12/11/2009 - 00:00

Like looking into a policy mirror

12/11/2009 - 00:00


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There’s little to separate the nation’s major political parties.

CRUCIAL to the rise of Kevin Rudd was his successful ploy of deliberately convincing Australians that he was a blond and younger version of the then ageing and balding John Howard.

Most Australians felt at ease with Mr Howard as PM.

Understandably, parliamentarians now see Mr Rudd’s look-alike ploy as a tried-and-tested formula that could again lead to a successful takeover of the prime ministership.

Little wonder Liberal leaders Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop dare not venture too far from Mr Rudd’s policies.

Both prefer hair-splitting qualifications, thereby avoiding fundamental confrontation or real contests over ideas and programs.

‘Look-alikism’, therefore, seems set to plague us for some time.

Both the Liberal leader and his deputy, for instance, seem scared to confront any of the unsubstantiated claims and contentions that Labor resorts to in justifying the coming Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), a whopping new tax that will affect just about every facet of life.

Instead, they resort to that banal cliche whenever asked about their stance on the ETS: ‘I’ve decided to give the planet the benefit of the doubt’, rather than examining and highlighting the growing mountain of literature that’s shown the climate scare is a hoax designed to, among other things, ensure big banks, accountancy and law firms boost revenues.

Neither ever challenges the growing and ever-wasteful expansion of Canberra power over state responsibilities, despite the Liberals having traditionally promoted smaller, less costly, decentralised governance, called federalism.

In other words, a fundamental tenet of Australian Liberalism has been sidelined by Liberals.

Both give the impression of simply wanting to win the Treasury benches, and then carry on doing things in the over-bearing manner of the current prime minister.

Little wonder most voters, whenever polled, opt to back the one already in power – better the mutt you know than the mutt you don’t.

But are there perhaps other reasons for the relatively recent emergence of the look-alike ploy?

State Scene’s tentative, at this stage, view is that there is a range of reasons for the emergence of this phenomenon upon Australia’s political stage.

The first is that so much party policy is now driven by polling, in other words by transient views and opinions based on little or no knowledge by those being quizzed.

Strangely, politicians take these numbers seriously rather than getting out and doing what they’re paid to do – giving their electors the facts and outlining the complexities and options of alternative policies.

To do that one must actually take time out to study issues.

In other words, one needs to do some hard work.

And after that it’s courage that’s generally required.

Unfortunately, too many of our politicians lack either attribute.

When confronting the hard-work option it’s far easier to simply go along with the party crowd – do as party bosses and whips tell you to do.

And when it comes to courage, look at the way two WA Liberal MPs have been treated over recent months.

Tangney MHR Dennis Jensen, a scientist who has doggedly spoken out against the climate warming hoax, has endured pre-selection challenges and ongoing snide remarks for his displays of courage.

Similarly O’Connor MHR Wilson Tuckey, who has been slammed by biased east coast journalists for taking a stance against the climate hoax.

Mr Tuckey was also targeted by Mr Rudd for suggesting some Sri Lankans gate-crashing to enter Australia may be Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

It’s much easier to lie low, never study issues, and make no substantive comments based on facts and real knowledge.

Politicians increasingly opt to camouflage themselves rather than be seen in action, by taking a stance inside and beyond parliament.

But other factors are also at play.

Long-time Canberra correspondent, Alan Ramsay, lately of the Sydney Morning Herald, has unambiguously stated his views on the increasing look-alike aspects of Australian national politics.

His perspective comes from 40 years observing Canberra’s political stage.

During an interview with the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien he was asked to compare today’s backbenchers with those entering parliament in the 1960s and 1970s.

“They were much more representative of the Australian community in the earlier years, they really were,” Mr Ramsay said.

“They didn’t come with their university degrees and they didn’t come out of ministerial offices.

“They really did come from the community at large – the great majority of them. Not anymore. It’s a real … it’s a career path now.

“We don’t have two separate political parties; we just have two groups of people who represent political careers.

“The Labor Party, to all intents and purposes to what it was, up until relatively recently, is dead.”

Are the Liberals that different?

The national parliament’s full staffing contingent now stands at 3,500 people – about the size of a sizeable Australian inland town – to oversee 226 politicians.

All MPs and staffers either have mobile phones or blackberries and they’re regularly text messaged or simply called by party minders and told what to say and how to say it if any one in the sizeable parliamentary media contingent seeks a comment.

Everything has become pre-planned, pre-fabricated and predictable – even down to phrases MPs are permitted to use.

But for anyone who thinks that’s bad, there’s worse to come.

According to one-time Perth journalist but now a columnist with Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Piers Akerman, politicians will in future be subjected to bureaucratic surveillance on what they send to voters in electoral pamphlets and other literature.

Anyone daring to buck this will find themselves in strife.

“Under the Rudd Labor government’s new rules, it is ok for MPs to congratulate the government but illegal to criticise it,” Mr Akerman wrote.

“Commonwealth bureaucrats have been given sweeping powers to censor MPs newsletters routinely produced for the information of their constituents.

“Under new laws which came into effect a month ago, every publication mailed out by an MP using funds provided under the parliamentary entitlement scheme can be vetted by the Department of Finance before being cleared for public release.

“This department has effectively taken on the role of Big Brother under Prime Minister Kevin’s scary new regimen.”

“Under the new rules, MPs could even be barred from sending constituents complete copies of the daily proceedings of parliament as reported in Hansard.

“The public servants responsible for conducting the censorship, Messrs Tune and Taylor, attempted to evade the issue when they were questioned on the possibility that MPs would be barred from sending out Hansard but their weasel words could not camouflage the enormity of their new power.

“When asked by Tasmanian [Liberal] Senator Stephen Parry whether he could send out a complete Hansard of one day’s Senate proceedings, Mr Tune responded: ‘It would depend.’

“Mr Taylor then interjected: ‘It would depend on exactly what was said in it, just because ... ’

“As South Australian [Liberal] Senator Cory Bernardi remarked: ‘This is a travesty of democracy, minister. That is what this is.’

“Senator Bernardi is correct.

“It’s a disgrace that the government believes in barring the distribution of Hansard to the Australian people.”

Has Mr Turnbull or Ms Bishop ever highlighted this disgraceful bullying?

If not, that’s more look-alikism, gone utterly mad.



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