The donkey gets the last laugh

This morning I couldn’t help taking a quick peek at the on-line Sydney Morning Herald to see if our prime minister has managed to get himself toppled from office overnight.

Australia is the only country I know of where a democratically-elected leader is regularly deposed from office mid-term by his/her party colleagues. It’s happened twice in recent history, both times while I was overseas in Canada. I’d be having a cappuccino at the local café and to my astonishment would notice headlines announcing that Australia had a new prime minister. It can be a bit of a shock if you’re abroad and haven’t been Julia and Kevin face offpaying attention to the daily internecine squabbles that only a local newspaper could love. Following on from the surprise was the embarrassment of having to explain to bemused Canadians how such a thing could happen.

GuruI’m reminded of an interesting conversation in the yoga shed this week, over warrior poses and backbends. Housemate Eve and her old friend and yoga colleague Peter were reminiscing about goings-on back in the day with abusive gurus and their unwitting victims. We speculated about how such authorities amass and abuse their power—and how it often turns on them. Peter noted Herr Hitlerthat people put their gurus on a pedestal, and then before too long put them under it. We reflected on how often we admire a trait in someone, then suspend judgement and hand over our personal responsibility to them; we get abused, then blame the abuser for their treatment of us. We speculated about the kind of vigilance one must have in order to neither abuse nor become abused.

And there was another conversation a few days ago over a glass of wine, where we discussed the “donkey vote”. This is the term for when you deliberately or accidentally spoil your ballot in the voting booth and is not uncommon in countries where voting is compulsory. Whether the term “donkey” is related to being stubborn or being stupid I’m not sure, but the connotation is surely disparaging. The implication is that people don’t vote properly because they don’t follow or understand the issues, or they don’t pay attention to what the candidates are saying they stand for. Donkey voters are considered to be at best ignorant and at worst apathetic. Either way, they’re irresponsible.

I took a strong personal interest in this conversation, because I usually employ a version of the donkey approach. On election day, I go into the polling box, carefully fold my two ballots, then exit and put them in the ballot box. I do this in secret, although I don’t know why as I’m now telling you and all of cyberspace about this idiosyncrasy.

Now, I assure you, I am not particularly ignorant or apathetic. I do my deed out of a deep sense of personal responsibility and respect for due process. What I’m thinking as I fold that unmarked ballot is that I don’t trust the candidates to stick to what they say they’ll do, or not do—actually, I know they can’t, because they’re caught in the party system. More important, I’m thinking that I must not abdicate my responsibility for the critical issues of our time by putting an X in front of some candidate’s name and hoping they’ll do the right thing by me. My vote will not fix anything or aid anything. The system doesn’t work and I prefer not to play the game.

(I grant you that any other game will be incredibly complicated to figure out, and will exist only in a far distant future, but, hey, you’ve got to start somewhere. That’s me in the polling booth—just starting somewhere.)

Anyway, I feel vindicated by the morning’s news. The Sydney Morning Herald offers strong odds that Tony won’t survive another week. And in spite of the international embarrassment another coup will cost me, I can’t say I’m sorry. I know as much about his without-substance policies and his broken promises as the next guy, but it’s his adversarial behaviour that has me licking my lips to see him go.

This brings me to my point. I reckon it’s the adversarial system that’s making a mockery of justice and wise decision-making, and Tony Abbott has been the most adversarial of them all. Ever since I first heard of him, he was obstructive and on the attack. My friend Diane and I used to meet him on the streets of Forestville when we went walking in the mornings, as Tony galloped by in his joggers, giving us a little wave. He probably didn’t appreciate the danger he was in as he loped past, in that Diane wanted to trip him because he was a Liberal and I because he was so noisily negative about everything.

People who voted for Abbott and won him fair and square in the election — unfortunately, they won’t have him for long, and they won’t get the decisions they were promised or the quality of governing they were hoping for. But I, with my donkey vote, had no expectations and will have no disappointments.

I doubt there’s anything Tony can do now to stem the flow of his blood. He was on the pedestal, and now he’s under the pedestal. The sharpest tool in his kit is his ability to attack, and people are OVER that technique at the moment. Because, of course, it’s not just Tony. Much as I may dislike him, he’s not unique. We have a long tradition of the automatic negative. Our Parliament is the one place where one day you might hear: “Motherhood? If you lot are in favour, I’m opposed.” And we’re all tired of it.

Maybe that’s the good news in all this. At some point we’ll get so sick of the adversarial system that we’ll start looking for something else. It can’t happen too soon for this donkey.


16 thoughts on “The donkey gets the last laugh

  1. I suspect it would take something big – like a nuclear war between China and the USA over the Republic of China – to make us realize that politicians cant be trusted.

  2. I’m always surprised by the amount of attention leadership squabbles of a political party, at state or federal level, receive in the media.

    We all hear and say ‘elected leader’ but of course Prime Ministers and State Premiers are nothing of the sort. They are ‘chosen leaders’ of an ‘elected party’ – and have as much tenure as the captain of the national cricket team.

    I have never voted for Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull or any other Prime Minister (or likely PM) since I reached voting age in ’78, because their names were never on my electorate’s ballot paper!!

    Some people in Queensland voted for Kevin Rudd, some people in Victoria voted for Julia Gillard, and some people in a couple of places in Sydney voted for Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

    SO sick of the pretense that this is some pseudo presidential thing, that the whole country likes to play along with – when non performing ‘captains’ should be shown the door as they would be in any other position.

    • That’s a great point, John, and I like the analogy of the cricket team captain. The party system could learn from that. But I guess it’s inevitable that the leadership squabbles get a lot of attention, when the leaders themselves get so much attention throughout their whole tenure. You can’t glance at any paper without seeing Tony’s photo and comments in 10 places, so it stands to reason the electorate would get a bit reactivated when he’s getting turfed. Maybe “leaders” is completely the wrong word.

  3. I too am heartily sick of such an adversarial system, especially given that with only two major parties it’s inevitable that a large slab of the electorate will be dissatisfied with which ever party takes power. I think the behaviour of Aussie politicians the past few years wouldn’t be tolerated in a kindergarten – fighting, name-calling, discrediting opponents, total aversion to cooperation. It would be good to see more respect and willingness to compromise, but I suspect it won’t happen any time soon.,

    • Maybe that’s the problem: we weren’t allowed to get all that hostility out of our systems at kindergarten! – Just kidding, of course. There are many, many things wrong with The System, but why we’ve locked an adversarial structure (courts and parliament come racing to mind) in place is beyond me.

      • Lol, you could have a point about kindy. Anyway, it’s hard to see a way forward, in politics.

  4. Thanks for a very thought-provoking piece. I must confess to being a donkey myself, although, in the past, I have voted and even run for office. (Perhaps I can be forgiven as – I tallied recently – the candidates I backed never won a single election. One has to keep in mind, that, despite the immense complexity of the decision, the average voter likely spends far less time researching their choice than they do on choosing a new car.) For me, the query now is how to be a leader while eschewing politics altogether. There are other ways to have influence in the world – and far more honest ones. Didn’t Gandhi say something about being the change that you wish to see in the world?

    I think one of the secrets as to why we’re locked in an adversarial system is buried in that first comment from “Mike”. A history of conflict on this planet actually suggests the opposite: a big war makes most everyone cling to their clay-footed leaders as if their lives depended on it, often paying the ultimate price. “War is the Health of the State” said Randolph Bourne in 1918. I seem to recall that George Bush went from being the least trusted president in history to the most trusted in the space of one day: Sept.11, 2001. Hardly an expected result on rational grounds. In my opinion, the autocratic leaders of Iran, North Korea, and Cuba have survived so long thanks to the deprivations caused by the permanent state of war the US government has imposed on them. (The flawed enemy-of-my-enemy logic.) If we really came to understand this dynamic, we might make some progress.

    I shall be continuing my inquiry…

  5. Gordon must be looking down on you and saying “You go, girl. You run for Prime Minister of Australia”…..

    Sent from Windows Mail

  6. Yes I hear you Heather,but do you have an answer ?I tend to think that as a nation we have been living beyond our means and any government that tries to tell us that will not last.As an electorate we have a sense of entitlement tinged with anxiety about the future so don’t tell us anything we don’t want to hear.Maybe we get the political leaders we deserve.I do look at our system and am confused/disappointed/depressed until I think about the alternatives.

    cheers Ian

    • I sure don’t have a clear path through the forest, Ian. But I feel the answer lies in the domain of personal responsibility – the more we are willing to be responsible for ourselves, without that sense of entitlement you talk about, the more we’ll figure out answers that don’t involve political leaders who are mostly interested in getting into and staying in office. A long story!

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