WHEN INDEPENDENT MEMBER for Indi Helen Haines demanded debate on her Commonwealth Integrity Commission Bill in November, the Labor Party supported her, as did government backbencher Bridget Archer, who crossed the floor and got the attention of the nation.
Not one fellow member of the Liberal-National Coalition joined her on that short walk. She was alone.
The rest of the Liberal Party voted against debating Haines’ integrity commission bill, something the Prime Minister promised to deliver at the last election. The motion was defeated on a technicality. Morrison failed the nation and all but one of his MPs failed their constituents.
The Liberal Party has not always been so reticent, as I was reminded this week when I sat down with former Liberal minister and Member for Goldstein Ian Macphee on why he’s supporting independent candidate Zoe Daniel.
Me: “Your political career… if you had to pick one thing what would be your proudest moment?”
Macphee: “I think my proudest moment would be when Bob Hawke moved a motion in the new Parliament House, I think it was September of 1988, the very first motion in the new Parliament House, making plain (I’ve forgotten the exact words but he was using a lot of the same words I’d used as Minister for Immigration) that Australia supported equality in all respects, gender, race, religion and so forth. It showed we were not racist and we were committed to equality.”
Macphee crossed the floor and voted with the Labor government, but he wasn’t the only one that day, there were a few.
Macphee: “Philip Ruddock decided to cross and I had to hold his elbow, his knees were almost giving way. It was a huge decision for him, he’d never been a minister and he always aspired to be.”
Macphee had been dropped from shadow cabinet. Howard was leader and his hard-right colleagues were on the rise. Crossing the floor that day possibly sealed the fate of his political career. The following year, he lost preselection for the seat of Goldstein.
In a divided Liberal Party, Andrew Peacock won the leadership and Macphee briefly returned to the frontbench. He left parliament at the 1990 election.
In the lead up to our recorded chat (a podcast is in the pipeline) we had a couple of phone conversations to prepare. I asked Macphee what his career highlights were because I wanted to explore a narrated podcast introduction.
He reminisced about his time as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Women’s Affairs, adding that Bob Hawke was right to change the name to the Office of the Status of Women. He also spoke of his admiration for Labor’s Susan Ryan and how much was achieved by working together.
Macphee is also clearly proud of his work as the Minister for Immigration; and the development of the ‘Bionic Ear’ while he was Minister for Productivity, an innovation that helped many people worldwide.
We need to care
During our chat, Macphee pointed out a handcrafted wooden boat presented to him by “Vietnamese Boat people” in Malaysia.
He gave a similar item to the soon-to-be-built Vietnamese Museum Australia that was presented to him by people he helped while Minister for Immigration.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and Macphee believed Australia had to be part of Asia, that we owed a debt to those fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
The treatment of refugees by our nation is now cruel and mean on one side of politics and gutless on the other. It’s been that way since Howard’s Tampa crisis and ‘children overboard’ messaging.
The former Liberal Member for Indi Sophie Mirabella was a hard-right enforcer and strongly anti-refugee – attitudes in the electorate, I felt, largely reflected hers. These opinions were driven by misinformation and the demonisation of people creating mistrust and fear.
When Voices for Indi selected Cathy McGowan to be their community independent candidate in 2013, she led the electorate to a better place on refugees with the kind of leadership I sense was present in Macphee and Fraser’s day.
Her campaign message was simple: “We need to be better and we need to care about people.”
For the community
Macphee raised the possibility independents may eventually be capable of forming government and create a party or voting bloc to ensure stability in three, four, or maybe five election cycles.
I asked: “What if forming a party just recreates the circumstances ‘voices’ independents are currently trying to address?”
He wasn’t concerned and gave an answer with various elements. To be clear what he meant I asked: “As long they’re there for the community and the community remembers they have a responsibility to the nation?”
“Yes. Yes, beautifully put,” Macphee replied.
The electorate of Indi, through Voices for Indi, expects their independent representative to conduct electorate business in a way that supports stable government and strengthens our democracy.
Ian Macphee has endorsed Zoe Daniel in the federal electorate of Goldstein and spoke highly of the members for Indi and Warringah. He was hopeful more genuine community-backed independents join a strong crossbench.