As Australians were bracing for their lives amid the bushfire crisis, two parties turned it into a cheap political football, writes Joe Hildebrand.
As Australians were bracing for their lives amid the bushfire crisis, two parties turned it into a cheap political football, writes Joe Hildebrand.

Joe Hildebrand: ‘Australian politics hits a new low’

OPINION

In the 1997 movie Orgazmo, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone conceive of a magic gun that makes anyone it is fired at instantly climax in their pants.

Technically no one gets hurt, there is just a brief rush of endorphins followed by immediate embarrassment and shame.

And watching events unfold in federal politics this week, it is difficult not to believe that someone has deployed such a weapon in Canberra.

It is perhaps not surprising that the two minor parties whose undergraduate antics turned Australia's unprecedented bushfire crisis into a cheap political football the very moment it began were the same ones who demeaned a national day of recognition for the victims and heroes of that tragedy with their own petty squabbles and ambitions.

As we know it was the Greens' Adam Bandt who couldn't wait to get out of the blocks on social media to pin the bushfire crisis on the Coalition's lack of action on climate change even as people were bracing for their lives. And it was the Nationals leader Michael McCormack who foolishly rose to the bait by branding Bandt and his supporters "inner-city lunatics".

Both men may have had a point but that didn't make their interventions helpful. As the Dude saliently observes in The Big Lebowski: "You're not wrong Walter, you're just an asshole."

And now both men are leaders of their respective parties after the first sitting day of Parliament was hijacked from being a day of thanks and recognition for those at the firefront to yet another Canberra leadership tussle.

Now I don't want to be too harsh on Richard Di Natale. I genuinely believe he is a decent man and any politician who decides to put his family first automatically gets my vote - even if by definition they will never be able to receive it.

But the timing of his decision to step down is, at best, unfortunate.

Greens leader Adam Bandt couldn’t wait to get out of the blocks on social media to pin the bushfire crisis on the Coalition’s lack of action on climate change. Picture: Tracey Nearmy
Greens leader Adam Bandt couldn’t wait to get out of the blocks on social media to pin the bushfire crisis on the Coalition’s lack of action on climate change. Picture: Tracey Nearmy

Mere weeks after the PM was viciously excoriated by countless Greens supporters - and at least one Greens state MP - for taking a week off during the bushfire crisis Di Natale has taken the rest of his career off on the very day that crisis was to be highlighted in the national parliament.

To be fair, Di Natale didn't join in the personal sledging of the PM - as I said, he is a decent man - but surely he could have waited 24 hours so as not to detract from the day of recognition.

And if we really are at the zenith of a "climate emergency" as so many Greens Twitter hashtags proclaim, surely it would be more important than ever for a man of his sensibility to stick around?

Having presided over a steady level of support for the Greens - about 13 per cent at last count - they are still a way off Di Natale's bullish hopes for 20 per cent by 2025.

It is hard to imagine how they will increase their base by moving even further to the left under the erstwhile Marxist Bandt. I'm not sure exactly how many votes the Communist Party of Australia tallied at the last federal election but I'm pretty sure it was a fair bit shy of seven per cent.

Moderate leaders, even moderate Greens, are always to be welcomed in politics. It is therefore a shame for the nation that Di Natale has decided to go but, as I said, family must always come first.

This brings us to Barnaby Joyce, a man whose love of family is so strong that he now has two of them.

Barnaby is good fun and good company and about as good for stable government as the smoking room on the Hindenburg.

It is impossible not to like Barnaby - unless of course you were once married to him - but it is equally impossible not to view his latest act as a madness that would put King George to shame. To lose one leader, as Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell might opine, is a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.

And yet this is precisely the carelessness Barnaby deliberately attempted to orchestrate in using Bridget McKenzie's excruciating exit as a platform for his leadership comeback.

Again, to be fair, both McKenzie going out and Joyce coming in were equally inevitable. The only difference is the former has happened and the latter hasn't happened yet.

But this doesn't mean that Joyce's leadership putsch was the right thing to do - he is just another Walter.

Nationals member for New England Barnaby Joyce during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, February 6, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Nationals member for New England Barnaby Joyce during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, February 6, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

And so, on a day when the national parliament was poised to pay tribute to the tragedy and loss suffered by regional Australia, the party that claims to represent regional Australia managed to put its own petty and personal interests in the way.

Say what you like about McKenzie, at least when she screwed the pooch she was doing it for the team. Barnaby's reasons have all the clarity of a magic 8-ball.

And just when you thought politics couldn't become more unbecoming, we have Malcolm Turnbull - who seems to be adjusting well to retirement - exposing snippy texts about a colleague's wife. I have been a very lonely defender of Malcolm at times but I honestly thought that sort of thing simply wasn't done in Point Piper.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Picture: Richard Dobson
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Picture: Richard Dobson

The overall impression of Australian politics is thus similar to a dog taking a dump on a Persian rug. As a nation we are a tightly meshed interwoven fabric of unspeakable beauty and harmony and on top of it is a great big pile of shit.

And frankly it's high time our political leaders were house trained, because right now we are all holding our breath.

Joe Hildebrand is editor-at-large for News.com.au and co-host of Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays on Channel 10. Continue the conversation @Joe_Hildebrand

Bridget McKenzie. Picture: Mick Tsikas
Bridget McKenzie. Picture: Mick Tsikas

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