LYNDSAY CONNORS. Words, words, words.

It is one thing for politicians to duck politically sensitive or embarrassing questions, but it is quite another when they opt for providing answers that are devoid of meaning.

Take the response by Brigid McKenzie who, as Sports Minister in the run-up to the 2019 election, presided over the use of a $100 million community sports program to fund initiatives in key marginal seats the Coalition hoped to win. She defended this disregard of due process with the observation that ‘all of the projects selected for funding were eligible to receive it’. She followed this up by reporting that those who emerged victorious from this corrupted process were all pleased to have received their grants.

Her answer is the latest example in a disturbing trend that adds insult to the intelligence of the electorate to the original injury of playing fast and loose with the revenue taxpayers provide. It is what my grandmother would have called ‘a load of tommyrot’.

Of course all of the projects sent to the Minister were eligible. Any ineligible applications would have been weeded out through the assessment process conducted by Sport Australia. The Minister’s task was to ensure that funds went to those eligible projects judged as best meeting the program’s stated criteria.

This form of ‘bloviating’ that is now becoming a characteristic of the Morrison government was evident as a characteristic of the prime minister himself in his earlier role as immigration minister.

Remember when he justified his refusal to provide details of asylum seeker boat turnbacks by defining them as ‘on water’ matters as if there were a longstanding and widespread recognition that this made public scrutiny of the policy impossible. And what did the prime minister Morrison mean in his election night victory speech when he proclaimed that he would ‘burn’ for us? Burn what and when? Is ‘burning’ for other people a new thing of which I am unaware?

Having left the Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce out of his new ministry, the prime minister created a politically expedient position of Drought Envoy for him.

Now, to be fair, there was no rational basis for anticipating that Joyce’s tenure would be made memorable by a series of in-depth, informed and intelligent public reports. But when there was no sign of the envoy having produced any skerrick of information or advice to justify the salary increment which his bespoke position entailed, Joyce stated that he had reported to the prime minister by phone. Then an FOI request was submitted. The request was denied. And the reason given for this denial was that the prime minister was too busy to find these reports on his phone!

For a former teacher, this response evoked memories of the kind of ‘dog ate my homework’ answers proffered by teenagers too lazy to make up a plausible excuse for their shortcomings.

Throughout this bushfire crisis and over many years past we have seen many Australians showing true leadership, respecting the dignity of the various forms of public office they hold and placing this above their own immediate personal interests or convenience…the mayors, those leading the fight against the fires, the state premiers, the ABC’s journalists. We see members of our parliaments who remain at their post, who think before they speak and who seek wise counsel from those with recognised expertise in formulating policies.

By contrast, we are insulted almost daily with pronouncements, particularly from the Coalition government in Canberra, that are disingenuous and specious at best and downright inane at worst. And if this is how its spokespersons handle some of the issues above which are relatively insignificant, how can we trust them in relation to the life and death issues?

What does the Prime Minister’s reference to the ‘quiet Australians’ mean? Is he speaking about those who have simply been ignored? At the top of that list then would be the indigenous Australians whose special relationship with this continent has been so rarely acknowledged. But ‘silenced’ would then be a more appropriate word than simply ‘quiet’. What about the Australians who weren’t quiet: the many voluble, responsible, informed, rational experts in their own fields of work and study who warned of impending risks to our rivers, our soil, our air quality. It is hard to imagine how incensed they must be.

Not only were their informed prophecies ignored but, from the start of the Howard era, it became fashionable to lampoon them. From memory, this started with reference to the Chardonnay set, then the café latte brigade, the inner-city, ‘woke’, virtue-signalling, vegan types duped by things like science and logic.

Now at the age of 78, I have neither the time nor the patience for this gobbledegook. My days are now spent between hopes and fears for our grandchildren and disappointment at the sins of commission and omission that my generation will be visiting upon them. If there are many people who share my exasperation this will affect the Coalition’s chances of re-election.

But there are far more serious consequences.

Words matter. It is difficult to have confidence in leaders and ministers who are either unwilling or unable to provide meaningful answers to fair questions. Can we be sure they are capable of reading and discussing cabinet papers? This lack of confidence has the potential to weaken our democracy by undermining the respect for the laws they make and thus the legitimacy of the authority on which our democracy depends.

Words matter. As Barry Jones reminded us in his 1982 Sleepers, Wake!, one of the essential pre-conditions for an open society, a workable democracy is ‘the free flow of comprehensible information’.

Attempts to block or to degrade the quality of that flow need to be resisted at all costs.

Lyndsay Connors AO has held senior positions in education at both the national level and in NSW. In 2015, she was the co-author with Jim McMorrow of the report Imperatives in Schools Funding: Equity, sustainability and achievement, published by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

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8 Responses to LYNDSAY CONNORS. Words, words, words.

  1. roma guerin says:

    All true. Rational discourse has disappeared. Peter Sellars gave us the memorable Party Political Speech, and we laughed and laughed. Not any more.

  2. paul walter says:

    So the consensus is, it comes of a growing case of a move to some sort of flypaper image entity.

    It maybe can’t be stopped with reason, how to fix the block in the reasoning. Is thinking, say, beyond retrieval the way the planet is starting to seem?

    The move to authoritarian state has been inexorable, boiling frogs, and in origins both conscious and unconscious, with the historic mode where the hairless Ape inheres is problematic, as gadgets and other mechanism more sophisticated by the day threaten the very annihilation of the biggest die off of species for 66 million years.

    But it is true there is a control mentality and more surveillance duplicated everywhere. For some reason, the people who decision making has fallen to perhaps seem not to possess perspective and the sense of proportion, the simple reasoning, empathic and rational cognitive aptitude to understand the way ahead and retention of a positive status quo are not givens. The strange mentality in places of control that deny wider society and humanity autonomy and the basis of empathy in operating with others is shown to be absent.

    Not that it is new, it has thrived over centuries and the status quo seems to be warning in its way of an emerging sort of perpetual immanent feudalism. Anthropology triumphs (or not) with determinism until evolution creates ways around a threat (problematic} but tangible and to be dealt with in some way of adjustment.

    But what if the problems many people discern are a categorical issue requiring some solution or truth we haven’t thought of before, against a rapid advance in tech at a rate considerable, for some time, that may represent an attack on the base, the consciousness of one and all.

  3. paul walter says:

    I feel sorry for this bloke.

    The more I follow politics the last few months I see evidence of a mindset that is prepared sacrifice the environment, civil society and the market place of ideas to impose a narrow agenda that only profits mining companies and their fellow travellers.

    Today we saw another example of the peculiar mindsets that permeate the ice cold white collar set in quite detestable antics initiated by AMP to avoid fair treatment of customers swindled in that past. A micro analogy, this, but the monstrosities being imposed on this country and across the world by a nasty little claque running things, doesn’t it get worrisome when the conditions for existence itself are trampled underfoot?

    The micro shows the mentality, the macro is the consequence, there is a deep sickness within global capitalism.

    Can you have real happiness without a clear conscience?

    Do you call that some thing prepared to trash civilisation not just in Australia but in a heated up world, lunatic?

    I’d elaborate further, but I would only be Godwinned.

  4. Allan Kessing says:

    If there is a more effective weapon for social control than the emasculation of language then it escaped Orwell’s notice.
    As was pointed out in 1984 “”Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Eliminating traditional words from the English language and replacing them with Party-approved concepts will rob English speakers of the ability to express concepts that counter the Party’s ideology.”
    In the meantime, the meeja trained parliamentary parasites are becoming far too adept at using as many words as possible to say as little as possible – I think that they must be awarded extra points by their minders when they manage to say nothing at all of any relevance to man or beast.

  5. Jim KABLE says:

    incensed at the immorality… and concerned that the funding “promised”…

  6. Jim KABLE says:

    Brava, Lyndsay! Bravissima in excelsis!

    Have you forwarded this to the SMH/The Age/Nine to be published as an opinion piece. Or maybe you should be invited onto The Drum to expand this clear thinking to a wider audience – because these concerns are of us all. I’m 70 – just off the phone from my almost 90 year old mother – incensed at he immorality of McKenzie – and concerned that the finding “promised” by the PM for fire victims is already being whittled away into large sums for advertising tourism or in other ways which will reduce what we out here in voter-land imagined would be assistance to communities and especially those in fire-affected communities who have lost loved ones, homes, fencing…volunteer fireys and so forth. As my mother noted – it looks like money being hived off for Morrison/LNP mates! I had to agree.

  7. Don Macrae says:

    Well said, all sad but true. But how to fix it?

    The electorate is today presented by an uncontrolled media with a new thing: shameless politicians. In a previous age a politician caught out would self destruct, but on the right, rarely, today. That leaves the electorate with the responsibility to judge for themselves, and what seems clear is that their judgements are superficial to an extraordinary degree. They appear to be based purely on tribal identification, a mere reflex.

    So how to fix it? The rational tribe needs to stop depending on the strength of its case, and start presenting as the winning tribe.

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