Few of Australia’s learned parliamentarians are better equipped to face the Canberra bureaucracy than Luke Howarth, the unassuming member for Petrie on Brisbane’s northern fringes. Howarth is an expert in pest control, a skill many would encourage him to use as a parliamentarian. His Grade 3 Certificate qualifies him for membership of an elite group of nine parliamentarians with a trade rather than a profession.
Source: Nick Cater, News Corp
Labor’s song is unchanged: we’re part of the union
Seven of them sit on the Coalition benches and two belong to Labor, according to an analysis of the backgrounds of MPs and senators by the Menzies Research Centre.
The number of parliamentary tradies might have reached double figures if the LNP had not fallen 615 votes short of winning Wayne Swan’s old seat of Lilley in May.
Canberra would have been a richer place for the arrival of Brad Carswell, the defeated LNP candidate, a tree lopper by trade who knows how to use a chainsaw.
The representation of women in federal parliament has been a matter of debate since Federation. The representation of tradies, small-business operators or truck drivers, however, has not. Minority groups such as these get no points in the hierarchy of the oppressed.
For decades we were taught that race, gender or one’s sexual preferences should not play any part in determining one’s suitability for employment or fitness for high office.
Today we are told they matter a lot and that appointments, remuneration and preselection for parliament should be constrained by quotas.
The Labor Party introduced women’s quotas in 1994. The quality of the candidates thus elected is a subjective judgment, but if it was designed to help Labor win elections one would have to say it’s been something of a failure. Labor has secured an outright parliamentary majority in only one of the nine subsequent elections.
A quota for tradies, perhaps, might have been a better way to keep Labor in touch with those men and women whose votes it has lost in the past 25 years.
Labor once controlled electoral booths where people turn up in a ute. At the last election the suburbs and towns where workers abound swung to the Liberals, Nationals or One Nation. In 1998, when Pauline Hanson was a relative newcomer to the political scene, a typical One Nation voter was a Coalition deserter. At the last election the typical Hanson follower deserted Labor and pushed preferences towards the Coalition.
One in four parliamentarians has virtually no work experience outside politics or the trade union movement. Yet this is not the lack of diversity in parliament of which Guardian readers complain in their denunciation of the patriarchy. In their minds, the trouble with people like Howarth and Carswell is their stubborn refusal to acknowledge their privilege, a habit they might have acquired had they been to university, which thankfully for the rest of us they have not.
These are early days yet, but there seems to be a healthy increase in the number of members in the commonsense faction after the May federal election. They are people who think of the world in practical terms and who are untroubled by grand theories.
It is probably no coincidence that Jim Molan’s return to the Senate takes the number of parliamentarians with military experience to 18, the largest for some years. Eleven are members of the Coalition, including Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, the first woman in the Army Reserve to be promoted to brigadier.
Phil Thompson, the new member for Herbert, was badly injured by an improvised explosive device in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan 10 years ago in the service of his country. Vince Connelly, the member for Stirling, also took part in active service overseas.
To read their maiden speeches is to recognise that these are serious people. They who are unlikely to be cowed by finger-wagging.
By any objective measure, the people who work in parliament are a poor mirror of the country as a whole. The staffers are overwhelmingly young and highly educated, leaving the politicians they advise vulnerable to Millennial groupthink. Bill Shorten might not have threatened to rob retirees of their savings if his advisers had been a little more mature in years.
There is an uncanny sameness to their education. Some 45 per cent of federal politicians have degrees in human sciences, a statistic one suspects is not so very different from that of the journalists who report on them.
Ensuring diversity of background is more important than ticking boxes. As we saw last week with the defeat of the Ensuring Integrity Bill, lack of diversity matters. There are 35 parliamentarians with a union background and all of them, it comes as no surprise to learn, are on the Labor side. Every Labor member relies on funds from the union movement, making it the most effective vested interest in the parliament.
A law that makes unions accountable for thuggish and unlawful behaviour by its officials would pass without fuss in a parliament skewed in a less egregious manner.
In a finely balanced parliament, however, it was the decisive factor in killing the bill. The unions, which are effectively cash-rich, tax-free corporations with only tenuous links to the working class, ensured that their interests prevailed above those of the national interest.
Labor likes to claim it is the party of diversity, along with compassion, fairness and all other virtuous nouns that mean what you choose them to mean, neither more nor less.
Its slavish ties to a union movement representing just 14 per cent of the workforce speaks of a worrying sameness pervading its ranks.
Nick Cater is executive director of the Menzies Research Centre.