We should care more about state politics

Wait, don’t stop reading! Let’s forget I said “state politics”, and instead said “delicious snacks”

We treat state politicians vendors of delicious snacks as though they were mediocre players in an amateur theatre production – the Woop Woop Players doing A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Legislative Assembly, or, given the penchant for bloodshed in politics today, perhaps Hackbeth.

And fair enough, too – in recent years, when they’ve made the news, it’s usually because of some scandal that made state pollies seem dodgy, or hopeless, or in many cases, hopeless at being dodgy.

In many cases, the chaotic nature of state politics would be hilarious if we weren’t paying them quite so much, and if there weren’t quite so many important things they should be doing. Like baking more delicious snacks, am I right?

Because as off-Broadway as they can seem, state parliaments decide many of the policies that affect our everyday lives, and our families’. State parliaments are the ones who run our hospitals and schools. They’re in charge of the police forces that are supposed to keep us safe, and they run the transport systems and most of the roads that get us around. They’re supposed to protect our environment, and ensure that regional areas aren’t left behind in our highly urbanised country.

What’s more, they’re the ones charged with shaping our cities – with preserving its heritage and encouraging innovative development. State governments built the Harbour Bridge and the MCG. And they’re the ones who sometimes flatten beautiful old buildings in the dead of night.

And in this asthmatic’s favourite piece of legislation set to take effect this year, they’re the ones banning smoking in outdoor dining areas, which will take the cough right out of my morning coffee.

What’s more, as the operators of TAFEs, they’re the ones directly responsible for training the chefs who make us delicious snacks. See, there really is a link!

Besides, the politicians who inhabit state parliaments probably have more in common with you than their federal counterparts. For starters, like more than 22 million Australians, they haven’t much interest in living in Canberra.

There’s an election on in NSW in a few weeks, but living here, you’d barely know it. There’s minimal news coverage, and even the advertising blitz seems half-hearted. Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent paid far more attention to the contest between the white-gold and blue-brown dress tribes than thinking about which major party we’d like to govern.

The Premier, Mike Baird, is apparently to be coasting towards a comfortable victory, largely because there hasn’t been a major scandal in his term so far, an intriguingly novel approach to NSW politics.

He’s aided by the fact that his opponent, Luke Foley, has only been in the job since early January. Foley has spent most of that time pitching to an electorate who’s at the beach, or wants to be. It’s a task made harder not only by NSW Labor leaving office with a reputation roughly equivalent to Enron’s, but by the fact that, as he is “acutely aware”, virtually nobody knows who he is.

That wouldn’t be possible in federal politics. Bill Shorten’s only been Opposition Leader for a year and a half, but almost everyone in Australia already knew his name when he won the position – his prominent role in the Rudd/Gillard spills certainly boosted his name recognition.

Ironically, while we don’t care about state politics, those constant spills have meant that federal politics is consuming us like never before, courtesy of our relentless news cycle, augmented by social media and cable news. A Canberra coup is Christmas for political junkies, although it’s not turkeys that are slaughtered so much as prime ministers.

Last month the media dropped everything and hotfooted it to the lawn outside parliament house for yet another potential spill. All the breakfast programmes duly set up their cameras to cover the big story, and the excitement was palpable. Even after the challenge burnt out, the leaks and speculation continued for days.

State politics has delivered just as much drama in the past few years, with spills of its own and dramatic election results like we saw in Queensland. The NT even had that bizarre moment where the Chief Minister refused to be sacked, and battled on. And yet we still pay minimal attention beyond election day.

State politics is never going to seem as important as the tier of government that conducts diplomacy and sends our military into battle. But we should check up on our second-tier pollies more frequently than the hour or two it takes us to vote every few years. Every commuter stuck in traffic or on an overcrowded train, everyone with a kid in school, and everyone who might wind up in a public hospital (that is to say, all of us) should realise that their state government is the one with the power to make those things better, and get engaged in the process instead of merely delivering a shock on election night.

I’m not suggesting we care as much about state politics as the things that really fascinate us, like intriguing two-tone dresses and those snacks. I just wonder whether we mightn’t get more from our state governments if we paid them a little bit of attention now and then.

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