On Monday, Australia’s least ‘dumbed down’ newspaper,
the Australian Financial Review, ran this grab in its campaign

ALP president Carmen Lawrence laments that politics has been
dumbed down over the past few decades. ‘The grab is coming to the end of its
natural life’, Lawrence said at the launch of Fairfax journalist Julia Baird’s
Media Tarts book on Friday night. ‘What is it now – two seconds – I
sometimes hear grabs that are ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Politicians need to stop speaking
like idiots.’

The packed-to-capacity launch audience loved Lawrence’s
comment. They also loved her wider observations about the tired condition of
politics and democracy in Australia. These observations weren’t fully reported
anywhere that I’ve seen. Which is probably just as well. If they had been, they
would have been ‘sexed up’ or ‘dumbed down’; squeezed into the sausage machine
of electoral biffo; caricatured, and misrepresented, as a ratty sideswipe at the
leadership style and content of Mark Latham.

So what did Lawrence say?
Quite a lot, in conversation with Baird and, crucially, with the audience. She
took and answered questions. She didn’t talk down, guilt trip, patronize,
insult, sideswipe or duck the hard ones. And guess what? Her performance was
articulate, thought-provoking, witty, modest, challenging and human. Best of
all, it wasn’t boring. People listened and laughed and they didn’t want
to leave at the end.

I watched the ho-hum debate between Mark Latham and
John Howard on Sunday night, but only because I had to in order to do this job,
and it really felt like service above and beyond. It wasn’t as bad as it could
have been – there were small signs of va-va-voom from Latham. But it was still
tragic. Peter Costello wasn’t the only one with an itchy finger for
Australian Idol.

Forget those cute one-liners that have followed
about talent and ‘reality’ … and ratty sideswipes at the leadership style and
content of John Howard.

I watch Australian Idol because there’s
generally some energy and enthusiasm jumping round, even if it doesn’t always
hit the perfect note. I watch it because it always looks home-made and daggy
enough, despite the hype and hair gel. I watch it because the people on stage
aren’t boomers reliving their glory days (sorry, some of my best friends …).
And I watch it because it makes upfront, serious space for enough talent that’s
not blonde-and-pinky-white, in body and soul – unlike Neighbours, The
, Insiders, the 7:30 Report, the Canberra press gallery,
most newsrooms and boardrooms, and every parliament and political party in

As we move towards the election, many observers are enervated,
some even puzzled, about Australians’ lack of engagement with the mono-mania of
mainstream politics and media. What do they expect? Prague Spring? Why should
people take an interest in staged, posey posturing by candidates and
commentators, when they can get more va-va-voom for their time and money at
Blockbuster, or a suburban kebab shop?

Why should they care about dying
Iraqis, Islamic ‘Horror Brigades’, or anything else in the world beyond BAS
returns, IKEA catalogues and neo-porn, eurotrash bathroom renovations? (BATH
Kohler Evora corner spa SHOWER Walk-in with blue Asrulight slumped glass panels
and RSM ceiling rose BASIN BKS Molten Blue TAPS Dorf Milan TOILET BKS Lara wall
facing VANITY Custom-made by Better Bathrooms & Kitchens with Charcoal
laminate cabinets and Silestone Blanco Zuese top WALL TILES 300mm x 300mm Gloss
White FLOOR 300mm x 300mm Black Blue
– yeah, baby!)

You know why
they should. Because they can. And because they do, when the circumstances are

Oh yes, and because you can’t live on credit forever.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.