On Wednesday this week the government’s Clean Energy Bills passed both houses of parliament and will become law. Australia finally has a market mechanism to deal with greenhouse emissions and joins the European Union and New Zealand as a developed nation taking a decisive step towards mitigating climate change.
Thanks to an orchestrated scare campaign by the opposition, however, not everyone is pleased. It was to be expected that the industries responsible for most of the emissions, specifically the mining and energy sectors, would oppose the legislation, however it was not representatives of these industries who made the most noise on Wednesday.
As the bills passed the lower house on Wednesday morning, we were treated to the unedifying spectacle of a group of people, most of whom can only be politely described as on the retirement side of 60, heckling and abusing the Prime Minister from the public gallery. Now, I have nothing against protests against the government. I have been involved in more than a few and consider political protest to be a fundamental right within our democratic process, but Wednesday’s display of venom and bile was just that – personally motivated and seemingly completely devoid of any understanding of either the legislation being passed or the process that got it there.
The public gallery of Parliament House is there to enable the public to view our democratic proceedings. Even when our politicians behave like pre-schoolers, show off for the cameras, throw tantrums and shout at one another, the public should be respectful of the place and the process, if not the players. It was also somewhat concerning that many of the protestors were seated in the part of the gallery reserved for the guests of members. This means that a Member of the House of Representatives had to sign them in, and presumably vouch for their behaviour. The rabble from the gallery, including the Members’ guests, prompted the Speaker of the House, Harry Jenkins, to call for a report to be made on which member, or members, was responsible for these particular guests. This protest, it seems, was orchestrated from the ranks of the coalition, it was not an example of civil dissent.
The seniors, ejected from the gallery, continued their protest as they marched through Parliament House escorted by security, and once outside they unfurled banners and continued with their fully orchestrated campaign chanting, among other things, ‘no mandate’. The government may hold office by the slimmest majority, but it is a democratically elected government and as such, holds a mandate. There is no basis for the claim that the government does not hold a mandate for the carbon pricing mechanism: it governs, therefore it holds a mandate.
There is also no logical basis for their opposition to the carbon price itself. Unless any of these seniors is personally responsible for mining company operations they will not be affected. In fact, they will most likely be better off once the government’s scheme to compensate householders for the trickle-down increase in energy prices take effect. So what’s their problem? Oh, that’s right, they didn’t vote for Julia Gillard and therefore don’t think she has a right to govern.
At a time when young people are constantly under criticism for their lack of respect to their elders it was particularly saddening to hear one gentleman, and I use the term loosely, in referring to the Prime Minister of the country shouting, almost hysterically, into a TV camera a reference to “that lying scrag that’s running the country”. Would he, I wonder, stand by and allow a younger person to refer to, say, his wife in such terms? This was not political protest, this was personal abuse and if it is indicative of the level that political debate has reached in this country we are, indeed, in trouble.
Most troubling of all, however, was the age of these people and their objection to legislation aimed at ensuring that there is an environment left for their grandchildren to inherit. Do these people have grandchildren? How, then, will they look those kids in the eye and tell them that they were there to protest a piece of legislation to reduce pollution and arrest global warming because their superannuation or mining shares may be in some way affected? How will they explain their nationally televised behaviour and language when they complain about kids today having no respect? Can they justify how they have swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the unsubstantiated opposition line that a carbon tax will render Australia a second rate economy and destroy lives and livelihoods? Do they think about anyone other than themselves?
Will their grandchildren be proud of them? Do they really care?