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Slow Learners

By Ad Astra

I’m using the term ‘slow learners’ not to demean those who suffer intellectual difficulties, but to categorize those with sound intellect who nonetheless seem unable to grasp the meaning of the events that are occurring about them every day, unable to learn from them, and unable to make any change to their behaviour.

I am referring particularly to politicians, utterly ensnared as they are in the game of adversarial politics, who seem unable to grasp its iniquity, and even less willing to do anything about what they accept as the norm for the Westminster system of government.

It came as a surprise to me to read in PerthNow that Julie Bishop, recoiling in the wake of the bullying of female Coalition members by Dutton forces during the recent leadership upheavals, had vehemently criticized ’the relentlessly competitive and adversarial nature of Federal politics.’ She went on to blast ’parliamentary question time as an “embarrassing circus”’.

Bishop has been a member of parliament since 1998, and a Minister since 2003. Yet it is just now that we hear her calling out adversarial politics. She herself has indulged in it enthusiastically, notably after Julia Gillard’s ‘misogyny speech’. We all know that adversarial behaviour has been a curse for eons. But it seems that she needed the outrage of the bullying of her female colleagues to loosen her tongue.

It was almost ten years ago that I wrote The curse of adversarial politics on The Political Sword. The piece spelt out its nature, its methods, its malevolence, and the curse it wreaks on our politics. I draw on this piece to make my case that nothing has changed – adversarial politics continues unabated – our politicians are ‘slow learners’.

We see adversarial politics every day when the proposals put forward by one party are routinely criticised by other parties. Any stance taken by the proposer is automatically opposed, whatever its merits.

While it is a part of routine parliamentary debate, its most brazen form is seen in Question Time. There, the opposition tries to embarrass or demean the government with malicious questions delivered with a sneer, or the government tries to upend the opposition with Dorothy Dixers that always have a twist in the tail. There is no subtlety to the questions, only barefaced antagonism.

Not only is it unedifying to witness this behaviour among our lawmakers, its awfulness is compounded by the sheer delight our politicians exhibit while playing this puerile game.

They see it as a sport and play it just as do schoolyard bullies fighting for dominance. Although it’s disgusting, sickening, even repellent to voters, politicians seem not to realize how revolting their behaviour appears to the electorate. They have Tin Ears, deaf to the feelings of the people, just as they were to the bullying behaviour we all saw during the recent leadership struggle when the rude response to the complaints of female colleagues was: ‘toughen up’. Get used to it girls summed up this appalling conduct.

Language fashions and changes perceptions.

Adversarial language is used to embarrass, put down, demean or diminish. It is designed to give the user a ‘win’. Far from condemning it, journalists and the media revel in the ‘great copy’ it gives them.

They enjoy using well-worn words to signify a change of mind: ‘back-flip’ or a ‘humiliating back-down’. They revel in describing opponents’ ideas as being in ‘tatters’, in ‘disarray’, ‘a shambles’, or ‘chaotic’.

Slogans are central to adversarial politics. They work. Start a catchy slogan and soon many will be mindlessly repeating it. A slogan doesn’t have to have any substance, so long as it sounds believable. Favourites include: ‘stunt’, ‘all style and no substance’, ‘all talk and no action’. ‘Tax’ is a pet subject. Remember how Abbott flailed Labor with his ‘carbon tax’ and ‘mining tax’. Reflect on Morrison’s current slogan about how Labor will ‘increase taxes on everything’.

Those who despise adversarial politics find it to be contemptible. It is why the public has turned away from politics and become cynical about politicians. Voters would prefer politicians to be open and upfront, more focussed on the good of the nation, less willing to corrupt the principles that brought them into politics in the first place. They would prefer that political discourse be more collaborative, more mutually cooperative, more accommodating, based more on consensus.

What can we ordinary citizens do? We might be able to bring about change if we raise our voices against the use of exaggerated, depreciatory, derogatory and dishonest language by politicians, commentators and columnists. While the media might miss the theatre and the good copy adversarial politics provides, the public would applaud a more measured approach, free from the burden of this behaviour – so wasteful, so unproductive, so distasteful. We could and should write to our parliamentarians, again and again. Sadly though, if history tells us anything, any change for the better is probably a slim hope.

Which brings me back to the title of this piece: ‘Slow learners’. It was ten years ago that I wrote about the curse of adversarial politics, but what has changed? Nothing.

Politicians are not unintelligent. They need not be slow learners. Yet their Tin Ears seem unable to hear the public’s loathing of adversarial politics and the anger it generates among voters. So they continue with it anyway.

They are indeed slow learners, very slow learners. It may take a strong electoral backlash to ‘learn them’!

This article by Ad Astra was originally published on The Political Sword.

For Facebook users, The Political Sword has a Facebook page:
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  1. jamesss

    On what has been revealed since the change of leadership and the many articles written in this informative site over this year, I would suggest there is ample evidence this non-govt. is typical of a third world govt. many of which is overthrown militarily on a regular basis. Maybe Our deep state is in chaos, too.

    The Pit is ready for you, F**k Wits

  2. Matters Not


    ensnared as they are in the game of adversarial politics … question time as an “embarrassing circus”’ … proposals put forward by one party are routinely criticised by other … Slogans … work. … etc

    All true. An accurate description and all that. You have identified any number of problems but maybe we need to really sheet home the problem.

    Reminds me of Walt Kelly’s Pogo and his famous assertion:


    After all we do elect them, laugh at their jokes, sneer at their failings, shake our heads on cue … But in the final analysis we just accept we are but bit players. And then elect them again.

  3. Matters Not

    jamesss, as an aside, where do you (and I) find evidence for this deep state?

    Any links would be helpful. (I hope.)

  4. Presser#1

    We the voters who put these people there, because they are part of our tribal ‘team’ ( LNP/Nats/ALP) we are the slow learners.

  5. wam

    proportional representation sounds like government by lazy susan with chopsticks and bowls, The discussion being now who didn’t order rice. With someone remembering who did but forgot.
    Sweden with half our population and one house and 400 pollies approx 150 centre labor 150 centre liberal and 50 rabid right to get to the 50%?
    No, ad astra the days of the ‘give the loonies a go’ are gone and the rabbott will soon disappear. Removing the vicious adversarial plotter.

  6. New England Cocky

    Funny how the MSM are strong on down grading any ALP achievements and avoid discussing any NLP “errors”.

    This “bullying” crisis likely flows from the “borne to rule” self-serving mentality of too many Liarbral party supporters. But they cannot take it in return. Friend was kicked off a major academic website for serving the same diatribe against the NLP misgovernment that the website editor was dishing out to the readers on behalf of the LIarbrals. Were they a Liarbral Party member? Not known.

    Remember “Asbestos” Bishop attacking Bernie Banton in the Hardies asbestos damages affair? Bernie living on an oxygen tank, was crucified by Bishop for being sick with mesothelioma contracted on his work site. Must protect the bosses who fund the political hacks who control pre-election.

    “Slogans are central to adversarial politics. They work.”

    Yes they do. From the New England electorate:

    “National$ prefer Adulterers” and
    “Women supporting Adulterers support National$”. Thank you Brigit McKenzie and Michelle Laundry.

  7. Terence Mills

    Isn’t it interesting, and a bit troubling, that whenever a Liberal politician is asked why it was necessary to remove Malcolm Turnbull from leadership, they get all wobbly and start talking about moving on and embracing the wonderful world of Scott Morrison’s leadership.

    They have said that they are scrapping the NEG and implied that this was what it was all about but fail to mention that Turnbull had already given in to the far-right and scrapped the NEG, and let’s not forget that the new leadership team of Morrison and Frydenberg were on the front line promoting the NEG.

    Oddly, nobody is talking to or getting answers from Peter Dutton in whose name this coup was mounted. How is it that this man can one day mount a challenge, resign from Cabinet, fail in his attempt to take over, two days later try it on again, disrupt our parliament, fail again yet get his job back instantly ?

    We badly need an election before the end of this year and in many respects it is the National party who should show leadership and walk away from their coalition agreement and allow the Liberals to lose their tenuous majority.

  8. MöbiusEcko

    The adversarial politics, especially by government in response to opposition questions and using Dorothy Dixers, is all about not being responsible and accountable for policy. They have many ways of hiding and delaying policy detail from the public, and in the case of the L-NP, aided and abetted by a large chunk of the MSM, but they must face questions on policy in parliament. The easy way around that is to attack the opposition in response to any question on policy or government malfaesance.

    Another illustration of this is not just from politicians, but often from ideological political commentators as well. On being asked about or given an example of a party’s or politician’s malfeasance or failure, the immediate response is to give an example of malfaesance by the opposite party, no matter how far back that goes, what the context or even if it is relevant to the current issue of political failure. I saw this on The Project, when some idiocy from a government minister was raised, Price immediately countered by giving an example of something a Labor politician did six years ago. That immediately derailed the current topic on the government minister, which was the intention.

  9. helvityni

    Excellent post, Ad Astra.

    On last night’s Q&A Fiona (National) had to say something nasty about Labor ( Labor had bullied Banks ?), yet not referring to how much damage Dutton’s bullying behaviour has done….to ALL.

    Emma Husar’s misdemeanours pale to nothing when compared to Dutton’s……

    Even I felt sorry for Julie, then I remembered what she had said about Julia….

    Slow learners , we know were to find them.

    Last night’s Q&A was our students’ time, not Fiona’s…bad behaviour does not only happen on tennis courts…

  10. Ricardo29

    I don’t think we can count on the Nats to abandon the Libs, after all it’s they who keep the Nats in power and that’s what is important. To them. Anyway as Bridget McKenzie, Nats deputy leader, made clear on Q&A last night, she at least is in lockstep with the compassionate Morrison, praising him for his visit to the drought victims. And, btw, what a great program that was last night. I say drop the voting age to 16 after what I saw from the questioners and panel members. Wong was good but McKenzie, just a politician, unable to get away from the adversarial stuff that was subject to so much criticism.

  11. helvityni

    Thanks Richardo29, her name was Bridget ,not FIONA…so sorry Nationals….

    Yes it was good TV,I loved the sixteen year old boy, or was he only fifteen…future PM material…

  12. DrakeN

    Adverserial Politics is like theatre – playing to the audience.

    And it generally works.

    The audience is as much of the problem as the players on stage.

    So many people enjoy a ‘stoush’ in one form or another and fail to see the consequences for themselves as they get spattered with fur, blood and feathers.

  13. jamesss

    Matters Not

    The Deep State is the policy creators who formulate what is becoming legislation out of Duttons Office. To suppress free speech, spying on conversation between citizens, whistle blowers, eg 10 years jail, Those in detention in foreign countries, I could go on, you’ve read the revealing information on this site. They are in fear of being exposed for the evil they are. There are many now awakening and having a conscious shift realizing what we are exposed to is not normal.

    Their desperation is causing confusion and chaos as they turn upon each other. The spark of humanity has deserted them.

    Normal to me is serving with wisdom and intent of no harm to any citizen. Only for the betterment of our society, nature and the earth.

  14. Ad Astra

    Thanks to you all for your contributions to this subject.

    There seems to be a consensus that the electorate has to take some responsibility for the government we have. Voters certainly put them there, but I suspect they did not know how appalling they would be.

    We have the power in our hands to change the government. Vote them out, as did the Wagga Wagga people, and do it just as dramatically. A 29% drop in primary vote across the board would virtually wipe them out. Culling is a time-honoured biological process. Culling the Coalition to reduce the plague of misfits, malcontents, miscreants, misogynists, cheats, liars and incompetents is essential.

  15. paul walter

    You are so right. I wonder at how often i get things wrong even at my age.

    I am so grateful for politicians, thanks to them I don’t have anywhere near such a complex about my own shortcomings.

  16. Ian Hughes

    I’m reminded of an excellent piece of advice I received early in my working life (I’m now an old fart):

    “You have two ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion”. Our pollies in particular are in desperate need of following this advice.

    Let’s have more collaboration, less confrontation.

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