The view from Billinudgel

A rogue’s gallery
As the number of withdrawn candidates mounts, so too does public cynicism

Former One Nation Senate candidate Steve Dickson.  AAP Image / Mick Tsikas

Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, a novel about a quest for untold, unearned wealth, was also an acute observer of politics. He once declared: “Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.”

Of course that was back in the United Kingdom, in the 19th century – but it still essentially applies to Australian politics in 2019. Nowadays the major parties aim to help their potential candidates unravel the mysteries of the parliamentary system of government, but there is no guarantee of success – high flyers in other fields regularly crash and burn; Malcolm Turnbull is only the most spectacular recent example.

Surely, after last year’s traumas over section 44 of the Constitution, you would expect a modicum of due diligence with an election looming. And with social media proving to be a rich source of evidence of behaviour that is out of step with community standards, this is doubly so. But no – even when nominations have closed and how-to-vote cards have been printed, they have been dropping like flies.

Among the most egregious was the ridiculous Steve Dickson, forgiven by Pauline Hanson after courting NRA money to subvert Australian gun laws, but not for groping a stripper: apparently lechery trumps treachery.

But the rot is not only eroding the fringe parties; the majors have also proven to be incapable of managing the most elementary checks. There have been more potential breaches of section 44, and damaging internet posts have been unearthed. A handful of candidates have already fallen, with the near certainty of more in the final frantic fortnight of the campaign.

Most, if not all, have had it coming: Wayne Kurnorth, a Labor Senate candidate in the Northern Territory, who shared a conspiracy theory that claimed the world is under the sway of Jewish shape-shifting lizards, is clearly not just unsuitable but also quite possibly deranged. Peter Killin, the Liberal candidate for Wills, lamented that he was unable to vote against the preselection of colleague and “notorious homosexual” Tim Wilson, whose “homosexual lifestyle” Killin regarded as carrying “appalling health risks”. 

How they, and others, got through the net proves that it has holes bigger than those in the Coalition’s tax policies. True, they were preselected in seats that they had almost no hope of winning, but they were candidates for parties that aspired to rule Australia. How can this happen?

Well, quite easily, it appears. Obviously they did not declare their misdemeanours, and those in charge did not bother to do the research. Their apparatchiks were too busy digging for dirt on their opponents to worry about their own vulnerabilities. Karma, perhaps, but it does not help the rising tide of cynicism, the belief that politics has become less about the national interest and more about protecting and rewarding the elite few.

Stevenson, in his day, was criticising inexperience and incompetence. What we are seeing today is not just sloppiness (although there is plenty of that) but also something that is viewed by many as a broader erosion of standards – and without the cheerful amorality of Long John Silver.

Of course Stevenson also wrote the terrible parable of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. So perhaps the candidates and their minders would be wise to first engage in a more honest examination of their darker sides before embarking on the search for the treasures of office. We can do without those who have been exposed, but the ones who have not are far more worrying.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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