While we wait to see if Simon Crean’s Montagnard army or whoever’s
stacked the branches fights off the Khmer Rogue attempt to declare Year Zero in
Hotham, here’s a question you may care to consider: do we need another hack in
parliament?

Martin Ferguson wrote last week in The Australian on the need for a “vibrant, free-thinking Labor caucus” that delivers “sound,
balanced public policy”. The poor bloke must have Potomac Fever.
Does anyone see that happening this term, next term – any term – in his party
or the Coalition?

The Parliamentary Library has just released a paper on who makes up our
MPs: The 41st Parliament: middle-aged, well-educated and (mostly) male.

That title tells you plenty, but there are other frightening figures in
there, too. Six per cent of all MPs are former “research assistants, electorate
officers etc.” “Twelve per cent are former political consultants, advisers
etc.” Fourteen per cent are former party and union administrators and
officials. And six per cent members of state or territory legislators.

In other words, almost 40 per cent of the Members of the Commonwealth
Parliament were party hacks, lackeys, timeservers and placemen – even before
they made it to Canberra. So much for “sound, balanced public
policy”. Ferguson might as well copy another Martin and tell
us all “I have a dream…”

Labor figures are wondering out aloud how replacing unionists with
unionists will revitalise their party. The Liberals, of course, are keen to
contribute to this debate, too. They should have a look at their own ranks,
state and federal.

At the start of the Howard decade, political professionals were
considered suspect when they presented themselves for preselection. Today, a
former Howard Cabinet staffer, Greg Hunt, is already a Parliamentary secretary.

Hunt’s pretty good value. Most ministerial advisers are. That’s what
makes looking at the Crikey lists of where more than 300 former staffers from
the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments are so interesting.

You’ll find many of them are involved in politics – but as high
flying,
high paid government/corporate/public affairs professionals. There,
they almost form a shadow parliament – leaving the real thing to
the party hacks, lackeys, timeservers and placemen.

Peter Fray

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