MUNGO MacCALLUM. Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary. 

Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of the quest for untold, unearned wealth. Treasure Island, was also an acute observer of politics. He once declared: “Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.” 

Of course that was back in England, in the 19th century – but it still essentially applies. Nowadays the major parties generally run courses to help their potential candidates unravel the mysteries of the parliamentary system of government, but there is no guarantee of success – high flyers in other fields regularly crash and burn, Malcolm Turnbull only the most recent.

But surely, after the traumas over section 44 of the constitution last year, you would expect a modicum of due diligence with an election looming. But no – even when nominations have closed and how to vote cards have been printed, they have been falling like Boeings from the sky.

The most egregious of course was the ridiculous Steve Dixon, forgiven by Pauline Hanson after his foray to use NRA money to subvert Australian law, but not for groping a stripper apparently in her eyes lechery trumps treachery.

But the rot is not only eroding the fringe parties; the majors have also been seen to be incapable of managing the most elementary checks. Not only have there been more potential breaches of section 44, but indiscreet and damaging internet posts have been unearthed by the diligent trolls who roam the gutters whose job it is to destroy their opponents. And they have claimed more than a handful of victims, with the near certainty of more in the last frantic fortnight.

Most, if not all, have had it coming: Wayne Kumorth, Labor’s number two for the senate in the Northern Territory, who believes the world is under the sway of Jewish shape-shifting lizards, is clearly not just unsuitable but deranged. Peter Killin, the Liberal selection for Wills, lamented that he was unable to vote against the reselection of his “notoriously homosexual” colleague Tim Wilson, whom he regarded as an appalling health risk.

How they, and others, got through the net proves that it has loopholes bigger than those of the coalition’s tax policies. True, they were preselected in seats which they had no hope of winning, but they were candidates for parties that aspired to rule Australia. How can this happen?

Well, quite easily, it appears — obviously they did not declare their misdemeanours, and those in charge did not bother to do the research. Their apparatchiks were too busy digging for dirt on their opponents to worry about their own vulnerabilities. Karma, perhaps, but it does not help the rising tide of cynicism, the belief that politics has become less about the national interest and more about protecting and rewarding the elitists that gorge at the parliamentary trough.

Stevenson, in his day, was criticising inexperience and incompetence – comparatively venal sins. What we are seeing today is not just sloppiness (although there is plenty of that) but something which is seen as close to corruption – and without the cheerful amorality of Long John Silver.

Of course Stevenson also wrote the terrible parable of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. So perhaps the candidates and their minders would be wise to first examine their darker sides before embarking on the search for the treasures of office. We can do without those who have been exposed, but the ones who have not are far more worrying.

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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