Saturday, 7 September 2013

I cannot remember

my parents voting when I was a small child. They must have done it in the country town I was born in and then in the city where we lived before my father was sent out to a succession of rural schools.
I do remember the state election held when I entered the secondary section of the big "area" (rural) school my father was in the process of setting up for the Education Department.
I remember it because the local Member of Parliament came to see us. I can also remember him joking with my father about having his vote. He was a very popular representative and held the seat by a huge margin but he never took his position for granted. He got on well with my father and did a great deal to support the new school which, like any new venture, was in need of it.
The same man later wrote me the reference I needed to enter teacher training college. We had left the district by then - my father was sorting out problems in yet another school - but he had not forgotten us. I saw him outside Parliament House one day. He stopped to speak to me and found out I had applied for entry to a a teacher training college. A couple of weeks later there was a letter in the post. It was a copy of a letter he had sent the college principal recommending me. His apparently casual question had not been casual at all.
Since then I have known other politicians, a great many politicians. They have been of all political persuasions. I have never agreed with all that any of them have had to say. Some of them are no longer alive, others are no longer parliament, some of them are still working although not necessarily as politicians. A politician who makes his or her mark rarely fully retires. They will always be in demand for committee work, for advisory bodies, for community events, on the speakers' circuit and so on.
The politician who wrote that first reference for me did not live long enough to do that. He retired due to ill-health at the end of a term and died a short time later. I always felt sorry he did not have the enjoyment of at least semi-retirement back on his farm. He would have continued to work for a community which clearly meant a great deal to him.
Most people I speak to do not, unless they belong to a political party, know their local member of parliament. Our local state member was in the local shopping centre last week. He often goes over there for lunch if he's in his electorate office. He tries to meet people there and talk to them. It's difficult. He mentioned this to me once when he first started out in the position. He stopped to speak to me the other day. It wasn't about anything particularly important, just casual chat between acquaintances.
"I couldn't do that," someone told me after he had walked on.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Well he's our MP!"
"Yes, we elected him to do a job. It's his job to talk to us and do what we ask of him."
They could not see that. Perhaps that's the problem. We need to stop treating our politicians as special, important people. They are there to represent us. They are, as the Senior Cat puts it, "servants not masters". We should treat them with the respect due to them as human beings not with the false respect all too often given them because of their position.


Sue Bursztynski said...

The trouble is, far too many of them do forget they're supposed to be our servants. The only time you see them is just before an election. And they think that just because someone voted them in they can do what they like. I believe no one should be allowed to stand for office until they have worked in a job completely outside politics for several years, preferably not running their own business, which might result in a conflict of interest. There are so many out there who join a party at university, work in the member of choice's office and then stand for office next election, without having ever known anything but politics. One of the local candidates in my area looked like he was barely out of high school!

Anonymous said...

I have known a few politicians and have found them to be very human. All of them deserved some level of respect and in general put in long hours.

I now live in a large electorate and haven't met either state or federal members, but I haven't been involved with anything with any political overtones in this area. I don't expect to meet either of them unless I mix in different circles or need to contact them.

I don't expect them to knock on my door every five minutes, and think it is unreasonable for people to expect them to speak to all their constituents, particularly in country areas where they may have to travel 4 or more hours to get from their home to a distant corner of the electorate. I do expect them to make themselves available as much as possible, and to let people know when they will be in an area, respond to letters, email and phone calls as required, but I don't expect them to do the impossible.

The only time I have asked for help, I spoke to office staff, and without bothering the boss who was in Canberra as parliament was sitting they told me what to say when I went back to the office I was dealing with. I didn't have to tell them to go jump, but nearly had to catch them on the way down! Very difficult to keep a straight face!