Doomed from the start: A politician’s fate

In light of the leadership spill in the Victorian Liberal party, Barney Zwartz ponders the rise and fall of politicians.

Victorian Opposition leader Michael O’Brien this morning survived a challenge for the Liberal leadership, and stays – for now. Had he lost, he would have been the second state Liberal leader deposed in four days. West Australia’s Zak Kirkup lost his seat and his career after the Liberals won only two seats (with a third predicted) in Saturday’s election. At 34, he says he has finished with politics – time will tell.

It is a quirk of politics that everyone who enters the arena does so knowing that it will probably end badly. Even John Howard, the Liberals’ most revered leader since Menzies, ended his career losing not only the 2007 election but his own seat.

Just in the past few years, matters ended badly for Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, Brendan Nelson, Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull, to name a few (in alphabetical order).

Perhaps sport is the only parallel where so many people are forced out unwillingly. Yet there never seems to be a shortage of candidates vying to persuade electoral selection committees.

It certainly used to be the case that most people entered politics to make a contribution, however many compromises they had to make once there. They used to come after establishing a career as a farmer, lawyer, teacher – something outside politics. Now, it seems, many come after serving as party apparatchiks – politics is all they know. This is a loss to the community.

Ordinary Australians have a role too – to vote conscientiously, but also to hold politicians to account between elections (for example, by writing to them). Those of us who are Christian have an extra responsibility, to pray for them. They need discernment, wisdom and courage as much as any of us.