Politicians unintentionally adding to the noise

This article first appeared on On-Line Opinion

There’s a hilarious scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where the People’s Front of Judea discuss an action plan to save Brian’s life. With Brian minutes away from crucifixion, the members of the political group unanimously agree that urgent action is required. They contend that the team can ill-afford to sit around discussing the matter. Five minutes later, the mise-en-scène returns to the discussion table. Only now, after a formal vote, has the group decided to fulfil their “immediate action” mandate.

I can’t help but draw similarities between this farce and the recent appeals made by Australian politicians.

If there’s one thing both major parties can agree on, it’s that the political debate in this country focuses too heavily on the inane, trivial and irrelevant. The only problem is we’ve been lamenting about this for the last twelve months. We are still yet to see any immediate action, per se.

The oft-repeated rhetoric from politicians is that policies, not personalities, are what matter most. The superficial reporting of politics, they argue, is detrimental to the health of our democratic debate.

Sure, public policy might not be as sexy as the lure of celebrities. And yes, most of our perceptions of politicians are without doubt shaped by their personalities. But the reforms passed through parliament are more important than the people that make them.

Media barons and gossip columnists aside, almost everybody seems to agree with this sentiment. On Q&A, for example – a television program that prides itself on its balanced nature – such statements are regularly treated to universal applause.

Last Monday night’s episode of the ABC panel show highlighted a perfect example. On the panel sat political representatives and expert commentators and in the crowd sat politically engaged citizens.

While the conversation did touch on relevant topics such as forestry and gambling reform, a good chunk of the night was focused on Julia Gillard’s backside. Unlike the episode from a fortnight earlier, where Germaine Greer surprisingly turned this into a national conversation, this week’s discussion was critiquing the subsequent backlash.

In unison the crowd and panellists alike came to the conclusion that Ms Gillard’s bottom was not worth discussing.

Once again, the regulation comeback came to fruition. Labor’s Julie Collins reinforced the unimportance of personal appearance and the strong Tasmanian crowd gave her an affirming ovation.

The fact that people continue to applaud this point is no blight on them, after all they confirming a valid complaint. The point has already been made, and has been laboured to death. We’re still stuck on the same page we were on a year ago.

Julia Gillard and Tony Jones share a laugh

Yes, we know all too well that the political discourse in this country can be pitiful. But too many politicians are only adding to the noise.

The best way to stop talking about the trivialisation of politics is not to analyse it to death. The best way to stop talking about the trivialisation of politics is to stop talking about it. Period.

Twenty minutes into the program, Dr Natasha Cica made a commendable attempt at killing the dialogue.

“Every minute we’re spending on this panel talking about Julia’s outfit, so on and so on, is a minute that we could be spending about talking about where Tasmania is heading,” she exclaimed.

She almost made her point made. Nevertheless it was still another four minutes before the conversation finally moved forwards.

I recognise that there is a certain irony in all of this, in that potentially this article too is adding to the noise.

Indeed, if one were to criticise this piece for discussing the discussion about the trivialisation of politics, we’d be getting so meta that a few brains might implode.

So instead of asking you to express your opinion on this matter, I’m changing tact. In the comments section below, I don’t want you to share in my frustration or find flaws in my argument.

Rather, I invite you to write your concerns on the policies that matter to you. What are the issues in Australia that you want our politicians to discuss on a meaningful level?

Indeed, if you could replace Julia Gillard’s bum with an alternate topic, what would it be?