12/05/2011 - 00:00

Political elite clearly lacks common touch

12/05/2011 - 00:00


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The halls of Parliament House in Canberra are filled with political careerists.

LAST month, I was handed a book written by one-time NSW Liberal leader, Peter Coleman, titled The Last Intellectuals: Essays on Writers and Politics.

Although unlikely to become a bestseller, it’s valuable because Coleman highlights matters other political writers are unlikely to even mention.

That can be demonstrated by flicking to nearly any page.

But consider one curious paragraph, on page 266, in the chapter ‘The Old Left, A Melancholy Retrospective’, that’s a republished review of the book “Radical Students: The Old Left at Sydney University” (2002) by outstanding Australian educationalist, Alan Barcan.

Coleman, who attended Sydney University with Barcan, writes: “I am not alone in youthful confusions.

“Barcan also tells of Neville Wran (later Labor premier) joining the Liberal Club, and Eric Willis (Liberal premier), Bob Ellicott (Liberal attorney-general) and Michael Baume (Liberal senator) joining the Labour Club.”

But Barcan isn’t just chronicling his campus years.

He’s also seeking to explain important trends and their consequences for fellow Australians.

Barcan’s a scholar who, one discovers upon reading Coleman’s review, which first appeared in The Weekend Australian (August 17-18 2002), is clearly concerned about the way Australia’s university-trained cohort has been leading and reshaping the country.

So obviously concerned that he’s about to release another book on a similar theme, titled From New Left to Factional Left, Fifty Years of Student Activism at Sydney University.

And quite coincidentally, last week I encountered an essay of Barcan’s that previews much that’s undoubtedly canvassed in his coming book.

In that essay, titled, ‘The Rise of Australia’s New Political Class’, he contends that a watershed occurred in Australian politics in the 1980s with the emergence of “a new-style political class”.

Here’s how he expands this point.

“Four salient features define this class.

• Politics is the sole career of its members. They have had no experience in other occupations.

• Members of this class are more concerned with power than with policy; the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ are mere conveniences, lacking any major distinction.

• These politicians are often the product of universities, student politics providing their initial training.

• The politicians often rely for their short-term political program on public opinion polls, focus groups or friendly think tanks.

“Thus the contemporary concept of ‘a political class’ refers to a relatively small group of activists who made their careers only out of politics, and to their agents or acolytes in senior levels of public administration.”

His point on public administration is later broadened by highlighting that the senior levels of Australian public services are now manned by persons Liberal and Labor politicians select – often they’re party hacks - rather than traditional career public servants with expertise from years of being promoted within particular departments or areas of expertise.

Instead the pressure is from those at the top to obey as instructed with warnings or cautioning not tolerated.

Among other things, this phenomenon means political appointees now guide policy when they so often haven’t a clue about the matters at hand.

So much for all those billions of taxpayers’ dollars spent on tertiary education over the past half dozen decades.

Ask yourself how it was that the Rudd-Gillard-Swan-Tanner team (that ‘Gang of Four’) was able to push through the outrageous, indeed, catastrophic, $2.6 billion pink bats insulation program.

Not only is this still being remedied, several installers died by electrocution.

How many yes-men and yes-women were beneath the ‘Gang of Four’ saying, ‘Yes, yes’, rather than ‘No’ or ‘Hey, let’s first competently assess this’?

The same is presently happening with the continuing obsession with taxing, of all things, CO2 gas when there’s absolutely no evidence that it’s heating mother earth.

And we know there’s resistance to this silly idea because Mr Rudd, on the ABC’s Q&A program, admitted he was pressured from within his party to scrap it.

But it continues to threaten us all.

There are other examples.

Let’s instead test Barcan’s interesting contention on those presently overseeing the federal government: Julia Gillard, Treasurer Wayne Swan; Climate Change Minister Greg Combet; and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, as well as retired ‘Gang of Four’ member, Lindsay Tanner.

All attended university and each gained either an arts or law degree, or both.

Ms Gillard and Mr Tanner are Melbourne University law/arts graduates.

Both were student union operatives, with the prime minister going on to head the Australian Union of Students, so her salary was met by compulsory student union levies.

Both had brief stints at law firms then moved to becoming politicians’ staffers – Ms Gillard with then Victorian opposition leader John Brumby, and Mr Tanner with Victorian Labor senator Barney Cooney.

Both embraced Labor’s left faction.

Ms Gillard went even further leftwards by convening the Socialist Forum, a cobbled together 200-strong group of ex-communists and Labor leftists unhappy with the Hawke government’s moves to revitalise governance of Australia’s economy via privatisation and greater competitiveness.

What of Messrs Swan and Rudd?

Mr Swan gained a commonwealth scholarship to Queensland University, after which he briefly lectured in management at Queensland Institute of Technology.

Then it was down a well-worn path as staffer with several federal politicians – Mick Young, Bob Hawke and Kim Beazley.

After that, like Ms Gillard and Mr Tanner, it was a safe seat.

Mr Rudd moved straight into the public service on graduating from the Canberra-based Australian National University.

On leaving the Department of Foreign Affairs he joined (then) Queensland Labor premier Wayne Goss’s staff and soon after was back in Canberra as an MP, following a very brief stint as a KPMG consultant.

What of Mr Combet, who is setting about shackling Australia’s economy with the CO2 gas tax?

He’d initially attended the University of New South Wales to study mining engineering, even briefly working, wait for it, in the coal industry.

But he fairly promptly reoriented, graduating instead in economics with a labour relations diploma, which suggests he’d eyed-off a union bureaucratic position rather than life at the ‘coal-face’.

State Scene certainly isn’t condemning them for targeting political lives.

None has ever had to work night shift, or toiled in the sun or rain, and for years now, none has caught a bus or driven themself to work and back home.

Government chauffers are integral to their lives, which, among other things means, no buying petrol.

All are insulated from so many realities of normal lives.

For them, milk is something served up during morning tea.

Electricity is something they encounter only when someone flicks a switch or turns up an air-conditioner for them.

And food, oh, it’s something that’s generally placed before them by parliamentary dining room waiters or waitresses or upon their desk by staffers.

The stand-out feature of their lives is that their tertiary education, their income, and so many other daily needs are all paid for by taxpayers, and little first-hand experience with the struggles encountered each day by most Australians.

What’s more, they’re destined to live out their lives after their political years on indexed parliamentary pensions, so they’ll go to the grave being cared for by taxpayers.

In the cases of Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard that means prime ministerial pensions plus what’s fairly described as ‘regal perks’.


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