Funeral oration for the political class

Monday, 21 April 2008 

What we are looking for from this Summit are new directions for our nation’s future. And if we succeed, what we are looking for is also new insights into how we can govern Australia, a new way of governing our nation. Because the old way of governing has long been creaking and groaning. Often a triumph of the short term over the long term. Often a triumph of the trivial over the substantial. Often a triumph of the partisan over the positive. And the truth is all sides of politics, Brendan’s and mine, we are both guilty of this. It is time we started to try and turn a page.

K Rudd Parliament House Canberra 19 April 2008

If the apology was a body blow to Australia’s political class, the 2020 Summit was its funeral – and it was as celebratory as an Irish wake. Having prefaced it by showing something very close to contempt for Australia’s political elite with his preference for visiting Cate and the baby over joining Keating, Fraser and other luminaries of Australia’s political class for Button’s funeral, he then went to Canberra to bury them.

Rudd’s speech was a funeral oration for the political process by which, until now, Australian government policy has been decided since Federation. However, it is striking how on both sides of the political fence, no-one else wanted to face up to what this Summit was really about.

There were hints that some in the political class were uncomfortable, especially on the Liberal side, but they struggled to know how to deal with it. Thank goodness Anzac Day provided the Victorian and NSW Liberal leaders with alternative media stunts to excuse themselves from the one Rudd was holding in Parliament House. But generally the coalition was all over the place, led by Nelson. He attended the event, then dismissed it as a schmozzle, then claimed some good will come out of it but then refused to add any ideas of his own (probably clinging to the idea that there might be more appropriate times in the same building for doing so). Whatever he said about it, his attendance, like his listening tour, brings the Liberal’s political bankruptcy to the open, which will make Nelson increasingly intolerable to the party’s hierarchy.

On the Labor side, some were also having trouble getting to grips with it. Bob Carr tried to belittle the Summit it by saying that it was no point coming pushing agendas, and anyway government would still be filtering them – a point of view flatly contradicted by at least two of the Summit’s convenors. Carr believes that ultimately the Labor will decide what policies to adopt. What Carr doesn’t realise is that the event undermines Labor’s right to do so.

Besides Carr, however, the general acquiescence of the Labor party to have people who wouldn’t be seen dead in the Labor party influencing the policy of what is nominally supposed to be their government, shows that the ALP has already come to terms with their political bankruptcy. At the Summit, this was probably most symbolised up by the sizeable attendance of that organisation for left-wing political displacement activity, Get Up, which is full of Labor activists showing more enthusiasm for getting people to vote than giving them something actually to vote for.

If the political class was coming to terms with the implications of the Summit, the media were having their own troubles as well. As the event drew nearer there seemed to be a growing realisation from some quarters that accepting an invitation may have some dangers, the media’s dilemma nicely drawn out by the panel discussion on yesterday’s Insiders. Yet while some journalists may feel uncomfortable attending there is still no real sense in the press of what is really happening. Bolt, one of the few critics of the event, has mainly seen it as a subterfuge forum for Labor politics rather than something that shows that there is now barely such a thing.

If the media and politicians were uncertain in their criticism of the Summit, they certainly weren’t going to be joined by the nation’s (for want of a better word) intellectuals, who rushed to Canberra to fill the gap. There seemed little questioning from the 1,000 (or anybody else) over what right they had to influence public policy. They probably thought, like Geraldine Doogue, that they were representatives of the public, ignoring the fact that we had an extensive process to resolve that a few months ago. They are not of course, they represent nobody but themselves and the particular interests of their set, given away by their almost unanimous support for the republic. They are probably the last ones in the world to realise that the only reason they are there is less due to their own talents than that the political process of the last century has now run its course.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 21 April 2008.

Filed under State of the parties

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