Politics in Australia isn’t a game of thrones but a game of suburban lounge chairs, with both leaders striving to appear more normal, natural and likeable than the other. The late Bob Hawke was the master of this, and was rewarded with four successive election victories. Hawke’s secret, as he told interviewers, was that he actually liked being with people. His gregarious nature wasn’t an act, it was fair dinkum – as the man himself might have put it.
The choice we have this weekend, between Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten, is a dismal contest between two bad actors. Both have risen to the top of their respective parties through being more slippery than their rivals in an era of poll paranoia, when politicians are more concerned with not putting a foot wrong than with doing anything that requires genuine conviction. It’s a time that makes the parties look for a solid manager rather than a charismatic leader.
Bill Shorten, who probably thinks charisma is a little town on the coast somewhere near Port Fairy, was at his cardboard worst in responding to Bob Hawke’s death. A parting gift from the former Labor leader, it set up the challenger for a big, emotional, from-the-heart speech that would allow him to connect today’s party with the Hawke years and honour his legacy. Instead we got a few drab sentences that sounded as if they’d been gleaned from a self-help book.
It’s almost depressing to realise that Shorten has enjoyed the one sincere, cut-through moment of the entire campaign, when he spoke emotionally about his mother, and her thwarted aspirations to become a lawyer. The Daily Telegraph, in their ongoing parody of Fox News, handed Shorten another gift in a silly, spiteful story that mocked this moment. It was such an own goal that even Scott Morrison felt obliged to denounce it, and then bring his own mum on stage at a campaign launch. He obviously wanted to assure us that he had a mum too, quelling any suspicions that he might have been spawned on a laboratory table during a thunder storm.
Whatever misgivings one might entertain about Shorten, it seems impossible that the Australian electorate could forget and forgive the past few years of Coalition in-fighting, scandals and croneyism; inaction on climate change; the saga of the same sex marriage debate; the marginalisation of women in the parliament, and so on. The government is going to the ballot box with virtually no policies and a chaotic track record. All they have is a scare campaign about taxes – a “Bill Shorten will eat your babies” campaign that hopes to mobilise support through an appeal to fear and self-interest.
As for the Prime-Minister himself, if Bill Shorten is a poor actor, Scott Morrison is a consummate ham. His relentless attempts to establish himself as a man of the people – eating pies, drinking beer, wanking on about his footie team, running around with a moronic baseball cap – are exercises in situation comedy. Even his endearing little dimunitive – ‘Scummo’ wasn’t it? – is an attempt to make him seem “one of us” rather than one of them. Considering that all his policies – if they deserve such a name – seem to be geared towards making the rich richer, and allowing the energy and climate debate to keep festering, he is a hypocrite of historical proportions.
One of the most disturbing aspects of Scummo’s character is his allegiance to the Pentecostal Church. The Pentecostals apparently encourage their flock to have a personal relationship with Jesus. The idea seems to be that the more blindly you worship Him, the more He will look after you. This is a scary thought translated into political terms. The political leader who believes he has God on his side is likely to feel justified in any and every decision. In the present instance this apparently means it’s OK to treat refugees in a barbarous, inhumane manner and then boast how your religion ensures that you “care” for everyone.
Think of that notorious photo of Scummo doing the raised arm salute to Jesus at hs church service. He should have anticipated the comments this would generate but instead he denounces his critics and satirists as “grubs” out to do dirt on his fiercely held private beliefs. If it was such a private affair why invite the media in for a photo session? Presumably we were supposed to view Scummo as God’s man in Canberra, in the same way that evangelicals in the United States are telling us God wanted Donald Trump to be President (presumably to help speed up the Last Judgement).
Religious freedom is a given under our constitution, but there are different rules for different folks. For many people on the right side of politics, from One Nation to to the lunatic fringe of the Libs, those who criticise muslims are only exercising their democratic right to freedom of speech, but those who poke fun at Christian fundamentalists are endangering religious freedoms.
So much for the political rave. Finally arriving at my niche area – the arts – let’s look at what each side is promising. Firstly, if one looks at the respective party policy pages it’s apparent that Labor (https://www.alp.org.au/policies/) is offering a policy feast, whereas the Liberal cupboard is virtually bare (or full of dubious wares) (https://www.liberal.org.au/our-policies). I haven’t been able to find a word about the arts or the ABC on the Liberal policy page, while Labor is promising to restore the Coalition’s cuts to the Arts and ABC funding, and revamp Keating’s Creative Nation platform. It’s not much, but at least the arts are on the ALP radar.
One can only applaud the chutzpah of the Balnaves Foundation for taking out huge ads in The Australian asking us to “consider our cultural future” when we vote. The most telling statistic they presented was the $185 million spent re-opening the Christmas Island Detention Centre for one media stunt, and then closing it. This sum, they point out, would have doubled the annual budget of the Australia Council.
To make matters worse, the whole ‘border protection’ issue has hardly been mentioned during the campaign, suggesting that it has always been more bluster than substance. In brief, the current government has been quick to spend tax-payers’ money on political stunts and self-aggrandisements, but when it comes to areas such as the arts or the ABC, or a hundred other topics, there is not a razoo to be found. This is why, not without misgivings, I’m looking forward to a change of government on Saturday.
After the extended political broadcast I’ll briefly mention this week’s art column, which deals with the fabulous Cerruti collection inherited by the Castello di Rivoli in Turin. This is the sole fruit, so far, of my European travels, but it’s a unique event that deserves global coverage.
The movie being reviewed is Little Woods, an American indie that never quite rises above the line, despite the best efforts of the two lead actors. To tell the truth, it’s a bit of a quiet time for new releases, and this film was the best option. The same might be said about this weekend’s election: there’s not much to get excited about, but some options are better than others.