29/11/2005 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Ideals lost on political hacks

29/11/2005 - 21:00

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Last week, State Scene surveyed the opening moves by key Liberal Party financial boffins to ensure their party will soon tap into what’s called state public funding of parties.

Last week, State Scene surveyed the opening moves by key Liberal Party financial boffins to ensure their party will soon tap into what’s called state public funding of parties.

Firstly, a brief recap. What happened on the evening of Friday November 12, the day before the traditional monthly state council meeting, was that the party’s executive decided to announce to councillors that all Liberal state and federal MPs would be levied $3,000 annually.

The reason given was that party finances were in a parlous state.

State Scene has since learned that some executive members have even suggested that such public funding – likely to become law in the New Year – should carry a retrospective clause.

Such a move would mean State Treasury would immediately give Western Australia’s parties about $4.28 million to share out, with the Liberals collecting about $1.7 million.

These figures are calculated on the basis of 1.1 million electors having voted in last February’s state poll. The $4.28 million is arrived at from the WA Electoral Commission’s payment of $1.94397 per vote cast, which is also the current rate paid by the Australian Electoral Commission for votes cast at federal elections.

As the Liberals attracted about 40 per cent of votes last February, their share is $1.7 million.

These senior Liberals feel this figure would be near what they need to overcome their financial bind.

That said it’s worth canvassing why the Liberal Party, and other parties for that matter, are in such a parlous financial state.

But firstly remember there’s no single answer to this question, only a long list of reasons, not all of which are obvious.

However, some of the not-so-obvious ones lie at the heart of resistance by so many people to becoming associated with political parties.

And it’s because of such resistance that parties are financially strapped and why their executives now want taxpayer funding; in other words, cash that is compulsorily extracted from unwilling people.

The first reason is the fact that power brokers within parties get up to all sorts of sneaky tricks in branches and various party committees by stacking them to ensure they retain their preselection for parliamentary seats and have their way on a series of related issues.

Most branches are manned by close friends, spouses, and relatives of MPs, and staffers working in MPs electorate or ministerial offices.

Such trusted people are in the branches and on various committees to keep an eye on things; to ensure no-one removes those who are either endorsed or those who may have their eyes on endorsement.

In other words, most of those at the upper echelons of all the parties are there to protect the backs of MPs or parliamentary hopefuls, to diminish the chances of such people being removed, to lose their jobs, or fail to realise parliamentary aspirations.

However, new rank-and-file members are often disgusted by such filial links and leave the party … forever.

And after leaving, forever, many such disillusioned individuals warn friends and acquaintances against becoming involved in political parties.

Put bluntly, many dislike the domination of such self-seeking and self-serving behaviour in politics.

Another common experience for the young, idealistic and naïve, that is, people who believe they’re likely to find fairness and democracy within parties, is the existence of factions, cliques that doggedly hold views on certain issues.

The best and most recent example of this within the Labor Party is undoubtedly that carried in the recently published Latham diaries.

State Scene strongly recommends borrowing this book from your library, even though its author, Mark Latham, is undoubtedly one of the strangest people to have emerged in Labor’s ranks since H V ‘Bert’ Evatt in the mid-1950s.

That said, it would be wrong to assume factionalism was solely a Labor affliction.

New party recruits find such dogmatic consensus groups within all parties and initially generally find them difficult to understand, so they often depart the political scene; again, forever.

Another problem encountered by new party recruits is a thick overlay of blatant careerism.

What Australia’s parties seem unable to now do is to fashion themselves into being centres of far-ranging and open discussion and debate about civic and public affairs or the national interest.

They have, instead, become hives of blatant careerism, intrigue, overt and covert conspiracy, and never-ending back stabbing.

Take what national political commentator, Christian Kerr of Crikey.com, recently wrote in the conservative-oriented IPA Review when assessing the absence of any fire in the belly for imaginative governance and reform within the Howard government, now in its fourth term.

“There has been a significant turnover in its [the Howard government’s] members,” Mr Kerr wrote.

“Fewer of them – fewer frontbenchers, even – are men and women who entered politics because they wanted to do something, because of anger at the bad decisions of the Hawke and Keating governments, because they wanted to create. Few of them have been involved in the battle of ideas.

“Fewer have had ideas. More are careerists. Careerists aren’t noted for vision. More and more of the Howard government’s staffers are now professional public servants.

“More and more senior ministerial advisers are career public servants, with protected places to return to in the bureaucracy.

“Indeed, even chiefs-of-staff with this type of background are now appearing.”

In other words, senior Liberal MPs are allowing their offices to become extensions of Canberra’s bureaucracy, when they’re not employing conspiring party hacks, that is.

This situation is unlikely to enhance democratic and participatory ideals.

MPs, state and federal, get quickly swallowed up by well-paid bureaucrats and party hacks.

Things have become so bad that, over recent years, State Scene has found party members of both the left and right quite openly saying that the party they were associated with never discussed broad political or community issues.

Instead, there are a few social events and the rubber stamping of decisions made up on high at the occasional branch meeting.

In light of this, State Scene is compelled to come to the view that if you want to learn about and discuss politics the last place you should expect that to happen is within a political party.

And the final problem parties have is a deeply embedded and institutionalised acceptance of the ‘fuhrer principle’.

By this it is meant that members are seen to be there to implement what their respective leaderships desire or are believed to desire, never the other way around.

Orders come down from up on high. This means that ideas are not allowed to bubble upwards, from below, towards the upper echelons.

This phenomenon again puts new entrants right off, so many steadily leave, forever.

Now, it would be wrong to believe that the major problems highlighted above are new or have only just emerged. They have not.

All these destructive characteristics have been around, in varying degrees, for several decades – at least since the late 1960s – and probably longer.

And there are no signs on any horizon that things are about to change for the better.

Parties will continue to be faction ridden, manned largely by MPs’ close friends and relatives. And they will continue to be funded by the state and federal treasuries on the basis of the number of votes gained at elections at which everyone over 18 years must vote or else face the prospect of a fine.

Clearly, public funding of parties is a form of compulsory welfare payment to long-mismanaged and misused organisations which, if they were operating in the marketplace, would have been declared bankrupt decades ago.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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