Why Chris Bowen’s National Press Gallery address left me wanting

One of the great things about being on my Christmas holidays is all the lazing around on the couch I get to do. I was doing this earlier today, half watching ABC News 24, half faffing about on my laptop and eating a huge bowl of cereal when the intro to a session of the National Press Club caught my attention.

It was going to be the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen with an address titled ‘Economic policy: Labor’s legacy and the future’. Fantastic I thought, a bit of insight into Labor’s economic policy. Except, it wasn’t.

Instead it was half an hour of “The Coalition Is Terrible and Labor’s Great”. With a definite focus more on the “Coalition Is Terrible” part. That’s fine. I don’t mind hearing about why Labor’s great, but I’d like it paired with some substance. Something like “Labor’s great because we stand for a) b) c). We acknowledge these problems 1) 2) 3). We’re going to overcome them by developing these strategies x) y) z)”.

In other words, what I really wanted from that half an hour of my life that I’m never going to get back and what I’m finding lacking not just in this one instance but in the wider political media of late is some actual discussion of policy.  And not just the broad brush strokes, the catch phrases and media grabs – some actual intelligent discussion involving specifics, details and examples.

It wasn’t just the content of Bowen’s address either, it was the way it was delivered – smug, self-congratulatory and patronising. I understand that you have to be tough to survive in the bear pit but surely Labor shouldn’t be trying to compete with Coalition MP’s for who can be the most obnoxious?

As far as we have an Australian identity, a part of it seems to be based around the ability we have to ridicule ourselves, to see the humorous side of our own failings. The best of the Australian spirit is warm, funny and humble. Why do we expect this from each other but consider it totally normal and acceptable for politicians to be cocky, self-aggrandising narcissists.

Why can’t there be any vulnerability in politics? Any admission of weakness, of mistakes? Why can’t we have a more human, real, balanced way of communicating in our Parliaments.

Chris Bowen’s NPC address wasn’t the worst speech ever written. But it was cold and snarky and it left me feeling uninspired. I’m sure Bowen as a person has many great and interesting thoughts about economic policy. The question now is, how do we encourage our political cultures to support these thoughts. How do we turn the political currency in Australia from insults to ideas.

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