During my years in advertising, I remember reading an interview with John Singleton, in which the highly successful Australia advertising legend noted that the problem with many advertising people is that they have no empathy for the people they are trying to communicate and engage with.
Does Malcolm Turnbull understand you?
To me, this makes very good sense and goes someway to explaining the low standard of advertising in this country. How can a single, university-educated, Porsche-driving creative director earning $250,000-plus understand a Commodore-driving meat worker who left school at 15 and will have to feed his family of five on $55,000 a year?
With much difficulty, I believe.
Perhaps the same question needs to be asked of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. How can a man born into affluence, who attended Sydney Grammar School, married into one of Australia’s establishment families and amassed a wealth of $300 million dollars - which includes a house in Point Piper valued at $50 million - possibly understand that meat worker, or any Australian on the average income of $67,000 per annum?
I don't believe he can.
I am not suggesting that Bill Shorten, Tony Abbott, or any of the other would-be prime ministers would understand any of us any better. I certainly feel no connection whatsoever to Bill Shorten, Tony Abbott or Richard De Natalie, for that matter. What I am arguing is that many politicians, particularly the very privileged and wealthy ones, have little chance of understanding the circumstances in which everyday Australians live.
As much as they are all given to say, ‘what Australians think is…’, or ‘What Australians want is…’ I believe they would have a limited understanding of either. Furthermore, no amount of market research or focus groups will deliver the required empathy. It may deliver a cognitive sensitivity, but it will never deliver an understanding empathy.
To a large extent, the only people that can understand you are those that have walked a mile in your shoes. John Singleton suggested that his ability to write advertisements such as those for VB was dependent on him standing in Bay 13 at the football, drinking VB and engaging with Collingwood supporters - not sitting in the corporate box.
As much as he seems to like public transport, I suspect Malcolm Turnbull is unlikely to spend an afternoon in Bay 13 at the MCG. How could he possibly have empathy for that meat worker, you, or anyone who walks in shoes like yours. He cannot and does not!
Around the Cabinet room table and within the parliament there are many working with the Prime Minister with backgrounds different to his. That said, how many of them have backgrounds very similar to yours? How many of the politicians in the parliament have walked a mile in shoes anything like yours?
If these people have a poor understanding of you and little empathy for the circumstances in which you find yourself, how can they truly represent you, and to what extent can they only truly engage with people with backgrounds similar to their own? All people in all strata have their issues, and inevitably the issues we relate to most are those that we too have experienced.
So, what to do?
Well, you tell me!
How do we get a greater diversity of people into parliament?
There has been a lot of talk about getting more women into parliament, as there should be. There has been a lot of talk about getting more indigenous people into parliament, as there should be.
But what about getting more working-class people into parliament; and I don’t mean university-educated union representatives that have never been truly working class. I mean people who are truly working or middle class, who have walked a mile or two in shoes just like yours.