The round-the-clock carnival of carnage has begun, writes Tim Robertson.
At dinner on Sunday, a friend informed me that this election would be “a referendum on the economy.” On Monday, my hairdresser asked me: “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” On Tuesday, a taxi driver explained that he’d invested a lot of time in understanding the issues because, after all, “it’s not a popularity contest” (obviously a Labor voter).
By Wednesday morning a colleague had read or heard somewhere that the West is suffering “a crisis of democracy” and has now set out to discover where or what Australia’s “democratic deficit” is. When I explained that it’s like “radicalisation” – an invented construct thought up by pundits to explain a phenomenon they don’t understand – she became despondent, but then came across the phrase again in a Comment is Free piece, regained her faith and accused me of elitism.
By Wednesday night, some liberal-minded soul had created a crowd-funding campaign to help out a low-income earner who appeared on Q&A and asked a perfectly reasonable question about why high-income earners get tax cuts while he languishes in poverty. When I pointed out that such a campaign hardly addressed the underlying systemic issue I was called “un-feeling reactionary”. On Thursday, the Australian ran a front-page smear campaign because Duncan – that’s the Q&A guy – had, shock horror, taken drugs (not to be confused with the type of drugs lawyers, bankers and New Corp executives take). Come Friday, it was the Hun’s turn to make use of their front page to launch another attack on Duncan because… the ABC. By the weekend, it was clear that the only way I was going to survive this election campaign was with some black-market opiates, absinthe (drunk à la Toulouse-Lautrec) and lots of Gilmore Girls re-runs.
The announcement that Australia will be going to the polls on July 2 has turned the day-to-day politics of this country into more of a pantomime than it already was. From both sides it’s a non-stop rolling caravan of fluro-clad factory inspections, baby kissing, fleeting interactions with Real People, school and hospital visits, coffees with the voters in the morning, beers with the locals in the evening, and ridiculous stage-managed policy announcements (pledges really, and even they are less binding than a scout’s honour).
That is, of course, if you live in a marginal seat. If you live in a safe seat, you might run into you local member at the train station one morning, but the election campaign isn’t really directed at you. You may have a resounding faith in all that one-vote-one-value stuff, but it’s really all just a charade so politicians can fool you into thinking you actually play a role in “government by the people.” No, make no mistake, our democracy is not really democratic and election campaigns are the most undemocratic times of all.
That’s the paradox: election campaigns are meant to be when policy is put under the microscope and politicians are scrutinised more closely. But the reality is that they’re just an uber-ludicrous interlude in an increasingly ludicrous system. Any serious discussion of the most important issues is abandoned: the torture and unlawful indefinite detention of refugees on a Pacific island concentration camps? Well, despite both major parties supporting that, the Coalition is still running a scare campaign against the Labor Party – effectively arguing that they can’t be trusted on the issue because some quarters of their party care too much about the health, dignity and rights of those on Nauru and Manus.
Instead, it’s the hip-pocket policies – so conventional wisdom has it – that are the real vote-winners. Yet the economic merits of these go largely un-discussed; rather, it becomes an exercise in getting as many sound bites into the papers and evening news as possible. So, when Patrica Karvelas presented Liberal MP Steve Ciobo with an RBA memo saying that easing negative gearing would probably be good for the economy, he denied it actually meant that and instead started talking into some nightmarish echo chamber about Labor’s great big “housing tax”.
The media dutifully plays its role in this stage-managed roadshow. They’re bussed and flown around from a meet-and-greet in north Queensland to a policy announcement in western Sydney, all the while updating the rolling coverage on their masthead’s election blog. Election polls are reported as news and the opinion of Eden-Monaro resident, Toby Awknotuby is repeated as if it were the word of the Lord. A good campaign may ensure a win, but it’s more likely that a bad one will end the hopes and dreams of a candidate in a burning car crash of a performance that’s beamed across the nation.
Alas, the election campaign has already descended into an around-the-clock carnival of potential gotcha moments: journalists trying to devise tricky questions to catch politicians out and politicians reciting their talking points, even if they have no relevance to the question. It’s mindless drivel and both sides only break from it to ensure voters that they respect their intelligence, while scolding their opponents for not doing the same.
Strap yourself in, fetch a fresh bottle of absinthe, July 2 is still a long way off.
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