Public First Program


Shane Elson


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+61-3-5134 8556

+61-4-1349 7828

Nov 2007 # 1

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Back to Editorials 2007

Cup Day & Dictators

The news has been telling me that a horse won the Melbourne Cup this week. I guess that as sure a horse will win that race a politician or two will win the Big Race to the House on the Hill later this month. The major difference is, that we only have to waste a few days on the Cup and the horse will eventually be put out to pasture. 

Thinking about horse racing and politics has led me to the following conclusions. The first is that both cost millions to get up and running. The second is that while the punters get to watch from the sidelines, it’s the rich and influential who get the best possies. The next is that the horses are only one part of a much bigger system in which they are at the mercy of others. Finally, once its all over, the punters have been cleaned out and the next day all they’ll have is a hangover. 

The one constant is, I guess, that both the race and the poll are all about spectacle and little about substance. After all, only the select few get the invite to the “bird cage” while the rest slum it out with over priced food and drink. At the end of the day it’ll be the lowest paid workers who clean up the mess the rest leave behind. 

In some ways, though, the retreat from reality to horse racing is, in these hard times, a welcome, if fleeting, relief. For a few hours the woes of the world and the attendant troubles are forgotten as the cash flows steadily upward and away from the control of those who punt on a nag or two. The thrill of the crowd displaces the boredom and monotony of the daily grind and the chance of winning the ‘big one’ beckons as if drawing some of us in like iron filings to a magnet.

No doubt in these times welcome distractions, promising escape to some temporal bliss, are always welcome. After all, we vote in politicians to ensure that all is well with the world, don’t we? They ask for our trust and we place it in them and hope to hell they know what they’re doing. It appears that sometime in the not to distant past we, collectively, bought the line that resistance is futile and conformity is expected. 

I wonder how it would be for the big race if all the horses adopted the same idea? Can you imagine them whinnying about it the night before the race? ‘Hey, Flash. You gonna walk it in or what?’ asks the big bay gelding in stall five. ‘Nah. I’m just gonna follow the rail,’ replies Flash. ‘What about you, Stumbles?’ asks the bay. ‘Nah. I tried that last year and got a belting. Don’t think so’. And on it goes. Around the stalls until the horses reach a consensus. There will be no surprises from the horses this year. Each will do as they’re told, suffering the whip under duress, each knowing that in a few moments their best efforts will be rewarded only with more oats and if they’re lucky, a treacle sundae. 

Politics, like horse racing, is something predictable. A politician will win and at the end of the day most of us will end up with empty pockets and wish that we didn’t indulge so much. Like the horses, the pollies will do as they’re told and they too will be rewarded, although with a little more than oats and treacle.  

No matter which way it goes, horse racing, like politics is a mugs game. However the outcome of the latter impacts us far more deeply and in much more important ways than a simple race on the grass. 

Speaking of horse racing, I wonder when our politicians will speak up and demand that we invade Pakistan to overthrow a brutal dictator who has imposed martial law, arrested and locked up the judiciary and closed down the free press? Mmm, I guess we’ll have to wait till next year to find out.

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