While debate on the Land Rights Bill continued in the Senate and debate started on the anti-refugee legislation in the House of Reps, those MPs and Senators not immediately involved in the debates continue on with a lot of other business. I gave my main speech on the Land Rights Bill last night (more speeches to come later), so I was able to spend some time this morning on other things with a strong foreign affairs flavour.
Firstly, the Joint Committee of on Foreign Affairs had a private meeting with the Israeli Ambassador. The meeting had been arranged prior to the current outbreak of hostilities, but not surprisingly the meeting drew a lot interest, with 21 MPs attending. Equally unsurprisingly, the war was the sole topic of conversation. It was a private meeting so I can’t really go into what people said, although the Ambassador’s opening comment was that Israel’s main condition for a ceasefire was to cease completely being threatened by Hizbollah.
Next I met with a Parliamentary delegation from theFederated States of Micronesia. They were interested in marine parks and how we do conservation and environmental protection, and they were meeting with me in my capacity as Chair of the Senate Environment Committee which is currently doing an inquiry into some of these matters. They also asked many questions about climate change and Australian attitudes towards helping Pacific Island nations affected by rising sea levels. It certainly gives an issue much more immediacy when the people asking you about it say some of the islands in their country may become uninhabitable within twenty to thirty years. I believe we have an obligation to help as an economically wealthy neighbour, even without taking into account the fact that we are one of the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world.
After that I met with Andrew Robb, who is the Parliamentary Secretary on Immigration & Multicultural Affairs. I had met him briefly once or twice before he entered Parliament when he was involved in business organisations, but this was the first substantial conversation I’d had with him. He deals with citizenship issues and also has responsibility for matters such as settlement services, multiculturalism and consultation with Muslim communities. I was quite impressed with him. He had a good grasp of the challenges and, unlike some Ministers, didn’t act like he knew all the answers, recognised the complexities and wasn’t overly defensive about the government’s approach. Sometimes the best way to work in this area is at community level and mainly below the radar.
Trying to conduct community debates through the mainstream media can be quite difficult on complex issues, as almost by definition you have to simplify the issue to make it suitable for the mainstream media to use (otherwise they’ll simplify it for you, which usually doesn’t help). However, for a politician trying to make their mark or build their prospects for Cabinet, operating below the radar is not always in their best interests. This is just one of those paradoxes people have to manage in politics, but I think Andrew Robb is one of those whose overall competence is likely to shine through anyway without him having to resort to too much of the attention grabbing ‘bright ideas’ approach.