"Why don't you?"
If you are considering getting involved in our democracy first of all let me say that I applaud you. Whoever you are, whatever you believe in, we need more people like you.
Let me tell you why I got involved in politics, and why you should too.
In 2011 the then Labor government suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia. Family members and friends who I was working for just twelve months earlier, who relied on the trade, were shocked by the decision. On the night the trade was suspended I spoke to one of those people.
"What will you do if they ban it (live export) completely" I asked.
"There is nothing I can do, I might as well just shoot all the animals and walk away."
The answer went straight through me. With the stroke of a pen, someone in Canberra had decimated hundreds of peoples businesses across the north of our country and if this didn't have the desired effect, they had the power to destroy those businesses completely.
That was the day I learned there was nowhere to hide. That even if you live hundreds of kilometers from the nearest neighbor or town, work for someone or run a business, speak out or say nothing, the decisions made in our capital cities can hurt you and those you love.
The other terrible thing I learned is that the people who make those decisions are not often well equipped to make those decisions. Read the life story of so many current major party MP's you will often find they are very similar. They are almost always university educated, cut their teeth on student politics (The Greens, Young Labor/Liberal) while studying a law degree or similar qualification, They worked for a prestigious law firm, as a journalist or a political staffer or maybe took a short stint in local government before being selected by the executive of their party to run for a seat. If your talking about the National Party they almost always fought their way up through the various state agricultural bodies like the VFF. These people are often highly intelligent, great at working a room and excellent at defending their parties' ideology, but that is all they know.
They have spent ten years, twenty years or more working their way up the ladder to be preselected for a major party seat and in that time all they have become is a child of the party machine, a professional politician.
In 2012 a group of young people including myself was invited to Canberra to workshop new policy proposals for agriculture. While there we were guided (maybe railroaded) by a group of staffers who were placed with the group to help us. While trying to convince them of the value of one of my ideas, the staffer gave me a piece of advice I will never forget. "If you want to convince a politician about the merits of a policy, frame it in terms of their legacy, it is all they really care about."
The old saying "to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail" applies here. More people from the legal profession passing more and more sophisticated (read complicated) laws is not what our country needs, let alone politicians who would be proud to destroy thousands of peoples businesses across Northern Australia just to secure their "legacy".
That is why I am involved in politics, and that is why you should be as well. We need more real people, people like you to get involved.
Join A Party
My first piece of advice to anyone who would get into politics is to join a party. Unless your the local celebrity and you've been in the papers constantly you will find it very hard to get the references needed to stand as an independent. Depending on what you are aiming for you might need as many as 50 written references from people not related to you by blood or marriage, just to register to stand, the electoral commission website has the details.
Early on in this game your going to learn that the major parties make the rules and the elite don't like commoners playing in their playground so expect setbacks when you're trying to register either yourself as an independent or your party.
There are hundreds of parties out there at the moment, many are single issue ( eg The Smokers Rights Party) while others take a much broader stance. Read their policies carefully and go along to a meeting or two so you know who you're dealing with and what they stand for. My advice is not to be too picky about who you join. You don't have to support everything they stand for and an alternative point of view is excellent for sharpening arguments and tightening policy. If you really don't like their policy on a certain issue you may be able to create change from within but remember you may have to defend that policy in public if it doesn't change by election time. As a member of a party your a member of a team, if that team stands for something that compromises deeply held principles, find another party.
As a member of a party you will have a lot of support behind you. You will have help shaping and learning to articulate policy, help to get registered and maybe some money to pay for printing and registration fees. You will also have the benefit of working with like minded people while fighting for something you believe in. I must say that is one of the greatest rewards.
Growth as a person
Being involved with a political party is one of the best ways you can grow as a person. In a world where every job is being outsourced overseas or programmed into a computer, it is only those people who have mastered the art of dealing with people that can truly say their job is safe. Leadership, communication, charm and charisma can't be taught in a call center or programed into a robot.
Being involved with a political party is a great way to learn how to sell your point of view and deal with people who may not agree with you. You are forced to learn to write, speak and articulate your point of view better.
We are often told that "if you don't stand for something you can fall for anything". Joining a party forces you to solidify your opinion, to educate yourself, arm yourself with better facts and figures so you can win an argument or hold your position. So many people in life never learn to do that, they allow themselves to be convinced by the last person that spoke to them and never learn to make up their own minds.
Being a member of a party allows you to take advantage of the preference system. In the state election I narrowly missed out on a seat that went to a candidate who had only slightly more than half the first preference vote my party achieved. Working with a party increases the likelihood the person negotiating your preferences will know what they are doing and will be able to secure you a good deal. We have several people in parliament now who have won a seat with tiny first preference votes.
If they can do it, so can you.
We are fortunate to live in a country where anyone can stand for and be elected to government. I feel there are people at the top who would like to change that but it can only happen if we let them get away with it.
"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing" - Winston Churchill