Not Ready for Prime Time

debate mugsSometimes, when I settle in front of what used to be the box in the corner but is these days a flat panel of liquid silicon mounted on the wall, I think my TV would be better value if turned back-to-front. Last night, when Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten faced off on the ABC, was such a moment. Occupying my screen were two men who would have prompted an immediate count of the silverware had they visited my home in the flesh. When their turn before the cameras was done I knew for a moral certainty that it would have been more edifying to spend the evening contemplating the sophisticated circuitry that brings the world into my livingroom at the push of a button and testifies to the real and practical genius of the human mind.

Instead, I endured a pair of dim bulbs performing for moderator Chris Uhlmann & Co, each improbably attempting to present himself as a something resembling the audience whose votes both seek. That’s not to say that either man is dim. One doesn’t mount a long-term campaign of erosion and subversion against one’s leader and see it succeed, as did Turnbull, without a measure of rat cunning encoded in the DNA. Nor can Shorten’s ascent to the very top of Labor’s greasy pole be regarded as a negligible achievement. A talent for preaching class war to horny handed sons of toil while quietly accepting campaign contributions and logistical support from their oppressors speaks of a certain agility.

What did I learn last night by watching the front of my TV? Nothing that I didn’t already know.

The panel of press gallery inquisitors held only surprise: why did the floor manager provide them with seats when they would have been far more comfortable, as per usual, on bended knee? Their questions were soft and the stars of the evening treated them with contempt, as mere excuses to respond with any self-serving irrelevancies their groomers and handlers had prepped them to supply. The panel accepted these rhetorical sleights of hand without complaint. One guesses that, like the politicians whose antics they cover, ambitious reporters don’t get to appear on national television by making waves.

For example, when Turnbull cited his long marriage, wouldn’t it have been delicious if it had been put to him that the reference was a low, cheap shot intended to highlight by implication his opponent’s far more colourful and varied love life? Too much to expect, I suppose, given that the gallery is no collection of monks and nuns, as anyone would know who has heard the gossip of impromptu hook-ups and alcohol-inspired assignations that follow the post-lockup parties every Budget night.

As to the stars of the show and the votes they might have reaped, let us just say each was Logie-worthy, which should not be taken as a compliment.

Turnbull, the Prince of Point Piper, appears to have arrived at the auditorium with a plan to present himself as the common man. We were reminded that he was raised by a single father “without much money” (who nevertheless found enough of the folding stuff to pay his fees at Sydney Grammar) and saved from a life of proletarian obscurity only by the teachers who inspired him.  You can swap a slick lawyer’s silk suit for a navvy’s fluor gear, but the giveaway will always be that his lips are moving, to reprise an old joke.

And Shorten?

Just as my TV is more interesting when viewed from behind and with the dust cover removed, so might the Opposition Leader have provided  greater insight had he been ordered to turn around and show the viewing public his back.

Without a doubt we would have seen a plastic ring on the end of a string emerging from somewhere between his shoulder blades, the sort you find on little girls’ talking dolls. Pull it and a torrent of set phrases and clichés tumble forth from a mouth set beneath dull, swivelling eyes.

There are more debates to come, apparently. Go to Bunnings, buy a screwdriver, get the back off your TV set and admire the transistors, chips, capacitors and other marvels of techno wotnot. These are the fruits of genuine intelligence. You won’t notice anything comparable on the front of the set until July 2 has come and gone.

— Tati Sofaris


 A Lovely Sunday Ruined

It’s Sunday and glorious in Kiama, the picturesque South Coast village in which I have the great good fortune to live. The day was warm and sunny and the sea calm and cerulean. My wife and I walked along the seafront and were rewarded by the sight of a large pod of dolphins hunting as a pack within two hundred metres of us. The show lasted at least twenty minutes, the best shore-based dolphin sighting I’ve ever experienced.  Later in the afternoon, the Canberra Raiders, in a rare free-to-air televised match, defeated the Canterbury Bulldogs and my roast pork yielded almost perfect crackling.

So it was in a mood of great equanimity that I tuned into the much-hyped ‘leaders’ debate’ on ABC TV.  I have some sneaking regard for Chris Uhlmann, which is why, despite managing director Michelle Guthrie giving her new fiefdom the ‘all clear’ in the matter of left wing bias, I decided to see what our putative leaders had to say.  Alas, the spectacle reminded me of an old joke from my Army days, a perhaps-apocryphal superior officer’s assessment of a subordinate: ‘He sets a very low standard and consistently fails to attain it.’

To begin with, we had a panel of three ‘senior political journalists’ by which I think they mean the second eleven.  Laura Tingle and Andrew Probyn both incline to the left while Ellen Whinnett not only co-authored an aren’t-I-wonderful book with former Victorian Labor Premier Steve Brack, she was also, perhaps still is, the love interest of former Labor minister and addled bushwalker Tim Holding. Still, she does work for Rupert Murdoch’s Herald Sun, so I guess that equals balance according to the ABC’s ethic.

Rather than bothering themselves with such details as how the policy prescriptions of our putative PMs might better our lives, the panellists chose to concentrate on the political minutiae that so concentrates their minds.  For example, the job applicants were quizzed on their ‘real identity’ and the degree of ‘trust’ they could engender in a cynical electorate and so on. But that didn’t really matter because both contestants were allowed to answer whatever question they chose to hear and at no point did moderator Uhlmann insist that they answer the question they were asked.

In this respect Shorten was a clear winner because he managed to answer whatever questions were posed by referring to the $50 billion windfall he accused Team Turnbull of bestowing on multi-national companies. Overall, though, by my reckoning Turnbull romped it in, although he could have done better in countering Shorten’s company tax-cut shtick.

I have been ambivalent about this election.  Many conservatives, among whom I count myself, have posited that Turnbull should not be rewarded for his leaking, white-anting and treachery against his leader, not to mention his benign indifference to the many sins of omission and commission at the ABC which he might have addressed when the broadcaster’s supervising minister. It would require a hefty measure of unalloyed charity to view the Coalition leader as honest, trustworthy, principled and competent at anything other than back-stabbing and self-promotion.

That’s one of the options confronting Australian voters come July 2.

On the other hand, there is Shorten — a ceaseless spigot of smarmy, self-serving sanctimony whose subservience to the union movement and green extremists will result, without doubt, in soaring deficits and, equally certain, further armadas of leaky boats.

How does one decide which of these off-putting contenders better deserves to be prime minister? Just asking.

— Peter O’Brien

The Amusements of Our Political Class

“Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten have met in the first official debate of the 2016 election campaign,” the folks in that very model of a modern common room, The Conversation, declared this morning, “questioned by a panel of three journalists.”

So many assumptions in so few words!

For “the first official debate” read “first proper debate”. That’s why it mentions journos. It’s amazing the phrase “at the National Press Club” wasn’t shoehorned into the first few sentences too. Forget about that thing on Sky a few weeks ago. That was just a “leaders forum”, not a “debate”. It was staged at the Windsor RSL. Ordinary members of the public got to ask the questions. And it occurred on Friday 13.

Last night’s matter was very different indeed. It was held on hallowed ground where it is only initiates who tread the Press Club’s sanctuary get to address the deities. And it was broadcast, and only broadcast, on the ABC.

Last night’s event is being critiqued as dull and uninformative. But what else could it have been? It was a recitation of talking points that had been workshopped then focus-grouped beyond their natural existence. Bill Shorten’s supposed knock-out zinger “I genuinely lead my party, whereas your party genuinely leads you” was as spontaneous as the sun rising in the east.

We know that the electorate is disengaged from this campaign. Which isn’t that surprising, as neither leader is particularly enticing and the vote-for-me campaign has been effectively running since the start of March and won’t conclude for more than a month.

The voting public see no great issues at stake, or no great issues that are seen as suitable for what passes as political discourse. A leaders’ debate – novel when John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon went head-to-head over a half a century ago – wasn’t going to draw them in.

And short of one of the pair dropping their notes, wetting their pants, addressing Chris Uhlmann as “Jana”, reciting The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna instead of answering a question or some equally bizarre and catastrophic blunder it was going to change nothing.

Such are the entertainments of the political class. Even when it forces its members to report them, as The Conversation does today, with this excruciating simile:

“It was a remarkably flat debate, where the matte facial makeup seemed to take all the lustre off the discussion”.

— Christian Kerr

9 thoughts on “Not Ready for Prime Time

  • tony.negline@ftsolutions.com.au says:

    This election is boring. I have largely switched off and I am only interested in the bits that impact me professionally and my family. I prefer my Sunday nights to be pleasurable – who doesn’t? – so it was easy not to watch the so called leaders debate last night. We only have another 5 weeks of this dreary business left. As for Peter O’Brien’s confusion as to how to vote – I share his doubts. Our House of Reps member allegedly voted for Turnbull so automatically looses my vote. The ALP or Greens aren’t valid options. I fear there will be no one to vote for in the House. The Senate is easier.

  • brian.doak@bigpond.com says:

    The one good outcome of the very weak debate is this page of witty and skeptical comment.
    Malcolm Turnbull we are told repeatedly has a plan, a very good plan, a quite remarkable plan – I would love to hear the words in a G & S comic opera with the words repeatedly articulated with absolute conviction, force, and rounded vowels.

    Never does MT head off along a line of consequences. Please state again Malcolm what is the very good reason the 30,000 mostly undocumented boat people are on temporary visas. The Rudd boat people cost us $10 billion and it is an unknown as to if they will ever integrate or even get off welfare. Why should they ever be entitled to permanency – they have the safety and protection they sought. Could it be that they will forever vote for the welfare party that gives them the family reunion and the chain migration that endlessly results. So nail it Malcolm, Labor will dud the country and have us all fund the arrival of Labor voters.

    • Jody says:

      Malcolm won’t nail it; he hasn’t got the chops. He’s not a leader; being in a board room does not require leadership skills, but other kinds of skills not needed in the polity. Sure, Abbott would have comprehensively lost the election. Now it’s a lost cause anyway and I think a clearing out process should begin post 2/7. Let’s have ScoMo and Frydenberg running the Coalition and Lord Waffle can return to Wentworth and wax lyrical at dinner parties, with Andre Rieu straining in the background, about what a wonderful, tolerant, generous and accepting nation Australia is – from the comfortable distance of light years from burgeonining Middle Eastern crime gangs who currently control much of western Sydney.

      I’d mortgage my house on the election of Labor as being a green light for the people-smuggling business. And in today’s “Australian” a warning from the UN that many millions will be heading to Europe (indeed, I posit that much of the middle east and Africa will be evacuated) and blaming EU nations for “not providing the positive narrative”.

      Disband the UN and send these whackos out into the real world and let them work for their daily bread. I say, ‘WORK”.

      • PeterPetrum says:

        Jody, I agree with a lot you said, but I disagree with “Abbott would have comprehensively lost the election”

        You seem to forget that he won in a landslide by targeting everything that was wrong with Labor’s policy; climate change, illegal immigrants, union corruption, and so on. He would have done it again with the same issues and the many more that Shorton and his mob are serving up. The 2014 budget that was crucified by our lefty media is now looking like a much better option for cutting costs than anything Morrison and Turnbull are serving up.

        I think Abbott would have roared back in, and I think the 53 traitors (54 in you inlclude the Waffler) are beginning to think so too.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    I watched a program of a similar nature on SBS 2 in lieu of expressing my tourettes in front of the wife and kids. (a nasty condition that strangely only comes on me when Electricity Bill or any member of the Greens start talking).

    Eerily similar in many respects, a vacuous commentator controls the actions of a number of supplicants looking for approval.

    I commend the program as an alternative to enduring any further political debate, it is called “If you are the one” on SBS2 7:30pm Sunday nights and is followed by 50 million people worldwide which incidentally and rather distressingly is a similar amount of cash ‘ole Billy boy’ is hosing up the wall with his promises.

    • Jody says:

      Electricity Bill pretends to be caring, sharing, empathetic and compassionate but every so often the mask slips; tonight he’s labelled Leyenholm as “a cave man” and he’s made other ad homs in the recent days. I cannot forget that this same man was the subject of a sexual assault complaint no so long ago!! I can tell you now, my husband has never been nor ever will be in that position – nor any other man I personally know!!

      Underneath Shorten is a dark soul with a streak of ruthless malice.

      • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

        Bill Shorten is a worry in that he is a hypocrite, very prone to exaggeration and distortion [almost to the extent of telling deliberate lies], obsequious to Union criminals and leftist academics, cowardly, untrustworthy and a host of other faults that should lead him to be shunned from civilised society and not given even a small chance to be PM of a country like Australia. However, it’s not Bill Shorten as such that I fret about, it’s the prospect of the Shorten BILL that frightens me. If B.S. is elected PM it will be so big that my grand-kids will not be able to pay for it not matter how long their working lives.

      • Rob Brighton says:

        He is dangerous, nasty with a whiff of megalomania, waffles is better only because there is at least some form of conservative brake on his proclivities. Which in my view leaves us with a better result than a leftist brake on an unprincipled man owned by unprincipled unions.

        Therefore NATS and ALA (no 3rd choice in northern NSW except lunatic greenies)

  • jonreinertsen@bigpond.com says:

    The “Press” decided we needed debates, we the public said “whatever” I know who I am voting for. How about we turn the running of the country over to the “Press”? Now there is a scary thought.

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