It was, as they say in the classics, a study in contrasts. The billionaire whose ego knows no bounds and the humble sheep farmer turned rural consultant, standing in their Sunday best to deliver words that will forever be etched in Australia’s history.

Other than that their voices were shaking from the enormity of the moment, and they both read their speeches from papers on a lectern, there was nothing similar between the first speeches of new parliamentarians Clive Palmer and Cathy McGowan.

palmer-mcgowanClive Palmer congratulates Cathy McGowan after her maiden speech yesterday. Image via AAP.

McGowan, the People’s Princess of Indi, spoke first. For while she is referred to fondly by progressives as the candidate who came from nowhere to vanquish the widely-disliked Liberal local member, Sophie Mirabella, McGowan’s real claim to fame was in harnessing and channelling People Power to propel her modest, crowd-funded campaign from the rickety town halls of rural Indi to the gleaming corridors of Parliament House in Canberra.

The 600 volunteers who got her there, many of whom sat in the parliament’s public galleries emblazoned with the McGowan campaign’s signature orange t-shirt, were clearly at the forefront of McGowan’s mind as she vowed to continue genuine engagement with the people of Indi. Going further than most do in their maiden speeches, McGowan put on the record her commitments to the people who’d elected her to raise their voice in Canberra.

McGowan vowed to listen to the old and the young, as well as those facing adversity. She promised to visit pubs, community education centres, shopping centres and community festivals. Specific undertakings were made to involve the youth of Indi in decision making, to work with communities affected by the fires and floods and to form an advisory group comprised of local aboriginal people to advise on issues such as health, education and employment.

McGowan also promised to make her own public acknowledgement of the mistreatment of the stolen generations.

palmerThe segue from McGowan to Palmer wasn’t quite from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it was close.The property-developing, soccer club-owning, resources-developing dinosaur-wrangler delivered what was probably a no less heartfelt speech than its predecessor. But it was a hotchpotch of hokey clichés, baffling citations and bizarre mathematical calculations.

Calling for “common good under the Southern Cross” and invoking the “ghosts of the Anzacs” Palmer urged his fellow parliamentarians to “work together, not as opponents but as colleagues joined by time and space to serve the nation.”

With a nod to Chairman Mao’s feminist credentials (“women hold up half the sky”) and a call for more women to be elected to parliament, Palmer was particularly enthusiastic about a scheme where $70 billion in delayed corporate tax payments would result in another $70 billion spent by individual taxpayers and the government receiving $70 billion in GST. It is not known whether this proposal defies the laws of physics let alone those of economics.

As Palmer drew towards the conclusion of his speech it became clear he would not on this occasion unload on the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman under the protection of parliamentary privilege, as he has threatened to do. It’s a sad reflection on the state of our democracy that a chunk of Palmer’s supporters want nothing more from him than to cause such havoc for as many (conservative) politicians as possible.

The other sad reflection is that, out of the aspirations and policy agendas put forward by McGowan and Palmer in their maiden speeches, it’s more likely that Palmer’s will be realised.

cathy-mcgowanCathy McGowan and supporters in Canberra yesterday. Image via ABC.

McGowan promised the people of Indi that she will “build partnerships to improve public transport infrastructure, access to telecommunications and health services, particularly rural mental health and work to reduce the red tape that hinders the growth of small businesses in our border regions.” The reality is that as an independent in the House of Representatives with a strong government majority, McGowan has very little leverage to deliver on that promise.

Palmer meanwhile promised the people of his electorate nothing; being a big picture man he focussed instead on the whole nation. But he did lay claim to the election of the Abbott Government (allegedly on Palmer United Party preferences), claimed a doubling of his party’s vote to 10 per cent since the federal election, and reminded listeners of his party’s balance of power status in the Senate from 1 July 2014.

So in one of those paradoxical quirks of fate that often only politics can produce, the man of money has ended up with more leverage than the woman of the people could ever dream of. That is the least appealing contrast of all.



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paula-matthewson*Paula Matthewson has worked in and around federal politics for nearly 25 years, variously as a media adviser and lobbyist but now as a freelance writer. She’s been tweeting and blogging about politics, the media and social media since 2009, and in 2013 founded the popular group blog AusOpinion. She blogs at Drag0nista’s Blog and tweets as @Drag0nista.



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