Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Long-standing member of Parliament urges students to get involved in politics

Christopher Hartcher giving his talk after formal dinner

The Honourable Christopher Hartcher, who has an MP since 1988, stressed the importance of ordinary people getting involved in politics when he spoke to Warrane residents on Wednesday 19 March 2014.

The member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly representing Terrigal for the Liberal Party, Mr Hartcher said the best illustration of the importance of politics was the satellite photograph taken of Korea at night.

“It shows North Korea in virtual total darkness and South Korea in a blaze of light,” he said. “The Korean people are the same, their language is the same, their culture is the same, their history is the same. The only division between North and South Korea is political.

“The resources in Korea are mainly focused in the north. The south is very poor in resources. But the politics in Korea are what determine the fact that in North Korea, according to a United Nations report that came out only two weeks ago, over one million people live in imprisonment camps of the worst possible kind. Whole generations grow up in these imprisonment camps.

“Over two million people have died of starvation in the past 10 years and so undernourished is the North Korean community that the average height size is 1.4 metres.

“In the south you have a bustling, dynamic, free economy, where people prosper in huge numbers and the difference, as I say, is politics.”

Mr Hartcher, who has been the NSW Minister for Resources and Energy, Special Minister of State, Minister for the Central Coast, and Minister for the Environment warned that people who ignore politics do so at their peril.

“Politics is like anything else in life,” he said. ”It does not happen of its own accord. It only happens because people are involved in it and make sure that it works — because people make a contribution towards it.”

Mr Hartcher said he did not want to advocate a particular brand of politics. Everyone had to make their own choices. They did not need to stand for parliament, but they should involve themselves in the political process by taking an interest because unless they advocated a particular type of society it would not happen.

He pointed out that membership of political parties has been falling dramatically and because of that very small groups were able to influence political parties.

“Australians have walked away from involvement in churches as well as in political parties,” he said. “(But) the political process will continue to play a part in our lives by determining the framework in which we live — the business framework, the medical and scientific framework, the legal framework.”

He urged his listeners to consider politics as a form of public service rather than as an opportunity for “personal enrichment”. There were always stories about people in politics, he said, but they should be considered as being just a “part of the process of life and fallible human beings”.

He encouraged students in the audience to “look ahead at the community in which we live and the need to serve that community”.

Asked during the question-and-answer session to comment on the need for balance in politics, he said it was not possible to have a successful political system if one party remained in power for too long.

“You need a constant dynamic tension,” he said. “A strong government needs a strong opposition.”

Even though he violently disagreed with the Greens, he said he nevertheless felt they were needed because, like the Christian Democrats, they were raising important issues.

Among other points made by Mr Hartcher were:

– Young people should not be put off by the infighting in politics because there would always be competition and clashes, but the conflict tended to get worse as party numbers diminished. When too few people were involved in politics it allowed extremist views to have more impact and then even more people tended to walk away.

– Despite appearances, within the parliament itself everyone “gets on very well”.

– The media tended to play up question time “when party leaders are exchanging insults” which gave a completely distorted impression of the political process.

– While he went into politics believing he could change the world, he quickly found that he couldn’t. He learned that you need to have identified goals and work towards achieving them because in politics you cannot fight on all fronts but need to work in specialised areas that you believe are important.

– Although he was a very strong environmentalist and was keen to get the environment ministry he came to realise that decisions had an impact on peoples’ lives — that environmental decisions could leave people with nowhere to go and without jobs. “You have to temper your own plans with the impact they have on other people’s lives,” he said.

– Political parties were necessary for the healthy functioning of government. “Imagine if we just had thousands of independents running around,” he said. “How would you know what they stood for? How would you be able to make a rational choice based on what their policies would be in government? Political party structure is fundamental for democracy so that people have a choice — rather than so politicians can play games.”

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]