opinion

Jenna Clarke: ‘When it comes to pollies, we badly need champions of the people’

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Jenna ClarkeThe West Australian
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra.
Camera IconPrime Minister Scott Morrison and Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Politics as a sector is doing well isn’t it?

I ask you that question sarcastically. Obviously. Who else can remember a time Federal Parliament rounded out the year with more fireworks than Skyworks?

The final sitting fortnight in Canberra was a gross display of ego, shallowness and lack of comprehension about how and what the Australian community are feeling.

This week alone we saw a damning 456-page report authored, at the request of the Government, by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Set the Standard was a brutal, difficult body of work that laid bare the bullying and harassment in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces, including MP offices, the ministerial wing, public departments and the media.

Those of us in the bubble thought that was rock bottom. Some of us knew what the vibe of that report would be. Outward aggression and intimidation.

Other, more subtle things such as women ignored and overlooked for promotions or key interviews.

Others who don’t live, breathe and feed the 24/7 news cycle were shocked that Parliament House is basically like a boarding school with less rules, an entity without a HR department, or — as former staffer turned consultant now candidate for the seat of Swan, Kristy McSweeney told me — “Canberra is what corporate Australia was like more than 10 years ago”.

After the Prime Minister presented the report and danced around whether or not the 28 recommendations would be implemented, business resumed and our elected officials got on with what they are elected to do in Canberra: scrutinise legislation and represent their constituents.

Or, in the case of one Government Senator, growl like a dog in the chamber when a woman MP has the call. Or another Greens Senator who slut-shamed a Government Senator by seemingly making an inference about the other women’s autistic son.

Yeah. That happened on the taxpayer’s dollar and in the home of our democracy.

Experts say the blame is not on any one particular party. Being a dickhead, it seems, is a bipartisan issue.

The House of Representatives then said “hold my beer” as the vile behaviour continued.

The Opposition Leader called Peter Dutton a “boofhead”, the Education Minsiter was then stood aside from his post pending another investigation into his consensual affair with his staffer, where there are now fresh allegations the relationship was abusive as well as inappropriate.

That all went down too.

Sorry to be nerd but I was under the impression politicians were supposed to be our best, brightest, more civic-minded citizens who are called to Canberra, much like those are called to the Church. Instead we get what appears to be a cohort of people who are so self-absorbed they could shoot an entire series of Love Island in Parliament House and the only way you’d tell it apart from the original is that the cast are messy drunks with bad outfits.

As Jenkins observed in the Set the Standard report, Parliament House should be something “Australians look to with pride”.

But it’s not. Experts say the blame is not on any one particular party. Being a dickhead, it seems, is a bipartisan issue.

“There has been a complete erosion of trust and belief in our institutions and that’s come about because of the people who are in charge and have power and movements, like the #MeToo campaign, which calls it out and demands for accountability,” said Dr Kay Hearn, a history and politics lecturer at Edith Cowan University.

It’s not just a Federal issue either. You only have to tune in to question time during State Parliament sittings to see a political circus.

The Premier, the most popular politician in the country, appears to have learned a thing or two about crass conduct during his time in Rockingham.

Only a few weeks ago was he bellowing at Liberals leader David Honey, repeatedly calling him an “idiot” and a “moron” when he was being quizzed about COVID.

Dr Hearn says the egos are enormous.

“There’s no Ben Chifley the train driver any more. Even the most verbose Prime Minister in Paul Keating, he was a pay clerk and a self-educated man. It’s really important for these people to have contact with everyone, with refugees, with working class people. They don’t. We should have diversity in our parliament but we don’t.”

Jacqui Lambie, however, could be the light on the hill. She could be the new pin-up for pride in Parliament.

Lambie is an example of a politician who is not afraid of evolving. She learns from her experiences — inside and outside of parliament — and has admitted she was wrong about issues in the past.

Pauline Hanson was once touted as a breath of fresh air in politics but compared to Lambie she is the political panettone — stale and present for reasons no one can seem to explain.

Lambie has changed, and continues to do so. Hanson just changes her enemies.

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