The saying goes, politics is showbusiness for ugly people
AND, action! A senior cabinet minister generally regarded as among the more effective, uses a major speech on Australia Day-eve to channel an American president without acknowledging it. Worse, it wasn’t even an actual president but a fictional one.
On the same day, a few hundred metres up the hill, the 2012 Australian of the year is unveiled as an A-list Hollywood actor, Geoffrey Rush. Rush, a gifted pretender with an expressive face, promptly weighs in to some of the more divisive political debates in this country hinting at the moral failure of both sides of politics to recognise the human courage of asylum seekers, the failure to progress gay marriage equality, and to deliver enough on climate change.
Later he defends his A-list compatriot Cate Blanchett who had been lambasted for taking part in an advertising campaign on carbon driven global warming. OK as movie plots go this is bit lame but it certainly seems fanciful enough. Besides, it has the advantage of being “based on a true story” and all that. It even has some real actors in it.
Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese is clearly embarrassed by his presumably unwitting plagiarism when he was caught paraphrasing a Michael Douglas character in the Aaron Sorkin film The American President.
It was a surprise really because Mr Albanese is one of the least confected figures on the hill, less inclined than others to be scripted and rarely lost for words in the thrust of combat.
The incident reminds us again of just how thin is the line between fact and fiction in message-managed politics where common techniques are used to win hearts and minds.
Yet in a double-irony, Mr Albanese’s words - make that Mr Sorkin’s words - were actually an entreaty to lift politics above the artifice of mere entertainment.
``In Australia we have serious challenges to solve and we need serious people to solve them,’’ he railed before further appropriating the fictional president to slam Tony Abbott as uninterested in fixing problems and concerned only with making Australians afraid and telling them who’s to blame.
So who is acting now? On a quick comparison of the two, Mr Albanese’s delivery was arguably a shade more convincing than that of Mr Douglas. Perhaps, giving the Australian the benefit of the doubt, that’s because he did not know he was acting?
But then, as they say in the movie business: “sincerity is everything, once you learn to fake that, the rest is easy.’‘
Artifice of course is everywhere in politics and voters know it. It is a problem that this government has in spades. Indeed the question of sincerity is the single biggest one hanging over Julia Gillard’s prime ministership.
From the way she assumed the job, to the well known U-turns, to the way the PM has been marketed, there is a sense of almost anything being negotiable.
It was a successful piece of marketing itself, but where John Howard presented as a conviction politician, Ms Gillard has succeeded only in being a projection politician - one inclined to answer questions according to a reading of the mainstream rather than through membership of it.
The result in policy terms is a lack of consistent values framework - and even of conviction to previously stated principles.
The slow unravelling of its “humane” asylum seeker policy is a case in point but it is evident in other areas also, most recently in the case of pokies reforms. Once voters no longer believe you and your motives you’re toast.
So when the PM began a process of walking away from Andrew Wilkie by pointedly refusing to restate her commitment to mandatory pre-commitment technology as per their written agreement, many smelled a rat.
A week later when she proudly announced an action plan to address the scourge of problem gambling, including a 12 month ACT only trial etc, voters tended to see it for what was: a political fix rather than a step forward. Even as a political fix it was inadequate.
Her justification was that the numbers were not there in the parliament for the Wilkie plan. He disagrees and for reasons known only to the government, the Wilkie plan was never put to a vote.
A sensible approach would have been to put the plan as agreed with the Tasmanian, and then, when it failed, to come up with the alternative she eventually unveiled. It is called due process. You tried, you failed, now here’s the back-up plan. It has a certain legitimacy.
As with the fixed carbon price period ceded to the Greens, Ms Gillard’s penchant for compromises struck in private, has again left her vulnerable to the sense voters have that some kind of subterfuge has taken place. That she was never committed in the first place.
For a government struggling for both authority and integrity, defeat on the floor may have been embarrassing but deceit is a stain much harder to shift.
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