Election 2013: Community Cabinet in Ringwood

Gillard Government ministers face the music at Community Cabinet

Election 2013: Community Cabinet in Ringwood

Last night I turned the clock back 40 years and headed back to Norwood High School (now Norwood Secondary College) to attend a Community Cabinet meeting. These are part of the Labor Government’s commitment to offer opportunities for people to share concerns and issues directly with government, this was the 40th such event. Held in school halls and community centres around Australia, the majority of Gillard Government ministers were lined up in front of a 350-strong audience of concerned locals. Right on time the Prime Minister appeared and was escorted to the podium by local Member for Deakin, Mr. Mike Symon, to a standing ovation. Yes, that is correct, a standing ovation.

For the next hour the attendees asked a variety of questions, most of which were concerned with social equity issues. These included concerns about Work Choices, the National Disability Support Scheme (NDIS), climate change, domestic violence, the scope of the Royal Commission into child sex abuse and the finer points of the Gonski review and its implementation. In most cases the Prime Minister referred to the relevant minister for a response; Jenny Macklin got a heavy workout, while Treasurer Wayne Swann and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr did not receive any direct questions about their portfolios. There were two questions on same-sex marriage, including discrimination against same-sex couples in aged care. One questioner asked if we were really going to let New Zealanders beat us to the punch when it came to legalising same-sex marriage. (We have, as this legislation passed through the New Zealand Parliament as the Community Cabinet was underway).

The spirit of the meeting was amicable. Not everyone agreed with current Labor Government policy. But many present did congratulate the Prime Minister on the many diverse reforms achieved thus far. At the end of 60 minutes, after a question on the availability of TAFE training for Auslan interpreters drew a solid round of applause, Ms. Gillard and her Cabinet rose to leave. Many ministers stopped to have photos taken, shake hands and chat with those present as they left the school hall.

What is a community cabinet? How do I register?

The PM, Mum and me

My Mum, Betty, is 85. She was quite excited when she found the notice in a local paper that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet would be meeting locals at my old school, Norwood High. Okay, it’s now called Norwood Secondary College, just to be politically correct, but to me it will always  be Norwood High. So I suggested we attend together, to have a first hand look at a cabinet in action. Watching history in the making, if you like.

The preliminary registration process was a bit tedious. You had to register online two weeks in advance, and even though you went through this rigmarole, they didn’t actually tell you that you were in. A couple of phone calls later, this was confirmed, so we headed off to the school for refreshments at 5.30pm followed by the one-hour Community Cabinet meeting at 6pm.

Some observations:

  1. The school uniform has improved out of sight. The purple and gold (puhleeeeeese!!!) of my youth has given way to a more royal hue of purple and the gold has virtually disappeared.
  2. Unlike AFL Grand Finals, when Advance Australia Fair is played, the political ‘players’ knew the words and sang along. Including the Prime Minister. Another refreshing change
  3. The care of, and respect for, those with a disability was impressive. Which is probably why most attendees seem to be giving a thumbs-up to the Labor Government for introducing the NDIS
  4. Concerns really were focussed on those of access to the basics, be they access to insurance, care, training, fair work conditions, equal educational opportunities, reasonable aged care and equality before the law when it comes to who you wish to marry. I can’t say I’m surprised. I grew up in Ringwood North. It was, and probably still is, Labor Heartland. If Mike Symon cannot hold his seat on 14 September, then it will be symptomatic of a massive Labor wipeout nationally. Deakin is indeed a seat to watch.
  5. The NBN did not rate much of a mention, nor did defence or foreign affairs
  6. The economy was totally ignored, including taxation, superannuation and the upcoming budget. One gentleman congratulated the PM on her government’s positive treatment of pensioners, but money was not a topic of discussion apart from funding of social equity programs.


And finally
I was impressed by the organisation, the politeness of security staff, staff from the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and both students and staff from Norwood High (sorry – Secondary!). The Ringwood North Community Cabinet was orderly, well mannered and as previously mentioned, extremely amicable.

And once again I can only marvel at my luck to be born in a nation which is democratic, based on rule of law and allows regular citizens to mingle with the most senior politicians in the land, free of agitation or fear.

No bombs went off, no one was denied access, no angry exchanges were had. Just polite questioning of elected representatives about how they are doing their day job. Now isn’t that an impressive performance in anyone’s language?  


    To make a comment, please register or login
    18th Apr 2013
    They all seemed like "Dorothy Dix" questions to me. All congratulations and no hard biting ones.
    18th Apr 2013
    Oh please. While the Government's popularity drops through the floor there will always be one or two individuals who hang on refusing to accept that this truly is the worst government Australia has ever seen.
    However, back to the article - what is historic about the 40th community cabinet meeting? Nowhere is it mentioned that these opportunities to meet and talk with cabinet members was started by the Howard Government. There was no registration system - anyone could come and they did. The Prime Minister at the time and his ministers took ever question, good or bad.Those attending were not veted, the doors were open to everyone. Could the article please be updated to include this important point? And could there be some idea provided as to why this meeting might carry the title "historic"?
    18th Apr 2013
    Now Fred, you say 'this is the worst Government Australia has ever seen'. You obviously are not well informed. You forgot to mention the Fraser Government. All the indices are that this government has governed through one of the most difficult periods in Australian history, including the destabalisation from her own side. This government has been keeping the economy growing and stable. The high Australian dollar is an indicator of the governments and Australia's success. The world would kill for the the 27 years of continual browth: low unemployment: low inflation: low Government debt etc... The Murdoch press is anxious for Tony Abbott to be installed in Canberra and has pulled out all stops in their campaign to demolish this Government and Prime Minister. Personal abuse, sexism, slogans like 'the worst government ever' etc... The Prime Minister has calmly governed. Passed momentous reforms. The Parliament has seen robust debate on all bills (not gagged & passes like under Howeard). Be carefull that you do not fall for the continous stream of propaganda from Tony Abbott. He cannot debate: string a sentence together; nor convince any-one except the uninformed; the dis-interested; and his own side of politics. The media would like every one to believe that the country believes in him as well. The election may prove very interesting, and a great disappointment to the conservative side of politics when people decide not to trust Tony Abbott & his coalition and stay with this Prime Minister & Labor Government.
    18th Apr 2013
    Dream on Robbie.
    18th Apr 2013

    With the way our Corporate (Foreign) Owned Media have CARTE BLANCHE (they sit on their own disciplinary board) to print or say whatever they want and to wage a negative campaign against the Labor Party, continuously without taking a breathe, it is understandable that Labor may not get in at the next election.

    However, that does not mean that the best party won, it just means that the our DEMOCRACY has been COMPROMISED which is more than just sad for our EGALITARIAN society.

    With the Corporate (Foreign) Owned Media being in charge of this country, in no time the corporations will have syphoned off the wealth and Australia will no longer be EGALITARIAN, we will be like the USA and on a downhill slide - the wealth that is currently spread out, making Australian STRONG and an egalitarian nation, will polarise to the wealthy.

    Like the USA this polarisation of wealth will mean DISGUSTING PUBLIC education, health and services, crime, poverty, unemployment, ever widening slums.

    Why do you think these wealthy parasites from other nations are flocking to Australia... because they have STUFFED up their own country with their excessive GREED and Australia is now RIPE for the taking.
    18th Apr 2013
    The election will be very interesting, I certainly agree. So will the first meeting of the ALP post election. While phone box in parliament house will they use, I wonder?
    Seriously though I was hoping the author could provide detail on why this particular meeting was so historic as well as why when John Howard began the community cabinet meetings vetting of those who could attend was not required. If John Howard could handle everyone who wanted to attend surely Julia Gillard could show the same political courage.
    18th Apr 2013
    Australia has just knocked Switzerland off as the SAFEST financial country to put your money. We are on top of the world in just about every statistic that countries would die to obtain.

    Australians are wealthy - our wealth is spread out more in Australian than any other country which has made us very strong. The USA is crumbling with a very concentrated wealth distribution (1% owning 90% of the wealth).

    ALL Australians will be getting the most innovative technology (NBN) to our door, costing us no more than we are paying now and with the whole cost of this incredibly humongous undertaking being recouped by about 2034 then having the NBN generate revenue. Not a substandard $29Billion 'throw away' item that is proposed by the oppositions.

    We are safe here, we are prosperous here when the rest of the western world is collapsing.

    We have an EGALITARIAN society.

    Countries and populations all over the world are in awe of Australia and how well we are doing. Our PM is highly esteemed for her management of this country and her statesmanship, by leaders of other nations all over the world.

    Yet.....YET, in Australia, NO ONE KNOWS HOW WELL WE ARE DOING because our Corporate (Foreign) Owned media has run a NEGATIVE SMEAR campaign against the PM in particular and the government in general.
    REASON: Australia IS wealthy and is simply RIPE for the PICKING. The wealthy elite from other nations are here and want the wealth in their own pockets. Their GREED has crucified their own nations and caused them to crumble and now they are moving like sharks to Australia, to take us down the same road as the USA (wealthy 1% own 90% of the wealth). One particular media mogul will lose heavily if the NBN goes ahead, so he is willing to put Australia back 20 years, simply because he did not have the entrepreneurial foresight to read the market.

    Oh! The so called 'vetting' you spoke of is simply SECURITY checks, so that a nutter with a gun doesn't get in. This is necessary now, in Australia because John HOWARD, against the wishes of MOST Australians and without consulting OUR parliament and therefore OUR representatives, joined with the USA to undertake and ILLEGAL invasion on another country (Iraq) because that country had oodles of OIL and was selling the OIL in EUROs instead of US$.

    How incredibly inane to try that TOTAL bull dust on...

    HONESTLY, I am NOT a labor supporter, I don't like some of the things they do in the name of security eg. our privacy, for instance.
    HOWEVER, they are doing an incredible job for Australians and Australia. I respect them for that.
    Additionally, the alternative, in Tony Abbott, has only shown me that the opposition is more than willing to SELL Australia off to the highest and most powerful bidder. If this were NOT true, they would simply go ahead with the governments NBN - their YOUTH vote would swell immediately. BUT they are too busy genuflecting to the likes of Rupert and Gina and are too frightened to do what is good for Australia. Shame on them.

    UNFORTUNATELY, with the Corporate (Foreign) Owned media having so much unfettered POWER (they preside over their own disciplinary board), the very essence of our DEMOCRACY and EGALITARIANISM is compromised.
    18th Apr 2013
    I am horror struck at the "goings on" in Australian politics at present. The Liberals are attending $500 dinners with the likes of Gina Rinehart and have a list of over seventy things they want to change (see details on the Get Up! website). Tony Abbott is facing court for his involvement in getting the founders of One Nation gaoled (they were released after some months when an appeal quashed the convictions for electoral fraud). The Labor Party continues to fall messily onto its sword, and we all fear a fait acompli of the Liberals implementing their long-held "superior" attitudes. Where is there a nice hole I can crawl into for the next few years?
    18th Apr 2013
    Well said Pardelope, if only our Corporate (Foreign) Owned media told us some of the good things that our government and PM have been doing, instead of the negative smear campaign....then the sword falling may not be quite so messy.
    18th Apr 2013
    Partial agree - neither side offers much in the way of inspiration and policies for the future.
    But as someone just said on radio, even if the ALP could impose its "vetting" procedure for allowing you to vote to weed out the free thinkers in the Australian community, they would still every seat they currently hold slip from their hands.
    18th Apr 2013
    I will repeat what was written above:

    "The so called 'vetting' you spoke of is simply SECURITY checks, so that a nutter with a gun doesn't get in. This is necessary now, in Australia because John HOWARD, against the wishes of MOST Australians and without consulting OUR parliament and therefore OUR representatives, joined with the USA to undertake an ILLEGAL invasion on another country (Iraq) because that country had oodles of OIL and was selling the OIL in EUROs instead of US$."

    Vetting....what a lot of crock!
    18th Apr 2013
    thanks for comments. The vetting process we now see was not brought in PM Howard even after 9/11. Security is a cop-out used by the ALP. But it is very convenient for the PM who is petrified to meet and talk to real voters. She will have lots of time to do this post the coming election loss. Lots of time!
    18th Apr 2013
    Nothing to do with 9/11, we were NOT a TERRORIST TARGET until ...........

    "John HOWARD, against the wishes of MOST Australians and without consulting OUR parliament and therefore OUR representatives, joined with the USA to undertake an ILLEGAL invasion on another country (Iraq) because that country had oodles of OIL and was selling the OIL in EUROs instead of US$."

    John HOWARD may be only the second PM to lose his seat at an election but he certainly left ALL Australians with his own personal LEGACY ....... he made Australia a TERRORIST TARGET.

    Our current PM is not a fool, of course in this day and age you do security checks...what is wrong with you.

    Besides, I was allowed into one of these things and my only contact with my local labor MP was to complain via email about various labor policies, plus I was known to Labor because I had initiated and then helped run a local campaign to defeat a state labor government's local planning initiative. So I wasn't exactly, someone they would cherish going to their community meeting.

    Re: the election - yes, you are probably right the government may fall at the next elections BUT it will be because the Corporate (Foreign) Owned media has run a NEGATIVE SMEAR campaign against the PM personally and the government generally. Hence, given the truly incredible track record of the PM and the government (the track record most Australians do not get to hear about), it will be a sad thing.

    Sad because it means that our DEMOCRACY and the DEMOCRATIC system in Australia will have been gerrymandered by the wealthy elite who own the Corporate (Foreign) media. With their concentrated and unfettered control of our media, we will only get the wealthy elites view of what is good and what is bad for us and Australia and we will slowly slide DOWN to the same standard that is currently the USA..........Wealthy elite 1% owning 90% of the wealth, illiterate and de-educated population because PUBLIC education, PUBLIC health and PUBLIC everything will have been sold off into private hands or simply dismantled - slum areas developing and growing - crime, an everyday norm - drug addiction growing and getting out of control - abject poverty, living with rats and cockroaches - no hope of breaking the poverty cycle - wage levels plummeting with no safety nets, etc, etc. Give it 10 years these things will be evident, another 10 and we will be living it.

    Gone our EGALITARIAN society, gone our way of life.

    18th Apr 2013

    I have just re-read my comments and although the actual content is okay, my manner is not.
    I was in a hurry and just poured it out and didn't realise that I had been a tad rude, for which I apologise.
    Kaye Fallick
    19th Apr 2013
    Mussitate, this is a very gracious statement, and totally in the spirit of our forum.
    Kaye Fallick
    19th Apr 2013
    Hi Fred,
    in response to your request for an author update:
    However, back to the article - what is historic about the 40th community cabinet meeting? Nowhere is it mentioned that these opportunities to meet and talk with cabinet members was started by the Howard Government. There was no registration system - anyone could come and they did. The Prime Minister at the time and his ministers took ever question, good or bad.Those attending were not veted, the doors were open to everyone. Could the article please be updated to include this important point? And could there be some idea provided as to why this meeting might carry the title "historic"?

    The choice of the word 'historic' was to note the number of community cabinet meetings.
    There was no vetting stated or implied. There was a slow online registration process - that's all. the day of the meeting was the same day as the Boston Marathon bombing, so security was heightened - in line with heightened security at our airports. Understandable, i am sure you would agree when you have the leader of the country and almost the entire front bench lined up on one podium.
    so, in answer to your specific question - no vetting, historic because of the number of meetings, and the PM took all questions regardless of whether they were positive or negative.
    I hope this is helpful.
    Kind regards, Kaye
    19th Apr 2013
    As a Swinging voter have to say "Better the one we know than the one we don't"

    All we can hope for is a very "Hung Parliament" more so than it is now, so the independants can keep the government under more scrutiny and control in both the upper and lower house.

    The fact is the public dont like either of them or their parties and this election could well be a game changer. The parties have the wrong people in the Leadership Seats.

    Lets not forget that it was Mr Abbott that championed "Work Choices" and the public did not like that and led labour to a stunning victory in the "Kevin 07" election. Though Mr Abbott did champion the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme which helped Pensioners with Chronic Diseases tremendously, though really it was designed for the rich as it had no income tests attached and if it had it would still have probably been alive and well today and the cost or the scheme would not have blown out. Expect some to say that dentist's ripped the scheme off, we must all remember that were their is government funding/grants for any service their are always robbers and liars sitting around the corner with their arms wide open ready to do the wrong thing and fraud the system to steal the public's money. Incidently it was only a a few that did this.

    If we look at a liberal charity think tank that was attended recently by Mr Abbott, Rupert Murdoch and Gina Reinhardt most of the items discussed were Austerity Measures e.g. Reducing medicare to only a manority of the population, Work Choices 2 under another name, Abolishing the Mining Resource Rent Tax, Abolishing the Carbon Tax and Stopping the Boats. Can only agree with the last two, though now the carbon tax is in operation and far to down the track it will be extremely dificult for the liberal party to abolish it. Dont think for one second that we will get to keep the Clean Energy Supplement or it will be added to the base rate of our pension under a liberal govenrment. If the carbon tax is scrapped or the pricing of goods will go down as they simply wont as the damage has already been done and is ireversible now, the increases will just become a profit for Business. If the Elite had their way Hard Working Australians would be payed $10 per hour.

    When the Howard government was in power half the middle class become richer, the other half become poorer and the poor became even poorer. In those years was working on a Salary and must say that the cost of living just kept rising and rising, the more tax cuts, the more expensive things became. Also we must all look at how the cost of housing sky rocketed in the Howard years whether renting or buying. Pensions were kept extremely low were some people were living in absolute poverty and could not make ends meet which was an absolute disgrace.

    Was not happy with "work choices" as felt my great grand parents turning in their graves and could not sit back and watch was happening as knew my vote counted to making a diferance to so many other Austrlians that were worse off than me.Most Australian voters care immensly about Hard Working Australians and the Poor, hence why we got a labour government in 2007. The last election was close, though that's because the voting public were not happy with Labour dumping the Fairy Rudd Father, the faceless men in sussex street and the Huge turmoil problems with state labour in NSW.

    Lets not forget the pension reforms and increases since 2009 that have come about since the labour government came to power and remember the hand that feeds us and has done so progressively, though they still have a way to go yet to providing us all with a sustainable and reasonable income to live on.

    Pensioners will be worse off under a liberal government if the Howard Years are anything to reflect on and what a Total Disgrace it was.
    19th Apr 2013
    I totally agree with Robbie and Mussitate - they are spot on with everything that they have written - well done. The media has crucified our present Prime Minister. I worked in media for over 25 years and was a producer of a radio program for a number of years. I was on first name basis with Politicians of all parties at the time. Let's don't forget that about 75% of our politicians are Lawyers - that really worries me. If I had my way with the system - a board of management would run this country - think of the money that would be saved overall. Keep the Senate for decision making any huge decision, the people of Australia to vote. Yes we are a wealthy country but if we didn't have the minerals, gas and our oil wells plugged in Bass straight we wouldn't be any better off than the rest of the world. The profits from these three resources should be shared with all Australians not just a minority. We could buy back all our public utilities that were sold off without the taxpayers consent. I have always said that the hard working man that pays his taxes each week keeps this country from going under - the wealthy and anyone with a business have all the lurks and perks to avoid paying tax - the working man has never had those privileges so it is time the rules were changed. All I can say is God help our younger generations - in years to come what will be left for them?

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