Does the acceptance that politics is a game fuel a weary cynicism about the whole exercise of democracy? | Ellen fanning

There are days when the hardest part of my job is not falling off my chair in response to a breathtakingly frank comment from a panelist.

Here is an example. Last month we discussed the Prime Minister’s bold announcement that despite signing a demand for countries to step up their 2030 emissions reduction targets by next year, hours later, Morrison said his government had no intention of doing anything of the sort.

Panelist: “Scott Morrison has a job – I’m not defending him, I just want to make it very clear – he has a job right now that job is: winning the next election. “

Me: “Are you serious?”

Panelist: “Yes, of course. “

Me: “He’s the Prime Minister of Australia and you say his only job is to win the next election?”

The panelist, who had explained earlier that he was indeed concerned about effective action on climate change, looked at me blankly and explained to me, well yes. This is how politics works. A singular goal on victory was indeed everyone’s expectation of Morrison: the Prime Minister himself, the Liberal Party, and in fact it was simply convention in politics. Winner. Duh.

As the exchange became more and more tense and the panelist became more and more bewildered, I explained, “I made a promise to myself a few weeks ago that whenever someone saw politics as a game in this program, I would bring it up. “

Why? Because any acceptance that politics is just a game reinforces the idea that the only real goal of all the effort is power. To stay in power. And that nothing is possible unless you play it like that.

In his recently published profile of the Prime Minister, The Game: A Portrait of Scott Morrison, author Sean Kelly notes that the idea that politics is a game – a sport – infects political reporting. “For example, in reporting on Medevac legislation, the emphasis has been on the political effect of new laws and their impact on elections. The suffering of real people is gone, replaced by the discussion of the game of politics.

“Everything is analyzed in terms of the political strategy pursued … removed from the realm of literal meaning, taking place in a realm where everything has a hidden meaning,” writes Kelly.

Now clearly not all has been analyzed in these terms. The desperate need to ensure that asylum seekers, held in offshore detention, have access to timely quality medical care was well covered in many quarters.

But the second discouraging, depressing and demoralizing pace of the discussion was still how the immigration issue remained a powerful, albeit toxic, political issue. A winner”.

What if this sort of blind acceptance of the political status quo, the hidden political meaning of every exercise of executive authority, turns people off even more than outright corruption and pork shit? What if it was this kind of talk that fueled weary cynicism about the exercise of democracy as a whole?

In fact, lately I’ve been wondering, what if turning people off is the whole point? What if the purpose of cynical politics were to push us back with reprehensible political behavior and the dizzying media reflections that flow from it: who wins, who loses, who gets the bragging rights? The result being that we disengage and leave politics to political insiders?

Over the past week, it has been possible to hear endless discussions over a proposal for a federal anti-corruption commission without hearing a very detailed discussion of competing drafts of the proposed legislation.

What should be the power of the “political police”? Should Commission Hearings Be Public? Who should be allowed to speak out against corruption in public life? Most of the reporting was only about politics.

Why shouldn’t ordinary people feel excluded?

A few years ago, during what I imagine my host thought was a big dinner party (what was I doing there, I still wonder) a company insider (a woman , not a regular Drum guest) gently pulled me aside and asked me why I didn’t have more “appropriate people” on the program.

I felt she was talking about herself. Perhaps more out of boredom than out of curiosity, I asked what the recognizable characteristics of an “appropriate person” were. She explained that they were elderly people who already had a voice in politics and in the life of the company. Those who already had the power. This is what we should be listening to on the ABC nightly news show at 6 p.m., a show devoted to a broad discussion of the social, political and community issues of the day.

Glass of wine in hand, I pushed relentlessly, to bring it to the bottom of this idea of ​​”the right person”. “Who is not a suitable person? ” I asked. Sensing that things were getting awkward, this woman replied that it was these younger people, people that you’ve never heard of… you know, not “good people”.

With a federal election looming and so much at stake, and with Labor pursuing a “small target” political approach, we could perhaps reimagine the coverage of this election campaign by listening to the voices of “the wrong people”.

God knows enough of them have seen their lives and businesses impacted by the bushfires, Covid, and the recession, not to mention the general dismay at the explosion of 40,000-year-old sacred sites.

If we deliberately organize civil discussions between a wide range of people – involving people from different parts of the country, with different cultural, linguistic and ethnic roots, sexual orientations, ages and socio-economic backgrounds, the next election will be an opportunity to recuperate and enrich our politics rather than becoming just a few weeks of high visibility campaign cosplay to endure.

They are in the best position to think about what the policies really mean for their communities and the nation. And above all, if the two main political parties maintain a “small target” approach to the election, limiting large political announcements, the election period could be the occasion for the people imagine what future they want for our company, and how we might get there.

Now the panelist I mentioned was former NSW Liberal MP Stephen O’Doherty. He is a man of faith and conviction. He is not a paid lobbyist, but he uses his insider knowledge of how politics work in this country to lobby MPs.

Currently, he is working – pro bono as always – on ways to resume music education in schools after the Covid closures and for targeted financial assistance for musicians who have lost income in the past two years due to the Covid restrictions imposed by the government.

Off the air, he asked me if I really thought it was wrong for him to exploit his insider status in this way?

Clearly, I don’t. Stephen O’Doherty is one of the good guys. He pursues worthy causes that need the support of people like him with access and influence. This is the whole problem of the initiates. They can do what foreigners cannot.

What I mean is if we care about the future of the public square, and we don’t seek to undermine it, we can no longer afford this distinction between insiders and outsiders, the good ones. people and the wrong people.


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