'Politics isn't working for us today because we allowed it to fail'

We get what we vote for, writer Barbara Easthope suggests.

I am a product of the 1950s and became politically aware as the Vietnam War was being fought and I had family and friends caught up in the conscription lottery of would they, wouldn’t they be called up. My dad was a trade unionist and I had relatives on the conservative side of politics so I got a real mix of messages.

I started out this article to tell you how much better our politicians were back when we were young but then I thought I had better read up on some of the scandals of the past and I am not so sure they were better. I think there may have been more good people in politics, but I am not sure the system was outstandingly better. We were more respectful of authority and less inclined to criticise. The newspapers reported goings on with a level of honesty and lack of bias seldom seen today.

We discovered some were corrupt, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his farce of a trial comes to mind, some had dodgy acquaintances and dealings. Gerrymandering of electoral boundaries to ensure particular parties stayed in power was rife in Queensland and South Australia. The Petrov Affair made us aware there may be enemy agents working against us. The collapse of two State Banks had us wonder if some premiers were totally incompetent.

The scandals however didn’t seem to come at us as fast, but often when we found out there was real in-depth reporting with facts and figures and there was much more to the scandal before we learned of it.

Politicians were different in the earlier part of last century. Being a politician wasn’t seen as a career in itself but something taken up later in life after someone had run the farm, been a worker or had a professional career. They were people with real life experience.

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Today politicians are generally either party or union people. The Liberal Party seems to take a lot of its candidates from the ranks of the Institute of Public Affairs, where they seem to thrive on theories and concepts rather than experience of life in the real world, others are former political aides, again, mainly experiencing the world of politics.

I’ve heard the argument that this doesn’t make them bad politicians as they talk to people but listening often isn’t knowing. Labor takes many of its politicians from the union movement and I expect they have a bit more experience of the real world as many have worked with workers and helped with their problems but their perspective is likely to be more city and industry rather than around rural issues.

Is it the way the news is reported now on social media? Many think that it is the continual need for a new headline that has our politicians’ sins and transgressions continually in the media. On some occasions the media seem to lead and not follow, particularly all the speculation over party leadership until many of us were absolutely sick of hearing it. There is definitely political bias in many of the media outlets pushing the sins of one major party while ignoring the transgressions of the other party.

I know often when I hear about some new ‘thing’ from our politicians I cannot believe nobody is on the take as the whole thing seems so unlikely to benefit Australia or many Australians.

It definitely feels now as though the concept of ‘nation building’ that was important to our very early politicians has been lost. Too much of our nation has been sold off to overseas interests and, although, there has always been a large part of Australia owned by overseas interests now, with the Chinese buying it is not an overseas individual or company owning part of Australia but a foreign government.

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There is less likelihood of the property returning onto the market in the future. It is the bizarre nature of some of these leases or purchases, Darwin Port a prime example, of our countries security and wellbeing seemingly trashed for short term gain.

As an ex-public servant I was pretty disgusted at how minor many people regarded the breech of Section 44 of our Constitution, too.

Parties knee deep in lawyers couldn’t get it right and allowed their members to sign a false declaration. Labor seemed aware of this section and had their candidates research their family background and address dual citizenship. However some tried to be too clever and may come unstuck as they didn’t submit their papers renouncing foreign citizenship until they knew they were going to be the nominated candidate after winning preselection, consequently they may have not had the paperwork processed and were still dual citizens at the time of signing the declaration.

These very same politicians made sure public servants administered fines and penalties when a member of the public signed a false declaration even when it was a genuine error. You signed, and you were supposed to make sure you researched to find your declaration was correct. Again, the double standards of our politicians show.

Politicians now seem more interested in political point scoring against the other side, or telling us what the other side will do than actually explaining their own policy. Listen to Question Time and often you will see and hear behaviour that is reminiscent of a school playground rather than a government of adults. Too much time is spent on personal attack rather than governing.

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The attack on welfare recipients reminds me of a line I heard describing America is now attacking the poor rather than poverty. Australia currently is doing the same. Sure, there are real bludgers out there unwilling to work and using all sorts of means to make sure they still get welfare with the littlest effort. Employers tell of people sent along by the job agencies who don’t want to work but that is because continually they are sent this same group of people, not those genuinely seeking work.

I saw some figures that put several politicians annual expense claims, though, at more than 37 years of Newstart payments and ranging up to 105 years’ worth. Yet they blame those living in poverty for the economic woes of the country. How can we respect politicians who can’t seem to see the huge imbalance and unfairness of their comments?

Why is politics failing us now? Was the question put to me?

The breech of Section 44 by so many is just an example, the rules don’t apply to politicians and we voters don’t reinforce that yes, they do. The false declarers are voted back, thumbing their noses at the electorate as they get away with what for you or I would probably be an offence worthy of a fine or in some cases gaol if we made a false declaration. Many blindly vote for the party they have always supported despite the worsening of their own personal situations under that party, others vote for or against a personality.

Too many are lazy about politics, accept ‘facts’ from dubious sources and don’t engage with their politicians. Why don’t we have plain, easy-to-understand packaging, industry lobby groups, why isn’t our takeaway fish labelled with its place of origin, why is that rare patch of old growth forest about to be logged, timber industry lobby groups and the list goes on endlessly.

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The actual Australian voter is almost the last consideration in any political move. Business, and in particular mining, rule the roost, lobby groups expressing the interest of one small group are given more political clout than they warrant. Churches intrude into politics in a manner at conflict with our constitution. We don’t get a look in as a voter, even in protest, it is only when the tipping point is reached in the run up to an election where it may cost seats in parliament that politicians even consider what the public has been screaming in their ear for years.

Why is politics failing us now, because we have let it.

Do you agree with Barbara’s points? Are you tired of the same old scenes playing out in Canberra and our states and territories over and over again? How can voters better enact change?