Burnside endorses Stephen Mayne for upper house

November 9, 2010

Dear lawyers of Melbourne and the northern suburbs,

My name is Stephen Mayne and I'm standing as an independent candidate at the November 27 state election for the Northern Metropolitan upper house region, which runs along the Yarra from Docklands to Richmond and then all the way to Whittlesea and beyond. (See map)

With independents now flavour of the month in Canberra and seriously improving Federal Parliament's operation, there's a real opportunity to inject some sparkle into the Victorian Parliament by electing alternatives to the major parties.

After 20 years of fighting for good governance in the corporate, media and political worlds, with your assistance a breathe of fresh air could be injected into the sometimes moribund Victorian upper house.

Under the new proportional representation system introduced in 2006, there are five MPs elected from each of the 8 upper house regions and Northern Metropolitan will definitely produce 1 Liberal (Matthew Guy) and 1 Green (Greg Barber), both of whom are strong, effective MPs. There will also definitely be two Labor MPs, Jenny Mikakos and Nazih Elasmar.

The only question to be resolved on November 27 is the 5th spot which is currently held by Labor's number 3, Nathan Murphy, who scored the post in March this year through a casual vacancy created by the retirement of Theo Theophanous.

Too many unionists and relatives

Whilst I'm a paid up and proud member of the journalists' union, the MEAA, there's few people who would argue with the proposition that upper houses across Australia have become excessively over-populated with former union officials.

After June 30 next year, 80% of ALP Senators will be former union officials because the union movement has a 50% gerrymander over votes at ALP state and national conferences.

In the blokey world of unions, there are plenty of jobs for the boys and in the case of Nathan Murphy, he got the job in part because his dad Tony Murphy is assistant state secretary of the Plumbers union in Victoria.

Nathan's Wikipedia entry details a life with limited professional experience outside of student politics, political staffing and union work. Indeed, in 2006 he was involved in an unseemly attempt to unseat House Speaker Harry Jenkins from his safe seat of Scullin, which Shaun Carney described in The Age as follows:

In one of the more bizarre preselection choices in Labor history, the hard-left anointed for this seat, a Labor Party plum, a 28-year old organiser from the ALP state office, Nathan Murphy.

Murphy has a Labor movement pedigree. His father Tony is an assistant secretary of the Plumbers Union and his mother, Sandra, was, until his nomination, a member of Harry Jenkins' staff. That would, at this early stage of Nathan Murphy's life, appear to sum up his credentials to be a Labor MP.

The choice of Murphy was so wrong-headed that even some of the Labor Unity people who negotiated the deal were embarrassed by it.

Harry Jenkins and I went to the same school and whilst this isn't some sort of alumni revenge, he's a really good speaker supported by both major parties and just didn't deserve to be treated so badly by Murphy and his union backers.

Whilst nepotism shouldn't be condoned in any circumstances, Labor Party nepotism is particularly blokey. I've recently been campaigning hard to get more women on public company boards and gave this speech in front of 1000 women at the Melbourne Town Hall a few weeks back.

The cracks about there being no such thing as a "faceless woman" or a "machine woman" in the ALP are true. When was the last time a female Labor powerbroker parachuted their daughter into a safe seat?

New Federal Liberal MP Dan Tehan has done some research on this topic which was written up recently by Michelle Grattan in The Age. There have been about 30 father-son combinations in Parliaments but not one mother-daughter combination. Maybe it's time to resist some of this blokey nepotism by looking for an alternative candidate to Nathan Murphy in Northern Metropolitan.

What does Stephen Mayne know about the law?

First up, I'm married to a recovering family law barrister Paula Piccinini (sister of the artist Patricia Piccinini). These days Paula is focusing more on being a director of the RACV, secretary of our primary school council and supporting my various activities, including this tilt at the Victorian Parliament. (If you fancy handing out a few how-to-vote cards she'd love to hear from you at Paula@maynereport.com)

In other legal connections, during our years building up Australia's best known independent ezine, www.crikey.com, I was sued for defamation three times in three different states and in 2002 we ended up losing our home as part of a settlement with shock jock Steve Price.

Julian Burnside, QC, along with three other barristers and a team led by Nic Pullen (then at Holding Redlich) kindly acted pro bono in that long-running defamation battle which included a heavy handed civil contempt of court action.

We're still friends with Burnside to this day and at a lunch on Saturday he kindly agreed to publicly endorse me in Northern Metropolitan.

Other connections with the law include the campaign against Jeff Kennett's attacks on then DPP Bernard Bongiorno. I was a former press secretary in the Kennett media unit but eventually fell out with the Premier over a series of governance concerns which included his complete failure to comprehend the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.

These concerns were all set out in this 18,000 word essay written for www.jeffed.com when campaigning against the Liberal government in the 1999 state election.

If elected to the upper house, I would be very focused on promoting laws that maximise transparency and accountability.

For instance, we do need an improved anti-corruption framework in Victoria, although the Brumby Government has made some positive steps forward with the proposals that came out of Elizabeth Proust's recent independent review.

Key policies in the election - stop the pokies

I'm running on three main issues.

The first is opposition to poker machines, arguably the most dangerous legal product available in Victoria where $2.6 billion was lost in 2009-10.

Australians are the biggest gamblers in the world, poker machines are the cause of the vast majority of gambling addiction issues and Victoria has the most lucrative poker machines in the country.

Like Burnside, no pokies Senator Nick Xenophon (a former head of the plaintiff lawyers association in Adelaide) is also supporting our campaign as was noted in The Weekend Australian. I "interviewed" Nick when we met with a range of people concerned about the scourge of pokies on Friday. Click on the image below to watch it:

As part of the campaign against pokies, I'm also running for the board of Woolworths, the operator of 12,000 machines across Australia, at its AGM in Brisbane on November 18. The retailing giant has ruthlessly censored my platform but you can see the full version of what was submitted in this recent missive sent out to Mayne Report readers.

Keeping councils honest

The second element of the platform is a commitment to keep the councils in Northern Metropolitian on their toes. The likes of Darebin and Whittlesea are dominated by the Labor Party and, like with Brimbank, would benefit from some independent oversight.

As a City of Manningham councillor for the past two years, I've learnt plenty about the workings of local government and lobbied hard for these governance improvements:

* Audio recordings of council meetings are now available online;

* We've abandoned the system of ward grants where councillors can dish out cash with little transparency;

* In 2011, verbal questions from the public at the start of council meetings will replace sterile written questions at the end; and

* Overall councillor expense claims will now be revealed once a year

Over recent weeks I've been attending council meetings in Northern Metropolitan and have asked verbal questions on five occasions at Darebin and Banyule. Tonight I'm off to Hume in Craigieburn to see how two written questions on councillor expenses and executive salary disclosure are dealt with.

Tomorrow it will be Whittlesea and then Moreland on Wednesday, other commitments permitting.

The focus on councils won't be all negative as there will be numerous examples where some independent advocacy in state parliament can deliver on policies and projects for the inner city and the northern suburbs.

Independent interrogation skills useful in upper house

Asking questions at council meetings is a similar exercise to the questions I've asked at 360-plus public company AGMs since 1998 as a shareholder activist. Barristers and solicitors alike no doubt understand that interrogation skills can be improved over time.

A good example of the discipline was this 12 minute exchange with Rupert Murdoch at the News Corp AGM in New York last month, which was discussed during this recent interview with Jon Faine on 774 ABC Melbourne.

There are numerous upper house committees in the Victorian Parliament and I'd have something to offer when it comes to attempting to extract useful information in the public interest. With no party baggage, I'll be free to hold all comers to account.

A voice for business in the CBD

The third element of the tilt is the idea that someone in the Victorian Parliament will take a specific interest in promoting the Melbourne CBD.

Inner city political representation in Melbourne is primarily Labor although it will become a little Greener after November 27.

Big city law firms, barristers based in the legal precinct and their clients would benefit from a state parliamentarian specifically focused on the interests of city-based commerce.

For instance, in 1992 Melbourne was home to 8 of the 10 largest companies. Now, we've only got BHP-Billiton, ANZ, NAB and Newcrest.

If elected, part of the goal would be to encourage more companies to headquarter and list in Melbourne and to reverse the leakage of influence to Sydney and Perth over the past 20 years.

How to help out: volunteers, donate or dob in your Northern Metropolitan mates

As you can imagine, reaching out to the 400,000 voters in Northern Metropolitan is no easy thing but any primary vote above 2% puts us in a winnable position given the prefererence system so we're giving it our best shot.

Paula and I are about to head off and distribute 500 flyers related to the Old England hotel pokies venue in Ivanhoe, but with only a limited budget, we really need to embrace social media and the web to reach voters. Hence this email.

The web version of this email is available here and we'd be delighted if you on-passed it to any Northern Metropolitan voters you know.

If you're encouraged by the idea of Victoria getting its first upper house independent, why not email through the email addresses of voters you know in any of the 11 lower house districts that make up Northern Metropolitan: Richmond, Melbourne, Brunswick, Northcote, Mill Park, Preston, Broadmeadows, Ivanhoe, Bundoora, Thomastown and Yan Yean.

Paula@maynereport.com is the best email address or if you'd rather do it anonymously, just click on the image below:

We've currently got more than 2600 followers on Twitter so feel free to click below to get on board for campaign updates:

And finally, if you fancy lending the campaign some financial support, click below:

That's all for now.

Thanks so much if you got this far.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

* The Mayne Report is a multi-media governance website published by shareholder activist, local government councillor, political candidate and Crikey founder Stephen Mayne with regular email editions. This email contains political content and is authorised by Paula Piccinini, C/- 205 William St, Melbourne 3000. To unsubscribe from this email list click here.