Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (7.08 pm)- Australians can be fairly indifferent to politics at times. Indeed, we have a fairly healthy culture of scepticism about authority and our political leaders. But Australians certainly do appreciate having good local members to represent them-someone who is one of them, someone who understands their needs, someone who knows about their area, someone who listens and, above all, someone who is an active participant in their community. Fortunately in each chamber, and on both sides, there are good and engaged local members and senators.
One example in the other place is the current Labor member for Isaacs, Ann Corcoran. She is widely respected as someone who is in touch with local concerns. She lives in the electorate. She is available to listen to her constituents. She is engaged and accessible. Sadly, though, Ann Corcoran was defeated in her preselection last year. Despite this, I can attest that Ann is continuing to work hard for her constituents. My office is not all that far from hers and, at practically every community event I attend in the southeast of Melbourne, Ann is also there. Ann, as many in this chamber would know, was defeated by Mr Mark Dreyfus QC. Despite being heavily defeated in the ballot of local party members, he was installed by the central panel.
Mr Dreyfus’s preselection is interesting in the context of his 1998 report for the Victorian branch of the Labor Party, largely dealing with issues of branch stacking and internal party structures. In that report, Mr Dreyfus stated: ‘Membership makes a party, not the other way around. Labor is, or should be, people-not vehicle, not structure, not hierarchy.’ Yet it was structure and factional hierarchy, not people, that secured Mr Dreyfus’s preselection. He could only gain 44 per cent of the local vote. The only reason Mr Mark Dreyfus QC is the endorsed Labor candidate for Isaacs is because he and his factional friends put their own interests ahead of the wishes of ordinary rank and file local Labor Party members. You cannot have it both ways, although he certainly tries.
He went on to say in the same report: A measure of the party’s self-confidence should be an easing of the discipline, the ‘closed backroom-ness’ that formal factionalism inevitably brings. I guess Mr Dreyfus was banking on this ‘easing’ of factionalism occurring only after he had managed to secure his preselection. And that is the truth about Mark Dreyfus QC’s candidacy for Isaacs. I suspect he actually does not have a tremendous interest in representing the constituents of Isaacs or championing local issues. I suspect for Mark Dreyfus the seat of Isaacs is merely a vehicle for him to become Labor’s next Attorney-General. That is really not a reason to seek a seat.
A seat in parliament, as all of us in this chamber know, is a profound responsibility. It is not to be taken lightly. It is not something that should be sought without due care and respect. It is not a factional plaything.
Mr Dreyfus QC’s name will be unfamiliar to most Isaacs residents. That is not surprising,
given that he lives over 20 kilometres away in Malvern. You may well think that that is okay. He has been preselected now so he will probably move into the electorate or, at the very least, if he wins he will move into the electorate. But Mr Dreyfus has already stated that he has no plans to move to Isaacs, not even if he is elected. I suppose on one level you cannot blame him. He does receive very good representation from the member for Higgins.
Mr Dreyfus told the Age on 7 February last year that ‘the measure of a good MP is not where they live but how hard they work for local people’. I have been very happy to convey that message on behalf of Mr Dreyfus to many of the constituents in Isaacs. I actually think that Mr Dreyfus has a touch of what might be called ‘the Maxines’. Before the last election, senators will remember that Labor attempted to woo Maxine McKew for a federal seat in Sydney’s west. Mark Latham wrote in his diaries that past attempts to install Ms McKew had failed because she ‘couldn’t stand living in Cabramatta or Liverpool’.
Mr Latham wrote:
So Maxine wants to be a Labor MP, but can’t stand the sight or smell of Labor voters, hey?
It remains to be seen with the coming election if Ms McKew will be successful beforehand in ousting Julia Irwin in Fowler and if she will deign to move into the electorate. We have seen this sort of attitude towards representation in Melbourne’s south-east before. It has traditionally been a strong Labor area, but over time it has been somewhat taken for granted. Those votes do seem to be very much taken for granted. Take the state seat of Lyndhurst, which sits within the electorate of Isaacs. It is held by state minister Tim Holding. I like Tim-I like him a lot; he is a nice guy-but Lyndhurst as an electorate is not to his liking for a residence. He prefers to live some 25 kilometres away in East Melbourne. The newly elected member for Narre Warren South, another state electorate close to Isaacs, is Judith Graley-again, someone I like. But I understand that she lived in Mount Martha, over 40 kilometres away. I am not sure if she has since moved into her electorate, but I certainly hope that she has.
If you ever needed convincing that Labor has no regard for constituents and the role of the local member, you need only look at comments made recently about another of Labor’s potential so-called star recruits, Victorian Treasurer John Brumby. Commenting on a purported push by Mr Brumby for a federal seat, Labor member for Bendigo, Steve Gibbons, let slip that some Labor members wished they did not have to bother with actually serving constituents.
“But if he were to become federal Treasurer or Finance Minister or hold another senior position, he does deserve to be welcomed into a seat where he is not having to constantly worry about constituents’ problems.”
Mr Mark Dreyfus QC does seem to be evidencing something of that attitude. Mr Dreyfus owes quite a deal to his friends in the Labor Party. Not only did they help him conspire to dump Ann Corcoran but they have also thrown tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars his way. Mr Dreyfus pocketed over $50,000 from the Bracks government for representing them at the hearings into the proposed Mildura toxic waste dump. In the process, Mr Dreyfus betrayed the people of Isaacs.
Labor’s plan to put a toxic waste dump in the middle of Victoria’s food bowl was always flawed and was never going to fly. The Bracks government has since abandoned that proposal, but this is extremely bad news for Mr Dreyfus. The Labor plan was to put a toxic waste dump in Victoria’s food bowl, Mildura, and then close the Lyndhurst dump, which is in the federal seat of Isaacs. By pushing the option of a toxic waste dump in Mildura, which was never going to fly, and by failing to look at alternatives, Mr Dreyfus has ensured that toxic
waste will continue to be delivered to Lyndhurst, which is in the electorate he seeks to represent.
A recent headline in the Australian newspaper read ‘Toxic dump backflip will hurt star recruit’. I think that could well be the case. The panel report into the Mildura dump identified the need for a nine-kilometre buffer zone between a toxic dump and residences. But over 200,000 people live within nine kilometres of the Lyndhurst dump, many of whom are in Isaacs. Mr Mark Dreyfus QC has failed to respond to this and many other local issues. The local papers have practically given up calling him. No doubt they have the phrase ‘Mr Mark Dreyfus QC could not be contacted for comment’ as a template in their computers, such has
been the regularity of their use of that phrase in newspaper articles. The people of Isaacs deserve better than this. They deserve a local advocate who will stand up and fight for them. I commend to them the candidature of Ross Fox.
He is energetic and experienced and he lives in the electorate. He knows the issues and is championing them. He is fighting for closed circuit TV to tackle crime in Chelsea. He is fighting to have Wells Road fixed. He is seeking a meeting with Premier Bracks to convey residents’ outrage at the broken promise not to close the toxic waste dump at Lyndhurst.
The first test for Mr Dreyfus QC was to move into the electorate. He failed. It is not good enough to say to residents: ‘If you elect me then I’ll start to work for you. If you elect me then I’ll start to champion your causes.’ You have to do it when you are seeking election. You have to earn their trust and earn the privilege of representing them in the parliament. I have met Mr Dreyfus. He seems a thoroughly decent fellow. But he and the Labor Party need to be honest: he is not interested in representation. (Time expired)