A simpler time

Recently the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, visited Sydney for meetings with the Australian Government. Ardern is the leader of the NZ Labour Party who managed a ‘come from behind’ victory in their 2017 national election. While Ardern was here she commented that she would ‘struggle if she was operating in the Australian political environment’.

The comment was made the same week as Senator Michaela Cash made a threat in Senate Estimates to name and shame female staff in Opposition Leader Shorten’s office. This was in retaliation for questioning in Senate Estimates over Cash’s staff ‘tipping off’ the media a few hours prior to some Union offices being raided by the Australian Federal Police last year.

Cash’s spray (and that’s probably a nicer description than it deserves) can be seen on a number of news sites and at the time of writing was available from this ABC News story. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull must have been really impressed. He was just getting on top of the fallout around the demise of former National Party Leader Barnaby Joyce, which might have given him a chance to actually focus discussions in the media on his agenda, rather than the failures of his Ministers.

Joyce’s demise was due entirely to his own actions. Publicly he was speaking in support of the ‘sanctity’ of traditional marriage while conducting an affair with a media adviser who at one point worked for him. There has also been a (leaked) claim of inappropriate behaviour towards a female party member in Western Australia. Given Joyce’s current partner’s professional work experience, they should have had an inkling that at some point the whole affair would become public knowledge and some estimate made of the media storm that would erupt. However Joyce’s wife and daughters didn’t (and still don’t) deserve the publicity their errant husband and father ensured they would endure. To add insult to the injury are the payment of wages from National Party funds while Joyce was campaigning for re-election, claims of spending nights in Canberra when Parliament was not sitting for no obvious reason and the free accommodation ‘deal’ Joyce and ‘his mate’ organised in Armidale for his changed domestic circumstances.

Like Joyce, Cash demonstrated her belief in the ends (mounting a vindictive attack on her political rivals) justifying the means. Cash’s recent outburst in Senate Estimates impugned the reputation of a number of people who don’t have the ability to respond to the accusations. Shorten’s staff are not all required to undergo public scrutiny as part of their job description and nor should they be. So Cash, who was the Minister for Women in one version of the Abbott/Turnbull Cabinet, seems to be seeking retribution for some real or imagined past political insult. To do so using generalised claims about the female members of staff of a political rival is beneath contempt. Traipsing the corridors of Parliament House the next day behind a whiteboard on wheels may have demonstrated her shame but more probably was an attempt to remove the ability of reporters to ask questions.

You know you’ve lost respect when stridently non-political organisations such as the Country Women’s Association call for more respect to female political staff. And for the record, Senator Carr’s description of Senator Paterson as being a member of the ‘Hitler Youth’ the same day was no better that Senator Cash’s outburst, albeit without involving third parties who cannot defend themselves.

It seems our politicians have no hesitation in playing the (wo)man rather than the ball. Politics is supposed to be a debate of ideas for the benefit of the society at large, not dragging your opponents down to the grubby depths where you have clearly placed yourself and beating them with experience.

Surely we don’t need more soap operas on television. You would like to think that programs like 7.30 and 60 Minutes can report current affairs without using the word ‘affair’ literally: as in who is alleged to be sleeping with whom or who is namedropping presumably innocent third parties to seek retribution on a political enemy. Seriously, that sort of ‘reporting’ belongs on My Kitchen Rules, Married at First Sight, The Batchelor or any one of the number of other ‘reality’ television shows that networks inflict on the Australian population.

Even New Zealand PM Ardern has been the subject of the Australian political/media system that prefers to report on tattle rather than issues and policy. A reporter from the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes, Charles Woolley, asked her fairly intimate questions about her current pregnancy, including speculating on the time of conception in an interview broadcast the week of her visit to Sydney.

Let’s face it, Ardern is not the first woman in a position of power to announce a pregnancy. In typical Australian political style, Woolley didn’t discuss Ardern’s policies or achievements, rather

his first question to the prime minister was asking of her thoughts about whether her baby will boost her approval ratings.

“Wooley is so incredibly and relentlessly creepy,” NZ Herald columnist Steve Braunias wrote in response to the interview.

“It ought to come with an R18 certificate. It ought to come with a sickbag too. Only those of strong constitution will be able stop themselves throwing up a stream of vomit that could travel the entire ditch between here and Australia,” he wrote in an opinion piece on Monday.

It seems on the other side of the Tasman that the policy, ideas and achievements of politicians are more important than the cheap ‘gotcha’ or collection of irrelevant personal detail that seems to be the norm in Australia.

It would be easy to assume that Ardern’s observations on the ‘Australian political environment’ reflects some concern over the vindictive, vicious and deeply personal style of politics played in Canberra and to a lesser extent the states and some local authorities around Australia.

It’s not like there is nothing in the way of policy to discuss.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has taken a proposal for $65 billion of tax cuts for companies to the Senate. It failed to pass as the ALP and most of the cross-bench Senators voted against it. The Coalition’s argument is that business tax cuts will enable business to fund wage rises for staff, who will in turn spend more money and help prop up the retail economy — AKA trickle-down economics.

There have been millions of litres of printing ink and just as many electrons expended to point out the pros and cons of trickle-down economics. Different groups of business leaders also have differing opinions on the ‘need’ or ‘economic benefit’ of tax cuts for business so the ‘science’ is far from settled.

There has been little discussion from the Coalition Government in rebutting the case that trickle-down economics might have worked at one point in history — in the days before the leaders of companies were rated and paid on the basis of returns to shareholders — but not now. And rolling Alan Joyce from Qantas out to spruik the benefit from a lower tax rate was certainly not helpful when it was revealed that Qantas (legally) has not paid corporate tax for almost a decade.

In the first Abbott Cabinet, Turnbull was the Communications Minister and responsible for the Coalition’s version of the NBN. The ALP version of the NBN was to have connected the majority of Australians to a digital fibre communications system that would have been world class. Abbott and Turnbull campaigned that the cost of installing the fibre-optic cable into pretty well every house in Australia was too much (again opinions vary) and changed the program in mid-stream to a ‘multi-technology mix’ (or MTM) where depending on where you live you would get fibre optic cable, repurposed 1990’s era cable TV infrastructure known as hybrid fibre coax (HFC) or connected to a node with around 500 of your closest friends and neighbours by potentially even older copper cable.

In a lot of cases, the copper cable was failing prior to the NBN and the decision was taken by the infrastructure owner, Telstra, that as the fibre optic NBN was coming, it wasn’t justified economically to replace the copper. Now, after being required to purchase the two cable TV network infrastructure systems (previously owned by Telstra and Optus), NBN has determined that the ex-Optus cable is unusable and has halted the rollout of the ex-Telstra HFC network while technical issues are addressed.

Alternately, how about we discuss the need for mitigation of climate change through programs that financially disadvantage the polluters, promote alternative energy and transport options and funding renewable energy proposals. All the Coalition Government can do is to suggest that a new coal fired power station is a requirement for ‘energy security’ rather than better communication and coordination. We had a good look at the claims and counter claims on the future of energy in Australia a few months ago here.

Or we could discuss the morality of keeping refugees in mouldy tents on Nauru for years, the reduction (in real terms) of Medicare funding, the real need for Dutton’s ‘Home Affairs’ super department which was subject to a number of unfavourable comments by moderate fellow LNP member and recently retired Senator Brandis. There are plenty of other real issues that deserve discussion and policy development if those don’t rock your boat. Leave us a comment below the line if you like.

Makes you yearn for the simpler times of Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke (and apparently in 21st Century New Zealand) doesn’t it? There is a big difference between what would be a typical current era Minister’s comment to the media ‘Mr Jones is a fool because he believes in re-writing the tax law’ and the Fraser and Hawke era ‘Mr Jones policy to rewrite the tax law Is foolish because it won’t address the current problem’.

Hawke and Fraser certainly were not perfect people and depending on your point of view they were right or wrong on many issues, but they were less remote from society. They seemed to attempt in their own ways to connect with the society they lived in and most of the time, they discussed policy differences rather than personalising the differences. Regardless, they did their jobs without the intense hatred displayed to anyone with a divergent opinion by an increasing number of hardheads and graduates inhabiting the halls of power today who have never had a job outside politics.

What do you think?

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Add 4 Journalists and 2 Q&A panelists; how many Teacups are there?