SOMETIMES our politicians come up with silly ideas. It makes sense, therefore, to apply the same silly ideas to them. To have them walk in someone else’s shoes.
Consider just one example. It is timely to drug test our Federal members of parliament. After all, they are funded by the taxpayer and it is appropriate to protect taxpayers’ money to ensure the wisest possible spending.
This is not a mirthful matter! On the whole, it’s true that politicians work very hard. They are constantly at the beck and call of their constituents, they examine legislation, work on committees, manage portfolios and shadow portfolios, listen to lobbyists, raise funds… and so the list goes on. However, in some cases their work is impaired.
People who are drug affected don’t work to the best of their ability. Apparently though, drug testing can solve the problem for those who are in need of help! Drug testing, of course, includes alcohol – the most pervasive of all drugs. And certainly the most pervasive on Capital Hill, just ask Tony Abbott. It is not enough to work hard. Our politicians should also be performing at their optimum. Hard work! Optimal performance. Should we expect anything less from our taxes? Peak performance cannot be achieved with alcohol or other drug-affected brains.
Combine hard work and top performance with occupational health and safety. How could any politician argue against being tested for alcohol and other drugs when there are occupational health and safety issues at stake? The community understands the risk that drink and drugs pose to drivers, to pilots, to ship captains. Extrapolating then, as many politicians do in debate, it is clear that driving, flying or sailing the ship of government should never happen under the influence of mood or mind-altering substances.
Outrageously, some readers may ask for evidence to back these claims. Evidence! Evidence may be important in political decision making – but surely only when the appropriate evidence can be found to back up an already determined decision. Scouring the world for evidence of political decision-making regarding drug or alcohol-affected brains might be useful for an opposition member or lobbyist who wants to challenge this sort of policy. But for the decision-maker there is simply no need. Surely it is enough that drug testing our pollies makes common sense and, most importantly by far, is politically popular.
Objectors won’t just be asking for the evidence or finding their own evidence to undermine policies. Next they will look for people with expertise to provide considered advice. One minute, evidence. Next minute, expert advice. What is politics coming to? Who makes decisions this way?
What other objections could there possibly be? Personal freedom? Dignity of the individual? Interference with the right of a pollie to get on with their own life? To make their own decisions? To seek treatment themselves?
Objectors need to look at the full picture. Drug and alcohol testing politicians is not intended to be a punishment. Sometimes people simply can’t manage on their own. They need help. Those politicians who have a positive test will be referred to treatment. Even if there is a long, long waiting list.
Treatment may not be enough. The policy will also need to garnish the vast majority of their wage so that they do not have access to taxpayer-funded cash that could be used for inappropriate purchasing of alcohol or other drugs. The system has a precedent – “welfare cards”. Government members are overwhelmingly in support of the concept as applied to others. No doubt they will have the same approach when applied to themselves! Social Services Minister Christian Porter has no evidence, no experts to support him, has not considered that there are already inadequate treatment places. This has not worried him in the parallel policy. He has already nominated trial sites.
Trial sites. Where to start? Perhaps the Cabinet should be first for alcohol and other drug testing. Garnish wages, apply a “welfare card” and provide referrals to treatment waiting lists. The Liberal backbench could be the second trial site. And then to the Nationals.
Some will think drug and alcohol testing of politicians is a silly policy. But it will certainly be popular with the electorate.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.