Monday, 19 January 2015

Election 2015 - Being Local

Talking of local campaigning, last week I got a letter from Mark Bailey, the Labor candidate for Yeerongpilly.

The opening sentence reads as follows.

The upcoming election is an opportunity to make sure Yeerongpilly is represented by someone who will stand up for us and fight hard for our local area.

Then he lists some negative local impacts of LNP government decisions over the past three years - loss of hospital beds and nurses in two of our major hospitals, the level of youth unemployment, increased electricity bills, the closure of a local high school.  Then he goes on.

As a local resident and former local Councillor, I'll fight for more local jobs and to restore much needed funding for our frontline health and education services after Campbell Newman's savage cuts.

I will always put the interests of our local community first just as I did as the Moorooka Ward Councillor.  That's my commitment to you.

When Mark Bailey was the Councillor for Moorooka  I was working in Council and had a fair bit of contact with him.  He's intelligent, hard working, treats people with respect and has good values.  Nevertheless I think he needs to be careful what he says because he will find it very hard to keep this commitment.

Campbell Newman, of course, has the clout to commandeer significant resources for his Ashgrove electorate.  It's called "pork-barreling".  However, if you're an ordinary back-bencher like Bailey you have to get in line like everyone else.

One of our illusions about politics is that a local member's job is to try and get goodies for their constituents.  Yet so much of what governments do is for the State as a whole, rather than for any particular community.

Even Bailey's own list makes this clear.  Youth unemployment is high all over the state and in an urban area like ours, it doesn't particularly depend on anything that happens in our electorate.  Electricity prices are State-wide, provided on a grid that goes across State borders.  Even the hospitals he mentions, while certainly located here, serve a much wider catchment.  Almost every day, helicopters fly over my house to land patients from all over the State on the roof of the PA Hospital.  Of all the things he lists, only the closure of Nyanda State High School is a truly local issue.

In 2012 Simon Finn, Bailey's predecessor as Labor's man in Yeerongpilly, was running for his third term.  As it became obvious how badly Labor were doing, he tried to focus his campaign on his personal standing as a hard-working local member, "listening, acting and getting results".

Unfortunately the actual list of results was quite meagre, even when padded out by initiatives that belonged to other levels of government.  His big claim to fame, about which we received a number of pieces of correspondence, was a campaign in which he got residents to put huge stickers on their wheelie bins telling drivers to slow down.  It's a good idea, but hardly a dramatic result for six years of hard work.

So what was he doing for all that six years?  Well, in addition to spending time with his constituents, listening to their concerns and perhaps advocating for them and their needs, he was sitting in parliament and on parliamentary committees, helping to draft and review various pieces of legislation and providing input into policy and resource allocation across the State.

Perhaps at times he was using these processes to get some resources into his own community but you would hope that wasn't all he was doing.  You would hope that faced with a choice of, say, putting more resources into health services in middle class Yeerongpilly or sending them to remote Aboriginal communities where life expectancy is 20 years less, he was able to look beyond his re-election to wider issues of justice and fairness.  If Mark Bailey gets elected, I hope he will do likewise.

And then, of course, we all know that Mark Bailey is a member of a party.  Within the party he may indeed "always put the interests of our local community first", but once the party has decided he will vote with his colleagues even if this is to remove resources from his electorate.  If he doesn't, the party will expel him and that will be the end of his political career.  He can only honestly make this claim so emphatically if he believes, as a matter of faith, that whatever his party decides is what's best for us.  I don't think he's that stupid.

I wish Mark well.  He seems likely to be our local member come February and I think he'll do a good job.  But I don't expect he will always fight for his own local community and I'd be disappointed if he did.  So, I think, would be many of his other constituents.  I'd be happiest if he made a constructive contribution to good governance of our State, to fairness, justice and ecological responsibility.  Why, I wonder, are these not mentioned in his letter?

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