This piece originally appeared in The Age
Young reporters must consider Canberra exciting. A marred and endlessly contested leadership coloured by interminable scandals, deliciously heightened by the perilous calculus of the House. Pepper your nightly reports with the latest polls and you have great drama, right? No. It’s painfully, numbingly dull and your commitment to polls only desiccates it further.
These are not titans eloquently battling with conviction. The Marquess of Queensberry’s rules have been abandoned in favour of lawless cage-fighting. It’s scrappy, toxic and distasteful. Worse, it’s boring. This isn’t Ali/Foreman. It’s drunk thugs scrapping with broken bottles. There’s a base appeal for some, but most walk away in disgust because they represent nothing more than a mindless and disturbed hunger for power and violence.
But here’s the kicker: we helped this by collectively and democratically delivering a hung parliament. By registering our antipathy at the 2010 polls, we conferred an environment that would be brutally and mindlessly contested. Our response? That Gillard – ”Juliar” – has compromised undemocratically, even though she’s only played the cards that were democratically given her. It’s grim and bitter-sweet, but a big part of being human is grasping sad and unintended outcomes.
Much has been written about the harm being done to Craig Thomson at the moment. I find it very difficult not to appeal to his personal responsibility, but if we’re trying people in Parliament then we’ve wandered very far from the path. But there’s a deeper harm being committed upon Australians’ interest in politics. This isn’t a fey lament for some broken symbolism: we’re losing bright young things from all sides who might’ve once considered a life in our invented capital.
We have never been, and perhaps have never wanted to be, treated like adults. As Bill Kelty said recently, ”Truth will normally do.” And blissfully happy truths abound right alongside the tawdry.
We enjoy just 5 per cent unemployment. GDP growth is strong. Interest rates are low and inflation is handsomely contained. Internationally, our figures attract envy or disbelief.
These are facts. Verifiable, omnipresent and glorious. They should excite all of us. Except we aren’t encouraged – or don’t want to – accept them. Too busy scrapping in the booby-trapped playground of Parliament, Labor never got this message out. Too busy fighting whatever strawman we’re invested in hating, we stopped listening. Together, we’ve forgone a sober and sophisticated discussion of how we want to transpose our incredible fortune. We’ve traded it in favour of a confected class war and a succession of incompetence and banality.
We hear the government wanly decry the aloofness of Sydney’s North Shore to excite an imagined class to bear arms. We hear, constantly, treacly sympathies to the ”working families doing it tough”.
All of this appeals to the dullest angels of our nature – our fear that we’re missing out. That others are taking our jobs. That things should be easier. That we need to be patted and stroked and caressed. What’s worse, this rhetoric thoroughly distorts our relationship with reality.
Want more? Andrew Bolt tirelessly excites zombie passions about Gillard’s duplicity and undeclared love for any number of imagined debaucheries. We have The Australian giving its post-budget cover to a cartoon mockingly depicting our PM and Treasurer as socialist overlords. It’s absurd. Patently, observably absurd.
We’re in a mess politically. Our outlandish expectations of politicians have been burlesqued by the tight numbers we gave them.
Only on Wednesday were we treated to Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne attempting to qualify for the London Olympics track team. The politics of the sprint are obvious, if grimly hilarious. Abbott had painted himself into a corner with his ”tainted vote” rhetoric. So fervently, so unrelenting was this rhetoric that the slightest compromise would’ve invited political ridicule and a news cycle unthinkingly given to his hypocrisy, as if there was nothing better to report. There’s an entanglement here between the media and politics, the sideshow Lindsay Tanner spoke of.
We’re adults and we’re in a sweet spot. Let’s demand the government give us the happy truth about our country, and give them the space to suggest ideas about our future. Let’s be adults. Truth and consequence, the stuff our parents taught us.