Politics is a divisive topic—so much so that, along with religion and sex, it’s a member of the holy trinity of topics that ought not to be broached in polite conversation under any circumstances.
Political matters inspire passionate viewpoints and lots of black & white. It’s one way or the other, it’s our way or the highway, you’re with us or you’re against us. There’s no middle way with politics.
Those who are really into it (arguably not the majority of people) will defend the political process until they’re blue in the face. Bring it down to the level of party allegiances and you’ll trigger some of the most boring conversations you’ll ever have the misfortune of hearing. Introduce alcohol to the equation and there’s a very real risk of violence.
Forget the prospect of that orange twat with his spray-on hair becoming leader of the free world next January. Ignore all the Brexit bollocks. Today, Australian politics is on the lips and tips of everyone’s tongues and, right now, it quite possibly sucks more than it’s ever sucked before.
But why does Australian politics suck so very, very much when, to be fair, it’s probably not that different to politics anywhere else in the world? For all I know, politics may well suck massively everywhere. But our political landscape is the one I have an immediate view of and I think it sucks in pretty much every possible way.
Self-serving arseholes: politicians say what they have to say to feather their nest and get the outcome they want for themselves. “Putting the people first”? They say stuff like that often enough during election campaigns, but how often ‘the people’ are ever actually put first is questionable.
For example, in what way were ‘the people’ ‘put first’ when their Prime Minister called an early election, gave it a name—”double dissolution”—that hardly anyone understands and followed the announcement with an interminably long campaign, all on the basis of an issue about which nobody gave a rat’s arse? Just another way our self-serving politicians can achieve outcomes they want (although it’s already looking unlikely that the outcome they wanted will be the outcome they get—how’s that for democracy?)
And in what way will ‘the people’ be ‘put first’ by the Government spending millions of dollars mounting a mandatory but non-binding plebiscite vote, to allow millions of Australians—most of whom aren’t interested in the topic, much less directly impacted by it—to decide whether certain people should be allowed to marry, solely on the basis of gender? Coz it’s not actually about sexuality, it’s about gender. The result of the marriage equality plebiscite will potentially exclude certain Australians from a right they would otherwise have, solely on the basis of the gender of the person they want to marry.
If anyone proposed a referendum or plebiscite today to exclude women—or indigenous people, or, for that matter, the elderly, redheads, the left-handed, tall people or people with different-coloured eyes—from the right to marry, they’d be universally howled down and rightly hounded to oblivion. But that’s the kind of outcome that the result of the “marriage equality” plebiscite will allow for. All it will do is allow our self-serving politicians to absolve themselves of all responsibility and claim ‘the people’ made the decision. And there’s nothing more reliable than allowing ‘the people’ to vote on divisive issues about which they know little and care even less, and without having considered the potential repercussions. Goodness knows, it’s an approach that’s working so well for the UK right now.Obfuscation and lies: Obfuscate—a great word that’s sadly underutilised, meaning to obscure an issue so that it becomes unclear, or unintelligible.
History tells us that, during election campaigns—the only time they actually need us to believe what they say—our politicians lie. Or, at very least, they obfuscate to the point where ‘the people’ extract a categorical ‘promise’ from long, complex statements in which no such categorical ‘promise’ was actually made, but from which the ‘promise’, as interpreted by ‘the people’, was clearly the intended message. Of course, this assumes ‘the people’ could understand what they were being told in the first place.
Our politicians do this on all sorts of topics, giving all manner of hand-on-heart guarantees on which they later backflip. There’s nothing wrong with changing positions on something, per se. But our politicians have a tendency to change their position on issues about which they’ve previously made (what sounded like) rock-solid promises with grating regularity. If you found yourself thinking ‘the Prime Minister doth protesteth too much’, after his recent categorical assurances that “every aspect of Medicare that is delivered by Government today will continue to be delivered by Government in the future, full stop”, it’s because we’ve heard it all before.
In July 2010, two weeks after carjacking the Prime Ministership and only days before the federal election, Julia Gillard repeated her categorical statement that “there will be no Carbon Tax under the Government I lead. What we will do is we will tackle the challenge of climate change”. Seven months later, under the Government she led, Prime Minister Gillard unveiled her Carbon Tax plan. Challenge well-and-truly tackled, then.
And who can forget John Howard’s pledge, ten months before the 1996 federal election, to “never ever” introduce a Goods & Services Tax? As far as ‘the people’ were concerned, there was no question of what he was saying, although he was actually candid about why he said it—in short, the GST had lost the Liberal party the 1993 election, so there was no way it could possibly be an element of the ’96 campaign… but who knew what might happen in future years? He actually posed that question himself. Despite the eternal certainty implied by “never ever”, he was really only talking about “never ever” discussing it as Coalition policy during the 1996 campaign and it only applied for as long as Howard required Australians to remember it, before they voted Liberal on 2 March 1996; his victory at that election has long been described as a “landslide”. Less than 18 months later, in August 1997, Prime Minister Howard unveiled the plan to introduce a GST on 1 July 2000. 16 months later, Howard was re-elected at the November 2001 federal election, as if the lie that nobody has forgotten, didn’t matter matter to anyone even that soon afterwards.
It doesn’t matter if a politician uses other words, later in any given statement, that negate the ‘promise’ that ‘the people’ clearly heard. The ‘promise’ will have been the key message and its interpretation by ‘the people’ as such will have been the only reason for making the statement in the first place. Semantics can be argued back and forth until the proverbial cows come home, but ultimately its the whole looks/sounds/walks=duck thing: a statement, purposely made, in the knowledge that it will mislead the majority of people who hear it, in order to appeal to their fears, beliefs or core values and to thusly attract their vote on election day, is a lie.
Even if they don’t lie, our politicians obfuscate with tedious regularity. They answer questions with questions. They dodge some questions altogether and provide no answers at all. They respond to other questions, particularly those about their own party and its policies and performance, by talking about the opposition party’s policies and performance. And they generally obscure issues to the point where they become so unclear, or unintelligible that it’s impossible for ‘the people’ to understand a word they’re saying.
How have so many ostensibly intelligent politicians not realised that, without clarity, ‘the people’ resort to protest votes? The more protest votes that are received, the less truly valid the results of any election. While a ‘hung parliament’ probably sounds like a dream-come-true for some, it’s not the outcome ‘the people’ need from a federal election, because all it means is that everyone will block everything at every step and nothing will ever happen. A bit of clarity and a dash of differentiation is potentially all it would’ve taken to avoid the outcome we’re currently staring down the barrel of.
Our illustrious federal treasurer clarified matters perfectly in May, when he said, “We say what we mean, we mean what we say, we do what we say we’d do in the way we say we’d do it”…. Even if you could decipher that statement, it’s still a garbled mess that represents, so very well, the way many of our politicians choose to obfuscate—even, ironically, when trying to say that they don’t.Leadership merry-go-round: had the Australian Labor Party won yesterday’s federal election (the real outcome of which remains to be seen, although a Labor win doesn’t seem likely at this stage), it would’ve seen Bill Shorten—a man who can’t even pronounce the name of his own country correctly—installed as Australia’s sixth Prime Minister in six years.
No first world nation should tolerate a political system that allows parties to install and remove leaders at will.
Fact 1: it’s a legal requirement of our democracy for me to vote for a party, ostensibly for the talking head representing that party.
Fact 2: I can be fined for not voting.
Proposition: political parties should be subject to fines, if they replace the party leader without giving ‘the people’ the opportunity to vote for that change.
I don’t care if a political party feels its fortunes are sinking with the current leader at the helm—that’s my call. I’m ‘the people’ who are always ‘put first’, remember? That colleague who they’re about to knife in the back is potentially the name that my vote for their party was entirely hinged on at the last election. If the party’s worried about its leader causing the party to become less popular with ‘the people’, how can the party possibly decide who the replacement leader should be without again consulting ‘the people’? If it’s the opinion of ‘the people’ that allegedly triggered the party’s concern, it doesn’t make sense that any new leader should be installed without first asking ‘the people’ which politician that should be.
Australians’ broad understanding—rightly or wrongly—is that we vote for a political party that will be led, for the duration of the term, by the person named throughout the campaign as Leader of that party, not for a political party that will be led by the person named throughout the campaign as Leader of that party, either for the duration of the next term, or until such time as the party installs any other Leader of their choosing, at any time after coming to power. That’s just not how it’s meant to go—not in the minds of ‘the people’, anyway.
The past six years have been among the most unstable in Australian political history. There’s enough instability in the world as it is, without our politicians chaotically tossing local instability into the mix as well.He said/she said carbon copies: Can anyone really tell the difference between the Labor party and the Liberal National coalition any more? What does one stand for that the other one doesn’t? Does either party have a position on anything that’s substantially different to the other? And why can’t any of them ever tell ‘the people’ anything about their own party’s position on any given issue without sledging the opposition?
Why can’t they come up with something that isn’t just a response to something the opposition said? Something original. Something unique.
I don’t care what any of them think of the opposition’s policy on anything. That’s why they’re opposing parties and, presumably, why the one I’m listening to is with this party and not that party. I don’t expect them to have the same policies and I don’t expect them to agree with each other. I expect them to tell me—in plain language that’s free from buzzwords, catchphrases and slogans and which makes sense to me as one of ‘the people’ who they always ‘put first’—exactly why voting for them will mean a better outcome for me.
If they weren’t such carbon copies of each other, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time clarifying the very fine lines that separate their policies.
Scripts are for actors: there’s so much political spin doctoring these days that our politicians rarely utter an unscripted word. And when they do, it’s often so embarrassing that a career-damaging crisis seems almost inevitable.
Is it really a surprise that our politicians are so often accused of being ‘out of touch’, when every single thing we ever hear them say sounds, at best, like a scripted speech and, at worst, like a spin doctor’s wankfest?
Even when they’re apologising for being a brain-dead idiot who should’ve either a) known more about the topic they chose to comment on, or b) declined to respond to a question on a topic they patently know nothing about, they still sound like they’re reading from a cue card.
‘The people’ have become so accustomed to this behaviour that whenever a politician says what they actually believe, in their own words and using their own voice, they’re often accused of being bigoted, simple, uncultured, or too ‘ocker’ to take seriously. ‘The people’ can’t get it right. But, then, I supposed we’ve learned from the best.There’s really only one element of the political process in this country that I’m a fan of: that voting is compulsory. If nothing else, it at least means that Google searches of “where can I vote?” were far more likely to be trending across Australia yesterday than Google searches for “what happens if the prime minister doesn’t win?” and demands for a second election from those who don’t like the outcome.
Compulsory voting removes the validity of protests about the result from those who didn’t vote. Frankly, if you didn’t bother to vote because you were too bored, too hungover, too apathetic or too busy checking Facebook, I couldn’t care less what you think. You don’t deserve a voice and your viewpoint is irrelevant, because you knowingly gave up a democratic right that so many people in so many other countries don’t even have the option of exercising.
Even given everything else I’ve said here, regardless of whether or not I can put my hand on my heart and say that my vote definitely makes a difference, I’d rather live in a democracy where I’m required to vote, whether I care to or not, than in one in which I can choose not to.
In the end, though, just as a lie is a lie is a lie, politics is politics is politics – and it still sucks.