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Shorten, Turnbull and four-year terms

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Federal Opposition Leader Shorten and Prime Minister Turnbull (screen shot via @7NewsBrisbane).

Four-year terms don't ensure good government, they only create more self-serving opportunities for career politicians, writes Michael Clanchy.

FEDERAL OPPOSITION LEADER Bill Shorten has proposed constitutional change to institute four-year fixed terms for the electoral cycle. 

He argues the proposal will make both parties “more daring”.  

Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull "signalled support" for the Labor leader’s plan — on the very same day, mind you.

Lightning consensus has arrived between the leaders of the two major parties — and you don’t need to be Einstein to guess why. In brief, Shorten believes he is a reasonable bet in the next poll and Turnbull would like another four years if he surprises with a comeback but won’t be around to worry if he loses. 

For Turnbull, there may even be an unconscious tinge of payback for the next Liberal opposition leader — after all the pain he has been handed by his own party as PM. Who would ever know?

Shorten’s dubious proposal for four-year terms has merit, but merit only as a timely reminder of another important reform needed to improve the standards and outcomes of the Parliament. This latter reform is putting an end to the self-serving careerist politician.

The reform proposal is simple — two terms and out they go. 

Governing the nation and one’s fellow citizens should not be a personal career. It should be a public service, open to a wider range of citizens according to the electoral process.

Furthermore, three year terms are long enough for elected citizens to be comprehensively advised by the full range of experts, consult thoroughly in their electorates and make considered decisions in the interests of the national community.

The current stagnation of policy formation and implementation in government is due to the incessant politicking, tactics and public relations ploys to win advantage. And don’t forget all those countless hours of intrigue within party factions. Career politicians are those who tend to be drawn to this kind of intrigue, to increase their power within the party and entrench their longevity. It all becomes a frenetic business of self-service, while effective policy and progress meander nowhere.

Don’t be fooled by the propagandist arguing that losing parliamentary members with many years of experience presents a serious threat to good government. All democratically elected parliamentary members have at their disposal a full range of global information, advice and opinion, as well as full access to the views and ideas of their local constituents. These should be the primary sources to guide their deliberations and decisions for the nation. 

Unfortunately, most career pollies tend to gravitate to their mates in factions — a tendency which can result in a pooling of ignorance and prejudice, as well as increased consideration of self-service opportunities.

Many citizens would already have made their own judgments on career politicians and limits to tenure. But on a long, slow summer’s day, a few more may use the time to consult the public record on members exceeding two terms. They may then feel in a better position to judge whether they would wish to retain this collective group or tell them “where to get off”.

Post-Script

'Senior Turnbull Ministers pour cold water on fixed four-year terms for Parliament.'

It looks like the top Liberals are feeling neither “lucky” nor “daring” about the next election.

Michael Clanchy is a management and policy development consultant and has authored books including Good Bosses, Bad Bosses: Surviving at Work. Publishers of his feature articles include BRW, The Age, The Brisbane Courier Mail and The West Australian.

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