If there’s one thing local governments like to talk about, it’s about improvements for the future. Understandably so, tax payer funded institutions rely on a message of “hope is just over the horizon” and “the last politician couldn’t fix things but I can”. There’s little incentive for would-be politicians to say the truth, namely “anyone who’s travelled will tell you life is really good here, and even if you do elect me there’s not a lot I myself can do because I’ll just be a public servant, not a leader per se, and most of the issues you want fixed are underlying social issues that will require generations of cultural influence to move the needle.”
But when you combine the incentives of a politician who needs you to believe the sky is falling with the modern media product that needs you to click on their links, which, as it turns out, you’re more likely to do if it’s telling you the sky is falling, we end up in a never ending spiral of content being fed to us assuring us the fabric of society is falling apart at the seems and our only hope is for more government interference in more areas of our lives.
But when we step back from the noise for a while, it becomes clear that what we could really do with is a re-calibration of what it is we should be expecting from our elected officials.
The things that are wrong in Mandurah are not the fault of the politicians and councillors
When everyone around you believes a certain thing to be true, it’s hard to tell if you’re the crazy one or if everyone else is.
I’ve long questioned the dictum I’ve been fed all my life that politicians are greedy and corrupt and completely to blame for all the ills in society. Peeling back the curtain of the political and legal system reveals, more often than not, nothing more than very real human beings, flesh and blood, trying with the limited tools afforded them in life to make the world they live in a little more pleasant.
And as far as I can tell, while they’re often referred to as our “leaders”, this is a terrible description for what politicians actually are. They’re more accountable to the public than any regular citizen, they’re criticised in the media to an extent that would drive most of us to tears, they’re constantly having to re-apply for the position by way of election, they receive nothing in the way of saleable equity for any value they create during their tenure, and their names are very quickly forgotten and buried in unread history books the moment they step away from their position. Far from fitting the moniker of “leaders”, their task far more resembles that of an employee, or a public servant.
But if they’re just employees…
In Australia, when an employee stuffs up and causes harm to someone, the employer is often the one who is sued. If a bouncer at a pub assaults you while you’re enjoying a drink, you will likely be able to sue the employer of the bouncer. This is called “vicarious liability”. The underlying principle is that an employer is ultimately responsible for the negligent acts of their employees while the employee is carrying out their job.
If politicians and councillors are just employees, not leadesr, then who is the employer? The Queen of England? Maybe. Maybe not.
Maybe in this analogy the employer is you and me. Maybe the responsibility for what’s still wrong in our community doesn’t rest on the shoulders of whoever is in public office. Maybe it’s our responsibility.
The last 37 years have shown me that blaming politicians achieves very little.
Even when a useful program is brought in by government, it’s constantly at risk of being defunded, it ends up spending more tax payer funded resources in administration and butt-covering than doing the actual work, and when the reason for its existence is no longer present, instead of quietly fading into the night, it becomes a self perpetuating beast using the very funding given to it by the government to lobby the government for it to continue to be funded. It’s a maddening cycle that I’ve watched play out time and again.
So how can we improve our community then?
Part of the reason we like to blame politicians and governments, I believe, is because it absolves us of responsibility. We don’t have to do anything if we live under the narrative of “our leaders were meant to fix this.”
It’s very convenient to simply complain that everyone is obese and addicted to anti-depressants, then vote for someone who promises to fix these problems, knowing full well they have no idea how to accomplish such a thing, and then be up in arms when they try to ban donuts and video games.
If we instead understood politicians to be nothing more than temporary staff, and it was US who were the bosses, I believe we’d have a far clearer picture of reality. This clearer picture would lead to solutions to our problems that would not simply involve a ban or a tax. People might begin to feel empowered, like their life was meaningful, that what they did mattered, because ultimately it does.
The cloak of victimhood would not be a trophy to brag about. Instead we’d realise that there’s no powerful person in charge who is meant to fix all the problems. If we need something done, we should do it.
It’s not the Councillors at the City of Mandurah’s job to entertain me, feed me, clothe me, tuck me in to bed and night and tell my I’ll be ok. They’re my employees who provide a service I pay for. The same goes for my State and Federal representatives.
Our city is full of people who have had great ideas to improve this community, and they didn’t wait for someone else to implement it. They just went and did it. They started their business… they launched their community group… they opened their coffee shop… they cleaned up their street… they shared their artwork… The work these people do is amazing. They’re never at risk of being defunded. They take full responsibility for creating the world they want to live in. And they’re making Mandurah a wonderful place to live in.
I’m fortunate to have met many of these people, and even showcase some here on Everything Mandurah.
If you know some local heroes who deserve being showcased, please drop me a line here.