Politics and Government

Politics and government have become an oxymoron. While pragmatically they exist as one, they just don't work together any more. Politics poisons good government, and has undermined the trust, respect and distinction of the general electorate. Politicians in general play a "game" both with the opposition and within their own party. It's all about power, control and ego. And all these are based on a lack of strength and personal insecurity. Thus their focus is directed to what they call "the bubble" and less and less on their constituents.

We all grow up with a need for power and control. This is largely based upon the fact that for at least our first five years of life (our formative years) we are completely reliant upon others, especially our mothers. But how it manifests itself is varied, largely determined by our childhood experience so that each individual has has their own degree of need for such power and control. For those who need it the most it becomes an obsession, an addiction. And, unfortunately, these people often rise to the top of our institutions because they work at it so hard. Thus we end up with "leaders" who have little regard for others as they fight the enemy they see about them. To them life is about individualism, each of us competing with each other. To them life is about winning and losing. It's all just a game. And giving these people the power and control is how we end up with cruel and uncaring bosses. Never be fooled, these people are in charge because "the shit rises to the top".

It also explains why so many of these people are "conservatives". They fear change, because they cannot control it. It also partly explains misogyny. Those who are raised by mothers who themselves have a high need for control are most likely to fear women to the point that they resent any rights women may think they have to equality.

But, back to politics in general. Not only are the majority consumed by ego and image, they are also corruptible. And many are simply corrupt. This, of course, gives them a greater sense of power. But they manage to deflect such corruption such that the average voter just accepts that it is inevitable. In Australia, where we have a political duopoly, there are few too voices calling this out because, basically, they have both become sycophants to big business. It is big business that actually runs the country, and the bulk of the western world. Their power is constantly enhanced by government policy, policy that leaves the average person floundering in a sea of hardship. People can see what's wrong, but a lack of real democracy rules that they have so little choice. People recognise that each party has but one priority - winning the next election. So short-sighted policies are prioritised and long-term planning is put aside. After all, as long as they get to serve a nominated period in politics they are entitled to a superannuation payout and a benefits scheme offered to nobody else. So, the future doesn't matter because they will have served their purpose before then.

Over the past decade or so Australian politics has veered from one crisis to another.  In that same period New Zealand has enjoyed effective and constructive government. In Australia we have had five prime ministers in five dysfunctional years. Internecine party warfare. Gridlocked policy. Chronic leadership and factional rivalries. Intractable internal ideological conflicts. These factors in various combinations have stymied  both Coalition and Labor governments. Then there are failed public consultations. They meander meaninglessly as in the Turnbull/Morrison approach to tax and the Rudd government’s 2020 Summit. Or they present choices which, for political reasons, government’s fear to take up – the Henry Tax Review. Or they founder on internal divisions of opinion within both major parties – Climate Change, Marriage Equality. It is somewhat salutatory that the only new items to successfully pass the Australian parliament in the last decade have attracted bipartisan support – plain cigarette packaging, NDIS, and (shamefully) a refugee strategy shaped primarily by political advantage. But even the NDIS is now under review.

Adversarial incentives dominate debate. The resulting public conversation more often than not thwarts public understanding of complex challenges. Paradoxically this is at a time when the backwash of globalisation creates an even greater imperative for prudent public discussion (e.g. refugees, global banking system fragility, the continuing advantages of free trade, tax avoidance by multi-national corporations).  Far from advancing this outcome, the parliamentary conversation is corrupting – it enhances public cynicism and, for immediate political advantage, forecloses options. But it doesn't have to be like this. Back in 1901-1909 our very first parliament was also one of the most creative in domestic Australian political development. It was incidentally the last time in which we had a succession of five prime ministers. But then change worked constructively to advance compromise and the emerging political agenda. What is the present relevance of this distant period? After a decade characterised largely by policy impasse, perhaps there is now some chance that the ‘problem’ might be parsed correctly. It is much more fundamental than poor communication, inadequate leadership or deficient narrative. The real political challenge is structural and systemic.

In a nutshell, we have a political system that cannot lead us through the twenty-first century. This system was formed in 1909 when the present two major parties consolidated around different domestic responses to the capitalist economy. This debate was partially seen off by Gough Whitlam and finally put to bed by the Labor government in 1983.

To illustrate the poor state of today's politics, recently, a Tasmanian politician resigned after spending only twelve months in parliament. Labor's health spokesman, Bastian Seidel, broke from a party room meeting to announce his resignation, saying he "can't work in a toxic environment". Dr Seidel said he did not want to be "a pawn within someone else's stupid game. I didn't sign up for that.". "I can't work in a toxic environment and I can't work with people who constantly leak information to the media out of pure selfishness," he said. "I've tried to work constructively to solve some of the issues in our party, but I've come to the realisation that I have failed," Dr Seidel said. "Compared to others", he did not get a "kick" out of political infighting. Dr Seidel, the MLC for Huon and a former president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said he entered politics with a passion for improving health care for the community. "But in my brief time in politics, it has left me just disillusioned and bitter and sad," he said. "There's got to be virtue in politics, but I just can't see it. And for that reason, I've decided to resign."

And don't think this dis-functionality is confined to the Tasmanian Labor party. It pervades politics at every level, in every party. That is why politics is an anathema to me. And the media don't help. So many so-called political TV shows and printed media is about the game, not the issues. Shows like the ABC's Insiders will react to any major legeslative change by simply questioning how it might affect the political polls rather than how it affect our society. Is it that they think we don't have the time or intelligence to take in genuine analysis and debate? God, I hope not.

Geoff Mooney