How low can politics go?

MOTHBALLING blue ties, reading menus carefully and getting rid of emails with sexist jokes seems to be the new parameters in Australian federal politics.

The notion that politics is for the people has now stooped to a “reductio ad absurdum” proposition. Even our best politicians are caught up in trivia and the politics of the inconsequential. Where are the statesmen and stateswomen?

The irony is that there is so much hatred for those who are trying to make a difference and so much popular support for those dedicated to simply playing politics.

As Laura Tingle pointed out in the “Australian Financial Review”, there is widespread support for a political party that, less than 100 days out from an election has just one policy – “to turn the boats around”.

“In any other time”, she wrote, “a political party going to an election without substantive health and education policies would be laughable”.

Across the floor, the Prime Minister is reduced to being asked questions about her partner’s sexuality and wrestling with a political party that is confused by its own identity. It is a party flirting with alternative leadership because it is not sure of its own purpose. The Prime Minister knows what she is on about. Under her leadership there is a price on carbon, implementation of health reforms, the national disability insurance scheme and the Gonski reforms to education that she is winning State by State.

However, the party seems lost in the concept of personality politics.

Despite the complex differences of opinion across the Coalition, Tony Abbott is able to manage tight party discipline with a single policy and an approach that says the Coalition will be different from Labor. It is a lie of course! No matter what policies are on the books, what gets into the public domain is determined by the latest polling. This is no-risk politics.

With some notable exceptions, although they are good at convincing themselves that this is not true, our elected members are much more interested in politics than in the people. It should not be surprising when the path into political life is so often dictated to by party systems. One path for Labor is success in the union movement. For the Liberals, it may be a successful career in business. However, for both parties, the most common path starts with student party politics.

To reset the political parameters is challenging. Until the parties begin to stand tall on what they actually believe and let people determine who they will vote for on the basis of differences of opinion, political life in Australia will continue to deteriorate.

In the scenario of a change of government in September, why would Labor do anything other than oppose everything Abbott attempts to achieve? Why would it not put politics above the interests of the community? Abbott has demonstrated the effectiveness of this technique. If he becomes Prime Minister, there is no doubt it will come back to bite him.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

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