by Trevor Connell
The term “Political Masters” has no place in the Australian vernacular.
This is a term that should be reserved for totalitarian countries, not countries where we elect our politicians.
The problem with the continued usage of this term, particularly by the Australian media, is that too many of our politicians actually believe this rhetoric.
So why is this relevant to the event industry?
Often at conferences the organizers are excited to announce that the Minister / Assistant Minister (State or Federal) is going to deliver a keynote address. Invariably that speech is nothing more than a statement of their party’s political position in regard to the particular industry they are addressing, and facts and figures about that industry that we already know. Their speech is usually written by a staffer and often delivered via video (invariably standing in front of the Australian flag). They are pronouncing – not engaging.
Politicians are elected to deliver outcomes that serve the populace as a whole and Ministers to serve the industry sectors in their portfolio.
Meanwhile in Canberra, lobbyists are paid huge amounts by industry groups to actually get the politicians to listen to their point of view, and to hopefully address the issues concerning those industries.
Surely this is not necessary. If our elected representatives are doing their job they would go out of their way to actively engage with to the people within their portfolio without those people having to pay to be heard.
We must change our thinking and start referring to and treating our politicians as our political servants!
At a number of conferences I have seen politicians from both sides of politics given the opportunity to sit down with the industry leaders to discuss the issues that are relevant to those people.
This discussion then gets straight to the ear of the minister or representative without the filter of other vested interests.
Recently the EEAA held a Leaders Forum in Sydney. The day concluded with a dinner which was attended by Mark Coulton MP (Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment), and Adam Marshall MP (NSW Minister for Tourism and Major Events, and Assistant Minister for Skills).
These politicians handed down their usual prepared speech, telling us what we already knew about the size of our industry – although it was refreshing to hear Mark Coulton deviate from his prepared speech, telling us that it was composed by a staffer back in Canberra and that we already knew the figures he was quoting.
The pollies were then put on a panel and questions without notice directed to them from various members of the EEAA representing venues, exhibitions and destinations. Guests at the dinner were senior representatives from various sectors of the exhibition industry. During dinner a number of them had the opportunity to chat with these representatives but more importantly everyone at the dinner had the opportunity to hear these politicians respond to issues that affect the exhibitions industry.
As an aside I still remember the most embarrassing minister to front a MEA conference. In 1999 then Minister for Sport and Tourism in the Howard government (Jackie Kelly) was interviewed during a plenary session. It soon became evident that this minister knew a lot about sport, very little about tourism and nothing about Business Events.
Fortunately she was replaced by Joe Hockey, who not only took an interest in Business Events but also understood it. Hockey instigated a white paper that looked into the economic benefit of the tourism sector which then formed the basis of the National Business Events Study (2005) that is still quoted today.
In an excellent move by MEA, Hockey was invited to address the 2002 conference on Hamilton Island. Due to limited transport options the Minister had to spend considerable time at the conference, which senior members of the Association took full advantage of to press the case for our industry.
And Hockey showed that he likes to party – maybe a lesson for all associations.
Remember we elect politicians to be our servants – not our masters.