Dragon’s diary: Tragedy and farce


Joosep Martinson/Getty Images
Joosep Martinson/Getty Images

I won’t add my thoughts to the likely millions of condolences expressed at the sudden death of Phillip Hughes. Mainly because I’d never heard of him until this week as I don’t follow cricket.

That’s not to say Hughes’ death didn’t affect me. I was reminded of my own fragile mortality, gave thanks for the health and safety of those I love, and also looked afresh at the week’s political antics.

The more dispassionate part of my brain was also fascinated at the speed with which #putoutyourbats became a thing – particularly its ability to move people beyond clicktavism to making a related gesture in real life.

And so it is with dread that I anticipate the numerous failed attempts to replicate this phenomenon that will soon follow.

Farce
Campbell, SMH
Campbell, SMH

Like any political pundit prepared to risk a prediction, I was somewhat relieved to see one of mine realised this past week when Jacqui Lambie cut loose from PUP. Once John Madigan left the DLP earlier this year, I was sure Lambie would come to realise the benefit of going it alone.

I won’t go into any detail here because I wrote about Lambie twice this week. In this piece for Guardian Australia I explored the three ways in which her move has changed politics, one of which was to draw Palmer’s bullying behaviour out into the public eye.

In this multimedia feature for ABC’s The Brief*, I looked more broadly at what happened and why, as well as what might happen next.

And, if the Government’s favourite Sunday tabloid journalist is right, then I may have also been correct in predicting the Government will make concessions to Lambie on the ADF pay issue.

Majors v indies

There’s two emerging and connected debates that I’ve been watching with interest – one on the weakening power of major parties and the other contending that there’s no longer a “left and right”.

As a part-time conservative, I’m not yet convinced of either point, but of course I would say that. I do however think the discussion is well worth having.

LeftrightFor mine, I’ve observed that people with more progressive views tend to say there is no longer a left and right, or that the labels are increasingly useless. I see this as an effort by progressives (or the left, if you must) to co-opt the sensible middle ground as the right has lurched even further towards its end of the political spectrum. In doing so, “the left” is attempting to make progressive political philosophies the new norm.

This occurred to me as I was reading this excellent post in The Monthly by Russell Marks. Marks argues that there is no left because the policy positions labelled leftist by rightwing commentators such as Bolt are neither left or right but simply evidence-based or respectful:

Labelling these positions “left-wing” is akin to labelling scientific and sociological research as a leftist activity, and compassion and empathy as leftist impulses.

Marks loses me a little, however, when he goes on to suggest there are only political extremists on the right:

The “Left” that the right complains about – a small, self-interested, influential but out-of-touch and loopy elite that’s engaged in a fierce battle of ideas in the pursuit of weird policy outcomes – doesn’t actually exist. If there’s a group of people that could be described in that way, it’s not “leftists”. It’s the Right.

I do commend the post to you, though, as an excellent entree to thinking about the question.

The related issue is the contention that voters have lost faith with major parties as both have gravitated to the middle of the political spectrum (what political spectrum?) and there is less to differentiate one from the other.

In his Drum column this week Jonathan Green describes this as the:

… strange post-conviction meta-politics between two vastly similar parties divided more by instinct and disdain than policy reality. Their bitter and attritional battle of wills paralyses our national conversation; it leaves many of us stranded somewhere between disengaged and angrily perplexed.

Green concludes this state of affairs “will either collapse or change, it’s a mould set for breaking.”

AAP
AAP

In reviewing a piece by Guy Rundle, Tim Dunlop writes similarly of voters’ disenchantment with the majors, and the apparent disconnection of the mainstream political media from that antipathy because of their tendency to treat independent MPs as interlopers:

This blinkered view comes about because the media generally, and the gallery in particular, are part of what Rundle calls the Australian political caste, an almost priest-like formation that is part of the “the elite separation of political participants from the general public [that] has become so marked as to constitute a historical breach”.

I haven’t read the Rundle piece, but I implicitly trust Dunlop to have made an accurate inference.

I disagree to the extent that the evidence presented is selective. Elected independents that remain true to their electorates and their principles are not treated as interlopers by the media – Ted Mack and Cathy McGowan are the two best examples that spring to mind.

I also take issue with the contention that Australian voters have had enough with major parties. I would argue they’ve had enough with the current behaviour of the major parties, not necessarily the concept. The Australian public is inherently conservative, and it seeks the reliability and security that major parties represent.

This hasn’t changed, although as we can see with Tony Abbott’s woes, voters can also lash out when that conservative expectation is not met.

Dunlop argues that “no matter what you think of Palmer and co, they are ultimately not a problem in themselves, but a symptom of a deeper democratic malaise.” I agree, but I suspect I might disagree with Green and Dunlop as to what that malaise actually is.

And another thing
SMH
SMH

If you’ve got this far, you might be interested to know about the two columns I wrote this week.

This one for The Drum discussed how the Government needed to get a new budget instead of a new PR strategy. It was, ahem, popular with the commenters.

And this one, for The Hoopla, ignited a fascinating discussion about Mark Scott and whether his defence of the ABC made him fiercely independent or politically biased. Scott was asked about my thesis (that he had intentionally made cuts where it would hurt the Government the most) during this interview. I have to say I didn’t find his deflection of it particularly convincing!

 

*The Brief is best viewed on an iPad or tablet, but can also be viewed on desktop and laptop. No phone access unfortunately.