23 February 2022

When did politics become all about winning?

| Zoya Patel
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David Pocock advertisement

David Pocock has demonstrated passion but does he have the skills to be a senator? Photo: Region Media.

It’ll surprise absolutely no one that I’m a cynic when it comes to politics, and according to some of my regular readers, I am a miserable, negative ‘queen of the stirrers’, Canberra’s ‘whiner-in-chief’ etc etc.

But what will surprise some of you is that, despite accusations to the contrary, I have zero interest in ever running for politics.

And looking at the state of play ahead of this year’s federal election when it comes to ACT’s Senate candidates, I feel very justified in my cynicism when I say that these days, politics is all about winning, promoting the privileged and popular over others regardless of their comparable skill sets.

Take a look at the announced candidates running for the Senate.

I have basically no interest in candidates from major parties, as their backgrounds and abilities are largely irrelevant given they’ll be toeing the party line if elected. But many Canberrans have expressed delight at former rugby player David Pocock running as an independent candidate, alongside Dr Kim Rubenstein, also running as an independent.

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Here is where my cynicism is likely to alienate. I have no doubt that David Pocock has immense capacity to contribute to our community. He’s demonstrated a passion for key issues like climate change, diversity and inclusion. But I also don’t think that he, compared with other Senate candidates, has the experience to be a senator.

Yet, in the conversations I’ve had with friends and family, those who share the progressive values I espouse, everyone is determined to vote for him because he’s likely to win. That’s it – he’s popular and could actually get elected. The fact that he’s also progressive is enough of a reason to push for his success because the goal is just to ‘win’ in terms of the ratio of left versus right representation across government.

That ratio is definitely crucial, as it determines the balance of power and what legislation is likely to pass or fail. But it feels wrong to me that the two-party system has led us to this point where the individual’s capabilities and qualifications are secondary to name recognition and popularity in the race to get elected.

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Is politics just a popularity contest?

I have nothing against David Pocock. For all I know, he’ll be an excellent Senator, and I’m sure he’s committed to upskilling in the mechanics of government, in surrounding himself with the best possible advice, and for developing a more comprehensive policy platform ahead of the election.

But my point is that he could do none of those things and still be elected because we no longer even pretend to have an expectation of prerequisite experience and qualifications for our politicians.

Of course, the major parties are also riddled with lifetime political hacks who have gotten elected based on nepotism, the party machines and other arbitrary factors that most Australians don’t give a damn about. So this isn’t an attack on Pocock or anyone else in particular, it’s more aimed at the dysfunctional system voters are navigating.

I love the idea of politics becoming more egalitarian, with people from all walks of life, without necessarily having university qualifications or a background in policy being able to run and be elected. But that isn’t what’s happening here – instead, it’s middle-class people or famous individuals leveraging their privilege to run, while those with ambition but fewer expendable resources have no hope of making it to the polls.

Maybe we should take a page out of reality TV and start some sort of ‘blind voting’ system where we vote for candidates who are anonymously listed based on their policy promises and ratings across a range of skills, and we don’t get to find out who they are until after the polls close. Remove the personality from it entirely. Honestly, at this point, I feel like anything else from what we have would be better.

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A very muddled article indeed. What experience do you want a Senator to have Zoya? You want politics to more egalitarian with people from all walks of life… I would have thought David Pocock is one of those people with a background in community involvement. If you put up your hand to enter the election of course you want to win. Maybe take the time to meet David and see where he would like politics to go rather than being a cynic. I agree with Jack D there is a real buzz in the air and people are talking about issues and how we want to be represented in the ACT in the Senate.

Great to hear you will never be running for politics Zoya Patel! I really don’t know where to start with this muddled piece of so-called journalism! For the first time in years there is a real buzz in the air. This election will have Senate candidates of real calibre who have the potential to knock out the light weight, do nothing Zed Seselja. Zed has bludged on above the line Liberal votes at every election since stabbing the popular Gary Humphries in the back in 2013. And not to forget the vocal support and undermining directed he had from Canberra Lib notables including Jeremy Hanson and Giulia Jones. Zed is so unpopular he couldn’t even reach a quota at the last election. Professor Kim Rubenstein and David Pocock have walked the talk and can be commended for putting their hands up to stand as candidates in the Senate rather than undermined by an ignorant journalist. Both have commendable backgrounds. I wish them good luck!

Do you honestly think that members of the public who currently vote for Zed and the Liberals will change to vote for the other candidates you mention?

They have Buckley’s chance, they’ll just be cannibalising the left wing progressive vote that would otherwise go to the Greens and Labor.

Only a centre or centre right candidate will topple Zed and there are none of those to be had. Zed will scrape through again with his core third of voters.

Probably. But I’m being positive that Canberrans are a little smarter!

If Canberrans were smarter and voted smarter, we wouldn’t have any of the politicians we currently do, nor would we vote for any of the current crop of those standing.

Didnt work last time

My dog would make a better senator than Zed. So if Pocock can knock him out of a spot, more power to him.

Capital Retro9:25 am 25 Feb 22

Putin knows how to win elections and make meaningful change.

As an independent in the Senate, Mr Pocock could be required to make deals to either support or block legislation (depending on the makeup of the Senate).
Independents often end up forming alliances; to create a voting block.
When you look at Mr Pocock’s causes, you have to think that his natural alignment is with the Greens.
In my opinion, if you are a Greens voter, Mr Pocock could be an option. If you are not a Greens voter, maybe another candidate would be a better choice.

Yes. And he should have stood for greens preselection. Instead he is trying to beat a very well credentialled indigenous women green candidate, while standing on a platform of empowering indigenous people. How ironic.

HiddenDragon7:42 pm 24 Feb 22

The ACT could certainly do with a genuinely independent senator (not a de facto Labor/Green senator masquerading as independent) who would unashamedly use their swing vote to extract a better funding deal for the ACT, just as independent senators have done for other jurisdictions – most notably Brian Harradine and Jacqui Lambie for Tasmania.

Capital Retro6:26 am 25 Feb 22

I don’t recall an independent politician in Australia ever chaining themselves to an excavator at a coal mine.

You say you don’t think David Pocock has the experience to be a senator, but you don’t say what skills you expect to see. So perhaps you’ll allow me to tell you what I want in a senator.

I want someone with honesty and integrity, who will listen to the community and be our voice in parliament; someone intelligent and thoughtful, and whose approach to developing policy positions will be based on evidence.

Your main objection appears to be David’s existing popularity. If sporting prowess was his only qualification perhaps I’d see some merit in that, but David has demonstrated leadership, integrity and strength of character both on and off the field. He holds a Masters of Sustainable Agriculture and co-founded a not-for-profit to deliver food security programs and develop health infrastructure in Zimbabwe. Most recently, he’s been working on building resilient ecosystems and creating sustainable economic opportunities.

David’s never been a parliamentarian before but neither have any of the other independents standing for election. That’s kind of the point. Confidence in government and our institutions is eroding and I believe the best way to reverse this and restore parliamentary integrity is to elect representatives who serve the interests of their communities.

I encourage you to speak with David and find out for yourself how he plans to represent the community in the senate. He’s holding politics in the park meetings around Canberra on the weekends (next one is in Hughes on Sunday). You never know. You might like him. And if not, at least your next opinion piece will be informed opinion.

Is politics a popularity contest? No. But neither is it a spectator sport. This election, we can vote for meaningful change, or we can accept more of the same. The choice is ours.

Capital Retro6:28 am 25 Feb 22

What is your precise definition of “meaningful change”?

I’m not sure what that question is ? how can you get into politics / parliament without winning. Surely if you lose you won’t be there ?

Unfortunately politics has always been about winning. The candidates (mostly) feel strongly about particular issues (not always the ones we are interested in) and put time and resources to getting elected. Political parties bend their candidates to their particular policies regardless of the individual candidates original aspirations. Independents usually have personal policies that they try to impress on the electorate. A lot of the major party candidates go through a system that indoctrinates them to aspire for higher office while the independents and smaller parties just want to get things done. If you want to change things you have to put some ‘skin in the game’ and why play a game you cannot win?

I don’t want to be rude Zoya but what skills do you have to justify writing an opinion column. You don’t provide any indication of what skills a Senator should have and yet you have the cheek to say David Pocock doesn’t have them. The skills that the encumbent has whom David Pocock is trying to defeat do not appear to be that flash, unless belonging to a major party annoints you forever. Indeed, your cynicism overlooks the fact that most voters want to have a say and want someone to truly represent them in either house of parliament.

Kathy McGowan when she entered parliament thought she had no skills. Yet, she was probably the greatest networker and strategist to ever enter parliament. Her initial aim was to turn a safe Liberal seat into a marginal seat so the electorate might get the neglected services it desperately needed. A sign if one is needed that our current system is broken.

David Pocock is a grass roots Voices type candidate. He is a real leader as demonstrated by his role as Captain of the Wallabies. He started his first NGO/charity at the age of 21. He has integrity and excellent listening skills. He is a nice person (currently perhaps a negative in politics), he has integrity and a commitment to climate change and other things that we as Canberrans want of our representative.

Get off your high horse!

“He is a real leader as demonstrated by his role as Captain of the Wallabies. ” Well, ain’t that grand. Maybe he can take a Rugby ball into parliament

He has also freely decided to break the law in the past to get what he wants, impeding and costing others just wanting to go about their lawful business.

Pretty sure I and many others don’t want that from our parliamentary representatives.

Particularly considering recent experiences in Canberra.

What skills does a senator actually need? Is looking good in a suit and being able to speak well publicly enough or would actually representing some of the views of those who elected you be a better and getting some results? David Pocock may not have been a senator before but he has shown strongly that he can lead, negotiate, network, listen and advocate persistently and effectively. Sounds like a good basis for senate representation to me.

I cn get the gist of the sentiment, but….you can’t on the one hand complain that someone like David Pocock can be elected with no experience in the mechanics of the political system, then on the other complain about the lfetime political hacks – who are exactly the people who have experience in the political process. And then on the *third* hand you want a more varied mix of people entering politics!

In other words, work out what your problem with the system is. Is it voters disengaged with the details of politics? Is it the system rewarding advancement of party hacks? Is it the difficulty of outsiders to break in? All are problems, but your article is too scattergun.

Frank Spencer9:26 am 24 Feb 22

When did politics become all about winning? From Day 1 when the first elections were held.

Whilst I agree with some of the points here, Zoya is looking in the wrong place for where the actual problem lies.

The problem isn’t the politicians or the political parties, it’s us, the electorate who keep voting for numpties.

So the solution isn’t some sort of mass authoritarian control where we force some sort of arbitrary “diversity” as Zoya would prefer.

The solution is for us as individuals to vote wider than the traditional candidates, it’s for people who constantly whinge about the system to actually get more directly involved in either being candidates or supporting others.

We also need to recognise that other people might not agree with us, no matter how righteous we think we are. And when candidates we don’t like get elected, it isn’t necessarily a huge failure of the system that needs correction….

I wouldn’t say we vote for numpties, rather we vote for self interest. Talking to many of my friends, other than the rusted on ones the rest vote based on what tax cut or road upgrade they are going to get from a particular party.

And last federal election was a good example of that where many older people voted liberal due to the fear of loosing an investment perk of labor won. That demographic was the difference between the libs winning or loosing.

I would agree with that.

Although the outcome of that type of voting is that numpties in the parties that take that line are preferenced higher than they otherwise would be leaving the outcome the same.

Capital Retro10:56 am 25 Feb 22

You mean older Labor voters voted Liberal because that’s what Chris Bowen told them to do.

Capital Retro8:11 am 24 Feb 22

“He’s demonstrated a passion for key issues like climate change, diversity and inclusion…..”

Yes, and in demonstrating his passion for climate change issues he broke the law. What a great role model.

Anoma Taylor8:06 am 24 Feb 22

So… you’ve only just figured out that politicians are self-serving and greedy and most people are mindless sheep?

Here’s my thoughts: How young is this writer? Oh, she’s young, but at least she’s learning, I suppose *sigh*

This has been going on since before you were born. Welcome to the real world.

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