Voters are awake to politics' game of yawns



Australian politics has, traditionally, been a straightforward affair. The main players haven't changed much in some 60 years; while the faces may vary and the policies will be pushed in different directions, the foundations of the game — and, particularly, how it's played — haven't.

Kelly O'Dwyer and Scott Morrison during Question Time. (Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)Until now. There has been a shift. Not at the level of the politicians; the change has occurred in how voters digest and respond to politicians' inability to speak to them, often through the media.

The game has all the complexity of a supermarket-bought chocolate cake. When asked a question you don't like, ignore it or provide an answer to a question you wish had been asked instead. If something has gone wrong in your portfolio or party, then blame someone else — the opposition, the preceding government, even your own party. One of the weirdest recent examples was when PM Scott Morrison blamed an 'administrative error' for the fact 23 government senators supported Pauline Hanson's 'it's okay to be white' motion.

If all else fails, simply deny that anything has gone wrong or that a mistake has occurred at all — even when that denial is so fanciful that it produces muffled laughs from reporters.

Then there's politicians like former Financial Services Minister Kelly O'Dwyer, who infamously refused to admit that she and the government had made a mistake in delaying the royal commission into Australia's banks. She even credited the government for creating the commission, even though some government members voted against it 26 times.

It's the repetitive nature of this game, the consistent decision to snub transparency and responsibility, that has resulted in voters tuning out from politicians' messages. It's obvious — so clearly obvious — when politicians are avoiding being genuine and simply don't want to answer a question. It's tiresome. It's boring. And people are tired of politicians assuming they can't tell the difference between an honest answer and a slogan or 'blame game'.

Another key plank of this tiresome game is the clear priority that politicians have for their own parties over the constituents who voted for them. The constant talk about 'Liberal values' or 'Labor values', 'progressive values' or 'conservative values' has little to do with what voters value or want or believe in. Never was this more evident than when strongline 'no' campaigner Tony Abbott's now-former Sydney seat of Warringah voted overwhelmingly for a change to marriage laws.


"The refusal to swallow this boring and condescending pill is not the result of apathy — a common but mistaken assumption — but because it no longer works."


That they can't tell that this charade's usefulness has passed its use-by-date indicates how little attention and care is paid to what voters actually value — honesty over the illusion of perfection.

The goal posts have shifted. The only problem is that no one has bothered to tell the politicians. Political discourse has been boiled down to an act of performance, a low-cost pantomime where the hero points out who the 'real' villain is to the audience. The game is what gave birth to noxious three-word slogans like 'stop the boats!' and implausible denials that are repeated ad nauseum and disintegrate into noise pollution rather than anything remotely helpful or interesting.

Voters may not always care about politics and they might not always be engaged, but they do know when someone is fighting for their job or reputation, at the expense of the public or greater good. The refusal to swallow this boring and condescending pill is not the result of apathy — a common but mistaken assumption — but because it no longer works.

The political performance is no longer entertaining or useful. And politicians have a choice to either walk off stage and re-engage in democracy with honesty and transparency, or remain in front of an increasingly shrinking audience.



Alana SchetzerAlana Schetzer is a Melboune-based journalist and academic.

Main image: Kelly O'Dwyer and Scott Morrison during Question Time. (Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Alana Schetzer, Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott, same sex marriage, Pauline Hanson, Kelly O'Dwyer



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Existing comments

Politics can mean a number of things, including activities aimed at improving someone's status within an organisation. There are too few people in our democracy who are passionately engaged with politics not of that kind. Most glaringly politicians themselves. It's easier to be devious and, really, are these 'status' politicians even devious about being devious. My vote was counted in my marginal electorate. Still, I didn't change the world. I did exercise my right to choose, a first step.
Pam | 14 June 2019

The electoral system, not moral failure, is decisive for political style. We are a majoritarian democracy where the incentives make for conflict. The first step on the road to consensus democracy and less agonistic politics is proportional representation. See Patterns of Democracy by Arend Lijphart.
Alan | 15 June 2019

Why then were they re-elected by a majority of Australians for a third round?. Is it because Aussies don't care about politics, want steady as she goes conservatism or has society here evolved into an investment capitalistic class??.
Eucostine Deverough | 18 June 2019

If lying to the electors while exercising a public office were an indictable offence, the Speaker might find parliament a rather lonely place. Another thought: should question time, as currently presented on TV, carry a PG rating in view of the poor example it sets for younger viewers?
Brian Grenier | 18 June 2019

I agree, in general terms, that there has been a change in how some repeat some voters have changed in how they digest and respond to how politicians speak to them, usually through the Main Stream Media. Some voters are welded on Progressive, Reformist, the Left. say 30% of the electorate. They would vote ALP or Green, first or second, no matter what their candidates said or how they said it. Others are welded on Conservative, Jingoist, the Right, say 30% of the electorate. That means that about 40% of the electorate is made of people who are newly on the rolls, disillusioned, or cynical. So the balancing act that the two main political parties of the Left and the Right have to do is hold on to their core 30%s and entice as many of the amorphous 40% to vote for them in any particular election, indeed in any particular electorate. Much as the MSM may not like not getting gotcha! stories, the main political machines are disciplined to getting their message across. They keep policies to a minimum and have a minimum of spokespersons.
Uncle Pat | 18 June 2019

This is an interesting piece and true! However, what can be done to stop the rot?
Jennifer Raper | 24 June 2019


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