I was upstairs in the heavens yesterday, whilst my boss was downstairs with a client and I heard a rant from a client which I think although was incredibly vulgar and so blue that it could paint the entire Royal Australian Navy a nice shade of azure, was equally scathing and exact with its intent.
I went along the lines that if Mr Hockey thinks that "poor people" don't drive cars because they can't afford them and that the Prime Minister Tony Abbott specifically targets Muslim people as not being on "Team Australia", that although they might be clumsy with their words, they might in fact be expressing the views held by their electorate.
Back up the bus for a second? What was this chap suggesting here? This warranted further thought.
Mr Hockey is the Federal Member of Parliament for North Sydney and has been since 1996. Mr Abbott is the Federal Member of Parliament for Warringah and has been since 1994. Both of these electorates lie on the north side of Sydney Harbour and in relatively well to do areas.
The statistical level of poverty in the electorate of North Sydney is less than 0.5%. The percentage of Islamic people living in electorate of Warringah is also less than 0.5%.
The arguments whilst insensitive (Joe has since publicly apologised for his comments), might actually be representative of what the people of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah really think. Since a Member of Parliament is firstly a local member, who is elected by their electorate; appointed by their local branch of their political party, in those respects, they are directly answerable to their local constituents. The fact that they keep on being elected, must mean to suggest that those constituents think that their local members are doing a good job at representing them.
What we're noticing here is a distinct highlighting of the concept of the "other", which is useful political device (so useful that I'm probably making use of it in this very post). The problem is that in this case, the members of the "other", also happen to be part of the same nation.
The physicality of Canberra doesn't exactly help either. When we exile Members of Parliament to Canberra (and let's be honest, that's pretty well what's going on here) we send them to a place which is physically separated from the vast majority of society. Parliament House is even separated from Canberra's own central business district. The climate of Canberra is such that on occasion is doesn't even encourage people to go outside. The lack of trains in Canberra, even means that Members of Parliament travel by car and don't even see the people of Canberra.
How are you even expected to meet the "other" if you never ever see them?
Compare this with London for instance. The Houses of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster in bang in the centre of SW1 in the conurbation of the great wen of London. Ten million souls live in London and Members of Parliament must brush past a kaleidoscope of people, if they even want to get anywhere.
If Members of Parliament take the tube, then they must travel on the same trains as the general public and even if they get escorted about by car, they still have to pass through less well to do suburbs.
To get to Canberra from their electorates, both Messrs Hockey and Abbott, would get into a car, take an expressway to the airport, passing through the eastern suburbs of Sydney, which are relatively well to do and the expressway even passes through two golf courses. Even from a purely visual perspective, they'd never even pass the "poor people" who "don't drive" or the Muslim people who supposedly aren't part of "Team Australia"; what ever the heck that is supposed to mean.
If Canberra is self-contained bubble and separated both metaphorically and physically, then what of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah? I can attest through experience that when I tell clients that I live in Marayong, most of them have no idea where that even is; the place where I work is in Mr Abbott's own electorate.
I can't even blame the people of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah for this either. Think about your own friends. I'll be that most of them live within 10km of where you do. Parents send their children to mostly local schools and people attend clubs, churches, social groups and activities which are also mostly local. In broad principles, most people who live a fairly close sort of area, also happen to fall within the same socio-economic group. Note that this isn't necessarily a rag against the people of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah; it just that this is what is. It goes for practically everyone.
The people of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah, also don't see the "poor people" who "don't drive" or the Muslim people who supposedly aren't part of "Team Australia" because they don't need to. Why should they? Supermarkets, schools, hospitals etc. all exist in their own suburbs, so why do they need to travel when they can access those things locally?
I think of the former Prime Minister Paul Keating (who I didn't really like) who was known for his exceptionally colourful language on occasions. I don't think that he would have made these sort of comments because he was the Federal Member of Parliament for Blaxland which is deep in Sydney's western suburbs. He wouldn't have been able to get away with such comments because his local electorate would have shown their wrath with a backlash at the ballot box. This sort of thing has happened before: think of John Howard in 2007 or Sophie Mirabella in 2013 who both came under the ire of the people of their electorates; who voted with their... votes.
In 2012, US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney probably helped to blow apart his hopes of running for president by saying that "47 percent of the people who will vote for the president (Obama) no matter what" and that "my job is not to worry about those people". Again, as insensitive as that was, it probably might have been quite true.
The difference between a US Presidential candidate and someone hoping to be the Australian Prime Minister is that the Australian Prime Minister only needs to be concerned about his own electorate. Government is formed by a majority of members; of which the Prime Minister is but one. Firstly, they must represent their own electorate and in this case where the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah don't actually contain any "poor people" who "don't drive" or the Muslim people who supposedly aren't part of "Team Australia", maybe Messrs Hockey and Abbott actually are representing their electorates.
They keep on being elected; so demonstrably, they must already be doing so.
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