AN ADVERTISEMENT the other day said something like, “Wanted. Dentist. etc etc.” And I thought, I don’t want to be a dentist, so I won’t apply.
Yet, there is an open advertisement in our democracy for anyone to seek elected office. And I saw in the paper the other day that someone wanted to apply.
But this person had a very peculiar view. The elected office was to be one of the 17 people elected by the 150,000 voters in the ACT. The job is that of politician. How surprising, then, that this person who wanted to be elected office to the job of politician said, “”But I’m not interested in becoming your typical politician.”
His name is Mal Meninga. He went into football and became a footballer, but wants to go into politics and somehow not be a politician. It is bizarre. If you stand for elected office, you become a politician. If you don’t want to be a politician, you should not stand.
It would be nice to think that Meninga and his advisers are falling into the trap of fighting the next election on the basis of previous ones when any One Nation or independent could get votes by merely kicking the majors but that the electorate had re-educated itself and would not fall for such simplistic drivel. It would be nice to think the ACT electorate would not accept statements like: “”I am not from the major parties. I am just an ordinary person and I want to make commonsense decisions for ordinary people.” It would be nice to think that voters would demand some detail.
In fact, the ACT is worse than Queensland for swallowing drivel from non-politician politicians. We – in this the most highly educated electorate — have allowed ourselves to be duped time and again by snake-oil salesmen, ordinary blokes, people who want to abolish the very Parliament they are standing for, “”independents” who become Ministers, leaders who call for a local council while attending the Council of Australian Governments and so on.
Maybe I will be wrong and Meninga will present a range of detailed thought-out positions which he can defend against a questioning media.
But I suspect he will not make any statements on policy or allow himself to be questioned in detail. (And even if he did most ACT voters would not read or listen.) Most likely he will say he is too busy coaching the Raiders until just a brief time before the election and he will be elected because he is well known, not for his political position but for carrying a piece of leather across a line.
The ACT has two grievous political paradoxes. Here, in the political centre of Australia, the intelligent, knowledgeable, active part of the community who have the best chance of influencing their neighbours, acquaintances and families are the very people who take pride in treating the local government with utter disdain and uninterest. Worst, this position is seen as respectable. It is not condemned as contemptible. Rather it is applauded across glasses of chardonnay and discussion about the latest foibles of federal politics. And then they have the temerity to wonder at the quality of territory representation.
Secondly, between a third and a half of our workforce is in the federal or territory public service, where it is not a good career move to be a member of a political party. The result in this most political town is that we have one of lowest party membership proportions in Australia. The Libs can hardly rake up 400 members and Labor is struggling to make 1500. It makes for a shallow talent pool.
In this most political town, the likelihood is that we will elect a man who professes to be a non-politician.
The paradoxes continue. This territory has never been ruled by a majority major-party government. It (with Tasmania) is a rare place where back-room pre-selection deals by the major parties should have no meaning and where there is no such thing as a safe seat. Voters have a choice between five or seven major parties in each electorate. They can throw out the time-serving hacks. Yet it is here, that the lines “”I’m not a politician” and “”The major parties are not doing the job” have met with the largest percentage of non-major-party vote.
If Meninga is elected, with Osborne (and possibly Rugendyke given the Greens and Democrats are too hopeless to organise a campaign to gain the fifth seat in Ginninderra), they will determine which of the major parties governs.
The result for the ACT will be most likely Labor’s unreconstructed economic policy and the footballers’ back to the 50s social policy or the Liberals with economic reform subject to veto and the same back to the 50s social policy.
A paradox indeed. The territory whose voters regard themselves as the trendiest, progressive and most politically alert in the nation will be subjected to the most regressive governance in the Commonwealth. And the chardonnay set will peer down its nose in bemused disdain.
It may be that Meninga has a lot to offer politically. My point is that we do not know. We only know he is a good footballer. My point is not that the Hare-Clark system is a dud because an independent or minor party-party candidate has a good chance of being elected. I only plead that voters that a very good look at the independents and minor-party candidates as well as a discerning look at which of the major-party candidates deserve a vote. You do get a choice.
My worry is not that Meninga should be voted in, but that he could be voted in on his football prowess rather than on the electorate’s appraisal of his political views. And that danger is much higher when the candidate comes from the very position of abhorring politics. If he abhors being branded a politician, he should not seek elected office. If he wants to represent the people on the great range of political issues that arise in the territory, then let’s hear and judge what he has to say, as a candidate seeking political office for political ends, not as a footballer just seeking a seat in the Assembly with no political agenda.