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If only the seats of power carried more backsides like this



By Alan Ramsey

November 13 2002

Amanda Eloise Vanstone is an original. Two years ago I rated her the Howard Government's achiever of the year. That was after John Howard had reappointed her to his inner cabinet (of 17), having bumped her down to the outer ministry three years earlier. Eighteen ministers have departed this Government, for various reasons, during the near-seven years it has run the country. Vanstone has survived as a minister the entire time, one of only 10 and the sole woman to do so. And she is the only minister to have regained cabinet rank after losing it.

It is not Vanstone's durability, though, that marks her. Nor, by themselves, is it her strong personality or her refusal to suffer fools or her very obvious ability. It is, above all, her great commonsense and her get-out-of-my-face attitude to the remorseless business of politics, a business of men run by men under men's rules. Vanstone, an 18-year Senate veteran, has never worried about such truisms.

You might remember when she first dented the national consciousness. It was December 1991. Paul Keating was just weeks away from ousting Bob Hawke as prime minister. In the Senate, Vanstone, a large woman who, outwardly, never cares a fig about her largeness, crossed words with Labor's Bob Collins, himself a man of no small circumference.

Collins interjected while Vanstone was speaking. Vanstone rounded on him. "If Senator Collins wants to contribute to this debate, he can get his backside on to his seat," she said. "Otherwise, he can be quiet."

Collins: "You aren't in a real good position to talk about backsides, Senator."

Vanstone: "Everyone has one."

Collins: "You certainly have."

Vanstone: "And, as I've said, it's better to be big in the backside than to have bulldust for brains."

Collins did not interject again.

Two days ago Vanstone reminded me why this formidable, undervalued politician remains a formidable human being. It was a speech she made on the contentious stem cell research saga that has now reached the Senate after one of the longest debates in the 101 years of the lower house. I can't quote it all, of course. But think about this excerpt, whatever your politics or religion, and lament that there aren't more people like Amanda Vanstone in public life.

"Let me turn to some of the objections which have their basis in a religious view. My own position is this: if you lead a good life, any god worth knowing will accept you into his or her heaven. I do not think - since I went to an Anglican school - that there will be any St Peter at the gates dispatching infidels to another place, smirking behind his hand that this sucker made the mistake of going to a Catholic, an Anglican or a Baptist church or of being a Jew, a Hindu or a Muslim. If the basis for getting into heaven is that you pick the right church, then frankly I'm not terribly interested in going there. It could be a very boring place.

"I think living by a decent set of values is far more important than defending [religious] dogma. I'm confident that if you lead a good life and there is a kingdom of heaven you will be welcome. Your religion is your business and no one else's. My personal view is that when you make your religion an issue, you drag it into the political domain and you tarnish it. It follows that I attach very little importance to [such] arguments.

"My point is quite simple: each to his own religion. If you say to me that doing something is against God's will, then I will respond by assuring you that, if God is annoyed, God will punish whomever has done that thing. The state should never be used as God's enforcer. Over the years, as I have been approaching 50, I can assure you I have had every confidence in God's ability to settle accounts. It has not been my experience that he or she usually waits until you are dead. Many people who have done the wrong thing have met their maker in a practical sense while they were still alive ...

"I simply ask those who, because of their beliefs, have a very genuine concern about this bill, to accept that they are entitled to follow their beliefs. They are not entitled to demand, by legislation, that everybody else does the same."

If only, in Australian public life, people like Amanda Vanstone were the rule rather than the exception.





Article originally here:

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/11/12/1037080729229.html




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