Very sad news this morning that Peter Andren has died from cancer. Mr Andren was the Independent member for Calare, and until his illness, had been planning to stand for the Senate in NSW this election.
As I wrote when he announced his withdrawal from the Senate contest in August, Australia’s future could have been quite different if we had Peter Andren in the Senate in a balance of power role, compared to how it may pan out with others holding that position. It is a sad loss to the Parliament, but obviously a much sadder loss for his family.
Peter Andren was a very effective advocate and representative for his local area, as evidenced by the enormous margin he built up in his local seat over the four terms he represented it. What I most remember about him is the very courageous and principled stand he took against the disgraceful attacks on asylum seekers by the Howard government in the lead up to the 2001 election, including the use of armed SAS troops to take control of the Tampa.
While the ALP rolled over in the face of a wave of community antagonism towards the refugees whipped up by John Howard’s disgraceful fear-mongering, Peter Andren was unequivocal in his opposition both to this persecution of vulnerable people, and just as importantly to the draconian wave of legislation that was rushed through the Parliament in the wake of the Tampa. The hysteria has died down, but six years later those laws remain, still wreaking harm on many innocent people.
What made Peter Andren’s stance so admirable is that there is no doubt the majority of the public strongly supported Howard’s approach at the time. While there were some political risks for the Democrats in taking the stance we did against Howard’s approach, it was nothing compared to the political risk Peter Andren took, having to win fifty per cent of the vote in a regional electorate.
The fact that he retained his seat and his margin in that election is an indication of how much his electorate respected his integrity, even though many of them would have disagreed with his view on refugees, which was the dominant issue of that campaign.
It is also a reminder of how much value the public put on their elected representatives being honest in standing up for what they believe in, rather than having politicians using a bunch of focus groups to assist them in telling people what they think people want to hear.
Click on this link to read Peter Andren’s first speech to the Parliament in 1996. Singling out just one issue runs the risk of inadvertently devaluing their record on many other matters, so I would recommend looking through his personal website, which provides a record of his commitment to and representation of his electorate.
Irfam Yusuf has written a good tribute on the ABC website.