Punch & Judy: the double disillusion election of 2010
Mungo must have been punching out Punch and Judy during the election – trawling the mediascape for fodder and spitting it back out between midnight and 4am, when only he and Tony Abbott were awake. Like all of us, he was surprised at the result but like most of us, upon reflection, wasn’t that surprised and Punch and Judy reflects this. In his analysis of the election, the result seems almost inevitable by the book’s end. Both candidates were useless and more alike than different policy wise, so there hardly seemed any point in voting unless you voted Greens or Independent as they were the only ones saying anything contrary to the unified voices of the Coalition and Labor.
Like all of Mungo’s work Punch and Judy is insightful, analytical and underpinned with a vicious humour. His allegiances have never been in doubt. He’s more a man of the left than the right on most issues (except when it comes to immunisation or alternative therapies) so is more sympathetic to the Labor cause, even though it lost its way years ago.
He reserves his most biting commentary for the Coalition. Take when he’s talking about the new shadow cabinet created by Abbott as an example:
[I]t turned out to be a cabinet of shadows, even of ghosts. The only real surprise was that Wilson Tuckey missed out; being both senile and mad he seemed to have all the necessary qualifications. The Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce, not yet senile but undeniably mad, was not only welcomed into the tent but given the wide- ranging and sensitive portfolio of finance. He promptly proved that he could piss as effectively into the tent from inside … by announcing that both Queensland and the United States were effectively bankrupt and that Chinese investment should be banned.
He’s equally as scathing of the ALP though, stating that Rudd’s ‘first year of government did a lot to restore the hope and trust Howard had so badly eroded; but in the last few months he pissed it all away in favour of timidity, indecision and, of course, a sack full of broken promises’.
Not that he lets Gillard off the hook, summarising her stance on asylum seekers beautifully:
The proper way – the Labor way – to deal with such worries was simply to give the facts; the truth was that there were no grounds for concern, and the Prime Minister should have taken the leading role in explaining this. But that was too difficult and would take too long; it was a policy not a fix. So Gillard instead called for a full and open debate-well, at least for a day or so, until she was ready to announce her deeply considered solution. Say what you feel, she urged. Abandon all thoughts of political correctness. And while you’re at it, abandon reason, compassion, humanity, decency and any consideration of Australia’s international obligations and reputation. Let it all hang out.
Mungo’s exploration of the coup that deposed Rudd is succinct and loathsome of the ALP’s poll-obsessed powerbrokers and the Murdoch press, who he sees as having major roles in Rudd’s execution. To anyone who watched the machinations that seems to be the gist of what happened. I was overseas at the time and after some time away from internet access logged on to be surprised that Rudd was gone. Most commentators I read shared Mungo’s conclusion, so there’s nothing new there.
Punch and Judy’s real strength is in revealing the sham Australian democracy has become, where policy is reduced to sound-bites and opinion is for sale to anyone with the most strident editorial or most vocal mob. The title is more than apt for after reading Punch and Judy you are left with the opinion that Australian democracy is no more than a show, put on to maintain the illusion of democracy when in most respects it’s no more than a one-party system with a few frills to distinguish the parties.
I read Guy Rundle’s book Down to the Crossroads soon after Obama was announced as the new president of North America. It’s interesting to compare the two books. In Crossroads, North America, for all its political faults (and there are many), is shown as a place where politics is a passionate affair, a place where many people genuinely care about politics. Punch and Judy, on the other hand, reveals an Australian public that has ceased caring and political figures who treat the voting public as idiots. There is no passion, there’s nothing but farce.
Punch and Judy is an insightful and funny read but not a read for diehard, one-eyed Liberal/Labor voters – they’ll only get pissed off. For everyone else it’s a laugh, but a revealing one.