Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dirty Deeds

Lots of talking heads on national television shows and in comments pages of newspapers have started noticing the Queensland election, and are referring to it as one of the dirtiest in Australia’s history.

I’ve been watching this election quite closely, and yes, some of the tactics are pretty low, but is it dirtier than most? What are the hallmarks of a ‘dirty election’? I’d considered ‘dirty politics’ to be the kind of scandal-ridden campaigns and governments we’ve seen in America.

Of course Watergate is in a class all its own when it comes to dirty politics, but in comparison to the USA, Australian politics has been tame.

Since Watergate, America has played host to a whole range of political scandals, from the theft of Premier Carter’s briefing book, which was subsequently given to Ronald Reagan before he ran for President in 1980, to the Iran Contra Affair which marred two presidencies, to Clarence Thomas and sexual harassment to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, through the near-insanity of the Dubya years and hanging chads, to the Obama Administration. For every major scandal that gets reported around the world and has the suffix “-gate” attached, there are literally dozens more that aren’t as newsworthy, or as sexy, or as dirty.

Surely the 2012 Queensland election isn’t in that class, is it?

Queenslanders know their way around a scandal. The Fitzgerald Inquiry ended what was the most corrupt government in our history, saw three ministers imprisoned, forced two by-elections, the police minister stripped of his knighthood, and ended the reign of Joh Bjelke Petersen. It brought home to Australia words like “bagman”, words we’d never heard outside of a mafia movie. But now, almost 23 years on, is Queensland still emerging from the shadow of corruption?

Well, to hear those people on television last night tell it, you’d think we probably are.

Campbell Newman, wanna-be Premier, is copping the brunt of attention as the media, ably aided by the ALP campaign, comb through every breath of Newman’s life, looking for a hint of something not quite right. Of course, they’ve found more than a hint, and they’re still digging. Newman’s personal finances, his wife’s finances, his mother’s finances and particularly those of his in-laws are being scrutinised.

If this was a normal election, I’d probably think this treatment was a bit rough, but this is no normal election. Firstly, Newman has been parachuted into the state LNP after resigning as Brisbane’s Lord Mayor. He has held high political office for years; he should be used to the scrutiny.

Then there’s the breathtaking arrogance of Newman’s entrance into state politics. He’s contesting the seat of Ashgrove, and if he wins it, he won’t be a junior backbencher learning the ropes in state government. He’ll be state premier.

At the moment, I’d categorise his chances as being ‘too close to call’; he’s been steadily losing ground in Ashgrove for months. I don’t know.

Meanwhile, there’s the ALP. Just weeks after winning the last state election, Premier Anna Bligh stunned the state by announcing a sell-off of state assets. This was not well received by the electorate, and she became a pariah in what felt like a matter of moments. Aside from some extraordinary polling during and after the floods of January 2011, she’s never been able to shake the intense dislike and distrust that has dogged her every decision since the asset sell-off announcement.

To make matters worse, this term of government has been punctuated by a series of political disappointments: Gordon Nuttall was convicted on corruption, The Jayent Patel / Doctor Death trial didn’t reflect well on the Labor government, the Queensland Health Payroll Debacle…it’s a mark of honour in Queensland to blame “Anna” for everything that goes wrong, from corrupt and incompetent officials to sporting disasters. You’ll always find someone willing to say that it’s “Anna’s fault”.

…except if you’re in Brisbane, where it’s perfectly acceptable to blame Campbell Newman for anything to do with King George Square, the Clem 7, the CityCycle Scheme, crazy rates rises and too many mis-matched bridges.

On the upside, no-one in the ALP camp is facing the kind of scrutiny that the LNP is. Aside from Campbell Newman and his financial webs, the LNP has also had to deal with candidates misbehaving: everything from drink driving to attending a swingers’ party to possibly running a website featuring ‘adult content’.

But really, talking heads, is any of this “dirty”? I haven’t heard of any pollies on either side of the Queensland race sleeping with the work experience girl (or boy). As far as I know, no-one’s breaking into the opposition’s headquarters, and if Campbell Newman has been doing anything financially unbecoming as Mayor, it will be found out, and wasn’t designed to secure election.

Still, most commentators and voters agree that there’s far too much finger-pointing and accusing, and not enough actual policy in this campaign. Just look at the flyers released this week in Ashgrove. They are personally addressed, and state on them “Campbell is only interested in looking after one family. And it’s not yours.” The front shows a picture of the smiling Newmans, and the back shows a list of ways in which he has looked after his own interests and those of his family at the expense of ethical considers and possibly the law. It’s not that blatant, but you know what they’re getting at.

I’m afraid the result might be that many voters have disengaged.

Around here, when you ask someone what they think about the election or who’ll they’ll vote for, the answer is always “Don’t really care; can’t stand any of them.”

With all due respect to the talking heads and the commenters in the News Limited press, I don’t think this is a particularly dirty campaign. It’s feisty, at times desperate, but dirty?

Depends how you define it. What do you think? Leave your comments here.

No comments:

Post a Comment