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How long is too long for our pollies?

By Greg Cornwell - 20 September 2016 7

ACT Legislative Assembly chamber

The October election of an expanded Assembly is an opportune time to raise the question of the optimum length of service of politicians.

In the US, the idea of a job for life has been checked in a number of States by the application of Term Limits, whereby after a certain period the incumbent cannot stand for election again.

This is often three terms, say six years, although longer is not uncommon.  These limits only apply in State, not Federal legislatures.

The argument is compelling if your running for office is to serve the community and your contribution diminishes the longer you stay, blocking younger candidates with fresh ideas.  Perhaps lacking such selfless service the concept of limiting your time has not proven popular in Australia.

With four year terms for the ACT Assembly, three terms of twelve years would be ideal.  This period would allow members to achieve (or not) their reason for seeking election because if you haven’t made it by then, you probably will not. The limit also would restrict time-servers and those being paid off for good and faithful party service.

The proposal could be challenged by those who see genuinely worthwhile members being tossed out before their time, however there are other factors that unhappily influence success.

Preselection committees can be wooed, cashed-up candidates can buy support and legends, particularly sporting, all can be chosen without thought about suitability for politics.

And then there are independents.

A popular independent cannot be replaced by another and while it can be argued the electorate ultimately will make the decision, a forced retirement would need legislative backing, especially as a loner may work harder to hold the seat than someone in a party team.

While term limits cannot only apply to major parties, they would benefit most.

They would overcome keeping people with internal party power too long in a parliament and could avoid bloody preselection fights which do harm.  Problems certainly would arise if say, the Opposition leader’s time was up and victory was close, though no exception is made in this situation in the US.  Also those stepping down might decide not to work or worse, push unpopular party policies because they had nothing to lose.

Nevertheless, turnover of politicians after a decent period of public service would not only rejuvenate politics but also give members an assurance they had a limited term before resuming normal life.  This would overcome a difficulty of politicians staying too long and realising they have no alternative career ahead.  They could confidently plan post-politics.

Criticism of such a proposal may not be as strong as is imagined because an examination of politicians’ periods in office does not usually extend much beyond twelve years anyway.

However, what is needed is a clear understanding backed by legislation that you are there to serve your constituents not yourself, thus cutting short those few who seek to make a career of their temporary position.  The ACT Assembly would be a good place to start.

 

What’s Your opinion?


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7 Responses to
How long is too long for our pollies?
notanimby 11:25 am 21 Sep 16

Not saying that 12 years isn’t too long, I can’t help but comment that politician must be the only job where experience in the role is seen as a downside.

David Pollard 1:30 am 21 Sep 16

justin heywood said :

So good on you and good luck to you.

Thank you.

Yes, Independents struggle to get elected. I’ve been told it is impossible. I think improbable is a more accurate word. Regardless of the chance, I think we would be daft to simply roll over and let the majors have it without putting up a fight.

If anyone wants to help with some letterbox dropping, please let me know 🙂

David Pollard 1:26 am 21 Sep 16

MERC600 said :

I just regret I have no idea where Yerrabi is.

Thanks!
Yerrabi is all of Gungahlin, plus the district of Hall, and the Belconnen suburbs of Kaleen, Giralang, Lawson, McKellar and Evatt.

justin heywood 7:51 pm 20 Sep 16

David Pollard said :

Disclaimer: I’m an independent candidate for Yerrabi

I think more turnover of politicians can be a good thing, but I don’t think term limits are the way to go. Instead, I would like to see the power of incumbency challenged.
At the moment, all candidates have a $40,000 campaign spending cap. I’m not going to get close to that, but each major party will spend close to their cap. I’d like to see the cap for incumbents significantly reduced. If they are doing a good job, let that be half their campaign.
This assembly introduced a bill to take funded spending out of the campaign cap, which will mean that an MLA can send out “mobile office” pamphlets with their face and name all over it and say it isn’t campaign material, it’s just MLA business. I don’t disagree with that bill in principal (I don’t want them to stop doing their job at election time), but it is a significant advantage for incumbents that should be factored in.

From what you say it seems that independents are at a significant disadvantage in trying to win a seat. That’s a pity as I’ve always thought that the Assembly is far too focussed on big party grandstanding at the expense of simply running the town.

I see you have a track record in your community and some independent thoughts, and we need more people like that. So good on you and good luck to you.

MERC600 4:01 pm 20 Sep 16

David Pollard said :

Disclaimer: I’m an independent candidate for Yerrabi

I think more turnover of politicians can be a good thing, but I don’t think term limits are the way to go. Instead, I would like to see the power of incumbency challenged.
At the moment, all candidates have a $40,000 campaign spending cap. I’m not going to get close to that, but each major party will spend close to their cap. I’d like to see the cap for incumbents significantly reduced. If they are doing a good job, let that be half their campaign.
This assembly introduced a bill to take funded spending out of the campaign cap, which will mean that an MLA can send out “mobile office” pamphlets with their face and name all over it and say it isn’t campaign material, it’s just MLA business. I don’t disagree with that bill in principal (I don’t want them to stop doing their job at election time), but it is a significant advantage for incumbents that should be factored in.

Well all the best David. An independent would help make up the mixture.

I just regret I have no idea where Yerrabi is.

David Pollard 12:18 pm 20 Sep 16

Disclaimer: I’m an independent candidate for Yerrabi

I think more turnover of politicians can be a good thing, but I don’t think term limits are the way to go. Instead, I would like to see the power of incumbency challenged.
At the moment, all candidates have a $40,000 campaign spending cap. I’m not going to get close to that, but each major party will spend close to their cap. I’d like to see the cap for incumbents significantly reduced. If they are doing a good job, let that be half their campaign.
This assembly introduced a bill to take funded spending out of the campaign cap, which will mean that an MLA can send out “mobile office” pamphlets with their face and name all over it and say it isn’t campaign material, it’s just MLA business. I don’t disagree with that bill in principal (I don’t want them to stop doing their job at election time), but it is a significant advantage for incumbents that should be factored in.

Garfield 10:00 am 20 Sep 16

So Greg you’re suggesting that:
Brendan Smyth should have left the Assembly in 2010
Vicki Dunne should have left in 2013
Zed Seselja shouldn’t have been standing at this election if he hadn’t already left
That 2016-2020 should be the last term for Jeremy Hanson, Alistair Coe and Steve Doszpot if they’re re-elected

Just thought I’d pick on your own Party first. On the other side of the aisle:
Simon Corbell should have left in 2009
Katie Gallagher should have left in 2013
Mary Porter shouldn’t have been standing this election if she hadn’t already left
Andrew Barr should only have 2 years left
This should be the last term for Joy Burch, Mick Gentleman and Shane Rattenbury if re-elected

So the upshot of what you’re saying is that of the people standing for election in October, only 1 of them has been there too long, and if we look back at 2012, there were only 2 people who shouldn’t have been standing. The Devil’s advocate in me asks if the 12 year limit you’re talking about for the Assembly is necessary.

Now if you were talking about a similar limit in the Federal Parliament, it could be a different picture with people hanging onto safe seats, or using factional power to keep themselves at the top of the Senate ticket for extensive parliamentary careers. Tony Abbott, Christopher Pyne, Kevin Andrews, Eric Abetz, Peter Dutton, George Brandis, Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, Kim Carr, Anthony Albanese, Chris Bowen & Joel Fitzgibbon would all be long gone along with I’m sure many others. Even Malcolm Turnbull is right on the cusp of 12 years. The Federal parliament would be a vey different place.

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