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When did we take the public service out of politics?

Recent discussions have caused me to think about what I consider to be the job of an elected Member of Parliament.

I should preface my remarks by saying I have never been a member of a political party. I was a union member when a government employee. Perhaps those things are relevant, perhaps not.

Wikipedia describes politics as the practice and theory of influencing other people, hierarchical control over a human community, the distribution of power and resources within a given community.

It goes on to describe the variety of methods employed in politics, which include promoting one’s own political views among people, negotiation with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including warfare against adversaries.

Perhaps that is the real definition of politics – influence, control and power.

Googling “politician job description” led me to a job site which talked about why you might choose politics as a career.

Many high-ranking politicians also find lucrative consultancy roles once they’ve left the world of politics.

Plenty of perks in this job; good pay, varied days, plenty of career prospects and a long summer break.

Many politicians have been actively involved from a young age so it’s never too early to start.

Routes into politics include:

Working as a political researcher

Working as a politician’s assistant

Working as a trade union activist

Politicians are an eclectic bunch and this career attracts folk from every walk of life. However, to survive the choppy waters of politics you’ll need:

Bags of determination

Plenty of self-belief

A passion for current affairs (if you don’t watch the news this isn’t the career for you)

The ability to stay calm under pressure

Top-notch communication skills

and you’ll also need to be a confident public speaker so there’s no time to be a wallflower.

By this time I was getting a rather sour taste in my mouth for “politics” and decided to move on to Parliament.

On a government page called “About the House of Representatives” it said:

Each Member represents an electoral division.

I think that is important. Every person sitting in that chamber was elected by the people whose area they represent presumably because of the belief that they can best represent their interests. Whether they be local, national, or global interests, the majority of the electorate chose that person to represent their vote.

The House’s central function and the one which takes up most of its time is the consideration and passing of new laws and amendments or changes to existing laws. Any Member can introduce a proposed law (bill).

Any member, of either house, may introduce a bill. I know that to get anything passed it has to be passed by a majority in both houses but members are elected to represent their constituents, not their parties, and they should always vote in their electorate’s best interests. Sharman Stone’s vociferous support for SPC Ardmona was an admirable example of someone fighting for her constituents rather than parroting the party line. Every vote should be a conscience vote rather than a direction of how to vote from a factional leader.

Represents the people – Members may present petitions from citizens and raise citizens’ concerns and grievances in debate. Members also raise issues of concern with Ministers and government departments.

Watching Question Time gives a very poor representation of what Parliament is about but a very good one of what politics is all about. Sharman Stone dismissively described it on Q&A as “a stage for the men to perform their theatrics.” Committees are much more interesting and you even sometimes find things out there as opposed to someone trying to make the nightly news with a one-liner. Televising them rather than QT would be a much better way of informing the public of both sides of a debate.

My personal view is that every elected Member of Parliament should spend their term in office listening, learning, questioning, and then, on the basis of the expert advice available to them, proposing solutions to the problems facing our nation and voting to steer us in the right direction.

But unfortunately, our Members of Parliament see themselves as politicians rather than public servants and are more concerned with their career path than the path of our country. It’s all about the next election.

We're all in this together.


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  1. Dandark

    “We’re all in this together” yes we are Kaye
    We are in the shit….. noo I am joking … 🙂
    So as long as we have “career politicians” and idiots like Tones and Co
    we the people who they govern come second in line of their fat pay packets and loads of perks they are entitled to even after they retire from politics, there has to be a better way that’s for sure….
    Because whats broken has to be fixed, and these bunch of nerds parading as politicians are lemons.

  2. bobrafto

    and then, on the basis of the expert advice available to them, proposing solutions to the problems facing our nation and voting to steer us in the right direction.

    Abbott has engaged a lot of experts and they directed us to the ‘right’ direction.

  3. Kaye Lee

    Good point bob, one man’s expert is another man’s Maurice Newman.

  4. sandrasearle

    What we really need is more good Independents in both houses. That way at least they are representing their electorates.
    As for all of those so called experts who are directing the traffic at the moment, they are about as useless as their masters especially the LNP. They seem to have lots of them, not sure about the ALP.
    There are a few people who contribute to this site who do a better job of advising than all of the rest put together.

  5. June

    I think you nailed the issue! I have long lamented the fact politicians represent their party, or more often, their own interests rather than those of their constituents. The current government is a classic case in point, although I will concede politicians of all persuasions are guilty of this hubris. Abbott and his chronies seem to believe we are wayward children. There is so much broken – brain washing MSM, corrupt and self serving politicians – trying to sort out the woeful mess is overwhelming. How do we get this country back on track? LNP – with its extreme right neoliberal ideology – is certainly proving it is incapable of doing anything but a bad job.

  6. Keitha Granville

    yep, what they all said. It’s all about the PARTY now, nothing to do with representing anyone in the electorate. We are at the very end of the line when it comes to the interests being represented. It’s good that some voters have begun to put independents into both houses, so that at the very least they might start asking embarrassing questions and making people sit up and listen – and better still, make the parties BOTH have to stop and make some changes to their policies and ideas to accomodate some things that ACTUALLY suit what the people who put them there want to have happen. The less ” 2 party preferred” the parliament becomes the better in my opinion. Let’s have a committee of representaitves who listen to the voices in their communites and start trying to make decisions based on what might be good for them rather than lining the pockets of the rich and powerful – themselves included.

  7. sstino

    “Many high-ranking politicians also find lucrative consultancy roles once they’ve left the world of politics.”

    While this may be true of many, I’m pretty sure Abbott is only in it for the parliamentary pension. Seriously. Can anyone imagine him ever getting a six figure salary after politics? He’s not CEO material and certainly no academic!

    Perhaps that’s how he won the leadership and prime ministership. He knew it was the best paid job he’d ever get so he made sure he got it.

    I quite enjoyed watching John Faulkner’s farewell speech, which he closed by saying “I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I can assure you I won’t be a lobbyist, I won’t be a consultant, I Won’t be a regular or probably even an irregular media commentator. I hope in the future that I can do something worthwhile.”


  8. rangermike1

    The shame of the whole system of politics is that they see themselves as our political masters, when in fact, we pay their wages.
    @ sstino, Yes John Faulkner was/is an honorable gentleman, It is sad to see that not many of his calibre exist today. It really is a sad time when people like John leave a vacuum when they retire.

  9. Kaye Lee

    “We are all promoted to our own level of incompetence so sooner or later mine will be reached.” Tony Abbott on being elected leader of the Liberal Party.

  10. stephentardrew

    Yep I was truly saddened by the loss of John Faulkner.

    He would have made a great PM.

  11. lindsayms

    We have tried paying them big bickies and still got monkeys. Maybe we need to look at something else

  12. Möbius Ecko

    On ABC radio this morning. The government by stealth over the next two years is going to get rid of over 30,000 public servants and privatise a large swath of government services.

  13. Kaye Lee

    And as they slash jobs and services remember what happened last March….

    “Premier Campbell Newman will become the highest paid premier in the country when he receives a net rise of $67,525, taking his pay to $379,160. He will also pocket $51,000 in backpay, with the hikes backdated to July 1, 2013.”

  14. roscoe

    I will ask once again ‘why do we need political parties?’ there is no call for it in our constitution. I would rather have an independent working for my needs than a party member working for the parties needs

  15. Wun Farlung

    Kaye Lee
    The same happened in WA except that it wasn’t the pollies that got the pay rise (at first) it was their advisors/staffers that copped a pay rise. In the meantime sacking ‘public servants’.
    Three hospital cleaners or teacher aides could be employed for a year on Newman’s payrise.Those lazy public servants don’t desrve a job

  16. Kaye Lee

    Think of how much money is donated to political parties. Think of how much is spent on political advertising and campaigning. What a waste.

  17. kasch2014

    Have a look at this : , and there’s more stuff there which gives reasons / structure for new Oz constitution etc. It might look simplistic but the bigger opportunites for corruption lie in complex structures and unquestioned (lack of?) values and ethics which protect vested interests. Because – often the mechanics of administration and law have become an end in themselves, and the “intellectual” establishment (experts, advisors, lawyers) is addicted to money and influence peddling for their own sake – and have mostly become unaware of their own lack of good values which are at the core of every worthwhile structure of reasoning. For an extreme example see a German language Youtube movie called “the Wannsee Conference”.

  18. Kaye Lee

    Ted Mack is a person I greatly admire. I have linked many times to his Henry Parkes Oration on “The State of the Federation”. It is 12 pages long but very worth the read.

    He speaks about corruption, two party politics, career politicians, the constitution, democracy, wages and perks for senior public servants, the crucial need for a federal ICAC – so many of the things we discuss regularly here. He also examines alternatives and makes suggestions.

    This a slightly shorter version that I wrote a while ago if you don’t have time for Ted’s 12 pages of wisdom.

    Government of the people, by the powerbrokers, for the mates

  19. townsvilleblog

    Kaye, perhaps I am out of step with current politics but I have always thought that the Labor Party were supposed to be on the side of the battler, the working poor, pensioners etc, where the LNP were the party of the employers, the well off and the multimillionaires and billionaires. Have the goal post shifted so far that this theory is no longer applicable? In my experience over the past 30 years since Hawke, the Labor Party has been steered to the right wing philosophy of the conservatives, now having the most conservative of conservative leaders in the guise of Shorten. The ALP has drifted to the right as the LNP has drifted to the ultra-right wing philosophy much like the yanks. We in Australia now seem to have two right wing major parties, one more extreme than the other, but both wandering away from their traditional responsibilities. In your opinion, have I drifted off into political wonderland?

  20. flohri1754

    townsvilleblog: Unfortunately you are right on that …

  21. Faye

    Greg Hunt, my Local Federal “member”: has threatened to sue a constituent because she continually questions him about Abbott’s policies, his views on the Environment and why he isn’t looking after his Electorate. Hunt has an Electorate that encompasses billionaires, but it is also encompasses areas of extreme poverty.
    Hunt never answers any questions that relate to the numerous broken promises of his Government. He still prefers to say, as do all the supposed “adults” in his Government that “It’s all Labor’s fault” Meanwhile his local beaches are being destroyed by pollution.

  22. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    When government’s privatise, instead of having to pay – out of our pockets via taxes – the costs associated with the service provided, we have to also pay a profit margin into the pockets of the shareholders of the private company., How is that to our benefit???? The government claims it has cut costs – a blatant lie because the cost to us has been increased. And the service was run by the government because it was not seen as profitable by the private sector so there will be no competition to keep prices down. I despair!

  23. lindsayms

    I don’t like to use the word conspiracy – but it fits. Over the years we have lost much of our sovereignty. Global pressures have encouraged consecutive governments to move further to the right. (for global pressures read blackmail). I am a telephone technician by trade and began my training in 1968. At that time I was issued a toolkit numbered S176. This numbering scheme indicated that I was the 176th trainee of that year’s intake, the S was the Initial of my surname; T – Z followed to somewhere around 200 new trainees. (In Queensland – Each state had their own intake). It would probably not be too much to extrapolate to 1,000 new trainees that year. the “Public Works Departments” of local councils and state governments would also have employed further thousands of apprentices and trainees. A very large proportion of tradesmen in those days served their apprenticeships through government departments. There was very little subcontracting as almost everything was “in house.”
    By the mid 70’s a “National Competition Policy” was introduced such that virtually every function of local and state governments had to compete against private suppliers. Forty plus years later Public Works Departments have all but disappeared, we are “forced” to import skills using 457 visas, and we have an unemployment rate heading north of 6%
    There has long been the attitude that “private is more efficient”, but to be honest, I have yet to see the evidence. What is often missed is the loss of quality that comes from using price as the marker. – As an example the prevailing attitude of the 60’s and 70’s in my trade was “Do it right the first time, because it may well be yourself that has to come back and fix it”. Today’s attitude is “Will it last til the end of the guarantee period?”
    Regarding my claim of blackmail, I can only comment on one instance that I am personally acquainted with. Some where during Bob Hawke’s government, Australia negotiating a trade agreement with the US to open up the US market to Australian Beef, at the same time the customer equipment market (Telephones and Telephone Systems etc) was being de-regulated. At a depot meeting with some of the members of the Telecom Australia Board I posed the simple question “Why?” and was answered with: “we are trying to negotiate to sell the US more beef and they have demanded access to our telephone terminal market.”
    Statistics show that in 2013 the US was Australia’s 2nd largest market for beef, last year accounting for $A1bn FOB so perhaps it was the right decision. The costs of that decision are probably impossible to estimate, increased unemployment, increased costs to the consumer and who knows what other costs were involved.
    This is probably only one of many thousand such situations that have step by step brought us to this unenviable position. In real terms we probably have reached the point where we would be better off sacking the governments and having them replaced with branch managers.

  24. Kaye Lee

    Look at the profit the Commonwealth bank makes. We used to own it. Look at the profit Medibank makes. We used to own it. Look at the profit airport carparks make. We used to own them. Has privatisation made Qantas a better company? Remember when the Commonwealth Employment Service found jobs for people instead of paying billion to Job Service Providers? Why are we crying about the price of electricity? Wasn’t privatisation supposed to make it cheaper?

    Why is small government considered desirable? Is it because small minds are daunted by the task of providing for our society?

  25. corvus boreus

    Kaye Lee,
    If they are busily shedding and delegating their traditional responsibilities in areas of oversight, management and provision of essential services, shouldn’t they also be taking some serious paycuts to reflect their diminished duties?

  26. Damo451

    The biggest lie ever told to the people of Australia was privatization.
    It was just a con to sell our assets to mates and end up with plum jobs afterwards.
    If we ever had a Federal ICAC ,the stench of it would be decades deep and decades long.
    Conspiracy is the appropriate word for that.

  27. corvus boreus

    I think the monumental con-job perpetrated as “privatisation” was trumped in levels of deception by the re-branding of the same ideology under the euphemism of “asset recycling”.
    The exact same lie tagged with a new, false label.

  28. Andreas Bimba

    Thanks Kaye for another fine article and the comments made by readers reveal many nuggets of wisdom.

    I would like to add to lindsayms valuable comments about the sad demise of most of Australia’s public works departments. My engineering career started with the Melbourne and Metroplitan Board of Works, later I joined Toyota’s manufacturing operations in Melbourne. The MMBW, a state government institution like the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, had an enviable history of providing high quality, durable water supply and sewarage infrastructure for Melbourne cost effectively. It even built Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway and all those aesthetically designed bridges. It’s tunneling construction groups for which my Civil Engineer father worked for most of the 19 years that he was with them, introduced many world leading innovations such as tunnel boring machines, had many world tunneling records and an exemplary safety record. Later this function was considered a non core activity and privatised becoming part of Transfield. It’s road construction role was also taken away becoming part of VicRoads. The MMBW gave me experience in four completely different areas of their operations, major project design, tunnel construction, treatment plant operations and field workshops. Very few organisations in Australia could do that now. The MMBW has been split into Melbourne Water and three retail/mantenance companies. The MMBW fortunately still mostly exists even though it has been relabeled but it has been unnecessarily split, partially privatised and many former functions are now out sourced. The fate of the SECV however has been much worse than that of the MMBW and has been an almost total disaster and I invite someone to write up this story.

  29. lindsayms

    One of the things that annoy me, particularly as it applies to Telstra and probably also the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas, is their claim on the history of the preceding public utilities. There is absolutely nothing left of Telecom Australia in Telstra. Both Telecom and the PMG were “service driven”. Now a lot of people laugh when I make that claim mistaking “customer driven” for “service driven.” Service driven refers to the technical quality of the service, and it was up there with the best in the world. From memory British Telecom (before privatisation), Deutsche Telekom (Germany) and one other European Post Office (probably France but I am not sure) were above us. Canada was high but the US was waaaay down the list. Some of the customer relations were perhaps not up to par but were an order of magnitude above what now passes for customer service. Telstra is “profit driven”, service and customer don’t even enter into the equation. It is this attitude, more than anything else that is the reason for the degradation of the copper network. Decisions have been made upon an economic rather than a technical basis and network degradation has been the inevitable result. In 1990 when I took a redundancy, Telecom was still maintaining cabling laid in the 1920’s; now, Telstra is having trouble with cables laid not much more than a decade ago. I could probably write a novella on just those areas with which I am personally familiar but I should stop now before I start to rant.
    As a final point – I am proud to say that I worked for the PMG’s department, I am proud to say that I worked for Telecom Australia and I am proud to say that I have NEVER worked for Telstra.

  30. Andreas Bimba

    Lindsayms I hope no one will get upset about us hijacking this thread but I wanted to say that I also think that public utilities have been unjustifiably maligned and can be as capable and cost effective in performing their roles as the best private businesses. What is important is a competent management team that is not constrained from performing its role effectively.

    The best run organisation I ever worked for was part of a public utility; the MMBW’s tunnel construction group while it was working on the Western Trunk Sewer construction project. I would but Toyota Australia’s vehicle manufacturing operations second on my list and I also rate them very highly. Some small privately owned businesses I have worked for are at the other end of the spectrum and have been appalling in every respect.

    Based on what I have read and learned over the years I think that most privatisations of public utilities have led to increased costs to consumers and a poorer level of service. Much money has however been pocketed by some undeserving individuals and companies.

    There must however be some successful privatisations and one I can think of is that of the Williamstown Naval Dockyard which was run quite inefficiently by the Royal Australian Navy until it was privatised becoming AMECON which put in place a very competent management team.

  31. Kaye Lee

    Speaking of privatisation, we sell Medibank and almost immediately private health insurers ask for a 7% increase in fees.

    Asked about the reports on Thursday, the prime minister Tony Abbott said it was unlikely the government would interfere.

    “I don’t recall in my time as health minister interfering in this process. Look, in the end, as I said, it is up to the market to set the price. The premiums that people pay is a matter between the fund members and the funds … we expect that funds will do their best by their members, but in the end, this is a commercial decision,” he said.

    He doesn’t seem to realise that higher fees are going to mean higher private health insurance rebates.

  32. Kaye Lee

    The first tranche of the Telstra sale was significantly underpriced, costing taxpayers $12 billion in 1997 dollars — the equivalent of around $20 billion now. After criticism of the handling of the first tranche and the role of overpaid (literally) private advisers, the second tranche of Telstra was significantly overpriced, which was good for taxpayers but left those beloved “mum and dad” investors deep in the red for years. The sale of the government’s vehicle fleet was bungled and led to extended litigation with Macquarie Bank. IT outsourcing within the public service saw firms like IBM and Telstra scoop up massive contracts while delivering IT services so bad they often left public servants without computer access for days. The sale and leaseback of Commonwealth-owned properties saw windfall gains for private buyers who quickly made their money back and then some, by charging exorbitant rents to the former owners. The Australian National Audit Office reports into the sales are a series of scathing reviews of ideology triumphing over common sense, inexplicable rushes and bureaucrats being gulled by the private sector.

  33. Lee

    Re: private health insurance increases – it’s interesting to note that proposed increases are due to increasing costs and since the Liberal Party is willing to go along with it, obviously they accept that costs have actually increased. Yet they won’t increase Medicare rebates.

  34. stephentardrew

    Lee, Lee, Lee I admire your logic but as for your grasp of dystopian double talk not so good.

    All you have to do is imagine up as down, left as right, and in as out and your on your way.

    Just tryin to be helpful.

    Well sort of.

  35. Lee

    Oh I understand dystopian double talk very well. What I cannot understand is how 40% of Australians wouldn’t recognise it if it hit them in the face. The amount of blatant stupidity in this nation – breeding blatant stupidity – is nothing to be proud of.

  36. Jexpat

    Kaye Lee wrote: “Speaking of privatisation, we sell Medibank and almost immediately private health insurers ask for a 7% increase in fees.”

    Yep, it’s going to be yet another round of less than gratifying “I told you so’s” to certain Labor Party stalwarts who argued to me that selling Medibank was a good idea.

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