25. Who wants to be an MP?
Two major changes occurred in the political arena in South Australia. Because South Australia’s population was declining compared to Queensland’s, boundaries were redistributed in late 2003. The safe Labour seat of Bonython was combined with the safe Liberal seat of Wakefield. This surely woke up the struggling Liberals of the Bonython branch, of which I was now a member.
The re-distribution of electorate borders dropped the required margin to win the seat from over 10 % to only 1.3 %. The second bombshell was the announcement by the current Member for Wakefield, the speaker of the House of Representatives in Canberra, Neil Andrew, to retire from politics. If anyone, he would have had the best chance of defeating the member for Bonython.
When I made my intentions of running for the seat known to people, most mentioned to me that a large field of contenders was expected to run. I was surprised when only five people, four men and a woman, arrived at Liberal Party Head office, on January 19th 04, to face a Candidate Review Panel. One candidate, who had run before, later withdrew. It felt good telling people I was virtually there - by 25 percent.
On the last service of 2003 at church I told everyone publicly, during a moment of sharing aspirations for the New Year, that I looked forward to running for Federal Parliament in the forthcoming election. Their reaction was rather subdued, which reflected the attitude that most people have about politicians. In a list of occupations in the newspaper recently, politician was at the bottom of the list of who people trust.
May I remind everyone at this point that God loves politicians? Much the same way as my sign in the back of my driving school vehicle says – “God loves learner drivers”. God loves politicians even more (or feels sorry for them), because we are commanded to pray for them.
The process of pre-selection was irreversible, once I had paid my $ 500 application fee. There was serious opposition by my family, who regarded this as wasted money. But I felt this was God’s will for me at the time, despite it being a big financial sacrifice.
All candidates were given a list of Party members, who had been selected especially for this purpose at their Annual General Branch Meetings. Included in the list were also all contact addresses and phone numbers of the Executive of the South Australian Branch of the Party. These two groups would vote to elect the successful candidate on February 23rd 2003.
During late January and February 04 my days consisted of telephoning, arranging visits and travelling to introduce myself as a potential candidate for their party at the next Federal election. People were very friendly, apart from some who did not realize what an important role they had been elected for – to choose potential leaders for our nation.
Most questions I was asked had to do with my personal views on current issues, my background and how I would tackle an election campaign. I did not put pressure on anyone into voting for me or asked, if they indeed will vote for me. One political veteran, who had previously stood as a candidate, told me that I had no chance at all. I was wasting my time and money. He thought that a female candidate had already been chosen and would be elected.
Listening to people and being influenced by them was something I do very often. But not when their attitude was this negative. I had to experience it for myself and refused his claim that we are not living in a democracy, really. On February 23rd 04 the elected delegates and members of the executive came together at the Central District Football Club in Goodman Rd. Elizabeth for the pre-selection meeting.
Each of the four candidates had to deliver a prepared a five-minute speech. The floor was then open to questions. The two years of training and practice at the “Speaker’s Club” finally had a practical test in front of very important people.
Here is the transcript the speech I gave that night, my first ever political speech:
"Politicians are all crooks. They’re in for the money. They make promises to get elected and never keep them.
Mr. President, Members of the Executive, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
If I was to ask the average drinker at the bar, let’s call him Bob, what do you think of politicians? I would probably get such cynical answer. We all know, thankfully, this is not so.
My name is Dieter Fischer. I was born in Southern Germany near Stuttgart, a large, industrial city. My father worked in a factory. He was a placid, quiet man, quite the opposite of my restless, demanding mother. I was the youngest of five children, and despite coming from a poor family, I received a solid, comprehensive education.
At the tender age of 19, after completing my training in Middle Management, I felt adventurous, left family and friends and migrated to Sydney, Australia.
Not long after arriving I met a pretty girl in the church I had joined. Nearly thirty five years later I can truly say, God has blessed me with a lovely wife and four wonderful children.
(At this point my voice quivered, I had to really try hard to not burst into tears).
I was thankful to land an office job within weeks of arriving. Despite my fluent English, I had to start from the bottom as junior clerk. You see, in Germany I had a secretary, a desk and telephone and a waste paper basket. All I got here at first was and desk and (you guessed it) a waste paper basket.
I worked for numerous companies in Sydney and later in Hobart, Tasmania, both in white and blue collar positions. In 1980 I retrained as driving instructor. The new occupation suited me well. I loved working outdoors and with people. Over those 23 years I got to know many Australians from all walks of life. Teaching someone to drive you really get to know the person, and what makes them tick.
This experience - plus the fact that I am from a working class background, should be to my advantage, when door knocking in the labour-held suburbs of the old Bonython.
My longest and most recent employment was driving instructor with the Royal Automobile Association. While there and since I have come up with many ideas:
I invented a visual aid for in-car instruction, as well as a large one for the class room.
I wrote a couple of books on teaching people to drive and road safety.
My best known creation is my website driving-school.com.au. It is one of the largest, if not the largest of any driving school on the net.
You may have also heard me on talkback radio. I remember on one occasion, I was reminding listeners that we were promised in 1999 a redevelopment of the Britannia Roundabout to make it safer. So far nothing has changed. It was reported that there are 200 crashes annually.
Little wonder my friend Bob at the bar is cynical about politicians and the promises they make.
Let me give you a definition what I think a good politician is:
An honest man (or woman) with a servant’s heart, with a passion for people and a creative mind to inspire others to positive action.
Having said that, I realize, if I’m successful, I will have a lot to live up to. Not only because what I have just said, but also considering the high standard, set by the retiring Member for Wakefield.
I thank all Wakefield and Bonython FEC delegates and Members of the Executive who made their time available to see me or talk to me on the phone. My appreciation goes also to Graham and the team on Greenhill Road for their help.
In today’s paper our Prime Minister sounded a little doubtful about winning Wakefield.
May I remind him that in Adelaide anything is possible - The bumper sticker says it all in only two words:
Some people said afterwards, I gave a good speech. The question-time afterwards was a different matter. I had expected similar questions to what I had been asked during the many visits I had made. Or a question regarding a point in the speech I had delivered.
But that night I found out what a “Dorothy Dixer” was. One Member of Parliament, also a delegate to this election committee, had tried to tell me that I ought to perhaps get someone to ask a question and have a prepared answer ready. This in essence is a “Dorothy Dixer”. (A lady by that name had years earlier been famous for a “What’s your problem-column” in a Woman’s Magazine). I told this well-meaning, experienced politician that I did not operate that way. Right then, by doing it “my way”, I had most likely sealed my political future before it had started.
I was rather pleased with my speech, after which the president asked: “are there any questions. No sooner had he finished, a lady was already on her feet asking what I knew about the Liberal Party’s achievement regarding transport in the Wakefield electorate. I was totally unprepared for such question, because nobody had asked me that while I visited the delegates and it had nothing to do with my speech I had just delivered. Slightly perplexed I had to admit, I don’t know, but the Gawler by-pass may have been built under a Liberal Government?
An ex-Member of Parliament spoke up and asked me, how I think the “Free-Trade-Agreement” with the USA would affect the horticultural industry in Virginia. This question stumped me as much as the first one. I had read that it would impact Australia positively – 20 million of us getting access to a 300 million market. I knew no details and could not think of a reason why I should.
For a moment I thought that I was actually being tested, if I was honest enough to say: “I don’t know” and pass the test by admitting that. I did, except it wasn’t a test to pass me but to fail. Since there were no further questions, I walked out of the room with mixed feelings.
None of the candidates was allowed to be present for the other’s speeches or question time. The winning candidate, Isobel told me afterwards, had been asked the same questions and gave very eloquent answers. He knew all the facts and figures, down to the decimal points. Now I knew not only what a “Dorothy Dixer” was, but I had most likely witnessed an application. Question time in Parliament, I am told, is full of this kind of play acting. I overheard a high official of the party turn to someone afterwards saying, “this practice ought to be abolished”.
The person who had predicted that the female candidate had been “preselected before pre-selection” was wrong. A young family man, whom I had known from a previous church, was chosen. I pledged my support for him in a few words of congratulations to him at the conclusion.
According to the constitution of the party, candidates had one week to lodge an appeal. Not that I expected any change in the decision, but I discovered a few holes in the process that I think needed addressing.
Before the time of my appeal deadline (Monday March 1st) had expired, on the Thursday prior the press already announced the winner of the pre-selection with a comprehensive article and photographs. It would have been an embarrassing back-flip, had my appeal been successful.
My appeal highlighted five points that I thought needed fixing, each of which I supplied a suggested solution to. Some of the anomalies, as I saw them, were of a general nature and not specific to my case. I mailed my appeal letter by registered mail on Friday 27/1/04: Here are the five areas of concern:
1. I had come across at least one member who was unaware that a pre-selection process was underway, until after the deadline had passed. Head office advises the branch that nominations are called for. The constitution however does not require the president or secretary to notify all members of this fact and how to apply and by what deadline.
I suggested: The Branch President or Secretary must ensure that all Members know how they can obtain a nomination form and the deadline for application. Newspaper advertisements are not sufficient.
2. The State Executive of the Liberal Party had to use its power to allow an otherwise ineligible candidate to run. This person had not met a requirement regarding membership. (This person won the contest in the end). I pointed to the fact that this could have been interpreted that this person was the candidate favoured by the executive. This placed a bias towards the eventual winner right from the start.
My suggestion: Allow this rule to be used only when there are no other candidates running for pre-selection in that seat.
3. The eventual winner received favourable treatment by being the only candidate briefed before a press release.
Constitution states: All candidates must receive equal treatment.
4. Here I made the point about the “Dorothy Dixer” as explained before.
My suggestion: Only allow questions that are relevant (clarification of a point made during the applicant’s speech) or points relevant to the pre-selection of the candidate. (Otherwise, run a quiz-show and pre-select the winner).
5. The result of the ballot on pre-section night was never made public, not even to the voters present that evening. The reason, as I understand it, is to avoid embarrassment by the losers. I was told of a case where a candidate was so upset at the result that he had “mysteriously disappeared” for two days. (Had they read my book they would have known that I do that without losing at a pre-selection).
My suggestion: Read out the result of the ballot publicly. (Everyone who puts their name forward must realize that this is going to happen and be prepared for possible embarrassment).
I learned a number of valuable lessons from the process. During a visit to a delegate, whom I had known very well, he told me of his distain for one of the other candidates in no uncertain terms. Later when I queried, because of my very low score, if he voted for me, he told me that he actually voted for the candidate he had criticized. For once I didn’t ask why, he did not owe me an explanation.
As the reader knows by now I looked at everything from a spiritual point of view. Why had I been so sure that trying for this seat of Parliament was God’s will and at the end fallen flat on my face? Had I made a mistake? Had God let me down? Did fellow party members play a game with me? Was it the right direction but the wrong timing? How should I have reacted and explained all this to my family?
I had no other way than telling them that I believed God’s will is done in a life dedicated to HIM. What may look like a failure, a defeat or a misjudgement often turns out for the good in the end. For months I would hear about the money I had wasted. Whenever I said I’d love to buy such and such I was quickly reminded that I could have afforded it had I not … (Close family-members have such a nice way of telling the truth).
I spoke to a Member of Federal Parliament to gain some insight. “In years to come I may say - Thank God I did not win this election?” I said to her.
My intention for appealing the selection process was not to make the successful candidate or the Party look bad. On the contrary, ever since the new leader of the Labour Party had vowed to acknowledge gay marriages if elected, I knew this was going in the wrong direction for our country. I promised to support the Wakefield campaign and intended to do so.
If any of the five areas I mentioned needed examining, and party officials would rectify the process for future pre-selections, my time and effort was not in vain.
You may ask, had I been successful what policies would I have adopted? During my pre-election visiting I found myself very frequently speaking on moral issues. Those that read my books will know what issues are on my heart:
The practice of separating Church and State had me puzzled for a long time. The biggest political movement spreading around the globe, causing much fear in the West, does not have such separation. This non-Christian religion, and its politics of expansion in the name of God, is closely intertwined. It is a fearful and powerful force. I believe, if the West does not clean up its act morally, also enlisting God’s help, victory in this war will be difficult, if not impossible. Ultimately, Christ will reaffirm HIS victory and establish peace on earth.
Church and State ought to have one aim in mind – the wellbeing of the people. Separation of these may have been different hundreds of years ago, when the church grew into a dominant force and misused it for its own selfish lust for power. As I look at today’s church, all would benefit if politicians and the clergy worked together closely, before bad laws are passed. Laws that go contrary to biblical principles are bad laws. The church is left to pick up the pieces of debris; broken lives are often the result of bad laws or laws that are not enforced.
Within a day or so of the pre-selection defeat I noticed an incident, which I must report. Time and again, the timing of events (pardon the pun) is what drew my attention to something I would have otherwise ignored.
On Feb. 26th, exactly two months after the devastating earthquake at Bam, Iran (see Chapter 16) a series of tremors caused huge damage and over 500 deaths in northern Morocco. Was it not for the daily reading of the Neukirchener Kalender, the magical bible study guide I had mentioned previously, I would not be reporting this. Three things in that publication on Feb. 26th struck me as pointing towards my story.
One, the bible reading for that day was Psalm 60. Two verses receive special attention in my diary.
Verse 2: “You have made the earth tremble; you have broken it; heal its breaches for it is shaking”.
Verse 12: “Through our GOD we shall do valiantly, for it is HE who shall tread down our enemies”.
The second reference I see is the footnote for 26/2: Otto Riethmueller was born on that day in 1889. It is a familiar name where I come from in Germany. This distinguished man is quoted as a “church leader in Bad Cannstatt and Esslingen, who had a special love for youth”. I read the name of my birthplace Esslingen with some nostalgia.
Thirdly, the little story that accompanies the daily reading, is about a little girl asking her mother, why there is a “plus-sign” on top on church steeples? The article goes on to speak of the cross of Christ as the biggest PLUS we can experience in our lives. My slogan “Your safety is driving PL us” had resurfaced many times I my story. The PL, US, the T etc. or other combinations I see and play with, never seize to amaze me.
Mental health experts have a name for the practice of linking a story in your head with data in the press or on TV etc. It is called referencing. I knew I was suffering from that syndrome. But would my swallowing tablets alter the external facts as I saw them? Should I not try to make sense of them? God would not show them to me, knowing they would just torture me. God is a God of health, mentally and physically. I will trust HIM with my life.
Friends, God does not make mistakes. He knows exactly what he is doing, in success or in apparent defeat. He knows already the outcome of the next election. No, I will not pray that our party wins. (I mean this, even if I was the successful party candidate). I will pray that HIS will be done in Australia and indeed the world.
My job is to trust HIM, to love HIM, to obey HIM. He knows the future – he knows your future. Place it in HIS hands.