Hanging with the Greens

So its official. Asylum seekers are now the sacrificial lambs, to be offered up by both would-be governments to appease the rednecks who now hold the balance of power in voterland. All thanks to the electoral atom bomb of the 2001 ‘Tampa Election’, reeking damage long past its purposeful deployment.

The one remaining slender hope for the desperate emigres of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iran in 2013 and probably for years or decades to come, would be another hung parliament in which the Greens use their balance of power to extract a return to a hospitality of compassion, generosity and good sense, from a minority government.

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Boats and votes

The new Rudd Government’s emerging asylum seeker policy will be a thing of horror to many Australians, but unfortunately not the ‘right’ ones. What we’re now seeing is the long term impact on our culture of the Howard government’s demonising of asylum seekers, using them as electoral fodder, thereby appealing to the basest instincts and prejudices of a sector of the population.

Fast forward a few years, and we have a Labor Prime Minister who on earlier indications may have developed a policy enshrining decency and compassion, now perpetuating a thoroughly entrenched fortress mentality to appease voters in western Sydney.

The well of Australian multiculturalism has plainly been poisoned. And on these indications the erstwhile Australian spirit of generosity to the stranger, mortally wounded in a matter of months by the 2001 ‘Tampa election’ campaign, will likely take a generation or more to resuscitate, if indeed it ever rises again. For living as we now do in an age of unprecedented political disillusionment and disengagement, with serial hung parliaments a likely consequence, expediency will trump principle in the name of electoral survival. In this cold civil war, swing seat xenophobia will win and the world’s most vulnerable will lose.

If this is so, then the only hope for justice will lie in the moral formation of the next generation.

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Quality time

Your leading editorial of Saturday 8th June is right to call our political leaders back to matters of substance, but short on collective self-awareness. The standard and style of current day political commentary are at the very least complicit in the petty soap opera that now plays out on Capital Hill.

The personas of Gillard, Abbott, and their alleged internal rivals, that we the voting public see are in no small part constructed by those who beam them to us daily. The politicians themselves know this, as do the throngs of their media teams. Why then should we be surprised if policy takes a back seat to posturing? The science of politics has become the art of rap-dancing on a minefield. The story sells; characters are cheap and expendable.

In the antediluvian days when reporting of fact trumped opinion, the media’s role in the equation was on the whole constructive in the higher cause of informed democracy. Now we’re commonly left guessing where reality ends and speculation begins.

Yes, politicians please get on with debate. And journos, please get on with reporting.

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Doodling on the hill

Jaye Fletcher (Letters, 14/3) is a bit tough on the pollies with their smart phones. If we expect the poor blighters to sit through day-long meetings on our behalf, the least we can do is let them amuse themselves for sanity’s sake. It’s inconceivable that back-benchers since the year dot have not employed the technology of their time to escape the boredom of discourse. Parliamentary sittings have surely spawned volumes of shopping lists, completed crosswords, love letters and artistic doodlings. Let them tweet. At least they have to be awake to do it.

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Simply trust

Mary Delahunty (Opinion, 11/3) joins a long list of commentators and public figures suggesting that Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s fight for legitimacy is fundamentally down to old-fashioned misogyny. Certainly the persistence of glass ceilings and salary discrepancies alone should warn us against doubting that a low view of women is some part of the equation. Sadly, it must be. However proponents of the Gillard misogyny theory too commonly overlook natural comparisons and at least one major event of still recent memory.

All Australian jurisdictions bar one have now enjoyed the leadership of a woman as head of government. To varying degrees most of those women have endured sexist attitudes in the exercise of their high office. But it’s frankly hard to think of one who has found the battle for the public’s trust quite so exacting or unyielding. At least on our admittedly distant observation, the same seems to have been true in overseas instances. Why then is Ms Gillard’s case different?

The answer may be a quality equally simple and old-fashioned: public trust. Australians will not quickly forget the June 2010 political assassination of Kevin Rudd and the circumstances in which it occurred. We watched the apparent genuine collegiality and even perhaps personal friendship of the then Prime Minister and his deputy. We heard the repeated pledges of confidence and loyalty on camera, some within a few days of the coup. Some of us even remember feature stories of Gillard spending weekends as a personal guest of Rudd and his family. And then we watched the clinical execution. And it was over.

We may not all articulate it the same way. But in the land of mateship and a fair go, there are many many better ways than that to win the trust of a nation.

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Manners, please

After a week in which public political discourse has reached a new low on the common decency index, the community deserves better than major organs of media dancing to the new discordant tune of Labor’s frontbench. To the end of a speedy return to civility, The Age could do far better than publish a column such as Michael Duffy’s puerile character attack on Kevin Rudd (Opinion, 27/2).

Peppered with lines like “Rudd, whose ghastly smile can look so false it seems to come from another face … something constructed using an old police identikit” and “his sentences sound like they were constructed in some other language and turned into English by a cheap translation app”, and phrases like “extreme narcissism” and “this malevolent Tintin”, it is very much to be hoped that Duffy’s piece is not an earnest of the new political “analysis”. Poking fun at someone’s facial features and speaking style is grating though normal in a 10 year old at recess, but entirely out of place in responsible dialogue.

Duffy should apologise and the editorial team should think harder – especially this of all weeks. Oh and Michael, back to school to learn some manners.

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