The Politics    Thursday, May 25, 2017

Boring for Australia

By Sean Kelly

Boring for Australia
A fascinating political experiment is taking place

At one point while I was working for Kevin Rudd, a colleague turned to me and said that we needed to slow things down – to chloroform politics for a bit. There had been too much excitement. People just wanted us to get on with the job, which meant governing, which in turn meant getting on with things calmly and quietly.

I’m not sure we managed to do that, for a whole range of reasons, but it was sensible advice. Tony Abbott understood this wisdom, too – but failed to implement it – when he said, “Happy is the country which is more interested in sport than in politics”, which in turn was a rephrasing of Malcolm Fraser’s desire to get politics off the front page, and replace it with sport.

It’s an aspiration that has become harder to fulfil in these times of excess volume and volatility. It may in fact have turned into the near-impossible dream. That of course makes it even more desirable – and perhaps more lucrative, politically, if a government can deliver on it.

And in fact Australian politics right now does feel a little muted. That is partly because this week we live in the shadow of the Manchester attack, as well as the ongoing attempts to understand the Sydney siege. But it felt true even before that.

The reason is very simple. There was a budget with actual proposals in it. They were of sufficient sense not to be laughed out of town, or met with unqualified horror; and centrist enough that Labor could not find grounds on which to disagree. As a result, the parliament is now occupied with a genuine contest on policy grounds.

I haven’t always enjoyed the way these debates have played out, and of course the ideological gulf could be wider, but there’s no denying there are principles involved. What is the purpose of the Medicare levy? Who should bear the burden of taxation? What role do religious schools play in our education system, and to what does that entitle them? Of course, the soundbites are not always framed in such hifalutin ways, but these questions lie beneath.

The result is that the political argy-bargy is often mired in details. Each side lands blows, but not of any real force. The battle is drawn out and fairly quiet.

The government, no doubt, would have us believe this is all intentional; that it is happy if voters are bored. And perhaps it is. In general I think this is a good strategy for a government to follow.

Two important caveats, though. The first is that it’s no quick cure – patience is required. The two-month leash that Julie Bishop asked of Liberal MPs may not be of sufficient length.

The second is the hovering question of whether people maintain an open mind towards this government, or at least whether closed minds can be prised open. If the electorate has already given up on the prime minister, then might relative silence from Canberra simply allow their opinions to harden?

This is an experiment we get to watch in real time. It might not make for spectacular headlines, but it is very interesting nonetheless.

In other news


Cinema is dead, yet it lives

David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ shatters the tedium of prestige television

Luke Goodsell

“If Lynch’s first series of Twin Peaks predicted so-called ‘prestige’ television, then this new 18-episode run is his triumphant return to save us from the small screen’s congealed mediocrity. He’s not so much taking back the form as turning it inside out and upside down all over again.”    READ ON


Process of recognition

The constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians requires meaningful consultation

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Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is the author of The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison, a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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