Cheap targets this election hunting season

Gun sightAs the election campaign draws towards its end, and those of us who live in Victoria brace ourselves for a state election, I am reminded of the Italian hunting season. There it becomes dangerous to go out of doors when so many guns are pointed into the air. Anything that flies is at risk. Sparrows and dragonflies head for the Alps.

Elections are like the shooting season except that high fliers are safe. Wingless birds are picked off.

In the Federal election asylum seekers and wives or children of refugees have been made fair game. So have the young unemployed. And although Indigenous Australians have not been directly targeted, they have seen guns occasionally turned in their direction.

In State elections it is usually open season on prisoners and marginalised young people. Election policies, like Christmas stockings, are stuffed with more jails, longer sentences, more deprivation of rights, and greater police powers. These things don't make Australia a better or safer society, but they are held to win elections.

The targeting of the deprived is not new in Australian politics. Unpopular minority groups like communists and foreigners have often been the focus of political campaigns. So it would be simplistic to blame this phenomenon on changing media patterns or on preoccupation with the polls.

Nevertheless, this election campaign does seem to have had some distinctive features that encourage brutality. They have been widely recognised and do not need dwelling on.

The first is the lack of almost any kind of moral content. Neither party has offered any vision or story of where they will lead Australia and of what would constitute a healthy or happy society in the face of the challenges we face as a nation. As a result they have also been silent about the strategies by which they will reach these wider goals. Their silence is dispiriting in itself. It also means that they have no coherent framework from which to respond to the demands of special interest groups.

Offering neither national goals nor strategies by which to meet them, the parties appeal only to conventional economic wisdom that is divorced from the social and national goals that economic prosperity should serve. Given the discredit which conventional economic wisdom brought on itself during the financial crisis, this appeal lacks any authority. It has been further undermined by the promises made to voters in strategic electorates during the campaign.

It has been suggested that in this election campaign neither party is interested in the future of Australia because their single minded focus is on winning the election. That judgment however seems too generous. Their actions suggest that they are dominated by the desire not to lose.

Sporting teams that want to win are willing to take risks, trust one another and believe in what they are doing. They believe the game is worth playing well. Those who try to avoid losing are purely reactive, are focused on nullifying the strengths of their opponents and have no grand strategy.

In this election, both parties have refused to bowl their spinners, to play any ball they don't have to, and have appealed against the light on every possible occasion.

When cricket becomes boring, you pick on the groundsman, the umpires and yobbos in the crowd. Mercifully, people usually leave the seagulls alone. In elections timidity and negativity encourage the scapegoating of groups like asylum seekers, people perceived as foreign, and the young unemployed. This enables parties to deal with resentment felt by people who do not enjoy the economic and social benefits to which they believe themselves entitled.

In the absence of any larger view of the national interest, such feelings cannot be discussed reasonably. There are no criteria for judging them. They fester. So, to avoid losing the voters, resentment must be accepted and deflected. The best way to deflect them is to work on the prejudices of the people who hold them. That is why in this election campaign both parties have declared open season on asylum seekers and the young unemployed.

Cricket improves when teams realise that there are worse things than losing. We might hope that this will happen in Australian political life. In the meantime, if you do not fly high and fast, watch out.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.

Topic tags: federal election, julia gillard, tony abbott, race to the bottom, asylum seekers, young unemployed, hunt



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Existing comments

Andrew, it's not just the young unemployed who are targeted, it's all unemployed who are demonised. And the specifics of the harassment are hardly ever articulated: the insanely punitive expectations that for the sub-survival pittance grudgingly given, the recipients must incur the travel and phone expenses which a person in full-time employment incurs (what is 2-5?) and be routinely subjected to various forms of humiliation in the process. It's the older unemployed who often feel the most pariah-ed, with less hope for any relief. Think how people on starvation welfare feel when they are surrounded by the constant spending advertisement and the assumption in nearly all TV programmes that the characters are employed with time and money to spare.

Your article makes good points but falls short on this one. If only more people could relect that they could be fired, retrenched or incapacitated through illness or accident without warning.

In Paris, when the ghosts of oppression resurface too obviously, the targeted rise up and front the pollies and police with a few molotov cocktails. I don't know whether the reluctance of Australians to do likewise is because we are too polite or civilised or because we really are too self-centred.
SMK | 19 August 2010

Distressingly accurate analysis.
Robert Smith | 19 August 2010

Dispiriting indeed! But I believe from my experience of working across the public-private sectors, that this political malaise reflects a deeper societal problem of `us` not having an overarching and coherent community `project` or story-line at the heart of our community.

What is Australia about? Is it about social solidarity and mutual support and interdependence, or are we free-wheeling individual consumers in a national or even global marketplace.In most of Europe that has been decided in one direction; for most of the last two centuries in America it has been in the opposite direction, though under Obama that debate is now live if not necessarily spelt out, and very bitter/divisive.

We in Australia just pretend that such a tension does not exist; and strangely it hardly does as we put up with bits of both in an increasingly unsustainable hotch-potch. Which is why we have such terrible problems knowing what to do with health or education, for example...or indeed the unemployed!

The Australian Catholic Church suffers from a similar incoherence: why do `we` have elite expensive private Catholic schools? And elite expensive private Catholic hospitals? To have a Catholic brand in the upper reaches of the market place? John Howard attempted to get `mateship` into the preamble to the Constitution, which is perhaps the traditional Australian compromise or fig-leaf in this ie not quite individualism but at best organised vested interest `groupism` or quasi fascist syndicalism. But when that did not fly we were left with nothing in its place. We are socially vacuous: could Jesus Christ give us some direction here?!
Eugene | 19 August 2010

I have not seen anything during this current election which looks remotely like targeting the less fortunate parts of our society. Liberal and Labor seem to be strong in supporting a healthy economy, which can create employment and income. Policies to support small business and to keep taxes lower are very important to maintain a vibrant economy. In fact the “new poor” are actually low-income working people with mortgage and children. There is plenty of support for young people trying to enter the workforce and more support is promised by both major parties.

It seems that the welfare lobby opposes every step taken by Governments to reduce unemployment. The migration policies of both parties are fostering a fairer system to end discrimination against people in refugee camps. The new policies are meant to reduce the favourable treatment given by clients of people smuggling gangs. I fail to understand why some people keep on opposing fairness and end to discrimination?

Beat Odermatt | 19 August 2010

The more I watch and listen to each party's election platforms, the more I am angered by what they say as being just superficial propaganda. This is happening in society at large in advertising and marketing. There has has been no opportunity for policies to be analysed by specialists in their respective fields in the Media. For example as regards "broadband" technical experts are ignored. On climate change there is no room for credible scientists to be listened to'; on economic policies no room for genuine economists to be given a say. Media debates are not real debates where the politicians can be seriously questioned.
John Ozanne | 19 August 2010

Andrew Hamilton said "the targeting of the deprived is not new in Australian politics. Unpopular minority groups like the communists and foreigners have often been the focus of political campaigns."

Does Andrew Hamilton beleve that communists should not have been the focus of political campaigns? Does he believe that Robert Menzies and Bob Santamaria were wrong to oppose Communism, the greatest evil of post-world war 2. Maybe, that is the view of Eureka Street, like supporting the Greens.
Ron Cini | 19 August 2010

Cheap targets? Have you uttered one word about the children separated from their limbs and incinerated in abortions in this country every year? What about the live birth abortions? Find out how routine it is to allow a baby to die that has escaped abortion. And you talk about social justice? Cheap targets?

When the North American Jesuits issued a pro-life statement, the great Fr RJ Neuhaus called it "a giant step forward in Jesuit-Catholic ecumenical relations.". Eureka Street are fooling NO ONE about their Catholic standing. They are political liberal animals first and Catholics second.
Martin Snigg | 20 August 2010


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