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Canberra as soap opera and the National Party ethos

I THINK MANY people are having the same reaction to the soap opera displacing any semblance of responsible governing in our nation’s capital.  Like: come on, already!

At the same time, I’ll admit the procession of events is fascinating in a slow motion car crash sort of way. What next?

Maria-Taylor-headshotWith the parliamentary press gallery making the most of the Barnaby Joyce Affair for their daily news quota, the focus seems to have turned to discussing the sex in the office ban. This quick-fix window dressing opens up more questions than it answers.

A big reason many are disgusted with Barnaby Joyce on this occasion, (ie not for the first time) is not because he and younger person Vikki had sex, but because of his rank hypocrisy after intervening in public debates about other people’s lives – carrying on about family values or women’s reproductive rights or preferred lack thereof, and that his daughters should find a good stable heterosexual marriage.

It shows up the gap between phony political pitching to a minority voter base and real life. As one woman in his own electorate said “Get over yourselves, half the people in this community are divorced”.

It is also noteworthy that the professional ‘staffer’ in this yarn seems to have no agency at all – just one step off being called a poor little victim. Anyone who has been around people in positions of power – and certainly federal ministers (however personally not pin-ups) fall into this category – will admit the magnetic attraction of power. In this emancipated era, how is it that the woman gets no credit for the progress of The Affair? Did she also suffer an error of judgement? Did she tie her powerful boss to herself only to wonder now, ‘what the hell’?

Writing in The Australian, George Williams, Dean of Law at the University of NSW asks a related question about the role of well-paid but unaccountable political advisers such as Vikki Campion. He writes there are now about 400 of them in the employ of federal politicians. While they can wield a lot of power (think Peta Credlin) and we the taxpayers support them, their job description, pay and job security are at the whim of their boss. Making the boss your friend or lover is not a bad strategy.

Caricature of an all-Australian male?

The fact that Barnaby Joyce’s voting constituency is sticking with him also highlights some interesting divides between myth and reality, country and city. Loud-mouth Barnaby is reportedly seen by his base as the archtype, good-old boy Aussie male, God help us. While such stereotypes are amplified by city analysis, let’s be honest: this profile of Australian country people is a caricature. It may play well in parts of New England, but it does a lot of other people a disservice.

As with Donald Trump, saying controversial things and ‘being yourself’ soon collide with fair political representation of a whole electorate. And there, Barnaby Joyce falls down, as does his fellow newsworthy National Party representative, George Christensen.

Being homophobic, xenophobic, unconcerned with welfare or environmental safeguards while treating the land, the water, the minerals, the plants and animals as no more than a profitable quarry for multi-national corporations, are directions that seem to infest the current National Party. But these views and being backward-focused don’t represent the country’s majority nor, very likely, most people living outside the major cities.

The Guardian’s Katherine Murphy just wrote an anguished article best paraphrased as ‘how our politics and media are stuck in an ego-driven soap opera, debasing both institutions. She reminds us that both Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott are products of a Catholic upbringing and education, Jesuit even.

That is mortifying. I was brought up in a social justice tradition within the Catholic faith. (Could be why I persist in exposing the gross injustice meted out to our native animals, kangaroos being Exhibit 1. See Frankie Seymour’s update in this section and the international news story about Iceland supermarket’s decision to stop selling kangaroo meat).  I don’t recognise much in these guys’ supposed Catholic or mainstream Christian values, translated into their rhetoric and actions.

Whatever happened to humility, compassion, kindness, honesty?


Since January the Bulletin has been growing as a web-based publication. We very much value your thoughts and comments and hope for your support this year! With thanks, Maria Taylor.

IMAGE: screenshots from various media outlets

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One thought on “Canberra as soap opera and the National Party ethos

  1. Thank goodness for your Bulletin. Not trivial. Not glorifying the latest football results, or the woman who is important because she has 13 grandchildren. Not some awful FB post showing last night’s enormous pub meal, someone’s dog or birthday,’woohoo’. Real things. Climate change, wildlife, what goes on in Council, political issues of the day discussed honestly and competently. Why can’t the local paper do the same?

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