KAITLIN WALSH. The conundrum of engagement and ending the blame game. Any takers?

Jun 1, 2016


Political “outsider” Kaitlin Walsh, self-proclaimed “ordinary person”, rakes over the pallid entrails of our body politic. And considers what might shut Mathias Cormann up.

If we needed anything to confirm the paucity of choice, quality or authenticity in Australian politics (and really, we didn’t) then it was Sunday night’s “Leadership Debate”. I use the term “debate” loosely. And, come to think of it, “leadership”.

The deficiencies in the format effectively extinguished the (already remote) chance of meaningful intellectual policy combat or, heaven forfend, useful discourse. The stilted, wooden performances on either side smacked of anything but leadership.

But the yawnworthy nature of Sunday night’s show has already been extensively canvassed.

The fact that even the so-called political “insiders” who can usually find plenty to read in the pallid entrails of our body politic could barely discern so much as a suggestion of anything we hadn’t already heard before – down to the very same words and cadence, over and over again –says it all.

And, speaking as a political “outsider”, a so-called “ordinary” Australian (g’day, Bill!), I have no problem understanding why it was only the 10th (10th!) most popular TV show running that night. It kicked off with a five-city audience total of a mere 529,000 viewers. By the end, they had dwindled to a paltry 93,000 (source:  http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/05/30/debate-ranks-low-ratings.) Clearly the other reality shows in the timeslot offered more compelling viewing and relatable themes. A little more loosely scripted but with better production values.

By commercial TV standards, ratings like that are enough to have a show canned after a single run.

The terrifying and saddening thing for us – insiders and outsiders – is that that show happens to be the treatment for, or a prequel of, the future of our nation. To outsiders such as myself (and scads of others I know – yes, anecdotal feelpinion alert) there’s never been a less exciting time to be interested or active in political life.

The scary flip side is that there’s also never been a more vital time for the right decisions to be made: on climate change, on health, on education (and concomitant innovation – hello, Mr Turnbull!), on asylum seekers … and so much more.

Yet for many of us (or me at least), it seems too often that the die of decision-making is cast.

Decisions are made without evidence and flying flagrantly in the face of public interest ­ often while simultaneously contradicting the party line of the day. No mean feat. The CSIRO funding cuts are an example of this peculiar contortionism – against advice of myriad independent experts, clearly to the detriment of public interest and coming from the government which purports to promote innovation. Awesome. Unfathomable.

Or, if there is evidence and a decision is in the public interest, we will never know it because the underlying reasons are … commercial in confidence. Take Sydney’s massive WestConnex infrastructure project (about $17 billion and counting). (And hark back to the fiasco that was Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel for an eerie harbinger.) Transparency anyone?

What could possibly go wrong?

No wonder we feel powerless and disengaged. Where is the sense in it?

And then there’s the question of proportionality. Too often, transparency and good governance are at best given mouth honour (and more often ignored – including significant breaches thereof). Yet a minor transgression or “gotcha moment” holds the headlines for days on end. Think any one of a thousand pollies past and present and likely future who can’t rattle off the price of a loaf of bread. (I would have said milk but of course when in doubt we can just default to the $1 a litre … But that’s another story.)

Who to blame? Because let’s face it, most of all we just love someone to blame.

The media cops a lot and so it should. The quality of political reporting is too often reduced to cut and paste mash-ups of media releases. On a good day. It’s an uncritically accepted “he-said, she-said” type reportage that’s deeply dissatisfying and does this populace (not to mention some of our better politicians and public servants) a great disservice.

And I’m not even going to the Photoshopping tabloids. (Or am I?). I mean, really? It’s just so dispiriting. And damaging. It’s another version of the vile creeping culture that undid the News of the World: where the unacceptable, over time and with enough repetition, becomes the accepted. Boiling a frog and all that. Shame.

Not a political conversation occurs without one side referencing the past sins of the other. Often and bafflingly, the intimation seems to be that “they started it … so, no matter how crap it is, we’ll just keep doing it”. Frankly, a lot of us already have kids and have already patiently (or not) explained to them why that just doesn’t cut it. When they were five.

Other times, the transgressions of the previous incumbent are blamed for the inability of the current one to deliver on related (or even unrelated) promises and projections. Like, for YEARS. And YEARS. There should be a statute of limitations on one government blaming the other for the current state of affairs. It would certainly shut Mathias Cormann up.

And then there’s the young people. The Gen Ys who only care about themselves. And the old people. The Boomers who … only care about themselves.

And so the blamestorming continues.

Enough of all this. It’s too easy to pose problems rather than solutions – as I pointed out when asked to write this blog. I find it hard enough to stir my spirits enough to even begin to hope that I – and others who are likeminded – might make a difference.

But I do have a suggestion. It goes back to what I told my kids when they were five and got into the “he started it / she started it” game.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who started it. It’s how we mean to go on that matters. So how about instead of blaming, we start taking responsibility? And working out how we can fix things? If you do it, I’ll do it.


Kaitlin Walsh is a writer and consultant with more than 25 years’ experience in corporate communications. Her (more amateur) interests extend far beyond the corporate sphere to politics (when she can stomach it), social justice, cooking, what’s on telly and reading. @hourlyplanet.

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