Monday, July 15, 2013


There is only one this Australian political pundits love talking about more than a leadership spill, and that is a narrative. They talk with serious faces about the narrative of a campaign as if they've lost sight of the fact that a narrative is not real. A narrative is nothing more than the connective tissue used to describe a series of events, or in the case of political campaigns the grafting of connective tissue onto a melange of ideals, demagogy and slogans to create a sort of Frankenstein's candidate.

I have talked before about how much the issue of boat people (or asylum seekers, or refugees, or whatever they're being called now) annoys me. Not for the patently ridiculous fashion in which governments from both sides have handled the issue (I say ridiculous because inventing the idea of excising first parts and eventually all of a country from an invented thing called a migration zone reads more like Yes, Minister at its finest than a real policy) but because it continues to be regarded as being an issue at all.

In 2001 being tough on immigrants (especially brown ones) was a pretty good way to get people riled up and ready to vote. A couple of months later, after September 11, the merest hint that some of these so called refugees might be terrorists and then clamping down on them was enough to win an election. Since those heady times, the story of stopping terrorists changed slowly to a story about it being unfair to process 'queue jumpers' before those who followed the rules, and eventually to the current story about doing it for the protection of the refugees so that they don't take a risky trip that might see them drowned.

Although the story has slowly changed so that people feel warm and fuzzy about the awful bipartisan stance on the issue, boat people has never truly left the political discussion in Australia. I had begun to wonder over the last few years why exactly it still managed to be an issue considering both parties offered solutions so similar that only forensic study would be able to separate the two. Beyond the argument that Australian political discourse has finally reached the Titanium Tax Point there must be some reason it still gets talked about. A few days ago, my mother got a call from a polling agency and I found the answer.

I've never received a polling call before and nor has anyone I know, or at least they haven't talked to me about it. There were many questions about party preferences (political, not cocktail), preferred leaders and whatnot, but one question stood out as the answer to the boat people narrative problem. She was asked to list in order from one to five, the importance of a number of issues. There were only five options provided and alongside health care and education was border protection (which is a polite way of saying "stopping those horrible boat people").

It turns out that polls create a situation in which border protection must be a top five issue for anyone they poll and then the newspapers report with solemnity that border protection is one of the top five issues for the Australian electorate, and the politicians see it is an important issue to the electorate and so they continue to talk about it, and so the pollsters feel obliged to include it on their list of issues, and so on ad nauseum. Our country's political narrative has become a nationwide round of "no, you hang up first".

That's the last time I get on that particular soap box. Promise.

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