MY YOUNGEST daughter has recently formed an obsession with a cartoon show called How to Train Your Dragon. It's a fun show with some simple metaphors for life and coexistence which is pretty harmless.
On the odd occasion we sit together to watch, it strikes me that my six-year-old is learning some interesting points from these shows that have real world parallels.
We have discussed the finer points of training anything and particularly the issues of being consistent, only rewarding desired behaviour and being firm and timely in any reprimand. In relation to working animals it is also important that you don’t let emotional attachment bias your assessment of their performance and value to the enterprise.
There are a few lessons here to be applied in the context of modern politics as well. At the end of the day, politicians and bureaucrats are public servants and it is vitally important that we provide a consistent reinforcement of their place, we only reward desired behaviour and that we issue timely reprimands when they step out of line.
“Despite of the charade of humility, too many politicians have forgotten that they are in fact servants of their electorate”
The first point here - consistent reinforcement of their place - is perhaps one of the greatest hurdles. It is essential that there are clear definitions of master and servant in the political relationship.
It is so apparent these days that despite of the charade of humility, too many politicians have forgotten that they are in fact servants of their electorate. Elected politicians are not our rulers, they are servants of the people and morally obliged to give primacy to their constituents needs. There are neither constitutional nor moral grounds for an elected politician to forego their obligations to their electorate in favour of any Party’s directive.
The second point is perhaps the most common failure point in how we train our politicians: we are prone to rewarding poor behaviour. Too often we trust people or parties with our vote in spite of the fact that they have failed to honour their previous commitments or have failed to represent the interests of the electorate honestly, instead favouring political expedience for the sake of their party.
“There is value in destabilising political tenure because it prevents political complacency”
For democracy to work, it's important that people use their vote to demonstrate satisfaction or dissatisfaction. There is actually value in destabilising political tenure because it prevents political complacency and opens opportunities for more - and more able - candidates to participate.
The third point is important: a punishment is only useful in training if the subject can relate the punishment specifically to the aberrant behaviour. It is no good belting your dog at the end of the day for misdemeanours early in the day, because the poor old dog just won’t know why it is being punished.
This goes for politicians too, with many of them confused as to why they have “suddenly” fallen from grace - often their superficial, short-term brains can’t see the bigger picture.
It is all well and good to be critical of the political process and condemn it for its vacuous nature and politically correct mantra, but we have in fact permitted it for so long it has become the norm.
Sadly, we now need a lot more from our political systems to underpin a viable future, particularly as we see a global trend of economic downturn against the contrast of our current levels of debt. In rural and regional Australia we contribute the largest share of the nation’s wealth, while we receive grossly disproportionate levels of investment and support.
“It is time we adopted a much more commercial attitude to selecting and training our politicians”
On the farm we understand the difference between a pet dog and working dog. The working dog is an asset that adds value to our business and the pet is something that buys favour with the kids. The working dog knows its place and generally only serves one master effectively. We provide a safe and consistent environment for the working dog to ensure it is well primed to do its job.
It is time we adopted a much more commercial attitude to selecting and training our politicians.
We need to assert our position as boss in the relationship and enforce that the electorate takes precedence over any Party allegiance. We need to stop rewarding a failure to keep promises and honour commitments by Parties and politicians individually. We need to be very clear about the kind of behaviour we won’t tolerate.
Some of the behaviour of our representatives is breathtaking - I was stunned by the audacity of one particular Nationals candidate I met. He disingenuously apologised on several occasions about the failures of his Party to meet community expectations and honour its promises from the last election and then in the next breath said it would be different next term. He offered up almost the exact same raft of promises to resolve the issues for this election. It did not seem to occur to him that the betrayal of the previous election promises was even an issue to be remorseful or concerned about.
If he was one of my dogs so profoundly failing to do his job, I would have “rehomed” him.
The truth is that the Nationals, generally, have bitten the hand that feeds them in NSW. They have abused our trust and failed to address the generational decline in agriculture that is now strangling regional communities. They have engaged in political expedience through an unconditional commitment to the Liberal Party in Coalition. This is a most profound betrayal of rural people and treachery that cannot be condoned any more.
The problem with the Nationals seems to be in the pedigree, and many seem to have been tarred with the same brush. We need new political blood in the electorate to broaden the political gene pool and broaden the political choice.
Your vote is valuable and your decision on who to store it with until the next election is how you simultaneously reward and punish candidates and or parties. Use it carefully and purposefully.