Community Cabinet and my first political experience

Dear readers, I apologise for the absence of my usual Wednesday post last night, but I was in a meeting with the Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke.  The Prime Minister was in town (Kwinana) with 15 of her ministers for a Community Cabinet meeting and I got the chance to talk directly to Minister Burke for ten whole minutes before it all started.  And yes, I was nervous!  Hence why I had to come home and have a day to assess what happened before I shared the fun with you.

The scene at Gilmore College on Wednesday evening (5/09/12). Hopefully better photos to come...

The scene at Gilmore College on Wednesday evening (5/09/12) Hopefully better photos to come…

The 35th Community Cabinet was held in Gilmore College hall with an audience of around 300 locals (and some not-quite-so-local).  It was an opportunity for us to raise any issues directly with the government and officials themselves.  But before I go into that, I’ll tell you about the Ministerial meeting.

After pre-registering, I was the first of five people to meet with Minister Burke before the Community Cabinet meeting.  Others would be talking about environmental issues including urban bushland preservation, the South-west water catchment area, and destructive logging practices in WA.  I talked about marine sanctuaries.

Australia is about to become a world leader in marine conservation.  Minister Burke announced in June that the government is to create a network of 44 marine parks and reserves around Australia in Commonwealth waters.  Since then, a second consultation period has been in place over six weeks, asking members of the public and stakeholders to comment on whether they approve of this plan. This submission period will close on Monday 10th September: next week.

I asked for a meeting so that I could talk to the Minister about this plan.  I’m passionate about marine conservation, and wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the Minister for getting this milestone into place.  Well, almost there.  We still have the final hurdles to go, and recently opposition has been growing loudly from recreational fishers misinformed about how the sanctuaries will affect them, and even worse, the Coalition.

Click here to see my recent blog for Conservation Council of WA about why the Coalition’s claims are a load of swash.  I asked Tony Burke how confident he was that the marine parks plan would go through, and he answered “Very.”  That’s reassuring.  He said that the Coalition’s Private Members Bill against the plan would never succeed.  However he did say that the move has flagged that the Liberals may be targeting marine parks in the next election…  And that isn’t reassuring at all.  We have to make sure these new parks come into place within the next 6-8 months, so that they are law and cannot be touched by any ridiculous, politically-minded move that fails to keep Australia’s best interests in mind.

Minister Burke says he’s doing the best he can to defend marine parks, but how much of that is just political smooth-talking I don’t know.  I certainly feel that he could do more to defend and promote the amazing scientific research that supports and underpins the case for marine sanctuaries, research that has taken over a decade to collate.  Holding up a pile of documents to a camera and saying ‘here, look how much work has been done’ obviously hasn’t convinced enough people.  The science is great and deserves better promotion.  Otherwise we may risk a situation like climate change where the voice of a loud minority caused people to doubt the solid scientific evidence… and continues to lead us into debate.

This was my first political pseudo-interview.  I admit it wasn’t amazing.  In fact, I had a feeling the whole way through that he knew exactly how many times I’d done an interview before (none) and was taking full advantage of that fact to smoothly turn me away from some questions (like asking him about funding for baseline studies as soon as the marine parks are implemented) and turning the question away from him (like saying that he needs a wave of community support – from me and others – right now because he’s doing the best he can).  But my friends from Save Our Marine Life – who have dealt with Minister Burke a lot over the past few years – said that honestly, it just sounded like I met Tony Burke.  So I came away feeling that maybe I’d done alright.

Mostly I just smiled a lot and said how awesome these marine parks are going to be, and keep it up (don’t fail us now).  I said that he’s got community support – and that is true.  Not long ago a poll showed that 70% of Australians are happy with marine parks, that in fact it’s the most popular decision the current government has made.

We just need those people to come out now and support marine parks so that they come into place and Australia can truly become a world leader in marine conservation.

So if you haven’t already entered your submission, please go to the Save Our Marine Life website and sign the petition that says YES to marine sanctuaries.

Julia Gillard and her Cabinet team at the meeting. Picture: Ben Crabtree, The West Australian

Julia Gillard and her Cabinet team at the meeting. Picture: Ben Crabtree, The West Australian

By the way, I mentioned that there was also a Community Cabinet.  As a British girl living in Australia, I think I must be certifiably Aussie now, because I’ve been to a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.  Do you agree?

Anyway, the main focus of the night was education.  Members of the public were able to ask questions for about an hour, directed either to the PM or other Ministers who were present. Education reforms and unemployment were the main topics raised, with others including the super trawler, asylum seekers, aged care, the aid budget, uranium mining in WA, how the carbon tax works, and why the government puts ‘mentally fragile’ asylum seekers into detention centres overseas (the answer to which was that it is another deterrent).

Member for Fremantle, Melissa Parks, was also present.  Ms Parks is planning to put forward a private member’s bill stopping supertrawlers from fishing in Australian waters.  When asked why Environment Minister Tony Burke hadn’t stopped the FV Margiris from coming, he said: “I did the absolute limit I was advised I could do under existing law . . . should the law be changed?” – referring to Ms Parks’ upcoming Bill.  I for one will be absolutely behind her on that one, and I’m sure that the 80,000+ Australians who have already protested against the supertrawler will be as well.  For more on that issue, see my earlier blog (and recent update).

The most popular question was the last one too: what could the federal government do about a planned marina at a local public reserve site (Point Peron) bequeathed by the Commonwealth and being sold off by the state Liberal government?  Whilst Minister Burke had only just returned from visiting the site that day, he fended off the question on the basis of needing further advice.  For more info on that campaign, visit Hands Off Point Peron.


And that was my first political experience.  Do you have any tips for next time for me?

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