Mud sticks as the political gets personal
- by: Staff writers
- From:The Courier-Mail
- December 28, 201212:00AM
PERSONALITY POLITICS: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott in Parliament before the Christmas break. Picture: Ray Strange Source: The Daily Telegraph
POLITICS, at its best, is a contest of ideas, a vibrant, evolving tussle of ideology that ultimately embraces pragmatism and compromise over partisan purity.
It is as intellectually inquiring as it is robust and sometimes heated, and ideally serves to inspire and animate the wider debate.
That, sadly, is not the politics we know in Australia today.
Rather, politics here has devolved to a form of combat more akin to cage fighting than any art in which the Marquis of Queensbury rules could be expected to apply.
Ideas have given way to the politics of personality, and with that the spiteful, the destructive and the negative - a contest not of ideas, but one aimed more at annihilating an opponent than prosecuting a particular policy position.
The last 12 months in Australia would easily go down as one of the most toxic political periods this country has seen for many years.
Just look back and reflect for a moment on those issues that seemed to consume the most political time and energy.
We opened the year with the seemingly never-ending saga of Craig Thomson's days as a union official still unresolved, and subject to as much smear and innuendo as the various players could throw.
Other lowlights included the unedifying pursuit of Julia Gillard over the so-called AWU affair - a campaign so vicious and brutal that it saw extraordinary and ultimately unfounded allegations of criminality levelled against a serving prime minister. (my emphasis)
The prism of hindsight will also give us moments like Ms Gillard's now famous misogyny speech - perhaps heartfelt, passionate and sincere, but nonetheless something of an overreach in a year that was not found wanting in the hyperbole department.
It was a year that also gave us the sleaze and mud associated with the James Ashby-Peter Slipper affair, a particularly tawdry episode in Australian politics that still threatens to embroil senior Coalition figures in accusations of conspiracy, and casts a cloud over the political judgment of the Government.
It was a year of apocalyptic taxes and "illegal" immigrants invading our shores, of cheap point-scoring over the smallest slip; of failed leadership challenges, of stunts in hi-vis vests or appalling cover versions of Skyhooks.
The poisonously partisan nature of the past 12 months has completely overshadowed significant policy achievements in areas such as carbon pricing, national disability insurance, education reform and the Murray Darling solution.
At the same time, the fixation with the politics of the negative and the personal has left little oxygen for more reasoned, and indeed publicly important, debate on issues as diverse as productivity and taxation reform, defence, national health funding and federal-state financial relations.
Understandably, the voting public has had a gutful.
The consistently low personal approval ratings of both leaders is a damning indictment from an electorate that wants to engage in meaningful policy debate, not sift through unsavoury and spiteful allegations that ultimately have zero to do with the wellbeing of the average Australian.
As the next federal election looms large on the horizon, time is starting to run out in terms of either side of politics casting itself as the party of ideas, inspiration and leadership. We have reached the point where both sides must direct their energies to building policy credibility rather than demolishing their opponent.
At the same time they both must not underestimate the intelligence (and indeed the cynicism) of Australian voters, who are likely to reject policies based more on aspiration, intent and slogans than those that are concrete, funded, achievable and make a meaningful impact on the wider Australian polity.
Without such a change in direction Australians - who should be the most optimistic of people given our fortunate circumstances - will go to the polls looking to vote against a particular outcome rather than voting for something they see as a positive.
"Other lowlights included the unedifying pursuit of Julia Gillard over the socalled AWU affair- a campaign so vicious & brutal that it resulted in extraordinary & ultimately unfounded allegations of criminality against a serving prime minister".
Those are very strong words in the Editorial of a News Limited newspaper, particularly when its sister paper The Australian has made so much of the running in covering The AWU Scandal and Ms Gillard's role in it.
I'd appreciate your views please, and was it just me or is the editorial now hard to find on the Courier Mail's website.
This article from the former Western Australian anti-corruption commissioner might be of interest to the Courier Mail's editorial staff as well.