A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit Canberra. The main reason for the visit was to see the exhibition that is currently at the National Gallery of Australia – Gold and the Incas. A word of advice – if you are in Canberra before the 21st of April, do yourself a favour and find 2-3 hours to include it in your itinerary.
One of the days, while doing our touristy thing, we had few hours to kill and so decided to visit the nerve centre, the brain of our government, the place where the decisions making Australia “The Lucky Country” are made.
I am referring of course to Australian Federal Parliament. The complex is impressive – situated on top of a hill it looks elegant and imposing at the same time. Once inside, it’s still pretty impressive, but it also all business – security staff checking people out, some foreign delegations being escorted in, Parliament staff move around with a purposeful look on their faces… The place positively pulsates with energy; you can almost hear Edmund Barton stressing importance of the strong defence in his 1901 speech, or Gough Whitlam telling the Parliament “Australia needs change. Australia needs reform. Australia needs idealism. Australia does not need socialism” in his speech in 1975.
So you can imagine the feeling of anticipation I had as the door into the visitor’s gallery of a House of Representative opened and we quietly stepped in….only to see an almost empty chamber. The Deputy Speaker was there, as were 1 (one) member of Liberal Party and 1 (one) member of a Labor Party. The bubble popped, the feeling of anticipation got replaced by the one of bewilderment.
After listening to the two of them having a go at each other for a while, we walked out and decided that surely in the Senate there will be more activity. We were right. There was more activity, but only marginally. There was a Deputy Speaker, 3 members of Liberal Party, 2 members of Labor Party and 2 members of Greens. What I found incredible, was the fact that one of the Greens was totally engrossed in checking out Facebook on his iPAD.
I walked out of there in disgust. Instead of a hive of activity all I’ve witnessed were few people pretending to care, and one who didn’t even bother to pretend.
Now, I understand that there might be a reason for all the politicians to be absent – some might be busy in subcommittees, some meeting their constituents, others researching something in a Parliament library. But that’s just it – we have no way of actually KNOWING what our elected officials are doing.
What we need is a system that will make them accountable. What we need is a system that will record how many times each of them was present during the sitting of the Parliament, and for how long. We need a system that will record how many times each of them voted and how did he or she cast their vote. I’m not really a whinger, but shouldn’t our elected leaders be accountable to us for everything they do? In my work we have such terms as KPI Key Performance Indicators and OLA Operational Level Agreement. We need something similar introduced for our politicians. If they are missing Parliament without good excuse, they automatically not eligible for re-election. If they vote in a way that contradicts their pre-election promises, they automatically not eligible for re-election.
To put simply, we need a system to keep the bastards honest.