A sense of perspective

One of the great things about getting away from Australia is the sense of perspective it gives. The blog has managed to be away for many recent Federal and State elections including, thankfully, all the 2010 one and most of the current one.

Perhaps the best thing is that the amount of coverage of the Australian election in foreign media is about right – almost zero with the odd exception of the odd short piece in The Economist or the FT.

While theoretically you can follow the news online the reality is that – other than cricket and football scores – why would you spend time scrolling down screens for news on Australian politics when the sun is shining and Giotto frescoes, Ravenna mosaics and Swiss Alps are beckoning? Worse, why spoil a holiday by reading blatant propaganda, misleading statements, sensational treatment of trivia and puerile analysis? That, of course, is just the media coverage of the election campaign without taking into account the claims and counter claims of the parties. Admittedly it is very probable that most Australians, even those still here, are currently absorbing as little about the election as the blog was from overseas and it is indicative that the amount of election coverage seems to be in decline and the front pages – and the online most viewed –  are more about other things. Before the blog left the puerile analysis was perhaps exemplified by the frequency of articles pontificating on the significance of having the election on, or near, Yom Kippur, and what the voting implications of that were. Now, as Private Eye says, “any fule knows” (and as the blog’s friend Gary Max reminded it) Yom Kippur may be a very holy holiday for Jews but the reality is that observant Jews not only don’t vote then but they don’t vote on any Saturday. Yet almost everyone in the Canberra Gallery made at least one, and sometimes, many comments on Yom Kippur’s significance for the election date from the time Gillard announced it, through the subsequent election date speculation and after the actual Rudd announcement. It makes one wonder how much of their other speculation is based on similar misconceptions.

On the other hand there are sometimes sudden outbursts of sanity and good sense. In this case one of them came from one news item the blog saw, while searching for the stumps score, about former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett. Now the blog likes Jeffrey, which may surprise some readers, although he is only a casual acquaintance mainly seen at the opera and as an ally in the fight to save the Victorian College of the Arts. Kennett was saying, against the grain of the conventional wisdom, that much of the debate about debt was nonsense and that there was no better time to take on debt for nation-building when interest rates are so low. The view echoes that of the FT columnist, Martin Wolf, writing in the New York Review of Books (11 July 2013) who said: “When debt is as cheap as it is today the (UK) can hardly afford not to borrow.” Earlier this year NAB CEO, Cameron Clyne, said something similar when he claimed that Australia’s real debt problem was that we didn’t have enough of it.

That is not the general view and a recent Essential research report (in crikey) suggested a majority of Australians thought our government debt was too high and that it should be removed by cutting foreign aid and arts spending. The finding was doubly revealing – that the public was wrong about the size of our debt and equally wrong about the extent of our spending on aid and the arts. Why is this so? See above regarding media coverage – particularly in the News tabloids and comments from the shock jocks.

Anyway, the blog will now join the ranks of the speculators on what will be a rare comment on the election and predict that Abbott will win. Not an encouraging thought and a very embarrassing one as back at the time of Abbott’s election as Liberal Leader the blog, in the good company of pollster Rod Cameron, confidently asserted that he was unelectable.