For me the standout aspect of the interesting times that have beset Australian politics recently was a line in Julia Gillard’s concession speech on the effect gender had on her term in office.
It was refreshing to hear one of our leaders acknowledge, albeit belatedly, that some issues are beyond black and white. That we as a nation might be able to appreciate the complexities of a situation.
The subtleness of grey hasn’t been a feature of Australia’s 43rd Parliament. All of us – politicians, the media, residents of Western Sydney both literal and metaphorical – have preferred to witter on about blues ties and redheads rather than consider the complicating factors of pricing carbon or saving asylum seekers from drowning at sea.
Our national conversation is so stunted that the phrase “shades of grey” is less associated with complexity and more with a raunchy romance novel.
The grind of a 24 hour news cycle is partially to blame for the lack of nuance in public discourse, as is the brutal economics of online news.
No-one ever clicked on a link that read Emissions Trading Scheme Has Good And Bad Points, It May Be A While Before We Can Judge Its Success. Much better to run with Tourism Fears Carbon Tax Will Break Business or Australian Carbon Tax Called ‘Ridiculous’ By Business Leader or (and this is the one news editors will favour the most) Kimye Baby Name Revealed.
Another reason subtle thought is increasingly beyond us is we are less likely to be exposed to differing points of view. Facebook uses an algorithm that promotes the links you click on and weeds out ones you ignore.
That is why your newsfeed has been blissfully free of links to Cory Bernardi’s blog these past few months. Your frighteningly conservative classmate from university still posts them but they have been pushed down the list in favour of hilarious status updates asking “Dry July doesn’t count on weekends right? LOL!!!”.
News aggregators like Yahoo and Google also like to “personalise” a user’s news coverage.
So if your search history involves words like “illegal immigrants”, “middle class Iranians” or “Andrew Bolt”, these sites will give you a different result of asylum seekers than if you searched “UNHCR”, “Julian Burnside” or “Ashes spin bowler”.
And if something does manage to slip through these ideological filters, if a Facebook friend is revealed to be a (gasp!) Liberal voter, how do we react?
Do we heed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dictum that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function? Do we use the comments section to have a measured debate on what the Liberals have to offer the electorate? No, we unfriend them.
The rapidly coagulating verdict on Gillard’s Prime Ministership is it was all sausage and no sizzle. While there was a sizeable list of legislative achievements the government was unable to sell them to the voters. But maybe this wasn’t a case of poor communications skills.
Perhaps Gillard subconsciously expected the electorate to think about the pros and cons of things like the Gonski education reforms before we passed our ultimate judgement in September.
That’s an error she won’t get a chance to make twice.