27 August 2010


This article from Andrew West has a lot of merit, so long as you don't think about it too much.

The most basic flaw is the assumption that the more money you pay for lobbyists the better the service will be. West also refers to mediocrities pulling in the large dollars, which doesn't fit with notions of cost decreases where the supply (of ex-pollies and staffers, with the prospect of staffers competing against their former bosses) exceeds the demand.

When the Coalition comes to office in NSW next year, one would hope that Labor ministers and staffers get short shrift.

1. West's first point overlooks a reality of particular relevance to Labor and increasing relevance to the Liberals, given their growing reach in areas like western Sydney and the Central Coast. Many labouring jobs and physical trades put such a burden on the body that people who start their working lives at 15 are all but forced into retirement in their forties. It is possible for someone to have done such a job with little to show for it in pension/ superannuation terms, enter Parliament for one term in a marginal seat, and be unemployed again by age 50.

One in four people elected to parliament becomes a minister, and thereby more likely to have the sort of marketable skills in lobbying: a two-term MP may be less marketable as a lobbyist than a staffer with eighteen months' intensive experience in a particular minister's office during the passage of a key piece of legislation.

2, 6 & 7. Well done - and the state-federal pension nexus in super should also be broken.

3. I don't want to pay for crappy ads and junk mail and shouldn't have to pay for them. There is no link between ad spends and market outcomes (in terms of votes won), and no incentive for party officials to improve that link if they have a guaranteed budget. You also end up shunting the kind of party operators you rail against away from public policy into backroom copy writing roles.

4. Let's wait for the outcomes of the experimentation, shall we? This needs further thought.

When I was a Young Liberal I'd have registered in Labor primaries and voted for the worst candidate running, someone who made Steve Fielding look like Pericles. I'd have backed Belinda Neal so hard that she'd have been Leader of her party for the past ten years, and the next ten. I doubt that I'm the only person who has thought of this.

It will be interesting to see whether politicians who have joined political parties and worked their way up through them are willing to vote for a system where future candidates owe little if anything to party structures, and where people who want to be politicians have to raise and spend their own money to fund their political careers (as in the US). The latter of these goes against West's aim of a broader representation of the community in parliament.

5. "... below a certain rank"? Really? I strongly doubt that a politician could return to a career as a police officer, for similar reasons to the military example that West himself gave. The very nature of many public sector jobs becomes impossible once parliamentary politics, with all the public exposure issues that go with it, become involved. Is this an anti-Rudd (former DG of the Qld Cabinet Office) thing?

8. I'm not sure about this, but in reading the example West gave I oppose it. If Roy doesn't perform, he's vulnerable to challenge from those who have the maturity and other qualities that Roy lacks, within the LNP or without.

The LNP have an understanding that sitting MPs will not be challenged, which also applies in the Liberal Party and probably also in the other right-of-centre parties that can actually win seats. This could well make these organisations vulnerable to restraint-of-trade litigation, similar to football players and the salary cap, particularly if you have a weakening of party loyalties as at 4. above.

You also have the phenomenon where people just get sick of politicians. John Howard became Federal Treasurer in 1977, and thirty years later people were just tired of the guy. Howard was of retirement age by then anyway, regardless of any feelings he may have of Relevance Deprivation Syndrome. Andrew Fraser is facing the same phenomenon today: if Anna Bligh is defeated he is the likely candidate to become the next Labor Leader of the Opposition in Queensland, but unless the Langbroek Government is spectacularly inept it is unlikely Fraser will lead his party to government. Likewise, Wyatt Roy is more likely to go the way of Bill O'Chee than, say, Robert Menzies.

9. Boundary changes could disenfranchise perfectly good candidates. Again, a nice idea badly thought out.

Thanks to West and others we face the prospect of much-ballyhooed public lobbying integrity legislation which is so compromised in the passing that it is easy for professionals those targeted to get around. If you think lobbyists work hard in acting for others, how much harder will they work in acting for themselves?

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