There is an expression in American politics known as ‘inside the beltway’. It is a reference to the interstate highway that circles the capital city, Washington DC.

This adds little to our democracy

If there was an Australian equivalent, it would be ‘inside the circle’ - reference to the roads, the State Circle and the Capital Circle, which loop around Parliament House in Canberra.

When Americans speak of ‘beltway’ issues, they mean the topics which occupy the attention of the political class in Washington: the Members of Congress, the media, the administration officials, and the hordes of paid lobbyists. Outside Washington, it is often a term of derision.

“That is a beltway issue,” meaning something which the political class, led by the news media, are obsessed about, but does not resonate with the millions of Americans who simply wish to get on with their lives.

The beltway phenomenon has crept into Australian politics. With the advent of 24 hour television and expanding social media, many of the political class spend an increasing amount of time fixated on the same narrow set of issues.

More people turn out for an AFL wooden spoon game in the middle of winter than watch 24 hour news television. But almost every journalist, lobbyist and commentator in Canberra does. And many of them spend the day tweeting comments that are largely read by each other!

This culture had spurned the demand that politicians become both celebrities and commentators.

The cult of the celebrity politician was driven by Kevin Rudd, who used every media opportunity to persuade his colleagues that he should become Leader of the Opposition, and later, Prime Minister.

Since it worked for Rudd, others have been seduced into thinking the strategy should be adopted by all. The problem is that Mr Rudd’s colleagues later discovered that he was a domineering control-freak and removed him from office. Many still loathe him.

Rudd became a celebrity, but he couldn’t lead his own party.

The 24 hour news cycle means that there are hours of television to be filled every day. There are only so many stories that can be carried, so the issues are analysed and commented upon over and over.

And who better to freely fill in these countless hours than politicians eager to boost their personal profile. Yet the only time they are likely to be reported for their appearance on the 24 hour news media or their remarks on twitter is when they say something stupid.

Of course politicians need to communicate their ideas, including on 24 hour television, but we are not commentators.

John Howard was never particularly popular, but he was widely respected. He would often warn his colleagues about becoming commentators on current issues, saying, “That is not our job.”

As I travel around Australia, there is one resounding message. People are sick of the toxic personality politics that passes for policy discussions these days. They yearn for good, competent government that will quietly get on with the job and out of their everyday lives.

People tell me that they don’t turn on the news anymore, or switch off when political stories are broadcast. Newspaper circulations are falling.

The late President of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, once remarked that “It is not true that only the unfeeling cynic, the vain, the brash and the vulgar can succeed in politics.”

“Such people, it is true, are drawn to politics, but in the end decorum and good taste will always count for more,” he said.

I believe he was correct.

In the end, competence and common sense are more useful tools for our political leaders than seeking celebrity status and endless commentary. Sometimes less is more.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDT.

Most commented


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    • acotrel says:

      05:31am | 20/02/13

      Kevin Andrews with leaders like you and the rest of the LNP, Australia will disappear up its own fundamental orifice. Why are we paying your salaries ?

    • Alfie says:

      07:34am | 20/02/13

      “The less you see and hear of people like me, the better”

      This applies to you too acotrel.
      BTW you are not ‘paying’ anyone’s salary, you are on a pension - we are paying your salary.

    • Quick Comment says:

      07:35am | 20/02/13

      I usually enjoy reading your comments even though I almost always disagree with them.  Not this one. It’s just a reflexive insult.

    • Colin says:

      07:42am | 20/02/13

      @ acotrel

      The term you are looking for is, “Fundament” as in its sense of, “The buttocks”. Now, acotrel, I have corrected your misuse of this term as “Fundamental orifice” (or something similar) before. Lift your game.

    • PETE says:

      08:01am | 20/02/13

      Why can’t he tell Tony that instead of us. Every time he opens his mouth he makes a stupid comment.

    • R White says:

      08:26am | 20/02/13

      This fellow Acotrel, Alan Cotterell, seems to have far too much time on his hands.

      Drivel like his, from Left or Right, won’t sway anyone, adds nothing of worth to any debate on performance or policy, and simply fans the flames of any already over-heated shitfight..

      What’s the point of that?

      About all it achieves, mate, is to entrench equal+opposite knee-jerks from the Right - that all Lefties are dills. Thanks for that.

      If you have anything useful, backable, or checkable, to say, let’s hear it.

      You’ve as much right to an opinion as anyone else.  Just make it worth bloody reading, for pity’s sake.

    • Richo says:

      01:02pm | 20/02/13

      of course acotrel is on a pension, probably never done a days work in his life. He’s from the “the world owes me everything” line of thinking.

    • R White says:

      05:53am | 20/02/13

      “The less you see and hear of people like me, the better”

      In your particular case, Mr Andrews, for the one and only time in my life, I agree.

      I expect Dr Haneef and his family would, too.

    • Richo says:

      01:04pm | 20/02/13

      Most Australians couldn’t give a toss about what Dr Haneef and his family think. Haneef may have fooled you but not me.

    • R White says:

      01:15pm | 20/02/13

      Haneef didn’t fool anyone - he didn’t set out to fool anyone. He didn’t, because he’d done precisely nothing.

      As the system eventually found, no thanks to Andrews as Minister of the day.

    • Richo says:

      04:02pm | 20/02/13

      I’d be very concerned about a man like Haneef who had lived in the same house as the two terrorists, who just happened to be his cousins, and had regular communication with them, including just before their failed terrorist attack at the Glasgow airport. But of course you can’t expect a biased left wing judicial system to find anything wrong in these sorts of cases.

    • R White says:

      05:02pm | 20/02/13

      Spare us the inaccurate slanted summary of events. There’s plenty of accurate material on the Web.

      Dr Mohamed Haneef, an Indian citizen, was working at a hospital on Australia’s Gold Coast when he was arrested on 2 July 2007. He was held for several days before being charged with giving “reckless support” to terrorism.

      Haneef’s ensuing detention became the longest without charge in recent Australian history, which caused great controversy in Australia and India.

      Haneef was released when the Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew its charge on 27 July 2007. His passport was returned and he departed Australia voluntarily on 29 July 2007.

      In December 2010, Haneef returned to Australia to seek damages for loss of income, interruption of his professional work, and emotional distress. He was awarded compensation from the Australian government. The amount of compensation awarded was not disclosed, but was described by sources as “substantial”.

      This case highlights the importance of striking a delicate balance between national security on one hand and the preservation of human rights on the other. In the course of his judgment, Spender J noted that governmental organisations, such as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), should not be exempt from judicial scrutiny under any circumstances, simply because they deal in matters of national security.

      It was evident from early on that Haneef’s association with his second cousins was slight, and to claim he “lived in the same house” is the sort of over-statement that saw him wrongfully detained in the first place - but eventually released. The wrongful treatment of Haneef was thanks directly to blunders on the part of Andrews himself as Minister, and for which Haneef was eventually compensated.

      There’s no point at all in trying to air-brush over the discreditable facts of the matter, sheeted squarely home to the Minister: Andrews.

    • Zack says:

      05:54am | 20/02/13

      ‘Rudd became a celebrity, but he couldn’t lead his own party.’

      I’m not a Rudd fan but was this a case of JG wanting power or the fact Rudd pushed his people to work at a harder pace which they were not used to? At the end of the day there is a reason why Rudd is far more popular than Gillard and that reason is the public don’t see JG as a nice person and the reality is she isn’t.

    • John says:

      06:14am | 20/02/13

      Couldn’t agree more with your headline Kevin, couldn’t agree more.

    • Peter#1 says:

      06:27am | 20/02/13

      Unfortunately the actions of a minority of politicians, who in recent years have acted corruptly or criminally, have resulted in a loss of respect for the majority of politicians.
      As a first step in regaining the trust and confidence of the general population, politicians would be well advised to voluntarily reduce their over-generous perks, in particular their parliamentary superannuation.
      The next step would be to listen to the wishes of the majority and govern accordingly. The present system could best be described as a “democratic” dictatorship. Democratic in as much as we are fooled into believing that we have a say in government, when, in actual fact, once elected the wishes of the majority are ignored.
      This disillusion with the political process could ultimately lead to a popular uprising.

    • John Beechey says:

      08:12am | 20/02/13

      Well written,could not have put it better

    • gobsmack says:

      06:49am | 20/02/13

      “John Howard .... would often warn his colleagues about becoming commentators on current issues, saying, “That is not our job.””

      Ha, ha, ha.

      Another example of what a cunning liar he is.

    • pete says:

      06:51am | 20/02/13

      I fully agree. Your last post here, Kevin? And hopefully the last from every other political hack.

    • Smith says:

      06:56am | 20/02/13

      So you have written an opinion piece about too many politiicans giving their opinion on matters…?

      That being said, I agree with Kevin.

    • Tell It Like It Is says:

      07:30am | 20/02/13

      Yes, people do want substance, integrity and trust from a national leader; someone who simply keeps their eye on the ball, is quietly confident, thoughtful, has real world experience and skills and will not be ruffled by bullying from the ABC apparatchiks, and their ilk. Someone like John Howard basically.

      No one in the ALP/Union mob can offer this. Watching Howes standing up there with a few rusted-on union devotees singing ‘Solidarity forever’ was pathetic. And it’s an incredibly boring piece of music too. But keep fighting that imaginary war, blokes!

      And hearing the sycophantic Albanese’s comments about the motives of the Greens was laughable! He accuses them of having motives which are exactly the same as those which drive current, desperate and grossly incompetent and inefficient ALP mob.  About the only card left in their pack is to haul out some absolute joker like Berlusconi, although Rudd is pretty close.

    • acotrel says:

      08:38am | 20/02/13

      ‘He accuses them of having motives which are exactly the same as those which drive current, desperate and grossly incompetent and inefficient ALP mob.’ - And the LNP except that the other two don’t have George Pell lurking in the background !

    • Rose says:

      09:41am | 20/02/13

      Your opinion of John Howard and mine are clearly the polar opposite. The only decent thing Howard ever did was to strengthen the gun laws. I don’t actually think Howard was anywhere near the ‘statesman’ that some people seem to think he is. He created an entrenched destructive sense of entitlement in Australian society with his vote buying middle class welfare measures. he has already been outed as heading the most wasteful Australian government EVER!!
      Howard governed in boom times and thanks to his neglect he left absolutely nothing to show for it (the money he had put away was chicken feed when compared to the amount he threw away) !!

    • Richo says:

      01:06pm | 20/02/13

      @Acotrel - Go get a job. Life is better with a job.

    • Chillin says:

      01:34pm | 20/02/13

      Who would employ an old retired labor supporter who can’t face his party in Opposition for the next ten years?  Can you imagine listening to whining after they are out of power.

    • gof says:

      02:07pm | 20/02/13

      “Can you imagine listening to whining after they are out of power.”
      Definitely no worse than the incessant tantrums, whinging and tears we have had to put up with from the rusted on LNP supporters for the past 7 years.

    • KEVIN 2013 says:

      08:04am | 20/02/13

      Kevin put Johnny to the sword and now he will put Abbott in his place. Then he will make the miners pay, then rid the labor of union scum.

    • Steve of QBN says:

      12:28pm | 20/02/13

      @Kev13 - “then rid the labor of union scum.”  So he’ll be a one man party then?  No fear of Gillard MkII.  smile

    • marley says:

      08:05am | 20/02/13

      Always amusing to read an opinion piece from a politician saying politicians should stay away from handing out opinions.

      That said, there is one point I think that bears emphasis:  the different mindset inside the beltway, or the circles.  I lived in Canberra for a short while, and Ottawa for longer.  Both are towns dominated by government and the civil service (though Ottawa is less so).  And both are so focussed on spin cycles, the minutiae of polls and indeed of policy, the power struggles within and between ministries, that they are totally out of touch with mainstream thought.  Neither the politicians nor the civil servants have any sense of perspective at all.  They live and operate in little, hermetically sealed bubbles, impervious to the actual needs of this country.  All that matters are short-term polls, not long term plans. 

      And they don’t have a clue about how the outside world operates:  they think if enough regulations are imposed, and enough bureaucrats are employed to enforce them, that society and the economy will operate like a well-oiled machine. They have no understanding of what it is that makes businesses work (or fail), what it is that makes people decide to work or sit on the dole, what it is that has caused every aboriginal policy of the last 40 years to fail.

      I don’t know what the solution is:  I do know that the MPs and Senators we have are not coming from the grass roots and that they are almost to a man (or woman) detached from the world the rest of us live in.  And I don’t see that changing any time soon.

    • John says:

      10:36am | 20/02/13

      As a former Canberran, you are completely right!
      In terms of politicians and public servants caring about minutae, the West Wing often showed that, for an entire episode the characters would be obsessing about a blog or small news article, as if many Americas would give a flying f&ck;. (I know its TV but I am pretty sure it happens every day in RL in Canberra, Washington etc.)
      I also have more trust and faith in politicians that have real world work backgrounds. For example look at the work history of members from the National Party compared the the union hacks, lawyers and career beauracrats that make up the Labour party. I know who I would prefer to have making decisions affecting Australians!!!

    • QUEENSLANDER !!!!!!! says:

      08:05am | 20/02/13

      GO KEV !!! you have got them all shaking in their boots.

    • iansand says:

      08:10am | 20/02/13

      Joh called it feeding the chooks.  Unfortunately, the chooks have not yet realised who they are.

      We are very badly served by this invention called the news cycle.  Speed has overwhelmed analysis as the primary factor in news “reporting”.

    • Emmie says:

      09:14am | 20/02/13

      How very well said. So many journalists (and I use that term loosely) seem to believe that the punters are really not very smart and we need them to tell us how to think. This only goes to show how out of touch they are.  Since 2007 the majority of the media (and others who seem to think of themselves as the intelligensia) have bombarded us with ‘Kev the Messiah’ and then ‘Julia the true saviour’.  Foisting our ‘first female PM’ on us was more important than someone competent to lead. That she only scraped in with the support of the dodgy independents strongly suggests that a large number of the punters were not happy. Using the specious arguement that ‘knifing the Messiah’ lost her votes holds not water; many punters were angry with the knifing because we wanted to do it ourselves! This government, as a collective, and not just because of Gillard, will go down in history as ‘worse than Whitlam’.

    • Aussiewazza says:

      09:20am | 20/02/13

      Marley: I like and agree with what you say but just one point.

      You can RESIDE in Canberra NOT live. There is more life in South Head Cemetery.

      It’s like saying you can LIVE on the old age pension. You can’t. You can exist.

      Otherwise, you have hit the nail firmly on the head.

      Though, like the weather. Everyone talks about it but ........

      Can Do trimmed Queenslands public circus but the fat overpaid weazels are still solidly ensconced whilst the needed and usefull got the knife.

      It’s like a hospital full of administrators but no doctors or nurses.

    • Andy says:

      09:29am | 20/02/13

      All the usual suspects with their expected commentary! Kevin makes a good point - especially when in conjunction with Jessica Irvine’s article before it.

      One of the reasons that my workmates don’t listen to the news or follow the media, is because they believe that it consists of the political elite talking to the political elite. It’s all bull, they say. Who is interested in my struggles, my life?

      Instead, the media have become obsessed with personalities and internal party machinations. This obsession now flows over to the comments on sites like this one.

      Shoot the messenger if you like, but Kevin’s observations are spot on.

    • Adam R says:

      11:03am | 20/02/13

      I usually like reading political stories but the ‘circle jerk’ of the same kind of topics on clockwork weekly rotation is finally getting to me. Gay marriage, refugees, Kevin Rudd, the new atheism. I struggle to find any other issues talked about, they’re also issues that are of least concern to most Australians. No one is talking about making Australia a better place to live, or youth unemployment at a time when our unemployment is quite low, at least not the political class anyway.

      The lowest point came when our own PM decided to take public discussion and proverbially crap on it and let it run through the sewerage system that has become of the news obsessed, ‘anything is news’, political media. I’m referring to the PM using parliamentary privilege to call Abbott a misogynist by the way.

      Some politicians (Rudd, Keating(though he’s more entertaining to listen to)) seriously need to start listening and stop talking all the time, and the same goes for some journalists. The only way you can feel the pulse of the nation is to be among the bloodstream and to keep a keen ear out for those who have genuine concerns, not a rant about how the world isn’t built to your own specification as I’ve seen so many times in some commentaries.

    • TheDishpan says:

      03:05pm | 20/02/13

      So Adam, here’s the thing. I kind of agree with you, and I kind of don’t agree with you.

      I agree with you that there is a tendency for the Australian political media to get wound up in their own game of influence peddling. Personally I’d like to think that most Australians are capable of working out when Lee Sales has her eye on a Walkley, or when Chris Uhlmann is being a smart-arse, or when Chris Mitchell has taken the view that the Oz is going to take a particular slant on an issue because in his opinion it’s bad for the nation and requires a campaign. I also tend to feel that too much political commentary is focused on politicians as winners and losers—when really, in a representative democracy, what happens to this or that politician is actually pretty irrelevant so long as the system continues to make the compromises necessary to keep the ship of state afloat (that is: public servants keep giving advice, parliament makes decisions, the broader population remains broadly happy and useful, law is enforced, and elections keep happening).

      Where I take issue is when we start trying to define what is or is not of interest to the majority of Australians. In a country that is both broadly and increasingly middle class, you have to accept that different folk are going to care about different issues and to different degrees: gay marriage is actually a big deal for a lot of folk, boat arrivals are clearly a big deal for a lot of folk, the Murray-Darling basin is a huge deal for a lot of folk, broadband access is a very big deal for a lot of folk (and the list goes on).

      When we all draw breath and take a step back, we have to acknowledge that, by and large, media and government are actually concerned with all of the issues all of the time. If you take a look over Hansard, you’ll find every number of issues under consideration. If you dig into the public records of any government department, you’ll find even more issues under consideration. This whole complex of public discussion, consideration and decision making is all about making Australia a better place. By and large, the system has worked and continues to work pretty well.

      At the end of the day, we all have to recognise that we’re a diverse bunch with an even more diverse bunch of concerns. In that kind of environment, it’s natural that from time to time the media and politicians will focus on a few issues in order to encourage some kind of focus which will lead to a political consensus, however happy or unhappy (which is the, sometimes bitter, end of all public decision making).

      If your issue isn’t being heard, then get up and lobby.

    • Philosopher says:

      11:47am | 20/02/13

      Kevin, change your title to ‘The less you see and hear of me, the better’ and you will redeem yourself greatly in my eyes.

    • sandra says:

      01:52pm | 20/02/13

      Kevin good points and I enjoyed reading them
      I am sorry you must endure abuse and denigration simply because you share an opinion—soem of these post are pure bully boy thuggish rubbish obviouojs who they support!!!!

    • vox says:

      02:04pm | 20/02/13

      You do intend to convey the message that Abbott in the truck, Abbott in his mini-briefs, Abbott in his “Fireman’s uniform” of sports cap and tee-shirt, and Abbott in a staged dance with indigenous children, are all attempts to create some sort of cult-following, don’t you, Mr Andrews?
      Why didn’t you mention, for the sake of at least a pretence of balance, that your Leader has a temper of huge proportions, and has demonstrated that temper publicly quite often. Shouldn’t you have expanded your argument to include the fact that Abbott is so disliked by his own Party that only the vote of Peter Slipper, his close friend, or perhaps his own vote even got him the job he has. Balance, Mr Andrews, balance.
      Perhaps also you might have explained your own shortcomings, which are a matter of record, before attacking others for what you see, (selectively), as theirs.
      And am I amiss in my understanding of your “article” being supportive of “policy discussion” rather than “personality discussion”? Really?
      I think you would be better suited addressing your Christian Colleague about policy discussions. He has no discussion because he has no policies, but you already knew that didn’t you, Mr Andrews.
      Incidentally, isn’t Howard’s Christian Brethren, Abbott’s Catholic cultism, and your own rather weird belief all centred on the accent of “personality”?
      Have you ever read, “They’re A Weird Mob”? No?

    • Philosopher says:

      02:26pm | 20/02/13

      vox, you ask of Mr Andrews: ‘Perhaps also you might have explained your own shortcomings…’ with all due respect, this is a little like asking Jeffrey Dahmer to explain why his eating habits are unusual.

    • stephen says:

      05:57pm | 20/02/13

      Politicians, really, should ignore the outcomes of the media’s bias.
      They should be concerned only with Party Policy, and the local concerns of their electorate.

      Oh, and one other thing : they should know enough about life in general to be able to see, and to realize what is a good future for us all.

      (And to smell a rat e.g. Rudd is spending just a bit too much time away from his ‘portfolio’, and getting his mug on camera.)

    • Cath says:

      06:22pm | 20/02/13

      so true.  We don’t want to see and hear pollies 24/7.  Relaxed and comfortable, that’s what we want to be again.

    • Sarah says:

      06:48pm | 20/02/13

      As always, an interesting and thoughtful article Kev. Unfortunately, as always I am saddened by the rude, offensive and sometimes irrelevant comments that people post here. I think you articulated well a feeling towards populist politics I have had for years. This has nothing to do with the Haneef business or your religious views, for the people who comment above (you know who you are).


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