Saturday, June 14, 2008

Atkinson: politicking at its worst

ordure in the house

I’m often fascinated by my own volatile responses, here in my desert home. The TV’s on, I’m channel-hopping, and there’s a news story on the ABC, regarding the state attorney-general Michael Atkinson’s response to a judge’s argument, written in a report, that, due to overcrowding in the state’s prisons and generally poor conditions, sentencing should be more lenient, at least until the problem is fixed, if it ever is. Now, if I’ve reported it aright, it seems an eminently sensible argument, though I don’t know myself whether the state’s prisons are over-crowded.

But of course with this state government having ridden for years on the bandwagon of law-and-order populism, Atkinson was having none of it. He described the judge’s comments as delusional, and directed the rest of the judiciary to ignore them, and went on to lambast him for daring to comment on an area ‘beyond his expertise’. It was basically a public display of apoplexy, presumably designed to divert the media’s attention from the issues raised by the judge. Meanwhile, here in my dusty-cluttered lounge-room, I was putting on my own private display of apoplexy at Atkinson’s mealy-mouthed crapola. I’ve already written here about how the democratic system transforms individuals with the usual scepticisms and hesitancies into political personae who are pillars of strength and certitude, and this is another nice example. Maybe Atkinson is sincere in his indignation, but it came across to me as obfuscation, manipulation and arrant dishonesty. I’m ashamed to say I wanted to beat him up [for being a bully-boy], but failing that, I wanted to be one of the media contingent, and to ask the question - and meanwhile, Mickey boy, what are you going to do about the disgraceful state of your prisons? But I suppose these are the sorts of questions that make you no longer one of the media contingent, and therein lies another problem with the political system.

Of course I very quickly realised that I don’t know if our prisons are in a parlous state, but the point is that Atkinson’s response struck me immediately as the behaviour of someone with something to hide. If one wants to actually find out how our prisons are functioning, the last person we would ask is the state politician in charge of our prisons. This is what the political system does to people, and it’s a bit of a tragedy. A better person to ask would probably be that judge Atkinson is so keen to muzzle, for he would seem to have no vested interest in the matter, and he would have a pretty clear idea about, or plenty of access to, the number of people being sent to prison, the lengths of their sentences, and the number and capacities of the prison facilities being used.

Politicians should be grilled by the media about their over-the-top claims. The media should be smarter and tougher about the questions they ask, and pollies should never be allowed to evade questions or to pick and choose the media reps they talk to. The very idea that they can use their power to call some mini press conference, assassinate someone’s character, and then walk away no questions asked is just outrageous.

But just a tiny bit of digging reveals my hunch about Atkinson’s attack-is-the-best-form-of-defence strategy to be spot on. Only a month ago, The Independent Weekly conducted an investigation into the state’s prison system and found that it was the most over-crowded in the country, with longer jail terms than elsewhere and poor rehabilitation programs. Apparently the government’s response to this was much as Atkinson’s response yesterday – to actually boast about their dereliction of duty in this regard. Kevin Foley’s hypocrisy on the matter is well worth reading about.

From time to time I’ve wanted to rename my blog something like ‘the daily bully dossier’, because bullying really incenses me. Atkinson, Foley and Rann are my bullies of the moment, their behaviour totally disgusts me, and I hope the media continue to hound them, preferably out of office. Not that the opposition will offer us anything better.



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