The Good Oil by Rod Brown A solution to politicians bonking staffers

I’m certainly not making excuses for this behaviour, but workplace stress and long working hours in Parliament House can lead to heavy drinking. Next thing an MP is canoodling with someone not his/her usual partner. This stuff was rife in the 1970s when I lobbed into town. Indeed numerous stories could be spun, but I won’t for fear of copping a lawsuit. It’s no big deal here unless there are politicians playing the ‘family values’ card.   

There is one under-appreciated way of addressing the root cause - encourage politicians to bring their families to the national capital. This is common in many other countries. 

To explain, if a politician is tired, frustrated and looking for release, he should go home, have a meal, imbibe in a wine with his/her partner, read a book to the kids. This was regular practice in the 70s e.g. National Party MPs like Doug Anthony and Ian Sinclair. Then Paul Keating before he became Labor leader. Today, Minister for Education Dan Tehan (from Victoria’s western district) is reportedly one of only a handful.   

It’s a puzzle why more politicians don’t bring their spouses and families here. Canberra is a lovely place to bring up a family – clean air, good schools and universities, strong sports culture. The locals are also free-thinking and they welcome newbies because 80 percent of the population is from somewhere else. And the embassies add an exotic flavour. 

Critics will argue that their federal members need to be seen back in their electorate. Well they do, but not every second weekend! The purpose of federal politicians is to represent their electorates on the national stage, to network with other politicians on an informal basis (outside the Parliament), to liaise with foreign government officials, federal bureaucrats and public policy think-tanks, and to find good contacts that can help advance issues back in his/her electorate. 

On the contrary, if a politician is jumping on a plane most Thursday nights and returning Monday morning, then holing up in Parliament House and getting sozzled for three nights running, then regrettable things do happen. And cutting back on all that travel can help repair the Budget deficit.   

Media diversity
Last month the Senate agreed without debate to inquire into the state of media diversity, independence and reliability. The inquiry will scrutinise local media companies and how Google and Facebook have changed the way people access news, the barriers faced by small, independent and community news outlets, barriers to Australian voters’ ability to access reliable, accurate and independent news etc.

This is a big issue, especially for regional Australian newspapers as well as TV coverage. It’s horrifying to think that in the face of ABC cutbacks, our regional youth are at the risk of having Sky News as their sole source of news.  

This inquiry has 11 December as the closing date for submissions which means you have now, almost certainly missed the deadline. I have phoned and written to the chair of this Senate Committee, Senator Hanson-Young, flagging our concern at the 4 week timeframe for these submissions, and asking for an extension of time. 

Vanity projects
Politicians and their bureaucrats often wax lyrical about projects needing positive cost-benefit ratios and community consultation. But this goes out the window when a Minister wants to a favoured project to happen. Some recent examples:

  • Trump’s Mexican border wall – $22 billion and rising
  • two new sports stadiums for Sydney – $2 billion upwards
  • the John Monash Centre in Villers-Bretonneux – $100 million
  • expansion of the War Memorial in Canberra – $500 million
  • Australian submarine project – $225 billion whole-of-life cost (according to a Rear Admiral at Senate Estimates) 

Each of these projects is copping flak for very good reasons – ludicrous attempts to create edifices to the memories of those in power at the time. The War Memorial is particularly interesting. Its then Director, Brendan Nelson is a smooth and effective operator – he knew which strings to pull and which egos to massage. The alleged SAS lawlessness in Afghanistan is now reopening debate about the extravagance of such monuments to war. 

The lesson in all of these projects is that politicians who eschew the proper financial justification of projects will earn a ‘bad judgement’ badge. Interestingly, former PM Abbott was in the middle of three of the above projects. We must call out vanity projects.

In brief
Ex-Finance Minister Cormann making a bid for Secretary-General of the OECD – an inspired nomination.

The current boom in film production in Australia is fantastic. It’s puzzling why this industry was left out of the feds’ targeted industries three months ago. And let’s give recognition to the role of our TV soaps (Home & Away, Neighbours) in promoting our homeland in the United Kingdom and Europe. Someone please do a cost-benefit analysis!

Big reorganisations in industry and agriculture departments – overdue elevation of numerous women to key positions, but no promises of more hands-on engagement with their clients. 

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network. 
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559