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Monday 8 January 2018

Blame the partisan Media

Chris Kenny's first foray into the new year "Gesture politics blocks the nation’s path to progress" is an insightful summary of the failures of our political class over the past decade.

With simply clarity he shines a torch on some policies that even a schoolchild would find laughable.

Here are a few; -

"In a nation as blessed as ours it is incongruous that our political/media class has an over-abundance of ambition when it comes to futile gestures that pretend to save the planet yet lacks sufficient will to control what is within its grasp by trimming spending to sustainable levels or redressing the social and economic disadvantage that still bedevils our indigenous people?"
and ,
"We have safe injecting rooms for heroin addicts in which it is illegal to smoke a cigarette. We defend the rights of drug addicts on methadone to drive their cars while we intervene to prevent pensioners from obtaining Nurofen Plus from their chemist without a prescription from their doctor. And we whinge about the cost of Medicare."
or , indeed; -
"We impose costly renewable energy subsidies on electricity users and then offer additional welfare to families who can’t afford their power bills. We take policy decisions aimed at ensuring coal generation and other “dirty” industries are no longer financially viable, then we lament the loss of manufacturing jobs. We look to subsidise new industries to reboot the towns and regions made redundant. And we buy diesel generators to make up the energy shortfall."
and, finally;

"We build up a successful immigrant culture based on orderly migration, yet those who argue most strongly for multiculturalism push for an open-slather approach to border control that would undermine all that has been achieved. We build an economy partly based on our cheap energy advantage but decide to turn ourselves into a high-cost energy nation that exports its cheap energy and its carbon emissions overseas. Carbon emissions still rise globally, but we pat ourselves on the back."

He shoots the blame on so called "Gesture Politics" where the objective is to show you are part of some accepted virtuous group rather than good policy outcomes.
"It doesn’t matter whether a (policy) works or not, it has done its job by providing a vehicle for its supporters to demonstrate their virtue. A gesture made is a policy goal achieved."
And surely there is too much evidence to ignore this conclusion. Our political leaders are indeed guilty as hell. I won't bother recounting the policies that serve no benefit but send a signal of virtuosity.

Yet that is not the whole story. Surely politicians have always tended to prefer policies that showed them in a good light. They have always pandered to popular opinion, casting many a dollar in directions that seemed only to benefit them in the short term. This is not a new phenomenon.

What is different today than was the case say 20-30 years ago, when we seemed to have longer term commitments and better outcomes?

What has changed?

What has changed? No doubt the short media cycle the rise of social media the clamor of dissenting voices on any policy is a factor. But there is more to it than that. In the past, if a politician strayed too far from, at the very least, 'justifiable' policies, they were held to account by an inquisitive media or indeed academia. The system included checks and balances. If some outlandish commitment was made in the interests of virtuosity or vote grabbing, both the media and some 'experts' would combine to highlight its consequences and let the audiences pass judgement. Moreover the  very possibility of such an embarrassing analysis imposed some self control on the pollies.

It seems to me that is no longer the case. Our media have become too partisan and as a result have lost their impact. Journalists no longer report objectively on "facts" but intersperse reporting with commentary. They have become players instead of observers and analysts.
Can you even imagine an ABC reporter highlighting the futility of Climate Change policies as Chris has done?

As a result audiences too have become polarized. Those who have the same political disposition will listen and even "believe", but others will switch off.  The consequence is that where a journalist highlights a problem with a policy, even a very real problem, many are not listening. The electorate has formed islands that follow the media that pander to their view of the world. This feeds on itself as the media in turn pander to their audience.

The Fourth Estate has let us down

While Chris may not have wanted to rat on his own profession, I believe they are very much part of the problem. When the media provided a generally 'objective' reporting and unbiased analysis they were trusted by the electorate as a whole. Once they became partisan they lost that trust and the power to 'weed out' bad policy outcomes. So we all suffer the consequences; a broken political system, a partisan media, islands of polarized opinion, a country made ungovernable.

Unfortunately it is hard to get this genie back in the bottle.

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