Wednesday, April 9, 2014

'The Life of the Mind'--Reflections on a conference



'The Life of the Mind' -- a book by Hannah Arendt, 
and an encapsulation of why conferences matter.

The expression "political philosophy", which I avoid, is extremely burdened by tradition. When I talk about these things, academically or nonacademically, I always mention that there is a vital tension between philosophy and politics. That is, between man as a thinking being and man as an acting being, there is a tension that does not exist in natural philosophy, for example. Like everyone else, the philosopher can be objective with regard to nature, and when he says what he thinks about it he speaks in the name of all mankind. But he cannot be objective or neutral with regard to politics...

...and...

There is a kind of enmity against all politics in most philosophers, with very few exceptions.
 Kant is an exception. 

Hannah Arendt in a conversation with Gunther Grass, 1964 
in The Last Interview and other Conversations, Melville House Publishing, 2013.

For the second year in a row, I have made the big trip across the seas to attend the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference in Chicago. It was, as you might expect, a bit overwhelming for an Australian used to smaller conferences here (500 participants, 300 papers sort of size) to a conference with approximately 6000 participants, that many papers and posters, spread across five sessions and three and a half days. 

I 'accidentally' ended up at my first MPSA Conference last year following an email invitation to consider presenting. As academics, these days we are inundated with rather spammy email encouragements to attend this or that conference somewhere but this was a little different. After researching a little more about the organisation I decided it was about time I explored these international opportunities. It was a good decision (supported by the fact it meant getting over to Chicago, probably my favourite US city). 

It is encouraging, in a way, to see that political scientists from around the world are dealing with similar challenges with their respective areas of research and indeed, the eternal question of how to engage the general population in what we do on a day-to-day basis. It is incredibly valuable to share our cares and concerns in an international setting. As is often the case, it is the chat over coffee in between sessions that can bear out just as much as the more formal dialogue that goes on in session. 

I teach and research across a range of areas, although I like to think there is a common thread through all. What it does mean is that I have very difficult decisions to make as far as choosing panels to attend. No matter, I think the conference could be held over seven days and you still wouldn't get to attend all you wanted to hear. 

Each evening, I spend an hour deliberating, deciding, wishing I could be in four places at once. I have to split my interests across international security, Northeast Asia, domestic politics and foreign policy of Japan, women in politics, politics and pedagogy, political philosophy, psephology, terrorism...not to mention all those other areas I know next to nothing about, but would like to hear and understand. Sometimes, it is a toss of the coin, knowing that choosing one means missing out on others...at least many of the papers end up on the website, eventually.

So many highlights this year but for me perhaps sitting in on two panels discussing Hannah Arendt, one after the other and across the hallway from each other, summed up for me the richness of this sort of engagement. To meet Arendtian scholars at this stage of my own research and thinking was great. I think one of the participants summed up our feelings best at the end of the second session when she said that perhaps one of the things Arendt wanted to come through in her work is that we would do exactly what we were doing...talking about ideas and politics, how we teach it, how we understand what others were thinking. There was a real sense of carrying on a legacy there in the heart of Palmer House in Chicago, I could almost sense Arendt's presence in the room. It was indeed, a 'life of the mind' moment for me. I came away from there already with encouragement and the germ of an idea for my paper proposal for the 73rd Conference; and it was still only day one. 

With such a spread of papers and sessions, sometimes the audiences an be quite small but it allows for marvellous dialogue. It is an embodiment of quality over quantity I think. 

The other sessions which emboldened me to pursue further research were the panels and roundtables on women in politics. Some very interesting discussions on representation and empowerment which relate to my research on women's representation here in Australia and in Japan...there may be a second paper to contribute there next year too. 

There was a further discussion in which I participated, and that was the status of the blog in the academy. That discussion alone has encouraged me to return to this space, on a more regular basis, and keep on posting. There is a perfectly good opportunity here for political scientists to translate our findings and our understanding to these platforms... and I shall do it more regularly. (That is was in the famous Empire Room of Palmer House added a certain richness...)

I remain fascinated by the very quantitative nature of US political science; in other words, many of the panellists are graduate students presenting various stages of their dissertation work and it is nearly always data, dependent and independent variables, binomial regressions and other things of like type...I can see that it is a dissection of empirical evidence to support various hypotheses. As a qualitative theorist and analyst, I find it quite remarkable. I suspect there is definitely a panel on the differences in research traditions across the world too. 

A further aspect of the conference I really respect is the very sincere and thoughtful commentary that chairs and discussants take the time to convey...something I haven't myself quite caught up with...but I will for next year, I promise myself. Typically, the discussant(s) will have read the presenters' papers very closely and offer valuable critique (mostly) of the presentations. I'd like to see this instituted more systematically at our conferences here in Australia. It gives the audience a platform for discussion too.

For me, the conference is a form of professional development. It allows me to tap into research and issues for our discipline that reading journal articles doesn't quite capture. Many in Chicago were surprised I made the trip from Down Under for a 12 minute presentation and a three and a half day conference. I think, if we are to share and benefit from our work, then it is imperative. 

Last year, I was partially funded by my faculty to attend; this year I paid my own way. Universities demand tangible outcomes to all monies wasted spent on activities such as this. That should be in the form of published, refereed top tier journal articles, or enormous research grants, or similar. That might happen, but it might not. I didn't feel I could take the university's money, not knowing what the result might be. Well, not quite, the results of attending such conferences are indeed intangible too, but that doesn't pay in the short-termism of the present university environment. I know that my teaching is enriched by attendance at international conferences, and that ultimately students benefit from that. It is also valuable to see your own work scrutinised by peers on an international level. I also know that I have reached a point in my research that is going to require some time for the work I am doing now to percolate through the system in the form of articles and a book or two. It was an important point in time to attend, the discussion on Hannah Arendt alone was worth enduring 40 hours of flying in six days. Like so many other aspects of our academic life though, what we might see as professional development and what the corporate university is willing to support as such, is getting further and further apart. It is disappointing...this was so much more valuable than a day of workshopping butcher's paper which is increasingly becoming the PD standard...even for us. 

I hope to return again next year. The organisation, the venue, the city, all resound in a vitality and energy that will keep me engaged and encouraged in my work. 

Thanks to all at MPSA and Palmer House.











Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The view from here: the Griffith by-election (3.5 in a series, and a full-stop)

...or, what went on in the mind of one voter. 

I did

I'm often asked, in the course of my day job, to 'predict' election outcomes; to interpret the opinion polls ; to tell us what people are thinking. Well, here's a truth: I can't really give any better sense of what people are thinking than the next person. We can estimate, guesstimate, prognosticate and offer possibilities but, when all is said and done, I can't be inside the heads of 97,000 or so potential voters on the day. So really, what will be will be. I shy away from the 'science' part of my political science disciplinary spectrum which seem to find answers to voting behaviours via the sorts of mathematical equations that ought to stay in the pages of my senior high school algebra textbooks. Good luck to my colleagues who do that stuff, their conclusions are always interesting but I just disagree with the path that gets them there. 

The analysis from all quarters after a by-election makes interesting reading. Some muffled grunts in agreement, some eyebrow raising at the wild guessing in the guise of 'authoritative opinion'. The latter often being in inverse proportion to the kilometres away from the actual boundaries of the said electorate. I feel, then, it is my solemn duty as a political observer to try and for you dear reader, a sense of what goes on in the mind of a voter in this critical (not critical), highly (over) analysed by-election. I have lived in this electorate for over twenty years; I was here when Kevin Rudd failed in his first campaign (1996) and I'm here at the end of his era as the member for Griffith. [Whether I remain a 'good burgher' or not will depend on the moniker the new member decides to use.] What follows is not particularly scientific,  and it is rather uncensored. It is no doubt, a variation on one of 80,275* or voters' minds the commentariat were so interested in on the by-election weekend. 

[*in the end, an 82% voter turnout; it compares favourably with the 34% voter turnout for the Tokyo Governor, which also happened on the weekend... #justsayin']

Let's put down a few variables and parameters through which you may choose to refine your lens on my lens on the voting process.

1. I am a swinging voter in that I rarely give one of the two major parties my first preference. I generally opt for a minor party (or independent) first and over time have probably alternated ALP and LPA candidates down the list, fairly evenly. I really don't see a lot of difference between the two once they swap the treasury for the opposition benches, or vice versa.

2. I have, as often as is practicable, voted at the same polling booth at each election and usually at about the same time. This is about as scientific as my voting gets, seeking some order of consistency. (It has mostly been a largely ALP booth during Kevin Rudd's terms.)

3. Partly because it is my job, but mostly because I am interested, I do take note of the material distributed by candidates. 

4. I am a member of a non-aligned union, as part of my professional engagement, the tertiary education union, the NTEU. Views on union participation matter. Bill Glasson made his name as the head of his professional association, the Australian Medical Association; Terri Butler is an employment and industrial relations partner with noted law firm, Maurice Blackburn. Both candidates then, had 'union' credentials, in a way.

5. Regular readers of this blog will know I have followed Kevin Rudd's career quite closely and hold particular views about his skills, management abilities, rhetoric v reality and other matters. Given Mr Rudd triggered the by-election by resigning after he was elected back in September, and I hold strong views about the importance and privilege of being elected to parliament, my vote, in the end, might have been influenced by that.

Tipping point paraphernalia: LNP top, ALP below
Professionally, I was also interested in how voting a second time within a few months might change one's vote: do you vote the same way because it is in effect, a re-run ballot? Do you have a chance to 'change your mind' given the outcome was or wasn't the one you wanted before? (These are particularly interesting questions in the case of the upcoming Western Australian Senate re-run election...so much to think about there.)

The LNP candidate, Dr Bill Glasson, basically picked up from where he left off in his 2013 campaign. His supporters, nicknamed 'Glasson's Gladiators' continued their occupation of street corners each Saturday morning (and with increasing frequency and appearances as the Saturday approached). The Glasson campaign had elements of the 'grassroots' support about it (if local opinion was anything to go by) though with the obvious backing of the party organisation. 

The ALP candidate, lawyer Terri Butler, pitched her campaign as being part of a young working family who understood the situation of many working families in the electorate. I think she did a reasonably good job over the term of the campaign to separate herself to a point from being a 'replacement' Kevin Rudd. 

In total, we again faced 11 candidates to choose from. The Greens ran with Geoff Ebbs again (having, apparently, briefly flirted withe the idea of running Andrew Bartlett). We also had interstate comedian Anthony Ackroyd standing for the Bullet Train Party, I guess to get some publicity (for the party, and himself). People I spoke to, by the way, found this a little too trivialising for the by-election. Maybe the response would have been a little less hostile, in a general election. 

Some of the independents, during the campaign, received some particularly strong profile-rasing coverage, although as the figures show, after the Greens captured their usual third spot with about 10% of the vote, all others hovered above or below the one percent mark. Voters continue to be reluctant to cast their votes outside the major two-party system. 




FIRST PREFERENCES
Polling places Returned: 48 of 48   Enrolment: 97,857   Turnout: 82.03%
Candidate
Party
Votes
%
Swing (%)
LAWRENCE, Timothy
Stable Population Party
666
0.86
+0.67
EBBS, Geoff
The Greens
7,635
9.82
-0.36
WILLIAMS, Christopher
Family First Party
729
0.94
+0.20
BOELE, Karel
Independent
504
0.65
+0.65
ACKROYD, Anthony
Bullet Train For Australia
602
0.77
+0.77
REID, Anne
Secular Party of Australia
424
0.55
+0.04
BUTLER, Terri
Australian Labor Party (Qld)
30,023
38.63
-1.73
THOMAS, Melanie
Pirate Party Australia
1,172
1.51
+1.51
WINDSOR, Travis
Independent
656
0.84
+0.84
SAWYER, Ray
Katter's Australian Party
821
1.06
+0.37
GLASSON, Bill
Liberal National Party (Qld)
34,491
44.38
+2.16
......
Rise Up Australia Party
0
0.00
-0.48
......
Socialist Alliance
0
0.00
-0.44
......
Palmer United Party
0
0.00
-3.36
......
Other
0
0.00
-0.82
FORMAL

77,723
96.82
+1.58
INFORMAL

2,552
3.18
-1.58
TOTAL

80,275
82.03
-11.11

TWO CANDIDATE PREFERRED
Polling Places Returned: 48 of 48   Turnout: 82.03%
Candidate
Party
Votes
Margin
This Election (%)
Last Election (%)
Swing (%)

BUTLER, Terri
ALP
40,229
2,735
51.76
53.01
-1.25

GLASSON, Bill
LNP
37,494
-2,735
48.24
46.99
+1.25






Source: Australian Electoral Commission, 2014.
vtr.aec.gov.au/HouseDivisionFirstPrefs-17552-163.htm


We also note that for the second time, Bill Glasson received the most first preference votes and Terri Butler had to rely on the second preferences. This is a repeat of the September 2013 election where Kevin Rudd, despite a 5% swing against him, was elected on second preferences. 

So then, to the ballot box....

The first thing that struck me was that the rolls were on a laptop, all electronic, perhaps in the wake of higher security demanded after the WA Senate votes problem. We also received, for the first time I can remember, a sticker declaring we've voted (but with no 'ink-dipping' expectation to wear it--see above). The school P&C had their sausage sizzle up and running too, true Australian democratic practice.

It would be fair to say I go to the polling place with a range of things on my mind. Often, I have sorted my first preference but sometimes waver on which way to go with preferences. What struck me about this campaign was that as the campaign proceeded, Bill Glasson seemed to lose his naturalness and became very much a cog in the party machine. This was a change in his 2013 campaigning. It made it harder to be convinced that he could 'stand up' in Canberra as he insisted. Terri Butler seemed to get by with being Terri Butler and not Kevin Rudd. Given the distribution of preferences in the seat, it was probably always going to be hers to lose anyway. 

In the end, I preferenced both major parties down the list. I will tell you, dear reader, that there were changes in campaigning and yes, I did switch the order of preferences for the two main candidates, once I got there. 'Which way?', you ask. Well, I still value the anonymity of the 'secret ballot', so that's all you'll get from me. Ultimately, I was disappointed with the tone of the material which came our way, the photo above being but one example. Neither of the cards, posted to letterboxes, were obvious in their origins and only sad psephies like me looked for the 'authorised by' fine print to pick who was who. Memo to party headquarters: unnecessary tactic thanks. 

And yet, while I probably over-intellectualise the process, for every one of voters like me, I couldn't help but wonder about the other voters in my polling place at that time. The first time voters, people who have come from other countries, perhaps a little perplexed by the process. Or indeed, the woman next to me who struck up a conversation, utterly confused about how many times she had to fill in a paper, her insistence that there were only 10 candidates and why did all the how to vote cards tell her she must vote this way or that... (NB: No vote coaching happened during my polite exchange of explanation with this voter.)

I love my profession. I'm passionate about cultivating an understanding and engagement in our political processes with as many people as possible. I enjoy trying to work out people's motivations, interests, reasons for decisions. I think it is just a far more fuzzy 'science' than we are willing to sometimes admit (it's not the stuff of successful grant applications). It has me pursuing the spectrum of thought, ideas and philosophies down the ages as a means to understand our 'human condition'. And, I've found that unlike our present politicians and their campaign 'advisors' who seem to think the narrowcast bread-and-butter issues and a cultivation of envy and avarice are all that concern voters, digging a little deeper and exploring the ideas that make us who we are are the sorts of things that intrigue us, challenge us and re-engage us in our society.

It's a job, and someone has to do it. 
Cheers.



Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My teaching is done here

'What is necessary for the public realm is to shield it from the private interests which have intruded upon it in the most brutal and aggressive way'
--Hannah Arendt, c. 1973 

Oh, that Hannah Arendt were alive today and enduring the 21st century tertiary education sector. The above quote is attributed to a speech she gave at a Columbia University conference on the topic of 'Private Rights and Public Good' (see 'Quote of the Week', Hannah Arendt Center, Bard College, 1 October 2012). As 2013 closes and 2014 approaches, I am 'retiring' from teaching and aspects of that decision are tinged with regret while in other ways it comes with huge relief. 

Closing the office door, December 2013
For me, 2014 will largely be a year away from the classroom, for the first time in about fifteen years in this instance, and a career that began in the English conversation classes in Japan in 1984. There is a family legend that at the end of my first year of Harbord Public School in Sydney I sat down with my grandmother and decided then at the age of five going on six, that I would become a teacher. I recall my grandmother's encouraging words about my decision, mainly for the holidays and pay. In the intervening years, everything I did was directed towards that goal: my choice of university was based on an innovative (for then) joint Bachelors/DipEd program over four years. 

As I completed each level of education so too did my aspirations of teaching level: in primary school I wanted to be a primary school teacher like Mrs Day or Miss Turner; at high school I imagined myself teaching my two passions, Japanese and biology; at university I learnt the state education department had rather strict guidelines about teaching combinations and Japanese and biology didn't fit into the pro forma arts/humanities OR science/maths requirements. At the entry point to university, I had to choose between Science and Japanese...we know which way that choice went. 

I surprised myself in the mid-1980s when the first thoughts of becoming an 'academic' began to emerge. Not ever really the done thing for a kid from my side of the tracks...'bit above yer station isn't it?' as some were wont to say. But pursue an academic road (albeit rocky at times) I did and here I be...(as some are wont to say). 

I have gained far more than I could have ever imagined from what seems to be a life of teaching. There are no greater rewards than seeing students have their 'light bulb' moment. I've been privileged witness to students who eyes have seemingly lit up upon 'getting it'; guiding them through those 'big questions' of politics and philosophical prognostications. As with most 'teachers', my students have remained constant sources of inspiration and learning for me too. 

1. Teaching and knowledge gathering could be collegial
Cai Guo-Qiang, Heritage, 2013; QAGOMA. Author pic
However, as Arendt identified forty years earlier, the intrusions on the public education sector are such that I can no longer be the teacher I want to be nor can I be the teacher I know I can and should be. The moments of 'dread', though few, outweigh the magic moments to the point that it is better I take off my teacher's mask. The autonomy of the academic has been under attack for some time. The 'value' of academic contribution is now determined by quantitative formulae which privilege big prestigious grants; it is determined by a demeaning competitive race for 'tier one' journals and publishers regardless of the genuine merit. The collegial approach of the academy which once sought to pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake, to question, to ponder, to think, is now condemned by and large, to compete against each other to earn a faux prestige...as a number of sincere colleagues have noted, the emperor truly has no clothes. Or, as some might see it, there seems to be a privileging of mediocrity in the academy (and I am simply not sufficiently mediocre).

2. But now feels like this...a pack of wolves
Cai Guo-Qiang, Head On, 2006; QAGOMA.
Author pic, 2013.
We are therefore made to contrive research projects which become complex and complicated and expensive beyond all necessity. In recent years, as I have reluctantly given in to 'playing the game', I have tried individually and in an even more contrived 'research group' to get on the funding merry-go-round. Inevitably I fall off because my research consists largely of sitting, reading, thinking, translating and writing. It is not the the sort of research which requires annual funding of five or six figures on high rotation. Indeed, I have estimated that my annual research budget would require less than the fortnightly salary of a typical vice-chancellor. There is much waste in research funding and distribution...a courageous education minister would stand on the brakes to purge the sector of the neoliberalism which has poisoned our path to expanding our knowledge universe. A redistribution of funding according to need and not ambition could in fact result in far greater knowledge outcomes than our contrived system extrudes. Counterintuitive to the bean counters I guess. 

I am taking time out in 2014 to research, write and think. I have the safety net of a teaching-free semester followed by long service leave, and I am grateful that I am in that position to do so (though it has come as a result of too many hours teaching...it's a kind of performance management thing in fact so it is imperative I 'perform' in other ways next year). 

But I see this as the end of teaching in any formal way for me. As I reach the half-century with no prospect of career advancement, I have made that decision, as difficult as it is for me to do so; as difficult as it has been for one who has envisioned a career of teaching and learning for most of my life. There is disappointment but also anticipation of what might be ahead. I have much to write about: on Australia-Japan relations, on Northeast Asian security, on Japanese adventurers of 120 years ago and on Hannah Arendt, a new project for 2014 which will explore evil, brutality and our human condition. I have wanted to return to Arendt's work since being introduced to her thought as a wide-eyed undergraduate some 30 years ago by a lecturer whose key tool was passion...what goes around... Arendt's work has been on my shelf ever since, bubbling away in the subconscious, knowing but not knowing; one day seeking understanding. 

I think I may have found a way to understand the emotions emergent in the Thai-Burma railway experiences as exemplified in two recent interpretations: the movie The Railway Man and the novel by Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. It won't cost much financially, but hopefully it will add to our understanding of who we are and why we, as humanity, do what we do. It is a timely confluence of events, and decades of research and thinking I've done on various topics, nothing more. It may be the one 'big work' that, as a naive undergraduate, I once imagined that was what one did. 

I look forward with eagerness and trepidation to the challenge as I step outside the formal institutional structure. Outside that structure there remains a space where these things an be explored and discussed and I am grateful for the opportunities provided through the blog and twitterspheres...and other media. I will have more time for this blog and I look forward to that.

Arguably, the public university is effectively dead...we need to see it for what it is, quasi-public-private 'partnership' with the authority weighted heavily in the wrong elements. The public realm remains, just not at the university. I remain committed to upholding the value of the public realm, but for now, my teaching here is done. 

See you in the new year. Cheers, and thanks for being interested.






Saturday, November 16, 2013

CarrRudded: The sound of our 44th parliament

Men in general judge more by the sense of sight than by the sense of touch, because everyone can see but few can test by feeling. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few know what you really are; and those few do not dare take a stand against the general opinion. 
Niccolò MachiavelliThe Prince

KRudd resigns : bloggers blog

And so, on the evening of Wednesday 13 November 2013, Mr Rudd resigned...and we have now all blogged about it. Well, blog we must, and here is my contribution to the record. 

Not so quiet now, the local paper seeks out
 the member for Griffith
Southeast Advertiser October 2013
Those of you who have read my previous posts about Kevin Rudd will know that I take something of a 'view from Griffith' approach. That is, I am a constituent of this electorate. Not only that, I hope to bring to my view a slightly different take on my local member, as one who shares a similar educational and background (Asian Studies), a short stint in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as one whose profession it is to observe politics at its very heart and one who has, over some two decades or so encountered elements of the Rudd career trajectory via his report into studying Asian languages from the early 1990s, to encounters in federal parliament when I worked for a Queensland senator, to active constituent in electorate events. It is an interesting mix.

Mr Rudd, as we know, was re-elected as the member for Griffith in September. He regained his seat on the back of second preferences and had a 5% swing against him. Interesting that his swing went against him, while Labor candidates in neighbouring electorates had swings towards them...we good burghers of Griffith had mixed feelings methinks. In looking over the individual booth results (ah, yes, I do that sort of thing...occupational hazard of psephologists everywhere), I noted with interest that my local booth was one of the few in the electorate to show an increase in first preferences since the previous election...but I digress. 

At Troy Bramston's book launch,
in the electorate, 16 March 2013, the
prime ministerial ambition burned then.
There was a sense on the day of the election that, frankly, we were likely to head to a by-election within months, perhaps weeks, despite assurances otherwise. That may have gone some way to explaining that interesting swing against. In the event of the ALP losing government, it was highly unlikely Mr Rudd would stick around to go back from whence he came--an opposition back bencher. 

Those of us not playing in the ALP pick-a-leader playground for the month after the election were getting a little frustrated that the 'Rudd reform' of the party was dragging out over a month while a new government with wobbly training wheels was afforded an almost scrutiny-free month to settle in. All eyes were on the Shorten-Albanese sideshow. Meanwhile, our local member went on a two-week holiday overseas with family to rest and recover. Well, fair enough I suppose. Dr Glasson went back to his surgery. 

After a long, long wait, the 44th Parliament opened at the beginning of this week with all the pomp and ceremony that accompanies that. It is an exciting and deserved time for new members and territory senators (other new senators will join next July...). It is when the first (or maiden) speeches begin...each new member rising for the first time in this place to put on the record, in Hansard, their aspirations, their dreams, their political philosophy, their reason for being there in this place...first speeches are truly a joy to read. They are each and every member and senator at their most heartfelt (well, mostly). 

I was driving home after a long day at work (nine hours of exam workshops), listening to some of the first speeches replayed on the radio; the reactions of family, friends and communities to their new members, particularly the more prominent ones, the ones with high public profiles and even higher expectations. 

And so, it was not surprising on this important evening to hear the breaking news that Kevin Rudd, the member for Griffith, the immediate past prime minister, sometime foreign minister, opposition leader etc, was entering the chamber to announce his resignation from parliament. There were the usual paeans to family and colleagues on both sides of the House; the emotion-filled first draft at establishing one's legacy in what had really been a rather tumultuous few years; the speech of one who polarised his party, the Cabinet, his constituents. Members from both sides rose to offer valediction...he had been prime minister, twice, after all. 

By the time I reached the outskirts of Brisbane, the radio was abuzz and 612ABC's Rebecca Levingston and producer Lachie Mackintosh were in full-on live coverage mode. By 8.05, it was my turn to contribute and so from the car park of the home of the whopper (I had to pull off the main road) I had a chat with Rebecca about the by-election, what is to come and what of the member for Griffith's legacy. 

Former Senator Bob Carr had announced just a few weeks ago that he intended to retire from the Senate, his decision to remain as an 'elder statesman' was merely 'irrational exuberance'. While it came as little surprise, the resignation was met with the usual cynicism that is the public's response to our parliamentarians. The resignation of a senator doesn't require a by-election in the same way the resignation of a member of the House of Representatives requires (notwithstanding what is about to unfold over in Western Australia). 

The public, by and large, do not like unnecessary by-elections (well, I don't mind the opportunity to go all psephologist again of course). The resignations of Messrs Rudd and Carr though, call into question the vocation of politics. What these resignations suggest to the public is that some politicians, given the privilege to represent constituents in the highest of democratic institutions, mistake the purpose of politics to be beyond self-interest and self-aggrandisement. And it is here, dear reader, that I think we arrive at the nub of our broken contract (yes, this post was always going to return to my Kantian rhythms...). Not all the action happens on the front bench, in question time, on the evening news...places where those who seek very public acclamation play out their game plan. Unfortunately, the very public expectations nowadays now put the emphasis on the 'game', on the superficial over substance. 

What is wrong with being a 'backbencher'? Nothing actually, indeed the backbench is a vastly underrated space from where a parliamentarian can make a huge difference to the lives of individuals, their constituents, case-by-case. Some do that very well. Some indeed, satisfy themselves career-wise with the focus on the micro, rather than macro. There are committees as well, where a backbencher can channel their efforts to craft and influence the legislative process, quite out of the spotlight. Indeed, perhaps our politics has reached its nadir because high-profile and experienced politicians find the work of a backbencher mere drudgery. Indeed, it was my former Minister who is attributed with coining the expression 'relevance deprivation syndrome', and in doing so, he gave the 'pass-out' for others who have followed in his footsteps, the justification for the departure they feel they deserve. 

I'm not suggesting that all elected members should remain in parliament forever. But the position of parliamentarian shouldn't be seen as a stepping stone to a second or third career. Our polity can only benefit from the experience that experienced politicians can offer, whether from the government or opposition backbenches, our parliament can thrive on a judicious mix of youthful idealism and hardened experience. 

It is something I hope they think about. 

In closing, as I write, we good Griffith burghers are none the wiser over likely candidates, probable dates (sometime in the new year) and our new member. The insurmountable dialectical polarity of Kevin will be likely be his lasting legacy in the end. Triggering a by-election in these circumstances will ensure that. Seeing out the current term at least, as mundane as it might have been, might have gone some way, just a little, towards repairing that ailing social contract of ours.