Julia Banks is an unlikely poster girl for much that is wrong with Australian politics. Successful in her own right as a corporate lawyer, Banks was the only Liberal Party candidate to wrest a seat from Labor in the 2016 election.
Her victory in the Melbourne suburban seat of Chisholm meant the difference between Malcolm Turnbull retaining - or losing - power. Yet, less than three years later she is leaving politics in disgust at the thuggery that accompanied Turnbull’s political assassination; and not just thuggery, by the way, but the self-serving childishness of it all.
Anyone who tunes in to question time in the House of Representatives – or catches snatches of this farce on the nightly news – would share this concern.
Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of one of the least edifying moments in the country’s political history, including allegations of bullying, the Banks episode reveals a much wider malaise, even crisis, in Australian public life.
Put simply, the country is being let down badly by its elected representatives, many of whom have neither the qualifications, nor the character, nor, indeed, the life experience for elective office.
What is undeniable is that members of the Federal Parliament are not representative of a wider Australian community.
In a lengthy conversation recently with John Howard in his Sydney office about politics in general he laments what he describes as the “politics-only class’’ who, in the case of his own Liberal Party, were “catching up rapidly’’ with Labor.
“I get lots of young people coming to see me and they say, ‘I want to go into politics, got any advice?’ I give them two bits of advice, ‘Join the Liberal Party’, of course, and the other bit is get an ordinary job, doesn’t matter what it is… don’t go and work in a politician’s office,’’ he tells me.
Howard himself worked in a solicitor’s office for 12 years dealing with issues such as divorce, probate, and commercial disputes before entering parliament in 1974 at age 34.
Incidentally, 1974 was the year I went to work in the Canberra press gallery for the ABC. Then, the Whitlam frontbench included its share of doctors, schoolteachers, small-business people, a former diplomat, tradesmen – and a shearer.
Yes, a shearer.
The elevation of Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, hardly corrects this anomaly, representing as they do a political apparat marinaded in Canberra politics.
Morrison served as state director of the Liberal Party in NSW before gaining preselection in his seat of Cook in questionable circumstances after a previously pre-selected candidate had been rolled in what appears to have been an internal putsch directed from Liberal headquarters.
This is what members of the new political class are good at: putsches.
They may not show much aptitude for actually running the country, but they are certainly skilled at organising the numbers; although Peter Dutton’s cohort, including a former SAS officer and a retired general, managed to win a few battles, but lose the war.
Frydenberg served as a political staffer for former foreign minister Alexander Downer and then prime minister Howard before being "warehoused" at Deutsche Bank while he waited impatiently for Petro Georgiou, the previous member for Kooyong, to serve out his term.
Neither Morrison nor Frydenberg have had a much of a professional life outside politics, with all that that implies.
Nor, it must be said have their opposite numbers.
Shorten served as national secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union before sliding into a safe Labor seat. His deputy Tanya Plibersek was employed as a political staffer before gaining preselection for the-then rock-solid seat of Sydney before it came under siege from the Greens.
In the latest leadership gyrations, the political class has triumphed, egged on, sad to say, by members of my own business who are as much of a problem as those they report upon.
Too few have strayed far from the political nest
At least, Malcolm Turnbull had a real job before politics, if you call a career in investment banking, a “real job’’.
What distinguishes Julia Banks from her fellow parliamentarians is that she was not a political staffer, or a union organiser, or a party functionary, or a talking head from think tanks of left and right. These latter institutions exist partly to drip feed their pasty-faced alumni into elected office.
What all this means is the country is in thrall to an apparatchik class for whom the practice of politics has become an end in itself, like an elaborate parlour game. Leadership spills are another version of charades.
In a parliamentary Coalition room dominated by men, what is clearly required is a leavening of qualified women - beyond the miserable 20 per cent there now - who have actually had careers outside politics, and who don’t believe that good government is better served by the sort of caterwauling that accompanies politics these days inside parliament and on the airwaves.
Julia Banks has done us a favour by drawing attention to a broken system.