It was a grim week all round as politics continued its sludge-like presence in our daily discourse. There was not a single enlightening or uplifting moment as we watched our elected representatives go about their daily business.
ALP veteran temperature taker John Faulkner claimed he was no longer upset or angry about his crumbling Party’s proposed legislation on electoral funding reform, he was just “ashamed”.
That description could have well have applied to almost everything said and done in our national capital as weasel words sprayed forth – and stuff the consequences.
Words used to mean something in politics and aimed at high purpose. They defined our leaders and were often used for common cause – think Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher and here in Australia Robert Menzies “forgotten people” broadcasts and Paul Keating’s seminal “Redfern” admissions.
Of course, they were more often than not spoken in times of great national trauma or civic upheaval. They met the unequivocal demands of the times.
The spoken or written word had consequence and moral meaning: my words are my bond and I will be held to them.
In contemporary politics in a nation hell bent on individual entitlement whatever the cost, the reverse seems true these days. We all know of the broken promises from Julia Gillard. We remember Tony Abbott’s plea for us not to take him at his word unless the words are in writing.
And this week we watched as Christopher Pyne in his role as something called Manager of Opposition Business slithered out of his – and his leaders’ – firm and repeated commitment to pursue Gillard and her government and move a motion of no confidence.
It was first given in March to much media fanfare. It was repeated in mid-May and again in late May – in clear, unambiguous and simple words.
He wrote to the Independents seeking their private and prior support. He gave the letter to a newspaper before he gave it to the recipients.
The response was public shellacking from Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. Yet it passed like a ship in the night.
Again, the deal on funding election campaigns – worked on quietly by both sides and both major parties (not the coalition partner, the Nationals, it seems) – was buried by Tony Abbott, correctly, after his own written words exposed his complicity in rank political shoddiness.
But there was a glimmer of hope, and it came from someone who was born Heritier Deserbelles Lusevy Lumumba – now known as Harry O’Brien, the prominent AFL footballer playing for the Collingwood Football Club.
He talked about racism, and we all know why.
“It’s casual. Whether it is indirectly or historically, we experience it because it’s almost like our racial discrimination has been hidden under larrikinism. People aren’t taught about the struggles of other people and why they would want to leave their country as a refugee or asylum seeker”.
Listening to and watching O’Brien talking with passion and eloquence on the Fox Footy Show I couldn’t help thinking back to February this year and the deliberate use of words by Liberal Senator Eric Abetz .
He wanted communities to be notified when asylum seekers are released from detention.
He was asked why the government had to inform people about would-be-refugees when it didn’t inform them about paedophiles who are released from prison. “If I might say, I wouldn’t put the two (paedophiles and refugees) in the same category – necessarily”.
They were odious words, odious thoughts, probably long forgotten – but on the record, and a reminder that words say a great deal about the speaker and the speakers’ motives.
For uplift, light or moral compass it seems we need to bypass Canberra these days and turn to some remarkable individuals not caught up in any way in the place that’s supposed to represent us all.