Hewson's View: In it for themselves, not the nation

Enemy within: John Hewson says Warringah voters should throw out Tony Abbott for "appalling disloyalty, and consistently putting his personal interests ahead of our national interest".
Enemy within: John Hewson says Warringah voters should throw out Tony Abbott for "appalling disloyalty, and consistently putting his personal interests ahead of our national interest".

If you scratch one of our pollies they will undoubtedly claim that they are in politics “to make a difference”. Some are. Some genuinely have our “national interest” at heart. But, for an increasing majority, they need to add two words to their claim, namely I am in politics “to make a difference for myself”.

Over the last couple of decades we have seen an increasing penetration of what are called “apparatchiks” – those who have only ever worked in the political process – making a transition from say university politics, to some political “job” in local government, in a party organisation, in a union, in a minister’s office, and so on. The point is they have never actually had a “real job” before entering politics. Yet, if they play their cards right, they may end up as a senior minister, with responsibility for a multibillion-dollar portfolio, with basically zero management experience, nor relevant skills.

Looking at the succession of recent scandals, from helicopter rides to forgetting to pay for a family holiday, to cheating on their expenses, to other and various conflicts of interest, and abuses of position and expenses, the voters have essentially seen through it all. They have had enough of this selfish behaviour, and are now desperate to register a “protest”.

Pollies may argue that they “are entitled” under the “rules” of the Finance Department, but it often breaches common sense and certainly fails the pub test.

Voters should register a “protest”. So many pollies have abused our trust and what is essentially a very clear and important “social licence” to represent us, as their constituents, to somehow maximise their capacity to get their snouts in the public expenditure trough.

Their recent behaviour is most revealing as we are now obviously in the run up to a federal election in mid-May. All of a sudden they want to doorknock, turn up at train stations and bus stops, hit the local media, letterbox drop, hit the social media, and so on. They would have you believe that this is what they have been doing all through their term.

They all claim, of course, how they are “in touch with their electorates”. However, the same-sex marriage postal survey laid that bare, across all political allegiances, as many were forced to realise that they had actually misjudged their voters.

Big “No" votes in many seats where they had hoped that it would be marginal, and much stronger “Yes” votes than they had contemplated in other seats. The most conspicuous “surprises” were in the National Party-held seats where 15 of 16 voted “Yes”, and in Tony Abbott’s seat of Warringah where, heavily as a protest, they voted some 75 per cent “Yes”.

Most disturbingly, Abbott was still unwilling to represent the wishes of his electorate – he abstained and actually walked out of the chamber when the vote was on.

Clearly, sticking with Abbott as an example, he has not even tried to represent the wishes of his constituents, and has trashed the standing of the government by pursuing what was only ever a revengeful personal vendetta against Malcolm Turnbull, forcing his departure. Abbott’s preselection should have been cancelled. His voters will, and should, throw him out for appalling disloyalty, and consistently putting his personal interests ahead of our national interest.

There are many, including many so-called traditional Liberals, who are now so annoyed at what was inflicted on Turnbull by the blatant and totally unjustified disloyalty, notionally in support of two buffoons in Abbott and Dutton, that they will find it hard to support a Liberal/National candidate and may record a protest by voting for an independent, or even voting informally.

Similarly, many traditional National Party voters simply can’t believe that, yet again, Barnaby Joyce is being so blatantly disloyal to their leader Michael McCormack. Yet again it is all about Barnaby, hang everyone else!

Is it really any wonder that voters are increasingly losing faith and trust in our politicians and, more broadly, in out political processes?

(Abbott) has not even tried to represent the wishes of his constituents.

Unfortunately voters at the next election are being forced to choose between the lesser of two evils – both Morrison and Shorten are recording net negative support from voters in most polls.

And then, whomever they choose to vote for, they will have to live with the “evil of two lessers” as neither major party is even attempting to address their significant cost-of-living concerns.

John Hewson is a professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU, and a former Liberal opposition leader.