Outside something is dying. I can hear it squealing in the dark. Some poor bird entrapped in a firm set of jaws. Teeth pushing through its bones and flesh. These are the sounds you hear at night on the farm, echoing down the river until they’re suffocated by the banks of sheoak and overhanging teatree that dip into the water without so much as a ripple. The initial panic is followed by an occasional squawk – a shuffle of feathers against the grass and finally, the cows who wander indifferently across the slaughter. Later, the mists thicken. The clouds fall away from the sky and the blackest nights are lit by a peaceful hue of starlight. It’s like the violence never happened.
This is how politicians die – in a flurry of spectacle before being hurriedly folded into the deck. A slight of hand.
Very few hear the actual slaughter, even fewer the event itself but one thing is certain, by the time morning dawns the fallen politician has been replaced by a fresh suit and a clean slate. Humanity, personality, charisma, opinion – these are all the perceived enemy of the new political class. Our major parties would prefer if their MPs were born at fifty as historical orphans with no future beyond the years they’ll spend in office reciting the party line.
This is the safe game.
As a result of this bubble-wrap approach, the majority of representatives are elected purely upon inferred merit inherited from the party despite voters having no opinion whatsoever about the actual person being elected. This is a fabulous shortcut but a precarious situation for a country which ends up having its laws drafted by a pack of strangers.
Having set the standard for perfection at the brevity of a headstone it becomes decidedly easy to remove MPs who divert from the party’s pre-ordained path. A minor infraction is all that’s required. A Tweet excavated from childhood. An innocuous private photograph or ill-conceived joke. Something written in college or, for those who are deemed worthy of perishing in a hail of headlines, a scandal in the style of HBO – tits out, blood on the floor…
The power given to the Press to make or break our elected leaders is staggering.
Without much effort, their coverage can fashion the knives with which political opponents strike. Elections are relegated to a baptismal formality rather than their intended kingmaker status. We have become voyeurs to a system engineered to use the common man as scaffolding. And what is scaffolding but something to be removed and thrown away when the building is complete…
As with the notorious trolling group SleepingGiants, the only reason that the Press are in possession of such power is through the endorsement of parties all too eager to rid themselves of political dead weight but lack the courage to do the deed themselves. More often than not, their back room whispers are where the damaging stories start and the quills sharpened. Somewhere in a desk drawer, there are incriminating post-it notes collected at candidacy to ensure any god may be slain and that no one be allowed to rise above the faceless men at the helm. At the end of the day, all of our politicians are poppies bowing their heads toward open scissors.
It is an ecosystem that gifts exceptional power to the party factions at the expense of rigorous politics.
This regrettable situation is endured by the voting public because very few mechanisms exist to protest its existence. The public must vote for candidates who are first chosen by a party. If a line of clones are on offer, there is nothing to do but scan a barcode at the ballot box.
For the industrious and brave, stepping out as an independent proves a costly venture. The reality is that you must have a considerable amount of money to represent the people but not necessarily good sense. While the Press are friendly to the established card-board cuts outs, they pick up their pitchforks and hound anyone who falls outside the fold with a voracity common to Necrotizing Fasciitis. The entrails of those who failed are often seen dragged behind campaign buses to be used as an anecdote when a diversion is required.
But wait – this is not the whole story of our political world.
Every now and then the weakened lungs of democracy cough up the most feared of all politicians… Like an exorcism these people arrive without warning to rain down havoc on the established order.
I am speaking of course, of a contrarian. An adversary to the elite.
They are a figurehead of public opinion and great care must be taken by anyone who opposes them for they are no longer simply the flip of the political coin – this person represents the people and their interests. You are looking at a champion of democracy and there is nothing in human history more persuasive than a martyr.
These rare individuals climb the steps onto the political stage eliciting a hush from within the crowd. It is the still of night when a sword has been taken to the moon and it lies on its side, half in shadow. The insects of the swamp tap their antennae against one another. A feather tumbles between the swaying grass and everything waits.
Hands wrapped around the edge of the lectern, they pause to take a good long look at the score card before holding it aloft to a stifled gasp. Then, a match is passed beneath the waxed cardboard and it is left to fall to the ground aflame.
They are the individuals who refuse to play by the tiresome rules of national nihilism. You will never find them with an exposed neck near a chopping block. Indeed, they are the only ones who seem to realise that politics is about the people, not the system.
When you understand this you also privy to the contents of a dangerous and well kept secret.
Traditional politicians like Bill Shorten crave power but they are ignorant to its origin. Sure, their electioneering skills are second to none (except possibly Clive Palmer) and on occasion their deep pockets buy them a slice of polling supremacy but – but… The great leaders of our history do not pay for power as if the voting booths are rooms to let at a Roman brothel, it is laid at their feet to the sound of raucous cheers. Call it Populisim if you like or more simply the underrated art of listening.
A true leader begins with empathy and ends as a servant of the people. That is the purpose of a politician. To serve and to listen. When these flukes of the system appear they are unstoppable because you do not face a person on the other side of the ballot, you face the country.
The established political class have always been caught expressing an unkind view of the masses who elect them. Whether it be Caligula’s wish, ‘Would that the people of Rome had but one neck, I would slit it…’ in his understandably short reign as Roman emperor or United States presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s 2016, ‘basket of deplorables’ comment which shall we say was, misjudged.
The grandeur of their office or power of their platform affords these political figures an inflated self importance leading them to woeful Freudian slips common to celebrities who forget that they are paid to read other people’s lines for a living.
Mistaking the writhing hordes of cameras for actual adulation, politicians are quick to forget that they are entrusted with other people’s money – people who are usually significantly worse off than them. Flaunting this absconded wealth does them no favours. And so we have the situation where a treasurer announcing a budget thinks his billion dollar spend is a grand gesture to win votes when in reality the public see their stolen cash consumed by the industry of politicking.
In steps a Trump. A Pauline Hanson… These are the Machiavellian princes at the gates of the city besieged from within by institutionalised rot. It is said that a leader will be despised if he is changeable, foolish, weak, mean and uncertain – Australia, take your pick. Leaders in this circumstance are wise to fear everyone and everything and so even a minor party like Pauline Hanson’s One Nation or a property developer with an empowering slogan can shake the bars of the cage clean off.
Greatness, courage, seriousness and strength. A little wit wouldn’t go astray. These are the qualities forged in those who stand up against the tide and are craved by those who struggle to survive.
The danger of a Pauline Hanson to Australia’s political establishment is profound. Her policies expose weakness of character in the conservative parties while her heart leaves the left a shrivelled, self-serving shell. You can tell how seriously the major parties and Press take her threat by the severity with which they seek to punish her existence, hounding her campaign, magnifying missteps and paying for fiction when their treacherous-foreign shovels come up empty. As with Donald Trump and the Steele Dossier, if you’re going to kill a brown snake make sure you bloody well know what you’re doing because you’ll only get one chance.
The Press missed with Donald Trump and created an untouchable president, emboldened by survival and the people love it. Not only does scandal fall on deaf ears, when the Press whisper it is their own organisation left painted as a conspirator. The damage they did to themselves unjustly setting out to destroy a man of the people has created not only one phoenix but a movement across the world. Donald Trump is protected from idle chatter while ever he sits behind the presidential desk. He cannot be unmade by the Press – only the people who sat him in the chair.
In Australian politics, Pauline Hanson is a different iteration of the phoenix narrative. Like Trump, her political opponents dragged her toward a bundle of wood left in the town square, expelling her from the Liberal party only for her to win Oxley at the 1996 election in defiance and on her own merits. Petulant, her peers in parliament walked out on her now infamous maiden in speech and in doing so, those foolish ministers walked out on the voice Australians had put in parliament. They were told to listen and they refused. It was the first of several strategic mistakes for the majors, the next coming when Pauline was unjustly (and incorrectly) sentenced to three years’ of prison over an electoral fraud charge that was later overturned. Backed by the then Prime Minister, John Howard – this action was seen as an extraordinary attempt to remove a political force from the stage. Bronwyn Bishop said it best when she spoke to Channel Seven:
“It’s gone beyond just political argy-bargy of political opponents. I think the fact that she has been charged and convicted and sentenced to three years’ jail is just outrageous. We don’t have political prisoners in our country and that’s what we’ve got today.” – Bronwyn Bishop
The striking of the match against the thatch had failed. Having survived the worst possible punishment for a political dissenter in this country, Pauline donned a fresh set of armour.
Learning nothing, the Press continue to sneer at every opportunity but as with the whispers of CNN against Trump, they serve to further isolate the people. Pauline has become the embodiment of the Australian story – a battler faithful to the country she serves – not the interests of those who seek to control her. She isn’t born of an appalling gender quota. There was no flock of factional cronies orchestrating her rise. Her voice, like it or not, is hers and hers alone.
Repeatedly we have watched her taken to the edge, driven there by betrayal or disappointment but unlike her peers who fold away and save themselves the heartache, Pauline Hanson refuses to break despite the tears. Channel 9’s A Current Affair thought they had a ‘gotcha’ moment with Pauline cornered, alone and distraught, softly prompting her to lay down arms and abandon politics for her own good but they could not have predicted a woman in possession of unwavering fortitude.
Pauline looked down the camera of her metaphoric captor with no attempt to hide the raw pain of all that she had endured. Then she did something extraordinary. She refused to give in.
“I’ve copped it more than once and I’ll keep getting up and have another go until the people don’t want to vote for me. [ … ] I have been let down dreadfully. Not by him. I can give you a whole list of them. A whole list who have actually. So just don’t put the blame on them. I’ve had Fraser Anning, I’ve had Brian Burston, I’ve had a whole list of them – David Oldfield. You name them. Where are they now? Where are they?! I have stuck with this because I believe in making a change for the people.”
Tracy Grimshaw: “Why are you still in it? Why are you still in it? Look at you. Why don’t you walk? Look at what it’s doing to you…”
“Tracy I’ve made a change out there for people. I save people from losing their lands. I have helped the farming sector. I have helped those kids out there get apprenticeship schemes that was introduced this year by the government. My scheme. I am hoping to get water inland to help the farming sector in the Murray Darling – and I’ll do it.”
Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten can subject themselves to all the ‘Leader’s debates’ they like – neither of them will earn of a measure of what Pauline did in this short interview. It was her soul on show for all to see. The absolute assurance that her reason for being in politics is to serve the people at any cost to herself. She does what is hard because it is right and she fights for those who are of no consequence to the elite because they carry no significant political advantage. The farmers. The poor. They are of value to her because they are Australians.
If you had to leave the survival of Australia on the shoulders of one person in a room full of wolves, she is the only member of parliament I trust when the doors are closed and the cameras are off.
She gets frustrated and upset, has been betrayed and made mistakes from which she has learned – she wears her heart on her sleeve but her reasons for being here matter. Not even her harshest critics can pretend that Pauline is anything other than loyal.
So, while Shorten practices his ghoulish smirk and Morrison smiles – as our major parties trouble themselves with how many bits of Australia can be lopped off and sold to their mates for international economic sweeteners – what laws can be drafted to infringe upon our right to speak and how our political systems might be manipulated to lock us into the twin pillars of green and greener – remember who faced the camera and refused to stop fighting.
Democracy itself is a fire. It started in the stranglehold of oppression where the first contrary voices fought their way out of the crowd. Humanity is not a blank slate. We cannot be painted like a red banner at the start of a Marxist revolution or pushed into uniforms, branded and told to act like thoughtless copies of each other.
No one is no one… We all have a history. Every knock is recorded. You cannot erase the people with flames any more than you can set fire to a phoenix.