A few weeks out from the federal election is the perfect time to recognise a fundamental truth of contemporary Australian political life – It’s boring as all hell. Steve Bannon, political agitator extraordinaire, recently referred to the upcoming election as ‘dull’. Here we have a man with an arguably prodigious ability to understand and influence political sentiment all but dismissing the pending election as beneath his interest. If a renowned political opportunist can find nothing worth caring about (or perhaps exploiting), what hope is there for that mythical average voter?
Disengagement with the political process could hardly be higher. The trend is dire, with young people in particular especially prone to preferring issue-based advocacy over the messy and confusing business of elections. Far easier to turn up on the steps of the steps of Liberal Party HQ to yell about climate change than to cultivate any kind of passionate interest in the showdown between Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison, the factional unionist and the spill beneficiary.
The sickness in Australian politics isn’t that these two specific men happen to be leaders of the major parties, it’s that they are, at best, interchangeable facades for an immensely homogeneous and increasingly entrenched political class. They are career politicians leading parties largely composed of career politicians attempting to convince Australian voters that they get it, that they understand the troubles of the working class, that they feel the pain and angst of living on the minimum wage or trying to cover childcare fees when mum goes back to work. Depending on your station in life, such a tactic presumably ranges from mildly irritating to profoundly condescending.
Bannon intimately understands this notion. This is precisely how Trump was elected – for all his failings, the last thing Trump could be accused of was being part of the political establishment, and by extension, constrained or limited by the usual political conventions.
Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison, by comparison, are politically conventional by design, their every utterance honed, workshopped and practiced to be maximally bland and inoffensive. Bill Shorten’s Q&A performance is a beautiful example of this modern political performance art – slogans, equivocation, obfuscation and, very briefly, a direct refusal to confirm that at least some retirees would be worse off as a result of his change to franking credits. The saddest part of the whole charade is to consider the possibility that Bill was quite pleased with himself in the Green Room after the show, completely thrilled that he even managed to yet again avoid committing to any position whatsoever on Adani.
In the (extremely) unlikely event that Shorten happens to be reading these words I would like to offer some advice – nobody watches Q&A, and everyone who thought you sucked before Q&A still thinks you suck now. In the interests of integrity, should we castigate ScoMo for spurning his Q&A invite altogether? Not really. As a nation, we can avoid the need by watching highlights from the first two leaders debates (doesn’t matter which). The only possible difference is the order of the talking points.
It is perhaps an interesting side effect of Australia’s compulsory voting laws that politicians are heavily incentivised to avoid the risk of taking any contentious positions. Instead of winning the hearts and minds of the electorate it’s become easier to piss off comparatively less voters than your opposition, a technique realised in practice by accusing all other candidates of a desire to either deprive you of your human rights or bankrupt the country. The aim is provoke anger, but only a small amount, and only in the mind of the voter who truly walks to the ballot box undecided.
The pejorative term empty suit is an excellent descriptor of the average Australian politician – a wholly superficial entity concerned primarily with winning elections, devoid of all substance and any authentic political or philosophical beliefs. The Labor party, and to a lesser extent the coalition are now the sanitised, corporatised husks of what were once genuine political movements underpinned by actual principles – is it any wonder that the world doesn’t care what happens in our elections?
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