Looking back to avoid looking forward

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We should not let politicians get away with bringing up ancient scandals, because it helps them avoid dealing with the issues of today, says John Turnbull.

OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS, the Australian political landscape has been marked by accusations, counter accusations, whispered rumours and borderline slander, all about events that happened over twenty years ago.

First came Tony Abbott and his bully-boy behaviour at University, where he may or may not have punched a wall.

A left wing wall, obviously, but a wall all the same.

But perhaps this passion was understandable? He wanted to be President. President of the Student Representative Council, one of the most politically influential bodies this side of the UN (not really). Some might say that this in-your-face approach to such an insignificant political role marked the first steps on a path that Abbott skips merrily down today — that of the smug, self-satisfied political thug.

Now we have Julia and the Union Slush Fund Scandal™, wherein dodgy former Union officials have accused the PM of setting up an illegal fund while working at law firm Slater & Gordon.

Let’s pause for a second and consider a few things.

Lawyers, by job definition, are paid to argue one side of a story — whether they believe that story to be true or not. The entire western legal system is based not on a search for the truth, but on which legal team can mount a better argument around specific points of law*. This essentially means that anyone who has spent time as a lawyer has the ability to work towards a murky, if not outright immoral, goal — as long as it fits within the bounds of legality.  Few, if any, non-fictional lawyers can walk the path of Atticus Finch, righteous and fierce in their pursuit of the truth.

Lawyers are also more likely than any other profession to enter politics. According to a Congressional Research Service survey taken a few years, around 43% of U.S. Congress and 60% of the U.S. Senate is made up of lawyers. Can anyone else see the problem here? Around half of U.S. politicians are trained to look at the truth not as an absolute, rather as something that can be moulded and bent to their will or that of their constituents.

As long as we keep electing former lawyers to positions of power, we should expect a few skeletons in the closet.

Did Julia Gillard do something questionable twenty years ago when she was working as a lawyer?  Possibly.  Was Tony Abbott an aggressive git before he appeared on national TV wearing budgie smugglers? Probably.  Does it really matter today? Probably not.

There are bigger problems that the Australian Government (and more importantly the Australian media) should be addressing. Climate change. Refugee processing. Gun crime. Countless other issues which appear below the fold, because the headlines are all about ancient scandals.

Looking back works great for politicians, because it means they don’t have to address the issues that exist in the here and now. Don’t let them get away with it.

*For a deeper and far more disturbing analysis read Our Corrupt Legal System by Evan Whitton.

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