Labor’s Melissa Parke probably won’t be too popular with rightwing powerbrokers like Paul Howes with her view that the Greens are a fellow progressive party rather than an insidious enemy to be confronted and crushed.
But the Federal member for Fremantle - first elected in the 2007 landslide - has demonstrated a willingness to express her own views on key policy and political issues, even when those stances differ from the party line.
A lawyer by training who worked with the UN in locations as diverse and dangerous as Gaza and Kosovo, Parke has an unashamedly left-wing take an issues like asylum, animal protection and international issues like the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Yet Parke represents a Western Australian seat, where her views stand well apart from the prevailing norm in a state with a clear conservative ascendancy.
Add this to the fact that Parke is a female member of a parliament riven by accusations of misogyny and sexism, and the Member for Fremantle has one of the most fascinating profiles of any current Australian politician.
Today The Conversation presents an in depth conversation between Parke and Deakin University political expert and historian Geoffrey Robinson.
Click here for a full transcript
Geoffrey Robinson: Your state equivalent is a Green, then certain events transpired and is now an independent Green, do you feel under threat from the Greens?
Melissa Parke: No I don’t. I think the Greens are not our enemies, I know that some Labor people may disagree with that but I don’t think they are. They’re another left party, another progressive party and we have many values and objectives in common, but there are areas where we differ. But the main difference is that we are a party of Government and the Greens manifestly are not.
And I also think that if you took people through all the things that the Labor Government has achieved they would agree that they were good things, that they have been good things. So if you just look at this Government as opposed to past Labor governments, we’ve got the platform for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and for mental and dental health and aged care reform, is anyone going to disagree with that? We’ve got a paid parental leave scheme, national broadband network, a price on carbon, the largest investment in renewable energy in Australia’s history, the largest capital investment in schools, in local government and public transport infrastructure in Australian Government history, we’ve got Australia’s standing as a good international citizen.
Geoffrey Robinson: Being a woman in politics, from my mind as a political journalist the defining moment of the year and the defining moment of the term was Julia’s speech to Tony Abbott where she laid out the sexism and the misogyny.
Do you think there’s a danger, though it might be a short term win, that we’ve let a certain genie out of the bottle here?
Melissa Parke: No, because I think gender was always an issue as soon as Julia became Prime Minister. I think gender was up there and we saw it very clearly in the carbon tax accusations from Tony Abbott and that wild bunch of people who were campaigning outside of Parliament House with their signs. So I think what the Prime Minister did was name it, that it was there, that it’s always been there.
Geoffrey Robinson: You could very easily win an inner-city Melbourne or Sydney seat with your unite left politics. How do you see Western Australia’s relationship with the rest of Australia, especially in terms of the mining boom and so on and also through the lens of yourself as someone who is quite on the left and holds what could be described as the elitist metropolitan views that a certain side of politics tries to attribute to inner-city Melbourne and Sydney latte sippers?
Melissa Parke: I’m proud to be West Australian. It’s a beautiful state. The South West is the most biodiverse region in the world, so it has a lot of natural beauty, and the marine parks decision that was made by the Federal Government was immensely popular, with that popularity evidenced by the state Premier announcing a lot of state marine parks this year as well, so it’s become one of those mainstream issues, I think people are appreciating the environment more. We’re getting more and more people coming from overseas and interstate, so I’m hopeful that we will continue to be a place of arrival and a multicultural outward-looking place and that perhaps the conservative streak might evolve. I think at its base the conservatism is essentially an expression of independence and being far away from and different to the rest of the country.
There certainly is a feeling that the rest of the country is dependent and relying on Western Australia without giving enough back, and you do see that when it comes to parliamentary sessions and committee travel, there’s not a lot of consideration given for those who have to travel a long distance. I’m not just talking about Western Australia, but also Tasmania or the Northern Territory, they’re just not taken into account. There is a very strong Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and sometimes Brisbane centric view of Australia that exists.
Geoffrey Robinson: Do you think we’re seen as an honest broker, or do you think we are too closely aligned to the US to play that role?
Melissa Parke: I think that the Palestinian statehood vote where we abstained was highly significant, that the international community recognised and in particular those who otherwise might have been annoyed like the Arab and Muslim countries recognised the significance of that abstention and have applauded it. So I think that it bodes well for our seat on the security council and it bodes well for our membership of the leadership troika of the G20, which is coming up, where we can play a big role in helping to eliminate global poverty and addressing the issue of food security. What’s not commonly understood is that most of the world’s poorest people actually live in G20 nations like China, India, Indonesia, to a lesser extent South Africa and Brazil. That’s where we can make a big difference and we have the expertise in that area of food security.
Geoffrey Robinson: Should the Fremantle Football Club move out to Cockburn, or should they stay in Fremantle?
Melissa Parke: Apparently it’s already been decided. They’ve announced they’re going to Cockburn, and for me, both of those areas are in my electorate. So I would love to have seen the Dockers stay in Fremantle, but I also think the club is in the best position to assess its own needs.
Cockburn certainly does have the need for a regional sports facility of such quality, as it is one the fastest growing areas in the country. So independently of whether the Dockers went there or not I’d certainly support the sports facility at Cockburn, but the issue of the Dockers, well, they’ve decided for themselves.