On the eve of the federal election, I'm feeling quite unlike my usual self. In every election since I could vote, and even before that, I've been totally riled up during the election campaign: I've taken people to task on social media, shared articles, talked constantly with friends about election issues. Hell, I even bought a Kevin07 t-shirt once upon a time (how distant that memory seems now!) Perhaps it's growing up in Canberra, going to watch the final count at Exhibition Park on election night. Perhaps it's my early memories of John Howard and Paul Keating, whose prime ministerships were colourful, if nothing else. Or perhaps it's just because free-to-air TV is so completely rubbish, but either way I've always found Australian politics exciting.
The last part of that sentence makes zero sense now. To be honest, I couldn't care less who the prime minister ends up being. I'm hoping for a strong Greens vote, but beyond that I really couldn't give a rat's arse, as Keating might have said. Why? There's a couple of reasons. The first is that the debate in Australian politics is so distanced from the realities of life here, as I understand them, as to comprise near total abstraction. The Great Barrier Reef, which I haven't yet had the opportunity to see, is dying, and even that fact hasn't made it onto the list of election agenda items. Both major parties are intent on continuing the illegal concentration camps on Nauru, and the debate on that issue, which has been labelled 'toxic' by everyone involved since Tampa, has stalled. I used to imagine some future government apologising to victims of the cruelties of offshore processing and mandatory detention; now I wonder if I will see an end to it in my lifetime. The forced closure of Aboriginal communities is hardly a blip on the election radar. Climate change has all but vanished from public discourse. I'm not sure that I'm living in the same universe as most of our politicians anymore. Either the conversation used to be more relevant, or (more likely) there used to be a conversation, whereas now, there is not.
The second reason is that Australian democracy as such has become so disfigured it should be called something different. How did this happen? I think it's been creeping up for some time. It started with harsh cuts to the ABC and SBS, then the failure to regulate print media as it dwindled down to some almost-nothing mush of advertising and click-bait. Cuts to arts funding, which have recently increased, have also had an impact on the perceived worth of comment and independent thought. Personal expression is becoming a luxury, and is largely (and increasingly) reserved for the top echelons of Australian society. That is the real story with cuts to the arts: not only that the arts suffer, but that those who suffer most are already marginalised voices. Australian art, like the Reef, will become whiter and blander, until it too breaks off and dies.
An election which is being fought on behalf of jobs in the face of successive and seismic blows to our ecological future, the robustness of our intellectual landscape, and our duty to care for vulnerable people certainly is a pitiful thing to witness. I can't get excited about Labour's Buzzfeed-style '100 positive policies' any more than I can get on board with the Coalition's cuts to welfare and their debt-fetishism. The whole thing is a grotesque display of greed and ignorance, preying on the impotence of the media and the boredom of the electorate. When Joe Hockey's punishing budget came in at least we had some kind of tangible example of what rampant inequality could look like. Now, we've just got the vague promise of total narcolepsy from Malcolm Turnbull and 100 turgid slogans from Bill Shorten. I'm not sure this actually counts as democracy. Am I missing something?