Yet another Australian federal election is nearly upon us - but have we yet learned anything from the lessons of the past?
Saturday May 18th 2019, voting day, is looming large. Once again we are being compelled to follow the leaders of our various political parties, as they crisscross the continent, showering policies and vague promises of financial largesse around like confetti. They flit like busy little bees from state to state and federal seat to federal seat, along with an adoring, applauding backdrop comprised of a mob of political groupies.
Their progress, in full attack mode, is consumed with the fear of having to ‘sandbag’ a vulnerable parliamentary seat. Yet another representative of their particular political bent, in danger of being lost to an “unreliable and incompetent opposing party”. Other seats, currently held by the opposition that they hope to gain, are usually stalked by claiming to ‘rescue’ the poor voters there from what they similarly like to refer to as “that incompetent, dangerous mob who have never been capable of running the economy”, or something similarly derogatory plucked from their well rehearsed portfolio of creative invective.
Elections after election continues to follow the same pattern, accompanied by the same series of claim and counter claim. Threat and counter threat. Smear and counter smear. Unfortunately we by now confused voters are once again being faced with an almost impossible task. Try as we might to avoid it, we continue to be swept along in a maelstrom of competing claims, highly questionable offers, and the exaggerated and misleading assertions that usually accompany the whole circus that Australia’s national federal politics has become. Here we are, once again, voters girding our loins for yet another boring cavalcade of lies, innuendo and high-sounding bucket loads of financial bullshit!
Totally disillusioned punters that we have now become, cringe as we are mercilessly bombarded with letterboxes full of printed trash, unwanted robocalls, TV and press ads and more that serves mainly to bore and annoy. Our political leaders continue to push vague promises of more cuts in taxes, usually quoted in the multi-billions. They offer high sounding gifts of financial largesse that we are given to expect, if and when the “time is right”, usually promised to arrive in our pockets at some distant, indistinct date in the future. The size of the dollar amounts being thrown around with gay abandon prove impossible for any normal, intelligent human being to understand or unravel, prove or disprove. New infrastructure works are promised, projects that everyone knows should have been planned, funded and implemented years ago. They too have become the basis of even more highly unlikely promises.
All of the above are being showered and spread onto and over the heads of a jaded population by every colour of ever-hopeful politician and their highly imaginative party machines and politically allied ‘experts’ across the media.
“When is it all going to end?”
Our by now tired minds plead for it all to end soon, as we attempt to switch the TV channel, currently featuring one of our favourite programmes, over to another station in a usually vain attempt to avoid yet another advertisement seeking to push the unlikely claims of a failed politician from the past. Unfortunately, here too we find a similar, equally expensive offer from another hopeful party is being featured, discussed, debated, dismembered, or in the process of being intricately dissected minutely by a group of self styled political ‘experts’ and ‘commentators’.
Politics Australian style has become a passing parade of ‘experts’, each of them constantly involved in a never-ending war with others of the same ilk. They too are fighting a battle, scratching and grappling with one another for that daily ‘scoop’, gleaned from a non-too-careful politician, who claims to have been “taken out of context”, or a claim that they had misheard the question. The politician in question will usually try the unlikely defence that he/she misunderstood the question, due to it having emerged out of a rowdy, insistent, scurrying, clawing press pack scrum that was surrounding him or her at the time.
Frankly, by the second week of the ‘official’ election campaign most of the voting population is just plain “sick to death of the whole bloody process”, and its usual result, regardless of which political party gets the final nod on election day.
While it is accepted without question that from time to time Australia’s system of democratic government requires us, the country’s citizenry and taxpayers, to indicate our choice of the next Federal Government, it seems to this frustrated citizen of long-standing, that the crazy game being played at our expense, has now gone much too far. It is no longer acceptable, following what we have already experienced in the form of at least two decades of disruptive, disjointed, undisciplined and mostly disappointing and inept Federal Governments, for the current state of Australian politics to continue along the same path.
Politicians are rated even lower than real estate agents or used car salesmen
Unfortunately, our particular species of national politician has, over the past decade, metamorphosed from what used to be a reasonably respected group, even as they even then floundered among the lower echelons of professions. As a group, they have now descended into what has become an unruly mob - having sunk even lower, much lower in the country’s estimates, than the older enemies — real estate agents and used-car salesmen. Our current crop have succeeded in losing the trust of the voting public and, in a number of cases, individuals and at least one party, has become almost universally despised for their disregard of truth, integrity and the maintenance of commonly held values.
Some individual politicians also appear to have become immune to outside criticism, as they happily proceed to abuse the public’s as a result of their cavalier attitude to rules governing their access to and personal use of parliamentary expenses. The accounts in question here were originally designated for use in order that politicians were enabled to carry out their official parliamentary and electorate responsibilities. Not only are rules being ignored, but a few notable politicians have also resorted to the misuse of travel, purchasing, entertainment, and other public funds. A few have even gone to the extent of funding personal family travel both within Australia and overseas. One Queensland based politician was even reported to have found the time to spend an excessive period, far away from Canberra and his electorate, in order to progress an affair of the heart in the Philippines. Others have been found to lack integrity and honesty — if the combined views and opinions as expressed to the various press reports are to believed?
Recent history has shown that once elected, we trusting and ever hopeful voters are constantly being confronted with a daily circus that our Parliamentary leaderships continue to dish up in the guise of adult policy debate. Unfortunately, the last decade of policy debate and decision making in Australia’s Federal Parliament has become stultified. Regularly we are treated to scenes during Parliamentary Question Time that have taken on the look more reminiscent of the childish proclivities of a group of angry, unruly and unwholesome schoolboys, as they hurl abuse, insults and invective across the floor of Parliament.
While robust argument is to be expected where diverse opinions and policies are being debated, one would reasonably expect that the level of debate, at the very least, would follow the example of that practiced in the mother of Parliaments in London. At least there, even at the most critical of times, debate in the British Houses of Parliament operates with at least a degree of decorum. Even during heated argument, members of Britain’s Parliament are at least seen to at least go through the process of treating each other in an adult fashion. What we are consistently being served up with in Canberra these days has become politics and debate by smear, innuendo, invective and at times much worse.
Is it any wonder that most of the voting population across Australia, has become completely disillusioned and mistrustful of anything recent Federal Governments have served up in the guise of progressive national policy.
Over the past decade, national governments have managed, not only to have arranged an inglorious procession of no less than six Prime Ministers, each having being removed (usually with the proverbial knife in the back), the result of internal party politicking or the exercise of colleagues’ egos and personal ambition. The period also resulted in policy stagnation across a whole range of important issues relating to the country’s future prospects, internal cohesion and defence needs.
Australian voters cannot, even today, expect with any degree of confidence, that the current Prime Minister will remain in office for the full three years of a parliamentary term. Gone too are the days when Australians could also vote in expectation of being provided with a well managed Federal Government; one able to present well thought through, progressive and consistent policies. Nor has the current Federal Government, regardless of its constant rhetoric, provided a clear view of what it sees as the country’s future direction, much beyond the current election campaign.
Economics and power
We have yet to see any coherent policy making on issues surrounding climate change and its expected ramifications for Australia into the future. Nor have we been provided with a clear direction on issues surrounding the economics and desirability of continuing to rely on the use of fossil fuels as the mainstay producers of energy across the nation. The question of whether and when to move over to the use of renewable energy sources has also become mired in discordant, disruptive rhetoric.
The production and supply of power continues to be a political football, as both the Government and Opposition parties play a dangerous game of political fence sitting. They spar incessantly, much like the knights of old upon their ancient chargers across the lists, each side intent on unhorsing and discrediting the other. What has resulted is a vacuum, within which debate on important issues is being subverted by the egos and attempts at personal aggrandizement, by the leaders involved. Control and the sole pursuit of power has become the byword of Australia’s politics.
A nation of immigrants
Australia is a nation that was built on the backs of generations of migrants, people who arrived here from the four corners of the known world. Being so, the country was once held in the highest esteem worldwide, as a people that valued human lives and freedom above all else. The actions of recent Federal Governments has seen Australia losing that status, even more so recently as those in charge of the current Federal Government’s immigration policy sought, by a variety of dishonest means, to use genuine refugees seeking a safe haven in Australia, as political pawns. Hopeful, often traumatised immigrants arriving on boats have been imprisoned and mistreated, denying them the very basic level of human rights. All this has been done in the deliberate pursuit of political advantage, the ‘wedging’ of opposition political parties, and hammering down anyone else who has dared to question such a deliberately harsh and inhuman policy.
Where does Australia go from here?
Well, one thing seems to be certain, and that is that the political game in Australia is giving every sign that it could be about to change.
This year will see the highest number of voters being registered on the country’s electoral roll. Most of the newer registrations to vote are for the first time from younger voters. Most of the younger generation of both new and established voters have already given signs that they are sick of seeing their futures being threatened, burned and mortgaged by the current crop of Government politicians.
It needs to be stated here that not all Australia’s politicians should be so criticized or regarded as all being tarred with the same brush. This is particularly so when it comes to debate surrounding issues relating to climate policy, power generation, social issues and immigration; not forgetting national and constitutional recognition of Australia’s Aboriginal first people. It was they, after all, who were the original owners of this vast continent. Australia since the first ‘invasion’ of white settlers in 1788, has yet to form a clear position among its non-aboriginal population, toward how best to treat with Australia’s original inhabitants in an equitable manner.
As the next Federal Government takes office it will need even more conviction than in past years, as it struggles to provide a mutually acceptable direction forward toward the future for its now twenty four million or so population. A population comprising its original Australians, and the waves of immigrants and their descendants who, over two centuries, chose to make their homes here.
International relationship issues are also expected to have a major effect on the country’s future, including but not limited to, its political stance internationally, defence and trade. In particular, questions regarding our relationship with the United States, PR China and emerging potential local giants like Indonesia and India, are yet to be clearly defined.
Australia’s past dependence on the United States for its defence, is another issue needing some careful and strategic thinking and planning, as PR China continues to flex its growing muscles and power in our region. A different role for the country will be needed, if Australia is to regain some of the ground lost over recent years’ that saw massive reductions in overseas financial and physical support to smaller nations across the Pacific region. Perhaps a new and more independent role is called for — if the country is to maintain its earlier strong Indo-Pacific stance over the coming years?
And what of the emergence of women among our leaders?
Productive political debate has been debased over recent years across Australia. We have witnessed a recent period during which some extreme right wing, mainly male politicians and their supporting TV and press based ‘shock jocks’, often referred to by some as cave-dwelling ‘knuckledraggers’, have pushed their often extreme demands and discordant voices to fever pitch. One or two have even become so aligned to the more extreme edge of political debate, that their demands and strong language has at times all but drowned out the possibility of level-headed discussion on some of the more important issues facing all Australians.
There is some hope on the horizon though, as an increasing number of women are putting themselves forward as future contenders for the nation’s highest offices. A number have already found places in and among the more progressive echelons of national political debate. While a number of talented women have recently captured federal seats from what had become known as the ‘Federal boys club’, more women are being selected for political office. In most cases they are seen as being better qualified for the role of an electorate representative, than the usual male party ‘hacks’ of the past. A number of talented women already sit on parliament’s cross benches, while others have already put their hands up and will be taking part in the upcoming election, in the hope of being elected to high office around the country’s parliamentary table.
Australia is poised on the cusp of some major changes, and not before time. Regardless of whichever major party gets the nod to form the next Federal Government, they will be faced with the need to change their attitude and approach to other national representative colleagues, including those in opposition. At least we can so hope, if the country is to progress toward achieving its future potential.
Indications are that more women will be elected to Parliament this time around, a change in itself that should improve the level of political discourse, debate, decorum and governance for the better.
One only needs to take a look over the Tasman to New Zealand to see how the emergence of a capable woman as its Prime Minister, has made the rest of the world sit up and take notice that a country’s leader, in this case a young woman, can provide strong leadership, while uniting the population behind a progressive, caring government.
Surely it is possible to hope that the election in mid May with provide we long-suffering Australians with a government that cares for every part of its present population and future potential group of immigrants — regardless of race, colour, ethnic background or religion. What an encouraging and fantastic example New Zealand has provided to every Australian voter taking part in this year’s general Election.