commission’s reputation has been further tarnished after it revealed that 1370 ballot papers apparently vanished into thin air during the recount. The High Court subsequently ruled that Western Australians would have to return to the polling booths to settle the debacle once and for all on 5 April 2014.

While some may overlook the relevance of the WA by-election, the outcome has the potential to alter the trajectory of government legislation. The Australian Senate performs a checks and balances role on the government of the day. Proposed laws are introduced into the House of Representatives and if passed, proceed to the Senate to be debated. Proposed laws have to be agreed on by both Houses of Parliament to become law; thus for a government to succeed in enacting legislation, it must have favourable Senate conditions.

While the Coalition has a clear majority in the House of Representatives, its hold on the Senate is not as firm. In order for the Coalition to transform their policy agenda into law, (including scrapping the carbon tax) they need support in the Senate, of which an absolute majority is 39. At present, the Coalition has 34 seats, Labor 31, the Greens 9, Democratic Labour Party one and Independent one. This means that the minor parties and Independents hold the balance of power in the Senate and for the government to pass law it must have their support. The Greens (in most cases) vote with Labor, thus the current Senate makeup is unfavourable for the Coalition to push its conservative agenda.

The Senate composition will change on 1 July 2014 in line with the results from the 2013 election. The election saw an increase in the number of seats gained by micro-parties in the Senate. From 2014, the Coalitions will hold 30 seats, Labor 24, The Greens nine, PUP two and five remaining seats distributed between Independent and micro-party members, while the six WA seats are yet to be finalised. It is likely that the Coalition will retain three seats in the by-election, thus it must negotiate with six other Senators in order to pass legislation.

As most of the micro-parties and Independents are conservative leaning and will likely vote with the Coalition, there is an added imperative for Ludlam and Labor’s Pratt to secure Senate seats in the recount, to prevent the dominance of the Coalition and the rag-tag minor parties – many of whom lack coherent policies. Is it really in the nation’s best interest for Senators from a party that is headed by one of Australia’s largest (no pun intended) mining magnates to be holding the balance of power? Or for a party that seems to stand for nothing more than the advancement of sport to be exerting influence? The Senate cannot perform its role properly as the house of review, designed to scrutinize the government, when the interests of a cohort of incoherent, conservative-leaning micro-parties hold the chamber ransom. It will be interesting to see if the Greens, on the back of Ludlam’s speech, can transcend their usual Gen Y fan base and appeal to a broader cross-section of WA voters. As a member of a well established party that has a set of cohesive, compassionate, forward-looking policies, the Senate may stand a chance of representing more inclusively, the interests of Australians, if Ludlam is re-elected.

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