We can’t agree about anything these days. Every debate on pretty much every aspect of Australian life is hopelessly polarised.
Remember the old Holden ad with its famous lyric about football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars? In the 1970s it was almost impossible to take issue with this assortment of dinky di Australiana. Today, their mere mention invites argument.
Football is any of about four different sports, meat pies cause obesity, kangaroos should either be eaten or not eaten, culled or not culled. And as for Holdens, well, you’re either a protectionist or a person who believes a dying industry should no longer be propped up at taxpayer expense.
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It is fashionable to mock the quality of political debate in Australia. Just as bad money drives good money out of circulation, asinine sloganeering and personal attacks appear to have crowded out the serious political debate.
The phrases “moving forward” and “stop the boats” might summarise its recent depth. But blaming Australian politicians is naive. The standard, the complexity, even the eloquence, of political discussion have been decaying throughout the West for many decades.
No longer is an Australian political leader willing or permitted to sit on the Opposition benches for a length of time partly for reasons of ideology or principle, as Arthur Calwell and Bert Evatt did in the 1950s and 1960s.
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William James, American psychologist and philosopher, once observed that much of what we mistake for ‘thinking’ is simply a matter of “rearranging our prejudices”.
It’s not a very flattering picture - fortunately however, the experience of hosting the IQ2 Australia debates suggests that William James was unduly pessimistic. In the most recent IQ2 debate focusing on the ever decisive issue of religion and the arguments of atheism, it was heartening to see the level of debate amongst both participants and audience members reach unbelievably high levels – both intellectually and numerically.
Interestingly, despite being an issue fundamental to the existence of many of us, a large number of the audience who entered the debate undecided on the issue found themselves identifying with one of the sides by the time the final poll was taken. The event gives credence to the theory that if you persuade rather than harangue, then people will freely change their minds.
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I was sitting with some friends and students in the outer western suburbs of Sydney the other day. We were chatting about the High Court’s decision on the Malaysia Solution and offshore processing of refugees.
The general feeling was that it was about time someone demanded that Australia meet its international obligations and stop dumping them onto other countries. While there was not much sympathy for Gillard, nor was there any support for Tony Abbott’s posturing.
Someone actually quoted their Greek grandmother, who compares Greeks and Italians - saying, “they are the same, but different”. My question: “Would you vote for Tony Abbott if an election was held tomorrow?” was met with a resounding ‘no’. So is Gillard finished?
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It has become fashionable to engage in a debate about the state of public debate of late.
This introspection comes as some have made a dubious link between atrocities such as the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona or the recent killing spree in Oslo, and normal albeit robust discussions on talkback radio and the internet.
In the frame are issues like asylum seekers, immigration, and as The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen put it in an excellent piece mid-week, “the relationship between Islam and modernity”.
Free speech she said, “must include the right to offend”.
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Lord Christopher Monckton’s determination to have a win against carbon pricing yesterday drove him to make a genuinely dopey statement at the National Press Club.
“Australia is now regarded as a sovereign risk,” he said as a jarring conclusion to his opening statement in the debate with economist Dr Richard Denniss, executive director of the Australia Institute.
It wasn’t something that a touring expert - on climate change or anything else - should have said lightly. It meant that financial centres overseas fear Australia will default on its debts and other payments, despite the AAA rating from both the major credit assessors S&P and Moodys.
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Mainstream media holds a mirror up to society. If we take a look into that mirror, we see what is preoccupying our attention.
On a deeper level, we can gain significant insight into the way we tend to investigate and argue. Monday’s Q and A episode provided great insight into the superficial way we tend to approach philosophical and ethical topics.
The fast paced program is geared towards political discussion, but for this episode, the topic was God, Religion and Ethics. Disappointingly, There was a focus on sound bites, concrete current affairs and controversy, and as a result, many of us went away no more enlightened on the topics than before.
Climate change sceptic and mathematician Christopher Monckton has just debated economist and Executive Director of the Australia Institute Richard Denniss at the National Press Club.
The real winner was probably the weather. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, our massively overheating globe could muster just four degrees for Canberra at the time of the debate.
The Punch team watched the debate, first with (de)bated breath, then with waning enthusiasm as all the old arguments resurfaced. Then we bought a sandwich and a coffee. Our quick summary is below. Who do you think came out on top?
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Australia, how low can we go? The biggest casualty of the whole carbon tax debate is not the truth, but our capacity for serious, informed debate in what once passed for our robust democracy.
It doesn’t matter which political donkey you pin your tail on, or what side of the warmist debate you’re on, or indeed how you feel about the carbon tax itself. People from both sides of all these fences have been carrying on like the proverbial pork chops. And all over a tax which, by any measure, is hardly going to bankrupt anyone.
Nothing better symbolises the moshpit than yesterday’s slanging matches in Brisbane shopping centres as the Prime Minister toured the Sunshine State.
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A lot of people who questioned the need for a parliamentary debate on Australia’s military commitment in Afghanistan said we’d just end up with a whole heap of MPs agreeing we’re doing the right thing and we’re doing it the right way.
Indeed despite their stylistic differences, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott’s speeches to open the debate were almost interchangeable in their messages and conclusions - although the Prime Minister did admit for the first time we might be there a lot longer than she’d ever fessed up to before.
But even though there is broad bi-partisan support for our mission in Afghanistan, there has been some dissenters, and also some interesting ideas thrown up during the discussion, like the proposition by Shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb this afternoon.
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When should Australia wage war? Has anyone asked you? Have you given it much thought or is that a job best left to the government?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that twenty one Australian men lie dead, lost on the battlefields of Afganistan. Each of them is easy to admire - young, supremely fit, highly trained, brave soldiers.
It’s pretty clear they all possessed courage and commitment to their task, their training and their mates most of us would struggle to emulate. They all have families and friends - even more tragically, a number of them have young children who will never see or know their dads.
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Greens leader Bob Brown will today have his first real win of the new paradigm, with the debate he called for on our involvement in the War in Afghanistan set to commence at the conclusion of Question Time in the House of Representatives.
It’s unlikely the Government would have consented to such a debate if it didn’t have to, such is the growing chorus of questions surrounding our mission there.
The Greens are not the only ones questioning the strategy and time-frame of our deployment - but there’s no doubt Bob Brown is in the hot-seat now, and must be hoping the debate, which will also cascade into the Senate next week, produces something more than bi-partisan adherence to the stock standard lines.
The Punch will cover the commencement of the debate live directly after Question Time, which begins at 2pm. Check back on the home page this afternoon to join in.
In an age of texting, Tweeting and Facebooking it’s the Campaign 2010 version of a Jane Austen courtship – brimming with potential for misinterpretation, hurt feelings and cross purposes.
Instead of picking up the phone (so 2009) the National Director of the Liberal Party Brian Loughnane and the National Secretary of the ALP Karl Bitar have taken to firing off increasingly melodramatic letters to each other.
Between each line you can almost feel the building tension over tomorrow night’s proposed debate / people’s forum / Roman wrestling bout between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott in Brisbane.
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Julia Gillard appears to have decided that conflict, for all its bad press, can be a great source of political strength.
Like Russell Crowe’s Gladiator screaming to the crowd in the Colosseum “Are you not entertained?”, Gillard is frustrated but aware that the only way to capture the electorate now is with a display of brute political force.
Combined with a negative attack plan on the Opposition leader, she plans to take it up to Tony Abbott by challenging him to another debate. We also know that this challenge is slightly disingenuous, but more about that in a moment.
Last night she told Today Tonight that it would be “game on” for round two:
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Remember not so long ago when an aspiring prime minister, one K Rudd, adopted the practice of referring to John Howard PM, as ``a clever politician’‘?
He uttered the phrase at every opportunity. It was no throw-away line. At face value, it seemed positive but closer scrutiny revealed a focus-group crafted pseudo-compliment designed to have the opposite effect. Namely, to reinforce a perception bubbling away just under the surface of voter consciousness, that John Howard was somehow tricky. Sure, he’d been ironically dubbed ``honest John’’ before.
And equally true, Labor had seized on the embarrassing warning from then Liberal Party president, Shane Stone, that voters saw the Howard government as ``mean and tricky’‘. But these were old insults and had lost any real impact.
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“Put your hands down mate, this isn’t communist Russia,” I was told as I was patted down at the entry to Channel 9’s Melbourne studios on Tuesday. After walking past some photos of network luminaries Daryl Somers, Graham Kennedy and Ossie Ostrich, we “wormologists” were herded into a waiting room just outside the studio and told to watch a schmaltzy health and safety video while we waited.
Conversation swung from friends and family who had been on Deal or No Deal to the calibre of the combatants in the Great Health Debate. We were spoiling for a fight, but as the worm-trail now shows, the Prime Minister won handsomely - at least by our measure.
There is some much-needed debate about the efficacy and accuracy of Channel 9’s worm. As one of Nine’s one hundred wormologists, I’m here to tell our side of the story.
A few years ago an academic and political consultant called Drew Westen wrote a book called ‘The Political Brain’. Based on solid research about political bias, it urged US Democrats to realize that the way to beat the Republicans was to base their political message around the emotions of the voters.
Forget about policy content: go for perception and feelings. That’s what the Republicans had done, so that’s what the Democrats had to do. And that, of course, is now the message to Tony Abbott, care of that little maggot on the corpse of rational politics known as ‘The Worm’.
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Channel Nine needs to stock up on Combantrin and get rid of the Worm.
Even Nine stalwart Laurie Oakes admitted today the Worm’s wildly favourable result for Kevin Rudd was out of whack, after a debate in which every time the PM so much as drew breath the Worm went shooting out the top of the scale.
All it needed to come crashing back down was for the camera to pan across Tony Abbott’s face. When he opened his mouth to speak the worm needed a defibrillator.
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Developments in computer hacking, Australian politics, and an acrimonious meeting in Denmark have produced the unlikely result that climate change is now almost as hot a conversation topic as Tiger Woods’s sex life.
With our ready-reckoner guide to global warming barneys, you too can have a circular argument in which all facts are disputable and no insult is too cutting when climate change comes up in the pub, at a barbecue or during tea and biscuits at your next Liberal Party branch meeting.
And best of all, there are no losers because by the time the arguments are proved or disproved either way we’ll all be dead.
Every Australian is passionate and parochial about our “Australian Made” label. We all identify with the iconic green and gold kangaroo logo proudly representing products – food, clothing or materials – manufactured in Australia which helps customers recognise and buy Aussie goods.
But how far do you go in determining whether a product is wholly made in Australia and deserves to wear the famous label? Independent Senator Nick Xenophon wants the Government to urgently change the law to make it illegal for products made with foreign produce to be labeled “Australian Made”.
While Xeonphon’s suggestion is laudable in theory, it’s, at best, overly simplistic and probably just populist.
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