Opinion – Political upheaval a chance to be heard

August 11, 2016

WHETHER the second Turnbull Government lasts a full term or not these are exciting times, as the PM might say, to be an Australian lobbyist.

With such close numbers in either parliamentary chamber or even a joint sitting all political parties have an unequalled opportunity to court and represent a multitude of interests.

Where politics is usually the art of compromise, Australian politics is now the art of opportunity for lobbyists and elected representatives alike.

Politics is also about discipline but with rogue independents in both houses neither the Government nor Opposition can guarantee they have the numbers to pass or block contentious legislation.

For Australia’s wider defence community there has never been a better opportunity to argue those issues which bedevil them, particularly in Townsville where the result in Herbert now makes it Australia’s most marginal electorate.

Although local economic issues were a major factor, it is now an electorate where defence community votes can influence the next election.

While outgoing member Ewen Jones had a sympathetic ear for the defence community his problem was the tin ear of intransigent ministers like Stuart Robert who refused to entertain that community’s concerns when he had the opportunity to do so.

Likewise Labor’s Mike Kelly, the former uniformed lawyer who in government with ministerial responsibility for defence issues put party policy ahead of his former defence colleagues’ interests.

Now returned to the NSW Eden-Monaro electorate it may be a vain hope he has learned a lesson while in the political wilderness.

Incoming Labor members Cathy O’Toole and former infantry officer Luke Gosling in Solomon will have to convince their party’s recalcitrants like Kelly the significant defence communities in their electorates need to be heard, not ignored.

Some issues on which both parties have maintained political intransigence can be simply resolved by administrative fiat, such as altering regulations and entitlements for service medals.

Given Harry Smith’s determination over 50 years to gain recognition for his company at Long Tan, no politician or bureaucrat should underestimate the insistence of other aggrieved veterans to have their service appropriately recognised, including veterans of Rifle Company Butterworth and all personnel involved in border protection operations.

More complex issues such as restoring benefits parity to DFRDB superannuation recipients will require parliamentary intervention, but again no one should underestimate the determination of those lobbying for such measures.

After years being ignored they are now of the view their demands are absolutely not negotiable.

Some issues such as the conduct of antimalarial drug trials will probably require official inquiries or at least fair and impartial hearings before select parliamentary committees.

While ministers Marise Payne and Dan Tehan have retained their defence related portfolios, Labor’s shadow ministers Richard Marles and Amanda Rishworth are untested and will be under pressure to demonstrate their suitability for the roles, not to say some considerable empathy with the wider defence community.

Battle has been joined but with high stakes the defence community must press home its attacks.

There has never been a more opportune moment.