|Posted by Hazel Buchanan on 26 April, 2016 at 3:30|
Whatever the official government line, everybody knows the Federal Election campaign is already upon us. In the lead up to 2nd July, as the media interest inevitably intensifies, there is a strong likelihood that public disaffection will proportionally grow. Why? Because over the last ten years, political standards in Australia have nosedived, particularly in terms of quality, respect, leadership and, as a consequence, authority. To bastardize a favourite Turnbull line: there has never been a more pertinent time to be cynical about Australian politics.
The argument is occasionally floated that we are inclined to expect far too much of our politicians; the implication being that we are setting them up to fail. But is this really true? Coming from Britain (where MPs are still inclined to conduct their debates with a modicum of decorum) to Australia in the Hawke/Keating era was an eye-opener for me. It was years before I was prepared to take either of them seriously. Listening to the way they spoke both to and about other people, they were easily dismissed in my mind as 'Yob' and 'Thug'. Now I see it differently. Hawke's popularity is still something of an enigma to me, although I do get the 'fallible man of the people' idea. Keating, I admire for his enormous intelligence and passion, his incredible ability to think on his feet, and his merciless wit. Were it an option, my vote would go to him.
It seems then that, as a nation, we don't demand politeness, tact or even sobriety from our politicians. We are willing to accept their human traits and that they are going to make mistakes. What we can't abide, as Rudd, Gillard and Abbott found out, is being lied to, feeling conned or being treated with contempt. Does that really amount to an unreasonable expectation?
Of course, Keating and Howard, and the others before them, enjoyed the tremendous advantage of being covered by a far more respectful and tolerant media. Whether Howard could have survived for as long as he did in the current climate has got to be a moot point. Leaving the Fairfax/Murdoch politics well out of the equation, it seems to me that the intrusive, urgent fascination of the media for every crumb of a political story isn't necessarily such a bad thing in itself. What destroys the process is the media's insistence on adding sensationalism to everything like a dose of chicken salt.
So great is the focus of attention on trapping politicians into making ill-judged 'newsworthy' comments, even the top interviewers of the day are largely failing to elicit any actual information. In fact, it has gone well beyond that. Most politicians are now so scared of being misquoted, taken out of context or accidentally giving something away, they simply regurgitate that day's chosen slogans and meaningless messages regardless of the question they have been asked. Which actually doesn't do anybody any favours.
With regard to the current election, I have two specific gripes. For the first, I hold the journalists who interviewed Tony Abbott during and after the 2013 campaign particularly responsible. Why, oh why, did they let him get away with pretending that the last Federal Election was a ballot on climate change? Why, when he claimed ever afterwards that the Australian people had given his government a mandate to reverse all of Labour's policies on the environment, was the obvious never pointed out? If there was one major issue in the 2013 campaign which facilitated the voting-in of the most unelectable PM in our country's history, it certainly wasn't climate change. It was Labour's unprecedented and utterly embarrassing stint of stabbing one another in the back.
The result of this failure of the media to hold Abbott to account is the now established precedent that governments can claim to have an unequivocal mandate for every single policy they take to an election. As a piece of logic, let alone a political argument, it is flying in the face of reality. And it raises my blood pressure, besides.
The other is more of a plea. If the media is determined to inflict on us an ever-increasing number of political interviews over the coming weeks, could it please become journalistic policy to interrupt every time a politician mentions the failures, real or imagined, of another politician or political party? That way, we might just have a chance of learning whether or not they actually stand for anything themselves.
In the interests of moving forward from the stalemate position we are in, below are three of the questions I would like the leaders of the two major parties to be asked.
Questions for Malcolm Turnbull
1. With the benefit of hindsight, has it been a worthwhile exercise to trade-off the principles so many ordinary Australians used to applaude you for, namely your stances on climate change, marriage equality, asylum seekers and refugees, the NBN and data retention laws, in order to pacify the right-wing of your party and gain the keys to the Lodge?
2. If you win the 2016 Federal Election, what specific strategies, if any, do you intend to implement in order to move forward on those erstwhile principles of yours outlined above?
3. If you were to lose this year's Federal Election, would you consider yourself then to be in a stronger or weaker position vis-à-vis your party's right?
Questions for Bill Shorten
1. Given that the vast majority of public school funding is already allocated and distributed by State governments, would it not in fact be far more efficient and cost-effective for the States to take over management of the whole amount?
2. Do you, as a Federal politician, believe that the current political strategy of publicly decrying one's opponents rather than focussing on making a statement of one's own beliefs and intentions is capable of raising a politician's standing in the public eye?
3. What do you believe is the future for hospital funding in this country given that costs are expected to rise exponentially in the coming decades?