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.

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