Barnaby, Turnbull and #BonkBan: Parliament is now officially a joke

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(Image via @danilic)

Turnbull's #BonkBan is beyond parody but the general lack of accountability among our politicians is no longer funny, says Noely Neate.

AUSTRALIAN POLITICS has officially now become a joke and considering former PM Tony Abbott brought us "knights and dames", that's saying something.

I’m guilty of laughing off #BonkBan, though, having worked in the corporate world in another life, find nothing shocking about an obvious conflict of interest policy in the workplace — pretty much a no-brainer.

But our politicians, ministers no less, are considered to be so lacking in judgement they need specific wording in the Ministerial Code of Conductadvising that they will lose their jobs if they have sex with staff, is beyond parody. The likes of The Chaser boys and The Shovel should be chatting to solicitors about Prime Minister Turnbull muscling in on their satirical territory.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce then came out swinging. At home, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that Barnaby Joyce was making his last stand on the hill of his right to bonk his staff in privacy? This is, of course, after we had all the debate over when is a relationship a capital "R" relationship, rubbish?

This is our Government. This is the sort of behaviour we have been getting from the two most powerful men in this nation: our Prime Minister and our Deputy Prime Minister?

Depending on where you live, what you consider the priority of government should be, may differ. One thing we all seem to agree upon, reinforced by the Turnbull Government's recent soap opera, is that we have little respect for our Government and elected representatives. That common refrain in the pub, they are all mongrels or my personal favourite, they are only in it for themselves, has never been a more apt description of Canberra.

We seem to be stuck in a vicious cycle. Poor voting decisions, resulting in poor politicians – rhetorically speaking obviously, as they all seem to do rather well for themselves, just not for us – but we are also fed poor information which impedes our decision making.

Barnaby Joyce trying to wriggle off the Ministerial Code of Conduct hook is just the last politician in a conga line of pollies who always try to be unaccountable due to loopholes, or weasel words. Be it some code of conduct, conflict of interest, misleading Parliament, entitlements, register of interests, donations — you name it. The list is long as the behaviour of too many with questionable behaviour and lack of personal responsibility.

Call me old-fashioned, but I remember back in the day, if a pollie did something that constituted a "bad look" and didn’t pass the "pub test", they pretty much hung their head in shame and tried to retain some dignity by stepping down from the role, or resigning totally — it wasn’t lawyers at ten paces.

Joyce's freebie rent is a perfect example. Sure, it may be legit, but it smells. Punters are thinking, a mate gives a mate a free room for a few weeks if they are struggling, not a free luxury unit for six months. Hell, if Joyce can’t afford a unit for a few months on his sweet wage ($400,000 plus entitlements), then how the hell can he manage the budget of a large ministerial portfolio?

I won’t even start on the jobs for Joyce’s staffer/friend/mistress/partner (depending on when you asked him about Vikki Campion) as we need firm timelines here and it may be perfectly legit, but, again, it smells to high heaven. We sure as hell can’t hit Centrelink and just “strongly assert” all is well, nothing to see here.

Same with the mainstream media. Too often, dodgy behaviour is not reported as "strictly speaking" it could be considered legitimate based on a "technicality". This is not informing the public. Surely they are not so absorbed in "business as usual" in Parliament or that old chestnut, “they all do it” that they feel the public would not be interested? We are interested.

We are particularly interested in politicians thinking and acting like they are our overlords, instead of our employees. We may not be given the full information all the time, or a lot of misinformation – such as ministers getting money from new employers before they have even left Parliament – but our spidey senses tingle, we know something smells.

This has been reflected in the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which showed trust in the Australian Government was a piddling 35 per cent (down two per cent from last year) and trust in Australian media was even worse, at 31 per cent.

So, even though we are being treated like mushrooms and fed excrement, we do instinctively realise we are being fed said excrement.

To be honest, I find those statistics sad. I know quite a few very good, ethical journalists working in difficult commercial circumstances. I also know a few really good MPs and senators who would never take the piss out of their entitlements and really do care about their communities, working a hell of a lot more hours than what they are paid for. Sadly, they appear to the be the minority.

The only way we can achieve better government is for us to expect higher standards and be given better information to demand better.

Noely’s Punters Political/Mainstream Media Wishlist

  • All MPs and Senators to be answerable to their constituents — not just supporters.
  • Entitlements only to be used for work that is actually for a relevant portfolio or electorate — a box at the footy, where we pay your travel is not legit if you are not the Sports Minister.
  • Family travel only valid for, ummm, one family —– looking at you, Barnaby.
  • Make dodgy foundations — all donations should be declared and in next to near real-time. If the Queensland Government can do it, so can the Federal.
  • No MP allowed to vote on a policy they have a conflict of interest on — though this would make any rollback of negative gearing problematic, since so many are feeding from that trough.
  • Commercial interests are not to be put above public interests — if you want a government contract, be accountable to the public; if not, don’t put your hand out to rent-seek.
  • Media accountability — let us know every single time you ask a politician a question and they refuse to answer. Let us know when FOI’s get knocked back. After a few headlines of "Such-and-such department still not answering requests about ... ” people might start to question the legitimacy of that department.
  • Media priority — put public interest rather than access to politicians first.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick to death of politicians making rules for us but never seeming to abide by those same rules and community standards themselves.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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