Who Even Are You?

31 May 2013

Walking into Senator John Madigan’s office it’s obvious he’s not your average politician. Ned Kelly paraphernalia adorns the walls. A plethora of blacksmithing tools, a nod to his former vocation, are displayed about the room.

Madigan is the Democratic Labor Party’s (DLP) first Federal member in over 40 years. His 2010 Victorian Senate victory was something no one saw coming, not even Madigan himself. His party has bounced back after a stint in the political wilderness longer than any other in Australian history.

“That says something about our supporters,” he reflects, “that despite the ridicule, the vitriol and the hate from some quarters they never gave up.”

There’s no doubt that the DLP attracts much derision. Since the party’s formation in 1955 they’ve had a toxic relationship with the ALP throughout their shared time in parliament. The DLP’s socially conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage have hardly endeared them to the mainstream media today. So just what keeps Madigan going in the face of all this?

“Keeping true to the original roots of the ALP,” Madigan explains, “and ensuring that the meat-and-potatoes issues of the average person are what’s focused on.” He’s of the belief that the ALP, and the Coalition, have gotten in the habit of taking people for granted after their votes have been counted. “We’re not elected by corporations, by focus groups, by lobby groups but by people. We’re there to serve the people and the economy is there to serve the people, not the people to serve the economy.”

Throughout the course of the interview it becomes clear that the people Madigan has in mind are those that lost their jobs and “were dumped into the community due to corporatisation and privatisation,” over the last 30 years. To Madigan, those people have been “socially engineered into a life of hopelessness and despair,” due to the actions of successive ALP and Coalition governments. “It’s been their hands on the wheel,” Madigan presses, “it’s not the minor parties or independents that have formed government and become ministers.”

To Madigan the fix is to refocus on buying Australian. “The government pursues a best-value-for-money approach to purchasing goods. This leads to Australian businesses losing out as governments fail to take into account the social and economic consequences of their decisions. I’m not saying buy crap. But I’d rather pay more and not see people line up at Centrelink.”

Madigan gets quite animated when it comes to the behaviour of the major parties. The venom they can dish out amazes him. “There’s a real hymn of hate for Robert Oakeshott and Tony Windsor. Had Tony Abbott have been able to put together a deal with them, regardless of its terms, that would have been okay. But since they went with Gillard and the ALP they’re suddenly not representing their electorate? The Coalition may not like it, but they were elected.” He also opposes the “democratic rationalisation” agenda of the major parties that saw them double nomination fees to contest seats, a move he claims will severely limit the ability of any minor party to contest the upcoming federal election.

On the issues of the day Madigan is unequivocal. The proposed changes to superannuation amount to “class warfare”. The now-abandoned media reforms were a “bludgeoning attack” on free speech. The Murray-Darling plan is “poorly coordinated”. There are few nice words for any piece of ALPpolicy.

Much of the antipathy towards these policies seems to stem from his belief they are peripheral to the real concerns of Australians: good education, secure jobs, healthcare and paying the bills. This seems to sit uncomfortably with Madigan’s enthusiasm for changing abortion law—80% of Australians are supportive of at least first trimester abortion so it is hard to see how he feels pursuing this issue is anything but peripheral to the concerns of most voters.

Nevertheless, he’s determined and unapologetic in his desire to rid Australia of abortion, recently pushing a change to have Medicare funding removed for abortions motivated by gender-selection. “It is an abhorrent practice. To think that on the basis of gender a life can be terminated,” Madigan leans forward, “people, regardless of their views, find this abhorrent”. The polls agree with him in this instance, but he’s evasive when it comes to stating whether this is the opening stage of a wider challenge to abortion access.

Senator Madigan may well be in hot demand after September 14. He professes not to “covet having the balance of power.” If a similar hung parliament situation were to happen again, the DLP may be in a position to influence legislation in the Senate first time in over 40 years. It would be an ill-advised bet to suggest they won’t extract all they can from it.

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