Federal Politics


Santa, please bring us pretty pollies, not this angry circus

It's that time of year when people start talking about that time of year. Santa makes lists and checks them twice, while everyone else silently complains that Santa only does stuff for kids (because it would be quite useful if there was a burly guy with a beard who did all my Christmas shopping for me). People also get reflective and wonder what the eggnog those past 11½ months were all about.

In many ways, the year in politics has ended back where it started. There are widespread concerns about how angry and personal the combat is (bitterness is the new black).

The government is calling for a debate on the real issues. The opposition is calling for an election. And both sides are calling for inquiries like they might call for a takeaway pizza.

But there were lessons to learn. After all, this is a government that keeps saying how committed it is to education. And the political fray proved to be a wise instructor.

1. Working out doesn't necessarily work. Despite his non-stop schedule, Tony Abbott is famous for his regular and intense workouts. But all that fitness came to zilch in May when he tried to bolt from the chamber to avoid Craig Thomson's ''tainted vote''. Christopher Pyne made it out before the doors shut, but Abbott was too slow (i.e. more speed training required).

Julie Bishop is also healthful to the max. But while her daily runs may mean she had the stamina to pursue Julia Gillard over the AWU scandal (in an endless line of parliamentary questions and doorstops), they didn't produce what people actually wanted: a specific allegation or piece of evidence.


2. It pays to think about your outfit. Has any piece of prime ministerial attire ever received more attention than Gillard's shoes? This year, Gillard lost a shoe on no less than three separate occasions (in January during the Australia Day protest, in August while giving a speech at Customs House and in October while visiting a memorial in India). And that's just the losses the cameras saw. This lead to serious questions about the Prime Minister's judgment. Surely she should be wearing boots or flats, not heels? Did she have any idea at all?

Peter Slipper could tell you a thing or five about the importance of dressing good. His robe-revival didn't last long in Parliament, but it got people tuning in to question time, just to see him passing by.

3. Likening social reforms (or anything) to bestiality will not help your political career. Same goes for likening the female anatomy to preserved seafoods.

4. Don't promise things you can't deliver. You shouldn't tell a kid that Santa will give them a pony ''come hell or high water'' when in actual fact, the best they're going to get is an old copy of My Friend Flicka. So too it is unwise to make grand statements about the state of the nation's finances that, hmmm, might not come true. The opposition and the media would have a field day … and how tedious would that be?

Similarly, it is best not to predict that whole towns will be ''wiped off the map'' when clearly they are still there. On the map and in person. Awkward.

5. Speaking of Whyalla, don't make a satirical music video if you can't sing. Because then, the joke's on you (comprende, Craig Emerson?).

6. Wayne Swan really likes Bruce Springsteen. This is not a drill.

7. People respond when the Prime Minister gets angry. Who cares about Real Julia? When Gillard puts on her angry hat, she comes out with the hit lines and people dig it. Think of her ''imbecile'', ''sexist pig'' monologue about Ralph Blewitt last month. And, of course, the show-stopping misogyny number. It went viral! And global!

8. Sequels are never as good as the original. Just as Babe: Pig in the City and Grease 2 didn't live up to the drama of their predecessors, February's Coup II promised a lot (starting with Rudd's surprise late-night resignation in Washington DC) but ultimately left people wondering why they had made so much popcorn.

9. Definitions change. This year we learnt that dictionaries update definitions of words. Turns out, language evolves with use. In the immigration space, it also looks like the meaning of terms such as ''international law'' and ''human rights obligations'' are changing to fit the way they are being used. Although oddly, they are moving back to their Howard-era meanings. Would the Macquarie call that progress?

10. The polls don't matter. No really, they really don't. They go up, they go down. But they don't mean ANYTHING. They are the fault of the other side and the result of how tough the decisions are.

Besides, the only poll that matters is the election. And oh, that's coming up next year.

Judith Ireland is a Canberra Times journalist.