Savage circus of politics – Newcastle Herald

GREG RAY

gray@theherald.com.au 

WHO could blame Sophie Mill for withdrawing her candidacy for the coming Newcastle state byelection?

The former staffer for departed Newcastle Liberal MP Tim Owen had put her hand up to run as an overtly Liberal-aligned independent, but changed her mind.

‘‘For some reason when you stand for politics you become a free target for personal attacks, and I’m not the sort of person who can deal with that,’’ she said.

She’s right about politics being rough and nasty, and I don’t think many people are really equipped to handle it.

I’ve been acquainted with quite a few politicians of various persuasions over the years and I don’t remember meeting any who really enjoyed copping the sometimes savage criticism that comes with the job. (Mind you, some certainly like to dish it out.)

Most people probably seek public office with the best of intentions and newcomers to public life are probably shocked by the virulence of the attacks that come their way.

Some attacks come from political opponents and are akin to sledging on the sporting field, designed to destabilise their target. ‘‘Mental disintegration’’, I think the cricketers call it.

But the reality is that we, the public, are a huge and diverse lot, with conflicting aims and opinions and very different ways of approaching other people to discuss our points of view. Many are civilised and polite. Some, however, don’t hesitate to offend.

When they take office, the poor old pollies have to come to terms with the fact that no decision, no matter how brilliant they think it might be, can please everybody. You can agonise over a policy or a position and reach the point that you think represents the best possible compromise for the entire community. And then get slammed every day by the people who don’t agree. You get accused of being stupid, of being lazy, of being a party hack, of being in the pocket of wealthy lobbies or of feathering your own nest at the expense of your constituents. So no, I don’t blame Ms Mill for dropping out of the race for the seat of Newcastle. She has said she plans to throw her support behind business figure Karen Howard, a presumably right-leaning independent. Ms Howard is pitted against Labor (and the Greens and whoever else throws their hats into the ring) in a contest that the ALP probably thinks it can win hands down. It’s not my electorate, so all I can do is hope the best candidate wins. As one who works in the city and loves it, I know what I’d like to hear from candidates and – where applicable – their parties. From Labor, for a start, I’d like to hear an apology for the mongrel acts that, allegedly, cost our city a container terminal.

   Sure, I know some people claim it was never going to happen anyway, but I don’t buy that. Anglo Ports is on the record saying the business case for the terminal was sound.

I was very angry when I learnt how Labor had ruthlessly torpedoed the car import terminal that should have come here several years back. I’m five times angrier now.

If the state opposition can’t bring itself to guarantee that every cent promised to Newcastle by the Coalition will come here in the event of Labor winning the general election next year, then the NSW ALP will be staying off my Christmas card list.

As for Ms Howard, I imagine she will pick up most of the votes of those who would have liked to vote Liberal (those who aren’t too disenchanted by the illegal donations revelations aired in the Independent Commission Against Corruption).

This week, Ms Howard said ‘‘she wanted to hold the state government accountable for decisions it has already made in relation to the city’s rail line and urban renewal’’.

Then she added that she didn’t want to ‘‘bow down to those people calling for a review of everything promised by the state government’’.

Having been, until now, a member of the boards of the Hunter Development Corporation and the NSW Business Chamber, perhaps Ms Howard has enough expert insight to feel confident that all the government decisions are sound and worth pursuing as they are.

I would like to share that confidence, but at this point I cannot honestly say that I do.

I’m willing to be persuaded but under the circumstances, ‘‘trust us’’ isn’t good enough.