I’ve been involved in politics
one way or another for about 30 years; I don’t think I had many
illusions about it even when I started, and I certainly shouldn’t have
any left by now. But I was surprised how touched I was by the action of
the five Coalition dissidents yesterday on the refugee legislation.

Here
were people making a stand when in personal terms they had nothing to
gain and much to lose. John Forrest gave up a $13,000 a year allowance
as Nationals Whip; Judi Moylan put her preselection in jeopardy. Nor do
they face different electoral imperatives from their
colleagues:
only one (Georgiou) represents an inner-suburban, latte-sipping seat.
The others sit for typical outer suburban or rural and regional
areas; Broadbent’s McMillan is still marginal.

So full credit to
them, and also to those who, like Warren Entsch, disagreed with their
stance but made a show of support for their right to their own
judgement. This is how democracy is supposed to work.

And it is
more, not less, impressive because the vote in the House of Reps was
ultimately futile: it was never going to threaten the passage of the
bill. But the open dissent may give courage to their colleagues in the
Senate, who really can make a difference.

It is interesting that
explicit criticism of the dissidents has basically come from what can
fairly be called the ratbag fringe of the Liberal Party – Wilson
Tuckey, Don Randall, and the like. The mainstream leadership, including
Howard himself, has been much more restrained: they still have that much respect for the traditions of freedom of action on which their party was founded.

I
left the Liberal Party ten years ago because I felt that the limits on
freedom of action had become impossibly narrow. Yesterday gave a
glimmer of hope that its condition might not be terminal.

Peter Fray

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