Politics from the Homeland

Electioneering in the New England Heartland

by Oliver Chaseling

Dis-satisfaction en masse… Not a job to be found for a twenty-something journalist… A return to the land of my birth… An election on September 7th… Windsor’s out and Joyce will say that it’s a tight game regardless… The battle lines are drawn.

There’s a story told amongst Walcha’s locals about Barnaby Joyce’s time as a forward in the region’s rugby team: the story goes that in one particular match, Barnaby, who even then it seemed had the reputation of a head-kicker, was called over by one of his team-mates who had told him to put the hurt on the opposition’s no. 6, who’d been causing havoc amongst Walcha’s back-line. ‘No worries’ says Joyce-y as he joins the scrum. Some few minutes later, Joyce slows up to join with his team-mate and says imperiously ‘I’ve taken care of him for ya, mate’. His tackle-weary winger looks up to see the opposite team’s no. 9 lying flat on the turf with a pained expression imprinted on his brow. ‘Mate…’ he says as Joyce clotheslines a charging forward, ‘you’ve got your 6’s and 9’s mixed up again’.

In the country, these moralistic tales can be combined with various “I heard from a mate’s” and “it would’ve gone like this’” to paint a much more vivid picture of what had occurred compared to what did occur. Such is the nature of a story where rumours and hearsay may garner a certain kind of currency in places where everyone’s business is everyone’s business.

But it’s not just the simple country folk that trade in juicy mistruths – our far more cultured metropolitan cousins seem equally engrossed in the national game of force ‘em backs currently being played out in electorates across the country.

The story of Barnaby Joyce confusing his 6’s and his 9’s is a peculiar resonation of what seems to be occurring in the game of federal politics, where hapless no. 9’s lay their aching bones down in surrender while the marauding no. 6’s continue to wreak havoc amongst a confused back line.

But who belongs to which jersey? Who will lend a sportsman’s hand to the no. 9 and who will put that no. 6 on the ground where he belongs? Hard to say, and even harder to say whether those numbers confused belong to prominent individuals in the political landscape, their constituents or the nebulous policies favoured by either one of those parties.

The only thing that seems to unite the people of Australia is their bitter contempt for politicians, their policies and the discussion surrounding them. It’s a sorry state of affairs that we find ourselves in, with constant back-and-forth between political figures, each of them vying for control of the hallowed middle ground where the majority of Australia’s voting population find themselves crammed into by virtue of circumstance. The presence of the particular debates smeared across the front pages of the mainstream media are dictated by sales figures and very little else.

Meanwhile, politicians will take note of the polling figures embedded in these reports, feed a response back into the machine and hope for better results tomorrow.

Everyone’s just throwing what they’ve got at the wall to see what sticks. In Tony Abbott’s case, the operation involves scooping up what’s left at the base and lining up for another shot. In Kevin Rudd’s case, it’s taking a high-powered cannon, blasting whatever it is he’s selling today straight through the foundation itself and right into the face of the poor bugger standing on the other side.

Dire times. But what are we, the rational voting public to do? Well we could stop buying the Daily Telegraph, for a start. Go to McDonald’s: read it for free.

I guess they figure people want to eat shit while they’re eating shit.

OK, OK… Keep your powder dry, Chaseling… It’s not their fault… Well it is, but you sure won’t get published writing stuff like that!

At least not in Brisbane, where the contents of news-stands go Murdoch, Murdoch, Murdoch… Whatever slim hope I had in getting a full-time media job is surely dashed with that line-up. So I’m in Tamworth, as far away as I can get from those heavy vibrations. Well, maybe not as far away as I could get… Truly fulfilling that dream would involve some kind of a life-raft and a strong Easterly.

Today the front-pages of our newspapers declared to us the news that Kevin Rudd had tweeted the afternoon before; that the election we all knew was coming would be held on September 7th. Accompanying this news was the collective flurry of analysis that dissected every aspect of the major parties’ press releases that followed soon after Rudd’s announcement. ‘It’s on’ begins Labor’s own colloquially worded release, Abbott counters with ‘Fair Dinkum’, Rudd describes his campaign in terms of ‘A New Start’, Abbott then asks us to ‘Choose Real Change’.

The similarities between these opening salvos are the latest echo of what’s been a series of policy announcements that have been for the most part indistinguishable from one another. Labor’s primary tactic of late has been to simply adopt the Coalition’s policy, a paraphrase of the Bunning’s Warehouse slogan “find a lower price and we’ll beat it by 10%”. Labor would be hard-pressed to find a more effective mode of discourse if it’s the average Bunning's customer that they seek to woo.

And at this point it’s exactly that bargain-hunting section of society that will decide an election.

“Boat-people are eating away at my unsubstantiated sense of security, who will save my plasma-screen-and-two-cars-in-the-driveway from this foreign invasion?”

“WE WILL AND THEY WON’T” screams the major parties in robotic unison.

“But what about the economy?” we ask, peering over the lid of a five dollar latte and the pages of today’s Piers Ackerman tirade.

“What about it?”

“Is… Is it… Good?”

Both parties look at each other, hoping to discern from their opponent’s mistakes what possible aspect of a free-market economy a government can claim to have affected in the short-term.

“People have jobs” says one.

“But not enough of them!” says the other.

Silence from the people.

“More jobs!”

“More growth!

“We have the answers!”

“They don’t!”

And from this point onward the biggest challenge faced by either party is holding the attention of the undecided voter for the total length of time of the ad-breaks in Masterchef.

Good luck to them.


NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION - Tuesday August 20th