Belinda Neal may be a particularly unpleasant individual but Julia Irwin has a point. If the standards applied to her are applied to all politicians, then our counselling industry is in for a boom.
As to whether Neal is copping it because of her gender, well, that’s a bit more debatable. Undoubtedly Ms Neal’s behaviour is more ladette than lady-like, and doubtless draws more attention than it would if she were male. But Julia Gillard, the closest thing this Parliament now has to a Paul Keating, manages to channel her political aggression very effectively, while apparently behaving impeccably outside the chamber.
That Ms Neal is married to a powerful politician confuses the gender issue, as well. How much is she in the House of Representatives on her merits, and how much because of her husband?
But politics does not, as a rule, attract particularly pleasant people. To be a successful politician you need a massive ego, and a vicious streak. Politicians are usually the sort of people you try to avoid in real life, because they’re not nice to be around. They do, however, have the willingness, the enthusiasm, the commitment, to give public life, with all its demands and stresses and abuse, a go. Usually because they believe in making a difference. Or at least they do when they start off. And those two characteristics, ego and commitment, almost invariably are bound together.
History’s archetypal politician is LBJ, a man who sprang from somewhere deep in the American psyche, raw and unpolished. LBJ was, by all accounts, a vile human being, entirely incapable of seeing other people in any other terms than as objects to be used. He was also one of the most compassionate and successful politicians of his age, the Great Legislator who achieved historic breakthroughs on civil rights and poverty relief. You couldn’t have had one without the other.
Most politicians are — thankfully — a tamer version of the same phenomenon. But when you have an environment like the NSW ALP, where aggression and a willingness to engage in knock-down-drag-out fights are prerequisites, don’t be surprised if the politicians who emerge from it aren’t exactly the most delightful social company.
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Neal’s real problem is that she doesn’t appear to have accomplished anything during her time in politics. There’s no record to justify tolerating her temperament. Then again, the bloke she dislodged, Jim Lloyd, wasn’t much better. Lloyd says he is being urged to stand against Neal at the next election. Lloyd fluked his way into the last Howard Ministry as Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, and his primary achievement in that job was the Tumbi Creek funding farce. Lloyd was also the worst possible duty minister to be stuck with if you were introducing a bill into Parliament, because he had trouble reading even the simplest second reading speech into Hansard.
If people get the politicians they deserve, that doesn’t say much about the good folk of the electorate of Robertson.
And speaking of unpleasant politicians, Mark Latham returned to the op-ed pages of the AFR today to continue berating his favourite enemies, “Australia’s aspirational class” who, “with their heavily-mortgaged McMansions and four-wheel drive tank-cards” are insatiable for Government support. Early in the year, Latham told his well-heeled readers that the aspirationals deserve to be belted with punitive interest rate rises to cure them of consumerism. Since then, the Reserve Bank has jacked up rates a couple of times. Clearly not enough for Latham’s liking.
At least they have a job, Mark.