Australian politics has, traditionally, been a straightforward affair. The main players haven’t changed much in some 60 years; while the faces may vary and the policies will be pushed in different directions, the foundations of the game — and, particularly, how it’s played — haven’t.
By Alana Schetzer
Until now. There has been a shift. Not at the level of the politicians; the change has occurred in how voters digest and respond to politicians’ inability to speak to them, often through the media.
The game has all the complexity of a supermarket-bought chocolate cake. When asked a question you don’t like, ignore it or provide an answer to a question you wish had been asked instead. If something has gone wrong in your portfolio or party, then blame someone else — the opposition, the preceding government, even your own party. One of the weirdest recent examples was when PM Scott Morrison blamed an ‘administrative error’ for the fact 23 government senators supported Pauline Hanson’s ‘it’s okay to be white’ motion.
If all else fails, simply deny that anything has gone wrong or that a mistake has occurred at all — even when that denial is so fanciful that it produces muffled laughs from reporters.
Then there’s politicians like former Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer, (pictured above with PM Scott Morrison), who infamously refused to admit that she and the government had made a mistake in delaying the royal commission into Australia’s banks. She even credited the government for creating the commission, even though some government members voted against it 26 times.
It’s the repetitive nature of this game, the consistent decision to snub transparency and responsibility, that has resulted in voters tuning out from politicians’ messages. It’s obvious — so clearly obvious — when politicians are avoiding being genuine and simply don’t want to answer a question. It’s tiresome. It’s boring. And people are tired of politicians assuming they can’t tell the difference between an honest answer and a slogan or ‘blame game’.
Another key plank of this tiresome game is the clear priority that politicians have for their own parties over the constituents who voted for them. The constant talk about ‘Liberal values’ or ‘Labor values’, ‘progressive values’ or ‘conservative values’ has little to do with what voters value or want or believe in. Never was this more evident than when strongline ‘no’ campaigner Tony Abbott’s now-former Sydney seat of Warringah voted overwhelmingly for a change to marriage laws.
“The refusal to swallow this boring and condescending pill is not the result of apathy — a common but mistaken assumption — but because it no longer works. Voters can see through it”
That they can’t tell that this charade’s usefulness has passed its use-by-date indicates how little attention and care is paid to what voters actually value — honesty over the illusion of perfection.
The goal posts have shifted. The only problem is that no one has bothered to tell the politicians. Politicians of all ‘stripes‘.
Political discourse has been boiled down to an act of performance, a low-cost pantomime where the hero points out who the ‘real’ villain is to the audience. The game is what gave birth to noxious three-word slogans like ‘stop the boats!’ and implausible denials that are repeated ad nauseum and disintegrate into noise pollution rather than anything remotely helpful or interesting.
Voters may not always care about politics and they might not always be engaged, but they do know when someone is fighting for their job or reputation, at the expense of the public or greater good. The refusal to swallow this boring and condescending pill is not the result of apathy — a common but mistaken assumption — but because it no longer works.
The political performance is no longer entertaining or useful. And politicians have a choice to either walk off stage and re-engage in democracy with honesty and transparency, or remain in front of an increasingly shrinking audience.
Alana Schetzer is a Melboune-based journalist and academic.
First published at Eureka Street on Friday 14 June 2019. See: https://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article/voters-are-awake-to-politics–game-of-yawns