I don’t know if I could cope with being a politician. Being constantly scrutinised, criticised and scorned, sometimes warranted, but more often because the object of the criticism has a different political viewpoint and agenda to the critic.
The partisan nature of contemporary mainstream media is depressing, not just because it’s doggedly pushing a certain viewpoint, but because of how thinly veiled most of it is.
The editorial of last Saturday’s Fin Review describes “Labor’s story as the party of redistribution” and the Liberals and Nationals of needing to be the “party of productivity.” The editor didn’t exactly use the “S” or “C” words, but both were very clearly communicated. On another occasion, I read on the front page of The Age a story of global warming and a report released by the IPCC with new evidence and bad news about the accelerating rate of climate change. On the same day, The Australian’s front page featured a story on coal mining and it apparently being the saviour of the Australian economy. Both newspapers push a certain line, The Age slightly left of centre, The Australian, considerably more to the right.
If you want to see a more extreme version of all of this, you need look no further than the comments that follow any political article. Slander and public opinion seem to be good bedfellows. What is amusing is when those who perpetuate these views as fact believe so vehemently in what they say, but not enough to put their actual names to them.
If you believe the popular negative myths of each party, the Labor party is a socialist, interventionist, bleeding hearts, nanny state party that wants to control you and will take your hard earned dollars and give them to dole bludgers. In the same vein, the Liberal party is a 1950s conservative, capitalist company that will take away the rights of workers and anyone who is not married with two children or running a large company. The Labor party wears freshly nuggetted white nursing shoes, while the Liberal party would never be seen in white shoes, particularly after Labour Day. The Greens on the other hand are the loony party with dangerous ideas that will undermine our way of life. They don’t wear any shoes.
But why the primary school political lecture in the FORM section? Because anecdotally, these stereotypes go some way to explain any government’s approach to shaping the public realm, and our built environment, is probably the most visible victim of the degradation of our political system.
The Government’s “Building the Education Revolution” scheme can be defined in the mythology of both sides of politics. From the point of view of the left, it was a way of providing infrastructure to public schools with the flow-on effect of stimulating the construction industry and ultimately benefiting the county in the long term. An educated population is a more productive one. From the point of view of the right, it read like the plot of an Ayn Rand novel. Bureaucratic government borrowing money it didn’t have to build school halls that were not needed to perpetuate a myth of a government in action. In truth the money probably would have been better spent on training teachers and improving existing infrastructure, but that wouldn’t make a great photo opportunity.
The same can be said of the scheme to provide insulation to millions of households. Great idea, saving everyone money while making homes more comfortable and reducing our carbon footprint (Australian homes are notoriously badly designed when it comes to energy efficiency and climate moderation). This investment seems like a no-brainer. Until people are electrocuted and houses burn down. It seems that a few dodgy operators trying to make a quick buck can reflect very badly on a government. Negative PR for the Government providing the opposition with many hours of bluster. In reality, the scheme has reduced the energy bills of thousands of Australians, while the liability seems to have entirely missed those actually at fault. There is a reason building practitioners are licensed.
Whether it was the Howard Government funneling money into middle class welfare, or the Gillard/Rudd Government building school halls that are not necessary, both sides of the political spectrum are guilty of spending money that doesn’t really solve the difficult problems. Decisions here seem to be about getting votes rather than solving issues that are in the national interest. Just using the phrase “national interest” seems passé in our current discourse. For the right it’s all about the individual, while the left uses the idea as a PR opportunity.
The sad thing is that both sides are actually complementary. Using a building analogy, the rules and framework that prevents the destruction of our heritage and history, protecting consumers with building regulations and rules, also gives the individual architect and builder the freedom and certainty to do their job without fear of being a victim of legal action or the building falling down.
Building a large building is a difficult and complicated task from a multitude of levels. There are those who have to make decisions, approvals from an array of authorities and organisations, compliance with a number of rules that would fill several phone books, and the coordination of a host of consultants with different and often conflicting ideas of what the outcome should be. And this is just the design phase. I guess the analogy I’m trying to make is that if a construction or design meeting ran like a parliamentary debate, what is built would be so compromised that it would be torn down by the next construction team in a short time, if it was built at all.
Personal attack is never a good way to resolve an issue, yet it is the main way things are debated in this country. This is not critical discourse, it’s a fundamental lack of being able to see beyond your own mythology. And in the end, we’re all poorer for it.