A picture tells a thousand words, especially when oft repeated, says Andrew Wilkie in an opinion piece published in the Mercury Saturday 28 October 2017.
A PICTURE tells a thousand words. And nothing better illustrates the great disconnect between Australia’s two major political parties and the public than me sitting on the lonely side of the chamber in this photo in the House of Representatives.
This photo also tells us why politicians in this country trail at the bottom of the list of the trustworthy professions.
We were voting to stop the Adani coal mine that will add to climate change and the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. In the photo, you can see me sitting on the right side of the chamber, the Yes side, with my crossbench colleagues Adam Bandt and Cathy McGowan. On the No side is everybody else, or at least the ones who bothered to show up. The Liberal and Labor members are laughing, chatting and checking their text messages while they team up to vote in support of dirty coal.
An almost carbon-copy sight occurred in May when we were voting to introduce tougher penalties for politicians who rort travel allowances. Again I was sitting on the Yes side. This time there were four crossbenchers as I was joined by Rebekha Sharkie, Adam and Cathy.
Again on the No side was everybody else, teaming up to vote against a move to increase the amount politicians would have to repay if they are found to have misused their travel allowances.
These are the same politicians who line up before the TV cameras promising to crack down on the misuse of perks whenever an expense scandal blows up because a politician is busted chartering a helicopter, or buying an investment property or attending a mate’s wedding while on a work trip. They’re hoping that nobody is watching this vote and they can get away with voting no or not even bother to turn up.
Wrong. As former NSW premier Jack Lang famously said: “Always back the horse named self-interest, son. It’ll be the only one trying.” Sadly these scenes are not uncommon. Indeed, a few weeks later there was a near identical repeat of this division when we were trying to establish a National Commission Against Corruption. Although this sounds like a no-brainer to most members of the public, Liberal and Labor opposed it while I, Adam Bandt and Cathy McGowan voted in support. It was another shameful display of the major parties putting self-interest before the public interest.
I’ve also watched Labor and the Liberals team up to ram through bad laws to allow certain offenders to be detained past the end of their sentence; to lower the age at which control orders can be imposed to 14 years old; to introduce mandatory metadata retention; and to wave through legislation that cuts renewable energy investment and financial support for new mothers, families and Centrelink recipients.
Time and time again, the two major parties team up to vote against the public interest, so it’s no wonder their support base has crumbled. The Australia Institute was spot on when it described the rising influence of small parties and independents as a symptom of the disconnect between voters and the major parties, rather than its cause. The same research found less than half of Australians thought it made a difference which party formed government and was in power. For many, the major parties have blurred into one grey mass of self-serving professional politicians.
Party politicians are more interested in hurling insults across the chamber than supporting legislation the public truly wants. Why not a bipartisan approach on poker machine reform? Why not tougher action against the banks? Why not fund the Gonski education reforms in full? Why not ban the live export of animals overseas for slaughter? But time and time again, when reforms the public want are put to the vote, the major parties gang up to knock them down.
Why? Because self-interest almost always trumps the public interest. Sometimes it’s not wanting to upset major donors. Other times it’s politicians voting to protect their perks and benefits. Or it can be from the pure bloodymindedness of not wanting an independent or small party to get the credit for a good idea.
The opinion polls and election results show that the public has had enough. As trust in the major parties dwindles, support is growing for independents and minor parties. It may not quite be a revolution, but it is certainly a significant shift in public opinion.
People want transparency, accountability and good governance and the major parties are failing to deliver. So when you read another poll showing voters are deserting the major parties, remember this photo that shows they only have themselves to blame.