There’s a wonderful old Randy Newman song called ‘Political Science’, which was brilliantly covered by a favourite band of mine, Everything But The Girl. Its opening line goes: “No one likes us, I don’t know why/ We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try…”
These words, and the song’s title, buzzed around my head this week as the landscape of Australia’s politics shifted following Malcolm Turnbull’s successful ousting of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a Liberal Party leadership challenge.
As a result, Turnbull became Australia’s sixth Prime Minister in ten years and its fourth in two and a half years. You might think that such brutal natural selection would mean an ever-raising standard in the PM’s office, but you’d be wrong.
The intellectual standard of political discussion in Australia would astonish most international observers. Politics here is a binary landscape of sniping and simple soundbites. I actually pity the journalists tasked with making sense of it all.
In that regard, Australia has a friend in its national broadcaster, the ABC, which offers prime-time political discussion and analysis, fronted by talented journalists who, frankly, run rings around the politicians they are tasked with interviewing. Just recently, erstwhile PM Abbott banned his MPs from participating in the nation’s foremost political panel show, Q&A, for an extended period, and has repeatedly criticised the broadcaster for – at various times, not supporting the country enough, and not looking for the positives.
If that’s hard to believe, while in opposition, he attempted to avoid a difficult interview question by embarking on a 28 second ‘silent stare’ at his interviewer. It is strange beyond belief and worth a view, however cringeworthy.
Such gaffes prompted the US TV host, John Oliver, to put together a stinging ‘tribute’ to Abbott in his weekly show.
But Abbott became history this week, so where now for Australian politics? Well, despite my earlier comment that Turnbull is Australia’s sixth PM in ten years, there could yet be a seventh. That’s because Australia holds a general election every three years, and Abbott was two years into the current term. So, there will be another election some time in the next 12 months with the possibility of current Labor party leader Bill Shorten replacing Turnbull, thus adding to the fast-lengthening list of PMs and, some might say, the country’s political instability.
It’s hard to imagine how the current environment can result in any kind of long term strategy for Australia, or that such a Machiavellian culture can result in considered political discourse. And outside of poking fun at Abbott and scratching one’s head at the likeness it all bears to a chimp’s tea party, that’s the real tragedy for this country and its future prospects.
So, while parliament’s odd-job person considers the possibility of installing a revolving door to the PM’s Canberra office, questions about environmental policy, marriage equality, infrastructure planning, immigration policy and more, get shoved aside as the battle of the egos supplants the battle of intellects and ideologies.
Perhaps Randy Newman had it right after all when he suggested: “Let’s drop the big one, and pulverise ‘em,” but that would probably require a coherent defence policy too, and that’s a big ask in the current situation. Nice try Randy, now, back to the soundbites.