Are We There Yet? No? Shame.

 AUSTRALIAN POLITICS

Sunday, May 8, 2022

This isn’t the midpoint of the 2022 federal election campaign. It just feels that way, or possibly that we have yet to really start. In fact, we’re over the hump. Did anyone notice? Is anyone counting? There is a fortnight to go, a full 14 days of glee club or sandpit, depending on your view of politics and how it is conducted here on the Big Gibber. Someone should offer specials on ennui relief packs. They’d make a killing.

Many Australians, like many voters in most democratic countries, tend to view their politicians rather in the way that the sepoys of the old East India Company armies used to view their alien officers. They didn’t mind how bad these were, provided they didn’t bother them too much or get underfoot. They liked them most of all when they combined essential invisibility with lengths of tenure that reduced the nuisance attached to replacing them.

It’s therefore mildly of interest, to those who engage, that the Opposition Leader has fluffed his lines again (on the detail of the ALP’s NDIS policy) and that the Prime Minister has found two more things for which he is not responsible (being gazumped by the Chinese in Solomon Islands, and national economic management). 

The Rictus Scale – that’s the one that measures the grimness of smiles – is suddenly being employed everywhere. It’s measuring the tremors resulting from the first rise in the official interest rate in 11 years and the mortgage stress this and inevitable further rate rises will produce. It’s also measuring irritation about how the budget, brought down a blink ago – not quite six weeks – is now at least wholly catatonic and may be in fact be entirely lacking vital signs. But it’s OK, really it is. We all know they were only joshing on March 29.

It’s Mother’s Day today, an appropriate moment to consider the place and function of women – mothers among them – in Australian life outside the home. Beyond the white picket fence, in the language of fundamental misogyny. It’s where half of Australian women earn a living these days, in politics as well as in more productive endeavours, apparently to the continuing surprise of many men. As Forrest Gump memorably reminded us, his mum always said that life was like a box of chocolates. Run, Forrest, run! Stop, Forrest, stop! It’s true that you never know what you’re going to get in a box of chocolates. The movie was a metaphor for many things, including politics. We’re being offered various boxes of chocolates. Picking the one that offers the softest centres is the trick.

In the same way, it’s astonishing that we’re having the election campaign that we are. But then again, is it? Duh! The coalition has nothing new to fly with, except fanciful foreign threats and election bribes that should frighten at least the Treasurer. Though apparently it doesn’t. Scotty and Josh and the coalition are the best economic managers. As they used to write in newspaper reports of judicial proceedings, a titter ran round the court.

Politics – and more pertinently at this point, government – is rather like the weather. Eventually it changes. Sometimes it’s via a cataclysmic event, say another 100-year flood that the government didn’t expect because there was one just last year. But mostly it’s more prosaic, thoroughly banal: like the water draining from a partly blocked kitchen sink. The only difference here in an Australia is that, through the Coriolis effect, governments go down the gurgler in a clockwise direction.  

The coalition has been in office for 13 years, albeit with three prime ministers, two of them sacked by the party room rather than the voters. But if your central campaign plank simply asserts that you’ve done it all and are magnificent (evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) there’s not a lot that you can do, except try to drown out the noise of factional street-fighting just offstage. 

Policy indolence on the government side masks the ongoing battle within the Liberal Party between those who’d like to be liberal, and others, seemingly ascendant under Morrison, who’d like to get us all back into church, out to the barbie and off to the uncooked chicken curry classes. Malcolm Turnbull, one of the deposed just mentioned, made that very point (though not in that language) a day or so ago.

What’s needed is a new way of doing politics, though not in the populist Clive Palmer way. Australia needs to rediscover and work at consensus. Winner takes all is not an option. The so-called Teal independents may yet make life difficult – or at least interesting in the ancient Chinese curse sense – for the incoming government, of whatever stripe. 

Labor’s plan to fund up to 40 percent of certain classes of home mortgages is a step towards making Australia a fairer place. The idea is to increase access to secure housing for Australians who can’t get on the Neocons aspirational ladder. 

You could almost hear Morrison, who could only come up with a dismissive quip in response, thinking, “Gee, I wish we’d thought of that.” That’s the thing, you see. His policy locker is empty. And there’s no real divide in Australian mainstream politics beyond faux dialectic.

This commentary was written for the seniors’ website Startsat60.com


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