Anyone for cordial?

Dave Greenslade’s vignette (Letters, 25/3) of the wartime cordiality between Menzies and Curtin might well be a piece of space fiction, beside the governmental processes that assault our senses in today’s Australia. Thinking of the past decade generally, and the past week most graphically, it’s hard to believe there ever was or ever could be a time when a Westminster parliamentary process could be vigorous without spite.

The dream of, in Tony Abbott’s own words, ‘a kinder and gentler polity’ died with the hung parliament still in nappies. What has followed has been a season of surely unprecedented and almost unrestrained vituperativeness and character assassination. It has played out between parliamentary opponents and within the government, gleefully fuelled by a more than merely complicit media. And therein lies perhaps the greatest challenge to the function of our democracy. As the media regulation debate has highlighted, we won’t readily trust our politicians to scrutinise the media. Yet conversely we’ve come to doubt the media’s capacity to report truth before peddling opinion or trashing images.

How it might happen is hard to conceive. But the rehabilitation of the democratic process in the eyes of the next generation urgently requires some form of multilateral compact between politicians, media and the public. We must commit mutually to ending the culture of dirt units, celebrity gossip, personal invective and character smears. Preferably before it’s too late.

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.

Just ugly

In a seemingly interminable announcement late in 2010, Federal independent MP Rob Oakeshott held the nation in thrall awaiting what amounted to his casting vote on which party leader would get the keys to the Lodge. In the process he foreshadowed a parliament with a new consultative character, which would be “beautiful in its ugliness”. Two years into the fragile life of that parliament, we might collectively respond: “Wrong, Rob. It’s just ugly.”

It’s hard to identify a less edifying period in our nation’s public life than this one, which has been characterised by a vile trade in vituperative personal insults hurled across the dispatch box in both directions, mirrored and egged-on far too much by a personality-obsessed media. In common public opinion the chief responsibility for this appalling state of affairs belongs to Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott. Certainly its ironic to recall that it was from his lips that the phrase “kinder and gentler polity” was uttered over the looming hung parliament. The contrast between that claim and the now grotesque reality might fall on the fact that it was made before Abbott found himself cruelly, by just the thinnest of margins, on the wrong side of the governing alliance. Abbott has been a man on a mission ever since, the PM’s office the tantalisingly reachable prize.

But does anyone seriously imagine now that the tone of the parliament would have been greatly different, had the governing boot landed on the other foot? Judging from Tuesday’s performance, would a narrowly aggrieved Team Gillard have dished out any less question time venom, from the camp of the vanquished?

What the Federal Labor caucus might care to contemplate is just how very different the past two years might have been for us all, had the fever of electoral paranoia not produced the midnight knifing of a revered first-term Prime Minister, to the savage detriment of the Government’s public trust.

Not in my back pocket

Perhaps it’s time to call a spade a spade on climate change action. Call me a pessimist, a simpleton or both. But here’s how it looks from my kitchen table …

There are really just two parties. Party ‘A’ – the parliamentarians; and Party ‘B’ – us voters. (The latter includes all sectors and interest groups.) Now for the analysis: Of party ‘A’, numbering 226, about half think action is vital in theory but electorally hazardous. The latter angst is fuelled by party ‘B’, numbering 18 million (aged 15+), about half of whom want action in theory, but not if it encroaches on our wallets or lifestyles. Not in my back pocket, thank you!

Likely outcome? Perpetual stalemate. Winner? Well certainly not the planet.

The End.

Let me speak

It seems there’s a crisis even before parliament gathers, over who sits in the chair. I’m prepared to offer my services to resolve the impasse. The chair looks reasonably comfortable for my crook back, and I like a glass of water occasionally. As a seasoned preacher, I’m sure I could do a tolerable job of barking “Awdah!!” at respectable intervals, and there doesn’t seem to be much else to it. I do admit to being a novice on parliamentary procedure, but it looks easy on the telly. And I’m sure the house will be forgiving, as we enter the brave new world of “kinder and gentler politics”.

Sirs, you go too far!

Good grief! Is nothing sacred to these men from the bush? Next they’ll be wanting total honesty and transparency from all politicians. And then where will it end? People nodding off in the public gallery during question time? ABC ratings plummeting? Journalists laid off? Street violence by bored citizens? No sirs; you go too far. We must be entertained!

A job well done

I can only contemplate how dull this past week could have been if Mr & Mrs Grech had been so unimaginative as to name their son “Gary” or “Greg” (or even worse … “Kevin”, for instance). But bless their souls, they too played their part in what has been, nay still is, one of the more entertaining spells in the history of Australian public life and media analysis.

But many are the contributors, each deserving credit. John Grant for giving Kev the ute. Wayne Swan for still using a fax. Malcolm Turnbull for letting the ABC into his office. Godwin Grech and the Auditor-General through whose coordinated timing one day’s news became at least three. Senator Abetz for sticking to the script, and then using the ‘S’ word so movingly. Peter Costello for yielding to temptation.

And still ahead lies the dramatic countdown to Senator Fielding and the privileges committee. All this and so much more. A sterling Westminster drama progressively unfolding on everyone’s LCD. We the intrigued and spellbound populace salute you all. Never again will we declare politics boring.

Westminster warring

In an ABC Lateline (22/6) debate on the so-called “Ute-gate” affair, Tony Abbott averred that

it’s the job of the Opposition Leader to attack the Prime Minister based on credible evidence

Therein lies one feature of the Westminster parliamentary tradition which has not served us well, however well-intentioned its origins. If it’s the “job” of the Opposition Leader to attack the Prime Minister, then presumably it’s also the latter’s “job” to fight back. Granted, our parliament has produced some colourful characters whose question time performances are entertaining. But a meeting of two collectives, one titled “the Opposition”, face-to-face across a chamber is adversarial by nature, and has not by and large brought out the best in human character or discourse.

In consequence, Australians have witnessed a spectacle this past week which has portrayed neither side of Federal politics well. There are no discernible winners, and 21 million losers. And yet it stands in a “proud” tradition where heckling, jeering, insults and character assassination are a daily occurrence.

There are times when a one-party state doesn’t seem such a bad idea afterall. This week has been one of them.