Sometimes, 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.
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