Aug 4th 2010

The Politics of In-authenticity: The Australian Federal Elections

by Binoy Kampmark

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge and history lecturer at the University of Queensland

Another Australian election looms, and the incumbent government is intent on ritually disembowelling itself. Having deposed its own prime minister, the first Labor government to defeat the conservative Coalition since it was bundled out of office in 1996, is teetering on collapse. Labor supporters have been furious by the treatment afforded to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the way Julia Gillard assumed the mantle. A Labor prime minister, some are saying, becomes obsolete at the whim of the party machine. The Opposition leader is delirious. Why, asks Tony Abbott, bother electing a puppet of the 'faceless men'.

The politicians are now driving for the witless rhetoric of authenticity. What has the Australian electorate been seeing till now, one wonders? Authenticity has been stored in the closet, waiting to leap out. The 'real' Julia is set to be 'unleashed' like a tigress. And this new figure has not being doing too well, with criticism mounting for her 'defacing' of the Australian flag by her less than cautious quill. 'See what happens when you get real, Jules? Protocol gets breached.' Or so the journalists for the Sydney Morning Herald note in a live 'campaign' encounter with the Prime Minister.

These elections have become ghastly carnivals of the inane. Politicians are no longer merely competing on the quota of how many infant cheeks are kissed, or how many promises are made. There is the essential display of flesh and the 'true me' (witness the Coalition contender Tony Abbott posing for Men's Health or Gillard's rush to Women's Weekly). The very articulation of authenticity in an election campaign is its rejection. 'I may not have been real before, but I am now.' Abbott busy on his bicycle continues that long tradition of the fitness fanatic made since Mussolini - fitness supposedly means prowess and, even more worryingly, competence.

Policies matter less than the shiny gloss on the fashion page, the revelation of treachery and the heavy leak from the fast sinking vessel that is the Australian Labor Party. And the absurd spectacle is complete with a fallen ex-leader, Rudd, plotting from his sickbed (so go the allegations). Even sans gallbladder and convalescing, the political wheels of vengeance inexorably turn. He can count on a good bit of Antipodean chauvinism. A 'gal' might want to 'look her best' but Abbott would never do the same, claims Robyn Riley (Herald Sun, Aug 1), who evidently does not read that weighty gospel that is Men's Health. The truth is, one would sooner be charmed by the works of a taxidermist.

Then there are the promises of abundance, the crude financial outlays that both sides will provide, should they win government. Financial responsibility is a notable absentee here, given the good health of the Australian economy relative to its counterparts. Show us your tips seems to be the unspoken slogan. Don't attack the financiers, or the mining company.

Perhaps the only politician who deserves the tag of being authentic in this entire denuding farce is Senator Bob Brown of the Australian Greens. He has proven consistent, the argument here being that consistency is possible for one who will never win government. The Green presence in the Senate, when it holds the balance of power, has the potential to mock Labor's positions as either timid or conservative. Should the Coalition win, suggests Richard Denniss, executive director of the progressive Australia Institute, 'the Greens will get most of the attention for blocking or toning down most of the legislation put up' (The Age, Aug 2).

The election result? At a guess: A crippled Labour government returned (if at all) and well and truly emasculated, failing to have committed suicide properly (they aren't even capable of doing that); the Greens in control at the senate level and stronger than ever, holding the balance of power; and the Coalition revived for another assault next time around.

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