Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Don't patronise the little guy, he's the boss

"I'm not going to get caught up in Canberra gossip. I'm not going to play Canberra games". Spoken on Monday morning, these were among the last words Tony Abbott said as prime minister and although it is clear from listening to them - or reading them - that they constitute an attempt to divert attention from an unpalatable reality by demonising a more pressing one, they point to an ugly undercurrent in Australian politics.

Putting down the political process is hardly a new thing - see for example the successful effort in the 1930s to abolish the Senate in Queensland, or read any of the humourous books of Steele Rudd - but it's an ingenuous pretense if you live in a democracy to despise it because it is what delivers you your freedoms and your prosperity. Not only that, but in this world of radical transparency we are all getting better at understanding its rules and processes - as we should do - so that our tweets can be more interesting, more informative, and more often duplicated.

In a way, for a politician to go hard on the political process in this way is just insulting to the average Joe in the street, because it suggests that some things are outside his comprehension and competence. "Don't worry yourself about that," Abbott seems to be saying, "we'll handle it." But it's in everyone's interest to be acquainted with the political process because it helps us to understand why politicians say and do the things they say and do, when they say and do them.

In a world that's always "on" and where everyone is always immediately connected to everyone else, in that kind of world we don't want a politician to patronise us and say, "Don't worry your little head over that," as though we were some hopeless bimbo with fewer than two neurons to rub together. What we want is to understand what a "point of order" is or to grasp immediately the difference between "democracy" and "representative government". After all, that's what the media is for: to educate the electorate so that they can make better political choices. That's what the public school system is for, as well.

In the age of radical transparency, it will pay in many ways to be more informed about the political process. Not only will your tweets get more retweets - and you might even get more followers, and even become an influencer - but it will ensure that we are not hoodwinked again by bad politicians like Tony Abbott. Along with our friends in the media, the electorate can - and we will - work together to forge an even better polity. In this new world of honesty where money is spent on things that have real merit - and not in order to promote a narrow partisan agenda - everyone can have a vote on individual pieces of legislation. The question is: what will be the role of Parliament in this new political process. What is the future for political parties?

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