01/05

“Menschkeit”

By Geisha Bar

Machiavelli was an Italian political philosopher and writer who lived during the renaissance, much renowned for championing “pragmatism” and providing a written template for gaining and preserving power. He is the godfather of political expediency.

Today we cling to the belief that politician at all levels aren’t like this and genuinely want to make a difference in the community they serve. On the federal stage the quality of intellect if not the idealism is glaringly apparent. At state level the grey matter fades away and by the time you get to council politics, idealism has been unmercifully raped and the brains have been ruthlessly pillaged.

It is often said that local politics is the cradle of mediocrity,  of that there is little dispute, but even more alarming is the way corruption and local government go hand in hand, just like salt and pepper , night and day or Alana McTiernan and Ignorance.

Worst of all, the councillors aren’t paid properly. Sure they get free junkets, clothes allowances and the odd payment for serving on committees but unless you are wearing the gold chains you would battle to pay your rent on a councillor’s reimbursement. Many people who enter council politics have a fulltime “day” job whilst others are backed by the party machines, their eyes focussed on future political glory and a small few have enough money not to worry about a pay check.

So why is corruption so prevalent? Pretty damn obvious really. Combine lack of scrutiny with little payment and you are providing the prefect conditions for bribery, graft, nepotism and cronyism. The proper developer gets his rezoning, the tender process is pre-determined, school fees, holiday homes and consultancy fees appear magically and we the rate payers are none the wiser. To put it bluntly…..there is a chance councillors can be purchased ….or worse still with little more than 1000 votes you can get your own candidate elected.

The 1996 film City Hall starring Al Pacino followed the machinations of NYC council politics and Pacino (the mayor) spoke passionately of “Menschkeit” – a Jewish term that referred to the bond between men or “…the space between a handshake”. By films end John Cusack (his assistant) came to the realisation that this term dressed in its nobility was a simile for corruption, looking the other way, jobs for the boys and disrespect for public office.

Perth is no New York, this isn’t a movie and sometimes reality is much uglier than fiction. Small cities by definition have power held in the hands of the few but you don’t need to be Jewish to know “Menschkeit” when you see it