Leading article Australia

The barnacles just keep growing

14 January 2017

9:00 AM

14 January 2017

9:00 AM

The latest travel expenses affair is no more than another recurring symptom of the serious malaise in the Australian political class; namely, their utter inability to provide honest and mature leadership.

At a time of growing financial crisis, our political leaders across the spectrum should not only insist, as they do not, on economic restraint and thrift, but insist on it in every minute part and parcel of Federal government spending. A true leader and a true ruling political class would do this by way of example, demonstrating that they were living under exactly the same constraints they expect the people to accept. A true leader would do what the first Governor, Arthur Phillip, did when famine threatened the penal colony. He reduced the men’s rations to two thirds, not only for the convicts but also for the officers and for the Governor himself. Similarly, true leaders would do what Churchill and the Royal Family did in the Second World War when strict food rationing was imposed. They applied it to themselves.

But with our political class, it is self interest at every possible waking moment. It is conniving and calculating how to squeeze every possible advantage, trip, study tour and benefit from the foolish serfs who pay the taxes. Let the luxury flights and hotels flow on in abundance for them, and for their staff, partners and children, no matter how much greater this makes their carbon footprint than that of we commoners (notwithstanding nearly all are believers in global warming.) And let not any desire ‘to spend more time with the family’ get in the way of those rivers of gold. They will flow on from the residual travel, the superannuation fund reserved for politicians only, the jobs for the boys, and the seats on boards, consultancies and lobbying all stitched up while in parliament.

All this is the direct and inevitable result of the allegiance so many politicians give to particular powerbrokers and party bosses, learning that the guiding principle at all levels is not the national interest, it is self interest. While once members of our parliaments came from all ranks, our politicians now usually come from such a narrow class they could hardly be more removed from the lives and interests of the rank-and-file.

Too many politicians today pass through an apprenticeship as ‘staffers’, a superfluous and ever-growing barnacle bequeathed to a reluctant nation by the former Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam. The staffers will have been active in some university where their skills will be directed towards the practice of conspiratorial politics. In the Labor Party, they will take on the guise of trade union officials, but unlike the officials in Labor’s golden age, they have not risen from the ranks of the working class. As a token compensation for this, they will often affect what they believe to be some of the mannerisms and language of workers with whom they have little contact and less in common. After all, their apprenticeship is designed not to improve the lives of the members of the union; rather the purpose is to obtain a safe seat.

As a consequence, Parliament has become an ignoble caricature of what it once was. The highlight, Question Time, has descended into fourth rate theatre, the most excruciating line being some minister thanking some honourable member selected by the whip to read a tedious self-serving and irrelevant question that the minister’s staff have laboured to compose.

The solution, however, is not some federal star chamber based along the lines of NSW’s ignominious Independent Commission Against Corruption, where the innocent are besmirched and found guilty through the front pages of the daily tabloids.

Nor is it with some cut-and-paste job to rename their ‘entitlements’; a trick worthy of Sir Humphrey if ever there were one.

The solution is for the political class to become accountable and to behave like leaders and not sleazy, self-interested politicians. Until they do the public will continue to hold them in contempt. And rightly so.

No Iron Lady

Meryl Streep’s latest dazzling performace, which left nary a dry eye in the house and earned her a standing ovation, was worthy of yet another accolade for this immensely talented actress. This award, which could proudly sit alongside her Presidential Medal of Freedom (huh?) and her squillion acting gongs, would be for ‘Best Out Of Touch Smug Luvvie Lecturing The Masses On Why They Are Wrong’. Previous winners include Bono, Springsteen and di Caprio. It’s a pity that Ms Streep learned so little from her time spent boning up on Margaret Thatcher.

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