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A pox on both your houses

By Rebecca Vassarotti 29 March 2018 16
Legislative Assembly

Are we forgetting how to conduct politics respectfully in the ACT?

You might have heard that there were some fireworks down at the ACT Legislative Assembly last week. This was pretty surprising given that this is the sort of thing we are more used to seeing from our Federal politicians. Indeed, the strong sense of community frustration and disengagement about the state of Australian politics is never helped when politicians use their positions to point score, bully or threaten each other, something that is all too regular in Federal politics.

Generally, local politics is much more sedate. Much of the business of local government occurs without much fanfare and without the public paying much attention. However, a level of incivility seems to be creeping into our local political arena and is getting our attention.

At last week’s Assembly sittings, we saw moves to censure the Chief Minister and heated debate regarding the proceedings of a parliamentary committee last year, that included exchanges between the Chief Minister and Opposition member, Jeremy Hanson MLA; the chair of the committee. Both these issues deserved scrutiny but did not need to descend into an unsavory debate or take up such a large amount of time. It was disappointing to the extreme that members were not able to step back, defuse the hostility and move forward discussions in a way that was more appropriate in a place where our democratically elected representatives gather.

While many people are dismissive of the importance of our local Legislative Assembly, this is where political decisions that affect our everyday lives, are made. These decisions include those about the shape of our city, the health of our local economy, and our access to local services. It is this level of Government that determines how our children will be educated, how we will be cared for when we are sick, where we are likely to work and how we will get around our city. These are important decisions and require the time, attention and engagement of our local politicians.

Given the important policy debates and proposals we need our politicians to progress, why was it that last week the major parties seemed more interested in scoring points, threatening each other and using threatening and bullying language? The performance of hypermasculinity in a chamber that is in fact dominated by female representatives has brought feelings of despair from those of us who want to see a different way of practicing politics that is based around a contest of ideas debated in a respectful and thoughtful manner.

A few years ago, I took the step and became involved in party politics as a member of the ACT Greens due to the belief that in this progressive city, we can do things differently. I believe that we have the opportunity to give up tired old adversarial politics and practice politics in a way that serves people rather than egos. I recognize that none of us are perfect, and we all have exchanges that upon reflection, we understand could have gone better. Last week’s events however have left me feeling pretty deflated.

I really hope that in the near future we can again look at the Legislative Assembly and see it as an example of respectful political debate and progressive political decision making. What do you think?

Rebecca Vassarotti is an active member of the ACT Greens and ran as a local candidate in the 2016 Territory Election.


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A pox on both your houses
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Wing Nut 7:53 pm 03 Apr 18

So long as the Libs continue to follow the Seselja “oppose everything offer nothing” strategy, we’re going to be stuck with the most useless incompetent government imaginable. Start becoming a viable alternative Alistair, don’t regurgitate the IPA’s manifesto.

bigred 10:16 pm 02 Apr 18

This town will need to have two serious conversations. The first being the whole point of self government for such a small jurisdiction and the the second being the over the horizon sustainability of the local economy. Better being in control of our own destiny.

Maya123 9:24 am 02 Apr 18

A comment following Capital Retro’s comment:

For starters we as individuals could attempt to reduce our recyclables. I cringe when I see people wheeling slabs of bottled water out of the supermarket, when we have very good tap water. Then all those empty plastic bottles go into the bin. Similar when I see plastic bottles of fizzy drinks.

I will note here, that often the people spending their money unnecessarily here, often look like the people least likely to be able to afford this. Sad 🙁

There would be other changes that could be made to reduce items for recycling. The individual can make a huge difference; not just fob it off as someone else’s problem; out of site, out of mind; pass on the buck.

Duncan Hinton 5:13 pm 29 Mar 18

Let's face it..a referendum was held ion 25 Nov 1978 and the majority of residents said no..but it was ignored.. We are reaping the' benefits' now..We don't have a strong enough political gene pool

Blen_Carmichael 4:54 pm 29 Mar 18

“The performance of hypermasculinity in a chamber that is in fact dominated by female representatives has brought feelings of despair from those of us who want to see a different way of practicing politics that is based around a contest of ideas debated in a respectful and thoughtful manner.”

Ah yes. The dreaded hypermasculinity. Of course.

“A few years ago, I took the step and became involved in party politics as a member of the ACT Greens due to the belief that in this progressive city, we can do things differently.”

Interesting story about the Greens and a recent by-relection. As you can see their internal differences were debated in a respectful and thoughtful manner (such a welcome change from hypermasculinity).

https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/i-m-no-bully-says-greens-batman-candidate-after-toxic-dossier-leak-20180301-p4z28k.html

A_Cog 3:56 pm 29 Mar 18

Yet another account alleging the “exchanges” are the issue – ie, that both sides deserve criticism.

Both sides do not deserve criticism, only Barr who was being questioned and refused to answer, again and again, deflecting and distracting, taking pot shots and winding up Hanson.

Rebecca, you have referred to your history running as a MLA candidate, so this question is now fair game: if you cannot even call out bad behaviour when it happens here, what sorts of things will you avoid calling out if you ever get in?

And if Shane is happy to muddy the issue by making it about Hanson too (instead of putting this where it belongs, at Barr’s feet), will you call your party colleague out too, for supporting bullying, intimidation, and obfuscating serious transparency issues (which is what the committee debate was about in the first place)?

If Barr had spoken that way to anyone who wasn’t an older white male, everyone would have gone nuts.

    Rebecca Vassarotti 10:38 am 30 Mar 18

    Thanks for your comments A_Cog. It’s my perspective that comments made by both Labor and Liberal members were pretty concerning ( some of it is outlined in this news article http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/barr-offers-hanson-to-take-it-outside-over-rates-during-assembly-hearing-20171106-gzfmqb.html). In my article, I made the comment that I believe that the issues that were being discussed did deserve scrutiny and my concern was in relation to the tone of the debate rather then whether or not it should have happened. I want to be really clear, I find the threatening language used by the Chief Minister in the orginal exchange deeply concerning – independent of who he said it too.

    In relation to actions of ACT Greens through last week’s debate, they supported the motion that found that comments made by the Chief Minister have been deemed as a breach of the standing orders and referred to the privileges committee but did also make comments about the actions of others. As noted above, on the reporting of the exchanges this seemed warranted but respect that you have a different view.

    Just in relation to comments regarding my party involvement, I feel its really important that I am transparent about my party membership if I am making comments such as these. While respecting your view, I think the work that ACT Greens representatives are doing around improving transparency and accountability needs to be recognised – particularly through the introduction of an ICAC.

HiddenDragon 11:39 am 29 Mar 18

The ABC coverage – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-22/andrew-barr-liberals-investigation-jeremy-hanson-fight/9573450 – which includes part of the exchange between Barr and Hanson, suggests that Hanson’s choice of wording was unfortunate and Barr took it too literally.

I assume Hanson was making a point about pressures on ACT ratepayers (a subject on which Jon Stanhope has gone into print), which Barr could alleviate to some degree, if he chose to, but the wording was quite wrong, and an important issue for many Canberrans got lost in what looks like a personality clash.

Gabriel Spacca 9:14 am 29 Mar 18

Yep. Sometimes I wish there was a ‘none of the above’ option on the ballot paper so every political party knew they needed better candidates (and policies).

    Matt Donnelly 9:43 am 29 Mar 18

    “So what’s the difference between none-of-the-above (NOTA) and an informal vote? Voting NOTA is a choice. It’s not a mistake or a prank or “throwing your vote away”. It’s the ultimate democratic expression of how effective political campaigns are at truly engaging a voter to express their will. A NOTA vote is a purposeful protest. It cannot be washed away as a historical footnote.”

    https://the-riotact.com/electoral-reform-a-forum-for-dangerous-ideas-or-foxes-in-the-hen-house/212470

    Dean Goulder 9:29 pm 29 Mar 18

    Matt Donnelly except when you vote NOTA you still end up with someone you don’t want. What he was advocating for was voting NOTA and actually accomplishing something like a new election with new candidates.

    Matt Donnelly 10:52 am 31 Mar 18

    Interesting. How would such a process work, Dean? Please explain.

Capital Retro 8:20 am 29 Mar 18

“Given the important policy debates and proposals we need our politicians to progress,…..”

What are these?

    Rebecca Vassarotti 10:49 am 30 Mar 18

    In last week’s sitting there were debates about changes to dangerous dog laws, ways to improve access to safe and affordable medical terminations, inqury reports about planning matters to name a few of the issues. The next period will be focused on the ACT Territory budget which will determine funding allocations to schools, hospitals, infrastructure and social services. I think these are all really important and need attention and consideration of our political representatives

    Capital Retro 10:27 pm 30 Mar 18

    Fair enough but I would suggest that these are everyday agenda items as part of the normal business of government.

    How about some discussion about allocating money for upgrading the sewerage system and what is going to happen to recyclables now that China isn’t accepting them anymore. Have you driven past the resource recycling facility at Mugga Lane/Momaro Highway lately? It’s hard to see where the building is behind the mountains of baled aluminium cans, plastic bottles and newspaper.

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