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Comment: the great Caulfield debate

October 29, 2014 – 11:11 pm4 Comments

By Bracha Rafael:

the great debate photo

The Zionist Youth Council of Victoria and AUJS Victoria recently hosted a political debate between the major contenders for the seat of Caulfield: the incumbent Liberal MP, David Southwick; Labor candidate Josh Burns, and Greens candidate Tim Baxter.

Most of the evening proceeded as expected. David Southwick spoke with the frankness and confidence that a 9.8% margin will confer. Josh Burns made digs at Southwick wherever the opportunity presented itself and often brought up Labor commitments regardless of their relevance. Tim Baxter reminded the audience that both major parties choose their policies because they are popular, not because they are backed by ideals or evidence.

There were some surprises, though.

The final question of the night is one that makes every party hack squirm: “What issues do you find it hardest to follow your party’s stance on?”

The most evasive response came from Burns. He sang the praises of the question, complimented the questioner, pondered aloud, considered going with Israel as his answer but ultimately failed to name an issue. A missed opportunity, certainly, but was Burns merely by a young politician caught by surprise or engaging in the arcane skill of political time-wasting?

Baxter, probably acting on sage advice from his supporters, didn’t breathe a word about Israel. He chose an interesting, but not highly charged issue for Victoria: the Greens’ stance on CCTV.  No doubt, widespread public surveillance is at odds with privacy rights. It is probably a conversation worth having. Judging from the crowd’s response, though, it is not a conversation that engages the Jewish youth of Caulfield.

Southwick answered the question without having to actually disagree with Liberal party policy. He named the proposed – now dropped - repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Southwick’s disapproval of what have been called the Andrew Bolt changes are at odds with his vocal defence of the Liberal party’s changes to Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act in 2011, which exempted religious organisations from the obligation not to discriminate.

Both Burns and Baxter voiced their disapproval emphatically. Southwick defended the legislation on the following grounds: should a Jewish school have to employ a Muslim maths teacher who was critical of Israel’s policies? (Vigorous nods from the opposition – and audience – ensued.)

On the question of housing affordability in Caulfield, Southwick and Baxter had the most sensible responses. Southwick pointed to the bare facts of Melbourne’s growing population and demand for inner-city housing, and essentially told the youth of Caulfield that if they want to live in the suburb they grew up in, they will have to come to terms with living in a house far smaller than their parents’.

Baxter, who works in banking, noted that a swathe of long-standing policies – negative gearing chief among them – favour property investors over first-home buyers, and that until this changes, first-home buyers will continue to be priced out of the market.

Burns seized the opportunity to bring up Labor’s education promises for the upcoming election, but as great as these commitments may be, they didn’t speak to the issues that keep the highly-educated, decently-paid young professionals of Caulfield out of the local property market.

Transport was a recurring theme throughout the evening, though it fell to Baxter to bring up the East-West link. Southwick’s initial response to the question of public transport reliability and safety was to insist that public transport is already much better under the Liberal government. This assertion is defied by any train-user in the state, but Southwick has also put his name to it in this piece of plain-clothes Liberal campaign material.

Southwick’s slick performance fell flat when he tried to make jokes. One can only assume he was joking when he tried to spruik the East-West link as an indirect investment in public transport. If he wasn’t joking, he was trying to spin the Liberal government’s $6.8 billion commitment as a sneaky ploy to get people off roads and onto trains. (Just not from Doncaster, as one audience-member noted, because Doncaster has no train and neither major party has flagged any intentions to build one.)

All the talk from Burns and Southwick about public transport was reminiscent of this article, which illustrates how neither major party is serious about its public transport promises. It seems safe to assume that neither party will do a great deal of rail building in the next term of government, although Labor has also committed to reducing level crossings, a smaller project that will be a net positive for both road and rail users.

On health, Southwick began by equating Department of Health negotiators fraudulently impersonating paramedics with ambulance union members documenting hospital ramping in an effort to draw attention to resourcing issues. He agreed that paramedics should be paid more and blamed the paramedics’ union (the AEA) for the lack of progress in the enterprise bargaining process.

Burns pointed to the broader working conditions that effect both paramedics and the public. In addition to referring the pay dispute to an independent umpire, he flagged paramedic fatigue and hospital ramping as structural issues that would be reviewed under a Labor government.

Apart from the shocking bigotry (seriously, Jewish schools shouldn’t have to employ Muslim maths teachers?) and blatant denial of public transport failures, David Southwick did a good job communicating the Liberal stance on a range of state issues.

Josh Burns is clearly passionate about the big picture, but in redirecting the conversation to state-wide problems he missed out on addressing the here-and-now concerns of his immediate audience.

Tim Baxter was full of good ideas and disdain for shameless politicking, but as with Burns, his youth and inexperience showed. He initially sounded rather shaky (technical issues with his mic did not help), though he did warm up fast and finish strong.

In their closing remarks, all three candidates encouraged the audience not just to disagree with them, but to get involved and be politically active. The saying “if you don’t do politics, politics will do you” was uttered several times, and on this point, there was consensus.



Bracha Rafael is a Qualified Ambulance Paramedic currently employed by Ambulance Victoria, and an AEA member.

Bracha Rafael is not a member of any political party.

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