I SAW a photo of Greg Hunt the other day and was shocked. What happened to that idealistic young man we sent off to Canberra 13 years ago to do good things for the world?
Clive Palmer said Direct Action was crap, and we’d need another policy pretty soon. Still, he looked delighted with himself. Mr Hunt said how delighted he was but looked as if he had a stomach ache. He also suddenly looked like an old man.
Of course it’s unfair to point to these photos and say they prove something. We all have good days and bad days, even bad moments on good days. But it reminded me of Peter Garrett, the rock star/environmentalist dropped into the environment portfolio by the Rudd Government. You couldn’t see Garrett’s hair thin and grey, but you could see the same haunted look in his eyes.
Why do governments appoint environmentalists as ministers of the environment then make them bend over backwards not to protect the environment?
What streak of cruelty made John Howard appoint Phillip Ruddock, a committed humanitarian and life member of Amnesty International, as Minister for Immigration with responsibility for demonising people seeking asylum in Australia? Ruddock’s face grew into a death’s head before our eyes as he battled with his own demons. (In researching this article, I was amazed to find more recent photos show him growing younger with every year’s distance between him and that accursed portfolio.)
Strangely enough, you don’t see “the look” in our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. For all the terrifying challenges facing this country and the world, he remains the Peter Pan of politics, as jaunty and self-assured as the day he was elected.
But back to the MP for Flinders, whose masters thesis on environmental policy argued for a market-based system for pricing carbon. It’s possible he now sees that as a youthful folly and genuinely believes that paying big polluters makes more sense than taxing them. It sounds so daft it might be clever, except that it makes no attempt to change behaviour, either in consumers of energy – us – or in the polluters who aren’t being paid, nor does it encourage a shift to renewable energies.
Peter Garrett, the ALP's rock star candidate, 2004. Photo: Peter Rae
Peter Garrett in Parliament, 2013. Photo: Andrew Meares, Sydney Morning Herald
The Peter Pan of Australian politics. Official portrait
I have a friend who swore by Greg Hunt for many years. She had dealt with him in his capacity as the MP for Flinders and come away convinced that here was a decent man and politician, one of the old-style Liberal politicians in the mould of Rupert Hamer. She has waited and waited for him to show his true colours. She still says he might be working behind the scenes to talk sense into some of his party colleagues, but she no longer speaks of her hopes.
Politics is a grindingly difficult job for those who take the responsibility seriously. Personal ambition is one thing but sometimes we’re also led astray by the ambition to do good. To achieve anything in politics, you have to compromise. You give a little bit here, a little bit there. The difficulty is in knowing when to stop. Compromise too much and you wake up one day and find there’s nothing left.
Then there’s the principle of cabinet solidarity. Ministers can argue all they like in cabinet but once a decision is made they have to support it. Can you imagine having to go out and spruik something you violently oppose? A little bit of you would die each day.
It’s interesting to compare Mr Hunt with another Liberal politician, his father Alan Hunt, who died last year. In his obituary of Mr Hunt Snr, Age political columnist Tim Colebatch revealed several occasions when Hunt broke party ranks on a matter of principle. In 1951, as president of the Liberal Club and secretary of the Australian Union of Students, he campaigned against prime minister Sir Robert Menzies' referendum to ban the Communist Party, saying it broke Liberal principles of free speech and freedom of association.
In 1963, by which time he was a Liberal Party MP, he shamed his own government by revealing its preferential treatment for airline tycoon Sir Reginald Ansett ahead of an ordinary householder. ''One cannot avoid the conclusion,” he said, “that Mr Ansett received far greater consideration than did the widow, Mrs Felsenthaal, and that he received it because he was a man of greater influence.'' It was a memorable parliamentary speech but then Liberal premier Henry Bolte was not impressed.
It's hard to imagine a junior MP speaking up now for a constituent against the interests of his or her own party.
Later, as minister of local government and planning in the Hamer Government, Mr Hunt angered the development lobby and many leading Liberal lights by putting limits on development and preserving green wedges.
None of this was good for his political career. In 1992, after one run-in too many with then Liberal premier Jeff Kennett, he lost preselection for his seat, retired from politics and returned to practising law. Some might think it was an ignominious end to 33 years of political life but Colebatch saw it very differently:
“Alan Hunt's legacy is all around us - in the historic buildings and precincts he saved from demolition, in the green wedges of farmland he ensured were not built on, and in the bushland he kept on Melbourne's fringe for future generations to enjoy.”
One wonders how Greg Hunt felt as he read those words, and listened to the many eulogies at his father’s memorial service.
November 15, 2014
I AM writing in response to the opinion piece 'Political prisoners' published on November 8.
I was disappointed by the comments made in this article; particularly those related to my deceased father. The last paragraph is a rhetorical question and is very cutting. I’m not sure this question has any answer other than this – I felt the same as anyone feels when sitting at their parent’s funeral; extremely upset to have lost a loved one. My father was my mentor, my inspiration and a very close confidant.
The opinion piece written was exactly that, opinion. Watson is entitled to her views, as are we all, but nobody can really know what another person is thinking or feeling at any given time.
Yes, politics can be challenging but that is one of the reasons I enjoy it. No two days are ever the same and you have people with differing views and beliefs working together for the good of the Australian people.
I would also like to correct the record about the comments made in reference to my thesis, A Tax to make the Polluter Pay. You intimated that the undergraduate paper I wrote was about an emissions trading scheme for climate change. This is false. The thesis was actually about zinc, cadmium and lead poisoning.
I absolutely focused then and now on market mechanisms. The Emissions Reduction Fund is a baseline and credit scheme with funds allocated through a reverse auction or market program. It was precisely the lessons learned 24 years ago in that thesis that have now been applied.
By contrast, the carbon tax was both a tax and a system that included $30 billion of handouts to large corporations including $5.5 billion, no strings attached, to Victorian brown coal providers. This, amazingly, included cash transfers of approximately $250 million each to Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang before the carbon tax even started.
The tax did not do the job it set out to do. In its two-year lifespan, the carbon tax hit the economy to the tune of $15.4 billion. In its first year, emissions fell by 0.1 per cent.
The whole design of the carbon tax was around driving up electricity and gas prices, forcing them onto low-income earners.
The Government believes in climate change – clearly, absolutely and unequivocally – and is committed to our emissions reduction target. There has been no change on this position from when the Coalition was in Opposition to now being in Government.
By abolishing the carbon tax, we are reducing the cost for pensioners, seniors and low-income families.
We were voted into office to achieve four major goals. We have already overwhelmingly stopped the loss of life at sea through our Border Protection Policy and now we have repealed the carbon tax. We are well down the track towards building infrastructure and roads and we will keep working to repair the budget so the next generation doesn’t have a massive impairment on their ability to carry out their lives in an economically stable society.
You do the job and if you do the job well the Australian people will make their judgement.
Federal MP for Flinders and Minister for the Environment.
November 9, 2014
A very interesting article. I have also pondered how someone like Greg Hunt or Malcolm Turnbull, who I believe are true small L liberals can stomach the somewhat extreme policy and mantra of the Abbot government. I have also heard of Mr Hunt’s recognition of global warming; he was considered a bright light on environmental matters in the Howard government.
Others such as Russell Broadbent have taken courageous stands on civil liberty issues and earlier this year Sharman Stone took a strong stand against the Government seeking federal government support for SPC Ardmona, which is based in her north east Victorian electorate.
Outside of what seem trigger issues, however, they go along with Government policy that must quite often appall them. You juxtaposed Greg Hunt and Peter Garrett with photos showing how politics has aged them. There is no doubt in my mind that the parliamentary role diminished Mr Garrett.
I have recently read about Gough Whitlam’s rise to power and the impact he had and is still having through the reforms he drove. His policies didn’t just appear. He thought about and developed them over a number of years. He then proceeded to inspire and push them as solutions to the torpor and inadequacy prevailing in the immediate post-Menzies era.
He had a totally dysfunctional party that he had to bash into shape; he took serious risks and at times played the brinkman’s role. Gough would have scorned the focus groups of today, largely because he believed in getting out and among the people, but also because he realised, and Paul Keating also articulated it, you have to spend political capital to deliver worthwhile policies.
I have been of the view for some time that party politics is broken. Gough wouldn’t agree that there is an alternative and quite frankly I am not sure what it would be. It may well be that we have to await another charismatic and determined leader who will do the hard policy work, kick out the focus group leaders, reform their party and lead them to a government that will once again seek to govern on behalf of the broader Australian community, as Gough did.
Michael Whelan, Phillip Island
November 9, 2014
What a great article Catherine Watson - punchy and yet compassionate
Given his earlier ideas and predictions, Hunt's leadership of the environment portfolio has been disastrous and so disappointing - from both a personal and a global perspective.
As my passion is in Australia's role and responsibility to help eradicate the worst aspects of global hunger and poverty, as a member of his constituency, I write regularly to Hunt, requesting he take action on my behalf. He always does as I ask, for which I'm most grateful.
For the time being, polluters are winning to the detriment of the environment. Maybe we all need to become stronger advocates for the long-term wellbeing of our planet.
November 9, 2014
This is a well observed article. It is right to highlight the visible changes to those who really care about the physical conditions that future generations will face.
Alan Hunt was a man with foresight. He took over from Rupert Hamer in the late sixties in the role of what, I imagine, became the environment minister. He responded with effective speed when I reported a severely contaminated section of bush and the Sassafras Creek. I like to think that the creek is healthy and happy and maybe still has platypuses because of him.
I also believe that there was less openly vicious competition in our society back then. Perhaps people like Dick Hamer and Alan Hunt were able to pursue ideals.
Heather Tobias, Wonthaggi