O, for an honest politician!

File:Juliagillard-CROP.jpg
Australia's first female Prime Minister.

Angela brings up the topic of Australia’s new Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard.

She is right in saying that priests tend to stay out of politics, and so it should be, but I am going to offer a few non-political observations on the political landscape. I have always thought that faith ought to be applicable to every sphere of our lives, without exception. Politics is one area where perhaps we need to apply our faith the most, for it is the sphere where the major decisions that determine the external nature of our lives are made. Living in a democracy, we get to choose who makes those decisions, and thus have a responsibility to make the best choices we can.

Firstly, it is the first time Australia has ever had a woman Prime Minister. Someone actually pointed out to me that we now have a women-only government, starting from the Queen, the Governor General, Prime Minister, Governor of NSW, Premier of NSW and even the Lord Mayoress of Sydney – all of whom are women! In today’s world, the ideal of equal opportunity has, rightly I think, largely emilinated older ideals of the fragility of women. We should get the best person to do the job, regardless of race, colour, creed or gender. There are many who feel at the moment that Julia Gillard is the best person for the job, so let’s see what she can do.

There is no doubt poor old Kevin Rudd, until recently, Prime Minister of Australia, has been dealt with rather harshly. By most accounts (including his own of course) he has been a pretty good Prime Minister. Whether he was heading in the wrong direction in recent months is up for debate, and now perhaps we shall never know. He has always been an unusual politician: meticulous, excessively hard working, driven almost. Reportedly, he drove the people around him crazy with his high expectations of them as of himself. Thus he was never really so popular among his own party, which I find a little sad. One could almost say the reason he lost his job was because he gave too much of his attention to the job of running the country and paid little attention to the job of lobbying and playing the game and shoring up his support among his own party. This is one of the weaknesses of our democratic system as it stands today. Those who are most likely to reach power are those who play the political numbers game the best. If they are also wise rulers, that’s a bonus, but it is by no means guaranteed. There must be a better way to do things!

On the other hand, we have seen another pattern in Australian government that has been both disturbing and disruptive. Here in NSW, we travail under a government that has just been in power for too long. The bright lights that led it into power a decade and a half ago are all long gone, and they do not seem to have paid much attention to getting good people in to replace them – another of the drawbacks of our current political system. You see, if you are in power, you have to be careful not to recruit people to your party who are too capable, or one of them may one day rise up to take your place! This “King Herod” mentality has seen too many long running governments drop in the quality of their personnel and fall into the pit of corruption, hypocrisy, and ineptitude. Perhaps it is not such a bad thing to have a change of leader every few years? Perhaps that will help to keep the government fresh and on its toes? The years will tell.

I was certainly moved to tears for the man, standing at that podium with his family behind him, trying valiantly to keep it all together and go out with dignity. I was impressed with his appearance on the back bench in parliament the same day. It says a lot about his character. I don’t think we have enough of that in modern politics. Too many politicians who stand for nothing, really, except their own ambitions. No doubt there are admirable exceptions, but not enough.

As always, the real challenge for Julia Gillard will be to stick to her ideals and principles in the maelstrom of Canberra politics. Her opposition is formidable. Tony Abbot has long been renowned as something of a pitbull terrier in the political arena, something I always find sits uncomfortably with his openly Christian faith. How does he reconcile the two? Wouldn’t it be intriguing to have a quiet coffee with him one day and find out?

We once invited a group of politicians to Church for a panel discussion on just that topic: the challenge of maintaining one’s Christian faith as a politician. We were enjoying some illuminating discussion until they began to turn on each other and attack each other’s parties and policies, in spite of our clear agreement before the meeting that this would be an apolitical discussion.

Can they help it? Can Christianity be applied to politics, or can politics be played in a Christian way? I can’t help feeling that it can, but it must be incredibly hard. Other Christian politicians I have spoken to describe their bitter disappointment with the system; how those who do the right thing in the right way are almost always trodden down.

And yet, I wonder. If a genuine and sincere politician came along one day. Some one who always told the truth, even if it were against his personal interests. Some who gave his word and stuck to it. Some one who focused on the real issue rather than on merelygaining popularity and scoring political points. Could you imagine the respect and trust such a leader could command? Can you imagine the good they might do? But could such a person ever succeed in our current political system?

There was actually such a person in Australia. His name was Ted Mack, and he had to run as an independent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Mack_(politician) ). As mayor of North Sydney, he sold the mayoral Mercedes Benz and used the money to buy community buses.  He always spoke out against the huge superannuation payouts made to politicians, and then put his money where his mouth was by retiring one day before he qualified for his own parliamentary pension. He was a beacon of integrity for a number of years, but his usefulness was limited because of course, you can only do so much if you are not in one of the major parties.

Where are the Ted Macks of this world? All running away from politics as fast as they can, sadly.

Fr Ant

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One Reply to “O, for an honest politician!”

  1. He always spoke out against the huge superannuation payouts made to politicians, and then put his money where his mouth was by retiring one day before he qualified for his own parliamentary pension.

    What exactly is the problem with the pensions? I mean, in terms of the budget they are insignificant, right?

    In countries without these pensions, politicians who retire tend to engage in influence peddling, which pays quite handsomely. They use their knowledge, experience, and personal contacts to advance issues for the highest bidder. The results are very bad for public policy; the bad policy decisions that result from this lobbying cost the government far far more than paying for a few politicians’ payouts.

    The point is, what exactly do you expect a retired mayor to do for a living? There don’t seem to be many jobs that are open to them. I think the public interest is best served if we allow politicians to gracefully exit public life without having to use their knowledge and contacts to pervert public policy. Just by nature of their jobs, these politicians will have substantial power when they leave office. It seems better to just pay them to not use that power.

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