En­ter the void

The Saturday Paper - - Letters & Editorial -

Aus­tralia rests gen­tly on the precipice of farce. It has done so for some time.

Our democ­racy never re­cov­ered from Kevin

Rudd’s sec­ond, brief stint as prime min­is­ter. In those two months, the of­fice be­came a tri­umph of ve­nal­ity.

When Rudd lost the lead­er­ship to Ju­lia Gil­lard three years ear­lier, he did so be­cause he was un­able to con­tinue gov­ern­ing. His of­fice was in chaos. The flaws in his char­ac­ter were tear­ing apart his gov­ern­ment.

When he chal­lenged Gil­lard in 2012, un­suc­cess­fully, he did so for no rea­son but self-in­ter­est. When he chal­lenged again in 2013, that self-in­ter­est aligned with the party’s. Nowhere was there con­cern for the na­tion or the of­fice or the peo­ple he was sup­posed to rep­re­sent.

In the pol­i­tics that has fol­lowed, the one con­stant has been in­sta­bil­ity. The pol­icy achieve­ments of the past five years have been neg­li­gi­ble. It has proved im­pos­si­ble to gov­ern in this bro­ken sys­tem.

Then, as now, the mess is helped along by a bored and rest­less me­dia, made cyn­i­cal by its loss of power and em­bold­ened by old struc­tures that haven’t no­ticed it is gone. Wit­less fig­ures such as Ray Hadley thrill at the thought of in­flu­ence, and aged ones such as Alan Jones glory at the thought of re­venge. As is tra­di­tion, the tabloids sell out their read­ers to the sta­tus quo.

On Thurs­day, Mal­colm Turn­bull said Aus­tralians were “rightly ap­palled by what they’re wit­ness­ing in their na­tion’s par­lia­ment to­day and in the course of this week”. He de­scribed a cam­paign to “bully and in­tim­i­date” par­lia­men­tary col­leagues and “pull the party fur­ther to the right”. He de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as a “mad­ness”.

All this is true, and all of it his fault. He is no bet­ter than the par­lia­ment he is in. Nor is Bill Shorten. Both are ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the same hun­gry-handed avarice, the same op­por­tunism and dis­re­gard, the same plot­ting and coun­ter­plot­ting, the same hubris and lost pur­pose.

Mean­while, a child sets her­self alight on Nauru, trapped in a sys­tem this par­lia­ment built. The coun­try coasts to­wards obliv­ion with no cred­i­ble pol­icy on cli­mate change. The pub­lic school sys­tem at­ro­phies. The health sys­tem strug­gles on, un­der­funded.

A reck­on­ing is com­ing, but not of the kind we have seen this week. An elec­tion will not fix this, ei­ther. The whole sys­tem of pre­s­e­lec­tion is bro­ken and it has given us the par­lia­ment of huck­sters and also-rans through which we now suf­fer.

It is not that the sys­tem fails to at­tract tal­ent; it is that it seems to pre­clude it. If any­thing is to change, peo­ple from out­side the ma­chine need to run for par­lia­ment. Peo­ple reading this need to run for par­lia­ment, peo­ple with­out pa­tron­age or preen­ing ex­pec­ta­tion.

Peo­ple need to stand not out of self-in­ter­est but out of con­cern for the coun­try in which they live. Our pol­i­tics can no longer sur­vive its own empti­ness. It has cre­ated a vacuum, a kind of two-party void.

Per­haps it is true that a na­tion gets the gov­ern­ment

• it de­serves. But surely no na­tion de­serves this.

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