Ian Macphee AO - an open letter to the people of the electorate of Goldstein

The Federal electorate of Goldstein is named after Vida Goldstein who was the first woman to stand for a parliamentary seat in the entire British Commonwealth. From the 1880s there was a gradual but persistent increase in the calls to grant women full access to parliamentary processes. A particularly important figure in this pursuit was a Victorian, Vida Goldstein who, after the Commonwealth Parliament granted women voting and sitting rights in 1902, became the first woman parliamentary candidate in the British Commonwealth. She stood four times between 1903 and 1917 but sadly was not elected. Nonetheless she worked with other feminists to form lobby groups and other organisations and changed social views in the early years of the 20th century. The idea that women might sit in Parliament was gradually accepted. Yet, as Annabel Crabb’s perfectly entitled excellent series on the ABC, Ms Represented, recently revealed, it is only in very recent years that women have been elected in larger numbers. Some have become prominent in Federal and State politics. And yet statistically they are under represented. Annabel’s program reveals that and many hurdles women have faced in politics.

I was first elected in the seat of Balaclava in 1974 but after a redistribution of boundaries the name was changed ten years later to Goldstein.

These hurdles are not getting any easier. In fact Australia is slipping backwards on the Global Gender Gap Index. The World Economic Forum ranks Australia number 50 out of 156 countries in 2021. Our ranking in terms of women’s equality and empowerment show that Australian women have fallen dramatically from 12th to 70th in economic participation and opportunity from 57th to 99th in health and survival and from 32nd to 54th in political empowerment since 2006.

It is no illusion. Australian women are going backwards at a rapid rate and are the largest losers even though Australia was once a world leader in women’s equality, being the first to introduce the Sex Discrimination Act. This was an initiative of the Hawke government and was designed by Susan Ryan after several discussions with me. While Minister for Productivity I was also Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Women’s Affairs and was committed to Susan’s objectives. As Annabel’s program reveals, I voted for it when the Coalition in Opposition opposed it.

Since then we have seen the power of people - especially women and their supporters - to unite, raise awareness and ignite change. This was demonstrated by the March4Justice event on 15 March which saw over 110,000 people participate in 200 events around Australia to protest against the dreadful and degrading treatment of women in Parliament House in Canberra.

This is why we must invoke the spirit and determination of the Vida Goldstein’s of our community to take action and bring back representative democracy to Canberra.

I was introduced to feminism in the 1950s by a dear family friend, Eileen Furley, MLC in Sydney who had worked with Menzies in establishing the Liberal Party. My conviction of the importance of gender equality in society was strengthened when I met my wife Julie, another feminist, in 1970. I rejoiced at the change of name of the electorate and often led people to the plaque commemorating Vida in the Victorian Parliament House Gardens, Melbourne.

The Liberal Party ceased to be liberal in the late 1980s and dismissed me in 1989. This has distressed so many people I know in Goldstein and friends there tell me of the broad desire to elect a genuine liberal candidate. As a consequence, a group of people in Goldstein have formed an organisation called Voices of Goldstein. It seeks a female candidate.

I strongly support that initiative. Goldstein deserves a female member who will reach out to her electorate and listen to their ideas and concerns. I recall visiting schools, age care centres, RSLs, sports clubs, scouts, Rotary and other social organisations and conversing with those present. I am told that this is less common now.

As all major political parties should realise, there has been a widespread disgust of Australian politics for many years and it is growing. This is why electorates like Goldstein must strive for progressive members who represent voters’ liberal values.

Voices of Goldstein (VOG) started in late 2020. It was formed by a group of concerned Goldstein citizens from across the community, business and political spectrum who got together and formed the IndGo group to see if they could get an independent candidate to run in the electorate of Goldstein.

The initial unifying force for this group was the lack of climate action, especially at the Federal level. Soon the force became more than that.

Voices of Goldstein community have been conducting many Kitchen Table Conversations (KTC) across the electorate since January 2021 and the major concerns being raised include:

  1. The undue influence of political donors, lobbyists and industry bodies influencing and corrupting our political system leading party politicians to vote in favour of their vested interests rather than for their constituents.
  2. The dramatic rise corruption at federal and state level. Of special concern is the current Federal Government’s throwing a veil of secrecy over deals and decisions that keeps us in the dark.
  3. Mainstream media being too concentrated, distracting and misleading us with biased reporting and propaganda.
  4. And the lack of workable policies and accountability for major issues such as the climate crisis, growing poverty, inequality, misogyny and racism.

The KTCs have also shown an overwhelming support for an independent candidate for Goldstein, especially because the current federal representative has a 100 percent record of voting with his party and not his Goldstein constituents.

Voices of Goldstein understand that trustworthiness and clear choices underpin a healthy democracy and this includes a productive life, flourishing families, productive businesses and viable economies. However, it seems that the current federal government has lost the trust of a vast majority of the citizens of Goldstein. Discussions with VOG reveal that it is widely believed that the government has “robbed us of honest, workable choices to create a sustainable future for all”. This is why VOG want to elect an independent candidate to represent them in the Parliament of Australia to pursue and advocate for the following key priorities:

  1. Democratise the political process
  2. Restore a safe climate and healthy environment
  3. Create social and economic prosperity and resilience

Ensuring no one is left behind in a rapidly changing world and supporting measures that fight inequality, discrimination, inhumanity and fake news.

I greatly admire the work of Voices for Goldstein and believe that grassroots activity is imperative and can be achieved by supporting good independent candidates who share the disgust that so many voters have for inhumane offshore processing of refugees and the failure of successive governments to heed scientific advice regarding climate change, despite some of the hottest temperatures on record.

I would love scholars to research the failure of the three major parties to ignore such science. Is it because the coal and other polluting industries help fund the parties and are able to do so by avoiding the scrutiny of the Electoral Commission?

The Federal Government is using COVID to avoid serious examination of the sport’s rorts and commuter car park funding that has been largely focused on coalition electorates and marginal seats that it needs to win to return to government. If the Australian National Audit Office had not examined both programs we would never have known that these grants were skewed in this way instead of being assessed on merit and allocated accordingly.

With such profound disgust in the conduct of the three major parties - and especially among younger voters - we need more visionary MPs. It seems at present that these must come from independents. Voices of Goldstein and similar groups in other electorates are vital for a return of quality governance. In Goldstein and other electorates the majority of voters are genuinely liberal and visionary. They will undoubtedly support an honest, broad thinking and progressive candidate who will consult with them and listen to them and take their views into account when expressing opinions in Parliament.

I am very optimistic about the prospects of Voices of Goldstein because of the success of two similar activist groups. Voices of Warringah candidate, Zali Steggall, defeated Tony Abbott in his electorate. Likewise, Voices 4 Indi aided the election of Cathy McGowan and subsequently Helen Haines.

The key to such success is grassroots discussion. We have been dominated for too long by Faceless Men in Headquarters of Labor and Liberal parties and the organisations that fund them.

We must now embrace a more inclusive democracy. Another way of achieving this is to adopt the excellent advice of Eve Mahlab that MPs work from their electorates on Parliamentary Committees via the internet as much as possible so that parents can spend less time in Canberra and more time with family and their grass roots constituents.

Ian Macphee, AO, 11 August 2021