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Politics without politicking wouldn't be any fun, or politics

Date

Judith Ireland

Ralph Blewitt - and <i>that</i> phone call ...

Ralph Blewitt - and that phone call ... Photo: Jesse Marlow

If you scooped up all the whinges in Australia right now and piped them through a speaker system, here's betting that one whinge would be heard loudest and clearest.

For the love of Gough, just stop. We don't want to hear anything more about incorporated associations, witnessing documents, exit interviews, big nights at the casino or money buried in the back garden.'' The same goes for who's been talking to Ralph Blewitt and whether or not they realised it was Ralph. The collective ennui about the Australian Workers Union slush fund scandal - and what Prime Minister Julia Gillard knew/did/said about it - is bordering on the cranky. The AWU thing has people climbing the walls. And that's just in the press gallery, where the kids by definition should be fascinated by the minutiae of anything that has even the vaguest political tie-in. A big part of the problem is that the Coalition has been hyping things up, drawing them out and then leaving them swinging in the breeze. A bit like The X Factor final if they didn't actually announce a result at the end.

But there is also distress because there are important issues - NDIS, Murray Darling, Gonski - that are being smothered by the slush fund blanky.

If I had a dollar for every time someone (other than a Labor staffer) bemoaned the fact that the national political debate should be focusing on POLICY, not politics, this week, I'd have enough to save the surplus, plus some left over to buy an apartment in Fitzroy.

Nevertheless, on Thursday, as Parliament wrapped up, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and the Coalition crew declared they weren't taking the spotlight off Gillard and the AWU. They want a judicial inquiry. They've even got the draft terms of reference to prove it. So, we can assume then that as the AWU affair won't be going away any time soon, nor will the demand that our politicians and political coverage focus on something else. Like policy. Indeed, the ''why can't you just talk about policy?'' refrain is no new thing. It's been a running theme of the Gillard/Abbott era where ''bipartisan agreement'' has largely been replaced by ''wishful thinking''. People are constantly worrying about the bitterness and nastiness of political chat. More recently, there have been major frustrations that the asylum seeker debate has been unable to put the policy before concerns about which party's a bigger bastard. Human lives at stake and all that jazz.

So, wouldn't it just be easier if we took the politics out of politics? Compared with ''smear campaign'' and ''parliamentary deadlock'', ''policy'' seems like a beacon of all that is good and pure in the big bad world. A place where real things get discussed and the nation can take steps towards self-improvement. But for all its faults, we shouldn't be too hasty to dismiss politics as the unhealthy, unseemly part of politics - something that should be eradicated, along with the feral rabbit population and high-waisted jeans. Because without the politics, there wouldn't any fun.

Thinking back on the year so far (as Gillard reminded us on Thursday, there's still more to come), the really compelling, edge-of-the-seat moments were not particularly policy-based. From the Australia Day scuffle and exactly who was to blame for it, to the leadership challenge (and its rumoured follow-up event), Bob Brown calling it a day, Craig Thomson making his tearful statement to Parliament and Peter Slipper standing aside and then standing down (amid all that way-out texty stuff). Gillard's misogyny speech had nothing to do with policy.

Still, it's had more than 250,000 views on You Tube and earned her an international ''badass motherf---er'' mantle. Christopher Pyne and Abbott's cartoonish scurry out of Parliament to avoid accepting Thomson's ''tainted vote'' had nothing to do with anything, really, other than stuntery. Besides, as policy debates such as the 100-year Murray Darling effort show, ''policy'' is not hermetically sealed from the fray.

This is not to argue that policy isn't important. Of course it is. Or that it doesn't get neglected. Of course it does. But we shouldn't let sagas like the AWU affair give politics an unduly bad name. Think of it like a hamburger. Burgers are seen as an evil in the food world, where you're meant to eat fruit, vegetables and soups made from home-made organic stock.

But while many burgers (like the Big Mac I had the other night because everything else was shut) are an insult to both gastronomy and digestion - when it's done right (with say, caramelised onions, real cheese and lots of pickles) it's a work of true art and beauty. That, and deep down, most people would prefer a burger to a cucumber. Provided it doesn't come with a side of incorporated associations.

Judith Ireland is a Canberra Times journalist.

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