Peter Rosengren: When politics becomes indifferent to people

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Something is rotten at the heart of our national political life

Australian national life is dominated by a problem which is serious and can generally be defined as a politics of shallowness and immaturity. The situation extends across both major parties – but is not by any means limited to them.

Part of the problem is the disappearance of long-term policy development for the common good from parties now largely driven from one moment to the next by an equally shallow and uninformed media. The tragic nature of this was manifested again in the last fortnight by two examples: the move by the Victorian Daniel Andrews government to legalise prostitution and the admission by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the Australian government is basically incapable of providing sufficient protection and evacuation to those Afghans who worked with and supported Australian troops over the time that Australians have been stationed in that country.

In the first instance, what might be termed the Monash University undergraduate Labor club approach to running an entire state has effectively decided that there is no problem with the idea that women and girls should be able to be bought and sold. That, bluntly, is what Mr Andrews and his Party colleagues announced. This is not to argue that the Victorian opposition – whatever it is – would be any better on this issue, but as Mr Andrews happens to be the Premier it is reasonable to hold him publicly to account for this latest development.

the idea that human beings should be able to be purchased and sold for the use of their bodies is what used to be called slavery.

In all probability, the Victorian Premier probably imagines he contrived a mighty step forward in economic planning for the state. But what is wrong with the decision should be obvious to anyone: the idea that human beings should be able to be purchased and sold for the use of their bodies is what used to be called slavery.

Prostitution destroys everyone who is involved in it. Opposition to the idea of legalised prostitution springs not from some outdated morality but from a timeless view of the intrinsic dignity of the human person – in this case the unique dignity of woman and the girl child.

The Andrews approach, meanwhile, is seriously outdated to the point of being ridiculous. But it reveals the extent of the lack of political imagination and political courage in Mr Andrews and his colleagues in dealing with an issue on which serious progress might have been made. The Nordic Model, based on the idea that prostitution is the perpetration of the sexual exploitation of women and girls and which instead criminalises paying customers, is one such innovation. But why should such developments be contemplated when Mr Andrews and the rest of his colleagues appear to believe that the 1990 movie Pretty Woman glamourising prostitution is not a drama but a documentary?

While the pimps, the traffickers and organised crime are already calculating the business and investment opportunities just handed them by Victorian Labor, we hope that cooler minds will prevail. Journalist and activist Melinda Tankard Reist has, fortunately, set out some of the serious issues by subjecting them to the basic scrutiny such foolish ideas deserve.

That the malaise of contemporary national life spreads across the political spectrum, meanwhile, was demonstrated by Scott Morrison’s hapless response to the events in Kabul and Afghanistan over the last two weeks. The PM’s response to the fall of Kabul, so eerily reminiscent of the fall of Saigon in 1975, was to state that Australia could basically do nothing.

But we wonder how those Afghans who worked with Australian and other forces in Afghanistan over the last two decades or so felt about this particular admission? Presumably much the same as those Vietnamese and Cambodians who were abandoned to their fates by Australian policy did in the 1970s. If so, they were reading the situation correctly.

Mr Morrison was basically stating that (a) Australia hadn’t seen the problem coming, that (b) it couldn’t do much about it and (c) it couldn’t really be bothered anyway. What he really meant was that as far as he is concerned this is not a serious issue for Australia.

There are, after all, no obvious positive economic or employment policy initiatives the Government might seize upon for the evening broadcast news, no ratings in bringing foreigners into the country, therefore there is no issue here. Yet the thousands of Afghans who worked alongside and for Australian and other forces in Afghanistan are regarded by the Taliban as agents of infidel rule. Their fate – and that of their families is – and was – obvious.

The PM should have known and planned for this because he clearly had both the millitary intelligence and the means. Which leads us to observe that there is nothing so shabby as a political leader who knows – and instead chooses to wash his hands of other human beings’ lives.