Monday, April 9, 2012

A post in three parts I: Hubris and humility

Part 1: Hubris and humility

In my earlier post about tweeting from the tally room, I remarked that the blue avalanche was going to hit early and hit hard. The determined blue bars of the LNP on each electorate graph told the story. At 6.20pm I thought it extraordinary, by 6.30pm we psephies were already prognosticating on what a return to a Liberal-National government would mean. As I write, the poll is yet to be declared, Bulimba has only just been conceded by Labor’s Di Farmer and we still have a by-election to be held in outgoing Premier Anna Bligh’s seat of South Brisbane. Suffice to say that the likely make-up of the new house is 78 seats to the LNP, 7 ALP, 2 long-standing Independents in Liz Cunningham and Peter Wellington and 2 for Bob Katter’s Australia Party. In a unicameral parliament (a psephy technical term for ‘one chamber’; our federal parliament is bicameral), that’s one heck of a majority.

So, on election night, given that neither party leader saw it necessary to present themselves at the tally room for their respective concession and victory speeches, I only had some audio of Campbell Newman’s victory speech from some salubrious hotel over in the CBD. Of course he was humble, of course his team would not take advantage of the overwhelming majority handed to them by the electorate, of course it was a majority not even the party faithful could have envisaged (OK, except perhaps, Clive Palmer in one of those TV cameos that makes some Queenslanders feeling a little less…well…Queenslandish). But Mr Newman was, as he promised, ready to get to work for Queensland and bring some of his Can-Do council operations to the state level. Look out Queensland we’re in for a ride here…

A little backdrop: Queensland politics has always held a fascination for me. Sydney-born, my family moved to the Gold Coast when I was 9 ¾ years of age. The only remnants of my Sydney birthright I cling to are my football team, the mighty Sea Eagles, and Freshwater Beach; by every other measure I consider myself a Queenslander these days even down to State of Origin (I remember 1980! Besides, I already owned a maroon and white scarf…). Growing up on the Gold Coast in the 1970s and in a strongly-Liberal Party household, I recall some fascination even then with the fact that on a state-level, the Coast was green-ribbon National while federally, it was blue-ribbon Liberal. Adults around me clearly voted for two different parties though I suspect the state vote had more to do with the overwhelming politics of personality—that of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen. We on the Coast were also blessed with the other half of the ruling ‘diumvirate’ in Russ Hinze, aka Minister for Everything. Politics was very real for me even then.

Moving to Brisbane and university in 1981 saw the beginnings of another political awakening. I didn’t expect to be terribly political as a student, I just simply wanted to study Japanese, earn my teaching quals and go out and teach…but a funny thing happened on the way to teachers college. Of the many things I value about my education, learning to understand, to listen and to agree or disagree amicably with others is a trait learned and, in every way, constantly engaged. Emerging from the family cocoon to see another side of politics was eye-opening. The early 1980s of course, was what some consider to be the height of Johannesque hubris and a time when people who cared about democracy and a fair and just society were under the pump, so to speak, to stand up for what is right.

I look back and think about that time now with some disbelief. We’ve been kind of relieved that we can stand in a group of three on Queen Street Mall and chat, without fear or favour. Street marches and demonstrations, while highly controlled and over-officiated, at least aren’t completely banned. And our cultural scene here has flourished over the last few decades (although who doesn’t miss that gritty underground passion of The Saints and others…). One would hope that social norms were sufficiently embedded now to resist a return to the past…another world.

Back to the present: so it was as I listened to Campbell Newman’s speech, as I watched later the footage of Clive Palmer, as I caught the bus home from the tally room…I found myself recalling my student days and the things I learned back then…were they about to return?

Sunday 25 March I awoke to a sense of anticipation and trepidation: which way forward I wondered, or back to the past…whichever way, I thought, it was going to be all the more important to work at my day job—convincing others of the need to be engaged, to participate actively in our politics, to discard our comfortable apathy of recent times.

Monday 26 March and the curtains of another era seemed to be unveiling. Within hours, two very political appointments to Director-General positions were announced. ‘So what?’ …were the cries from one side, what about Anna Bligh’s spouse gaining a similar sort of appointment upon her accession to premier in 2009. Indeed, yes, but what wasn’t right then didn't justify repeating the dose twice, this time around…ah hubris and humility…such fleeting wisps of rhetorical smoke. My larger life-project, as we old-fashioned academics like to refer to our work, is to aim to restore trust between the governed and the governors—reinvigorate the ‘social contract’ such that we can have a polity that works in everyone’s interest. My sense on this Monday was that my hoped for reinvigoration was off to a bad start…

In this last week, the spectre of Joh seems to be lurking a little more earnestly. The news that the opposition would not be accommodated in the usual rooms in parliament house, but sent elsewhere, had such a ring of the old ‘Bellevue’ days of yore, I just had to check my calendar. The crowning ‘achievement’ this week of course was the axing of the Premier’s Literary Award about which much has been written, and far more eruditely than I should attempt. Suffice to say that in the new era of hubris and humility, it was a politically mean decision. In the scale of budgetary fiscal responsibility, it is but a small amount; and yet its value in what it says about the importance of humanities and achievements of those who strive to tell our stories is, or was, far greater. I suspect the cost of refitting the former opposition offices and accommodating them elsewhere will see the $240,000 saved in literary awards sucked down a dark hole of renovation expenditure, and you can bet it won’t be spent on Bunnings laminate and chipboard…

So, my dear and patient reader, this is the state of our politics in this state two weeks into the new era. I’m a little anxious over what I’ve seen so far. I think you need to be forewarned that my public role over the next three years at least is now clearly defined…I will be stepping up to implore us all that our politics matters—it is not about them, it is about us and what we should do to make it work. It should be less about Campbell’s can-do and more about our can-do and must-do…we’ve a lot of do, do, doing ahead of us. Won't you join with me in doing what we can-do?