They say politics is reality TV for ugly people. So draw what you will from my being invited to participate in ABC2’s flagship series for 2013, the provocatively named Shitsville Express. In my initiation to the completely natural and unmanufactured world of reality TV production, I find myself waiting at a bus stop somewhere in Sydney with the very revealing instruction that ‘something will happen’. Knowing Joe Hildebrand is the host and therefore expecting something spectacular, I chuckle as a massive London double-decker bus, the Express of the title, rolls up, with Joe’s cheeky smile welcoming me aboard.
Already aboard is Siobhan Harris, a member of the Australian Sex party. Although in some respects icky, I expect the Sex party’s libertarian ideologies, at least on economic issues, will be most aligned with my views. Next to join us is Francis Ventura, an ALP volunteer since age nine. After spotting me, Francis rolls his eyes. He later confesses he is a staunch republican and he had recognised me from Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. I’m surprised to discover that we share some common core beliefs, but have built on them in very different ways. Finally the initially reserved and lovely Madeline Charles joins our ranks. Although we are regularly at loggerheads, I’m deeply traumatised to discover that I have something in common with a Green: coal seam gas (well, at least in some places).
Recognising we are bound to clash, I reminded my fellow participants they are perfectly entitled to my opinions! So, tasked by Joe with solving five of Australia’s thorniest issues and with the future of the nation at stake, our journey to Shitsville begins. First we examine Sydney’s mass transport systems and poorly planned road networks. It’s evident the politicians, tending to focus only on the next election, have lacked the vision and foresight to plan for increases in the population.
Next we explore the ugly side of Australians’ love affair with punting. One of my fellow participants has a novel solution: when somebody loses a lot of money, the club or other venue would have to reimburse them. If this ‘reform’ ever gets through I know what I’ll be doing with my house!
To experience the violence resulting from alcohol abuse, we travel to Melbourne (sorry, Melburnians). We join some young girls who are preloading before they hit the town. We drop the girls at a seedy-looking club where they’ve chosen to kick off their night. Before checking in with the girls later, we join the Salvos on the streets and the emergency department at the Royal Melbourne Hospital to see some of the devastation first-hand.
We return to Sydney to investigate Australia’s housing crisis. Looking at everything from multimillion-dollar waterside mansions to caravan parks (or as they are now called, holiday parks), it’s clear that the great Australian dream of the quarter-acre block is becoming less and less attainable for many Australians. How is this possible in a country with so much land per head? Only serious government mismanagement could achieve this. Or is it a deliberate agenda?
To explore the contentious issue of coal seam gas, the Shitsville Express takes us to Lismore and then to Queensland’s Darling Downs. Although without doubt a lucrative industry, I fear there will be long-term negative effects on Prime Agricultural Land (less than 4 per cent of all land) and the aquifers below. One of the highlights of my trip must surely be seeing Joe Hildebrand bathing in the Condamine River with a shower cap, bar of soap and toilet brush from the local motel, perhaps trying to demonstrate the Condamine is not contaminated.
The Shitsville Express comes to rest at its final destination: Parliament House. Here we explore ‘the vision thing’, which just about everyone says is lacking in Australia today. This is the pièce de résistance, our opportunity to do what seems beyond our leaders today: to articulate frankly and honestly our big idea to solve what we believe to be the biggest problems facing the nation today. And who better to pitch our vision to than a group of captive schoolchildren in the presence of the soon-to-be-recycled Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd?
When it’s my turn to tell Kevin Rudd and the assembled school children my ‘big idea’ — to make our politicians truly accountable by empowering rank-and-file Australians between elections — I’m not surprised he rejects it outright. A compliment, perhaps? Apparently Kevin Rudd doesn’t trust the common sense, good judgment and decency of the average Australian. However, he gives some time to the other’s ideas: legalising marijuana, a four-day working week and an exchange programme for Aborigines.
My time aboard the Shitsville Express served me well. It has made me more certain that we must return to personal responsibility. Back in Sydney, all my spare time is taken up with working on the national launch of Give Us Back Our Country, the book I co-authored with Professor David Flint. It’s difficult to think of a problem in Australia today which hasn’t either been caused or in some way made worse by politicians. We’re satisfied the only solution is to make the politicians truly accountable, not just every three or four years in blank-cheque elections, but on every day, of every week, of every month of every year, just as Australians are in their jobs.
Jai Martinkovits is executive director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and CANdo.org.au
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