The Null Device

The death of rationality in Australian politics

Barry Jones (one of the more thoughtful and forward-looking figures from the past three or so decades of politics in Australia) writes about the decline of rationality in Australian political discourse, and its replacement by knee-jerk populism and a wilful, even proud, ignorance and short-sightedness:
Party spin-doctors, on both sides of politics, work on the assumption that by this stage in the election cycle about 80% of voters have already decided how they will vote, and that short of some major event (cabinet ministers charged with felony, perhaps) nothing that is said or done in the campaign will change that. The 20% who are uncommitted, profiling suggests, are neither interested nor involved in the issues, do not much care about the outcome, are largely voting because they are obliged to do it, and will make up their minds on the day – perhaps as they stand in line waiting to receive their ballots.
Geoff Kitney wrote an important article for the Australian Financial Review – Vote for Abbott, and vote against politics – describing Abbott as the anti-politics politician, who puts a heavy emphasis on appealing to those (many?) reluctant voters who say: “I can’t stand politics, and don’t even pretend to understand it”. This does not just discourage debate on complex issues, it kills it. There may be even a bonus for non-involvement, to be told: “don’t feel badly about knowing so little – celebrate it”.
Despite Australia’s high formal levels of literacy, politicians are increasingly dedicated to delivering three word slogans (“stop the boats!”) – now degenerating even more to the use of one word, repeated three times (“Cut! Cut! Cut!” or “Lie! Lie! Lie!”).
Of course, the fact that, in many states (most notably, the more right-leaning ones like Queensland), News Corp. has an effective monopoly on the media, which it runs in a nakedly partisan fashion resembling more Cold War-era Pravda than anything in a pluralist democracy, doesn't help.
The Murdoch papers are no longer reporting the news, but shaping it. They no longer claim objectivity but have become players, powerful advocates on policy issues: hostile to the science of climate change, harsh on refugees, indifferent to the environment, protective of the mining industry, trashing the record of the 43rd parliament, and promoting a dichotomy of uncritical praise and contemptuous loathing. Does it affect outcomes? I am sure that it does, and obviously advertisers think so.
A recent example of this would be a moment from the current-affairs TV show Four Corners, in which a Liberal candidate said that asylum seekers increase traffic congestion in the suburbs.

Speaking of (ir)rationality in Australian politics, the Rationalist Society has published its scorecard of the political parties. Both major parties fail (the Liberals by a slightly greater margin than the ALP), with only the Greens, Secular Party and Australian Sex Party getting top marks. (The Pirate Party, however, have been omitted from the survey for some reason.)

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