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Voluntary Student Unions Bill: Speech By Senator Bob Brown

This is the text of a speech to the Senate by Australian Greens leader Bob Brown.

Speech by Senator Bob Brown.

Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania) (4.51 pm)— Effectively, Senator Fielding came in, threw his grenade into the student unions and then left. He has abandoned the chamber. He is not here for the debate. One has to ask: where is the package that he is aware of but the rest of the chamber does not know about? Some principled partaker in the democratic process he is!

This is Senator Fielding washing his hands of his responsibility to students as we go to Christmas. This is Senator Fielding taking his 30 pieces of silver in return for a sell-out of the student unions. It is Labor’s Senator Fielding, by the way, who is performing in this fashion. I do not mind. Senator Fielding can make up his own mind.

I have a different point of view as far as Senator Joyce is concerned—and I have been one of his critics— because today he has stood by a commitment to the Queensland party which he represents. That has to be something that people will appreciate and laud. The electorate out there, which is sick of not knowing what is going to happen in parliaments and sick of the backroom deals which are not brought forward so that parliament can debate them, will at least say that Senator Joyce has done what he said he would do. Senator Joyce has stood up for an electorate that voted for him to do what he is doing today.

Not so Senator Fielding. He is not even in the chamber. He is missing during the vital part of this debate, when he should be here listening to what is happening. He has gone out to speak to the government negotiators who have promised him protection as this tawdry process unfolds—on this Friday which sees the last sitting of the Senate for 2005. So be it. We have seen it all before. The problem here, of course, is that the government—and Senator Fielding is the cipher— has had Senator Fielding return to the prime ministerial office after the negotiations the Prime Minister had with him back in the run-up to the last election. This is comeback day for Senator Fielding. But it is a pretty low point in politics. If this is Family First politics then, boy, oh boy, that two per cent of people who voted for him are going to have to think again. We are told that Family First represents the politics of principle. The principle involves him locking out his colleagues—he said it himself—while he sits in a room and takes calls from the government. Senator Fielding, do not tell anybody else—come in and make a speech and do not make it clear what you are going to do on the eve of an incredibly important decision for the parliament. Keep everybody in the dark. Pretend that you are the arbiter of this matter and, what is more, that the weight of the world is on your shoulders. What a pathetic performance it was from Senator Fielding this afternoon. What a failure he is as a representative of the people of Victoria who put him there.

Senator Fielding should have looked back a couple of benches to Senator Joyce, who at least today stood up for what he said he would do. Not so Senator Fielding. There has been a whole process of failure of principle from this senator, who has made his decision outside the realm of the people who voted for him. I ask Senator Fielding and the Nationals who are going to sell out students today: what about the students who go to city universities? What are they going to get out of this? I ask Senator Fielding: has he read the history of the GST package? Where are all the great things that were going to flow out of that? They have evaporated, as will this package in the future. There is no guarantee about the future.

Government senators interjecting—

Senator BOB BROWN— The baying crowd opposite know that. All they do is tug their forelocks to the Howard executive office. What a low point. What a nadir in politics we have seen dished up here by Family First on this last afternoon of sitting in 2005. What a black day for the potential of a party which said it had principle but, when it got to the crunch, was found to have none at all.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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