Visitors to Canberra are amazed to find that the famed Press Gallery in Parliament House is just a long corridor with institutional white walls and a dingy red corridor.
‘Is this it?’ they ask incredulously.
Looking down the corridor, today it is hard to justify the status and reputation that has built up around it.
The silence of the corridor is broken only by a few muffled sounds of TVs.
Inside the cocoons, the so-called elite of the journalistic profession hunch over transcripts of door-stop and radio interviews and the latest polls for something new.
We rarely venture outside the rat warren of Parliament House during daylight hours. Instead, people prefer to stomach the sludge passing as coffee at Aussie’s coffee shop, in the hope we’ll bump into someone important to pick over the entrails of the daily political intrigue.
The closest thing that many have to a foreign encounter is when they go to one of the local bars for a drink with a politician and maybe grope a staffer. For those not doing this at the Kingston pub the Holy Grail, many are at home enjoying family life with their partner – who just also happens to be a journalist in the Press Gallery.
It is fitting that the 45-minute continuous exhalation of hot air on ABC TV on Sunday morning, by this so-called political elite, is called The Insiders. Let’s face it, most of these insufferable windbags rarely go outside.
In this hermetically sealed existence, the chance of running in to someone vaguely approaching an ordinary Australian is minimised.
I’m often asked who I think will win this election. I can speak at length about the latest Newspoll, the trend in the marginals. But eventually I have to be honest: ‘I don’t know, I don’t know any swinging voters.’ When we want to find out what the typical ‘swinging voter’ is thinking, every three years we pull out an electoral map, identify a marginal electorate and then go to the White Pages and select someone at random from the area.
This weekend, John Howard could win the election as the polls and pundits are predicting. But it is also just as likely something could happen which no-one has yet predicted, as when supposedly popular premiers Wayne Goss and Jeff Kennett were turfed out.
This might not happen, but if it does you can bet most gallery insiders won’t see it coming. Most of us will be too busy reading the official polls, believing that someone rang up in the middle of dinner actually bothers to give a considered answer. Others will be labouring under the assumption that the pompous dronings of Paul Kelly at the Australian are displays of super-human powers of political insight.
One of the frightening truths overlooked by many in the Press Gallery is that the people we deride for being ‘out of touch’ are probably more in touch with the electorates than we are. We have become so obsessed with the detail of the daily drama and getting the next big ‘Gotcha’ that many have stopped even trying to look at the bigger picture.
We feign nonchalance and boredom at the election campaign pontificating that everyone has lost interest in the campaign. But the reality is that we have wrung and squeezed every last drop of interest out of the campaign, through endless self-analysis and indulgent waffle. It is ironic that many journalists are complaining that we’re herded around like sheep in the campaign. For the rest of the three years of the electoral cycle, that is exactly what many are.
Press conferences are driven by TV and radio journalists trying desperately to get the right grab by badgering and rewording their question until they get what they want. Print journalists spend most of the time trying to find one new fact from a transcript, around which they can dress up a news story with padding of old facts and speculation.
Frankly, I’ll be happy when the election campaign is over. Not because we won’t have to listen to the politicians droning on, but because we won’t have to listen to the journalists droning on about the politicians droning on.
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