Telling people you work in politics is like bringing a trifle made of dogs—t to the party. Occasionally I would lie and admit to a more socially acceptable job, like managing child slaves in a coal mine or being an aspiring free verse performer.
By most accounts, our antipathy towards politicians and political institutions is getting worse. The 2010 federal election saw more than 5.5 per cent of votes recorded as informal, the highest rate since 1984. Recent by-elections in Melbourne and Sydney saw record lows of only two thirds of the electorate preferring to cast a vote rather than cop a fine.
Politics is no longer an appropriate topic for conversation at the dinner table, the office or even in line at the ballot box. In quizzing the Prime Minister at the National Press Club a few weeks ago, Paul Bongiorno tried to get to the bottom of this growing malcontent of the masses; why Australians hold our political processes in “some sort of contempt”.
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There’s something far worse than a hung Parliament. It’s an election decided by a public so disappointed, disillusioned and turned off by politicians that record numbers stay away from polling booths or cast an informal or protest vote.
This week’s ugly behaviour in federal Parliament will increase contempt for the way politics is played.
Instead of great vision for the nation we have been treated to farce and hypocrisy, gender wars and petty point-scoring. Some MPs have tried to talk about issues such as jobs, climate change and the cost of living but have been drowned out by what Trade Minister Craig Emerson admits has been an “all-in brawl”.
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Gillard is a giant “turn-off’’ for voters but the alternative prime minister in Tony Abbott comes across like some kind of angry, negative, primate. And while Deputy PM Wayne Swan may have trailed his coat as a rock-music-inspired alternative, voters are deeply unimpressed.
They’re the disturbing, if vaguely comical findings of qualitative focus group research conducted by a marketing firm over sixteen sessions and four capital cities.
In all of those sessions, the company involved said Kevin Rudd’s name arose only twice suggesting he is not the answer.
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Summer’s not over yet but those of us lucky enough to have secured a decent break over Christmas/New Year are mostly filing back into work this week or next.
So too our politicians where at the national level, a snap poll theoretically can be called at any time.
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Some twenty years ago the clamour among reformers of our democratic institutions was for fixed parliamentary terms, the argument going that they would provide greater certainty and prevent the expedient manipulation of the political process.
What has happened instead is that fixed terms have become a protection order for mediocrity and incompetence, where dud governments have been shielded from the voters‘ wrath, premierships have been passed on like a baton with no direct and immediate input from voters, and policy cynicism has been entrenched as the political cycle is loaded at the front with harsh decisions and back-ended with decadent cash splurges and reckless pork-barrelling.
NSW is the most compelling case study - a dysfunctional basket case, the state that by rights should be the powerhouse of federation, now resembling some kind of anarcho-syndicalist commune whereby the elected representatives on both sides of the chamber are so incapable of achieving anything that the Speaker recently lost control of the House and had to ring a long bell to shut the joint down, saving a government which, if it were a dog, would have been taken down the back of the yard and shot some time ago.
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