The art of politics

THE WIRE TAPS THAT captured conversations between Daryl Maguire and Gladys Berejiklian were extraordinary. At various points, Maguire complained about the Icac’s powers, warned Berejiklian they could be listening in on their conversations, and said the watchdog was “marginalising the art of politics”.

This is actually right.

Despite the long twentieth century, all the Australian States inherit the basic makeup of colonial governments, and their continuing tension between the interests of the city and the interests of the country. In some ways our society is modern, cosmopolitan, urban, in other ways it hasn’t changed a great deal since the Goldrushes. Long before there were contemporary Parties, before democracy even, the point, the ‘art’ of politics was diverting the resources of the Colonial state towards specific geographic areas and interest groups. The modern Party system still reflects that colonial mindset: the Labor Party aim to the interests of the cities where the people are and the economy is, the Greens towards a sense of futurity, the Liberal Party aim to the interests of firms and landowners, and the National Party quite explicitly offers a promise: we will divert funding away from cities towards the regions, because that redistribution-out only happens with the art of politics.

(The Commonwealth has this makeup to a lesser extent. This isn’t because the Commonwealth level is less prone to corruption, or because Federal MPs are better people, only that the Commonwealth is less political, in the sense that it isn’t where the basic questions about who wins and loses, and how people live, are resolved. Local Councils, by far the most important level of government in Australia, are well known as the most corrupt, and the scene of the most bitterly contested politics, and also arena of the most contested democracy).

Corruption in the contemporary sense is an offence against the public. It’s a transaction between two people for benefit, at the expense of the people as a whole, and well understood by anyone who can see it. ‘Perceived’ corruption in the remit of the ICAC counts just as well as actual substantive corruption. But the ‘art’ of politics in the States, as Maguire rightly points out, is precisely the defining of benefits for some at the expense of others! This isn’t something that some training in ethics for MPs is likely to stamp out, it’s a basic quality of our history and geography.



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