Measuring a politician's worth is not straightforward

FOR most people, school is the first and usually the last place where their performance is graded.

There are exceptions.

Those on stage or running restaurants must deal with the dreaded review.

Television shows live and die by their ratings.

There are also websites now where students are encouraged to turn the tables, and rate their teachers.

In today's paper, we have graded the performance of our state politicians this year.

The comments may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but it raises a serious question. How should we judge our elected representatives?

Some people would say a politician's performance is measured at the ballot box: end of story.

Try telling that to the media, which every day reports on the actions and words of our MPs - the theory being that if voters are kept informed, they can make a sound judgment.

So is that then enough?

We could take it a step further.

We could start counting other things, like their contributions in parliament, how many media releases they issue, how many hands they shake or how many times their picture appears in the newspaper.

The value of such statistics is questionable. After all, what would they actually indicate?

An MP might talk a lot but not say very much.

An MP might court the media successfully, but that doesn't mean they are working any harder than someone who is less comfortable dealing with journalists and is rarely mentioned in a news story.

An MP might appear at every known shindig in the universe, but being seen isn't the same as being heard.

There is also plenty of work that a politician does which is not reported on and is difficult to measure.

Who tallies the number of calls or walk-ins their office gets, and how those issues are dealt with?

Who is there to consider how effectively a politician interacts with their constituents on a day-to-day basis?

Or, how on earth do you judge whether or not certain politicians are inspiring their state or nation to bigger and better things?

Voters get a chance every few years at an election to consider what politicians have promised and what they delivered.

Some of that will be obvious, like building a new childcare centre or raising the level of investment in the state.

But there are also decisions made today for which the full ramifications may not be appreciated for years or even decades down the track.

Taking all that into account, we decided to grade our state politicians anyway.

We looked at performance in parliament, the tasks they were set and how they handled them, as well as their response to challenges throughout the year.

These gradings are, of course, a matter of opinion, and opinions are always subject to dispute.

If the exercise manages to generate healthy and respectful debate on what voters like and appreciate in an MP, or dislike and why, then it was worthwhile.

Just keep one thing in mind.

The very fact that politicians are under constant scrutiny does scare away potential candidates.

Most people turn up to work, do their job and go home.

Their performance might be assessed once a year, but the public at large won't be told what they have done right or what they've stuffed up.

No one likes to be judged, so it's no surprise that most people avoid politics.

But it's also why we should pay credit where credit is due. Every single one of our elected representatives put their hands up to serve, and that is commendable in itself.

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