There was a great piece today by outgoing MP and former Cabinet Minister Craig Emerson on the enormous suffering experienced by many pigs in factory farm environments which is very common in Australia (and elsewhere). http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/no-excuse-for-beastly-behaviour-towards-pigs/story-e6frg6zo-1226674775633
Even though I strongly agree with him, there is often a part of me when I read something like that that thinks “why didn’t you say that publicly when you were a Senior Minister rather than a retiring MP”? Sometimes I think that cynicism is justified (For example, I find it hard to fully accept Bob Hawke’s lamentation on his final day in office that he wished he’d been able to do more for Aboriginal people, as he was in a direct position to deliver more – ideally on a Treaty, which he shouldn’t have promised if he couldn’t deliver, but especially on national Land Rights laws where he undoubtedly had the power and the capacity to get such laws through Parliament, but chose not too)
But I also know from my own experience that when you hold a senior position in a party (or many other organisations) you can’t always publicly say everything you really think on every issue, which is fair enough as (unless you’re elected as an Independent) you’re there to represent large groups of people who have had input into party policies and decisions and/or supported them so to some extent you are speaking for them too.
It’s quite common when you finish up in a role to wish you’d been able to achieve more, and I was no exception in that regard (although there are always plenty of other ways to try to make a difference apart from being in Parliament). In hindsight, I could have stopped the Democrats supporting the GST, or if there actually had been genuine support for it within the party, had the party actually campaign in favour of it rather than devoting all our energies pointing out what was wrong with it. On the other hand, even in hindsight I can’t see how I could have helped stop the calamitous collapse of the Democrats from 2002 onwards (even though there’s a few things I’d have done differently, I still can’t see any way it could have been prevented – as has been shown in other contexts in recent years, if you have someone(s) inside your party who is basically prepared to go to any lengths to tear someone down and have qualms about chucking an endless supply of hand grenades, there’s not a lot you can do about it.
Anyway, whilst I did raise animal rights issues fairly often while I was in Parliament, I still felt at the end that I could have done more on this – although having said that, it was and is an area where it is hard to make major gains, and a lot of extra work on my part might still not have produced many great advances.
It is always good to see a public figure speaking out unequivocally about major, regular, institutionalised cruelty suffered by animals. I’d love to have seen it as loudly when he were Minister for Trade (and in Cabinet in general), but I know the reality is that constraints on expressing individual opinions way outside the norm (and outside your portfolio) can be pretty strong. But I hope he did get the chance to make an impression on some of his colleagues in other Ministries at the time. Maybe once the election is over there might be scope for more to be done on the issue.