Adjournment – The Political Class24 February 2021
I rise tonight to speak regarding a growing issue in Australian politics, being the increasing entrenchment of the political class in parliaments across the nation. This is a problem which has plagued the political landscape in the United States. As we speak, recently appointed US President Joe Biden is returning Washington to the political class by appointing a wave of long-time Democratic functionaries, political staffers and lobbyists to key positions in his administration. After all, what could be more diverse than a 78-year-old white bloke who has spent 47 years as a career politician?
Politics in the United States is being returned to the swamp, and Australia needs to be careful not to repeat those mistakes by bricking in a political elite of our own. The political class in this country, in the past 20 years, has been growing. Where did it come from? There has long been a view that the Australian Labor Party and, to an extent, the Australian Greens are too one-dimensional because they enter the workforce through a trade union or a political office and gain entry to parliament by organising numbers at a branch level. That is so much so that in 2017 former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke warned that career politicians without enough life experience were letting the public down. Mr Hawke was quoted as saying:
My advice consistently to every young person who comes and asks me about [entering politics] is to make a life first.
But in 2021 a rising political class is no longer an issue solely for the Labor Party, as a culture of political elitism is affecting parties at all levels. Even former Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard recently lamented the creep of political elites when he said:
We have too many people who enter Parliament now, particularly at state level, who have had no experience in life other than politics … If you’re on my side, they skip the trade union and they go to the politicians … We have too many now and I think it’s part of the problem we face.
Parliament is responsible for making and updating laws, for representing the people and for holding the government to account for its policies and actions. Parliament needs a range of views from the farthest reaches of our community. A life prior to politics, before parliament, is so important. Forget quotas and forget diversity based on gender, race, sexual orientation; we need to bring people into parliament from outside the political bubble to avoid stale thinking and cronyism. Beginning a career in a political or ministerial office means that, from a young age, a person surrounds themselves with politicians, lobbyists and other political staffers. It builds an expectation that the next step is a parliamentary career, and it builds a culture of entitlement. Such a limited professional experience perpetuates the culture of cronyism in politics and leaves people vulnerable to limited career prospects post parliament. The problem is universal. The problem with modern-day politics is the political class itself. Post politics, many ex-politicians become lobbyists, further perpetuating the culture of political entitlement.
Federally, the Liberal Party is lucky enough to have a broad range of experience in its ranks, with many ex-service people, doctors, small-business people and professionals. But politics needs people who have had careers and who have come to parliament prepared to speak their minds without fear or favour, to represent the interests of their constituencies and not watch the backs of their political allies or friends from other offices 10 years ago. There are many people who would like to consider a parliamentary career, but many who cannot crack the culture of political elitism. We should be pursuing those who might otherwise run in the opposite direction from public life. That doesn’t come from political elites bricking in their own positions and padding out their post-politics lobbying careers by ensuring their allies gain preselection. We must make sure that we clear the way for everyday people to serve this country—good people who’ve served their country outside of a parliamentary bubble. That’s real diversity. The political class cannot be allowed to dominate the field. Our country deserves better.