This coming March 26 is a day to think laterally
"If you know where the bodies are buried on both sides, and you are prepared to expose where the bodies are buried, and you decline offers to be an assistant minister, a speaker and a member of a political party - they really don't know how to handle you". (Ruth Richmond in her biography of John Hatton AO.)
Last June, a handful of concerned people and myself set-up a public meeting in a club south of Sydney. The key speaker was to be the real-life character who John Waters had played the previous week in the TV series Underbelly. We thought we should strike while the iron was hot.
He gave the same performance he had been giving at several other localities - and had it off-pat. At age 77, and a National Trust nominated Australian Living Treasure, John Hatton has come out of retirement - and he is on a mission. He wants a public fed-up with the self-serving antics of the major parties to support in future elections, those independents who are committed to fighting corruption.
Is that wise? Afterall, I can still picture the very wise Bob Hawke staring into a TV camera advising us that a vote for an independent was a wasted vote.
Ted Mack, the independent member for the North Shore, was a mate of Hatton's. As a protest against the excesses of public office, Mack retired two days before he qualified for a parliamentary pension worth $1 million (that's in 1988 dollars). He refused the gold pass and has never taken an overseas trip at public expense.
That is the type of person the old comrade believed that we would be wasting our vote on. So, Bob wasn't thinking of integrity when he gave us his advice - he was thinking of who gets the power.
Since the idealistic Whitlam government did itself in, both major parties at both federal and state level have become philosophically close to the centre. Nevertheless, the job of the front rows in parliament is to be in perpetual combat. The backbenchers are there to put their hands up when votes are to be counted. That can't be very satisfying for them. So, why are they there?
If a parliamentary seat can be sat in for two terms, the life-long benefits are truly sweet. But, to get to the money, one needs money. That means getting Labor or Coalition endorsement of one's candidacy. The journey to the sweetness might require sacrificing a few formally unshakable principles.
The independents who pay for their own campaigns to correct what they believe to be wrongs, must have an extraordinarily deep feeling for this country. His biographer, Ruth Richmond, described the independent member for the South Coast's difficult personality as being:
….in stark contrast to those who had come into parliament to ride the gravy train, to disembark when their pension was at its peak - asking no questions about the direction of the train, how it was powered or who fell in its path.
Life as a square peg in a round hole
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