Politics and human frailty

Many years ago, way back in the 1970s, for a journalism project at the University of Hawaii, I wanted to spread and track a rumour from the West Coast to the East Coast of USA.

My wise professor told me no… it would be irresponsible and betray the principles of the journalism profession. Although disappointed, I was also a bit chuffed because in telling me ‘no’ I realized  that he, too, believed I could probably achieve what I was proposing.

It was an important lesson in responsible actions that has stayed with me in subsequent years of my life.

Back in those days, the media was still revered and spoken of as The Fourth Estate. It prided itself on its objectivity, intelligence, and integrity and novice reporters were taught to explore, investigate and question their way to the truth.

Fast forward to today and news is no longer a revered commodity in our internet based and device (iphone, tablet, computer) driven culture.  The Fourth Estate has been virtually replaced by a social media that becomes a mockery of objectivity, intelligence and integrity. It has become the tail that wags the media dog to go for the best story that will deliver the most ‘hits’, rather than the truth.

There don’t seem to be many elder statesmen teaching new recruits in the media these days. The new standard of journalism is to write personal impressions, not facts, with little reference to what has gone before… and it shows. It breeds mediocrity and an unfortunate self-centeredness that makes objectivity impossible, because journalists today seem to be writing for and competing with social media and competing with ‘here today gone tomorrow’ deadlines. They are writing what they think they know, rather than having any opportunity for time to report what they discover.

The same mediocrity is happening with our politics.

We have just had an election in my State where neither party achieved the required number of seats to form government. The Labor party would require help from one Independent and the Liberal party would need support from both Independents in order to form Government.  The Liberal Party had achieved a clear first preference voting majority, despite achieving one less seat in this election, but an independent’s frailty has now given government to the Labor Party. To hear Independent MP Geoff Brock interviewed on television the night of the election, and to then witness his submission to the carrots offered him a few days later shows how easily human independence and valor, becomes human frailty and ego.

He is reported as saying he gave minority government to Labor (and accepted a high-paying Ministry in the process) to ensure stability of Government for our State.

Why are there no journalists asking this man about the alternative scenario, i.e. the State’s voters going back to the polls and Geoff Brock possibly  losing his seat in that process? Is he really wanting us to believe that scenario was of no concern and that this was not simply a selfish decision?

Why are there no journalists questioning why this man was so quick to sign up with a minority Labor Government, despite earlier saying he would wait several days. And why  did he not even have the courtesy to speak ‘one on one’ with the other key player in this race, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, rudely leaving him a voicemail message instead?

His press conference was more important than having this respectful phone call first, yet Geoff Brock tells us he is about saving our Government’s stability!

I was at the pre-polls handing out ‘how to vote cards’ and the mood among Labor and Liberal volunteers, and the majority of voters, was that it would be a resounding victory for the Liberals, it was time for a change, everyone was saying. Curiously, the polls were knife edge on polling day.

We ended up with two elected independent MPs, Bob Such and Geoff Brock, holding the balance of power yet both of these independents were overwhelmingly supported by Liberals as the next highest voters in their respective electorates.

To make matters worse, Bob Such takes emergency leave in the week following the election while votes are still being counted, due to illness. It is then reported that Dr Such had deliberated for over a year whether he should run again, with his health factors as a major consideration.

A journalist wrote a column in a local paper arguing that the Liberal party in my state can never win a clear majority under the current electoral system, and judging the last few elections where the Liberal Party has won the popular vote, we have to begin to believe there is some truth to that theory.

Geoff Brock runs as an independent in a predominantly Liberal electorate and before the election is even declared and you can say ‘Yes Minister’, he has told Labor Premier Jay Weatherill he will give him government.

A local Holdfast Bay councillor, who ran and lost for the Labor Party for the third time in an unwinnable seat, unabashedly declared he ran just to give himself an edge in the local government Council elections later this year. He also refers to the Liberal Opposition Leader as Stephen Marshall, when his name is Steven Marshall.

Maturity, intelligence and fair play  are  missing from our political system.

A few years ago I was at a politics forum to celebrate the history of the first South Australian State election.

People at this forum were remarking about the reluctance of people these days to engage in community politics, whether it be at the local, State or Federal level. It has a stigma about it.

I raised the question with Bob Such, who was a participant in this forum, that we should perhaps be promoting Civics as a subject in our schools. He disagreed, saying he thought it was up to the political parties to teach people about politics!

But civics is not really politics, you see, civics is about systems of government.

This last election proves Bob Such was wrong. We need to objectively teach young people Civics…what a democracy means, how the various levels of government work, and why it is so important for us as a society to choose wisely among the candidates we can elect to represent our points of view.

I was amazed at the number of people at the polls who did not even know what electorate they lived in, many did not even know the names of their candidates.

Democracy is such a precious attribute of our society and it is so sad that the media, candidates and population at large take its existence for granted.

If we started teaching civics in our schools, students might then engage with the systems of government because they were genuinely interested in establishing good governments, not simply because of a steadfast allegiance to a particular party line, or to be different from mum and dad, or because someone else tells them how to vote, or to tick a box because they couldn’t care less.

The challenge, of course, would be finding civics teachers who could be objective and explain systems of government with truth and integrity and intelligence, rather than simply expounding their preferred party line.

Jan Smith

Let’s mind the Ps and Qs of education

You can tell we are in election mode in my State, with all sorts of ‘them’ and ‘us’ positioning between political parties.  The old chestnut of private school vs public school has reared its predictable but ignorant argument, yet again.

Private schools do not deserve a cent from our public funds Twittered my local Labor candidate for the forthcoming March State election. I wonder if he thought to survey how many Labor voter parents agree with him on this issue?

Is this pronouncement based on what is best for the balance sheet, or what is best for a particular child? If it is the former, I hope he doesn’t get within cooey http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Cooey  of any public office that can impact on our State’s  education policy.

We don’t make our children all wear the same brand of clothes, we don’t insist that they all have the same number of parents or siblings in their family units, we don’t insist that they all play the same musical instrument, or play the same sport. We encourage our children to be individuals and have choices. It is one of the first benefits they learn of living in a democracy. So why is this Labor candidate insisting that his party should penalise ‘choice’ in education… if people want their choice of private education in this candidate’s world they will  have to pay twice … first through the school fees, and then again through no government subsidy for their chosen school.

The choice of where you send your child to school should never be a political football about money.

And it is a fallacy to say that only the wealthy send their children to private schools. Most parents of private school children are on moderate double incomes and are striving to give their kids the best educational opportunities they can provide for them. Their children are entitled to a government subsidy for education as much as any other child. It is a facile argument to deny private schools access to public funds—a bit like the old ‘car pool’ arguments we used to hear in the ’70s that people who drive alone in their car to work, when it can hold four people, should be taxed extra.

Private schools are not the enemy… they make our public schools better. If there were no private schools there would be a huge dumbing down of our public education system because there would not be the mass income from the leagues of private school parents who are currently subsidising community education, as we now enjoy. It would mean that the greatly increased cost of public education would have to be funded somehow . (If there are no private schools it follows that all those former private students will flood the public system.) The diversity and infrastructure that our education system currently provides our society through public and private means would have to scale down into a public system that risked depending on  superficial political viewpoints like  the twittering candidate that focus on the money, rather than the education.

A political correctness is already sweeping though our public education system that denies religious emphasis, patriotism, disallows strong discipline, and favours teachers who work to union rules and ideologies. Private schools have more freedom to focus on a given religion, to encourage self-discipline in students, to hire teachers who are prepared to work on extracurricular after hours activities. A private school offers parents a democratic choice of the societal values they want influencing their children, and they are prepared to pay extra for having that choice.  However, they are still entitled to a basic right of government subsidised education. That is the right of every child in our country.

Sometimes a child needs a particular type of school, whether it be co-ed, single sex, religious, etc.  for it to be the most conducive to promote the child’s academic and social progress.  Some children live in remote areas and boarding at private schools is their only option for a comprehensive education. Private schools give parents that choice to find the right environment for their individual child and it is naïve and simplistic to argue against private education on the basis of money. The private vs public school debate is not about rich people taking advantage of poor people as this would be politician and others will have you believe.

It is interesting that the Commonwealth Government is currently trying to gain more autonomy for public schools so that, like private schools, they can shape their school to respond to the community they serve, yet the main force against the idea is the teachers’ union.

Our children deserve the best education we can give them. The private vs public school funding debate should not be about budgets, teacher working conditions, or socialism vs capitalism. It should not be an ugly portrayal of  haves vs. have-nots.

It should be about ensuring every parent has a choice to obtain the quality education they seek for their child, and that every child has access to the educational opportunities they need to become a happy, confident and productive adult in our Society.


PS : Interesting origins of Ps & Qs

There are several different theories as to the origin of the phrase, but there is no definite proof as to which is correct.

One explanation suggests that “Ps and Qs” is short for “pleases” and “thank-yous”, the latter of which contains a sound similar to the pronunciation of the name of the letter “Q”. This phrase would be used by parents to educate their children to not forget to use those polite words when they speak to people. Possibly, it meant “please” and “excuse me.” Young children would pronounce them as Ps and Qs.

Another origin comes from English pubs and taverns of the seventeenth century. Bartenders would keep a watch on the alcohol consumption of the patrons; keeping an eye on the pints and quarts that were consumed. As a reminder to the patrons, the bartender would recommend they “mind their Ps and Qs”