For the past few weeks Australian politics has seemed to be little more than each side’s machine-gunning the other side’s leader. I think we could do a little better — indeed, a lot better. Ad hominem politics bores me, and always has done. For some people, however, that is what is really exciting: they love their leader and hate the other one. They couldn’t believe that anything good could be done by someone like him, or her. Since I’ve had to work to Ministers from both sides of politics, I don’t see it like that, and I can’t think of any politician whom I’ve encountered in the nearly fifty years since I first started studying politics, whom I’ve thought wicked, or thoroughly corrupt. Of course, I may have been an innocent abroad.
What we have been experiencing is not new. There are times when one party simply drops everything and concentrates on the other leader, who simply has to put up with it. Anyone who has been in public life knows that there are times when you are the focus of the media pack, or unable to get your side of the story listened to or published. It passes, if only because no one can sustain interest in a story for very long unless it keeps being added to, and things usually return to normal because a new drama has started somewhere else.
The puzzle about the present is that both sides are doing it, and each leader is held in relatively low esteem. The percentages prepared to vote for the main parties, at least in two-party-preferred terms, are a good deal higher than the percentages thinking that their leaders are doing a good job, which tells you something. The problem is that while the Government, for example, concentrates on the perceived shortcomings of Tony Abbott, and goes on and on about them, its members don’t have time or energy to explain to us why what they are doing is what the country needs.
Stung by this attack the Opposition has added its fuel to a long-running saga about the Prime Minister’s role when she worked for Slater & Gordon fifteen years ago, or perhaps the Government is trying to distract attention from that story by targeting Mr Abbott. For the Gillard story the basic work is being done by union officials and insiders from that time, and the Opposition has simply been able to benefit from what they are uncovering. Again, the problem with this strategy is that while the Opposition is pursuing it it has no time to tell us what it is envisaging for the next few years, if elected in 2013 (there is no chance now of an early election this year). As I have said before, it is time that we had some idea of what a Coalition Government would be concentrating on. I think that Labor could do worse than follow suit. To be told that we could have another three years of what we have been going through does not fill me with any enthusiasm.
One of those who have posted here (Peter Lang) has argued that if we must have a Royal Commission on the sexual abuse of children within the church, he can think of other Royal Commissions we could have which might do more good. His targets would, among others, be the growing debt (from $75 to $300 billion in four years), bias in the media, corruption in the unions (and by extension, into the ALP), apparent incompetence, climate change, and so on. I’m not sure that we need a Royal Commission into any of these weaknesses, but it is hard to find a sustained discussion of any of them either in Parliament or in the mainstream media.
It is as though our politicians think we are so dumb that we don’t need to think about real issues, only about the perceived quality of the two leaders. It may be true that we don’t think either of the leaders is much good, but they are not the point. The point is, where should our government, whatever party is in power, be taking us, and why there?