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Politicians: we get what we deserve.

November 23rd, 2008 · Greg Atkinson · No Comments

There is nothing like a global crisis to showcase the shortcomings of elected representatives all around the world. In the U.S. we have seen lawmakers grilling bankers for a crisis that was largely caused by the actions of Congress and the Clinton Administration whereas in Australia we have seen the government make a number of economic blunders.

In Iceland their government has managed to basically bankrupt the nation while in Japan, their Prime Minister has been defending drinking at expensive bars as part of his style while thousands of part-time automobile workers are being laid off.

Of course we all complain about politicians and as a profession they repeatedly rank very low in surveys regarding what professions people respect. In New South Wales the scandal plagued government has run the State economy into the ground and yet when the people had a chance to make a change at the last election, they chose to maintain the status quo.

At the federal level the Parliament and Senate is riddled with serious underachievers and as a result we have people who would struggle to run school fete voting on issues that affect the entire nation. Scary!

The main reason we end up with twits in public office is due to apathy. The overwhelming number of Australians do not belong to a political party and therefore we have no say regarding the people that are selected by these parties to stand for election. To make matters worse, most Australians know very little about the person they eventually vote for and would struggle to write a half page outline of this person’s background or experience.

So we have a fool’s democracy, where are small group of major party power brokers give us the illusion of a democracy, while we sit back and are too lazy to do anything about it.

To add insult to injury we have too many politicians. Unlike other professions that are required to become more efficient due to the increased use of technology, we have not seen any decrease in the numbers of politicians. Since 1977 an extra 26 MP’s and 12 Senators have been added to our tax bill, and there have also been increases in the number of state and local council elected representatives as well.

The justification for these increases is linked to an increasing population so it appears our elected officials are incapable of being more efficient like the rest of us.

We would all be better served in Australia by having fewer but more capable elected officials whose pay would be linked to performance. It seems odd to me that people quickly jump on the “limiting executives renumeration” bandwagon but fail to be outraged by the salaries and allowance of our elected officials.

Remember that most of the real work is done by the public service and that most MP’s and Senators add very little value. In addition to having the pubic service do their thinking for them, Cabinet Ministers also have advisers and State and Federal representatives have electoral office staff.

I have no doubt that if we cut the number of elected representatives by say 25% that the competition to take up these positions would be increased. Some of the money saved could be use to implement a performance based pay system as we should not have a problem with paying higher salaries for better representatives as long as they perform. I would also like to see other reforms like an “true” independent authority to determine MP’s salaries (one that does not requires the Parliament to approve changes) and the ability for this authority to dismiss MP’s and Senators for misconduct. (independent of party politics)

Until we see a major reform of how our elected officials are selected then our efforts towards making Australian a more competitive nation we will be hampered by poor policy decisions at the Federal, State and Local levels. As a result we will be destined to suffer the consequences of having mediocre governments for the foreseeable future.

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