In the afterglow of their clean slate, parliament mutually agreed upon a New Year’s resolution to do just that – to move beyond personal attacks – in a bid to bridge the divide between a parliament blinded by personal vitriol and opinion polls and an electorate tired of having tantrum-prone toddlers for elected leaders.
While it is an almost universally recognised truth that New Year’s resolutions are about as useful as flyscreens on a submarine, politicians and plebeians historically tend to utilise the January 1 duster to wipe off the chalkboard board graffiti of the year before.
And so the New Year’s resolution tap was turned on and down they came. Prime Minister Julia Gillard called for optimism and unity in the New Year. Malcolm Turnbull pushed for a focus on "the responsibility of dealing with the big issues of our time” rather than "the game of politics”. Even Bob Katter – no stranger to both the inner workings and inherent madness of the establishment – urged a better performance in the New Year after ranking 2012 as the worst in his memory.
The proof will be in the pudding. Can 2013 – this election year littered with deeply personal, moral issues – really be the year to show the voters that humanity still exists in parliament?
Last year’s mud-slinging was, ultimately, a charade. It was mud-slinging for the sake of mud-slinging, for the cheap thrill of the pungent smell of sodden dirt as it slips down the walls of parliament house.
Voters deserve better. As an electorate we want to know that our representatives are in touch with the concerns of everyday Australians. That they have a heartbeat and a moral compass.
Calculated as they may have been, Julia Gillard’s very public reaction to her father’s passing, as well as Tony Abbott’s various personal trials and triumphs – did contextualise the bureaucrat behind the blouses and the blue ties. They provided a peek behind the curtain of the usually stoic establishment, and may have unknowingly set a precedent for the year ahead.
The hunt is already on for the hot-button issues of ‘Election 2013’ with both sides of the divide pulling, polling and preening the electorate to within an inch of its sanity in order to uncover the matters that will sway people’s votes come polling day.
Economic management will of course feature, particularly in the wake of the government’s abandoned budget surplus and the opposition’s never-ending chorus of fiscal irresponsibility. The government has already unveiled what will likely be its two major election spends – the NDIS and the Gonski education reforms – and like its 2010 election linchpin, the NBN, they will be counting on the ‘grand scale’ of the projects, as well as the almost unheard of tangible, tactile benefits to the everyday lives of millions of Australians to sway votes.
The coalition will say that sound economic management, not grand spending, is what Australia needs in these uncertain times.
But it’s the moral – and dare one suggest personal – issues which underpin these policies that will likely resonate; equality and the promise of a ‘fair go’ chief among them.
Australia’s appointment to the United Nations Security Council will offer the establishment a front row seat to the great, global moral issues of our time. Ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the vitriolic gun debate in the United States and the continuing rise of China will collectively call on politicians to form sophisticated, personal judgments from which to build their political platforms.
This says nothing of ongoing moral debates on home soil; the recurring back and forth over same-sex marriage, the impact of climate change and the Royal Commission into the sexual abuse of children, to name but three.
Voters can’t expect their leaders to take important moral stances in one court of public opinion and simultaneously act so contemptuously of each other.
After all, morale is not a commodity; it cannot be costed and rolled out. The vitriol of 2012 drove many voters to dismiss political debate and its establishment as irrelevant. The most effective way to counteract this is for Canberra to show it has a backbone. Not to shut out the personal elements of the political debate, but invite them in. Best of all, moral leadership costs nothing.
By injecting a personal touch directly into these debates, politicians on both sides will be afforded the chance to take the kind of moral leadership such issues not only demand, but which history recalls to be of equal importance to economic and political leadership.
It is a resolution all of us would welcome.