Game’s over - we’re watching you
IF you don't show up to vote in Australia on Election Day, you can expect to get a fine in the mail. Voting in this country is compulsory. But politicians listening to voters? Apparently that's voluntary.
What we've learnt these past few years, culminating with this week's leadership spill, is that in Australia the rules that the rest of us have to live by don't seem to apply to politicians.
That they haven't lived up to their side of the bargain has led to the diminishing of our faith, not just in our political parties, but in our political institutions and the system as a whole. It's taken us to a dangerous place, where people shrug their shoulders and have given up caring, when really, we should care more than ever before.
Australians are sick of leadership spills, but our dissatisfaction runs deeper than that. We're sick of the whole political game. Because although it's a game for the politicians - tallying numbers like a scoreboard at the footy - for the rest of us, real life goes on.
Farmers suffering through drought? That's real life, not a game.
Pensioners shivering through winter because they're terrified of their heating bill for using their heater? That's real life, not a game.
Young people who'll never afford a home in a major city? That's real, too.
This week's leadership spill is only the latest chapter in our recent political history where we've seen that the real-life consequences experienced by the rest of us just don't apply to politicians.
This past year, 15 members of parliament either resigned or were ruled ineligible by the High Court because they didn't follow the rules and had failed to renounce their foreign citizenships. Not one or two. Fifteen. Careless with their paperwork and responsibility, they were still paid for the time they sat in Parliament without legitimacy. They didn't have to pay back a cent. Their ineptitude cost us millions in by-elections and High Court hearings.
Ask someone who's had their Centrelink payments overpaid how eagerly the government claws it back. Every last dollar and all the cents too. One rule for politicians, another rule for everyone else.
In June, politicians got a pay rise taking their base salaries to just under $200,000. It kicked in the same day that penalty rates were cut. Regular workers haven't seen wage growth in years. One rule for politicians, another rule for everyone else.
But it's not just unfairness and inequality that has politicians on the nose.
The broken system that they can take advantage of is a huge part of the problem.
Look at the Senate. At the ballot box, we're handed papers so enormous and confusing they can't possibly be read. Out of confusion, most people just put a "1" above the line and hope for the best, their votes decided by party preference deals.
Senators get voted in on party tickets, and then switch parties anyway. Cory Bernardi made sure he was on the Liberals ticket in 2016. Once in, he served briefly as an independent, before starting his own party, Australian Conservatives. No one has ever voted for this party in the Senate, yet it has its own Senator. Five other senators have also switched parties after being elected and there's nothing we can do. How is that fair?
In the House of Representatives, we've become used to the leadership spills that decide who'll be the prime minister. Never mind who was the leader at the election, they'll change their minds on a whim anyway. New leaders bring new policies, of course. These days, we never get what we were originally sold. If a small business does that to a customer, they end up at consumer affairs. Again, its one rule for politicians, another rule for everyone else.
Friday's vote didn't resolve the leadership issue, it just spat out another prime minister to hold the fort until the next one. We know that by now. The same politicians and commentators who circled the ousted Malcolm Turnbull will circle Scott Morrison. They won't think twice about it.
And even if he isn't torn down before an election, neither he, nor a Labor leader either, can promise with any real conviction that they'll deliver the policies they offer to us. We're used to a system now where trust has been obliterated. We've seen the switch played on us time and time again. For them it's a game, for us it's real life.
If there is one positive of this week, and these years of chaos, it's that we can better see their true colours. We see our leaders standing beside a friend one day who they'll throw to the wolves the next, for their own self-interest, vanity, ego or narcissism. We know now they will only pull the knife from the back of one colleague to plunge it into another. They couldn't be more disingenuous, they couldn't be more disloyal. If they're disloyal to friends, what chance do we have of them being loyal to us? Our job now, having been scorned so frequently, is not to shrug our shoulders and look away, but to look closer.
"We've all got to live by the rules in this country," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in his first press conference yesterday.
We live by the rules, but all too frequently, he and his colleagues don't.
The first step to mending the system, will be politicians showing us they can live by them too. They'll be judged by their actions, not by their words.
Chris Urquhart is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @chrisurquhart