You might imagine a backdrop of sweltering deserts and the permanent hum of cicadas. You might imagine nothing at all. Rural Australia remains a mystery to many of us but with the recent introduction of the mining tax the areas that will be most affected have been thrust into the spotlight.
Durack, the electorate of Liberal backbencher Barry Haase, is by far the largest in the country. It comprises a whopping 61% of Western Australia, which
equates to around a quarter of Australia’s landmass.
A huge pastoral region like this is sure to be hit by the government’s new tax. As attention is brought towards this expansive rural area, it is important to consider the man pioneering a move away from centralization.
68-year-old Haase was born and raised in Southern Cross, a small town 371 kilometers east of Perth. Elected as a federal MP for the first time in 1998, he maintained the seat of Kalgoorlie until 2010, when the division was abolished and its upper portion became Durack. Winning the 2010 election by a margin of 13%, Haase has been a major political presence in the Golden State. He maintains that his success comes from supporting ‘policies that will not desert the bush’.
Prior to joining the Liberal party in 1987, Haase was a company director for an air conditioning and building maintenance firm. Although he is now a major player in Western Australia’s political arena, his ‘pro-rural, pro-remote’ ideologies that garnered the support of the people in 1998 haven’t changed.
This is exactly what he stands for. When you strip his politics right down to the bone, this is what you are left with: an unwavering support of rural people. To such a massive electorate, this is surely among the most critical ideals.
Haase says: ‘There are too many policies that lead to centralization and not enough that lead to practical and sensible decentralization.’ His commitment to the rural community lies at the core of his political philosophy.
But why is this so important to today’s country population?
There has long been a demand for equity between urban and remote Australians. The struggle faced by those living in out-of-reach communities has often been recognized and considered, but little has actually been done to close the gap.
For this reason, there is a desperate need for politicians who will primarily consider the needs of the remote population.
Haase states that he is ‘personally committed’ to a taxation zone rebate that would reward people for living in remote Australia. Furthermore, he stresses the need to improve the access to tertiary study for rural children. Haase explains: ‘Right now there is such an inequity with the accessibility for tertiary studies.’
It’s obvious that Haase sees a massive imbalance between the opportunities available to those living in major cities compared to those living in rural areas. Distance, he describes, is the single factor that lies at the core of this inequality.
‘Everything stems from distance, because if we in every patch of my electorate had access to every amenity available to those in the city most of our problems would be solved,’ Haase says.
With such a vast electorate, Haase spends the majority of his time travelling from town to town, ensuring rural communities have access to the individual they elected to do right by them.
The distance problem, ‘and all the negatives it causes’, is what Haase is committed to solving. What makes this issue so pressing, says Haase, is that it is there on top of all the other policy concerns suffered everywhere else.
Two recent government decisions constantly being brought to the forefront of the public’s attention are the soon to be implemented carbon and mining taxes. Where does Haase stand on these controversial issues? Firmly against, it seems. ‘We must reverse these obscene taxes, the terrible twin taxes,’ Haase warns.
In a recent media release, Haase described the carbon tax as representing ‘another major cost on Australia’s forgotten Australians’. Concerned that the tax will do nothing but shift Australian production offshore, Haase fears for the country.
‘The people of Australia are scared. They are vulnerable. They have every right to be terrified,’ Haase states.
Of course, one of the biggest problems affecting Western Australia is the recently passed mining tax. Of all the Australian electorates, Durack has the highest proportion of its workforce employed in the mining industry. Haase believes that by imposing the tax the government ‘has simply put another brick in the wall’.
This is not the first incidence of Haase being outspoken in his opposition for certain government decisions, and he is no stranger to controversy.
In July 2011, the call to ban live exporting prompted a disagreement between Haase and RSPCA Queensland’s CEO Mark Townend. After Haase voiced his opinion about the necessity of live exporting to the people of Western Australia, Townend hit back, reportedly threatening to ‘wage a campaign’ against Haase.
The reality for Haase is that live export is an essential part of rural production in Western Australia, and a banning would result in lost jobs and damage to the pastoral industry.
These opinions all trace back to his political persona. He describes himself as an average person, with average philosophies. Haase states: ‘I believe in a fair go, a fair crack of the whip, a fair days pay — most of my constituents would share this view.’
It’s clear he’s well respected. But he is also realistic. Representing the north of Western Australia for almost 14 years, Haase has long since realised that his venture into politics to ‘shape the world, make a difference and right all the wrongs’ was naïve.
He concludes: ‘Reshaping the world is something that takes more than one lifetime to do. The gloss comes off politics and you don’t get to change the world. I’m just happy to have made a contribution.’
Brianna Martin is a student at La Trobe University.
To view profiles of some of the other backbenchers as part of upstart’s Backbench Insiders project, click here.