Canberra‘s new man of influence. Nick Xenophon will not arrive in the national capital until 1 July but he is already Canberra’s new man of influence. The Independent Senator from South Australia started political life as an anti Pokies campaigner when elected to that state’s upper house and promises to take that crusade national when he takes up the Senate seat he won back in November. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is not waiting until then to give a warm welcome to the Senator whose vote will be vital if Labor is to get its legislation through a chamber where it does not have a majority. The PM is trying to ingratiate himself already by ordering an inquiry – that’s right, yet another review – into ways of curbing problem gambling. According to a report in this morning’s Herald Sun, banning automatic teller machines in poker machine venues is on the agenda along with a reduction in pokie spin rates and the introduction of smartcard technology to stem surging losses. Senator Nick is sure to approve.

Cash for trash at Family First. Senator Steve Fielding, the solitary member of the Family First Party whose vote is just as vital as Senator Nick’s, is not being left out of the new Labor wave of wowserism. Senator Fielding’s advocacy of curbs on alcohol consumption has been rewarded with the recently announced campaign aimed at stopping binge drinking among the nation’s youth. Not that the Victorian who got elected as a Senator with just 1.88% of the vote thinks that having a win on the drink will be enough to get him returned next time. He is taking a lead from his soon-to-be-colleague and getting into the business of pictorial stunts that he hopes will get him featured on television. This morning he was a giant bottle as he pronounced his green credentials for his cash for trash proposal that would see us all paying more to very drink container we purchase.

Getting good at this. One step forward and two steps back. The Labor Government is getting good at this business of retreating from tough decisions. Agriculture Minister Tony Burke has put on hold the passage of legislation to get the horse industry to pay its share of dealing with emergency disease outbreaks in the same way as cattle, sheep, pig, poultry and other major animal industries. When the idea of partial user pays was introduced under the Emergency Animal Disease Response Agreement back in 2002, the Horse Industry Council, which took part in the talks with other industry bodies along with state and federal governments, was, in the words of the bureaucrats, “unable to secure a suitable mechanism to raise funds to cover potential liabilities.” Talks went on and the horse industry finally decided to join the agreement with the former Coalition Government beginning the process of drafting the legislation well before the recent equine influenza outbreak. It was left to the incoming Labor lot to actually introduce the bill. As Minister Burke explains, until this legislation is passed, the horse industry is unable to join the agreement, meaning there could be a slower, more costly and less effective response to a future disease outbreak. Some of the horsey set, however, are suspicious that there is a trap in all this legislation business somewhere and that they will be faced with a hefty bill to cover the cost of the equine influenza outbreak. Now Mr Burke, who maintains the “intention was always to set a levy at zero and to only consider the appropriateness of a levy to cover industry’s share of the response to the current outbreak after the Callinan Inquiry reported”, has agreed to postpone debate on the legislation altogether until after the Callinan Inquiry reports.

First hand experience. When the new Liberal member for Swan, Steve Irons, expressed regret that the Parliamentary apology given to Indigenous Australians “disregarded the good that can come from removing children from abusive situations”, he was speaking from experience. As Mr Irons told the House of Representatives in his maiden speech this week, he was removed from his family at the tender age of six months, placed in a babies’ home and made a ward of the state in Victoria until he reached the age of 18. In what must rank as one of the more moving introductory speeches ever, he told of two of his elder siblings who were also in foster care and a young brother who was adopted out and who, to this day, he has never met. “I did not meet my father until I was 23 years old and some of my siblings until I was 35. I was fortunate enough to be fostered by the Irons family at the age of three,” he told the House. “My foster father, David, was a church minister and went on to be a social worker, and my mother, Mary, was also a social worker.” This background gives meaning to his comments on the stolen generation apology:

On 13 February this year I was in parliament when the apology was given to Indigenous Australians, and I think it was an important initial step in the process of resolving the real problems Indigenous Australians face today. However, I believe this apology disregarded the good that can come from removing children from abusive situations. Perhaps one day we should apologise to all the young children of Australia who were not saved by being removed from abusive or non-caring parents. I mention the case of the seven-year-old girl Shellay Ward, who died last year after being seriously neglected by her parents, and I call on all communities to make a concerted effort to bring cases like this to the attention of the proper authorities. We should have also thanked and congratulated all foster parents and staff of institutions who have cared for these children during the past century. The efforts and sacrifices they make are underestimated and should be recognised officially. On the matter of compensation, which continues to be debated throughout Australia, I call on the Rudd-Gillard government to establish a compensation fund which all Australians can donate to. This will give the population of Australia the opportunity to show their level of commitment to compensation.

A rare speech of raw honesty that earns a 7 out of 10 in our Crikey review of the maiden speeches of all the new members.

Janelle Saffin, Labor, Page. A former member of the Legislative Council in the New South Wales parliament. She lived and worked in Timor Leste from 2004 to 2007 as Dr Jose Ramos Horta’s senior political adviser. Spoke against the use of so many chemicals most of which used for food production “were not made for such use and are not necessary”. Forceful and competent speaker. 7 out of 10.

Jim Turnour, Labor, Leichhardt. There is a conventional Labor aspect to Jim Turnour’s political career as he comes via a spell as a political staff member but before he began working for Senator Jan McLucas there was 20 years as a public servant with degrees in agriculture and economics working for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and as an agricultural consultant in Australia and overseas. A solid and conventional maiden speech with all the right thank-yous. 6 out of 10.

Tony Zappia, Labor, Makin. A self described Christian who respects the views of others and supports an Australian Bill of Rights. Served for 30 years on the Salisbury Council – for 10 of them as Mayor. He believes it is time local government was recognized in the constitution. A well rounded speech, well delivered. More will be heard of him. 7 out of 10.

Darren Cheeseman. Labor, Corangamite. This former trade union official is a William Buckley man – one who thinks “Buckley’s chance” derives from the convict who escaped from custody in 1803 and lived with the Wathawurung people near Geelong for thirty-two years. I happen to be a supporter of the Buckley’s store becoming Nunn’s store theory but a local member can be forgiven for supporting his own. What is true is that a Labor man has rarely represented this area in federal parliament and Mr Cheeseman thanks “aspirational Australians” – sea changers and tree changers – for putting him there. A conventional first offering that did not dwell on his trade union background. 5 out of 10.

Chris Trevor, Labor, Flynn. This new member had the honour of being attacked by the Opposition in the Senate before he even delivered his maiden speech – the suggestion was that as an MP his picture should still not be on the advertisement for the law firm he founded. Mr Trevor ignored this gibe and presented a standard description of his electorate with all the appropriate thank you messages along with the interesting piece of trivia that he had to overcome a “petrifying fear of flying” to come to Canberra to represent the electorate which includes Barcaldine with its tree of knowledge so honoured in Labor Party tradition. 5 out of 10.

Nick Champion, Labor, Wakefield. Expressed his pride to be part of a government “which takes the misuse of alcohol as a serious policy challenge” because of his own experiences with a father who was an alcoholic. “I loved my father but through his addiction I saw the fragility of family life, how precarious a family’s financial circumstances can become and how the emotional torment of addiction can echo through a family for years. Once addiction hits a family, nothing is ever the same again, and it is easy for families to fall into a cycle of crisis, reaction and, sometimes, despair.” Made a passionate attack on the evils of poker machines. 6 out of 10.

The Daily Reality Check

The Sydney Morning Herald has recently made the amazing discovery that racism is alive and well in Australia – I wonder when the journalists responsible for those exclusives last spent some time in a country town with a sizeable Indigenous population – as these examples illustrate: Police unfairly targeted Aborigines in racial brawl, court told; Race row lands resort in hot water; Prejudice and pride. Now other sections of the media are catching on with several stories in the most read lists this morning on the mayoral candidate who has called for Aborigines to be relocated from his southwest Queensland shire and admits to deliberately targeting indigenous families with inflammatory fliers.

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

Peter Fray

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