“No job security. White anting. Gender imbalance. Erratic hours. Frequent travel. Canberra-based.” If running for Parliament relied on a job ad, applicants would be scarce.
The recent "madness" in Canberra has so badly wounded parliamentarians, they are openly contemplating the merits of continuing. “Last week took a massive toll, both mentally and physically”, an exhausted Craig Laundy reflected. Now one politician has decided it is too much.
Fed up with “vindictive, mean-spirited grudges” and a culture of “bullying and intimidation”, Liberal backbencher Julia Banks has confirmed she won't defend her marginal Melbourne seat of Chisholm at the next election. Banks left a successful career in law and business to run in 2016 and won her seat off Labor, with a margin of just 1.6 per cent. Her decision to quit will pose a challenge for the Morrison government as it fights to hold on to all its seats at the next election.
Yet despite the despair of those installed on the hill, the scramble is already on to replace Malcolm Turnbull as the member for Wentworth when he resigns from Parliament on Friday and triggers a byelection. A City of Sydney councillor, a former diplomat and a one-time federal party director all look like throwing their hats in the ring for the Coalition. Each has shown a dedication to public service. But even with their personal motivations beyond reproach, why would anyone commit to running for public office when parliamentary culture appears so broken, so toxic, and so damaging?
So alarmed was Nationals MP Kevin Hogan at the leadership “circus” that cost Turnbull his job that he has vowed to sit on the crossbench until the factional unicycles have passed. Other politicians have told of their “heavy heart” in walking away from a leader they once steadfastly supported, then so assiduously cut down, while some despair there is no loyalty in politics. There could be a lot of parliamentarians buying a dog this week.
The widespread crisis of confidence in our system comes only a week after nearly the entire Parliament rallied in the face of Fraser Anning’s provocations. That’s what makes the issue of political culture so vexed, so taxing, for politicians and voters alike. It’s a roller coaster.
Surely aspiring candidates for Wentworth, or Chisholm or any electorate across Australia, are thinking twice about putting their hand up. Entering politics defies logic. But as we’ve seen — for good and bad — it doesn’t weaken conviction.
Those who moved to take down now departed prime ministers, all of them since the malaise began in 2010, have maintained the belief they were right. Their capacity to reconcile that belief, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, has been a significant determinant of the political culture left in the wake of these upheavals.
There’s a myopia to leadership plays that appears to blind participants to the devastating fallout, win or lose. An MP or senator sitting alone in their parliamentary office, by nature, clings to the idea that they can effect the change they each espoused in their maiden speeches. But the real test of character is how they hold onto that thread of belief. That’s where we really discover what prompted them to enter politics in the first place.
Anyone contemplating a run at the next election might want to consider that before stepping into the breach.
Andy Marks is assistant vice-chancellor at Western Sydney University.