Fasten your seatbelts. The Liberal State Government has fired the starting gun on the election, the Labor Party has dumped Bryan Green in a late night coup, and ineffective and usually unseen MPs have burst from the gates in full-flight election mode. Get ready for seductive promises and sweeteners like the Government’s siren call of lower water prices. Yes folks, it’s that time in the state election cycle when the parties get all sweet and sticky and start treating us like gullible mugs with goldfish-sized memory spans.

Thankfully the community is a whole lot smarter than what the political parties think. For instance people easily remember past promises of lower utility bills, especially every time they open their mail and find another power, water or rates account that has risen sharply. This is because voters live in the real world, while the political class orbits above them in some strange virtual reality where the truth hardly matters.

Take light rail. Before the 2010 state election we got big promises from Liberal, Labor and the Greens about how the project would ease traffic congestion and revitalise the northern suburbs. But after that election we got just another study into the proposal, guided by terms of reference seemingly designed to produce unimpressive findings. Our memories are long enough to recall the disappointment with Nick McKim in particular for failing to deliver when he was one of the country’s first Greens Ministers, in charge of the sustainable transport portfolio, and in the balance of power.

At this state election, more than ever the community is craving old-fashioned leadership and the opportunity to once again be able to have faith in politicians and their manifestos. This time around, we’d like to see politicians talk about real issues and make believable promises, like credible plans to rein in the cost of living and to deliver light rail. But also to address all of the other issues that are in desperate need of resolution, for example closing one of the northern hospitals, merging councils, protecting the natural environment and safeguarding jobs by making the salmon industry sustainable.

One of the explanations for the current public malaise about politics, and one of the reasons I think voters have stopped listening to politicians, is the emergence in recent decades of a professional political ruling class. Party politicians are increasingly following the well-trodden career path of university politics to political staffer to MP. And in this gilded, taxpayer-funded and climate-controlled environment it’s hard to stay in touch with real life and know the value of a dollar.

Professional politicians are beholden to the political parties that lifted them out of obscurity. So these people toe the party line, regardless of the merits of issues, and often find themselves at odds with the community they’re supposed to represent. The public support for the poker machine industry by Liberal and Labor politicians is a good example of where politicians express all sorts of concerns in private meetings with constituents, and then do the opposite publicly. Words have become worthless in modern politics where party hacks rule.

Along with this rise of the professional politician we’re also seeing the rise of the manufactured crisis. When the real world is only glimpsed in flashes through the window of an airplane or government car, taking you from one curated event to the next, it’s hard to pick up on every-day pressures. It’s much easier to create a virtual reality replete with dramatic crises that only they can solve.

Take the natural gas “crisis.” Australia is actually the second biggest exporter of LNG in the world and about to become number one. Problem is that the Federal Government allows most of it to be exported, while taking no action to reserve enough for Australia’s needs. In other words this whole sorry saga looks like another case of a manufactured crisis for political gain. It is also an excuse to expand dangerous coal seam gas expansion, or fracking as it’s often called, instead of seizing the opportunity to fast-track national goals of zero net carbon emissions and 100 per cent reliance on renewable energy.

Most politicians think they can do very little work except for party business for much of the time, and get away with it by knocking on some doors or walking through a shopping centre just before the election. But that’s to treat the community like mugs. Better that our politicians be honest, work hard for the community all the time, think for themselves and stand for something. Then they might be seen as leaders and start to win back some of the respect squandered by countless self-serving politicians in recent decades. After all, if you treat the community with respect, the community might just extend you the same courtesy.

Opinion piece by Andrew Wilkie, published in the Mercury Friday March 24, 2017

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