The fate of our nation? It’s in the toilet


The impending relief felt by those early-morning joggers is palpable. On the opposite side of Port Phillip Bay, members of the St Leonard’s Beautification Committee are celebrating too.

Illustration: Matt DavidsonCredit:

Local Liberal MP Sarah Henderson has mercifully heard their plea for updated toilet facilities in her marginal seat of Corangamite, which became notionally Labor-inclined after a recent redistribution.

Henderson has pledged $430,000 from a re-elected Morrison government to deliver toilet facilities, a community pavilion and a playground shade sail for the seaside hamlet.

By contrast, “my Labor opponent has confirmed to the St Leonards Beautification Committee that she won’t be matching this commitment”, Henderson claims.

The message is as clear as Henderson hopes it is compelling: Vote 1 Liberal if you want a new loo.

Next, to the northern outskirts of Brisbane, where the men of Burpengary gather regularly at their local men’s shed. The group maintain a lively Facebook community, posting a mixture of amusing memes about the perils of living in multi-decade marriages alongside updates on their latest projects, including a new toy kitchen made from recycled materials for the kids at the nearby daycare centre.

Illustration: Dionne Gain

Illustration: Dionne GainCredit:

Somebody get these men a toilet!

“And a new septic system too!” comes the reply from LNP candidate for the marginal seat of Longman, Terry Young. As he would later muse on his Facebook page: “It’s not only the big projects that matter. Good governments deliver on the ‘small’ projects as well.”

Don’t build them too small, Terry.

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And finally, to the vast expanse that lies north of Perth and, amid it, the small pioneer town of Gingin, with its population of 852 at the last census.

In early April the most senior law officer in the land, Attorney-General Christian Porter, visited the township in his electorate of Pearce to pledge $234,000 of federal funding for a “complete makeover” of the park on the main street, complete with updated play equipment, shaded seating and – you guessed it – new loos.

In a dedicated press release, an emotional Mr Porter declared: “Today, I am incredibly proud to announce this funding … the positive impacts of community projects like this cannot be understated.”

Now, no one is questioning the toiletry needs of the people of Pakenham, St Leonards, Burpengary or Gingin. They are real, and often pressing.

But it does speak volumes about the petty, vacuous nature of federal politics today that such senior government MPs should devote so much of their time to such matters.

Of course, as participants of a representative democracy, federal MPs must keep an eye out for the needs of their constituents. But Australia also has a system of local government, designed expressly to provide local amenities. What has happened in the minds of our national politicians that they have devolved into acting like mayors?

It’s a most worrying development indeed, not just for the misuse of public funds to sandbag marginal seats, but also what it may signal about the voting intentions of modern voters.

Amid widespread disengagement from national politics, the parties have obviously chosen to tap into a new hyper-localism when it comes to their election strategies.

Elections have always been fought on both local and national concerns, of course. But globally there has also been a shift to hyper-regionalism or parochialism, as demonstrated by political movements such as Brexit and the success of Donald Trump, where citizens are more concerned with protecting their own backyards than having any particularly cohesive sense of themselves as participating as part of a nation state on a global playing field.

Amid such a mood, perhaps dunny blocks are more important than ever – and perhaps the pollies know it.

Certainly, they’re happy to pander to it.

It all makes predicting Saturday’s election outcome even more impossible. That’s because, in reality, we all go into the polling booth asking ourselves different questions. One person may be asking which leader they like the most. Another, which major party they think offers the best holistic suite of policies.

Others will cast their vote purely on affection for a local candidate. Some will have a particularly pressing policy in mind, be it education, health or tax cuts.

Likely, we’ll ask ourselves a combination of questions, and give our best weighted-average reply.

But whatever question runs through your mind this Saturday, I sincerely hope it’s not: “Which party will deliver me that dunny block?”

Let’s hope Australian politics has reached peak toilet.

Jessica Irvine is a senior writer.

Jessica Irvine is a senior economics writer with The Sydney Morning Herald.

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