Why can we not like the Libs?


A friend of mine asked me the other day why I seem to only criticise the conservative side of politics. My answer was that they have been in power for six years now, so if anything is conspicuously wrong with the country, it is probably their fault. And also they appear to be generally a callous and clueless lot. I remember when Liberals with a social conscience were dubbed ‘wets’. That was probably the end of their credibility, when the so-called ‘dries’ gained the ascendancy.

Our government, like western civilisation, is deemed to generally be on an upward trajectory, as conditions improve for most of us, across the board. These days we forget, but state governments used to have slum clearance departments, and the idea of workers’ compensation for workplace injuries was once relatively new. Pensions for single mothers as well, although the current crop of small minded penny – pinchers appear hell-bent on punishing single mothers.

Years ago we had an eminent history professor who was almost run out of town, because he argued that increased Asian migration was possibly ahead of public opinion. Consider Peter Dutton’s recent comments on third generation Lebanese Australians, where he suggested that they were more inclined to criminal behaviour than others in the population. Twenty years ago he would have been driven from office, by an outraged citizenry as well as by his own party hierarchy. Now he actually believes he is Prime Ministerial material.

Australia is still a relatively benign place to be born, but something has been lost. There is a hard edge to many governmental decisions taken now, and an expectation that the voters have become de-sensitised to acts of governmental bastardry, and the perpetrators, the Ministers in charge of such decisions, will be judged not as cruel or vicious, but as practical, or pragmatic, getting the job done.

When we look overseas we see many exemplars of woeful behaviour, and sadly Australian politicians are largely lacking in imagination, and slavish in their imitation of dodgy role models. So the Trumps and Johnsons of this world have their acolytes here. However the prime takeaway from the ‘drying out’ of politicians is their total lack of shame.

When the matter of robo-debt is raised, with its tales of widespread and often unintended misery, not to mention plain inefficiency, the minister in question does not hang his head in shame. No, he states, in complete denial of the facts, that the system is working.

We cannot defeat shameless, because a part of any society’s regulating behaviours is the ability to reflect on one’s own behaviour, and if it falls short, we must be able to recognise where we fell short, and reform ourselves.

I sometimes wonder when the rot really set in. Was it when Peter Reith allowed the use of ex – military men with guard dogs to break a union on the waterfront, in 1998? Was it when John Howard lied about the refugees from the Tampa, accusing them of throwing their children overboard? It might have been when Australians began approving of the offshore gulags in Manus and Nauru. None of these horrible examples, of either lying for personal gain, or using tactics from the 1920s, made anyone resign, let alone hang their heads in shame.

Whatever the moment, we have certainly got the government we deserve. Last week the acting Prime Minister stated that Pacific Island nations facing the loss of their actual homelands would survive, because they could always come here to pick fruit. That statement is so ‘off’, on so many levels, and yet Scott Morrison remained silent. That was his “Pacific Family” that Michael McCormack was speaking of. Never forget that the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.

Until this Government develops a conscience my friend will continue to be disappointed when he reads this blog. Or maybe enlightened.

Buyer Beware – Politicians


When you buy a television you have an expectation that the thing will work, and that it will fulfil the purpose for which you bought it. In Australia we have a robust Consumer Law, which is quite exemplary, and quite differently from many of our human rights practices, it actually elicits praise internationally. There is one ‘product class’ excluded from its coverage, sadly – politicians, and all their works.

We do not have any laws which stop political parties from peddling untruths, such as the existence of death taxes in the most recent federal election. We do not have any laws which protect us from ignoramuses, or bigots. We are not in a position to ask for a type of warranty, a sort of guarantee that we are not being ‘sold a pup’.

This is surprising, if one thinks about the investment we make in each and every politician who crosses our path. There is the cost to our mental health when we discover that we have someone in the parliament who is not very clever, or honest, or as we have recently discovered, even eligible to be elected.

Then there is the actual financial cost to our taxpayer funds, where some expense claims are truly beyond belief. At this point I proffer the recent example of a senior parliamentarian, a minister, who used a governmental car, with a driver no less, to ferry his two pet dogs around Victoria. Others who, blaming their workload, are suddenly unable to perform their duties. One rather famously was forced, through loneliness, to spend more time overseas courting his intended, than he spent in Parliament. Others who have been charged with dishonesty offences, bankruptcy – the list goes on, and on.

These examples are mainly from the Victorian State Parliament. That is because I live in Victoria, and I am exposed to these clowns on a daily basis. I invite my readers to reflect on their own experience of their own state parliament; I’m sure you are able to dredge up many fun references to our elected dunderheads.

Will Fowles, however, caught my eye recently. He is the young man who became unhinged in his Canberra hotel, because his ‘medication’ was in his luggage, and his luggage was behind a closed door. So he did what any elected representative of the people would do – he kicked the door in, causing a furore which saw his fellow guests bundled out into the Canberra morning, which we all know, can be very cold.

His apology was at first instance less than fulsome, and it appeared to duck the issues raised by his behaviour. He offered to repay the cost of repairs, which is really the bare minimum, and he stated that he had paid his own way there. He was in Canberra for a celebration, unrelated to his Victorian duties. He did not address the reason why he had become violent and a threat to public safety.

He did however, admit to long-standing mental health and addiction issues, but again that does not explain why he felt that he could destroy property, because he was inconvenienced by a locked door. Was the medicine an anti-psychotic, or was he drunk at the time? Was he fit to travel? What drugs does he use?

Enter Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria. He was pleased that Mr Fowles had apologised, he was impressed that the apology appeared genuine, and he was satisfied that Mr Fowles would pay for the damage. He went on to offer his full support (on full pay) while Mr Fowles sought treatment. He came across as a caring boss, albeit one who wouldn’t be liable for Mr Fowles’ costs.

Those costs will be substantial. Firstly Mr Fowles will be away from his place of work, and he will not be available to his constituents; he is unable to fulfil his duties, or to actually do anything other than to look after his mental health, and to seemingly address his addiction issues. His time away has been described as being ‘for several months’.

Probably due to politicians being chronically awful to other politicians, and a couple of attempted suicides among their ranks in recent years, they, as a class, have a new-found sensitivity toward their peers, whenever the term ‘mental health’ is mentioned. So they mostly swung behind the Premier’s offer of unlimited assistance to our young parliamentarian. I use the word ‘young’ to highlight not his age, but the amount of time he has been an Honourable Member – seven months.

By his own admission his mental health and addiction issues predated his election. This raises the issue of whether he had a duty to inform his prospective employer, the people of Victoria, through the agency of the Victorian branch of the ALP. It also raises the issue of whether, if he had been forthcoming with this information, would the good people of Burwood have voted for him? Were they offered a fair choice? Did his opponent suffer from a similar handicap? Were the electors ‘sold a pup’?

Employers routinely ask applicants whether they suffer from any condition which might impact on their ability to do a job. Often it is not a block to employment, as many good employers offer to make changes to the role, or perhaps the workplace, so that a good candidate can still take the position. Failure to answer truthfully is seen as legitimate grounds for dismissal.

Was Mr Fowles asked such a question? If he was not, why was he not asked? It seems to be the minimum of due diligence, and as it stands neither Mr Fowles, nor Mr Andrews, seems willing to cover the costs incurred.

We are stuck with him now, and he might continue in the role for years. So, too ill to work, after seven months in the job. He then takes sick leave, on full pay, for as long as needs.

He might even get a pension one day, if he can pull off a recovery.