BY MATHEW PURSER
This is a subject that has been weighing on my mind for a long while now. I’m by no means the first to cover this territory, merely the latest in a long line, but it is something that I feel is important and that a great deal of people seems to find less so.
The state of political discourse in this country is, to put it bluntly, dismal. The inspiration for me to put my thoughts into writing came a couple of days ago during a conversation with a friend of mine on the subject of Clive Palmer declaring his interest in contesting the federal election with his United Australia Party. This guy (my friend, not Clive Palmer) is an Australian who has spent the last few years living in Dubai. The lucky bastard. His exact words were:
‘reform is not a bad idea cause sounds like Oz is fucked atm.’
The reality of the situation obviously is that that is really very far from the truth but it got me thinking on the rhetoric spewed forth by both major political parties and the way it is perceived. The bottom line, in my own mind at least, is that there is nothing within the discourse and rhetoric of Australian politicians is that there is nothing whatsoever at play for the moderates, the vast majority of Australians. The speeches, the press conferences, the advertising, what little policy there actually is… It’s targeted at the fringe voters, the extreme views of the ‘far right’ and the ‘far left’. Though I maintain personally that the idea of right and left within Australian politics is a misnomer, they’re just centrist parodies of one another. At times Australian politics reminds me of the Futurama episode involving the Presidential election between Jack Johnson and John Jackson.
The perfect example of this incompatibility between discourse and reality is the ‘carbon tax’. For however long before it was actually introduced, whether it was weeks, months or years (it certainly felt like years) the public was subjected to the rhetoric of both extremes. The carbon tax was going to save the planet and raise revenue for a government in debt. Conversely the carbon tax was going to make prices for goods and services skyrocket and increase the struggle for Australian families. Then after this period of media jousting the carbon tax was inevitably introduced. And… The world didn’t end. The cost of living didn’t explode, regular Australians weren’t all of a sudden out of work or living below the poverty line, the world kept turning. The flipside of this coin was that the figures were released for the revenue received by the government since the implementation of this scheme. And… Revenue was less than a tenth of what was predicted to be generated. Instead of billions generated, it was something closer to $100 million. This was no magic bullet to haul the government out of debt nor did it make a discernible difference to carbon emissions.
None of this is to say whether this is to say the idea itself was good or bad, that’s not the point here, the point at hand is that despite the protestations of both sides of the fence nothing tangible changed.
This is only an isolated example. There’s also NDIS, ‘boat people’, gay marriage, basically every single societal, political or economic issue present in today’s society. Nor is this issue in any way a purely Australian one, you find the same issues and often to an even greater extent in basically every western nation.
Is it really too much to ask that instead of spewing sensationalist rhetoric bordering on pure propaganda that we can instead foster a system of not only discourse but policy as well that is considered and well thought out? That the moderates of this country can be engaged?
The other point to consider is how much of it is really the politicians’ fault? Really they’re just giving their supporters what they want. How much of this is the result of today’s lower attention spans resulting from societal influences, mass media, the decline in almost every medium for entertainment. Look at television for example. Shows about cooking contests and singing contests and ‘celebrities’ falling into a goddamn pool are the highest rating shows! Not to even mention the internet and the 24 hour news cycle that it has fostered where sensationalism is rewarded more than content in terms of traffic. Conversely, it’s a conscious decision by politicians to pander to their own rabid base of supporters at the expense of the middle ground, so scared they are of losing that support base in an attempt to win over the people not at all enthused by the options each major party offers that they opt not to rather than take that risk, leaving that entire portion of the population increasingly less engaged and growing more disillusioned.
All that can be done is what is already being done by independent news sources and average internet bloggers. Make noise, demand change and never stop fighting against the torrent of bile spewed forth in the name of politics. Change is already starting to occur on an internationally small but relatively monumental scale. In Iceland for example where in their recent national elections the ‘Pirate Party’ garnered 5% of the national vote. Again I don’t profess to know whether this will become a good thing or entirely ineffectual but at least people are trying. People are getting out there and getting involved and doing what needs to be done to at least try to make a difference.
In closing I’m going to attempt to do something that I never in a million years thought I would do and something that is so utterly repulsive that I’m going to take a long scalding hot shower to try to make myself feel clean again. I’m going to play devil’s advocate for Tony Abbott. Yes his ‘women of calibre’ gaffe that has been covered by media both mainstream and social. To a wearying extent. A gaffe that has been picked up, chewed up, spat out and seemingly forgotten by social media over the course of mere days. Now, unless someone did happen to come down in the last rainshower (I’m not entirely sure of the physics of such an occurence but I’m going to say that’s unlikely) they didn’t just this week discover that he’s not particularly observant or even interested in the merits of the fairer sex. I’m going to try not to rehash all of that and instead point out that, in the midst of the online and media frenzy, what was actually made of the policy itself? Yes, this was one of those rare occasions where one of the leaders of a major political party in Australia actually unveiled, or at least referred to in passing, some form of policy ahead of the election. whether it’s good bad or otherwise again I’m not going to profer my opinions of, but it’s disappointing that the content of said policy has been almost entirely ignored in the unrelenting tide of negative opinion of his choice of words when describing it.
That is perhaps the most glaring example of the point I am attempting to drive home.