27 August 2015
Opinion piece - Public has every right to be dismayed at Canberra shenanigans
Opinion piece published in the Mercury, 27 Aug 2015
THE recent parliamentary sitting fortnight in Canberra was mostly a waste of time and taxpayers' money.
With precious few exceptions, there were no clashes of great ideas, no nation-changing legislation and no inspiring speeches.
All there seemed to be were squabbles and leaks from MPs obsessing over their personal and political self-interest.
The unprecedented level of dismay in the community with politicians is hardly surprising.
The furore over the Royal Commission into the unions was especially unedifying.
Commissioner Dyson Heydon gave at least an impression of political bias by accepting an invitation to a Liberal Party event, but equally important is the misconduct in the union movement unearthed by the Commission.
Instead of a mature debate about the facts, the Liberal and Labor parties spent days hurling muck at each.
There's no shortage of the symptoms of the disease infecting our democracy, and the controversy in recent weeks over politicians and their entitlements is a doozy.
Yes, the PM ordered an inquiry into parliamentary allowances, but what is lost on most politicians is, at best, their behaviour is out of step with community expectations and, at worst, it's criminal fraud because surely there's no other way to describe the billing of taxpayers for a trip that any reasonable person would regard as being for personal reasons.
There's no simple explanation for the sorry state of Australian politics, but in the mix is that most politicians have little experience of the real world, having got mixed up in student politics at university and soon after entered political la-la land on a politician's staff. From there it was a matter of time playing party games before preselection for a seat where they're given advice by younger versions of themselves. No wonder they have no idea what's going on in the real world. No wonder they're so beholden to their party - they'd be nothing without it.
Loyalty to party is stronger than to community so hardly anyone breaks ranks and crosses the floor, even if their conscience or electorate's circumstances demand it.
Then they wonder why they struggle to win over voters.
At least Members of the House of Representatives are popularly elected, but not so in the Senate where the Liberal and Labor parties normally get a couple of Senate candidates automatically elected no matter what, three with some dodgy preference dealing.
Problem is these aren't necessarily the best or most popular people for the job, but rather those who played party games most successfully to secure top spots on their party's Senate ticket. This explains why Senate is full of party hacks, and that this is another area of reform being left alone by the Government.
Not helping things are some in the media who feed on conflict, run their own agenda and avoid positive stories.
Overlay this with a 24-hour news cycle and an obsession politicians have with polling, focus groups and feeding the chooks, as Joh Bjelke-Petersen described dealing with the media, and we have in Canberra a shambles undeserving of respect.
Many voters are more interested in ethical and competent governance than a particular political party. They want politicians to grow up and run the country, but instead parliament has become largely policy-free because the Government's not brave enough to take on serious policy reform.
There's no leadership on addressing the revenue shortfall. Tax reform is regarded as a no-go zone, despite a pressing need to make super-profiteers pay a fair share of tax, especially banks and foreign multinationals. Nor is there leadership on super reform, despite the fact the system is inadequate for people on low incomes and a get-richerquick scheme for the wealthy.
Compounding the sorry state in Canberra is the Labor Party is as bad as the Liberal Party in lacking big ideas or the strength to implement them. When change happens, it's often because the two big parties are in lock-step, often at odds with public opinion.
There's agreement on police state policies like mandatory metadata retention, inhuman policies like towing asylum seeker boats to Indonesia, cruel policies like expanding live animal exports and refusing to implement effective poker machine reforms.
It doesn't have to be this way. Parties could ditch their factions and choose better leaders and candidates. They could change the rules to let members vote freely. The Parliament could change the voting system, in particular for the Senate where parties give your vote at full value to other parties and dodgy preference deals end in bizarre outcomes.
Of course, none of that will happen until politicians realise they are elected to represent and serve their community.
Until then, the public has every right to be dismayed.
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