How stupid are we

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How stupid are we?  Every four years we go through a political dance.  They tell us one thing and we half believe it.  We elect them.  They break their promises and we sound outraged.  What is going on?

Lets start with promises.  How can a political party promise a budgetary result?  There are so many things outside of their control.  For instance you might argue that the government should have been able to predict a downturn in China.  Many economists did just that.  Just because they are elected, they cannot change the direction of the Chinese economy.  Yet they promise a turnaround in the budget when China is a big part of that prediction.  They cannot actually control all the factors that influence that turnaround.  And we believe them?  How stupid are we?

Every new government finds a black hole.  The defeated party hid the real situation and, surprise, surprise.  The economy is in worse condition than we ever imagined.  It has been going on in Australia since the sixteen hundreds.  BC that is.  And we believe them.  Suddenly all the good things they promised go out the window.  How stupid are we?

We hear promises about what the government will do, or not do.  No cuts to services.  The new cut is not a cut.  It is an efficiency dividend, or an adjustment to outgoings, or a funding alteration, or a co-payment.  In any case, it is for the public good.  How stupid are we?

No tax increases.  We can have levys, super profit taxes, indexation adjustments and all sorts of revenue gathering techniques but they are not tax increases.  They have not broken any promises.  How stupid are we.

And after all that, the government says they can do what we like because we have a mandate.  In fact, Mike Smith from ANZ said the economy is being damaged because the Senate is denying the mandate the government was given.  Let me make two points.

  • Even if you except the mandate argument, the government is trying to do things they never mentioned before they were elected.  A mandate is a vote by the majority to do what a party tells the electorate they will do.  The Liberals were never given a mandate to increase university fees, or pass legislation that would effect superannuation, cut the ABC or Medicare.  In fact their mandate was to not touch these areas.
  • The electorate did not elect a Senate that gave the Liberals a mandate to do what they wanted.  In fact the electorate gave a mandate to a mix of all parties, and a fair mix of independents in the Senate to do what each representative proposed before they were elected.  This was not necessarily what the Liberal party promised.

So what will happen at the next election.  The major parties will make promises.  They will point out how their predecessors broke promises and cannot be trusted.  They will ask us to believe them, even though they may be making promises they cannot guarantee.  How stupid are we?

There is a difference between “Responsibility” and “Accountability”.  “Responsibility” means you are the person charged with achieving an outcome.  “Accountability” means you are the one who shoulders the blame should the responsible person not achieve the outcome.

Here is an example.  A school excursion on a bus has a bus driver, a teacher and a number of students.  The bus is speeding and crashes.  A student who was standing at the time is injured.  Who is responsible for the injury, and who is accountable – the bus driver or the teacher in charge?

The bus driver may be responsible for driving the bus, and for the accident, but the teacher is accountable for the safety of the students.  If the bus driver was not driving safely, it is up to the teacher to take action.  If the student was standing it was the teacher who should have made the student sit down.  The teacher is accountable.

In a democracy, the party in power is responsible for managing the country.  It is us, as voters, who are accountable for what is happening in the country.  We delegate responsibility for education, health, the economy, defence, and lots of other things to those we elect.  We do not surrender accountability when we cast our vote.  A poor electoral choice means we leave ourselves open to a mess we are accountable for.  How stupid are we?

So what should we do?  We need to take an intelligent approach to elections.

  • Show scepticism when we hear promises that are outside the control or what is being promised.
  • Reject parties who don’t keep promises.  They cannot fulfill their responsibility and we are accountable for their failure.
  • Understand that criticising governments is really saying we stuffed up when we elected the government.  We are ultimately accountable.
  • Stop thinking beyond “me”.  Government is actually about “we”.  Remember the term “common good”.
  • Ask “how” rather than “what”.  You may want to stop the boats, but how will you do it?  You may want to remove the carbon tax, but how will you address climate change?

Will this article change anything?  If I said it was a drop in the ocean, it would be an exaggeration.  What it may do is give people a framework to talk to their friends.  It may provide an argument that gets other people thinking.  It may light a spark that makes people think they are not victims of politicians.  They are accountable for what the politicians they elected, are doing.

One last question.  Are you proud of what your local member is doing for the country?  If not, blame yourself.  You are accountable.  Your local member is only responsible.

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