There’s been a fair bit of comment today about Tony Abbott’s reluctance to appear in the media. Notable are Jonathan Green (who rightly derides the absurdity and immorality of the “hide the boats” strategy) and Dee Madigan, with whom I am less in agreement. Green puts his finger on it:
It’s just politics, that’s the consensus analysis. Just the sort of canny switch of gears we admire as the deft prosecution of the politician’s art. And it’s all we expect of them really: to play politics for the sake of political advantage and power.
The fact that they do it is not the thing that should bother us. The fact that we shrug our shoulders and recognise the political calculations for what they are and give them grudging admiration, that’s the troubling bit.
We let ourselves be taken for this ride, by participating mutely in a structured political drama that can argue for people’s very lives in one month then turn around the next and do the opposite straight faced. One of these elections we might demand better.
That we collude quietly for now is a particularly dark piece of moral turpitude. It shouldn’t be assessed against the standards of political cunning, it should be judged against the standards of simple decency.
The obvious conclusion that one can draw from this commentary is that the tactic, and such it is, will be ineffective. The story becomes “where is Tony?”… He might think that he can do an O’Farrell (as Madigan suggests), but voters expect more from Prime Ministers than State Premiers. They expect national leadership. Now that’s not akin to an “announceable” a day, and certainly not a stunt of the day, but if you disappear yourself, you can’t help that becoming the story. Yes, Mr Abbott might want politics off the front pages, but he’s also raised a lot of expectations that people will want fulfilled. And the boats strategy is prey to what any form of massaging the truth by hiding it is – the tendency for facts to emerge, and for coverups to become the story.
Truth has a way of prevailing. You can’t make your own reality forever. Particularly not as a governing party. And we might not like the 24 hour media cycle, but appropriate transparency and democratic accountability are different things. Just as with the culture wars reset, Mr Abbott will find that the caravan has moved on: information has been democratised and the demand for transparency is one of the key cultural and social shifts that has gathered pace in the last little while. As respect for authority diminishes (and the LNP did its bit to accentuate that), people suspect if you’re not telling them something, you’re telling them a lie. Hardly a platform on which the Coalition can establish “trust”.
Update: Andrew Elder.
In other news, Barrie Cassidy complains that there is no scrutiny of the government because of the Labor leadership ballot. Isn’t he a journalist? Perhaps he could try some scrutinising.