​Archbishop Philip Freier, Judith Troeth and Dr
Barry Jones at Deakin Edge, Federation Square.

​The lack of any mention of values was one of the “troubling things” about the recent Federal  Election Campaign, former ALP President and Minister for Science, Dr Barry Jones AO said on 11 September in a public forum to reflect on the Campaign.
Speaking in conversation with Archbishop Freier and former Liberal Senator for Victoria, Judith Troeth AM, in Deakin Edge, Federation Square, Dr Jones said the Campaign highlighted the confusion that exists between “values... and value, which has a dollar equivalent”, with the result that when the Gonski report on education is discussed, “the talking is entirely about money. It’s entirely about the redistribution of money and it’s barely at all about the quality of education, or the role of education in encouraging creativity. There is complete confusion between education and training, as if they’re synonymous… Well [education] is more than that, it’s the whole question of life.
“There would be some people who would say that… with the regression of the Churches, education plays a tremendously important role in that question of the formulation of values. But it’s never talked about in the political zone.”
Archbishop Freier lamented the rise of “celebrity candidates” and the willingness of “serious politicians to appear on popular comedy programs such as The Hamster Wheel… This seems to show a great craving just for recognition… I’m sure Menzies wouldn’t have done that.”
Judith Troeth criticised the Saturday Age for running a weekly column during the campaign which focussed on “highlights and best players” whilst policies were named but not analysed. “This is a total inversion of the way it should be; it shouldn’t be about suppositories and make-up artists, it should be about the policies and what we think of them.”
Dr Jones also criticised the Murdoch paper The Daily Telegraph for devoting a front page to Tony Abbott’s comment ‘Does this guy ever shut up?’ in a debate with Kevin Rudd. “The trouble is that if you simply present the news as a form of advocacy, particularly big megaphone advocacy where you’re really shouting out, then it really perverts, and certainly distorts the whole nature of political debate”.
In answer to a question from the audience about the power of a “poll-driven agenda” and focus groups to shape the Campaign, Dr Jones said polls and focus groups “tend to paralyse leaders and they get into a panic very easily. What has been particularly bad has been those focus groups conducted in Penrith and other areas in Western Sydney on issues like asylum seekers, and the results of the focus groups have been absolutely appalling in what appears to be the level of hatred generated against asylum seekers. The politicians look at the results and [conclude] ‘if we indicate any sympathy we’re toast, we’re done for’. I think it’s had an appalling effect on the whole level of political discourse.”
He also criticised the modern tendency towards the use of slogans by the major parties. “One of the tragedies at the moment is that the people who run both major parties have formed the judgement that in our compulsory voting system the election outcome is really determined by maybe 20 per cent of the population who are the least engaged in the issues and ideas. They take the view… that really these people can’t be expected to concentrate on detail [and details] don’t need to be explained, these people need to be captured in the same way that normal advertising for products captures you. So, if you can find a slogan that’s catchy, then that will do.”
Dr Jones and Ms Troeth, a former parliamentary secretary for agriculture, agreed on the evidence for climate change, and the need to tackle it. Dr Jones: “Th e whole climate change issue was handled in an extraordinarily bad way. It was seen purely as a political and economic issue.” “Australia is the number one carbon emitter, per capita, in the world. It’s got a… moral obligation to take a lead…”
Ms Troeth: “I’m a firm believer in the evidence [for climate change] and I believe that probably the best policy would be a combination of what the Coalition calls Direct Action… and national action… But certainly it’s with us and we should do something about it.”
Dr Jones expressed dismay “that there was no serious discussion about taxation” during the Campaign, and Ms Troeth described Tony Abbot’s ‘stop the boats’ policy as “very unworkable”, later telling The Age that asylum seekers arriving by boat represented less than two per cent of immigrants “and I fail to see why [this] can’t be dealt with in a reasonable manner.”
In his concluding remarks, Archbishop Freier prayed that all those elected to parliament would perform their roles with care, responsibility and dignity, and that the new Prime Minister and cabinet would be given wisdom and grace.
See a video of the Conversation at http://youtu.be/vA3chkMZr_Y

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