A vigorous debate has broken out between some pollies and Crikey subscribers about the appropriate age and life experience that Members of Parliament should bring to the job.

Morning sealed section December 5

The oldest member of the new Labor broom in Victoria has hit back at claims shes a recycled old bag:

I find it extraordinary that everyone is hung up on the fact that I’m 65. I actually knocked off 4 young blokes in suits for preselection (all of whom put me last on their tickets and had nothing to say about me except to whinge that I’m “too old”). I suggest the author of this piece is a) male, b) under 35, c) in the right, and d) thinks older people, especially women, should keep out of anything useful so he can have a turn.

Well, I’m not moving over to give anyone a turn at anything. If I prove that I have the skills, I’ll hang around till I’m 95. I hope all women, especially older women, decide that they don’t want to retire and keep playing!!

Carolyn Hirsh
Oldest Victorian MP and member of the Cain Government in the 80s

PS Hillary also points out the youngest ever Victorian minister is… Alfred Deakin, back in 1883, at the age of 26. Sorry, Jacinta, compared to Deakin youre an old bag too at 29.

What about me? Im the youngest Victorian MP

Second sealed section December 5

Dear Crikey

You may be interested to learn that Frankston has also seen a new member elected to the new Labor Caucus. Also noteworthy is the fact that I shall be the youngest MP in the 55th parliament.

Regards

Alistair Harkness

Member for Frankston

Were waiting to hear back from the lad on exactly how old he is. This is what a google search throws up from The Age.

And hes an executive member of the Fabians which has this to say about him:

Assistant Secretary

Alistair Harkness is the endorsed ALP candidate for the Frankston seat in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, and an electorate officer for the Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree (with Honours) and a Bachelor of Business degree (majoring in Management) at Monash University, and is completing a Doctorate in Political Science, with particular attention on the workings of the Victorian Parliament. He is Treasurer of the West Gate Bridge Memorial Park Association – a not-for-profit group established to construct a lasting memorial to all workers who have lost their lives in workplace accidents and a member of the Friends of the Frankston Library Service, Friends of the Frankston Arts Centre, Friends of the ABC, and the Public Transport Users Group. His key policy interests are education and employment, the environment, and fixing local roads.

Laying into the youthful Vic MP

Alistair Harkness wrote to Crikey a few weeks ago gloating that he was the youngest MP in the Victorian Parliament but he has not amused some subscribers and fellow MPs:

“Dear Crikey,

As an MP of 6 years in the WA Parliament, it’s people like Alistair Harkness who pose the greatest threat to the future of our parliamentary democracy.

It’s not because Alistair’s ego causes him to makes the claim that he’s the youngest MP in the Victorian Parliament. Big deal. It’s his almost total lack of exposure to and knowledge of the real world that is likely to cause his decisions and judgement to be wrong or irrelevant when it comes to governing for the common good. He’s been an academic all of his life so what personal life experiences can he bring forward to assist him in his duties as an MP.

Sure, he may be a very good campaigner at election time and he’s obviously worked the numbers within the ALP, but an MP is also a legislator, an elected representative for his electors and an advocate for both his electorate and of his state.

I admit that all parliaments have these no-experience MPs. Geoff Gallop is extremely popular in WA but, because he looks and sounds good without actually making good decisions, his party is now behind the Liberals (if you believe the polls).

Elected in 1996 and now 52 years of age, I’m tempted to campaign in support of a mandatory minimum age for MPs. How does 30 years of age sound? Since I’m on my soapbox, how about a requirement that a person can only stand for Parliament if they have been successful in something that has been a positive achievement for their or the Australian community (other than having successfully manipulated selection committee delegates)?

I’d include being a successful union organiser or parent or teacher or businessperson or lawyer or farmer in this list.

OK, I’ll go and take my medication now and lie down for a bit. Merry Christmas to you and your subscribers.

Bernie Masters

Member for Vasse”

And Bernie was supported by this subscriber:

“What shameless self promotion by Alistair Harkness!

Who is this guy?

Alistair Harkness my advise to you is, do some WORK! Whether it’s good work or bad work, you’ll soon have the media afford you the attention you seem so intent on receiving. You could have at least asked someone else to send in the email! Jesus, so “young” and already just typical of the politicians everywhere around the western world, and indicative of the “type” of people politics seems to attract.

Oh where are the humble, community focused, young politicians of the future? When will we see a member of parliament (ANY parliament)More interested in performing their duties then trying to get their names in the paper…..

Stupid idealist, I am, I know it. I should just give it up. Alistair Harkness from what I’ve seen in politics your “Political style” will take you far, and that’s what’s so fu#king depressing to me!

Pablo Berrutti”

Famous pollies who hit parly in their 20s

A well-informed subscriber writes:

“Harkness is a prat but it is ironic to read Bernie Masters slagging off at young people under thirty who want to get into politics. I agreed with Bernie that before a person goes into politics they should have some genuine life experience (i.e. not an electorate officer or a ministerial advisor) whether that is as a businessperson, professional, farmer or even as an academic. However, then Bernie goes and ruins everything by making a rather inane suggestion that their should be a minimum age for MPs. This suggestion represents the typical kneejerk reaction of WA Libs which is to say “lets ban X” before thinking through what the implications will be.

A successful political party needs a diversity of age groups. Of course, the vast majority should be in their thirties and fourties but it doesn’t hurt to have a few in their mid to late twenties who have outstanding potential. A couple of examples of pollies who started in their twenties include: Keating, Chris Pyne, Winston Churchill, J-Bro, Teddy Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnston, John F Kennedy, Malcolm Fraser, Nicola Roxon and I think Captain Smirk was preselected when he was 29. Indeed, the great hope of the WA National Party is a 26 year old small businessman from the Wheatbelt.

As an old friend of mine said yesterday: which self-respecting lawyer or doctor or tradesperson would give up a good income to subject themselves to State politics? Who cares if the candidate is 25 or 55 or even 75 – the issue really is whether they are making a worthwhile contribution and want to be considered as a representative for their community.

If the pollie isn’t performing, the party should dump him or her. Look at Kathy Sullivan in Moncrieff on the Gold Coast. After 18 years of undistinguished service, it was about time the party gave her the flick. If her replacement, Steve Ciobo is equally useless, give him the flick as well but don’t cut people like Ciobo out simply because they are under 30. A couple of WA examples include Senators Sue Knowles or Ross Lightfoot (perhaps each are distinguished for their sheer lack of distinction). A good young person, with links with community or professional organisations, in his or her late 20s or early 30s would probably make a much more effective replacement. Besides, at that point in their careers such a person is unlikely to be receiving the significant income enjoyed by older people and will be willing to make the financial and personal sacrifices for 10 to 15 years service in Parliament.

With a purge of Liberal MPs set for 2003, I have no doubt that a low profile MP like Masters is feeling more than a little threatened by some young whippersnapper out Busselton way.

The problem for both parties, through their culture of mediocrity, factional kowtowing and ongoing trench warfare, throws up candidates with no political skills, no policy ideas and who have no life experience. The critical factor is not age but experience. Would Masters reject, for example, a former Young Aussie of the Year (under 30) simply because of his or her age? Does Masters seriously think that the problem is age and not experience? As a WA Lib he should well know that their problem is not the age of the candidates but the quality of their candidates (see 2003 Federal campaign in Stirling where a young and energetic Christian Zahra type would probably have won it instead of the 65 year old self funded retiree who had a swing AWAY from the Libs).

Though, as a wise man once said: you get the pollies you deserve. Just look at the WA Liberal Party.

Lisa Liberal

Most of the great Libs started very young

An excellent Liberal researcher writes:

“I did a little research and put together the list below of some famous Aussie pollies who started young (30ish or under). They are all Libs (as my source was a Liberal MPs list). If this list doesn’t illustrate the point that youth has nothing to do with success (or failure) as a pollie, then I don’t know what does! In fact, it could even be arguable, that the younger you are, the more likely to be successful provided the innate potential is there. Parties need to focus on quality young candidates and not the party hacks that Labor especially is producing. The common theme amongst all of the individuals below is that none had ever been a political staffer.

Maybe the reason why so many young pollies end up at the top is that they were supported by ministers and front benchers with “life experience” to provide the policy muscle. As such, the fifteen or twenty years of experience that the young pollies have by the time they reach the pinnacle of their careers allows them to out-manoeuvre their opponents more effectively as well as possessing the necessary political and communication skills to woo the electorate and their parties!

Edmund Barton (PM) – 30

John Brogden (NSW Opposition leader) – 27)

Joseph Cook (PM) – 31

Peter Costello (Treas & aspiring PM) – 30

Alfred Deakin (PM) – 23

Alexander Downer (Foreign Minister) – 28

Malcolm Fraser (PM) – 25

Harold Holt (PM) – 27

John Howard (PM) – 34

Billy Hughes (PM) – 28

Jeff Kennett: (Victorian Premier) – 28)

Charles Kingston (SA Premier & Fed Minister) – 31

Phillip Lynch (Fraser Minister) – 30

Joe Lyons (PM) – 30

Andrew Peacock (Fraser Minister & Lib Leader) – 28

Billy Sneddan (Minister & Lib Leader) – 29

Interestingly, every Liberal Leader since the war, including Menzies, started in their first elected office in their twenties or early thirties (apart from Hewson). Also, Deakin who is often tipped as one of our three or four “greatest” prime ministers, had no life experience whatsoever before he went into the Victorian parliament. Perhaps your subscribers can come up with a few others who had youth and outstanding potential.

Regards, Liberal Researcher

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW