Australia has always been a wealthy nation and will undoubtedly continue to be so. With its abundance of natural resources, its competitive business sector and stable political and social environments the sky's the limit for the land down under. In fact Australia is now in it's 22nd year of continuous economic growth, a record unequalled anywhere in the developed world. It sounds like Shangri-La, right? But if you listen to politicians or your average punter on the street, and especially the media, you'd swear the place is falling apart at the seams.
Depending on who's doing the talking we're either in the throes of being overrun by refugees or turned into an economic basket case, ruled by intellectual elites, nannied to death, governed by socialists or at the mercy of politically correct social engineers. Why is this so? Clearly it's a complex question that would normally deserve a complex answer if there wasn't a fundamental, overarching determinant at play that continues to evade serious examination. In essence the problem boils down to a general attitude shift from natural optimism to un-Australian pessimism. In the 24/7 of multimedia overload we now seem to see real news as bad news rather than information.
We have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Perhaps at some point in time - like now - Australians need to take a good hard look at themselves and own up to an unpleasant fact: whether caused by relevance deprivation, boredom, or just from being spoiled rotten, we have surrendered to the culture of complaint. Simply put we have become a nation of political whingers. Australians today have never been so well off in terms of material wealth, choice or opportunities, and yet we have devolved from the laconic 'she'll be right' attitude of yore into a populace of cynics. And there may be an argument to be had that a factor driving this malcontent is the explosion of mainstream media commentators sold to us as political gurus.
Numerous mainstream Journos have been turned into rock stars with their own media profiles. They are paid big money to put their own spin on politics according to their own political bias. Rather than interpret politics they now shape it. A question must follow: what happens when an excess of political commentators is dropped into a finite market that services an insulated nation at the 'arse end' of the world? They compete. Competition ups the ante. They begin to embellish stories and even manufacture stories where none exist. They take sides. They form political allegiances. Competition soon has them turning on each other - journalistic cannibalism. Richo, Bolt, Akerman, Cassidy, Jones, Albrechtsen ... the list goes on, bitching and criticising each other as if they were the show instead of Canberra. Thus the media scribe's word becomes a screech, a scream for attention masquerading as investigative journalism. And this of course all seeps into the public's collective consciousness.
An example of their influence. The government had bipartisan support from the Opposition on electoral funding reforms that would increase party funding by $20 million a year for administrative purposes in the lead up to the election. The idea behind it was that cash-strapped parties could avoid relying on more donations from large private institutions and interest groups with their own agendas in the way it works in the U.S. The commercial media in particular took delight in portraying both sides of politics as greedy money grubbers snatching from the public purse in the dead of night. As a result the opposition folded, pulling out of their agreement with the government to please the "voter". And what exactly was the government asking for? It works out at 80 cents a year for each man woman and child. 80 cents per year! An example of common sense policy being crushed by the propaganda of media rock stars who all knew better.
As it stands at the time of writing the government is headed for a resounding defeat in the September election. Partly through poor communication skills, partly through a perception of poor political judgement, Prime Minister Julia Gillard is seen as the government's main liability. But if you look at the government's record it becomes clear how succesful she and her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, have been. This from a reputable journalist, Fairfax's Peter Hartcher:
“Australia is a country that’s doing very, very well,” Bill Gates pointed out last week. “Australia has the lowest debt, or close to the lowest, of any rich country, and the lowest deficit of any country I can think of.” In the same week, Australia’s living standards were judged to be the best of any rich country for the third year in a row, according to the OECD’s Better Life index encompassing 15 measures of wellbeing. Yet we are gloomy about what we’re building for our children. A poll last month by the Washington-based Pew group finds that 53 per cent of Australians believe today’s children will be worse off than their parents. And the lack of confidence in the national leadership seems to be a central reason.
To those who live in the microcosm that is Western Sydney, none of these facts matter, they just hate Julia Gillard because they have been told to hate Julia Gillard. They have been told that refugees arriving by boat are illegal immigrants. They have been told that her government is the worst in history. Media commentators of course rarely point to their own influence in this, preferring to find fault in the prime minister. Politicians are never blameless but when the good burghers of Sydney's west are constantly bombarded by self appointed political experts like Alan Jones and Ray Hadley with their ongoing hate campaign, aided and abetted by conservative ideologue, Andrew Bolt, the real reason for her extreme unpopularity comes to the fore.
Gillard has been portrayed by these three media "stars" alone as a liar, a crook, a thief, a slut, a fool, a phoney, a back stabber, and her partner is laughed at as an idiot hairdresser. This from a radio station of right-wing Anglo-Saxon, all male shock jocks who are totally unrepresentative of multicultural Western Sydney. But it works. It works because bad news is real news in today's Australia. It works because entertainment today is watching someone fall. Indeed we have changed.