One of the great things about democracy is that there are no prerequisites for being an elected representative.
Some people might pine for a meritocracy or a geniocracy. Given there’s a fair slab of people going around who think they’re intelligent but who I think are as dumb as a box of hammers (and they no doubt think the same thing about me), it’s just as well we are not ruled by people who, due to passing some test, have been deemed smarter than everyone else.
No, in a democracy the only prerequisite to being a member of parliament or senator is that you get elected. As a result, we get a fair range of folks along the spectrum. Lately, the tendency has been towards more lawyer types (or at least those who have studied law, if not practised it) and political advisors. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are smarter than others would be – just that they are better at bluffing.
So, where has Mr Hockey moved on to? To equality of opportunity. He says it is about the government helping “get people to the starting line.” Which sounds nice, until you realise it’s about the government getting everyone to the starting line, and then ignoring that the race is rigged.
This group does not include Victorian Senator-elect Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiast Party, who had a train wreck of an interview last Sunday with Mike Willesee. Given his age, Mr Muir would be just old enough to remember a time when Mr Willesee was the test politicians supposedly had to pass (this was back when politicians went on commercial current affairs shows – ask your parents about it). So, not surprisingly, he was a bit nervous and he fluffed his lines that he had most likely tried to learn by rote.
But performing well on TV is among the least important qualities a politician needs to possess. Most backbench ALP and LNP politicians would be slaughtered if they had to front up against Sarah Ferguson on 7:30. Heck, as Christopher Pyne showed last month, even Ministers can be embarrassed on national TV. It’s why the political parties only let a few select MPs onto the national stage – and why we always see the same faces.
Oh look, it’s Tanya Plibersek and Malcolm Turnbull on Q & A. Again.
The reality is no one – probably least of all Mr Muir – expected him to get elected. He’ll be voted out in 6 years time, at which point he’ll at best become the answer to a question at a political party’s local branch trivia night.
I’ll wait to see how he speaks and votes as a senator before casting judgement on his abilities. No doubt he’ll provide us with enough ammunition over the next 6 years to use against him without needing to argue that because Channel 7 kept filming him while he asked a minder some tips on how to cope during a TV interview he is thus unworthy of a seat in the senate.
Rather than worry about what some minor senator says on TV, I’ll concern myself more with things uttered by those who hold the leadership of our nation.
Joe Hockey, for example, addressed the Sydney Institute on Wednesday night. In attempting to argue that his budget really is fair, he decided to suggest the criticism was all a kind of 1970s class warfare thing. He argued with apparent sincerity that:
“The truth is governments have never been able to achieve equality of outcomes. Some governments try but they always fail. Only in a closed economy, based on old style socialism, can a government hope to deliver uniform equality of outcomes. We have moved on.”
Apparently equality is a case of either full socialism or nothing. I mean, if you can’t get a Gini coefficient of zero why bother?
So, where has Mr Hockey moved on to? To equality of opportunity. He says it is about the government helping “get people to the starting line.”
Which sounds nice, until you realise it’s about the government getting everyone to the starting line, and then ignoring that the race is rigged.
Australia currently has one of the highest levels of intergenerational social mobility in the world. In Australia, your wealth is much less determined by the wealth of your parents than it is in the USA or UK. So it seems a bit odd that Hockey would suggest our system is broken. I guess the motto is now, “If it ain’t broke, break it and then say you’re fixing it”.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, was overseas also saying things much more dopey than anything said by Ricky Muir.
While in Canada, Mr Abbott talked about needing to come up with climate change policies that don’t “clobber the economy”. This was rather curious, given he said it a week after the latest GDP figures showed Australia to be among the fastest growing economies in the OECD.
The last time Canada’s economy was growing faster than Australia’s was in the first quarter of 2011 – a year and a half before the carbon price was introduced.
Our GDP in the past 12 months grew by 3.5% compared to Canada’s growth of 2.2%. So, talking about our economy being clobbered might have sounded a little odd to his audience.
But then they would have been at least reassured that our system of government is a democracy and decidedly not a geniocracy.
Greg Jericho is an economics and politics blogger and writes for The Guardian and The Drum.