Are pollies’ kids fair game in political journalism?

mars-explorer-barbieIt’s time to end the use of kids as political props, and for campaign strategists to concede the value of doing so is outweighed by the additional burden it places on politicians’ families.

Column for The Drum.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Aside from its alarming treatment of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, one of the other disconcerting things about the first Abbott Government Budget is the counterintuitive behaviour it’s provoked from the major players.

Not only the Coalition government itself, but the Labor opposition and the Greens are behaving in ways that are counter to what voters would normally expect of them.

This is making it more difficult to work out who exactly is on the side of the angels, and could further entrench the unease that voters are currently feeling about the Budget and politics more broadly.

These behavioural contradictions are disturbingly numerous, and seemingly without logic.

For example, anyone with a half a brain would have thought the Government would avoid any perceived or real broken promises after Tony Abbott brutally reframed oath-breaking as a sign of political incompetence during his time as opposition leader.

And yet we find Abbott in recent weeks audaciously denying that clearly breached promises have been flouted; claiming that a previously unknown hierarchy of commitments somehow forgives lesser oaths being sacrificed for major ones; and insisting that Budget decisions that are “consistent with our promises” will suffice.

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Bandt puts politics before political nous

I am amongst the people who criticised Greens MP Adam Bandt for this tweet:

There are plenty of others who think Bandt’s action was entirely appropriate, best exemplified by this popular post from Ed Butler over at AusOpinion.

I posted a lengthy comment on Ed’s post, which is reproduced below, to demonstrate that it’s not only climate sceptics who are criticising Bandt for his intervention.

Unfortunately the discussion over the ‘appropriateness’ of exploiting a bushfire that is currently threatening lives is a conflation of a number of matters: scientific, political and behavioural.

The scientific issue is the most straightforward. Climate change is happening, and it is likely to increase the number and severity of extreme weather events including the high temperatures that exacerbate bushfires. We basically need to decarbonise our economy in the next 30-35 years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Discussion and implementation of climate action in Australia has become a political football. The issue has been exploited, at different times and by most parties, to score political points against or wedge their political opponents.

This has reduced the issue in the perception of the community to yet another political issue and not one of sufficient import for non-partisan support across the parties, for example in the way that gun control was seen to be ‘mostly’ non-partisan.

Having turned climate action into a political football, its proponents are faced with a community that does not care sufficiently about it and is skeptical about those who seek to generate a sense of urgency around the issue.

The lack of a visible directly physical connection between climate change and voters makes it additionally hard to convince the community that the impacts of climate change are real. It’s no coincidence that community support for climate action was strongest in Australia during the last sustained drought that primary producers say happen in our nation once every 100 years or so.

Once the drought broke, it was bushfires, floods and cyclones that became the next best illustrations of what unchecked climate change can do. This is complicated by the fact that scientists are reluctant to say that one causes the other, only that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events will be increased by climate change. That’s not really the smoking gun needed by the proponents of climate action to move the issue from being a political to a non-partisan issue.

Which brings us to Adam Bandt – a politician – using a currently blazing bushfire that was threatening lives and homes, to score a political point against Tony Abbott, another politician who has travelled a very long way on the political exploitation of climate action.

It would appear Bandt’s intention was to transform community concern about the fire into opprobrium for Abbott over his scrapping of the carbon price. Unfortunately for Bandt, by reducing the issue – yet again – to a political level he will do nothing to sway those who are politically aligned to Abbott.

Bandt will be successful in maintaining the rage amongst those who politically agree with him, but not one mind will be changed amongst those who do not.

Until climate action becomes a non-partisan issue, it’s unlikely we’ll see real action occur.

And people will continue to be offended by actions like Bandt’s, which seek to politicise the issue at the worst possible moment – for the potential victims as well as for the prospects of consensus.

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