As Alexander Downer noted today, claims we’ve reached a new low in parliamentary behaviour should be treated sceptically. Every parliament has its bad moments; its undignified, sordid, shambolic or disgraceful moments. In any event, it’s hard for contemporary observers to judge standards from before the television age, which reshaped political tactics and altered parliamentary behaviour. And not necessarily for the better.
As Bernard Keane notes today, both the media and politicians face the problem of disengagement by Australians. The general tone of vituperation — and childish behaviour of Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne in the now-famous flight for the exits — is unlikely to do anything other than accelerate that disengagement, particularly when the Prime Minister herself is seen by so many voters as untrusworthy. If the standards of parliamentary behaviour are bad, we’ve also rarely seen a time when the country’s two most important political leaders were regarded so poorly by voters.
But both sides know that. However poor their behaviour, voters will still be required to attend the polls at the next election, and compulsory preferential voting will mean that, in all but a small number of seats, their votes will eventually filter through a major party candidate of one kind or another.
Major party politicians have the game rigged.