Why politics has so much anarchy, confusion and muddled thinking
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Why politics has so much anarchy, confusion and muddled thinking

I’m no election analyst but I’m guessing there is absolutely nothing that can be done to save this government. Chaotic. Venal.

Let’s ask these utterly ridiculous political parties what the hell they are doing to prepare their candidates for office?

And the answer is a giant zip. Zero. Nothing to see here.

That complete absence of preparation leads to anarchy. Confusion. And muddled thinking.

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Let me give you some of the absolute worst examples of muddled thinking – and then some ideas about what we can do about that.

On Wednesday, Victorian Liberal MP Julia Banks revealed she would not stand again at the next federal election because of bullying. Banks won for the Liberals the seat of Chisholm for the first time in 18 years. And what was the response from the Victorian Liberal President Michael Kroger? “We’ve received no complaints,” he said. Helen Kroger, no longer a relation but head of the Liberal Women’s committee, also says there is no systemic bullying and intimidation.

Happier time: Liberal MP Julia Banks and then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in Parliament.

Happier time: Liberal MP Julia Banks and then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in Parliament.Credit:Andrew Meares

The member for Hughes, Liberal Craig Kelly, claims politics is a “tough game” and Banks has done the wrong thing by resigning. He told 2GB’s Ben Fordham: “We receive all sorts of hostile emails and the most abusive emails that you could ever imagine from constituents ... that’s the nature of the game.”

So, a senior Liberal suggests bullying isn't happening because he’s had no official notification and a junior Liberal tells Banks to harden up.

No wonder no-one wants to be a politician – Kroger and Kelly just don’t realise workplace rules have changed. Abuse and bullying are not acceptable no matter where you work. And the idea that the Dutton’s henchmen, for men they were, are allowed to get away with this explains why women don’t want to stand for Liberal Party preselection.

But this muddled thinking, this confusion about the role of politicians in the contemporary workplace, stems from a problem innate to this level of political participation. I’m personally in awe of anyone who stands for their party and grateful to those who win their seats and deal with the problems facing Australia. I’d say 90 per cent are deeply committed to the task.

But the preselection process is deeply flawed – and the preparation for becoming a politician is so poor, so lacking in depth and engagement, it’s no wonder we struggle to keep decent people in these jobs. The skills needed to get preselection are not the same skills needed to run the country.

What preparation do they get?

Two days. Yes, federal parliament provides a two-day training course for new members of parliament. Two days to get your head around how to become a representative. Two days to understand parliamentary entitlements. Two days to understand what it means to stand up for Australia.

No wonder Peter Dutton struggled to understand correspondence from Assistant Commissioner of Strategic Border Command Clive Murray telling the minister he had no reason to intervene in the deportation of the French au pair Alexandra Deuwel.

Which brings me to the tragic case of Emma Husar. Husar was accused of bullying and sexual harassment. Barrister John Whelan’s report found there was “no basis for Husar to resign from the Australian Parliament". Despite a campaign to bring back Husar, I’m pretty sure that whoever wanted to destroy her career has done a pretty good job (I mean, seriously, which idiot would even consider a mother of three could hang out without undies. Better pelvic floor control than I’ve ever had and mine’s not too bad).

Husar was never trained to be in parliament. No training in how to be a parliamentarian, how to be a manager, how to deal with people in the workplace. How to deal when things start falling apart. By the time the Labor Party realised there was a problem it was too late. Way too late.

Labor MP Emma Husar.

Labor MP Emma Husar.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Labor folks tell me that’s about to change. There will be training and mentoring and all kinds of other good things but that’s too late for Husar, I fear.

But the fact is, we want more women like her. Single women. Married women. Mothers of three. Gay women. Straight women. Working class women. We want Julies and Julias. Any bloody woman at all. And people who are prepared to lead.

Which brings me to the hilarious Damian Drum, Nationals MP in Victoria. He’s pretty much had the same staff for 20 years. How did he do that? He was a footy coach before he went into politics so that gave him some experience of team building. And before that?

“I was terrible at picking people to work for me in the building industry,” he says.

Nationals MP Damian Drum arrives for question time.

Nationals MP Damian Drum arrives for question time. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

What changed? He surrounded himself with talented women who could mentor him, who could help him make good employment choices. Also, Drum claims the Nationals behave more like a family than other political parties. There is a lot of chat about what’s acceptable and what’s not – and he says a huge robust chat went on about what went down with Barnaby Joyce and his office.

But when Drum first came into parliament for the seat of Murray in 2016, the same time as Banks, he went to MPs school. They all did. At the time, he described it as Playschool. Two days when you are supposed to breathe in the culture, the policies and the processes and then get it all right all the time. And that was before the introduction of the independent parliamentary expenses authority.

If the parties are planning to pick diverse candidates any time soon, they will need to take responsibility for training those candidates to be prepared to lead. Mentor. Run freaking seminars for all I care. But train them to do a better job for all of us. They don’t just represent Australian people, they also represent their parties.

It’s not enough. Being a parliamentarian is a job that is about representing the people. But the operational side? Well that’s about working as a franchisee, where each of you runs your own show, your own people, your own calendar – and doing that while not bringing the name of the franchise into disrepute.

Right now, I wouldn’t buy a pizza from any of them.

Jenna Price is a Fairfax columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.