Friday, September 2, 2011

Time for the labels to be left right out of politics

There's mutual love and respect there somewhere...
The coverage and commentary following the High Court decision that the government's Malaysia Solution was unlawful this week drew a clear line between those interested in the social outcomes of public policy and those frenzied by the sporting contest that is politics. Sadly, most of what I read fell into the second category.

In the mainstream media, David Marr provided one of the few articles that actually discussed the real implications of the decision - that is for asylum seekers, not politicians. Politics really does seem to be turning more into a topic of discussion where people can pretend to care about issues while really just arguing about the players in the game; a 'sideshow' as someone might say.

'Tweeps' from both sides showed their true colours, however what disturbed me most was seeing usually progressive people instinctively go into shock or try to defend a policy that their usually progressive opinions would suggest they wouldn't otherwise support. After all, if you criticise your own side it looks, and feels, like your supporting the opposition. Meanwhile, Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, took the opportunity to slam the government and claim the policy high ground, even though the policies of both major parties are morally - and potentially legally - unacceptable. But I expect it from him, I know he's an arsehole.

This is one of the hottest political footballs, a proven points scorer, and as usual most of the discussion, debate and analysis was directed towards the political contest - or worse, direct involvemnet in it - while the people affected remained abstract scraps of data. As most mainstream commentators and journalists scurry to predict the fate of the government, and indeed the parliament, they are providing us with largely useless information - telling us what we think of the major parties - and dehumanising one of the biggest humanitarian issues in this country.

Politicians from both major parties are just as bad as the people smugglers they rail against. They all exploit asylum seekers for personal/party gain, but at least people smugglers are attempting to deliver them to safer shores. I want to know how we can break the politicians business model.

To me this issues hasn't put another nail in the coffin of the Gillard government, but the coffin of intelligent political discourse.

Initially I was angry about all this, but this morning I attended a discussion at the Melbourne Writers Festival where Robert Manne, Marieke Hardy and Richard Flanagan discussed in front of a large and engaged audience, the place of writing (essays in particular) in politics and how we can turn this mess around. I gave me a little hope and inspiration - a much better platform from which to express yourself than anger.

So this is what I want in my utopian political environment:

I want positive and engaging debate, not bitter and divisive 'team'-orientated feuding.

I want a parliament that is an arena for the contest of ideas, not a colloseum for the battle for power between the Coalition and Labor, left and right or progressives and conservatives.

I want politicians who are not afraid to be vulnerable; to say "I don't know the answer" but be genuinely dedicated to the cause, rather than pretending to know the unknowable and avoiding the discussion.

I want a political system that allows Peter Garrett and Malcolm Turnbull to once again publicly display their passion for social issues and truly inspire people.

I want Peter Garrett and Malcolm Turnbull to start speaking their mind publicly and accept whatever consequences the party deals them. Party stability may trump personal opinion, but shifting towards a society that can handle debate trumps the superficial appearance of party stability and debate does not equal disunity.

I want media reporting to return to the public interest accepts the complexity of issues, not trash journalism that pursues conflict to make money.

I want a mainstream media that can handle complexity without needing to boil issues down to the simplistic framing of the sporting contest, where substance gets evaporated. That judges parties on policy not polls.

I want more episodes of QandA without party politicians until they can freely and openly engage in the political discourse without party lines and points scoring; and panels that aren't judged by how many there are from each side but the quality of ideas and discussion.

I want an Opposition with policy that adds value to parliament rather than attempting to bring it down. An opposition that won't use critical and sensitive issues like climate change and asylum seekers to advance in the polls, but rather is interested in the advancement of our nation.

I want politicians to be able to genuinely shift their opinions - as any thinking person does - and adapt to changing cirumstances without being endlessly labelled a 'liar'.

I want more parliamentarians like the late, great Peter Andren - people of courage, conviction, honesty and humility - to show the way.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but the discussion at today's Melbourne Writers Festival event showed I'm not the only one. At least it's positive, and I'll happily accept incremental progress.

In the meantime, I'll seek my information out from people that I trust; not those I necessarily agree with but those I respect, even - especially - if it means they challenge my way of seeing the world.

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