It's not something that anyone with a beating heart and a love of politics in the 21st century does voluntarily, but when it is forced upon you, boy is it instructive.
What am I talking about?
Being abruptly disconnected from the Internet, and being flung back into the 'old paradigm' of the 20th century, when all you had was the TV, newspapers and the radio. No Internet means that you are unable to exchange views with others, you are unable to read other blogs, unable to read Twitter, etc. So, basically you are left to form your day-to-day opinions in 'splendid isolation'. Which has led me to make some pertinent conclusions.
Firstly, having my landline die, and not being able to get a technician out for almost a week to fix the problem, is the surest way to motivate you to do the most boring household chores.
Secondly, instead of your senses working overtime filtering the barrage of information that comes through the 'net’, you find, or at least I have found, that the doors of perception have been flung wide open. I now perceive things that I believe I would normally miss in my efforts to keep up with the madding crowd on the Internet. I have had time to reflect.
So, let me give you the benefit of my downtime observations.
As we start to settle into the early days of the Gillard government, I have detected an air of legitimacy descending over Ms Gillard. She is being transformed from contender to title-holder. She is beginning to assume the mantle of Prime Minister.
In fact, and I don't know if this is a result of the journos heeding Annabel Crabb's words to make the 'new paradigm' manifest, but the Press Conferences since the government became settled have become more thoughtful, considered and respectful affairs, in the main. In deference to her position, when journalists ask questions now, they are prefacing them with,'Prime Minister'...
That ‘pack of hyenas’ mentality, that was so pervasive during the election campaign, is abating. Or is it because the prime instigator of the journalistic insouciance, Latika Bourke, has been on holidays? Only time will tell there, upon her return.
Also, it seems to me that since The Australian has openly declared war on the government's legitimacy, and their Alliance with 'The Greens', their over-the-top hysteria has quickly caused embarrassment on their behalf amongst the rest of the Press Gallery. So instead of maintaining solidarity with their brethren from News Ltd by closing ranks around The Oz journos and editors and thus helping to reinforce The Oz's blatant barracking for anything the Coalition does and says, the rest of the Press Gallery have, for the most part, refused to join in the attack. Their questions to the PM have been focused on policy. Though, when they are not, they are getting short shrift from Julia Gillard.
On the other hand, as appears to be fast becoming par for the course, the ABC is still trying to find cause to sneer at the Gillard government, as if relentless negativity equates with in-depth analysis in some spurious way. Also they repeat the Opposition's Talking Points verbatim as news, often beginning news bulletins with, “The Opposition said today...”, thus allowing the Abbott Opposition free rein to say whatever is their latest daily confection, built from half-truths, speculation and supposition, as 'gospel'. Such that you'd never think, going by Chris Uhlmann's constant search for the denigrating angle, that his wife had just been elected to parliament for the ALP. I am guessing that it is an ingrained habit of his to do this that he is finding hard to break. Nevertheless, I do detect a glacial rate of change in attitude and perspective, mainly from the political commentators who do the regular ABC News.
Mix it all together, however, and, even considering the fact that they are aided and abetted by News Ltd Media, I can't help but feel that the Coalition are a dead cat bouncing at the moment.
Tony Abbott has his well-formulated daily diatribe, which he can usually be found delivering via a sympathetic media outlet like 2GB or MTR. However, somehow I am getting the impression that instead of the metaphorical prize fighter landing knockout blows on the government, he is seeming instead to be like a punch-drunk sailor, all incoherent, rheumy abuse-induced by brain damage, as a result of one too many blows to his head.
Which is not to say that Tony Abbott is suffering from some sort of functional deficit, far from it; I mean I imagine that he is the one who comes up with most of his lines each day. Also, they are not without their impact. No, rather than that, it is just seeming as though they are having the impact of a dead cat bouncing. Almost a case of: “Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?” As it is starting to seem as though Tony Abbott, and the Coalition that mirrors him, only know one path to power - deconstruct and denigrate. Whatever the government does is bad because... And nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than in Tony Abbott's response to Marius Kloppers offering the Carbon peace pipe to Julia Gillard. He just seemed functionally unable to alter his oft-stated position in order to take account of the 'new paradigm' that had just manifest itself there, instead launching his now familiar attack on the prospect of a Carbon Tax, whilst ignoring the fact that the majority, and even Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest, are saying that now is the time to price Carbon. Tony Abbott is also not explaining that there will be compensation for the electorate, all in order to prosecute his spurious argument about the impact of such a tax on the community. That word, 'compensation' has not passed his lips once.
However, what I did notice was that this time Tony Abbott's scare tactics bounced like the proverbial dead cat, whereas before the election the issue bounced in his favour like a cat on a hot tin roof. Could it be that we are starting to see from the electorate and the media a less frenetic and more sober assessment of the issues?
In fact, another instance of Tony Abbott's previous deft political touch escaping him occurred with his refusal to let any Coalition MP onto the parliamentary Climate Change Consultative Committee, unless that person could be a Climate Change Sceptic. Not only has he not been able to make that decision bounce his way, it has gone down like a kite with no wind beneath its wings, nose-diving straight into the ground. His actions, to objective observers, are being seen as petulant and overly-focused on political gamesmanship at the expense of the 'kinder, gentler polity' that he himself was touting only a couple of weeks ago.
Also the rest of the Shadow Ministry has not been faring much better. Greg Hunt was sounding frankly delusional on radio the other day when he stated, “That only the Coalition has a Direct Action Plan for Climate Change that will start on July 1, 2011.” Now, either the Coalition heroically believes that they will not be in Opposition for very long and in government very, very soon such that they will be able to get their 'Direct Action' legislation passed by the hung parliament and enacted in time for it to come into effect by that date. Or Greg Hunt has lost touch with reality. Or he is deliberately misrepresenting reality to create what he sees as a brick in the wall that the Opposition is building in order to give the electorate the impression of a government-in-exile. Which is mischievous to say the least.
Also, could it be that there are some amongst the number of the Coalition who are just mouthing the talking points given to them by an 'unhinged' leadership, that needs must compel them to say in order to keep their position on the Shadow Front Bench of an Abbott Opposition? An Opposition leadership unfamiliar with the concept of a post-election climb down, instead attempting to forge ahead with their new election campaign, which obviously has been identified by them as their new modus operandi. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it has become Tony Abbott's modus vivendi; it appears he knows no other way to practise the art of politics but living and breathing competition.
However, the 'new paradigm' of 21st century politics, as being exhibited by many countries' 'blended' governments, where consensus and co-operation across the gamut of political interests, represented by a disparate collection of parties, is how electorates are telling their representatives that they want things to be now, is something that appears to have escaped the comprehension abilities of the Abbott-led Opposition. To my mind they are stuck in the 20th century of John Howard-era politics, where domination of the political discourse was the de facto position to adopt and impose on the political conversation. The Coalition are mouthing the words of the new political paradigm every day, so it's not as if they don't realise that how the political game is played has changed, it's just that their actions betray a predilection to go back to the successful, in their eyes, ways of Howard.
Take, for example, Tony Abbott's proclamation today that the Coalition is, “the party of new ideas” (we'll let go the fact that a Coalition is not 'a' party). More like the 'party' of No Idea.
In this way what we have seen put on the table is a commitment to bring legislation to the House, via a Private Members Bill, which will repeal the Queensland 'Wild Rivers' legislation. Superficially it is to facilitate the ability of the land to be handed back to its Indigenous owners.
Tony Abbott wants to take back the land from the people of Queensland generally, via their government, who wish to preserve the natural environment in Far North Queensland in perpetuity. Instead, Abbott is using the cover of the darkness of the claimant's skin as a blind to hide his real intentions behind. Which is that, in a very 20th century fashion, he sees the environment purely as an exploitable commodity, and the handmaiden of the economy. Also, what is never mentioned, in his championing of the cause of Indigenous Leader, Noel Pearson, is that Abbott is playing the 'new paradigm' splits in the Indigenous Australian community of the 21st century between Progressives and Conservatives, such as Pearson, off against one another. In a completely disingenuous act of seeming concern for the 'rights' of Indigenous Australians, Tony Abbott is instead continuing to advance his old-style, anti-environment thinking into the parliament.
So we see the Opposition, in a very 'old political paradigm' fashion getting out the wrecking ball as they scratch around in search of a new killer wedge and attack by which they hope to bring the new Green-Independent-Labor Coalition government down as soon as possible, and in order to have themselves installed as the 'natural party of government'. Which idea, thankfully, as with so many others of theirs at the moment, appears to have all the momentum of a dead cat bouncing around.
Instead of this, if the Coalition were smart, it would admit to itself that the political caravan has moved on, and there are now more votes to be harvested in forging a new Conservatism, as opposed to seeking to resurrect the now thoroughly discredited neo-conservatism.
As has been suggested elsewhere, would it not be better for the Coalition to become part of the solution, instead of the problem?
Which, of course, leads us to the problem of the Coalition's response to the NBN.
Any sober judge of the competing alternatives to provide Broadband into almost all homes in the country would say that the fibre plan is the thinking person's alternative. As Tony Windsor said, “You do it once, you do it right, you do it fibre.” It's almost future-proof, and follows my grandfather's dictum that, “The cheapest things always cost the most to buy.” Thus, even if the upfront investment may seem a bit rich, in the end it will pay for itself many times over by not only contributing to the Budget bottom line due to increased productivity flow-on benefits, but also by adding to the 'Triple Bottom Line' of the new economic paradigm, by increasing the quality of life of Rural and Regional Australians in so many ways. Not only that, but I have just recently heard about new technology which will enable you to use wireless technology to draw on your home's broadband quota in a portable fashion when you are outside the house, thus negating one of the Coalition's main arguments against fibre, that is that it is fixed and stationary, whereas their policy allows for maximum portability, using a hodgepodge of different modalities to bring the broadband signal to the electorate - a policy that has been demonstrated time and again to be hostage to some pretty serious limitations. I don't envy the task that Malcolm Turnbull has been given to try to sell the Coalition's dog of a Broadband policy. It's no wonder that he is concentrating on the business principles of the NBN, because the technological case for fibre, as opposed to Wireless+Satellite+Copper wires, is a no-brainer to the well informed. I can pretty confidently predict that Malcolm Turnbull can also hear the dead cat bouncing, but is choosing to ignore it.
Someone who blissfully chooses to ignore the dead cat bouncing around the room, fitfully, as it gets kicked by one Coalition MP or another, is Julie Bishop. I can't wait to see her up against the formidable opponent she now has in Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, and the mercurial Dr Craig Emerson in Trade. To say that they will enjoy leaving her feeling like a bedraggled old moggie is not putting too fine a point on it.
In fact, the only ray of light for the Coalition at the moment appears to be coming from the 'loathsome' Scott Morrison (copyright, Bernard Keane of Crikey), who appears to have a mole in Immigration willing to keep feeding him documents to aid and abet his government destabilisation program around the Asylum Seeker issue. Pity the new political paradigm appears to have caught up with him too, as Julia Gillard placed one of the Labor government's best performers, Chris Bowen, up against him to do battle; who, going by the comments today by Sabra Lane of the ABC's Canberra Press Gallery, is winning by acting as a ‘refreshingly honest and direct’ breath of fresh political air.
Now, I may be wrong in my summation, and, with the resumption of parliamentary hostilities on the floor of the House next week, we may just go back to an adversarial battle between the two major parties. However, there's something in the air that tells me a different story.
So, basically, what I think is that the electorate has undergone a sea change with this last election, from the 'old paradigm' of Howardian self-interested politics of 'What's in it for me?', to the 'new paradigm' of 'let's get together and sort out our society's problems constructively'.
And that if the Opposition does not wake up and smell the Fair Trade Coffee, they are in danger of slipping into political irrelevancy. Especially after the new Senate takes its place next year.
Well, at least that's the impression that I got when I stepped outside the virtual political beltway for a week.
What do you think?