No time to think in the political news cycle
First it was Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner and now Defence Minister, John Faulkner.
The two highly respected figures will leave Julia Gillard’s frontbench at the election. Mr Tanner, 54, to private life and Senator Faulkner, 56, to the backbench.
Tony Abbott said the two departures were an implicit vote of no confidence in Julia Gillard’s leadership. The truth is they want their lives back.
It is not hard to see why as politics gets quicker but shallower and demands more from its participants.
If someone told you 12 months ago, that the next election will be between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, you would have thought they were crazy. Remember, Mr Abbott was as surprised as anyone when he emerged the unlikely winner in the pre-Christmas partyroom ballot - he said he had to scrounge a pencil and paper to jot down a few thoughts for his victory speech.
Yet such surprises are coming more often. The stability of the dozen-year Howard era where a challenge was only ever discussed in the dying months before it was decided against, seems unthinkable now.
The 24 hour news cycle has made public life so intense and demanding that it basically precludes all else. Increasingly, our representatives are required to be less like the people they represent even as they find new ways to pretend othewise. It is a paradox which means that the more normal and balanced you are, the less likely you are to hang in there for long.
For the ones who do, and there is no shortage of willing applicants, the game is increasingly one of maximum exposure. Television, print, radio, and now the internet, which includes self-publishing via ``social’’ media, are the tools. Boundless self-promotion is the trade. To figures like Tanner and Faulkner, this superficiality is unattractive.
Yet some politicians have responded to this in a perverse way, almost becoming like the generation beneath them, inside-out people, unsure of the boundaries of private and public.
History will probably look back on this period as the moment when the personal realm of politicians was finally surrendered and with it the remaining dignity of elected office.
Take Kevin Rudd. His immediate post-coup tweets about dropping son Marcus at the airport and walking around Lake Burley Griffin with wife, ``T’‘, were excruciating. They felt about as sincere as Joe Hockey’s lame request for feedback on climate policy as his then leader Malcolm Turnbull faced a partyroom revolt.
The use of Twitter by politicians has become an exercise in unfiltered mediocrity.
So concerned are they with their ``currency’‘’ that serious frontbenchers on both sides contemporaneously ``tweet’’ when they go to the local supermarket or take their daughter to Saturday morning sport.
They think it makes them one of us but actually it makes them weirdos who even at their kid’s sporting event, can’t leave their Blackberry alone. The mundane masquerades as interesting.
This blurring of the public and private realms is partly the cause and partly the result of the unrelenting pace of politics now.
Just think about the last three years. The frenetic Kevin07 campaign simply out-paced the competent but unexciting Howard Government.
Yet future-boy Rudd quickly developed feet of clay also. Despite the celebrity driven stunts like the ideas summit and numerous community cabinet meetings, interest began to wane. Polling signalled trouble. Luckily, the global financial crisis hit, and his aimless administration suddenly had a much needed ``narrative’‘. But even this global calamity, demending the most adventurous policy responses ever crafted, quickly became ho-hum - voters asking, what else have you got?
Meanwhile, over the road in Liberal-land, the pace was no less bruising. With John Howard gone, they had decided on the folksy Brendan Nelson before quickly growing bored and rolling him for that celebrity force of nature, Malcolm Turnbull. Almost too aware of the need for quick results, he then over-reached in the spectacular Godwin Grech / Utegate affair.
It was the beginning of the end and just months later he too was gone replaced to everyone’s amazement by the fore-mentioned Abbott. Between all these events, the Canberra news machine had been in overdrive. And this before the replacement of Mr Rudd had even been deamt of.
Already, with just two weeks on the clock, Julia Gillard has felt the highs and lows of this neurotic news cycle. Her enthusiastic applause for fixing the mining tax in week one, replaced in short-order by the howls of disapproval for stumbling on the asylum seeker issue.
Yet there is little time for sympathy or regrets. In the coming week, she will unveil her version of the green agenda.
Seen as the final pre-election loose-end to be tied, the policy is designed to repair the damage created by the bizarre decision to retreat on climate change policy - a decision incidentally urged on Rudd by Ms Gillard herself. But no one cares about that now. As one of Canberra’s old stagers remarked this week, with this fast pace and the media’s fleeting attention span, even your past has trouble keeping up with you.
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