blog So far the National Broadband Network debate over the past several years since Malcolm Turnbull became Shadow Communications Minister has been broadly polite, with both sides rationally examining and critiquing each other’s approach in a calm manner, while engaging in a gentle friendly rivalry about who has the best policy. Oh, wait, I’m wrong. It’s actually become a a bile-filled cesspit of misleading statements, public slander, irrelevancy and flat-out lies. How could I forget? After all, I have the “privilege” of bathing my tortured brain in it every day. But at least things hadn’t quite descended to the level they eventually did this morning in ZDNet’s live debate between Turnbull and his opposite, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy (watch the whole thing online here). Most of the debate was civil, but News.com.au has a brief precis of some of the nasty bits:
Senator Conroy said Mr Turnbull’s policy of using copper lines was “the dumbest piece of public policy” he had encountered. Mr Turnbull said the minister had been “insulting the intelligence of people” with an un-costed, un-analysed NBN policy … “You are so desperate that all you can do is smear people. You poor fellow. Such a grub, Stephen,” Mr Turnbull replied.
Now, let me say that I’m far from what most people would call a responsible adult. I’m a journalist — already viewed by 90 percent of the population as amongst the lowest form of bottom-feeding gutter trash. And worse, I’m the kind who sticks by his convictions, which means even many of my fellow journalists by now believe I’m an “awful human being”. However, I am adult enough to know pathetic kindergarten insults when I see them. Messieurs Conroy and Turnbull, I feel I should make you aware that if your mothers were listing to this morning’s debate, they would have made you wash your mouths out with soap, and probably sent you to your room without dinner.
Plus there’s the fact that this morning’s round wasn’t even up to the pair’s usual high standards. Minister Conroy, I remind you that if you are planning to reprimand a member of the Coalition, that fine old Labor tradition (see: Paul Keating) demands you at least do it in a way that the rest of us find wryly entertaining. Almost two decades of service in the Senate should have delivered you a laundry list of amusing aphorisms that would boil the blood of silver spoon aristocrats such as Turnbull. We refer you to your previous Senate Estimates performances, if you’re seeking inspiration. And as for the Earl of Wentworth, we need hardly remind him that describing a senior member of the Labor Party as a “grub” is hardly befitting his blue blood status. Turnbull has plenty of examples of old blood lordlings such as Francis Urquhart to draw from in dealing with such common, unlanded riffraff.
Come on, chaps. If you’re going to have words with each other, at least use some decent creative licence. Or perhaps recruit a specialist consultant to help you come up with some crackers. As an ethical journalist, after all, I can’t be bribed with material goods. But I am usually inclined to think more favourably of politicians whose antics give me a good belly laugh from time to time. Perhaps this is, after all, the best we can hope for from 2013’s NBN debate: Not a better quality of truth about the project, but only a better quality of insult.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull