In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, I was fond of reading the weekly newspaper The Nation Review. There were many top shelf contributors including luminaries of the times like Germaine Greer, Phillip Adams, John Hepworth, Morris Lurie, Bob Ellis and the redoubtable cartoonists of the day, Michael Leunig and Patrick Cook. Richard Walsh wrote a paperback coffee table book about the Nation Review and charted its course through to its demise in 1983 (thanks Wikipedia). Walsh’s book was called “Ferretabilia” – maybe a copy or two left at Leura Books – because Nation Review as Wiki says “styled itself as ‘Lean and Nosey – like a ferret’
I always enjoyed Mungo MacCallum’s pieces and I was reminded of this in today’s book purchase at random – from Berkelouw’s in Newtown – called “Punch and Judy” – referring (too kindly in my view) to the state of the recent and current political canvas.
In this book, Mungo shows us that he’s lost none of his sharp, perceptive and dry wit since those Nation Review days. He borrows the definition of “Punch and Judy” from Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (“a deception, an unbelievable story”) and dedicates the book to his old friend Graham Freudenberg (Gough Whitlam’s speech writer), referring to the old days when politics was “important, passionate and fun”.
And it occurred to me that he’s summed up nicely the current political malaise in just a handful of words -it certainly isn’t like the old days – politics nowadays have become trivial, deeply disrespectful, cynical and dire.
Richard Walsh said that the Nation Review folded because the readership had moved on and that many people amongst the paper’s left-leaning readership had become – by 1983 – disenchanted with politics – not least because of an abiding sense of unassuaged outrage at the Dismissal, but also because of the ridiculous caravan of buffoons the Labor party had foisted on the Australian citizenry, the decent bloke but unelectable leadership of Bill Hayden (who was as charismatic as his batting counterpart in cricket – Bill Lawry, otherwise referred to as ‘ a corpse with pads’) and the apparent contentment voters seemed to feel under Malcolm Fraser’s prime minister-ship. Until Bob Hawke broke the national political slumber party and set the Labor record by winning four elections on the trot.
That may have been true, but I recall the 1980s as a decade of working my bum off, making a quid, buying a house and raising a pair of baby Emmlets. I let my membership of the Labor party lapse because other, more personal things intervened. I left – as they say – “for family reasons”.
Meanwhile in another universe, John Hewson, like Tony Abbott more recently, managed to lose the unlosable election – to the much disliked, but enormously talented and consummate politician, Paul Keating (whose Dad, incidentally played bowls with my Dad on the odd occasion).
Tony Abbott, similarly lost the unlosable election to the much disliked Julia Gillard – who proved to be not so much ‘consummate’ as she was ‘consumed’. Although nobody can take away from her triumph – the NDIS – or the poisoned chalice of being Australia’s first female prime minister.
Mungo MacCallum’s book is about the 2010 election, but so much of his picture remains as fresh as the day he painted it. The political landscape seems to have changed so little, notwithstanding the last election result being the first minority government since World War II.
Both parties struggle to be more popular under their respective leaders, abandoning the fundamental principles that should be their raison d’etre. How can voters of conservative or progressive persuasions deal with the unashamed bastardry of the asylum seeker issue, the poll-driven gutlessness or straight out incompetence of the mining super tax, the on and off and on carbon tax (which surely has to be one of the daftest responses to the seemingly deniable climate change disaster) ?
Is it any wonder under the current major parties and their dropkick leaders that we are facing an impossible choice – a brown turd government or a black turd government ? Is it any wonder that the outcome is more likely to be determined by redneck idiots believing a massively lethal and self-interested, even evil media ? Is it any wonder than the youth vote – that could have the power to turn this election into something that might arouse some passion and idealistic fervour – could not give a tinker’s cuss ?
I have to admit that I felt – and still feel that John Howard was a disgrace to his high office – and that a man who, riding on the coat tails of such an unworthy dill as George W Bush, took Australia into not one, but two completely unjustifiable bloody and disastrous conflicts. And I was proud that Australians told Howard and his cronies how lowly we regarded them, when they tossed him out of his own electorate and the Libnats out of government.
We didn’t throw him out for this reason. We threw him out mainly because of his shitty, demonstrably unfair and un-Australian industrial relations policies – rightly hammered in a wonderfully effective campaign run by the unions – before the same unions’ leaders went on to show an undisguised propensity to spend their member’s union dues in brothels.
Instead of the Rodent, we went on blind trust with a dork who magically appeared out of the Queensland wilderness and turned into some kind of administrative mandarin-speaking autocratic brown nose.
But perhaps the most telling observation offered by Mungo MacCallum was the poisonous internal shitfighting of both the major parties. The NSW Labor corruption managed to eclipse the incompetence of the far right Labor in NSW and Queensland that, thanks to the media, well and truly (and perhaps rightly so) overshadowed the recriminations within the Liberals – Abbott turning on the NSW Liberal far right religious power-broker David Clark who Abbott saw as stacking the NSW party with dud candidates and thereby ensuring the loss of the unlosable election. If this is not a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, I’ll be damned.
And let’s not forget the Abbot – Turnbull leadership debacle, which, had the one vote majority gone to Turnbull instead of Abbott, could have seen the biggest landslide in Australian political history instead of this tensely poised struggle between two idealistically barren drop kicks.
This time the choice for voters is different. Through both the main parties’ barren policies and their cynical power-hungry amoral machinations, they have set in stone the abject poverty of the two-party system. They have shown us that both the Labor and the Liberal parties have become corrupt and despicable beyond belief.
This time Australia really needs to throw out not only the Government – but also the Opposition. And unless we let the two main parties go, a double double dissolution is impossible to achieve.
I have said in a previous article (OK, I admit that it was clichéd) that Australians will get the government we deserve, regardless of the outcome. If our elections continue to be won by manipulating the media, by convincing rednecks and bogan half-wits with no moral compass to vote (even against their own personal interests) for policies (like boat arrivals) that are unimportant in the bigger scheme of things, and ignore issues that DO matter – like climate change, education, employment and the environment, the world will see another prime example of the ugly side of western democracy – government of the unworthy, for the unworthy, by the unworthy.