Thursday, June 10, 2010

Politics is a game, and rotten to the core - Time for Independents?

The following article appeared on the ABC's The Drum website on 10 June 2010. I don't agree with Hewson's comments about mining companies and big polluters manipulating government but I totally agree with his views on the poor quality of the typical modern politician. So I wonder if the time has now arrived for Australian voters to start sending good quality independents free of political party affiliations into Parliament as their elected representatives?

Politics is a game, and rotten to the core

John Hewson

In a recent blog Peter Martin has provocatively suggested that, in relation to the Rudd Government's mining tax, what is at stake is the idea of government.

It is a very real question whether our governments can actually govern anymore, with the power of vested interests, the shrillness of minorities, short-termism, and the superficiality of much of the media.

It is even more significant to ask whether those who are elected are actually capable of governing.

So much of what we call "governing" today is more about winning and keeping government, than it is about actually governing, more about politics and the politics of governing, than "the idea of government".

Politics today is little more than a "game" played out in a 24-hour media cycle. The players will now virtually say or do what they believe is required to win the media on the day, or influence next week's polls.

In this world, our politicians feel that they have to be seen, on any day, to be doing "something", to be responding to "the crisis", even if of their own making.

Moreover, politics now increasingly attracts "apparatchiks" as key players, to whom the game is their "end", and many of those who seek to gain personally in terms of the monetary rewards and the trappings of office, rather than those who bring a particular skill set or experience of relevance to "governing".

Few of those appointed as ministers, for example, have any particular experience or expertise in the portfolios to which they are appointed, or in actually managing anything, let alone a well-entrenched, change-resistant bureaucracy.

In this world, principles are cheap, policy promises are a means to an end, and too, even ephemeral, and policy detail and genuine debate can be a severe disadvantage. There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

To the punter, daily media reports of the contest are often little better than Hollywood gossip.

It is little wonder that they increasingly tune out, feel disenfranchised and become disillusioned.

Problems don't get "solved", real needs are not addressed, and "bad (political) behaviour" is expected, but perhaps ultimately not yet excused.

Hasn't all this, and more, all come together in the current political contest over the mining super profits tax?

Powerful, multinational, well funded, mining giants, fearful that this may be the thin end of the wedge from the point of view of the taxation of their global mining activities, hell-bent on intimidating a government out of "governing", where they and their narrow interests are concerned.

Why shouldn't they give it a go? There is clear, recent evidence, that both sides of Australian politics can be "bullied" or "bought", as demonstrated by the success of the "big polluters" in the climate change "debate", over the Howard, Rudd and Abbott teams.

The time couldn't be better, with Rudd on the back foot on so many fronts, having backed off, or failed to deliver on, so much, and the ultimate opportunist in Abbott, the master of the negative.

With a complex, conceptual issue, driven by a Treasury that clearly understands and believes in the concept, but is largely incapable of advising on its implementation, or even on how the issue can be managed. They can see it working in practice, but wonder how they can improve its workings in theory.

With a media, little better than Google experts on the subject, and probably with even less genuine interest, but now fascinated at the prospect of a one-term Rudd Government, the first since Scullin in the 30s, the possible demise of the angry, control freak.

It matters little, indeed, it may even be something of a badge of honour, that they previously helped "make" him, putting him on a pedestal, promising genuine "change" and "reform", a new "vision".

Unfortunately, it's the contest that matters, not the policy substance, not the governance!

It is said that a fish rots from the head. Our "governance" is rotting through a distinct lack of effective leadership, and delivery, in a political system that is in desperate need of reform, on so many fronts.

But, unfortunately, those in the game have no incentive to really change.

Dr. John Hewson was the federal leader of the Liberal Party of Australia from 1990 to 1994.

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