Twirling towards freedom

Scott Ludlam's West Wing moment

I flew to the United States this week, and when I switched my phone on in LAX all of my social media feeds were buzzing about a political speech that’s straight out of The West Wing, or, more recently, Borgen.

On Monday night at 10pm in a near-empty Parliament, in front of just one other Senator, Western Australian Senator Scott Ludlam extended a calmly menacing invitation to Tony Abbott to visit his state. The beautifully executed 7-minute bollocking has already received over a quarter of a million hits on YouTube.

Ludlam began by respectfully telling Abbott exactly where he’d be standing when he arrived in Western. "Understand that you are now closer to Denpasar than to Western Sydney, in a state where an entire generation has been priced out of affordable housing. Recognise that you are standing in a place where the drought never ended, where climate change from land clearing and fossil fuel combustion is a lived reality that is already costing jobs, property and lives."

In the wide-ranging speech that roved eloquently between Abbott’s hostile schemes involving Medicare, tertiary education, Perth’s light-rail project, the mining industry, the environment, and the "blank cheque for Colin Barnett’s bloody and unnecessary shark cull." In a perfectly calm, metered tone, Ludlam noted that "your only proposal for environmental reforms thus far is to leave Minister Greg Hunt playing Solitaire for the next three years while you outsource his responsibilities to the same Premier who presides over the shark cull." Paul Keating would be jealous.

The speech ended on as marvellous a note as it began: "Prime Minister, you are welcome to take your heartless, racist exploitation of people’s fears and ram it as far from Western Australia as your taxpayer-funded travel entitlements can take you. We want our country back. Through chance, misadventure and, somewhere, a couple of boxes of misplaced ballot papers, we’ve been given the opportunity to take it back: just one seat, next April 5, and a whole lot more in 2016. Game on, Prime Minister. See you out West."

Thrilling, no? Sure, it’s just a speech, and speech can only do so much, but it’s captured the attention of voters around Australia who have, in the past six years, more or less switched off. Ludlam’s eloquent, measured anger stands in stark contrast to the dead-eyed sociopaths who lead in three word slogans, and to the bleating of both major parties whose policy decisions are more often than not reactionary, cruel, nonsensical, and in service of an Australia that has long since divorced itself from any legitimate claims to moral leadership.

Ludlam sounded like a statesman, something this jaded nation hasn’t seen in a long time. Listening to the speech, I can’t help but hope that here is a politician we want, not the one we deserve. And yes, one seat in a by-election won’t lead to a world of change but, as another inspiring Australian once said, from little things, big things grow.   

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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