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Is the assumption that politics is a game that feeds a weary cynicism towards the overall exercise of democracy? | Ellen Fanning


There are days when the biggest challenge in my job is not falling off my chair in response to a breathtakingly frank comment from a panelist.

Here is an example. Last month we discussed the Prime Minister’s bold announcement that just hours later, Morrison said his administration had no intention of doing such a thing, despite signing a call for countries to step up their emissions reduction targets for 2030 by next year.

Panelist: “Scott Morrison has a job – I’m not defending him, just want to make it very clear – he has a job at the moment – this job is: win the next election.”

Me: “Are you serious?”

Panelist: “Yes, of course.”

Me: “He’s the Prime Minister of Australia and you say his only job is to win the next election?”

The panelist, who had previously stated that they were indeed looking to take effective action against climate change, looked at me blankly and said, well. This is how politics works. A unique focus on victory was indeed everyone’s expectation of Morrison: the Prime Minister himself, the Liberal Party, and in fact, it was simply convention in politics. Win. Ah.

As the exchange became more tense and the panellists became more and more baffled, I said, “I made a promise to myself a few weeks ago that whenever someone treated politics as a game on this program, I would pull them up.”

Why? Because any assumption that politics is just a game reinforces the notion that the only real aim of the whole effort is power. To stay in power. And that nothing is possible if you don’t play it that way.

In his newly released profile of the Prime Minister, The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison, writer Sean Kelly notes that the idea that politics is a game – a sport – infects political reporting. “When reporting on the Medevac legislation, the focus was, for example, on the political impact of the new laws and their effects on the elections. The suffering of real people disappeared, replaced by the discussion about the game of politics. “

Lately I’ve been wondering what if the whole point is to scare people off?

“Everything is analyzed in terms of the policy being pursued … outside of the realm of literal meaning, in an area where everything has a hidden meaning,” writes Kelly.

Now obviously not everything has been analyzed in these terms. The urgent need to ensure that asylum seekers detained offshore have access to timely, quality medical care has been well met in many places.

But the second, disheartening, depressing, and demoralizing blow of the discussion has always been that immigration remains a powerful, if toxic, political issue. A winner “.

What if this kind of uncomprehending acceptance of the political status quo, the hidden political meaning of any exercise of executive power, puts people off even more than outright corruption and pig barrels? What if this type of discourse feeds a weary cynicism about the overall exercise of democracy?

In fact, lately I’ve been wondering what if the whole point is to scare people off? What if the goal of cynical politics is to fend off us with offensive political behavior and the associated dizzying media reflections about who wins, who loses, who gets the bragging rights? The result is we pull back and leave politics to the political insiders?

In the past week, it was possible to hear endless discussions about a planned federal anti-corruption commission without the competing bills being discussed in detail.

How much power should the “political police” have? Should commission hearings be held in public? Who can criticize corruption in public life? Much of the coverage was only about politics.

Why don’t normal people feel left out?

A few years ago, at an event that my host thought was a top-class dinner party in my opinion (what in the world was I doing, I still wonder), a company insider (female, not a regular drum guest) took me to gently aside and wondered why I no longer had “real people” on the program.

I felt that she was talking about herself. Perhaps more out of boredom than out of curiosity, I asked what the recognizable characteristics of a “real person” were. She explained that these were high-ranking people who already had a voice in politics and corporate life. Those who already had power. That’s who we should hear on the ABC nightly show at 6 p.m., a show devoted to broad discussion of the social, political, and societal issues of the day.

With a glass of wine in hand, I pushed tirelessly to get her to the bottom of this notion of “the right person”. “Who is not a real person?” I asked. Sensing things getting awkward, this woman replied that it was these younger people, people you had never heard of … you know, not “real people”.

With so much at stake at an upcoming federal election and Labor policy that has a “small target” approach, we might think of coverage of this campaign as targeting the votes of “inappropriating people “Hears.

Heaven knows enough that their lives and businesses have been hit by bushfires, Covid, and recession, not to mention the general dismay over the demolition of 40,000 year old holy sites.

If we consciously organize civil society discussions between different people – including people from different parts of the country, with different cultural, linguistic and ethnic roots, different sexual orientations, age groups and socio-economic backgrounds, the upcoming election will be an opportunity to win back and enrich our politics instead of just becoming flashy campaign cosplay for a couple of weeks to endure.

They are best placed to reflect on what politics actually means to their communities and the country. And most importantly, if both major political parties maintain a “small target” approach to elections and restrict major political announcements, the term could give people an opportunity to imagine what future they want for our society and how we will achieve it could there.

Well, the panelist I mentioned was former NSW Liberal MP Stephen O’Doherty. He is a man of faith and conviction. He’s not a paid lobbyist, but he uses his inside knowledge of how politics works in this country to influence MPs.

He is currently working – as always free of charge – on ways to resume music lessons after Covid closings and on targeted financial support for musicians who have lost income in the past two years due to government Covid restrictions.

Off-air he asked me if I really thought it was wrong to use his insider status in this way?

Clearly, not me. Stephen O’Doherty is one of the good guys. He has a worthy cause that needs support from those with access and influence like him. That’s the whole thing with insiders. You can do what outsiders can’t.

My point is if we care about the future of public space and we don’t try to undermine it, we can no longer afford that distinction between insiders and outsiders, right people and inappropriateness.


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