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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

There's something about this election campaign that's making me just shut right down. Madonna King described the problem well on the ABC's Q and A panel discussion show last night. The politicians are focusing on "small-target" issues. The competition is hot but the candidates are making themselves invisible. As small targets, they're less open to criticism, blame, censure.

There was nothing at all small-target about the Q and A audience last night, I must say. Beamed live from Brisbane, the feed showed an engaged and vocal audience unlike the usual, restrained Sydney crowd. Maybe they were just so pleased to have the chance to have their say - they mostly stood up like kids at school to ask their questions, which they read off pieces of paper - or maybe it was just the typical rowdiness of a relaxed and down-to-earth Queensland crowd in operation.

King is a long-time journalist with a history of various postings around the traps. She now works for the ABC in radio, so she's accustomed to explaining things clearly. It makes you appreciate the value of good word choices. Listening to the politicians on the panel swerve away from the question onto one safer patch of ground or another, you appreciate it when someone actually says something neatly, without adornment, and without segueing effortlessly into an attack on someone else.

But you sometimes wish that the atmosphere generated at the Q and A show would trickle down to the party set-pieces organised for the benefit of politicians intent on maximising damage to the opposition whilst minimising their own exposure.

Of course, the history books show that making yourself into a large target can be disastrous. Just think of Mark Latham in the 2004 election, when he imploded spectacularly over a range of issues including logging in Tasmania and funding of private schools. No wonder today's politicians are more circumspect when choosing their form of address.

For my part, there's a small corner of my attention focused on the campaign. There's also a fair slice of guilt aimed at myself over my inability to stay interested. I read a headline on the news website and then blithely click on the story about genital mutilation instead of reading about the latest cuprit in the Rudd-kill leaks scandal. It's hard to keep up your interest when, somewhere else in the world, there is real suffering and real pain and real injustice. Worrying about injecting more stimulus into the booming Australian economy rates low in my mind when over 40,000 Australians are sleeping rough every night.

Perhaps Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, is right when he says journalists are not living up to the high calling they're supposed to be engaged in. Or maybe, like me, they're just not engaged any more. So spare a thought for the poor journalist seated, like a stunned mullet eating jelly snakes, on the campaign bus.

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