Back at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when I presented the Breakfast program on ABC Classic FM, we used to begin each session with the music of J. S. Bach. Our listeners cited it as a civilizing influence, and indeed the order and essential decency of Bach’s music made it a great way to start the day. There are a few other places that could do with the odd Prelude and Fugue (BWV 846-893) in the morning.
Let’s start with Federal Parliament.
There is a cacophony in the [Australian] national capital. Our political discourse is like some horrible contemporary work of crashing and snarls, shouting and cat calls; verbal abuse that wouldn’t be tolerated in a school debating competition, yet is witnessed every week in Canberra. We’re not anywhere near the amazing riots and brawls seen in the Taiwanese and Korean parliaments, with shoes flying through the air and elected representatives choking each other, but it will only be a matter of time before the Member for Warringah leaps across the chamber in his bike shorts and has to be restrained by the Treasurer. I blame both sides – and I fear for the Speaker’s health. Harry Jenkins looks like prime cardiac arrest material as he attempts to regulate the nasty kindergarten that is Parliament. One day he might snap and turn into another dirtier Harry, waving six guns from the Speaker’s Chair – “go ahead, make my day!” I wouldn’t blame him.
It wasn’t always thus. I remember going to have a look at Question Time during the Howard government. John Howard and the then Leader of the Opposition Kim Beazley walked into the chamber chatting, they stopped in front of the despatch boxes, finished their conversation with a laugh, then Howard thumped Beazley on the back and they went to their positions. The debate after was fierce, but at no point was it truly nasty. Even Keating at his most vitriolic delivered his barbs with a smile, with some sort of wit, not to mention knowledge of Mahler. But the leaders today have lost any sense of manners, decorum or indeed humor. It’s like cowering as a child in your bedroom, listening to your parents shouting in the kitchen.
A pity there isn’t a House of Representatives Chamber Orchestra playing the Air on a G String (BWV 1068) in the background. Bach’s music always gives a sense of the bigger picture, and I fear perspective is what we’ve lost in the day-to-day minutiae of political battle. An example – my daughter’s recent school concert began with the national anthem, not only verse one but the little-sung verse two. For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. The words stuck in my throat. It was one day after the non-vote on the Government’s offshore immigration processing bill. What a joke. We are a lucky country that has swapped the sheep’s back for the iron ore bucket, skirted the worst of the financial crisis, is the envy of the developed world, has low unemployment, low government debt, a national health care system, a compassionate welfare system, food in abundance, democracy, the rule of law, and nine professional orchestras. Yet many of us are grumpy, stressed, and convinced that the sky is about to fall.
The coming holiday season brings two wonderful gifts: time to spend with family and a complete shutdown of the banal tittle-tattle that masquerades as political discourse in this country. Let’s put on a CD of Bach Preludes and Fugues and be thankful for both. Merry Christmas.