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Culture of entitlement wears thin

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If Gillard, Rudd and Abbott want to serve our country, they should get on with it instead of constantly taking potshots.

A TV current affairs program recently aired a story on the rollout of the national broadband network, an interesting tale of the haves and have-nots. Winners with high-speed fibre connections were grinners, and the losers were ropeable. One man quoted in the program almost exploded out of the television with frustration that he lacked an NBN connection. Fair enough at one level, disconcerting at another.

The program didn't deliver me sufficient context (a redundant and maligned word these days I know, yet I cling to it) to understand whether his sense of entitlement was reasonable in all the circumstances. That minor mystery notwithstanding, the strength of emotion gave me pause. Do we all deserve a high-speed fibre connection right this second? Are we entitled to rail if it is not delivered?

I'm not embarking here on any patently indefensible defence of the NBN rollout. It's behind schedule, and the government can make its account to the public about why that's the case. I'm reflecting more generally on what we think we deserve, and our unforgiving disposition when we don't get it. Does the community have an entitlement mentality, the political class now wonder? Is it reasonable, is it affordable, and if it isn't, what on earth do we do to counter it?

But while politics peers out at this emerging conundrum and mutters censoriously about it sotto voce, it rarely interrogates its own hard-wired entitlement culture. If there was a word cloud about the 43rd Parliament, entitlement would be top of the pops.

There's Julia Gillard's moment of entitlement that lead her to take the leadership from Kevin Rudd. There's Rudd's sense of entitlement to have his leadership restored, even if it means destabilising the government he says he wants re-elected in 2013. There's Tony Abbott's sense of entitlement from when he was outplayed by Gillard in the negotiations that established the minority government, which then spilled over into a political strategy of personal anger and aggression, which the Coalition has harnessed to bombard the government's standing and legitimacy.

Everyone thinks their position defensible. Gillard wouldn't see herself as Lady Macbeth. She'd see herself as having acted against a leader who had lapsed into a dangerous personal funk that could have consumed the government; and acting with the support of most everyone who mattered. Then, and now: time to move forward.

Rudd - when not compelled to publicly pronounce himself ''bright-eyed and bushy tailed'', part of the team and fully recovered from all those icky things in the past - would feel himself perfectly entitled to campaign to resume the job wrongfully taken from him, by whatever tactics and means he can muster.

And the stubborn longevity of the Gillard government, with its tendency to careen between achievements and chaos, is a permanent red flag to the ultra-competitive Abbott, who believes (and intones hyperbolically, and overly often) that the government should have ''died of shame''. Abbott doesn't perceive his behaviour as the world's longest tantrum undertaken by an adult.

For him it is justifiable outrage against a government without legitimacy.

I suppose all this toxicity could be put down to normal ambition rather than wafting entitlement. Politics is crammed full of people on the permanent travelator to enhancement - a state that gives the whole scene its vaguely amoral and surreal quality, its combative and backbiting atmospherics, and its fascination for onlookers.

But the current cycle is about more than ambition. It's as if a swamp of narcissism and self-indulgence lurks always in the shadows. Periodically the grievance geysers erupt again in a slightly new iteration.

The events are all linked, so the players are all linked, and the corrosion drips on. We, the voters, are left watching an insiders game where protagonists talk in code and the media relays the code to an audience bored and estranged in their own parallel sense of entitlement. (Why are you all talking about each other, when you should be talking about me? Delivering my bloody NBN connection. Who cares about what Maxine McKew thinks about Gillard's motives in ousting Rudd? Enough about you and your kabuki play, more about me.)

Perhaps one of the protagonists can summon the strength and acuity to punch through the morass. Perhaps a transition is already happening.

The alternative is that the cycle ends conclusively with the election in 2013. What are the scenarios? Gillard wins, legitimacy asserted. Abbott wins, 2010 ''wrong'' righted. Rudd returns; fate, whatever it is, accepted. The cycle has damaged all of them, singularly and collectively. Their destinies are now strangely merged.

Individually they want different things: Gillard wants out of the dynamic, but her fellow actors resist. Rudd can't seem to stop the positioning and the proxying, the hoping. Abbott can't seem to contain the frustration, even though it's costing him, both within the Coalition and with the voters.

The great irony is they are all better than the sum of these parts. Love them or loathe them, they are three standout political talents of our time who want to serve their country.

Perhaps the truth is simple and it's this: it's time we snapped out of Groundhog Day. All of us. Past time.

Katharine Murphy is national affairs correspondent of The Age.

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46 comments

  • Good article .... but .... I think Katharine has underestimated both Rudd & Abbott.

    Commenter
    J. Fraser
    Location
    Queensland
    Date and time
    October 29, 2012, 8:28AM
    • Abbott has been tolerated, almost accepted, by his party as long as the Coalition maintains a reasonable favourable polling distance from Labor. His personal popularity irrelevant in the eyes of the Lib power brokers. His problem is that if the primary & two party preferred gap continues to close and should Labor hit the front his position becomes untenable. The Libs will be forced into reassessing Malcolm Turnbull's credentials for the job. Now that would make it a very interesting contest and one Labor could probably do without.

      Commenter
      Tim of Altona
      Date and time
      October 29, 2012, 9:27AM
    • True of the media as well. !

      Commenter
      Don
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      October 29, 2012, 10:27AM
    • Its the media who are setting up the questions.Its they who are creting the topics the politicians have to reply to, so they need to let our pelected representatives do their job for the people as democratically elected, and have some respect by butting out with their agendas of bias and prejudice.

      Commenter
      kane
      Date and time
      October 29, 2012, 11:10AM
    • Clearly the position of PM is far more important than the policy differences. People demand that the soap opera continue. Perhaps, if they could sing, it could make a great opera.

      "The poor dog laughed to see such sport and the dish ran away with the spoon".

      Commenter
      Good Logic
      Date and time
      October 29, 2012, 4:22PM
    • Certainly Katherine has underestimated the 'born-to-rule' mentality that pervaded the Howard/Costello years and is central to Abbott's catch-cry that this is an illegitimate government. In fact, the concern I have with Abbott's behaviour in his university days (punching the wall either side of his political opponent) is not that it reflects his bad attitude to women, but that it reflects his contempt for the democratic process if it does not go his way. Think about his behaviour in this Parliament and his refusal to observe the tradition of 'pairing', as an example. Think also of his preparedness to pre-judge the outcome of due legal process if it suits his political agenda (think Thompson and Slipper).

      As Tony Windsor has told us, here is a man who would do anything to win power.

      It is ironic that our first female PM struggles under the weight of two (male) millstones around her neck. Tony Abbott, who would do anything to become PM; except, that is, to debate the government on issues of policy; and K Rudd, who is capable of visionary policy, but too self-absorbed to realise that he has lost the confidence of his party.

      Commenter
      CeeBee
      Date and time
      October 29, 2012, 7:27PM
  • Frankly between the three of them the level of respect for our politicians is at an all time low, as the preferred PM numbers show.

    Perhaps all three should be retired to pasture, with no possibility of parole.

    There's plenty willing, and a couple capable of taking their places.

    Commenter
    Hacka
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    October 29, 2012, 8:28AM
    • Hey Hacka, you are right but you forgot about Swan he should be the first to go.

      Commenter
      Say it Again
      Location
      Vermont Sth
      Date and time
      October 29, 2012, 9:59AM
  • OMG! A real balanced article. I almost choked on my Corn Flakes.

    Cue all the partisan he said - she said - Howard Said -Whitlam started it - comments that usuall get posted on here.

    Commenter
    FedUp
    Date and time
    October 29, 2012, 8:49AM
    • Aside from the fact that we have to replace our inadequate Copper Communications backbone, what's left of it, sooner or later and sooner is better because infra-structure building during a Recession/Depression is generally cheaper, I think you are fairly close to the mark with your summation.

      Here's my take, the Liberals will dump Tony sometime in the next couple of months. His relentless negativity, had a short term success a while ago but the electorate are wising up to his paucity of policy, intellect but more importantly inability to provide a vision for Australia as the world starts to negotiate a new order that does not and cannot provide endless growth. They need a steady hand with a lot less mouth in the lead up to the election. Unfortunately no-one of their Front Bench gives the impression that they are any better suited.

      Labor's DNA includes the ability to hate and do so very well and publicly. Most conservatives (note: I didn't say the Conservatives) cannot handle this form of discourse. This form of discussion doesn't play out well to a Media that (mostly) no longer can be bother to analyse the nuances of the ebb and flow of society.

      I don't think the LNP will get the gig with the next Election, I think more Independents will be standing and getting it because, despite what the majors say, Independents give those majors a well deserved kick up the rear end.

      And speaking of compulsory voting, if us voters are compelled by law to turn up at the booth, so too, should those Parties that pick up their Voters Bounty have to field candidates in all Electorates. If they can decide whether they stand in an Electorate, we should be able to decided whether we vote.

      Commenter
      DenisPC9
      Location
      New England Region
      Date and time
      October 29, 2012, 8:54AM

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