The frustrating and tragic thing about politics today is that most voters aren’t that hard to please. No, really.
They just want the government to do its job, and the Opposition to hold the Government to account. It’s that simple.
Sure, everyone has a different view of what ‘doing its job’ means, but that view doesn’t stray far from a few key essentials: building a strong economy so there are plenty of jobs, providing good quality health and education services, and looking after the elderly, poor and other disadvantaged members of our community.
However parliamentary proceedings this week showed just how far everyday politics has degenerated from that ideal into little more than a marathon session of muck-raking, mud-throwing and arse-covering.
We saw the unintended (though predictable) consequence of Malcolm Turnbull’s well-intentioned ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff, with a spotlight now searching for any other rumoured but forbidden relationships.
This has led to an unedifying round of veiled accusations and counter-innuendo – with Labor pressing the media behind the scenes to expose more ministers (and their staff), and Coalition ministers publicly hitting back to warn the Opposition that it really shouldn’t go there.
This explains – but certainly doesn’t justify – Peter Dutton’s constant references this week to Labor leader Bill Shorten’s ‘affairs’ and Michaelia Cash’s foray into gutter politics.
Senator Cash reportedly threatened to name women in Bill Shorten’s office who allegedly were the subject of salacious rumours because she suspected that questions about her new chief of staff were a dirt-digging exercise by Labor to uncover whether the staffer had been moved from another minister’s office.
If this was the case, Senator Cash should have exposed Labor’s grubby motivations rather than lash out with a threat; by trying to protect one innocent woman from being smeared, she ended up slandering a whole bunch of them instead.
If that behaviour wasn’t unedifying enough, this week also showed that when politicians aren’t pursuing their mutual destruction, they’re living the high life on the taxpayer dollar or scrambling to cover their arses when those indulgences come to light.
This week’s update on parliamentarians’ expenses showed that former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce – whose travel expenses are already being investigated – spent his entire $100,000 printing allowance sending letters to constituents during the 10 week period leading up to the calling of the New England by-election.
Then there’s the Deputy Liberal leader and Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop, who continued to spend oodles of public money so that her boyfriend of three years, David Panton, could travel with her.
However, because Mr Panton doesn’t live with Ms Bishop and is not her ‘partner’, she also continues to refuse to disclose his financial interests on her declaration of pecuniary interests.
There was also an endless parade of leaks, exposes and gotcha moments in the media this week, at least partly as a result of the legitimate debate that arose over the reporting of the Joyce affair.
It appears some media outlets, journalists and commentators have taken that debate as licence to run with any old scurrilous gossip in the name of political transparency.
In reality, the reporting of rumours is only being done in the name of broadcast ratings and online clicks.
News editors go where the audience’s eyeballs take them – and despite voters’ protests that we’re only interested in the ‘rorting not the rooting’, TV ratings would suggest otherwise.
So it seems we are all responsible, at least in part, for the state of politics today. Yes, voters are mere mortals, just like their elected representatives, and they too can be distracted by political dramas. But ultimately voters just want politicians to get on with their job.
Politicians are not doing their job when they obsess over the destruction of their opponents or their place at the trough.
Instead they need to focus on developing and delivering the policies that will meet the modest wishes of Australian voters. It’s that simple.