Australian Politics Risibilis

photo credit Amos Aikman The Australian

In the political dimension there is a plus and a minus of being out of Australia for a while, seeing things perhaps a little like an outsider might.

The plus is not having to endure the daily politics of the banal as press and TV pundits desperately seek something new to say – “Well, that’s right, the Prime Minister is not having a good week”, or “the Leader of the Opposition has angrily denied that he has nothing to say”.  We know that air and column space must be filled to a deadline and, perhaps because of that, we accept penetrating insights into the obvious when, under other circumstances, we might marvel at their nonsensical qualities.  In any environment around the world the daily grind of politics is just that, a grind both for those directly involved and those who have to consume the consequences.  This will be leavened only by moments of high drama, farce, stupidity, insight or wit at the live Question Time whether it be in Whitehall or Canberra, though the latter is said to have a sharper edge.

The minus, however, is that Australian current politics do not have a “good look” when spied from afar.  Inevitably and in part, something of that conclusion results simply from escaping the myopic outlook of much of the Australian media and, let it be said, a fair chunk of the public.  For all the talk of the “Asian Century” and, yes, yet another review (led by Ken Henry) to interrogate that phenomenon, much of Australia is consumed with matters domestic, much as is the case in, say, France or the USA.  It is a natural thing, of course, the local and the national is important everywhere – though it might be argued that the media in places like India and Singapore and Malaysia pay comparatively more attention to matters broader than the domestic,  realising more fully that their destinies are caught up in that broader context.

Beyond that domestic preoccupation, however, there is a deeper disturbance to Australian politics, it seems from afar.  There are two leaders in a desperate race to see which can become most unpopular.  The Prime Minister and the word “promise” now constitute an oxymoron.  The Leader of the Opposition is well past the tipping point where the constant “no” mantra was a shrewd political ploy, and seems scarcely capable of a positive idea.  Underlings on the Labor side are now faced with one of the ugliest choices in Australian political history: dump yet another leader, and either resurrect the one they saw off less than two years ago because no one could work with him, or find some other messiah to lead them from the electoral wilderness.  The skirmishing on the Opposition side is less obvious at present but is there: get rid of Mr No and bring back Mr Clever but Unfathomable in the form of Malcolm Turnbull?  Then, circling all this is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, basically grandstanding on everything available in order not to improve Australia’s international standing but his own as he egotistically counts the numbers.

The Prime Minister seems incapable of taking a trick, though it must be said that that the footage of her being rescued by her protective detail officers was unfortunate with some of the attendant commentary patently unfair – her officers did an excellent job, even if she did lose a shoe.  Her problem was that in the run up to that incident she had already become a political liability.  Had she been top of the pops, then that occasion would have been interpreted very differently, it should be said.

She and Labor are the victims of their own ineptness.  Put in Latham.  Oh, that was a mistake.  Get rid of Beazley.  Oh, good, Kevin 07 won.  Hang about, Kevin is actually not that good a manager or a leader, and is fundamentally toxic.  Right, let’s shove him and bring in Julia, even if in reality she did not do too well in that huge super portfolio job she created for herself as an alternative powerbase to Kevin.  Hmmm, pity about Julia, not doing that well really.  You know, Kevin has changed……

Underlying all of this is the fundamental problem of the “democratic politics” that our leaders are fond of following Bush and Obama in pushing as a perfect model to the rest of the world, places like Iraq.  It is not so much about government as about retaining political power.  That in itself is acceptable, but only so long as those retaining that power actually have some sane and applicable ideas that will help get us out of the morass into which we have fallen.

That is why the Minister for Foreign Affairs wannabee Kevin Redux is such a worrying figure.  It is not just that his track record is so blotted, but that the opportunism is so manifest.  Take the latest posturing on Syria and lecturing, as he does so often, to Russia.  There is no consideration about how the Middle East might look to the Russians or how America’s role in the region over the past decade or two (and in which Australia has been a willing partner) might actually appear to other parties.  Crucially, there does not seem to be much real concern, either, for the bulk of Syrian people becoming swept up in this gathering maelstrom.  In essence, none of that matters.  What matters is that Rudd looks good, or at least prominent as Julia falters and he counts the numbers.  It is the wider version of how the imminent Queensland election is not about Anna Bligh or Labor, but about Kevin.

This looks despairing stuff from afar, because it gives the firm impression that Australia is disengaged from the world at a time when engagement is crucial in the making of a future.  It is not only about international matters like Syria, though it would be good if we looked like we had more of a clue.  The central worry is that at a time when places like the UK and Canada, let alone Russia and the rest, are working hard to plug into a rapidly changing world whose political and economic patterns are changing dramatically.  Australia has an excellent opportunity to create a dynamic and deep relationship with the increasingly significant India, for example, but we are being upstaged by more active players making greater commitment to investment and the creation of collaborative partnerships.

The simple, stark and worrying impression from afar is that the petty scrambling in the contemporary Australian political game may determine a few changes in titles and entitlements, but it may well lose Australia serious ground internationally.

(Main Photo credit Mark Graham Associated Press)

One Response to “Australian Politics Risibilis”
  1. Lightwood says:

    it disturbs me to be in agreement with all within this blog. It is insightfull and so well written. What is striking is how similar an “outside view” is to the view from “inside” – for at least many of us.

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