The embattled NSW federal MP Belinda Neal – whose complaints about woeful service at a Gosford pub turned into a national scandal – has brilliantly fought back with an appearance on Australian Story.
The show did few had bothered with, putting both sides of the story. Those accusing her got a fair run to put their claims forward. And she was given the opportunity to show the real Belinda Neal, an intelligent, assertive but fair-minded person who is hated by local Socialist Left types.
The Neal saga reveals some genuine contradictions in what the public expects from politicians. We expect them to take themselves seriously and to treat their office like it matters. But not to demand good service from yobs working in a pub. We expect them to be demanding for their community. But to be stonily silent if the Parliament House catering manager wife of an Age journalist insults their spouse and serves sub-par food. We demand MP’s be respectful and courteous in the chamber yet we applaud the zinging and cruel one-liners of a Keating, Costello or a Gillard. We accept that MP’s should be able to have a normal family life but are happy to imperil them by being enthusiastic consumers of journalism reporting on private lives. A recent story on an MP’s divorce was the most viewed news story online that weekend by a factor of two.
There is a reason why Belinda Neal got into so much trouble earlier this year. We don’t know what we want from her. But we do know what we can get now, a Member of Parliament who’ll second guess herself every time she thinks her interlocutor deserves a spray. She’ll hold back. Even if it’s an Immigration bureaucrat wrongly about to deport someone. Or Telstra cutting off the phone connection of someone in poor health.
There are countless times we the people need our MP’s to stand up and fight for us. Sometimes that involves harsh words and tough positioning.
If we nanny state our representatives into being weak, politically correct bureaucrats, we’ll lose characters like Nick Xenophon, Sophie Mirabella, Tony Abbott, Rob Hulls, Laurie Ferguson, Belinda Neal, even Wilson Tuckey and Australian politics will be all the poorer for it.
If we erase the colour from politics, a very bleak shade of grey will be left behind.