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Tag Archives: Scott Ludlam

What do our politicians do?

What, exactly, do our politicians do?

Today, Monday 18 April 2016, the Turnbull government took the almost unprecedented step of recalling all of Parliament for a three-week “emergency sitting” to debate and pass – or, hopefully, fail to pass – two specific pieces of legislation.

Much has been written about the government’s real motivations behind this recall and debate. With the repeated defeat of the ABCC “productivity” bill, Malcolm Turnbull has his double dissolution trigger. But before the vote, with its commonly expected outcome, the Senate spent a large portion of the day discussing the bill.

I had the pleasure of listening to Senator Scott Ludlam’s speech on the subject. Senator Ludlam’s speeches are almost always worth listening to – go on, listen to one or two right now, we’ll wait.

If you just took the opportunity to watch some of Ludlam’s speeches, or have previously done so, beside the clear speaking, reliance on facts and withering irony that he brings to his every contribution, the other notable feature of Scott Ludlam’s speeches is that the chamber is almost invariably almost empty.

It would seem fair to assume that on a matter of such national importance that Malcolm Turnbull would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring “nearly 150 MPs and their staff… back to Parliament from around the country”, that said MPs would want to listen with avid attention to the speeches in response. Presumably the job of an MP is to attend sittings of Parliament, engage in the discussions and debate there, and form an opinion on the subject at hand prior to casting their vote.

One might make that assumption, but one would evidently be wrong. Any cursory viewing of either Parliament or the Senate will show the real situation – wide swathes of benches, primarily governmental and opposition, clear of occupants. That is, until the bells are rung for a vote.

Debates in the Parliament and the Senate, it seems, exist for the sake of posterity and inclusion in Hansard, not to inform the level of understanding of those about to decide on the future of the country. Is it any wonder Question Time so often descends into farce? The stakes are so low, with all – or at least most – MPs already set in their intended vote, that they need to pass the time somehow. The result is a system of government too easily interrupted by process – filibusters, suspensions of standing orders, points of order, and political games such as tying unpalatable bills to legislation of clear national and popular importance, forcing MPs to vote against the good to prevent the bad, or to vote for the bad to achieve the good.

So if they’re not spending their time in their seats in the Chamber, what do our politicians do?

They don’t write their own articles.

They don’t even fact-check, or apparently have very much knowledge about the subject matter of their portfolio. Scott Ryan’s recent snafu with plagiarism is only the most recent of a continual string of egregious failures. Sometimes it seems that if politics were a school class, most Australian politicians would get a failed grade on account of not bothering with even the most rudimentary editing of their copied work.

They don’t rely on expert witnesses.

Greg Hunt, apparently the closest thing the Coalition has to a climate expert, went no further in his research than to visit a wikipedia page. Relying on Wikipedia would bring a failing grade for a student’s essay; why should we accept it from our elected leaders?

They don’t appear to have much knowledge of party processes that fall into their direct remit.

Nor do they seem to take an active involvement in running the companies of which they are the directors.  Sometimes it appears that politicians spend more time disavowing any knowledge of things happening in their own department than it would have taken to simply be aware in the first place. It helps that they seem to have such fallible memories. Even if they know something now, they almost certainly won’t know it by the time it becomes the subject of an inquiry. This is a peculiarly specific talent that seems unique to our politicians.

What our politicians do appear to spend plenty of time doing is sledging. Almost every federal politician in Australia, a refined product of the political system, is well-versed in holding the party line, spouting off talking points and heckling during whatever speeches they don’t manage to avoid being present for. Some might consider these to be lower-order priorities than the activities that might actually lead to better legislation.

It’s not as if we don’t pay our politicians enough. Even the most obscure of backbenchers [not] sitting in the pews at the back of the chamber is earning six figures – twice. If you’re reading this, almost certainly every federal politician earns more than you by a number of multiples. It has been said that “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”, as if that were a defense of exorbitant parliamentary salaries, but research has shown that the benefits of lifting politicians’ pay start to even out once the level of remuneration reaches a comparative middle class wage. Middle class wage is approximately the average full-time wage, or just under $81,000. Clearly we pay above the curve. Politicians and economists are wont to point out that if you pay less, you won’t attract the people you want into politics, or keep them there. Amanda Vanstone has argued that Australian politicians earn much less than company directors and others in big business. This brings us to the corollary. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys; if you pay a corporate salary, you get businessmen. Oddly, people rarely seem to question whether businessmen make the best politicians.

So, whilst Parliament and the Senate spend the next three weeks in Canberra having already voted down the extremely critical piece of legislation the Government absolutely needed to have passed, just remember they’re earning a bare minimum of $11,483 for their efforts. And keep that number in mind when you see pictures of empty seats. You’re paying for them to not be sitting there.

The message was delivered: no confidence in the Abbott Government whatsoever

A Statement of No Confidence in the Abbott Government has been delivered to the Australian Parliament as a message from the 100,000 people who took part in the March in March. And, writes MiM organiser Loz Lawrey, “As the intensity of the public’s dissatisfaction with this toxic government continues to grow, the message will be delivered again and again, over and over”.

“Let it be known, and entered into the public record, that on this day, Monday 17 March 2014, the People of Australia delivered this document to the Parliament of Australia.”

On a sunny Monday in March, a delegation of Australians presented a handwritten parchment to Adam Bandt, the Federal Member for Melbourne, at Parliament house in Canberra.

Adam had graciously agreed to accept the Statement of No Confidence and present it to Parliament on behalf of the more than 100,000 people around the country who attended the March in March rallies protesting the governance of the Liberal/National Coalition.

A few days later Senator Scott Ludlum attempted to table the Statement in the Senate, but sadly the tabling was disallowed on a technicality. Such a document had never been presented before, and the Abbott government narrowly avoided the need to officially respond.

The March in March 2014 Statement of No Confidence in the Liberal/National Coalition Government From the People of Australia was written and rewritten, passing through one set of hands and then another, from laptop to smartphone to desktop screen, added to and tweaked, then jigged and rejigged until it truly was a document “of the people”.

Those of us who took part in this joyous assertion of public sentiment knew all along that successful tabling and debating of this document was unlikely, since it didn’t fit the strict layout and presentation requirements for a petition and had no supporting signatures attached.

We also knew that petitions, even if they are tabled, are easily dismissed and require hundreds of thousands of signatures if they are to achieve any sort of real acknowledgment or response.

The Statement of No Confidence did not protest any single issue and made no demand for any particular outcome. With or without signatures the Statement was, and remains, an overarching assertion of public disapproval of this government’s decisions and the direction in which Abbott and his cronies are taking our country.

Although not yet officially tabled, the document still entered the public record via media news cameras and print coverage.

Despite the Abbott government’s refusal to publicly acknowledge the March rallies, it is aware of the Statement’s existence, and of its contents – the marchers’ message of No Confidence was delivered.

For the government and its cheer-squad in the mainstream media, a head-in-the-sand avoidance of the rallies and the Statement was the only possible response. To respond otherwise was to risk a humiliation even deeper than the serial embarrassments brought on daily by the public utterances of Abbott and his ministers, blithely reported by so many journalists.

The rallies that took place around Australia were a clear demonstration that there is great opposition to the ideologically-driven agenda of the Abbott government and that there is ever-growing public consternation (note the current polls) at the obvious attempts at social engineering, the blatant suppression of information, the retreat from transparency and accountability, the rorting and trough-snouting, as well as the lies and broken promises.

Oh, and it seems that some people are worried about the attacks on democracy and human rights, the abuse and mistreatment of refugee asylum seekers, the dismantling of environmental regulation and general trashing of our natural environment, the assault on wages and entitlements, and the closing down or defunding of every institution and organisation established to support and inform the public interest.

The lugubrious, repetitive pronouncements from “Smokey Joe” Hockey, whose pants seem to occasionally ignite and smoulder (leading to on-camera sweating and obvious discomfort), are grooming us for an austerity regime the like of which Australia has never seen. Let’s not forget that Abbott considers Maggie Thatcher a mentor to emulate.

Our country is suffering a concerted attack, by a government owned by vested interests, upon our vision of ourselves as a nation respected by the rest of the world for upholding standards of fairness and decency at home and abroad.

Thanks to Abbott and his cronies we are now viewed with global contempt – a xenophobic, racist raft of white supremacists floating in the Pacific, abusing all who come near. How have we allowed this perception of our multicultural society to take root and grow? Is this the reality?

Australia has never managed to grasp the opportunity afforded by the coming-together of our immigrant society (which includes most of us) and the First Australians whose land it is, to create an exemplary modern society of equals and forge a new history, free from the constraints, mistakes and influences of the past. Instead we import the dumbed-down culture of the deeply dysfunctional United States, ignoring the wealth of world culture that permeates our society.

Once, we were known as the land of the Fair Go. That’s right, the Fair Go. Sadly, according to Smokey Joe, the Fair Go gave us all a sense of “entitlement” which was simply not sustainable. So the Fair Go, and along with it all sense of decency and righteousness, of empathy and inclusiveness, must be swept aside to balance the books and satisfy the “bottom line”.

Apparently this will elevate us to the transcendent, nirvana-like state of “surplus”, despite the fact that many Australians will endure lives of misery and hardship in the process.

Conservative governments notoriously and conveniently ignore human suffering, dismissing any concept of social justice and equity, and reducing the discussion of public affairs to a mathematical equation of dollars and cents.

Only the elements of profit and loss are factored in, while the values and considerations of human hearts and minds, of skills, knowledge, intelligence, understanding and caring ( the very stuff of life) are sent to the margins.

And nowhere on the page is there any reference to the common, or public good.

Somehow it comes about that government of humans by humans no longer regards the human condition itself as relevant in the decision-making process.

Somehow the dollar, the measure of greed, becomes not just one factor among others, but the only consideration. A perversion of governance becomes entrenched in our system which government messaging and media manipulation grooms us to accept as the norm.

The marchers who attended the March rallies told their stories through the number and diversity of messages on the placards expressing community concerns and through the words of those who spoke. The Statement of No Confidence is the symbolic summary of those concerns.

The marches and rallies will continue. This people’s movement will grow. Already Marches are planned for Sydney, Adelaide and Perth for Sunday 18 May, while regional marches around the nation will take place at the end of August.

As the intensity of the public’s dissatisfaction with this toxic government continues to grow, the message will be delivered again and again, over and over.

And one day soon, to use the religious imagery favoured by Abbott, Australians will be delivered from evil.

Statement Of No Confidence Large

A statement of no confidence in the Abbott Government (image courtesy of Loz Lawrey)

Greens fringe dwellers

“The Greens vote is complex”, writes Douglas Evans in this analysis of not only where their votes come from, but likely to be found in the future.

A recent AIMN article by Sir Scotch Mistery included the following quote:

Some vote Green, but the vote is meaningless we are told, even though almost 12% of the population vote for them. Why is the 12% so meaningless? Labor gets into bed with Bob Brown and others with ethics and vision, and are immediately held up as some sort of traitors. But no one, even Antony Greene, of the ABC, can explain why that vote is wasted.

This struck some resonances with me and prompted a comment in response to the article that became the basis for this article. As a fringe dweller, more an observer than a participant, I’ve got a few (shamelessly partisan) thoughts about the Greens. My former Federal MP Lindsay Tanner apparently agreed with the ‘experts’ Sir Scotch refers to. Tanner liked to say that voting for the Greens was just “shouting from the sidelines”. Of course that was just before the shouting got a little louder in 2010 and his Labor successor in the prized ALP Seat of Melbourne was defeated by Adam Bandt. In 2013 of course the shouting became positively deafening when Bandt repeated this feat without the aid of Liberal preferences.

The most recent Age-Nielsen Poll has the Greens on 17% nationally (up 5%) mostly apparently (and counter-intuitively) on the back of disaffected L-NP voters. In WA apparently the Greens lead Labor in the polls 27% to 20% currently and over the weekend with Labor still engaged in its own life and death struggle to reform itself, Christine Milne called for reform of the Greens constitution to give more power to members in formulating policy. This in a party that (in Victoria at least) already formally and regularly, as a matter of course, invites the participation of members in policy formulation.

After the decline in the Greens vote experienced in the 2013 and yet another tiresome round of finger wagging predictions of the end of the ‘accursed Greens’ both in the MSM and online, Scott Ludlam’s re-election in the WA Senate rerun and a bit of good news in the polls is welcome to an ageing Green like me. But just as the doomsayers are continually wrong with their predictions of the end for the Greens so the cheerleaders hoping for the triumphant rise of Australia’s social democrats would be wise to take a deep breath.

Despite these positive signs it would not be sensible to get too optimistic. No-one should assume, either that the the size of their vote will correspond closely with the number of seats they win, or that their vote will continue to grow steadily. It is a striking illustration of how uneven the Australian political playing field is that around 10% of the primary vote delivers a single lower house seat (out of 150) to the Greens while 4.29% of the primary vote delivers nine seats to the Nationals.

The Greens have experienced such swings in the polls in the past only to fall back to what appears to be the baseline 10% of the primary vote. Nevertheless, The Greens vote is complex. People vote Greens for all sorts of reasons. Many find a policy agenda that prioritizes environmental responsibility, social justice and compassion attractive. Some ageing social democrats like me, who believe this is what the Labor Party should stand for but increasingly doesn’t, are encouraged to find it is still possible to vote for a party that reflects these principles and is not simply the least-worst option. Many find it energizing and refreshing to be around an organization with a positive agenda that still, in the face of darkening times, has faith in the possibilities of the future and the potential for positive change rather than offering up continually reheated versions of the same-old same-old that has failed us in the past. The irreducible core of the Greens vote, about 10% of the electorate seems (to me) to be firmly based on these factors.

Then there is a soft vote that will come and go. Some whose natural habitat is either the steamy L-NP swamp or the scorching ALP desert have found themselves so disturbed by individual policies on, for example asylum seekers or climate change that they have moved to the Greens at least temporarily.

Some have voted for the Greens simply because they are not either of the two old parties that so many Australians are so very tired of. A large chunk of this group (which is politically pretty disengaged) is fundamentally conservative. These deserted the Greens in the last election when Palmer showed up on the horizon offering them a conservative alternative to the L-NP. Others (who are basically Liberal ‘wets’) close their eyes tight and vote for the Greens because they profoundly disapprove of what Abbott and his bunch of goons are doing to their Party and they can’t bring themselves to vote for Labor – the old enemy.

Others have voted for the Greens because they have seen them as the new-on-the-block-little-guys sticking it up the tired old tweedle dum and tweedle dee parties in Canberra. For these people the sight of the Greens actually wielding some power both in Canberra and Tasmania (Oh no they are a political party after all!) was disturbing and at the last election these voters deserted for The Pirates, the Animal Liberation Party, the Sex Party etc.

The breakdown of the most recent Age-Nielsen Poll is informative. While about a quarter of Australians between the age of 18 and 39 suggest they will vote Greens, the percentage of older Australians who would do so falls away strongly until apparently only about 10% of the oldest cohort (55+) votes for the Greens.

By contrast Labor scores around a third of the vote across all four age groups. The L-NP coalition captures about a third of the vote from the two youngest age groups but this increases until about a half of the oldest age group say they would vote for the mad monk and his band of merry pranksters. If this breakdown were to be maintained for a decade or so natural attrition would see the Greens steadily increase their vote to somewhere north of 20% Labor marking time in the mid 30s and the Coalition falling back to Labor.

The Nielsen poll is consistent with research for the Whitlam Institute carried out in 2011 by Dr Ron Brooker which examined the voting intentions of young voters (18 – 34 age group) prior to a series of Federal elections from 1998 to 2010. This showed the following:

  • Those intending to vote for the ‘old’ parties declined by about 10%, from somewhere north of 40% in 1998 to around 35% in 2010.
  • Those intending to vote for the Greens increased by about 18%, from around 5% in 1998 to roughly 23% in 2010.

The study shows that young voters are the natural core of support for the Greens and perhaps the vehicle for expanding the vote. It notes the substantial, possibly determinative, impact’ of the youth vote ‘on the outcomes of the 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010 Federal elections.’ However it also notes the volatile nature of the youth vote as reflected in dramatic swings both to and from the Greens over the whole period.

The study argues that the electoral volatility of young Australians reflects that they ‘are strongly values driven and their attachment is to issues rather than traditional political organization.’ They ‘tend to … make decisions based on whose proposal or offer best fits their values on their issue of priority at a given time.’

The youth vote is electorally powerful but volatile. However it is also increasingly disillusioned with the political process. Half a million of them did not register to vote in 2013 and many more of them are presumably among the roughly 3% of Australians who deliberately voted ‘informal’. The rewards are rich for the political party that captures the attention and support of this group, particularly those currently opting out. The conservatives, in government, are focused on the establishment of ‘Australia Inc.’ for the benefit of their backers. Factions permitting, Labor in opposition might finally seriously begin to address its own deep structural and spiritual malaise. With the attention of the ‘old’ parties focused elsewhere and support for both falling among young voters anyway, neither are likely to make headway growing their support among this group. Both Scott Ludlam’s and Adam Bandt’s re-election campaigns bore strong similarity to independent Kathy McGowan’s successful community based campaign to unseat the unspeakable Sophie Mirabella in the Victorian rural seat of Indi. Taken together with the steady flow of emailed invitations from Adam Bandt’s office inviting participation in issues-based door-knocking and letter-boxing campaigns this suggests to me that the Greens’ approach to consolidating and strengthening their vote aligns precisely with what is most likely to attract the crucial youth vote.

I assume that as the crisis deepens (as it surely will) and both L-NP and ALP show themselves to have no remedies (as I expect to happen) support for the Greens will grow. I believe this will occur not only because of the revealed shortcomings of the ‘old’ parties but also because of the perceived strengths of the Greens. In a piece for Fairfax media discussing the current good news for the Greens Michael Gordon notes that they are being rewarded for not wavering in their policies and priorities.’ I think this is self-evident but this, of course is also the characteristic that marked the Greens as ‘unfit for government’ in the minds of granite brained, finger wagging, conservative political pundits and desperate Labor politicians in the dying days of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd soap opera.

However for Greens’ ‘policies and priorities’ to have any effect will mean coalition of some sort with Labor. For this to happen a number of things must change. Labor will have to realize that a Labor primary vote in the mid 30s and a Greens vote in the mid teens (eminently possible in the current climate) might just translate into some sort of progressive coalition government but in the absence of this would probably deliver power narrowly to the coalition.

Labor cannot simply assume that they can continue to disparage their progressive potential allies and float into power in their own right on a raft of Greens preferences. Those days are probably gone. Nor can they assume that they can get their primary vote back up into the 40s from where they might just achieve power in their own right. The breakdown of the Nielsen poll discussed above and the decades long decline in their primary vote to its current position in the mid 30s both suggest that ALP governing in its own right is increasingly unlikely.

They should get busy exploring the possibilities for co-operation and get used to the idea of shared power as an acceptable Plan B. Brad Orgill argued this in his eminently logical but (to me at least) hopelessly politically naïve book ‘Why Labor Should savour its Greens’. They should start exploring the possibilities for re-educating the Australian public who have been conditioned to believe that coalition with the Greens equates to a communist takeover or a pact with the devil. The Greens for their part must learn the hard political lessons of a couple of stints in power in Tasmania and the part they played in the Rudd-Gillard Federal era all of which ended in tears and recriminations.

Scott Ludlam for President?

scott ludlam

Photo: abc.net.au

Imagine having a head of State who was calm, articulate, honest, dignified, compassionate, knowledgeable, respectful, practical, hard-working. The more I see of Scott Ludlam the more these words echo in my mind.

His maiden speech to the Senate in 2008 conjured up a future vision in which the right kinds of technology are used to deliver the right kinds of human outcomes, while the wrong kinds are left on the scrapheap of history as being inefficient and outmoded. The speech was peppered with words like “Pelton generators”, hot rocks technology, “large solar thermal plants”, “world-class broadband”, “fast, affordable mass transit”. He wondered what the human race might become if we harnessed our engineering potential, our skill with tools, in a much better way than we currently are — a way that would not be inherently harmful to our planet.

Renai LeMay wrote on Delimiter

“although the speech does build visions of a better future for humanity, its tone is not frivolous. Instead, the speech is delivered with a kind of cool implacability. A kind of quiet, relentless determination to see that vision realised, no matter how many obstacles stand in the way. The speaker is not a hothead. He contains an extremely slow burning fire within his modest frame. The speech doesn’t build castles in the air. It builds castles on the ground that will slowly but surely reach the air.”

The speech ends with a call to arms:

“We know that the media dines out on the spectacle of conflict and abuse which our Westminster system seems to imply.  But in my very short time here it is already apparent that a vast amount of what the Senate does is based on collaboration, hard work and a certain grudging respect for different points of view. I really look forward to working with you as we bring our collective efforts, wisdom and good grace to bear on the challenges which confront us all.”

Those good intentions were more than just words as Ludlam has worked tirelessly in many areas. He is calm and methodical on the Senate floor and always seems to have a good understanding of the topic at hand.

The speech he gave on March 4 to a near empty Senate chamber, welcoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott to WA, went viral on social media and should be seen by all Western Australian voters.

As an example of his valuable work, in March it was announced that

“Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has taken out the Planning Champion Award at the 2014 National Awards for Planning Excellence for his work on urban infill development.

Senator Ludlam took out the award for his collaborative work with the WA Property Council on one of Perth’s most controversial planning issues: infill housing.

Senator Ludlam and the Property Council are calling for urban infill development in seven key transport corridors, including Charles Street, Fitzgerald Street, Scarborough Beach Road and Stirling Highway.

The judges of the awards said Senator Ludlam, who is the Greens spokesman on sustainable cities, infrastructure, housing and communications , was one of the most progressive, collaborative and prolific champions for better planning in Australia’s cities.

His other planning achievements included the WA 2.0 project, a light rail plan for Perth and Bike vision 2029.”

Scott Ludlam missed out by 14 votes in the September election, prompting the Greens to seek a recount, which changed the result in his favour before the debacle of the missing votes made the whole thing null and void.

The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green has calculated that “if you re-run last September’s Western Australian Senate election with the same votes, but using the new Senate preference tickets, then the result of the WA Senate re-election on April 5 would be 3 Liberal, 2 Labor and 1 Palmer United,” he said.

“For the re-election, several micro-parties have directed preferences in a way that now helps Labor to reach its second quota and makes it harder for the Green’s Scott Ludlam to win without a significant rise in his vote.

The Sports Party does not receive as many helpful preferences as last September. There is a subtle shift in the structure of the micro-party alliance, with a more obvious split between left-leaning and right-leaning micro-parties.

Unless the Liberals and Nationals fall dramatically short of three quotas, there are enough micro-party preferences floating around to ensure they win three seats between them. The biggest danger for the Liberals is probably losing a seat to the Nationals rather than to any other party.”

Voters can direct their own preferences by taking an extra 10 minutes to vote below the line and number every box thus making sure your vote goes where you intend it to and undermining the crazy deals done by all parties.

Which brings me to the title of this article.

Anyone watching Bronwyn Bishop’s performance as Speaker will realise that our current Parliament is a debacle under her stewardship. It makes a total mockery of the system and renders chamber sitting a pointless exercise where nothing is achieved, though it could be argued that this has been the case for a long time.

Senate elections have become a joke with ballot papers the size of tablecloths and organising preference deals an industry within itself. Few people understand the mechanism and it can result in candidates who receive a miniscule number of votes being elected, some of whom are patently not qualified to make decisions on the governing of this country.

The two party system is leaving many people feeling unsatisfied as they see little leadership from either of the major parties. Wouldn’t it be good to be able to trust the person in the top job to be making decisions in the best interests of the future of our country rather than always feeling like they are saying things just to get re-elected.

We need to change our political system. The archaic ritual of the Westminster system has seen its day. It is well past time that Australia truly became a nation in its own right with a head of state who actually lives in the country and has some idea of our political needs. Could Scott Ludlam be that person? He is young but shows great potential and to lose him from the political arena would be a great shame.

A Republic is still quite a way off, though Tony’s dames and knights ridiculosity may have given the debate another kick start. Today there are more pressing issues, namely the Senate election in WA tomorrow.

To the people of Western Australia, I would ask you to think about what sort of future you want for your children and consider wisely the importance of your contribution to keeping the Senate as a genuine House of Review rather than a rubber stamp.

Can we rely on the largesse and altruism of Gina Rinehart to show loyalty to her employees, to use some of her vast wealth to boost local employment rather than importing 457 visa workers, and to willingly pay taxation on the billions she makes developing our resources? Can we rely on the Coalition and the Palmer United Party to do what must be done to address climate change? Are health and education priorities for conservative governments?

As I have said before, our fate lies in your hands Western Australia.   Think carefully before you vote.

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