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Tyranny of distance takes a toll

The decision by the Member for Perth, Tim Hammond, to stand down in order to spend time with his family has put the spotlight firmly on every other politician seeking to represent WA in our Federal Parliament, writes Tim Grey-Smith.

 

It’s the question that every WA candidate for the next Federal election dreads being asked, “Will you and your family be able to hack it?”

The decision by Member for Perth Tim Hammond to stand down in order to spend time with his family has put the spotlight firmly on every other politician seeking to represent WA in our Federal Parliament.

With the Perth to Canberra commute a similar distance as Dublin to Istanbul, the burden of the parliamentary lifestyle is particularly acute for WA MPs.

As a passionate advocate for Indigenous people and asbestosis victims, an experienced barrister and respected professional, members of all political parties recognised Tim Hammond’s decision was a loss to Federal politics. The emotional cost was palpable in Mr Hammond’s heart-felt resignation statement. He spoke of the “profound effect” his absence had on his young family, and he conceded, “I cannot reconcile my life as a Federal MP with being the father I need — and want — to be to my three children”.

Mr Hammond’s resignation echoed the family-based decision to retire from public office by Liberal Senator Chris Back who retired in 2017 citing the heavy burden of Parliament life on himself and his family.

The pressures and responsibilities of serving at a Federal Government level have changed and grown exponentially with the rise of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. Many politicians report working Monday to Saturday, between eleven and fifteen hours per day. Outside the office, there are functions, fundraisers, social and media events, not to mention door knocking and responding to members of the public. Adding to this is the rise of the smartphone, with politicians now on the record and on duty at all times in the public arena. Smartphones have given us the ability to communicate at an unprecedented rate, but they have also made communication a twenty-four-hour a day, seven days a week obligation for politicians.

Reforms to address these issues have recently been proposed by Liberal National Party President Gary Spence. Advocating for later starts on Mondays and video-link committee hearings, these changes seek to allow MPs to spend more time in their electorates and with their families.

This comes at a time when the private sector is increasingly acknowledging the changing demands of the working day and implementing policies to ensure the retention of key talent.

With some of our nations’ brightest political prospects choosing a different path, it may be time to look critically at changes which allow politicians workplace flexibility and more family-friendly arrangements.