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The first week of the election campaign 2007 in Australia has made fascinating viewing. Watching politics in Australia is much like watching combatants suffering from delirium tremens. Bin Laden faced his enemies with CIA funding, a Kalashnikov and bag of salt; the Australian Liberals (as opposed to ‘liberal’ Australian Liberals make British Tories look like Bollinger Bolsheviks) face their enemies with a grasp of history so tenuous it would fail an elementary school exam. That is their weapon.
Knowledge is power, but ignorance guarantees victory. Australians have been in love with history flunks for over a decade, and have kept a Prime Minister in power who wishes that Michael J. Fox would go back in time just to give him a free ride to a more ‘comfortable’ Australia.
A few examples: The Deputy Opposition Leader, Julia Gillard, has been called to justify her involvement with a student activist organisation in her youth: the Socialist Forum. A conduit for ‘ex-communists’, warns the Treasurer, Peter Costello. The fact that these disaffected Trotskyists tended to place marijuana before proletarian utopia is not something that gets a smile from Peter. Besides, he only flirted with the left for a brief time.
Then, the unionists. For some reason, the Liberals have always been under the impression that a union is nothing more than a charity. Don’t ask me, ask Health Minister Tony Abbott, the other part of the comedy duo in the Howard government. In short, we don’t do history in Oz, and unions and labour should not be the same thing.
Politicians are, to borrow a term from Orson Welles, a third sex. And they are a disoriented one. Political parties in Australia terrorise the population with a rafter of paper-fuelled announcements, television pollution, and, in case you needed a reminder, more paper. Attempts to place on your letter box ‘No Junk Mail Please’ are tantamount to placing a sign before an Iraqi citizen ‘Please don’t leave the occupation is working.’ It is, as has been said before, a sports contest, where debate is excised in favour of bruising, the pugilists posed over the barricades ready to take aim. For heavens sake, keep ideas off the stage, wherever you strike.
This election campaign has already been saturated by new media. Now that Australian politicians have woken up to the mind numbing properties of YouTube and MySpace, we can get an extra round of cyber prodding from these pugilists from breakfast onwards. For a country that refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, showing a preference in tearing up the earth in a commodities rush that is almost quixotic, the rapacious consumption of paper is ‘no problem’.
Leaving carbon footprints visible to any half-intelligent extra-terrestrial life should be troubling. Or is it? The response is an ever placating, ‘She’ll be right mate.’ And surely, she will, though who this sexualised alternate reality is, I don’t know. I have yet to meet her, and Australians have not formally introduced us, though a few glasses of Barossa Shiraz tend to take me to a brutal reality: a head that is so sore it must have been beaten to a pulp by a disaffected housewife with a mallet. Perhaps such new forms of media are an environmentally sound excuse to allow the politicians in on the act.
Australians take elections seriously even as if they heap a pile of rubbish on their politicians the height of Mount Kosciusko. It gives them a chance to vote again and again. If not the Federal, then the State; and if not the State, then the local council elections. Sadistically, if you do not vote, you shall be fined. The state acts like dominatrix: you must love your democracy, and not doing so means you are, as the Michigan militia man might say, in ‘dereliction of duty’. Not getting up from bed on a Saturday morning to be drowned by ‘how to vote’ cards by volunteers at a polling booth shows you crave a good financial spanking. Those who decide not to love enough are punished out of love, and there is nothing quite so loving as a 60 dollar fine.
The comedy crew known as the ‘Chasers’, nesting in the ABC, have injected some form of merriment into proceedings. They brought themselves worldwide notoriety by showing that the security establishment around such talk-fests as APEC are nothing more than grand placebos. After getting through two security barriers, the comedian who was arrested first was the one who looked like a police officer, not the one dressed as bin Laden. A Federal politician has suggested that the Australian Intelligence [sic] Services monitor their movements.
One is only irritated with the Chasers because the Prime Minister, John Howard, should not be graced with bunnies dancing around with electoral slogans on interest rates. When Howard started being spotted on his power walks, you knew that policy was walking away from him, just as you knew China was in trouble when Mao took to the Yangtze.
Modern public relations for ‘active’ politicians such as Howard is simply a measure of how finely you can excise the demon of policy from the art of politics: run on a daily basis, and we will be comforted the way America was assured by a golf-playing Eisenhower. Only the French (a la Sarkozy), would find the idea of a walking, running politician suspicious, but then again, they would find anything that takes the human way from the bistro distressing. Now that, Mr. Howard, is civilization, and a ‘comfortable’ life worth having.
BINOY KAMPMARK is a Commonwealth Scholar from Selwyn College, Cambridge and covering the election in Australia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org