The entrenchment of the political class in parliaments across the nation is a rising issue in Australian politics.
It is a problem which has plagued the political landscape in the United States with recently elected US President Joe Biden returning Washington to the political class by appointing a wave of long-time Democrat functionaries, political staffers and lobbyists to key positions in his administration.
The Biden administration loves to talk about diversity, and what could be more diverse than a 78-year-old white man 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 very careful not to repeat those mistakes by bricking in a political elite of our own.
The political class has been growing in this country in the past 20 years.
There has long been a view that the parliamentary members of 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 political office, and gain entry to parliament by organising numbers at branch level.
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.
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 growing political class is no longer an issue solely for the Labor Party as a culture of political elitism is infecting politics at all levels.
In fact, none other than John Howard himself recently lamented the creep of the 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 passing and updating laws, representing the people, and holding the government of the day to account.
Parliament needs a range of views from the farthest reaches of our community. A life before to politics before parliament is so important.
Forget quotas. Forget diversity based on gender, race and 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. 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.
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, many ex-service people, doctors, small businesspeople and professionals but the creep is on.
The problem with modern-day politics is the political class itself.
Politics needs people who have had careers, and who are come to parliament prepared to speak their minds without fear or favour, to represent the interests of their constituencies, not watch the backs of political allies and friends from other offices in which they worked 10 years ago.
There are many people who want a parliamentary career, but many cannot crack into the culture of elitism.
We should be pursuing those who might otherwise run in the opposite direction from public life.
That does not come from political elites bricking in their own positions and building 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 have 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.
Alex Antic is a Liberal Senator for South Australia.
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