A most polite spray
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam invites Tony Abbott to visit Western Australia - and then unloads on the Prime Minister in a Senate speech earlier this week that has since gone viral.PT7M29S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-348ra 620 349 March 6, 2014
Australian politics measures itself in landmark speeches. Menzies' ''forgotten people'' speech, 1942. Keating's ''Redfern'' speech, 1992. Gillard's misogyny speech, Hockey's entitlement speech. And now, Scott Ludlam's ''Welcome to WA, Tony Abbott'' speech.
I like such speeches, if only for their comforting illusion that there's more to our political life than the mundane squabble over money and resources. Not exactly ''I have a dream'' territory, perhaps, but they do at least imply core principle.
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari
And apparently I'm not the only one hungry for it. Sorry to say I don't mean our political leaders, whose indifference to the parlay for which we pay them is so profound that Ludlam found himself delivering his adjournment speech to a near-empty Senate, occupied by just one of his 75 elected colleagues.
But it was the populace came thundering through on horseback. Ten days on YouTube garnered Ludlam's speech 700,000 views; more than Cate Blanchett's Oscar win. This kind of response makes Australian politicians' disdain for principle the more surprising. Take, for example, Tony Abbott's recent address to the ForestWorks dinner. It was a classic crowd-pleaser, a cynical exercise in wrongful and duplicitous nonsense.
VIDEO: Tony Abbott tells a forestry industry dinner that Australia has 'too much locked-up forest'. Nine News.
Abbott told the logging industry lobby group that ''too much'' of our pristine forest is protected, that loggers are the ''true conservationists'' and that the Greens - which he characterised as ''the devil'' - are to blame for Tasmania's high unemployment, low life-expectancy and low school retention rates. It was dumb. It was embarrassing. But it worked.
The subtext was appeasement; a placatory sop to an angry state for Abbott's shameless downgrade of his national broadband network optic fibre promise to slow old copper.
Against such background blather, statements of principle stand in stark contrast. True, even principled speeches can have destructive consequences. Menzies' ''forgotten people'' speech, in validating the middle classes, helped justify a century of bloat and sprawl. Helped feed the entitlement from which we are now forced painfully to resile.
Far more dangerous, however, are those speeches that appear principled and are not. A comparison of Ludlam's ''Abbott'' speech with Joe Hockey's ''entitlement'' speech is edifying here. The first, marked by a kind of reckless candour (driven, no doubt, by Labor's threat to redirect preferences on April 5) is a lucid, point-by-point explication of principle. The other merely deploys principle to cloak economic expedience.
As opponents, the Liberals and the Greens could hardly be more adamant. Yet the weird thing is, if Hockey were serious about ending entitlement he would adopt just about every principle Ludlam so eloquently voiced.
When Hockey first started talking entitlement, in his 2011 speech to London's Institute of Economic Affairs, my ears pricked up. Ending entitlement is an idea with which I have some sympathy, since universal ''me-now''-ism has brought us to the teetering edge of economic and environmental ruin.
I even wrote a book about this (Blubberland: The Dangers of Happiness), fascinated as I was, and am, by how desire-based social structures can take us somewhere we emphatically do not want to go.
It's plain that eco-conscious living involves a reining-in of personal entitlement in the interests of the collective good. This is not socialism. It's just commonsense.
But that is a long way from Hockey's point. Hockey, like Margaret Thatcher before him, used the ''entitlement'' idea to engage our much baser instincts: cutting welfare and Medicare. He just wanted a reason to bash those who are already least entitled, the poor and voiceless.
Sure, there are dole bludgers. There's Medicare fraud. (Although I suspect a royal commission would discover more rorting by wealthy eastern suburbs plastic surgeons than families of 10 from Engadine.)
But by far the bigger and more urgent picture is how entitlement on all our parts, and most especially the parts of wealthy hyper-consumers, drives our wanton planetary destruction.
Ludlam's speech showed where Hockey's reasoning should have taken him, if he'd only had the courage and imagination to go there.
Ludlam begged Abbott to see Western Australia as ''a place where the drought never ended, where climate change from land clearing and fossil fuel combustion is a lived reality that is already costing jobs, property and lives''. He sketched a moving vision of ''Australia as it could be - an economy running on infinite flows of renewable energy; a society that never forgets it lives on country occupied by the planet's oldest continuing civilisation; and a country that values education, innovation and equality''.
He went on to log some of the ways in which Abbott's government has allowed its agenda to be driven by expectations of entitlement. Entitlement to what? Well, broadly, to exploit natural resources for immediate financial gain, entitlement to predator capitalism, whatever the long-term cost.
Ludlam cited Abbott's ''blank cheque'' for West Australian Premier Colin Barnett's ''bloody and unnecessary'' shark cull (over which an unprecedented 12,000 public submissions were received), and his summary cancellation of half a billion dollars' worth of funding for Perth light rail.
He also cited Abbott's support for gas-fracking and uranium mining, despite the known dangers and evident toxicity. And Abbott's determination to log Tasmania's old-growth forests, pretending that they're already ''degraded'' when in fact only a fraction of the world's-tallest flowering forest has ever been logged.
And Abbott's support for Monsanto and other global biotechs, in proposing the so-called Investor State Dispute Resolution clauses for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. ISDRs will effectively allow these massive biotechs, their clanking war-chests bigger than many state budgets, to sue Australian states that try to legislate against coal-seam gas or GM crops or for consumer labelling.
The writer Tim Winton says WA's ground-wealth has bred a ''smugness that has paralysed parts of the communal brain''. Ludlam insists otherwise. This is his gamble, that we're wrong to act ''as though the western third of our ancient continent is just Gina Rinehart's inheritance, to be chopped, benched and blasted''.
Ludlam finished by thanking the PM because ''every time you open your mouth the Green vote goes up''. In three weeks, we'll know whether he was right.
To watch the speeches go to smh.com.au/comment.