Image for Cassy O’Connor – Just a Regular Politician

Since Ms O’Connor has chosen to contribute to this forum, I would like to present my experience of our newest Greens’ minister.  I have resided in this state for nearly four years.  My family and I came here for the oft-quoted ‘lifestyle’ reasons, and we thoroughly enjoy the living in Tassie.  We’re not that fussed about the closed up job market and the appalling government, but what the heck - you can’t have everything.  Most locals are friendly, but keep to themselves – we have a few acquaintances, but nobody really knows us.  Mr Tuffin publishes my contributions, but we have never met.  He doesn’t know me from the proverbial bar of soap.

Back in Sydney town, we lived for over 25 years in the federal electorate of Bennelong, represented for most of that time by Mr John Howard.  Our state electorate was, similarly, ‘safe’ Liberal.  We were not remotely interested in politics – election results were always a foregone conclusion, until Maxine McKew rode into power on Kevin 07’s coat tails.  We often forgot to vote, and concocted a lame excuse when the pathetic reprimand eventually arrived in the mail.  We never paid a fine.  We did, however, vote for Andrew Wilkie in 2004, and thought ourselves very adventurous for doing so.  How naïve we were.

Which brings us to the ‘in-your-face’ debacle that is Tasmanian politics.  Much as we would like to ignore our elected representatives and their childish antics, we simply cannot – they’re like the rolling train wreck you have to watch, usually against your better judgement.

Anyway, I first encountered Cassy O’Connor when a journalism course I was attending was sent to interview her as a class assignment.  It was July 2008, and she was a newly-minted MHA, thanks to the resignation of Peg Putt, and the mysterious workings of the Hare Clark electoral system.  I was impressed.  Ms O’Connor seemed straightforward, honest and committed.  She spoke of her childhood on Stradbroke Island, and the march against Sir Joh Bjellke-Petersen’s plans to build a bridge connecting the island to the Gold Coast.  Her environmental activist passion was born in those days, she said.  She even mentioned that classic of environmental prose, Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’. 

Later, I made a point of reading her inaugural speech to parliament, delivered symbolically, and against normal practice, in the Tamar Valley – the site of the evil Gunns pulp mill.  Stradbroke Island and ‘Silent Spring’ got a guernsey again.

My impression of Ms O’Connor remained favourable, and some weeks later, I sought to interview her for another journalism assignment – this time about forced adoptions in the 1950s and 60s (a ghastly story, that deserves greater consideration).  I contacted a number of politicians, including renowned adoptee, Mr David Bartlett, but only received responses from Ms O’Connor and Mr Rene Hidding of the Liberal party.  I interviewed both – Mr Hidding in a flash parliamentary conference room, and Ms O’Connor in her lowbrow, pokey office. 

Ms O’Connor ushered me into her office, and, naturally, I sat at the chair in front of her desk.  She didn’t take her seat behind the desk, but instead perched on a chair against the wall, to my right and slightly behind me.  This was a little bizarre – I wasn’t sure how to position myself, and I’m still not sure why she did it.  I guess she wanted to speak to me ‘as an equal’, but all I got was a stiff neck. 

The vibe was still good in the lead up to the 2010 election.  We attended a debate at UTAS featuring Ms O’Connor, Vanessa Goodwin, Lisa Singh and Mel Barnes of the Socialist Alliance.  Ms O’Connor easily outclassed Ms Goodwin, and Ms Singh, answering questions and invariably addressing the audience member by their first name.  She knew her stuff, and she knew how to work the room.  But Mel Barnes was just as knowledgeable – without the performer’s polish.

Come election time, we voted number one for Ms O’Connor, and were pleased to see her elected.  I should remind you now that we were, at the time, still unfamiliar with the outright deception practiced by politicians in Tasmania, and still innocently uncomprehending of the cronyism and nepotism that underlies the idyllic Tassie way of life.

Our awakening began when the Greens decided to form government with the Labor party, and returned them to power.  Quite simply, it was not the result we had voted for.  I attended the first day’s sitting of the new parliament, and have made a habit of listening to parliamentary sessions ever since.  In the early days of this government, the loudest, most strident catcalls directed at the Liberals came from Ms O’Connor – it was like she was channeling Gutwein, directing his own peculiar brand of vitriol right back at him.  It was disturbing, and unbecoming, and completely at odds with the carefully-cultivated image of a gentle, caring activist/mother.

Ms O’Connor has chided some of her detractors, and suggested they read Hansard to apprise themselves of her good works in the parliament.  I have read Hansard, and listened to the debates.  Ms O’Connor is smug and self-congratulatory when she has the floor, but petulant and insulting when challenged – as though she has an inalienable mandate on decency and social conscience in the parliament.

I am also one of the vast army of volunteers who work with the less advantaged in Hobart, and in this capacity I have observed Ms O’Connor ‘in the fray’, accompanied by minders, and maximizing cutesy photo opportunities.  Her Liberal shadow, Jacquie Petrusma, is less ostentatious and more apparently genuine in these circumstances, as she is in the parliament.

Ms O’Connor is, however, not unique among her parliamentary colleagues.  With very few exceptions, they are awful – aggressive, self-important, and uniformly cavalier with the truth.  Like her, they espouse the ‘need to know’ approach to informing the voting public about what happens in their party rooms, and in Cabinet – ‘while I can’t talk about what happens inside Cabinet or our Party Room, I can tell you I speak up often in both those forums as a Green’.  Why can’t you talk about it, Cassy?

Cabinet confidentiality is a Westminster convention originally intended to protect information that may impact on national security, while party and cabinet solidarity allow the simple folk to have confidence in their ‘party’ and their government.  They are shielded, like children, from the ugliness of internal party debate. 

There is, however, absolutely nothing to stop pollies thumbing their noses at those conventions, but they don’t, and they try to con the voters that some mystical law prevents them from talking out of school.  Quite clearly, in modern politics, the conventions mostly benefit politicians – voters are fed a constant diet of crap.  Shiny, polished crap, as many on this forum have observed, but faeces nonetheless.

And, the Greens stubborn refusal to unequivocally distance themselves from the Tamar Valley pulp mill is beyond perverse.  They say they oppose it, but they continue to support the Statement of Principles process, and its bastard children, the Forestry Heads of Agreement, and the Forests Intergovernmental Agreement – three documents that each has more loopholes than a kindergarten knitting project.  They have achieved nothing, except perhaps a windfall for Gunns, and a further subsidy for Forestry Tasmania.

And, Ms O’Connor believes there are foxes in Tasmania.  She will take Nick Mooney’s word for it over that of his nemesis, Ian Rist, any day.  Why Cassy?  Is Nick a mate?  Next time you’re talking with him, tell him a fox has taken to dining on fresh wallaby down by the Southern Outlet – maybe he should get along there with a camera, and a trap. 

In July 2009, Mr Mooney told the ABC World Today program he ‘estimates there’s a few hundred foxes breeding in Tasmania’.  If that estimate were true, there should have been a genuine documented sighting by now.  As I said at the start, I’m a mainland import, and we know for sure there are foxes on the mainland.  And, people see them – regularly.  Like everyone else, I don’t want foxes in Tasmania, but I also don’t like being duped by money-wasting shadow chasers.

I understand that I’m a Tasmanian nobody, with no connections, but I am an intelligent, informed voter, and my last vote – at the federal election – was informal.  Your recent postings on this forum, Ms O’Connor, have done nothing to persuade me that you are any different to the self-serving rabble that currently dominates our parliament.