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Parliament federal election
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Call it the barrel-bottom effect. Each time you think politics has hit a new nadir that represents some sort of limit on how bad things can get, someone or something smashes through and creates an all-new bottom.

The government’s hysterical reaction to the tweaking of the medivac procedures for ill asylum seekers was the initial nadir yesterday. That featured blatant lying by senior ministers, the dismissal of crucial details (like the fact that it won’t apply to new asylum seekers as “Canberra bubble nuance”) by the man notionally leading the country, the theatrical reopening of the Christmas Island detention centre in a sort of prime ministerial video invitation to people smugglers to start up again, and the circulation of ridiculous talking points like “the beast is stirring” to gullible journalists.

If this was just the start of the scare campaign, imagine how hyperbolic it will have to be once the formal election campaign begins.

But the real beast stirring last night was within One Nation independent United Australia Party senator Brian Burston, who came to blows with One Nation adviser James Ashby upon exiting a Minerals Council do. Phones were thrust, thumbs were grazed, journalists from The Australian were allegedly abused; blood later appeared Shining-style on One Nation office walls, finally giving effect to all those metaphors about political assassinations we’ve had to use over the last decade.

There is a serious story beneath all this — several of them, in fact. There is the toxic culture in many political workplaces; and bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, that gets covered up by payouts to former staffers (the subject of so-far unevidenced allegations by Pauline Hanson against Burston). There is the internecine fighting going on on the political fringes ahead of an election that will likely see a number of far-right figures depart the Senate. There’s the question of why major lobbying bodies like the Minerals Council are allowed to host piss-ups inside parliament to influence politicians.

But all of these stories are overwhelmed by the sheer sordidness of political fringe players blueing in public amid exchanges of truly grubby allegations.

We thought that the Gillard government, and its minority status, would be some sort of nadir — Labor’s Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper, Tony Abbott and friends standing in front of disgusting signs, the misogynist vilification of Gillard. The idea that it would get better after the Labor circus had been removed proved a fantasy — it was more an entree for the main meal to come, especially after the 2016 election and the citizenship issue. Hanson’s sick stunts. Invocations of the Holocaust by other right-wingers. Unelected clowns swapping parties in the senate. The smearing of Sarah Hanson-Young. Barnaby Joyce. The bullying of Liberal women. Then yesterday’s antics. 

The Americans are well used to this now. The Dubya years, which seemed — and were — horrific at the time (an idiot president, illegal invasions, torture, renditions, financial crisis) now have a faintly benign air in comparison with a toddler currently in the Oval Office. The tone of vicious partisanship that was denounced years ago by all and sundry now looks tepid compared to the rancour, bigotry and hate that pervades US politics. In seven years’ time, will we be looking back and thinking that all this seems, on reflection, pretty anodyne compared to the garbage we’re seeing in the mid-2020s?

What do you see as the real low of Australian politics over the past few years? Send your comments to [email protected].

Peter Fray

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