Why Politics in Queensland Right Now? and… The Preston Institute Begins

I will begin by asking the question – why is the newspaper coverage of the devastation so interested in the politics of it?  We’ve had Moir in the SMH showing Gillard looking small while Bligh is talking about the floods; people speculating about Bligh’s political future beyond the election and comparing her to Gillard.  Yes, Anna Bligh has the job of explaining and talking to her people of Queensland while Gillard has the job of talking about more general Australian Government things. It would sound silly if Gillard was asking “fellow Queenslanders” to help “Rocky” recover.  Comparing them is pointless and just a little bit tacky.

It is during these types of events that normal, boring politics can be dropped and leaders can speak from the heart.  That’s because journalists and readers would be more forgiving of “mistakes”.  It’s also the case that politicians give far too many press conferences on too many small, pointless things.  There stand the often unforgiving pens of journalists and – even worse – the jackals on the side – that has meant politicians have to be safe and scripted.   We in NSW saw the demise of Nathan Rees, partially because he actually said what he thought.

Then we have Tony Abbott.   The eternal politician arrived, first speaking not of devastation and bi-partisan support, but instead raising the idea of spending billions on more dams – which was repudiated pretty swiftly by political interests and actual hydrology experts – demonstrating the gap between Abbott, his media cheer squad at the Australian and experts in the field.  Next, he made the link between post-flood repair costs and the entirely irrelevant NBN project – showing that he will use anything, even devastation and loss – to make a hackneyed political point.  It may be a hackneyed and irrelevant point to people, but in this editorial, The Australian demonstrated their disconnection with true empathy in order to further display their lockstep support of Abbott’s Liberals.

My point?  Now is not the time to make political points – whether it be Bligh, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, The Australian.  Now is not the time for journalists to be asking whether the spending on the post-flood recovery operation will affect budget surpluses.    That can come in the months down the track when the reality hits and the hard work begins.  Now is the time for words of the sort that Julie Bishop came up with in her excellent National Times piece – “There is a powerful La Nina effect, resulting in warm water surrounding Eastern Australia and directing moist winds over the eastern states.  One measure of the weather patterns is the Southern Oscillation Index, which ominously has already reached record levels in terms of anticipated rainfall.  All indications are that our magnificent men and women of the emergency services have many sleepless nights in front of them. Our prayers are with them all”.  Indeed they were.  And so should be those politicians and political journalists who just can’t help themselves.

By the way… Why The Preston Institute?

People of the outer suburbs have had many people talking about us – even Gerard Henderson in the Herald purports to speak about “Western Sydney” (here’s a quick precis from Loon Pond ), he speaks as someone who would be much too scared to walk through Penrith Plaza or sit on the beanbags at the Mt. Druitt Halfpipe Cinema.  Gerard, of course, for those who don’t know, is the Executive Director of the Sydney Institute.

Hence, I speak to you as Preston Towers, Executive Director of the Preston Institute. The Preston Institute will sit somewhere between the Sydney Institute, which appears to be a supper club for rich and powerful people listen to a revolving list of reactionary conservatives railing against the “elites” while tucking into their Confit of Suffolk lamb loin with smoked white carrot cream, fennel infused milk curd, Pantelleria capers, nasturtiums, green almonds and fennel pollen; and the Ponds Institute, which is a secretive place dedicated to keeping us all clean and young looking.  Hence, I will rail against elites while cleaning up things – all of which is dedicated to making you all young looking.

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4 thoughts on “Why Politics in Queensland Right Now? and… The Preston Institute Begins

  1. Hi Pres,

    Interesting take on things. I for one welcome the existence of more Institutes. I’d love to have one of my own but I can’t find any financial backers. Hence why I am now starting a business selling arms to the Sudanese government.

    If I may disagree a little bit, though, I think it’s not unreasonable to expect political commentary at times like this. Politicians don’t stop being politicians, even during disasters. Perhaps it’s a bit callous to make commentary on politics when people are dying, but the reality is that politics is always going on. It cannot have failed to occur to Bligh, Gillard or their minders that there are political opportunities inherent in this. I’m not suggesting they’re rubbing their hands with glee, and they may not even believe they are acting with their political interests at heart, but I think on some level they’d have to be aware of it. Bligh knows she’s been in trouble and I’m sure that she knows that she will help her own case by being strong and human on national TV. Of course she cares deeply about the victims and is doing her best, and she hasn’t been overtly political like Abbott has. But I think you’re being a little bit optimistic that the business of politics can stop and start on command.

    The press definitely share responsibility. I often wonder just how democratic our society is – do we choose our leaders, or do the media? In terms of disasters, I think a lot of what we see is actually for the press’s benefit, not ours. Again, politicians (and even the press) probably convince themselves it’s for our benefit, and they’re not deliberately trying to placate the Hungry Beast that is the Australian media, but I think the political and social climate is such that the behaviour of political leaders in a crisis is based as much on what the media wants as what is logical and rational. I think that “what the people want” and “what the media wants” are largely interchangeable terms. After all, the media decide what we care about. Remember the Latham debacle when he failed to comment on the tsunami? I wonder just how many people would even have noticed if the media hadn’t gone into their frenzy.

    Anyway, just food for thought.

    And don’t knock the Sydney Institute. If these people weren’t inside it, they’d be on the streets causing trouble.

  2. I do get your point, Cam. However, I think politicians do leave their political lives in the background when a tragedy occurs and they do what they have to do – and, more importantly, do what the public expects leaders to do. I am possibly naive to believe that politicians should bury petty partisan battles at times like this. I feel, though, that some politicians (Abbott, for example) and elements of the media have little respect for this tradition. I think they should. This could be written off as “morality” or a value judgment – which is what I am doing. Just once I’d like politics to take a back seat. I think everyone affected by this tragedy would, if we asked them.

  3. I can’t help myself on this score. Can I simply state that news media see everything through the political prism these days because of their ability to do so. The 24/7/365 news cycle drives them that way. Combine that with the fact that in times past – pre-facebook & twitter – a different class of politician existed which was capable of behaving more human & less politician, and I think what you’re seeing is a creature of the times. The technological times. The times where each politician believes they are being watched and must be what they perceive their followers want them to be.
    I was most impressed by Anna Bligh’s approach to the flood problems and how she has clearly given the issue her total attention. To me, that’s statesmanship, that’s leadership. Random bible quotes and thinly veiled remembrances to governments of 35 years in the past, pollies supposedly making sangers then appearing on camera touting that claim is only to be reviled in my view.
    It’s the modern age and we who believe that a certain level of political decorum should be more forthcoming are, I’m sad to say, not of that age.

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