Dutton’s nuclear farts highlight the patheticness of Australian news

Deep within Canberra’s soiled halls, where sellouts*, drunks, psychopaths and megalomaniacs roam, strategically weaponised bullshit is conjured up for our consumption. Soundbites, slogans, dog whistles and distractions – “announceables” that fall well short of being actual policies. Or even things that might plausibly happen one day. 

*Anthony Albanese, attending a free Palestine rally prior to becoming Prime Minister and forgetting to do anything about it

This is what Peter (“He’s not a monster” – his wife) Dutton is good at. And this is one of the many political tactics vast swathes of the mainstream press are utterly incapable of handling in a responsible manner. Instead, they offer him assistance, both unwittingly and deliberately, as he wastes everyone’s time and insults our intelligence. 

Dutton and his team have recently begun a nuke spruik; a push for nuclear power in Australia. And when Dutton sets this sort of agenda, the papers and nightly news uniformly and dutifully follow, down the path of dreaming up a Jettson’s-esque atomic future for a land drowning in sun, wind, and coastline. 

All of Dutton’s nuclear farts – particularly “small modular reactors”, which promise to do for energy what iPods did for music – is some serious Utopia-ass bullshit. When the heads of multiple energy companies and the CSIRO say nuclear doesn’t make sense for Australia, and Dutton’s response is tantamount to “Nuh uh” and “don’t trust those egghead scientists”, we do not have a debate. We have a distraction. Meaningless party-branded words filling the invisible advertising space in the air. 

E v e r y  s i n g l e  j o u r n a l i s t  in the country is well aware that the Coalition’s energy policy for the last 30 fucking years has been coal, coal, coal, gas, coal, gas, coal, with a side order of “shut up hippie, climate change isn’t real”, which evolved into “shut up hippie, how about CLEAN coal muthafucka”, which evolved into “Ok, maybe the hippies were right, but how about OMG LOOK OVER THERE LOOK LOOK LOOK!” Anything shiny that takes forever to build and allows the coal to keep pumping. 

This is like if the ALP was pressed about upgrading the nation’s roads and they said they were working on flying cars instead, and they’d have a policy reallllllly soon, and every outlet in the country started talking about how sweet flying cars are. 

Australian politics and its excrement, Australian news media, help create this symbiotic slurry of stupid – a profoundly uninspiring ecosystem, a bog so fetid allowing it consciously into your frontal cortex for more than a passing moment is ill-advised from a health and wellbeing perspective. Thinking too deeply for too long about this AusMediaPol quagmire – which I strongly suggest against doing – will only ever leave you empty, embarrassed, exasperated, angry, apathetic, whatever the opposite of horny is, and, on the worst occasions, despairing for the fate of our shit-flingin’, suit-wearing, big dumb monkey species. It is an endlessly sad joke without a punchline, a neverending story without a point, an outback dunny without any dunny paper. Occasionally Barnaby Joyce gets trollied or Bob Katter says something really fucking weird and Parliament is more amusing than usual, but even then it’s only ever in a low-key depressing way, if you think about it enough. (Which, again, you shouldn’t.)

News media’s outright refusal to reckon with its role in stooge-ily spreading fuckheaded things far and wide is not new. Think back, if you can stomach it, to the countless confrontingly stupid claims that have been allowed, by the press, to derail Australia’s pub meal chats with itself over the last few decades.

  • Taxing petrol vehicles is a “war on the weekend”
  • The Voice will be a third chamber of Federal Parliament, a type of apartheid
  • Everyone in Melbourne is too scared to go to restaurants because of roving “African gangs”
  • High wages, not price gouging, collusion or duopoly profiteering, are to blame for why everything is so fucking expensive
  • Victoria is a Communist dictatorship 
  • Refugees are the types of people that would drown their own children
  • Somehow copper wire will be “cheaper, faster, better” than fibre to the home, a faster, better and ultimately cheaper technology
  • Taxing obscene multinational mining profits will destroy the ability of Australians to retire
  • “Clean coal”
  • “Carbon capture and sequestration”
  • The way out of Covid is a “gas-led recovery”

During all of these moments, the voting public was told in very serious voices how very serious and true all of these matters are. I appreciate that we can only ever know what we know at the time, but fuck me dead, children could – and do – a better job than this. 

All these chunks of bunkum have been fine-tuned for cut-through potential, making them as hooky and brain-wormy as pieces of nonsensical uninformation can possibly be. Some get sloganified. “If you don’t know, vote no”, “Have a go to get a go”, “Cheaper, faster, better”, “Homes first, super second”, “Stop the boats”, et cetera, whatever garbled combination of words it is that helps a politician set the boundaries of a conversation while avoiding the very real problems their corporate sponsors would prefer remain very real problems. 

Then – this is the crucial part – these bunk chunks are repeated, repeated, repeated to the media, who in turn do their own repeating, repeating, repeating until these pseudo-thoughts wander into the backs of our minds, lingering there as vaguely plausible points to recall, implanted pull-string lines to tug on that sound reasonable and true – even though they are not – anchoring our national conversation into the mud. As one of too many examples of how this works and why it is a problem: the fact that “debate” surrounding the “ute tax” considered seriously whether weekends would be destroyed allowed a completely made up and nonsensical notion to become a more dominant takeaway, a more deeply planted seed in voters’ minds, than the fact that we do indeed need to faze out petrol vehicles at some point pretty fucking soon or everyone outdoors melts on hot days. If the debate is between science and a slogan, the news should make this clear at every turn. 

There is a serious problem with human psychology that media folk have not yet reckoned with (or knowingly exploit, again, take your pick): repeating something stupid endlessly will eventually convince people of the stupid thing. Recognition is a form of credibility to our monkey brains, so these barrages of brainlessness are depressingly effective. And they will continue to work on us en masse until editors the breadth of the industry decide that stupid things clearly said to manipulate us are not inherently newsworthy – and certainly not without illuminating the wholly relevant context of the manipulation underway.

Nearly all of us are smarter, clearer, and more capable of grasping onto the objective truth of any random moment than the purveyors of the world on the television each night would like us to realise. But we are conditioned to accept a stupider discussion, a smaller debate, a more disingenuous narrative than we otherwise would. Time and again, over and over, we are sold distraction, theatre, dreck dressed as truth, all while extremely important, relevant questions fade away with all the other words that should have been said but weren’t. 

And this is what we are left with. We have an opposition leader, acting on behalf of coal and its profiteers, letting atomic farts rip, while our news media holds a megaphone between his cheeks and excuses the smell. 

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