Phony pollies and polyphony on asylum seekers
In music, “polyphony” is when a composition has more than one melody playing at the same time. This term should be adapted for the political sphere. So, all and sundry, I hereby declare the label ‘polliephony’ be applied to those times when pollies try and win both sides of the argument - in other words, when they try to walk both sides of the street.
Polliephony is unfortunately a technique that is pervasive in almost all Australian political debates. However, for purposes of “programmatic specificity”, I’ll focus on its use in the asylum seeker debate. This is because the asylum seeker debate is ripe for the use of polliephony, as it has two distinct sides of the street to walk on: one ‘tough’ and the other ‘humane’.
Which brings us to one of the more remarkable and indelible uses of polliephony in modern Australian politics. Kevin “Bonhoeffer” Rudd’s notorious “tough but humane” approach to border protection.
Really, this slogan’s glibness and obfuscation reeks to such an extent that even the most amateur political observer should feel both offended and embarrassed by it.
However, in more recent times we have an eerily familiar polliephonic stench coming from Parliament House, this time coming from the opposition benches. It could be heard last week when the ‘tough’ Coalition and the ‘humane’ Greens joined together to create the most incongruous team since Bob Dylan, Pepsi and Will I Am.
Unlike the aforementioned financially motivated motley crew, the Greens and the Coalition were ostensibly inspired by human rights concerns. One believes the Greens, as they have always sung the same melancholic melody on this issue, but the Coalition’s key change doesn’t really sound right after talking and acting tough for so long.
Herein then lies the problem for polliephony. Musical polyphony may sound great when Bach employs it, but when a Parliamentarian uses polliephony, it just doesn’t sound right.
In politics standing for something means everything - but standing for everything means nothing. You’ve got to pick one melody, one side of the road, and stick to it in order to gain people’s respect.
As Welsh Labour MP Aneurin Bevan famously declared: “We know what happens to those who walk in the middle of the road; they get run over”.
In Australia the penalty for this political crime is equally lethal. As we saw in the 2010 election, the punitive measure applied to the perpetration of polliephony is a public hanging of the government.
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