TRUE OPINION: Are we in a freak period of disharmony in Australia after a period of sustained stability where we had three Prime Ministers in 24 years? Our columnist, Miles Hunt, explores the current bloody political scene.
Howard has had the lead now for the first two laps. He’s way in front, but hang on, he’s slowing down, he can’t keep going forever and Rudd passes him at high speed … And now here is Gillard and back to Rudd … Abbott around the outside. Now Turnbull up the middle, looking good … he’s stumbled and loses momentum… and now Morrison takes the lead … and here comes Shorten!!
The Melbourne Cup or the race to be Prime Minister of Australia?
It is hard to see, after all of this mayhem, how Australia can ever claim to be the place of stable democracy it once was.
The world is definitely going through a polarising phase with the return of extreme politics reminiscent of the 1930s – which, if history is a guide, needs to be avoided. But there are also issues on the Home Front which have contributed to this torrent of instability with our leaders.
Firstly the Media. It is always vaguely hypocritical to attack the media from the viewpoint of a new online magazine, as if the media is some giant uncontrolled ten-headed monster, but it must take some of the blame for what has happened.
Newspapers and News Outlets need big stories in a world where every person is their own publishing house, and every online magazine and social media site is a source of information. And there’s nothing like a weeklong news event, a media Jubilee, to get the punters back online and reading the paper, and off Netflix and back watching the nightly news; and nothing quite so intriguing as our elected leaders knifing each other in the back, or front, in desperate grabs for power and control of the party room.
The last weeks have been almost Shakespearean. Perhaps MacDutton received a visit by the three witches and found out he would be the Prime Minister after Turnbull’s downfall. Unfortunately, he’d misheard them, for they actually told him he would be ‘the prime sinister in Turnbull’s downfall’, but alas, he only heard what he wanted – leaving a trail of carnage and destruction in the wake of his wax-filled ears.
It is no wonder that Media organisations are first in line in the pursuit of a coo – be it opinion writers in the Guardian suggesting new leadership as the answer to Labor’s woes, or a shock jocks on 2GB demanding the Liberal Party stick to its principles and oust the sitting Prime Minister – who, in his defense, pretty much ceded to every demand the conservatives could come up with, except to get the hell out of there, and go back to Investment Banking or Chardonnay Socialism or wherever he came from.
It seems the Media is at its most exultant when the air is awash with the talk of leadership change in the air. Whatever the result, whoever takes over, forget the democratic process – it doesn’t matter as much as the views, likes, clicks or shares. A few weeks before Turnbull’s fall, they were all sounding out Albo to take a crack at Shorten. They – the ten-headed monster – probably would have loved both to happen, like a sports fan that wants a whole lot of goals or tries rather than a good game.
Secondly, there is an obsession in modern politics for the polls. The fact that Abbott had 30 unfavourable news polls in row, gave Turnbull the ammunition to challenge, and then Turnbull had almost reached 40 by the time he was dumped. It show one thing and one thing only – there are way too many polls. Gillard used the polls to dump Rudd and vice versa. Polls, polls and more polls! It is all we hear, and they are not talking about the NSW energy grid.
Should anyone takes any notice of polls after Brexit and Trump’s surprise election? In both cases, the polls were way off. Who answers land lines anyway? No one has the time to stop and appreciate the last of nature let alone sit through ten questions on preferred prime minister, preferred leader, and preferred brand of shampoo. They may as well be asking who’d make the finest dinner guest, for all it matters – Hawke? Least he’d be a laugh.
Opinion polls give a cross-section of the opinions of those at home with the time to answer such questions (mainly retirees) and not an average of the entire population. Polls shouldn’t control the democratic process – we have elections every three years for that.
Which is probably too much, and contributes to a political process that is more like a popularity contest than genuine attempt at progress. The Class Captain was always the kid who gave out the most lollies, or the one with the grand ideas to get rid of the teachers, not the sensible kid working towards attainable goals for the good of the class, and certainly not those seeking long term satisfaction over short term gratification.
Politicians are clearly flawed. If anyone was still in doubt, the last month has confirmed it. Perhaps we expect too much of politicians; expect they will be better people, a shining beacon of the best in humanity. But really they are just as troubled and fragile as the rest of us. And no doubt, as people, they too have their moments of doubt and pain.
But at times like this, after another of the all too frequent leadership spills and self-combust missions, they seem pettier, more vindictive, more spoiled than a bunch of private school teenagers. And at least the teens can blame their hormones and the fact no one else listens to them. Our elected leaders are supposed to be adults, being paid for their service to the nation.
In reality, it must be a very hard job with the pressure and non-stop coverage of their actions, with the need to keep so many vested interests happy. And anyone that goes down that path, should be afforded every opportunity to prove themselves worthy.
But having watched them in action over the last ten years, they seem a little prone to the dark side, like Anikin Skywalker (spoiler alert – Darth Vader): it just seems too easy to go from Jedi Knight to the finest servant the dark side has ever seen.
Grand Master Yoda once told a young Anikin: ‘The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.” And so it proved with Rudd seeking vengeance on Gillard, and Abbott on Turnbull after they had each been ousted: “Attachment leads to jealousy, the shadow of the greed, that is.”
It would be nice to have a benevolent soul like Yoda in parliament. However this desire reflects another issue effecting politics in this country – and throughout the world – the rise of personality cult. People talk about elections as a battle of the two leaders and not of teams – like the way Messi and Ronaldo’s teams are forgotten in the dissection of these two great players. Neither of them won the World Cup. It was France, the best team, who won in the end.
Now with twenty-four news cycles, Facebook, Twitter, and the love of celebrity culture, political parties are being judged as mirror of their leaders, and it is too easy to cut down the person when things are looking grim.
We have enough stars in sport and music and movies, surely politicians can be left out of the cult of the individual. They should get back to team work. Individuals have a role, but so too does the collective – the collective work of the political party and the collective will of the people.
Let’s hope the next ten years is more positive, less destructive, and considers the long term interests of the country and not just the whims and Machiavellian antics of a few.