MARK Latham’s warning to young people to keep out of politics will only damage our democracy.
My advice is: if you’re thinking of entering politics, do it. Here are ten good reasons why …
1. Canberra isn’t the nest of vipers Mark Latham makes out. I worked as a political professional in Canberra for three Labor leaders over six years, and while some ‘insiders’ are as bad as Mark Latham describes, they’re the minority. This is particularly true of the staff, on both sides, who can be among the most idealistic, hardworking and committed people you could ever meet.
2. Journalists are not as bad as Mark Latham says. For every member of the Canberra Press Gallery who feeds off gossip, there’s another of unimpeachable integrity and professionalism — people like Michelle Grattan, who want to get to get it right. The best journalists of all political leanings are committed to three things above all else: the truth, freedom of speech and democracy. Search them out, keep their company and avoid the rest; it’s not that hard.
3. Reformers should take democracy seriously. One of the reasons why politics allows in so many cynics, mediocrities and machine men is that too often the good depart the field, thinking politics and the pursuit of power somehow beneath them. In a democracy, contesting power is a legitimate vocation. Idealists have to remember this and think positively about what they can achieve by gaining office. It wasn’t easy for Whitlam and it wasn’t easy for Howard but they’ve changed the country.
4. If you opt to join a pressure group instead of seeking office, guess who you’ll be trying to influence. That’s right, politicians. By getting elected or working in Canberra you can influence things directly. That’s why good people should be encouraged to enter politics. Peter Garrett, Environment Minister — sounds like a good idea to me. But first make something of your life in the outside world. Garrett’s over 50 but his idealism is intact.
5. Your party needs you. Mark Latham’s criticisms of Labor factionalism and the culture it breeds are spot on; they’re what many of us have been saying and writing for years. Similar things can also be said about the Liberals and Nationals despite their success in Canberra. Who’s going to clean out the stables if a new generation opts to stay at home? Join an internal party democracy movement. They exist. They need you.
6. There’s so much that needs to be done. Who got the children out of detention? Who freed the long-term detainees? Courageous Canberra politicians! Who’s going to pass laws to cut greenhouse emissions? Who’s going to get justice for our indigenous people? You! No one else can do it.
7. Nelson Mandela was an elected politician. Mandela could have died of remorse on Robben Island or opted for the quiet life bouncing his great grandchildren on his knee. No one would have blamed him. But he didn’t and hasn’t. He shows that idealists can change the world if they really try. It’s possible to succeed in politics and keep your integrity intact.
8. The two-party system may be bad but it’s all we’ve got. Imagine how much different the world would be if people like Ralph Nader hadn’t convinced a few thousand people in a couple of states that Al Gore was just as bad as the other bloke. Read Gore’s speeches today and weep. The idea that there’s no difference between the parties today is wrong. And anyway, with our preferential voting system you can make it a three-party system without delivering power to the people you disagree with the most.
9. No one said it would be easy. Politics is a bit like religion and all the great religions know that the road is long and hard. Think of Xanana Gusmao’s 25 years in the jungle and prison. He’s now President of his nation. Success in politics takes courage, moral integrity and sacrifice. Everyone is weak and temptations lead most astray, but the rewards for you and those you want to help can be great.
10. Politics can be enormously fun and satisfying. Just so I don’t sound like a killjoy, politics can be thrilling and exciting as well as uplifting. You won’t make a fortune although the pay is OK. You’ll get to see plenty of Australia and, if you’re lucky, other countries as well. You’ll get to meet the most extraordinary people, become a minor expert in a hundred and one areas of policy and develop skills that will hold you in good stead for the rest of your life. You’ll get to see the big issues of the day unfold or even make the vital decisions yourself. People will want to talk to you at parties. I’m no longer directly involved in Canberra politics but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and neither should you.
Dennis Glover is a Melbourne author and speechwriter who has worked for numerous Labor politicians in Canberra and Spring Street (Parlt, Vic).
The Canberra Club