Date: May 12 2012
Just when you thought the federal political debate could not become any more confused, it
has taken a running jump into the deep and murky pool of philosophy.
This week, our leaders have tied themselves into ontological knots over what's real and what's not.
Whenever one lot inches their way towards establishing a fact, the other side rushes up to declare that really, it's a big fat fake.
It's the political equivalent of a hippie hitting you over the head with a tambourine, telling you you're only dreaming that you're awake.
On Tuesday, the government triumphantly confirmed to the nation that the 2012-13 budget would be a surplus budget.
With the $1.5 billion surplus scraped together from various wounded departments and depleted programs (and a quick whip around the Treasury on Monday night), Wayne Swan was strutting around like a world champion treasurer, telling Australia how ''proud'' he was to deliver a budget that was ''Labor to its bootstraps.''
But even before Swan had given his budget night surplus speech - here it is Australia! - the Coalition was arguing the surplus was about as reliable as a sausage roll from the servo. Tony Abbott said the only reason the government could forecast a surplus was because it shifted spending from next year to this year. ''This is why this whole business of a surplus is such a charade,'' Abbott said.
Undeterred, the government excitedly told us that parents of school-aged kiddies would get a hefty cash bonus to help pay for expensive school things like lost jumpers, calculators and new shoes. In an overture to that electoral nirvana, working families, Julia Gillard spruiked the bonus as way of dealing with the ''real costs of getting kids to school''.
But again, the Coalition said it was rubbish. It wasn't a payment to help the young people of Australia get the education they needed but an unaccountable bribe. Or as Joe Hockey put it, ''a sugar hit''.
So, with the Coalition refusing to support the payment - voting against it in the House and Senate - the ground shifted once again.
Gillard told Abbott to ''get off the north shore of Sydney'' and go and talk to some ''real families'' who really needed the financial support.
You would think that the woman who has been accused of being a fake for much of her prime ministership would baulk at the idea of deeming fellow Australians real or not real on the basis of superficial factors. But the Labor to the bootstraps budget was clearly going to stick the boot in too. Abbott might spend half his time riding the country on a bike and visiting remote indigenous communities, but clearly all he knows is the luxurious streets of Mosman. With the help of the tabloids and talkback, inhabitants of the north shore arked up to insist that they were just as real as any other Australian.
For his part, Abbott used his budget reply speech to accuse Gillard of ''playing the class war card'' and stir up sympathy for wealthy Australians. He went on to wax lyrical about businesses and billionaires and all the money and jobs they bring to Australia. In a decidedly Gordon Gecko moment he observed: ''success is good.''
A recurring line from our Prime Minister is that she's not going to play the ''rule-in, rule-out game''. This is usually employed when she's pressed on a specific issue, where a simple yes or no would be too damning.
This week, however, there has been a veritable enthusiasm for ruling things in and out. Both sides of politics have more than happy to go in to bat for hackneyed constructs, be they battlers, billionaires, working families or working businesses - trying to sell themselves as MPs that really get Australians and really care in the most inclusive way.
It's ironic then, that where there was a real opportunity to be inclusive, our leaders looked the other way.
On Thursday, Barack Obama announced that he'd ''evolved'' in his thinking on gay marriage and now supported the idea of people being allowed to marry, regardless of the gender makeup of their relationship. It's being described as a brave momentum-shifter in the US and possibly around the world.
Yet immediately after the news, Gillard declared unceremoniously that she was still against gay marriage. ''My view hasn't changed,'' she said without ado. ''Well you know, I believe what I believe.''
If only in this case, we'd had Abbott rushing up to argue the Prime Minister was wrong and that gay Australian relationships were just as genuine as everyone else's. That denying a section of the population the right to marry was a ''charade'' or even a ''sexuality war''.
If we're talking about overcoming ''us'' and ''them'' divides in Australian society, wouldn't it be good to start with a real one?
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