Politics, they say, is war by other means. This is in many respects true; it’s just a shame they are such boring means. Unlike war, which is exciting and colourful and extremely manly, politics is drab and soggy and enjoyed by Young Liberals. Anyone who, out of a sense of civic duty or near-suicidal masochism, has been following the political discourse of recent years will have noticed that, far from the thrilling cut-and-thrust of incisive public debate illuminating the gripping theatre of representative democracy in action, it has been more akin to watching a group of clinically depressed accountants have a pillow fight.
It doesn’t have to be this way, you know. In other countries, politics is regarded as entertainment, an art form, and in many cases, a contact sport. Take Italy, for example, a nation which was engaging in political intrigue thousands of years ago, back when Australia was a barren, featureless wasteland filled with poisonous snakes and dangerous marsupials and Aborigines who sat around all day moaning about their crippling lack of uranium mines.
In Italy, the Prime Minister is Silvio Berlusconi, a man who parlayed his ownership of most of Italy’s media, banking and advertising industries into an against-the-odds political career, and then parlayed his political career into sex with a lot of attractive young women and a level of mental illness that steers a shrewd course on just the right side of entertaining. To sum up Silvio Berlusconi, it perhaps would be best to imagine that Rupert Murdoch and Hugh Hefner had a baby, which then joined the Mafia and started making funny jokes about Nazis.
Now, imagine if we had a prime minister like that. Imagine if every day when we opened the paper, we found out that Jennifer Hawkins had been appointed Communications Minister, or that the Government planned a bridge to Tasmania. Wouldn’t life take on a bracing, invigorating quality? Instead, what do we get? Three hundred articles about whether Kevin Rudd is willing to say the word "billion".
Well, isn’t that just the most riveting development to hit Australian politics since Nick Minchin missed a belt loop. They’ll be making a telemovie any day about that, won’t they? Craig McLachlan as Kevin Rudd and Val Lehman as Wayne Swan in the harrowing tale of two men struggling against society’s oppressive demands that they say certain words when those words are appropriate to the situation being described in the sentence or paragraph under examination. Brokeback Mountain for the Treasury crowd.
You may laugh now, but if Australian politics gets any more boring, people may start resorting to watching actual Australian movies. And that’s a horrible thought for us all.
I mean, just look at the politicians we have on hand. There’s Rudd, of course, who sold his personality to the Devil in exchange for blistering linguistic skills. There’s Swan, who seems to spend every interview restraining the urge to apologise for existing. There’s Turnbull, who is starting to exhibit symptoms of battered wife syndrome at the hands of his own party. There’s whoever is leader of the Nationals at the moment, who is presumably standing in a wheat field somewhere whining about the drought. There’s Bob Brown, who is a gay environmentalist but nowhere near as interesting as that sounds.
Why is there no Australian version of, say, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who not only had the guts to stand up to George W Bush, but on several occasions actually engaged him in a knife-fight? Come to think of it, why is there no Australian version of Dubya, with his folksy ways and endearing intermittent aphasia?
Or his deputy, Dick Cheney, who has surged back into the public eye in the last week by challenging President Barack Obama’s views on torture. After Obama declared himself to be anti-torture, Cheney came straight out and declared himself to be pro-torture, demonstrating his strong view by waterboarding a puppy live on air.
Why can’t Australia have more political debates like this? Instead of debating whether we should be borrowing money to fund vital infrastructure, why can’t we debate whether we should be breaking bad guys’ pinkie fingers? Why doesn’t Julia Gillard ever go out and "accidentally" shoot people?
Let’s look some more at America as an illustration of the point. Their president is black! Black! That is so cool! Australia is never as cool as that. Our head of state is the Queen, and she’s not only white, she’s been dead for 30 years. The closest we get to being cool is electing Peter Garrett, and we only did that after he promised to shut up and start sending picnic hampers to uranium miners.
The real problem is that I fear that if our politics doesn’t get more interesting soon, our youngsters will lose interest in pursuing political careers. If you were a vibrant young thing nowadays, watching Question Time, would you really want to enter that stultifying world of Dorothy Dixers and Senate Estimates?
Do you really think, as our children watch Wayne Swan do that thing where he repeats the same phrase three times before continuing his sentence in a sad parody of oratory, that they will think, "Yes! Canberra here I come!" When there is so much money and acclaim to be made in other fields, like dance music, professional boxing, and pornography, why would anyone want to wilfully send themselves into that state of living death, that decades-long waking coma called politics? They just won’t. Pretty soon we’ll have nobody to contest our elections, nobody to fill our seats, and we’ll have to hand the entire government over to Google to avoid losing our baby bonuses.
I don’t know whether I’m just a foolish dreamer, I don’t know whether this ennui can be reversed — maybe we’re too far gone for a simple web-satirist’s plea to be heeded. But I beg you, just for a moment, to imagine a different Australia.
An Australia where our leaders make some kind of effort to keep us entertained as we plough wearily through our ever-depressing lives. An Australia where less than 60 per cent of the space in our mainstream newspapers was devoted to articles about how to maximise your superannuation. An Australia where the parliament features fewer points of order, and more cans of whoop-ass. An Australia where we weren’t worried about the Prime Minister’s wife’s fashion sense, because of all the old nude photos of her floating about the place. An Australia where Tony Abbott was allowed to go off his mood stabilisers and roam the streets unleashed, setting fire to condoms and biting random passersby.
An Australia where we judge a man not on the soundness of his fiscal philosophy, but on the frequency of his public drunkenness.
I guess in essence, what I’m saying is: come back, Mark Latham. A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
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