No Fibs Independents Day: ESSAY by former moderate Liberal MP Ian Macphee on Zoe Daniel, 1 Dec 2021

The article below appeared in No Fibs Independents Day. ESSAY: Former #GoldsteinVotes moderate Liberal MP Ian Macphee makes the case for Daniel. 1 December 2021

You can read the transcript below:

COMMENT: IN THE NEXT federal election there will be more independent candidates than we have ever had and many have an excellent chance of succeeding. My focus will be on my former electorate of Goldstein, named after the pioneering Australian feminist Vida Goldstein.

The independent candidate who is already evoking great grassroots interest is Zoe Daniel who for 30 years had vast experience as a journalist with the ABC. Zoe covered many issues that are still of great importance to Australian domestic and foreign policy. I admired her objectivity and insights as she interviewed a vast array of people in Australia and around the world. What was most evident was that Zoe is a sincere listener. She doesn’t talk over people nor seek a conclusion that she might anticipate. Zoe has released a video on her website that reveals the essence of her values and introduces us to her children and her role as a mother. Zoe has travelled the world with an open mind and lives in Goldstein and understands the needs and views of its citizens. I admire her profoundly and believe that she will enrich the quality of the federal parliament.

Ceased to be liberal

It is the capacity of members of parliament to listen to their electorate and represent their views on important issues in Canberra that is crucial to the functioning of our democracy. That used to be the way that our system functioned. Yet, for decades the NSW Labor Party was accused by other elements in the ALP as being run by ‘faceless men’. From head office they dominated the choice of candidates across NSW and tried to enforce their views and interests in the NSW Parliament and, as far as possible, in the federal parliament. For over 30 years that has been true of the Victorian Liberal Party. The views of citizens are not sought. Hence, it has ceased to be liberal. Few branches of any political party have many members and there is little discussion in electorates about issues of importance to them. This is especially the case with the demise of local newspapers.

I had meetings with councillors and citizens on matters that involved local issues but which were subject to federal consideration. Sometimes issues were raised at high schools, sports clubs, Rotary, RSL and aged care homes. I feel sure Zoe would engage in such interaction.

Goldstein’s feminist traditions

After a redistribution of the boundaries of the electorate of Balaclava the electorate of Goldstein was created on 30th November 1984. Interestingly, that change occurred when I was Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and also for The Status of Women. I worked closely with Minister Susan Ryan when she prepared the Sex Discrimination Bill which I voted for when the rest of the opposition opposed it. From the age of ten I had been influenced by Eileen Furley, a dear friend of my parents, who had worked with Menzies to form the Liberal Party. It was then that I gained insights into the feminist movement. Not surprisingly, I married a feminist and Julie and Eve Mahlab formed the Liberal Feminist Network. Vida Goldstein would have been proud of the work that they did and sad that it did not continue after the Liberal Party removed me.

Vida’s inspiration

I have read three biographies of Vida Goldstein and have found her to be an inspiration. From the 1880s there was a gradual but persistent increase in calls to grant women full access to parliamentary processes. After the Australian Federal Parliament granted women voting and sitting rights in 1902 Vida Goldstein became the first female candidate in the British Commonwealth. She stood four times between 1903 and 1917 but, sadly, was not elected. Nonetheless she worked with other women to form lobby groups and other organisations and changed social views in the first two decades of the 20th century. Yet, as Annabelle Crabb’s perfectly titled excellent ABC series Ms Representation revealed, it is only in recent years that women have been elected in large numbers. Some have been prominent in state and federal politics – including one prime minister and several premiers. Yet, statistically they are unrepresented. According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index in 2021 Australian women have fallen dramatically from 12th to 70th in economic participation and opportunity. On other statistics Australian women are going backwards at a rapid rate even though Australia was once a world leader in women’s equality.

Interests of constituents

As Hugh Mackay in his recent book The Kindness Revolution observes, the problem is widening rapidly to all issues of humanity. Hugh writes: “thanks to Internet, anonymity has become the passport to the free expression hate, anger, disillusionment or fear – a problem that won’t be solved until the identity of the sender becomes an automatic, inescapable part of every social post. But it is our increasingly social fragmentation that creates a weirdly permissible atmosphere in which such a phenomenon can flourish.”

As a nation we must examine our conduct towards others. The current argument in federal parliament about the need to legislate against religious discrimination illustrates that. As Hugh writes, “we must strike the right balance between the freedom to speak my mind and the need to show respect for kindness towards other persons.” He adds: “we need now to promote egalitarianism in order to correct any inequality whether gender biased otherwise in the name of social justice”. It must also include LGBTIQ people and therefore should be termed “human rights” not “gender equality”.

With her vast experience in the media and on so many issues around the world Zoe Daniel is ideal for the evolving challenging task as member for Goldstein. Moreover, she will provide leadership in parliament to set an example of how MPs should be committed to the interests of their constituents and not to the commercial forces which fund the major parties.

Epic misinformation

Zoe understands what Hugh Mackay and Barry Jones have said about the digital revolution. Barry Jones is almost 90 but continues to write books and deliver lectures of a special calibre. Barry is a National treasure. In his 2020 publication What is to be done: Political Engagement and Saving the Planet Barry laments the fact that it has provided vehicles for the spread of “misinformation on an epic scale”. He adds that “Governments rely on spin doctors to craft explanations for every failed policy. The hollowing out of experience in government departments and the ever greater reliance on ministerial staff to develop politically calibrated policy has weakened political accountability.” Barry adds, realistically but sadly: “In public affairs in the age of spin, with enormous power generated by modern communications techniques and through social media every proposition can be targeted to millions of people, taking account of their fears, prejudices, desires, ambitions and dislikes, even hatred”.

I agree with Barry on that and also that the digital revolution has provided vehicles for the spread of “misinformation on an epic scale”. Hence, Barry adds: “when a free press and investigative journalism is diminished and circumscribed, power is seized by interest groups, lobbies, faith healers and shamans.” Barry is also correct in asserting that “ministers and members shout at each other and look for cheap applause because they have no wish to debate public issues and have only two preoccupations: personal career advancement and winning the next election.” And in his book Sleepers Wake Barry wrote: “In the digital age, opinion has become more than evidence.” Needless to say, I agree with him completely.

A leader

Zoe Daniel can be a leader who will do all that she can to return our federal parliament to a democratic institute. I am sure that she would work with the Greens to help them persuade parliament to adopt progressive policies on climate change and refugees but she would also try to persuade as many independents as possible to work on the implementation of constructive policies on other vital issues.

In the era of the Fraser Government and the Hayden Opposition issues were debated and where there was agreement necessary regulations or legislation was adopted. Where they differed the media reported the differences. That was the democratic process. In this digital age with insults and fake news abounding no one has confidence in the major parties. Opinion polls show that the majority of people believe that no matter which party wins the election we get the same sort of visionless government.

Grassroots

It was grassroots distrust in the major parties that led to the formation of Voices of Goldstein. It has been conducting many Kitchen Table Conversations across the electorate and the major concerns that have been raised will be pursued by Zoe Daniel if she is elected. To win voter confidence Zoe has released an excellent statement of policies that stem from the immediate personal discussions throughout the electorate.

The document is an excellent summation of important policies. Very prominent is climate change. Many Australians are ashamed of the reputation that Prime Minister Morrison’s role in Glasgow gave us. Yet, they are still awaiting a progressive response from Labor. On such a vital topic our major parties should work together. On this issue Greens will lead but I know that Zoe Daniel will play an important leadership role.

Many other issues such as violence against women and sexual harassment must be discussed further.

Gender equality

As the distinguished career of Zoe Daniel illustrates, the ABC has excelled in providing equality of opportunity for women. When I was in parliament the ABC had Heather Ewart report for AM, The World Today and PM and she now excels on Back Roads. On radio and TV there are so many outstanding women on the ABC. Among them are Geraldine Doogue, Annabelle Crabb, Fran Kelly, Laura Tingle, Leigh Sales, several state news presenters and the majority of reporters from cities and regions. Along with Zoe is a pioneering foreign correspondent, Lisa Miller, who now co-chairs ABC News Breakfast. It was a wonderful step by the ABC when there was little sense of gender equality. Yet the Institute of Public Affairs which has influence with the Liberal Party is advocating that the ABC be privatised! Apart from losing its independent duty to research, analyse, present impartial information and interview a wide range of people around the world, it would probably displace the journalists who have been presenting such insights to the Australian people. We are fortunate that an outstanding Australian feminist, Ita Buttrose, is currently chair of the ABC.

It is important for Australia that we return to the democratic process and the election of Zoe Daniel will help advance that return.

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