Gabrielle Maynard and Ronald Mizen sumamrise the 2011 UWA Mock Parliament
The 2011 University of Western Australia Mock Parliament caused loud and contentious debate last month, as over 50 young, budding politicians took part in the Arts Union organised event.
Issues introduced to the parliament included the Labor Governments National Broadband Network and so called Malaysian Solution, the Disability Insurance Scheme and the controversial call from the Greens for gay, lesbian and transgender safe sex methods to be taught in all Australian schools.
State Liberal Member for Darling Range, Tony Simpson opened the event and gave participants some words of advice. ‘The best advice I would give anyone going into politics, is to make sure you have a career prior to politics so you can reflect on real life experience,’ he said.
While Mr Simpson may have plenty of life experience, he perhaps showed a lack of political experience when he made a barb at State Cabinet Minister Troy Buswell.
‘I’d come home at night and cry into my beer because I swear I was not going to win that next election while Troy was there, and we begged him as back benchers’ can you do us a favour and fall on your sword’,’ he said.
Although Mr Simpson strayed slightly from party lines, there were plenty of young politicians who stayed on message.
Opposition Leader and Western Australian Young Liberal President Tom White said there was confidence in the party and they hoped to expose the windfalls of the current Labor Government.
‘Our motion aims to expose terrible waste and inefficiency within this Labor Government, broad incompetence among them, and the merits of the free market system in which we all endorse,’ he said.
Leader of the Government, and University of Western Australia Labor President Mitchell Goff said the government wanted to achieve something constructive and highlight the destructive tendencies of the Liberal Party.
‘We want to put forward something constructive, in contrast to the Liberals who have just decided to take the road of destruction,’ he said.
‘There is definitely unity in our party, we have a very strong team.’
The first motion of the evening introduced by the opposition, opposed the Government’s plans to fund a National Broadband Network with taxpayer money.
Opposition speaker Matthew McKenzie said the government was making one of two fundamental mistakes by building the $40 billion network.
‘On the one hand, either you believe the cost of the network exceeds the benefits, in which case it is wasteful spending…or you believe the benefits would exceed the costs…in which case it would be built by the private sector,’ he said.
‘This policy is the only piece of infrastructure being built in the world that will be redundant by the time it is finished,’ adding that the money could be better spent on tax cuts.
Labor speaker Rowan Devereux said fibre optic was the only way forward.
‘The reality is, densely populated areas will almost immediately degrade of wireless signals… the Coalition’s shambles of a plan will disadvantage businesses that work in towns and cities,’ he said.
‘We have an opportunity here and now to create a network that will redefine the way we use the Internet… there is no room for ideological semantics.’
Government speaker Chad Satterlee quoted philosopher Adam Smith in saying one of the fundamental duties of government is to provide public infrastructure essential to the function of society, including the NBN.The government side argued it was crucial the network remained public to avoid a monopoly.
Opposition Leader Tom White said the government was addicted to spending.
‘The entire benefit of the network is hypothetical,’ he said.
‘There is nothing you can do with 100 megabits that you can’t do with 40…you cannot measure the costs, nor the benefits.’
The motion was resolved in the negative, giving the government side the first win of the evening.
The next motion, introduced by the government, moved to implement a National Disability Insurance Scheme to provide universal access to disability services funded by a levy similar in operation to the Medicare Levy.
The proposal to double funding to disability services would see money coming straight from the Federal Government, providing easier access for people with disabilities.
University of Western Australian Labor Vice President Blair Hurley, said the motion was based on improving equality in society.
‘The theory is, these people suffer from brute luck, and that’s not fair,’ he said.
University of Western Australia Liberal President Gemma Whiting refuted the motion, saying the West Australian State Liberal Government had already dealt with this issue.
‘The government, in their 2011 budget, had allocated $604 million dollars in funding to this issue…a 15% increase, and the largest increase this area has seen in a long time,’ she said.
‘Why do you need to tax people?’
‘You could run this program without another tax, and that is the problem with this motion.’
Liberal frontbencher Ben Watson said the opposition agreed with the motion, just not the tax.
‘The current system of support for Australians with disabilities is indeed broken, providing only a patchwork of support for those in need,’ he said.
‘They deserve better than what they are getting from this government.’
The motion was resolved in the positive giving the government side a second victory.
The Greens introduced one of the more controversial motions of the evening, calling for the introduction of a gay, lesbian and transgender safe sex education programs across all Australian schools.
The motion moved to stop physical and mental harms caused by un-safe sex practice among GLT students, blamed the disengagement of a discriminatory system under a heterosexual sex education status quo.
Greens Speaker Molly Dale called for all types of sex education to be taught to high school students.
‘All kids should be taught safe anal and oral practices in all schools,’ she said.
‘When the harms are as great as life threatening diseases, we are more than happy to impede on the religious freedoms of these schools.’
The government side said the Labor party is the only one that supports the gay community, marrying progressive ideology with majority government, but they did not support the motion, saying it is not the schools responsibility to impart such knowledge on children.
‘We do not believe it is the governments right to instil values on children, when it is the parents’ responsibility and obligation to distil those values themselves,’ Julian Hilton said.
‘The Greens are not considering the whole of Australia, in that they think they can dictate what they want Australia to be, without thinking about the rest of the country.’
Independent Jack Nitschke said both major parties had highlighted their hypocrisy on the issue. ‘In the case of the Liberal party, they said such measures impinge upon religious freedom, but likewise, [a] Liberal government oversees the educational curriculums of religious schools [in Western Australia],’ he said. ‘If you take that stance on sex education, you must take that stance about science, mathematics and so on.’
‘The Labor party make the point that sex education should be a private thing, yet they still condone heterosexual sex education being taught in all schools.’
Liberal front bencher Alexander Butterworth said the motion was blatant political pandering by the Greens, and a desperate attempt, because of their sense of entitlement to a mythical gay vote which does not exist.
‘The Greens will have the heavy hand of the government where the invisible hand of the market should be, telling the private sector how to run their business,’ he said.
‘This motion drives a stake into the heart of religious freedom…when we should be driving a stake into the heart of the vampires that are the Greens.’
Greens leader Daniel Kirkby said the Greens are the only party that supported gay rights.
‘Gay people and the gay community are a marginalised group that deserve some sort of voice, and when [the two major parties] refuse to give them a voice, it falls to the greens to be the only sensible party who will,’ he said.
‘Gay kids deserve to learn the things to keep their bodies safe during sex, just like heterosexual kids do’.
Despite the Greens emotional plea, the motion was not passed.
The final motion of the UWA Mock Parliament was introduced by little know independent, Rosie Sitorous, who moved to condemn the government’s diversion of asylum seekers to Malaysia for procession.
Sitorous said although she admires the government’s attempts to tackle this contentious issue, the policies are inhuman, illegal and inefficient.
‘In detention you see incidences of deteriorating mental health…you do not see this out of detention…it is dangerous,’ she said.
‘We cannot stand for the inhuman treatment of the world’s most vulnerable people while in transit, whilst they arrive later, is something I do not think this government, nor this house, should stand for.’
Miss Sitorous said Australia had the means and the international obligation to ensure the safety of Asylum Seekers when they arrive in Australian territorial waters.
Labor representative Adam Rida said the mock parliament supported the Gillard Government, and the Malaysian solution would be efficient.
‘This policy is not a violation of human rights…the difference between the Liberal Pacific Solution and the Government Malaysian Solutions, is that this solution has involvement by the United Nations refugee agency,’ he said.
Liberal speaker Myles Parish refuted these claims, saying the government was hypocritical.
‘Only nine months ago, they said Nauru was not good enough for refugees, as it [Nauru] was not signatory to the refugee convention…but nine months later there is no talk of that what so ever with Malaysia, despite the fact Malaysia is not signatory either,’ he said.
‘It is a stop gap, not anything like the solution we need.’
Liberal Stephen Puttick backed this, saying the ‘wretched, weak and failing’ Gillard government had lost control.
‘It is not a question of boat swapping, not a question of numbers…it is a simple question of processing, it is a simple question of legitimacy…the government’s policy does not address any of these key issues,’ he said.
Puttick continued to toe party lines by quoting Tony Abbott, saying the Liberals wanted to: ‘Stop the boats, not swap the boats’.
UWA Liberal President Gemma Whiting chose a different tack, calming that asylum seekers coming to Australia were not desperate, and ‘nothing more than queue jumpers’.
Independent and Greens speakers supported the motion, saying both major parties were just pandering to the electorate with bad slogans, and little understanding of the issue at hand.
Jack Nitschke said the number of people coming on boats to Australia…was occasionally in excess of a few thousand, and ‘boat people’’ were a non-issue.
‘I don’t see why so much attention is being given to this issue…it is not that difficult to deal with a few thousand people coming on boats…they account for 2% of annual immigration,’ he said.
Despite vigorous debate, possibly the biggest surprise of the evening came after a division was called and all but two Labor representatives stood in favour of the independents censure motion including UWA Labor President Mitchell Goff.
This unusual break in ranks didn’t go unnoticed beyond student politics with Goff telling State exclusively that elements of the Labor Party had reprimanded him for going against party lines.