Thursday 22 September 2016
Where the Rod Laver Tennis Centre now stands, in Melbourne, the area was once occupied by massive Elm trees under which fierce political debates once took place. Rather like Hyde Park in London. It was there that as a teenage boy I spent many a Sunday afternoon. Politics has been for most of my life something that sort of ties things together. Other than what one might do in bed I can think of little that politics doesn’t invade in one way or another.
I like to think that I am wise enough to know that in a democracy the party I don’t support has as much right to power as the one I do. I am of the left because social injustice, inequality, unfairness and prejudice are anathema to me. They abducted my early life.
There was a time when I had a guarded tolerance for things Liberal and got on with life. But somewhere along the way things went wrong. Like rust finding its way, hate and untruth insinuated its way into the Australian body politic. It has become a cesspool of lying ideological corruption where politicians have forgotten what public service means. The turn to the right with its focus on capitalistic individualism at a time when the world is screaming for collective answers to complex problems might just prove disastrous.
I have developed a particular loathing for this self-righteous attempt to corrupt the business of government.
What follows is an attempt to explain where it all went wrong. My thoughts are random and I hope they come together to form some sort of explanation at the end.
Where to start. Undoubtedly the rise of the right, imported from the United States, has been the major and most worrisome aspect in the decline of the Liberal and National Parties. Where once small ‘L’ Liberals had residence, little exists today. Neo Liberalism/Conservatism aided by an inheritance of lying as a political weapon from the US, infiltrated the Coalition and gave birth to extremism.
Once there was a time when the seats of the houses of Parliament were occupied by people of countless and varied backgrounds. From farmers to lawyers. Now there is a tendency for both sides of politics to select from within their ranks. The party ‘hangers on’, union officials, academics and researchers etc. The consequence being that it is unrepresentative of a real Australian Community.
The Senate was once truly a house of review where a few independents, or minor parties resided with a controlling number. With a degree of compromise they got what they wanted. Usually around a state self-interest issue. Now we have minor parties and individuals, some of who have interest’s way outside the mainstream of conventional thinking. As Paul Keating once said, “They are an unelected swill who put their rather anomalous beliefs before the good of the country”.
Women have not advanced as a cohort in the political sphere. The Coalition remains an old man’s male club uninterested in the advancement of women. While most of the world has moved on in many areas of equality, right-wing conservatives seemingly want to remain in or regress into the past as if it were the de facto future. Know your place has been shouted on the floor of the House of Reps. The Left of politics to its credit seeks to advance women with virtuous zeal.
Lying has and will probably always exist but it reached its zenith during the 2012 Presidential Debates. In the first Obama was said to be unprepared. Having watched it and read the reviews I concluded that he was taken aback by the outright lies that Mitt Romney was telling.
Lying in American politics is now part of the cut and thrust of it. In that campaign, Romney was reported to have told over 2000 individual provable lies.
We have inherited it. Lying in Australian politics has reached an unprecedented level. The current Prime minister and his cabinet is taking lying to such depths that it is not disingenuous to suggest that they no longer have a moral compass or understanding of truth. Some time ago I wrote the following in a piece titled, ‘Abbott Tells Another One’:
“If this means I am saying he is a pathological liar then so be it. It’s not a nice thing to say about anyone but we are dealing with truth here. It’s not so much that he is a serial offender, he is. I think the electorate knows that and factors it in. The fact that he lies can and is easily supported by volumes of readily available, irrefutable evidence. (I can provide it if need be) However what is of equal concern is that the main stream media (the so called forth estate) who are supposed to be the people’s custodian of truth, condones it”. More on that later.
Some time back Tony Abbott told us that the best way to understand the truth of what he was saying was to have it in writing. Otherwise what he was saying was just idle chatter for an audience. My take on that was this..
You see, now he is saying that what I thought he said is only a figment of my imagination. That what I think I thought he meant is not what he meant at all. That when he says something and I take it to mean one thing, he has the option of saying that what I thought I heard was not what I heard at all. It was only my interpretation of what he meant. I mean, did he say what he meant or did he mean to say what he meant or was what he meant really what he meant. I know that I am 76 and I have the odd senior moment but usually I know what I mean and what is meant by what I say. I also know that people understand what I’m meaning.
Ministers also seem to have carte blanche to follow his example and tell as many as they like. George Brandis, Greg Hunt, Peter Dutton and Christopher Pyne lie with monotonous regularity.
Truth is the victim.
In the first instance the best way to turn the profession of politics on its head in this country and create a new democracy would be to demand they tell the truth.
You can shape truth by telling lies for your own benefit and you can use the contrivance of omission to create another lie. However, the ability to admit you are wrong is an absolute pre requisite to discernment and knowledge. It requires truthfulness. If we are to progress as a country we must accept that there can be much pain in admitting we were wrong but there is no harm in it.
If a political party is not transparent in supplying all the information the public has a democratic right to be aware of, it destroys the very democracy that enables it to exist.
And if humility is the basis by which intellectual advancement is made then it is only on the basis of truth that we obtain human progress. Telling the truth should not be delayed simply because we are not sure how people might react to it. It is far better to be comforted by truth than to be controlled by lies.
It is often difficult in politics to distinguish a broken promise from the convenience of a change of mind, but with Abbott there were no shades of hue. It takes courage to change one’s mind for the greater good. It requires the telling of truth. I saw no capacity for it in Abbott nor do I in our current Prime Minister.
It was so ingrained in Abbott’s persona that distinguishing between truth and lies was beyond his private and public morality. He had little trouble merging his faith into his political philosophy but eliminated a cornerstone of his faith, ‘’truth’’, when applied to his politics.
Of all the things that have caused the disintegration in the public’s trust in the body politic. it is the lack of truth that defines it.
My thought for the day.
“Honesty isn’t popular anymore. It doesn’t carry the weight of society’s approval it once did”.
Part two tomorrow.