After the column miles of grave commentary written about the Budget, trust the WA political scene to change the national tone and take us to a new low in Australian politics.

The WA Opposition leader was asked, seemingly in all seriousness, whether he’d ever done anything inappropriate to a quokka, those small, furry little marsupials which call Rottenest Island home — you can see the interview here. His amusing response was: “I’m not aware that I’ve ever caused any offence to a quokka.” While this sad little episode will no doubt fuel more jokes, and some pretty funny ones at that, it does show that something a little more serious going on.

In his own words, Troy Buswell “might not be a perfect individual”, he “might have had a robust past”, and he may well be a bit of a goose not fit for public office into the bargain. But while those things are all problematic for a political leader, he has a far bigger problem; his past behaviour – the bra-flicking, the chair snorting and general stupidity — has put him on the wrong side of the credibility threshold.

When a public figure is found to have acted in a breathtakingly ridiculous fashion, like, say, sniffing a staffer’s chair before cavorting with it around the office, then the presumption of normality gets suspended. If he did ridiculous things before, then other ridiculous allegations cease to sound, well, ridiculous.

Who could imagine any other political figure in the country being asked if they had ever done anything inappropriate to a quokka? But to Buswell, it’s now fair game regardless of the fact that it’s a completely fabricated rumour that started from a blog. The damage gets done by the simple existence of the story – by the simple act of Buswell being forced to deny the ridiculous because he’s no longer protected by a cloak of normal human behaviour.

The fact that he was in a position where he had to deny the allegation is what makes Buswell’s leadership pretty untenable.

But the question that needs to be asked here is what type of journalism substitutes smear and innuendo that has no credible source for proper reporting and analysis on the news and events of the day? What sort of journalism is it that uses rumours, knowingly or not, to create a story that doesn’t actually exist but will inevitably damage the person it’s aimed at?

Well, we know the answer to that – the type of reporting popularised far too often in the Sunday papers’ political columns by people who should know better. This is where that sort of piffle leads to the widespread adoption of tabloid sleaze as a news substitute.

Charming, isn’t it?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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