Gordon Smith

How low can they go? The sinking standard of our political class  

Malcolm Turnbull’s questionable cameo at the Mardi Gras highlights a more systemic problem. The lack of political tack which has become the norm.

 

 

Mardi Gras has been around for a while now. What was once an exercise in expression and a cry of defiance – a demand for recognition, nay, survival – has now become an annual event on a scale like none other.

With the event having first taken to the streets in 1978, that would make it how many years now, Prime Minister?

“It’s 40 years old,” as Turnbull explained while he schmoozed his pick of reporters, conveniently answering my question in the process.

“And,” he continued, entirely unprompted, “40 years ago Lucy and I had our first date so our love affair is a result of Mardi Gras.”

Nothing says romance quite like a riot.

Of course, some people would argue that the 40th anniversary celebrations of what really was Australia’s first push for gay rights has nothing to do with the Prime Minister, but those people are very confused.

The same kind of confused that might possess someone to believe that Turnbull claiming marriage equality as one of the great victories of his government, is somehow not fair. That he and his government seemingly doing as much – or as little – as possible to delay the inevitable, somehow disqualifies him from standing under the spotlight.

But to believe so is to be ignorant of the harsh reality within which our politicians now live. A reality in which no claim can be too questionable, and no standard can be too low.

Though they may blame everyone but themselves – the media, the Internet, their respective opposition parties – our political class have steadily lowered our collective expectations in recent times.

Where once the halls of parliament lay in waiting for battles of the policy kind, they now play host to slurs about the calibre of women in the opposition leader’s office.


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Offices in which an opposition leader can be free to do all things but lead on the issues that matter, for fear of ballot box bashings from either side of the political fence.

How else, looming by-election aside, could you hear the man in charge of a prospective government-in-waiting declare his opposition to the Adani megalith, and yet in that same breath pledge his commitment to non-action on its construction.

Echoes of a Prime Minister claiming to be a republic and yet an “Elizabethan” – or, better yet, booming about his favour of marriage equality but not taking any action to see it legalised.

Yet, for all we mere civilians may whine about our distaste of all things Canberra, our politicians keep digging.

It’s as if our claims of disappointment and disdain are met with a response of, “you think that’s bad?” from a highly paid improv cast.

Regardless of whatever it is we think about our farcical federal ministers’ actions, any publicity is seen as good publicity by this parliament.

Maybe it’s in hopes of distracting from bigger party room woes, and an attempt at steering the media cycle. Maybe there’s a naïve belief that getting a party’s name into the minds – and therefore, the memories – of voters leads to reward come polling day, regardless of in just what circumstances that name may appear.

Whatever it may be, and with a healthy dose of political cynicism, it is easy to understand why someone like Malcolm Turnbull would brave the inevitable booing of Mardi Gras. After all, it’s not a parade without a few cameras.

For all we mere civilians whine about our distaste of all things Canberra, our politicians keep digging. It’s as if our claims of disappointment and disdain are met with a response of, “you think that’s bad?” from a highly paid improv cast.

The same applies to Turnbull’s Liberal party on the whole, marching down Oxford Street all while parliament’s most proudly homophobic call its party room home, and as its conservative edges push for further rights to discriminate under the guise of a review into “religious freedoms”.

But with a pat on the back and at least a little lack of self-awareness they march onwards. The parade, after all, must go on.

While we may once have lauded our political idols for their leadership and their courage in attending what even now detractors belittle as a celebration of sin and debauchery, the current climate – a climate of their own making, no less – lends itself to doubt and derision, and what at times seems to be a well-founded perception of a publicity stunt.

But then, maybe it is we, the lowly public, who are wrong.

We may celebrate Mardi Gras, and marriage equality on the whole, but we need to remember that in the end, it’s not for us.

The 40th anniversary of the original riots? An expression of dissent, and the unending push for universal rights? Don’t be ridiculous.

This Mardi Gras, like all things media, spectacle or otherwise, is for our political elite, and no one else.

 

 

Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the big wigs in government to account.

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