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Election 07: boredom will win

By Mark S. Lawson - posted Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Many years ago, when Prince Charles married Diana, and the whole world went mad over the event, the long vanished National Times broke with the rest of the media pack by declaring itself Charles and Diana free. There was a notice to the effect on the cover of one issue.

Sadly, such acts of editorial courage are rare, and may have come at a price. The National Times departed the editorial scene many years ago – in part because it could not find exactly the right formula for the right market. However, the recent election campaign has made me remember fondly the National Times’ act in declaring that it would not write a word about Charles and Diana. For I wish our national newspapers would make a similar declaration about the present election - declare particular days election-free days. In fact, while they are at it, why not refuse to cover the election at all?

For only a tiny fraction of the Australian electorate could be described as politically active - the sort of people who may be able to name someone involved in the election beside John Howard and Kevin Rudd. The people who are likely to read this column may count as politically active (much of this web site is about politics, after all), but I humbly submit that the vast bulk of voters go down to the polling both on the day because they get fined if they do not. As an example, despite all the shouting and screaming over environmental issues and all the hand wringing over Australia failing to sign the Kyoto Protocol, a recent street poll by one media outlet found that a significant portion of the electorate still thinks that Kyoto is a form of sushi. Bizarre, but there it is.


Voters get the election campaigns they deserve and this time around the campaigns of both sides have been more than usually dull, although the coverage seems to carry on regardless of interest. Every day there are pages upon pages of material in each paper devoted to what the leaders promised, or what they did not promise, or to gaffes by this senior member of either side, or to apparent inconsistencies in what they leaders are saying.

Does any of this mean anything? Doubt it. To paraphrase Shakespeare; it is a lot of sound and fury signifying not very much at all. Only the political journalists will remember any of the promises now being made and even they, to judge by the occasional conversation I have overheard, are finding the election boring. In any case, no one seems to expect either side to keep any of its promises and, even during elections, gaffes have a shelf life of about a week.

However, it also impossible for the media to avoid the election. After all, what else are they there for but to pontificate about weighty matters such as national politics? And what might happen if they refuse? Although it is a stretch to say that the old National Times closed because it did not cover Charles and Diana’s nuptials, some sort of coverage was almost a cultural requirement. Same for election campaigns, and its not really the fault of the media that the campaign is so dull. If a dull election campaign is anyone’s fault, it is the Howard Government, with the help of circumstances. They have not run Australia over a cliff, or got itself into any noticeable messes. Activists may then scream about Iraq, or the environment or any other cause they think is important. So I should qualify that by saying no messes which the voters at large have noticed.

There are interest rates, of course, with the recent 0.25 per cent increase declared by the Reserve Bank of Australia being blamed on the government – but the mere fact that this event has received the prominence it has is a sign of the media’s desperation for highlights, any highlight, in this campaign. The RBA jacked up rates by that small amount in any effort to prevent it becoming overheated, instead of hot, and a hot economy generating lots of jobs is no bad thing.

One way to make life more interesting would be for us to plunge our nation into the sort of crisis that is now engulfing Pakistan - but that is going too far. I would prefer to flick past the political coverage in the newspapers, knowing that I’m not likely to be arrested because I misjudged my political stance (apathetic though it is).

All that said, there may still be a change in government, but only because Howard has been in so long that some voters in marginal seats may decide a fresh perspective is a good idea. But even that possibility is of little interest. If Howard’s Liberal-National government does go out, it will be replaced by a slightly softer, slightly more left version of the same thing. As a conservative I am not alarmed by Rudd. Anyone who pays little attention to politics - and that is most of the population - may not even notice.

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About the Author

Mark Lawson is a senior journalist at the Australian Financial Review. He has written The Zen of Being Grumpy (Connor Court).

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