“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”  Franklin D. Roosevelt

If you were disappointed in the quality of political journalism during, and after, this election you are not alone. Barry Cassidy and Laura Tingle, elders of the profession, bemoaned the gotcha questions, the poverty of analysis and the pro-LNP / anti-Labor bias. It needs some drastic fixing, and might I suggest that two or three design ideas could help the ‘Fourth Estate’.

One dimensional

Almost all the political discussion was of the two ‘main parties’, the Liberal-National Coalition at one end and Labor at the opposite of a single axis: conservative to the right and progressive to the left. Those very terms are pejoratives:  the ‘loony left’ is a favorite put down of Sky After Dark, whilst ‘far right’ is Crikey’s descriptor of the LNP.

Two problems here: there are more than two parties, never more clearly than after 21 May; and the linear axis is mostly based on economics: right wing ‘dries’ wanting small government and lower taxes and the left wing ‘wets’ wanting greater government intervention and spending, and money to pay for it. The one dimension is wholly inadequate in describing our current political complexities.

Two dimensions

The shock for many journalists that there are other dimensions was once demonstrated on ABC Insiders: The Australian’s Judith Sloane was criticising the totality of ‘left wing economics’ only to be politely, but firmly, told that “we live in a society, not an economy”. Boom tish. Rather than only one axis for the economy, let's have a second one to describes mores: progressive on social issues to conservative about social support.

These are very different attributes to economics and can be contradictory to each other. It's quite possible, for instance, to be economically dry but socially progressive. Hello Teals. Or socially regressive, but economically progressive, come on down PHON.

Three dimensions

This election was fought and won on climate change, meaning the environment. This gives us a third axis, those that support renewables and innovation, and those that argue for fossil fuels and business as usual. Again, you can see much more complexity than one dimension economics: one could be an ‘economic dry’ supporting a ‘leave it to the market’ approach for green shoots – the Liberals, or an ‘economic socialist wet’ arguing for more government intervention for gas and coal – hello the Canavan of Joyce. No wonder they are a COALition.

Architects know that the key to design is space, is that it has three dimensions. They know only too well that the section and elevation are as important as the plan. Design is no longer done in two dimensions. The digital drafting revolution, of say Mini-CAD, has morphed into the 3D of Vectorworks or BIM-based ArchiCad and Revit. The omnipresent Google has SketchUp so even rank amateurs can think in 3D.

What a pity that our journalists can rely only on words, hopelessly inadequate for describing 3D space. We may need some drawings, so here's a diagram (I published previously) with three axes for equity, economy, environment. The triple bottom line, originally described by its inventor (John Elkington in the 1997 book ‘Cannibals with Forks) as the social, physical, and financial, and now tagged as people, planet, and profit. Now we can plot the position of any party, politician, or commentator in three dimensions.

Political colours

Political journalism today is stuck the 19th century, as if it’s a black and white photograph with few shades of grey. Shining white or darkest black. Hero or villain. The early 20th century delivers Kodachrome© but our commentators are still stuck in the binary. Now we are fully immersed in the third digital dimension of VR (virtual reality), gaming and holograms.

Speaking of colour, with the increased diversity of political representation, a fuller spectrum is now possible. Red for Labor and blue for the Liberals, (oddly, in the USA the Democrats are blue and Republicans red). The Greens are colour self-described. Welcome the also self-described Teals (Liberal Blue with Green), although Turquoise sounds richer, but Cyan is more correct.

But the Nationals are colour deficient. I suggested in an earlier ToT, that if the Greens represented one end of the social, ecological, and financial axes, then the Nationals are their opposite, and should be coloured accordingly in ‘Crimson’, an extreme red that is the colour of farmer's necks and Barnaby's face.

With Palmer’s yellow and Kylea Tink’s pink we now have a much fuller colour chart to describe our more diverse and complicated political stance. The two-tone, red v blue football game was never a useful descriptor, even less so now. What a shame that the otherwise excellent Antony Green chose to render the independents in grey on his charts. It’s a lot more ‘colourful’ than that. One third of Australia voted NOT red, NOT blue. Only 16 seats, but you watch what happens next time.

More dimensions

Buckminster Fuller ruminates on the fourth design dimension in his book ‘4D Timelock’; up, up and away with the ‘Fifth Dimension’; the media now has a ‘Fifth Estate’; Einstein explored ever more dimensions.  So many more possibilities. The two-party political race is so last month, so last millennium. The ‘two party preferred’ (2PP) vote is a hopeless way to describe the complexity of political positions.

Yet Leigh Sales looks at a 2PP of 32+% for Labor on election night on the ABC and asks Tanya Plibersek “what went wrong for Labor?” when it was clear that Labor party was going to win, possibly outright. What went wrong? I’d say that when a usually reliable journalist like Sales asks such a stupid question then what went wrong was a cataclysmic failure of the fourth estate.

Politics has fundamentally changed: more diversity, more independents, wider views, and a narrower tolerance for bullshit. Maybe a little diagram with a few axes to grind could help journalists in the future.

Tone Wheeler is principal architect at Environa Studio, Adjunct Professor at UNSW and is President of the Australian Architecture Association. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and are not held or endorsed by A+D, the AAA or UNSW. Tone does not read Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Linked In. Sanity is preserved by reading and replying only to comments addressed to [email protected]