When did our election campaigns stop being about people?

Politics used to be about big ideas, debated furiously and passionately in the public domain. They used to also be about people, writes Madonna King

Oct 15, 2020, updated Oct 15, 2020
Teacher Rachel Middleton is recovering in Cairns.(Facebook: Rachel Middleton)

Teacher Rachel Middleton is recovering in Cairns.(Facebook: Rachel Middleton)

Rachel Middleton should be front and centre of this election campaign. Yet few voters know her name and neither party has put any real focus on the problems at the heart of the assault she copped last week.

Rachel, 25, is the young schoolteacher who was the victim of an alleged stabbing attack in Lockhart River on the Cape York Peninsula.

The details of that case will – and should be – heard in court, but the injuries on her face and stomach and arms and legs tell the story of the issues our leaders are ignoring.

The deafening silence, from both camps, couldn’t be louder.

Both the ALP and the LNP claim education is a top priority – so why hasn’t Rachel Middleton’s case prompted a discussion about the safety of our teachers. Almost 500 of them suffered occupational violence last year.

Why hasn’t the alleged bashing of a young woman – simply for opening the front door of her home to help someone – been the catalyst for a conversation on crime in our communities?

And what needs to be done in Cape York, and other areas, to stem the rising tide of poverty and abuse and hopelessness that remains hidden away from cameras?

The answer isn’t too difficult. Complex policy discussions on education and crime and regional dilemmas require courage and conviction and a persistence to do something beyond winning the next election.

And neither party seems to have the guts for that. The Government sent in a high-ranking police officer and extra security, and wished the young teacher well. Apparently.

Lockhart State School says all inquiries need to go through the publicly funded education department in Cairns. In Cairns, the department says it must be Brisbane who handle this issue. In Brisbane, Education Queensland ask for notice and all questions to be delivered in writing. The answers, they say, will return in writing.

It just all feeds into the view that humanity has gone AWOL in this election campaign.

Kevin Bates, who runs the powerful Queensland Teachers’ Union says politicians – on all sides – no longer want to confront anything they can’t say in “a three-second television grab’’.

He’s spot on. Another incident – playing out in an inquest in north Queensland where paramedics waited to attend a violent assault because police were not immediately available – emphasises that.

Why is this not another key election issue? It’s not just a matter of numbers (police or ambulance), it’s how we navigate the jobs of our frontline workers in an environment that has become increasingly hostile.

Paramedics are not trained as police, but they are now routinely being subject to abhorrent, drug-fuelled attacks – for simply doing their job.

Just take these three different incidents in the Toowoomba region last month, where paramedics were violently attacked after answering calls for assistance.

One was left with several fractures to his nose and required surgery. Another suffered facial injuries after being kicked by a patient. And a third received blows to his back and flank from the knees of another thankless patient.

“It’s appalling to understand that at someone’s request for assistance, one of our officers has needed emergency attention and an operation following a serious assault from a patient,’’ local United Voice ambulance delegate Ginny Lovelady said.

It’s also appalling that our politicians would rather not talk about it. Do our paramedics need to be trained as police? Do we simply need more paramedics? Should those patients who assault a paramedic not be helped? Does the pay packet of a paramedic reflect the job they now do?

A few simple questions that demand the attention of our politicians, who are more comfortable talking about borders (not the people impacted by border openings and closings), donations (where property developers are now lumped in with criminals), sporting grants and cash-handouts.

Politics used to be about big ideas, and political campaigns hosted the contest of those ideas. They used to also be about people.

This election campaign just seems soulless. That’s dispiriting. But it’s also such a waste of a political process that taxpayers fund, and the armies of politicians we are being encouraged to re-employ on October 31.

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