We're to blame for election shocker

20 Comments

The 2010 election campaign and its result have proved inadequate one of our unspoken assumptions about the political process. We accept that we are most intensely involved in the political process during the election campaign. Our involvement ends with the casting of votes and the election of the new government. We then leave the shaping of public life to the government that has been chosen, with whatever expressions of sadness, delight, fear, shame, relief, distaste or lament at lack of leadership we care to indulge.

Many aspects of the 2010 Federal Election exposed this assumption. Most obviously, nothing has yet been decided. We shall wait for counts and recounts, for negotiations to form a government. For a while we shall not be able to hand over responsibility. We shall not be clear to whom we are who are leaving responsibility, nor even who are the 'we' who hand it over.

The campaign, too, was dominated by the calculation of political professionals and by attention to the whims and prejudices of small groups of Australians in marginal electorates. As a result the large challenges that will face us as a society in coming years received only cursory attention.

These challenges include our response to climate change — the major criterion by which our generation will surely be judged; respect for the human dignity of marginalised groups like Indigenous Australians and asylum seekers; and how we use the prosperity created by our mineral resources to enhance our human resources.

It is clear that it is self-indulgent to decry the lack of political leadership in the hope that it will be found in another election. Unless there is concerted demand for hard thinking and appropriate action on the issues that will shape Australia’s future, the next election will be fought on the same narrowly focused and negative terms as was this election.

If anything is to change, it must begin with Australian public opinion. That can change only if those who care for Australia's future keep an active interest in public life and participate in it in modest ways. We should ask to be offered leadership from the top only after we have committed ourselves to provide it within the small groups that form the basis of our public life.

To involve ourselves in public life is less about acting and speaking visibly in public forums than about acting and speaking more deeply. If our response to climate change, for example, is the single criterion by which future generations will judge our moral seriousness, the effectiveness of our public activity will depend on our personal integrity. That means not being intimidated by people who try to persuade us that nothing needs to be done or that nothing can be done.

We need then to name to ourselves what needs to be done at universal, local and personal levels, and then to attend to the ways in which we contribute to the problem and its alleviation through the ways in which we heat, cool and light our space, and choose to travel.

When we take seriously the need to make climate change salient in our lives, and so to change our own patterns of living, we inevitably become involved in honest conversation, and so able to influence others. Inevitably we find ourselves representing our views in more public circles, connecting with others who share our convictions, and becoming involved in more public ways.

As more people become similarly involved and connected, public opinion will be affected. Eventually it will be reflected in pollcies that politicians will ignore at their peril. Leadership will then naturally develop.

The other large challenges that face Australia require the same continued involvement by ordinary Australians in public life. They require the same integrity in naming what respect for the human dignity of less privileged Australians entails, in becoming familiars of those different from ourselves, and being linked with like minded people by conversation and action that will eventually change public opinion.

If the experience of a fetid election campaign, of leadership abdicated and of a hung parliament leads many Australians to offer these modest local forms of participation and leadership, all Australians will gain.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is the consulting editor for Eureka Street. He teaches at the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne.

 

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Labor, Green, Liberal, election 2010, gillard, abbott, prime minister, hung parliament

 

 

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Thank you Andrew for giving us something to think about in regard to the recent apalling effort by most candidates to represent the national interests in a real way. We do need as individuals, to pick up our game other than at election time.Isolated as I am your thoughts Andrew give me food for thought if not action.
Geoff Kennewell | 23 August 2010


Congratulations Andy on a fine piece. In both church and society we need to encourage real dialogue about the real issues. To have a campaign dominated at the end by slogans and spin like "no big new taxes" and "don't believe Mr Abbott" was an insult. However if we have been inactive and not participants in the local political process we get, as you have said, what we deserve. Perhaps the independents can spur us on to become more involved locally and we can as participants ask the political parties to face the big social and moral issues of our time.

It was not for nothing that the old universities used to have departments of "Moral and Political Philosophy". Thanks again Andy for a great piece of analysis.
Roger | 23 August 2010



Frankston's St Francis Xavier’s hosted the pre-election Dunkley Electorate Forum -Make History Poverty- drawing together the sitting Liberal MP., Bruce Billson, the ALP’s Helen Constas, and the Australian Greens’ Simon Tiller for a community quizzing about how to tackle global poverty, overseas aid and climate change.
Itwas ‘your chance to participate in debate and discussion’. The coordinator put several questions to the candidates.

Given that Bruce Billson was a Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the Howard government, he proved very knowledgeable. His ALP opponent could only lament that she hadn't the benefit of his 14 years in parliament or his portfolio experience to counter his responses. The audience was only allowed to write down their questions for the coordinator to read out.

While pencils and papers were being distributed, and as I was probably the only foreign aid agency (The Australian AIDS Fund Inc) representative present,I stood and gave a 3 minute commentary of what we're doing to make poverty history in Malawi, Uganda and South Africa.

It included recognitiion of financial assistance provided under both the Howard and Rudd governments,thus allowing me to publicly thank two of the candidates.
Amazingly, the coordinator, to whom I’d earlier spoken, frantically waved her arms in disapproval,signalling me to be seated.I speedily completed my contribution and sat down to total silence.

I learned later that thse forums were more about increasing AusAID's budget..to reduce its poverty.




Brian Haill - Melbourne | 23 August 2010


Today the election result is balanced on a knife-edge. But the result would now be definite if the influences affecting voters had been just a little different. One such influence was the flattering, full-page picture of a party leader, published on election day on the front page of the tabloids.

If we all took more interest, as Andrew suggests, the power of such stunts would be nullified.
Bob Corcoran | 23 August 2010


"That means not being intimidated by people who try to persuade us that nothing needs to be done or that nothing can be done"??

And maybe not being intimidated by those who seek to denigrate our legitimate enquiry.
patrick | 23 August 2010


Roger I concur with your thoughts about philosophy as a basis for decision making.

Our education system can accept some responsibility for the current state of politics
Children/students need to be encouraged to think outside the circle and make decisions outside bias and self centred interests.....and philosophical education can help provide objective views.

How sad that such a department no longer exists in universities
GAJ | 23 August 2010


Well there is something I didn't hear about during the election campaign -
Brian Haill's experience in Frankston.
The media's coverage of the election was so self-serving, it was disgraceful.
Unless an event had the spectacle or excitement of All-in Wrestling it was ignored.

More camera attention and commentary is given to the arrest of a lone well-dressed protester than a PM's policy announcement.
When things got dull, the media talked about one another.But never asked the hard questions.

What was the authenticity of the leak (if it was a leak) to Laurie Oakes?
Why do leakers leak to Laurie?
Prime Ministers and Ministers do not wander around in cones of silence.
Very few conversations between Ministers in Canberra is limited to the participants for more than five minutes.
Uncle Pat | 23 August 2010


Andrew is it prudent to lay blame on the electorate for the stalemate result?

Change is the agenda that seems to be at the heart of things here - people have voted for change in the way our politicians do business and the delivery of a stalemate result suggests that neither party has the necessary integrity to have majority power in Parliament. I think there is a subtle change happening on a larger scale, a paradigm shift in the way people view the bigger picture as we and our planet evolve.

The rapid changes in technology now tend to outstrip our human ability to keep up (Broadband may be another wasted effort). Climate change has evolution at its heart and we must make changes to live accordingly.
Its not about laying blame its about increased conscious awareness. Leadership starts with the individual who casts a vote, it seems that a vote of no confidence is the underlying theme here (and the number of informal votes is up too)!

Britain has similarly voted for change - to change the way things get done in Parliament, and now its Australia’s turn.

Party integrity is lacking - Labor is a house divided against itself! Such a house inevitably cannot stand. The Liberal’s think in terms of dollars and economy over and above the basic human needs of the marginalized Australians and the dignity of refugees who risk all in order to find shelter in our country.

Andrew I suggest that ordinary Australians are involved at the local level, we have voted in an election where both major parties have failed to impress the public. My prayer is that our political leaders change the way they think and find a way to give us responsible caring government.
Trish Martin | 23 August 2010


Andrew Hamilton makes his case well but on this occasion a little too gently. "Change must...begin with Australian public opinion...that can change only if those who care for Australia's future keep an active interest in public life and participate in it in MODEST ways".

Why in "modest" ways? Isn't it better to join a political party of any persuasion and work within that organisation to help commit it to values of truth and integrity? Unless we put ourselves on the line and not fall into the trap of talk fests with our like-minded friends, we will achieve little.

To paraphrase Frere Bartholome de las Casas:"When truth goes forward (in a power-hungry brutal political party),it is often fragile and alone, falsehood on the other hand can have many helpers". Let's bring back the truth and defeat the falsehoods in political organisations.
Claude Rigney | 23 August 2010


The electorate has punished both parties for their pathetic attempts in trying to win power by denying it to both of them. The prospect is that the result will lead to a recovery of some of the powers of parliament, and a return to more civilised parliamentary behaviour (at least from the minority government and those who keep it in power) as well as a requirement for leaders to listen and compromise in the interests of the country as a whole.

Hopefully the 'professional' political recipe of narrow populism directed to the centre will now have been discredited and we can look forward to a better standard of debate in the future.
John | 23 August 2010


ABDICATION?

Take the paradoxical perspective of Machiavellian politics where "taking a little from the population engenders a fiesty and vibrant population but taking too much will be the catalyst for revolution and change".

The paradox is that Australia's ex-Prime Minister Rudd had been trying to take too much tax from the Big Mining Companies (BMC's) and the subsequent events draw a perfect example of what has become The Australian Banker's Republic (ABR) with the Prime Minister bowing out to the omnipotence of the BMC's.

That was the catalyst and this is the change caused by the catalyst which (now) nobody is talking about and now nobody is reporting. It is a secretive society indeed when insurrection and overthrowing of governments by BMC's is actively covered up and concealed with static by a knowing media.Remember the millions spent by the BMC's on castigating the Rudd government in the weeks leading up to Rudd's so called dismissal by the union of workers. The union of Australian Workers did not have Mr Rudd dismissed; the BMC's had Rudd dismissed because the BMC's have become omnipotent and answerable to nobody. This is about the machinery of goverment: this is Armageddon ... this is the beginning and the end. Welcome to the baracades, my friends; eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

Where do the union of Australian workers stand now? They stand taking the blame for the actions of the BMC's. The whole country would be outraged if the truth, as it stands, were reported. They are laughing at us; we the people. They are just laughing at us.

How long before they have us bowing to Malcolm Turnbull without knowing it? (the ex-banker head of the Australian Republican Party who is biding his time on the front benches of the hallowed halls of our Parliament)
Greig Williams | 23 August 2010


I agree with Andrew about needing to be involved at the personal and community level to bring about change for a better future, as person-to-person contact is a much more potent agent than lobbying governments. However, because government action or inaction can affect us profoundly, we also need to be involved in shaping government policy beyond just casting a vote.

In their policy "Community participation in government" The Greens are addressing this challenge. The success of The Greens last weekend was not just the result of disaffection with the two major parties. Voters are finding The Greens are offering constructive policies not only on environmental issues but also on the full range of government responsibilities, including some not addressed at all by the major parties. Their policies can be found at greens.org.au/policies

The Greens also practice what they preach as all party members can contribute to the development of policy through its grassroots consensus decision-making processes.
David Letham | 23 August 2010


"These challenges include our response to climate change — the major criterion by which our generation will surely be judged"

The thousands of unborn children ripped from their mothers' wombs as they exercised their "choice", probably will not vie with your criterion, Father Andrew, for how our generation will be judged.

Unfortunately, you are probably correct.
Patrick James | 23 August 2010


Thank you, Andrew. This is what I have been trying to articulate to myself and others for weeks now. Governments reflect public opinion. If people are so desperate for 'change' they should certainly promote their views during an election campaign, but then they need to play their part in changing those views in the in-between-times.
Melanie | 23 August 2010


Perhaps you could sit down Abbott and Gillard and explain why we have a refugee convention and how it is supposed to function so we stop this rancid hate debate over the bones of a couple of thousand poor sods from Afghanistan.

It was an even more vacuous election than 2001.
Marilyn Shepherd | 23 August 2010


I agree with those who have bemoaned the lack of vision and leadership on Saturday.

I was also sickened by the glib slogans, spin and downright lies that passed as policy. Fancy putting up a "Cash for Klunkers" proposal without examining whether it would reduce CO2 and do it cheaply. The hysteria about carbon taxes ignores university research from the UK, US and Denmark showing that in the six countries where it applies, there was no loss of international competitiveness and a slight increase in GDP.

Thus a minor and major example of how the major parties simply don't do their homework and apply a bit of logic and evidence.

I spent decades in the ALP but thankfully, in The Greens, I've witnessed intellectual horsepower lacking in the major parties. The Greens might be visionary perhaps but isn't it what people increasingly hunger for?
Bill | 23 August 2010


Sadly we are all too well fed to really tune into politics.The nonsense that we are doing it tough and therefore we wait to see who will give us the best handouts. This now rules the decisions being made during the election. There is little thought that we have to change before the climate will change.The nonsense that our standard of living can't drop in the process is ridiculous. We are the most wasteful nation on the planet and yet we keep being told we'll need help with electricity bills.The more expensive the better. I have high hopes for the Independants they are in the main thinking people who want change away from the corruption of the two big parties. I try to salvage something positive from this mess.
Sarah | 23 August 2010


I agree with Andrew about needing to be involved at the personal and community level to bring about change for a better future, as person-to-person contact is a much more potent agent than lobbying governments. However, because government action or inaction can affect us profoundly, we also need to be involved in shaping government policy beyond just casting a vote.

In their policy "Community participation in government" The Greens are addressing this challenge. The success of The Greens last weekend was not just the result of disaffection with the two major parties. Voters are finding The Greens are offering constructive policies not only on environmental issues but also on the full range of government responsibilities, including some not addressed at all by the major parties. Their policies can be found at greens.org.au/policies

The Greens also practice what they preach as all party members can contribute to the development of policy through its grassroots consensus decision-making processes.

David Letham | 23 August 2010


I agree with Greig Williams. The silence on the mining tax was deafening. The miners prefer to pay company tax rather than a resource rent. The reasons for this have not been spelt out to the people. In theory the mining tax is not a tax but a resource rent. In economic terms a resource rent is sometimes referred to a super profits tax (as in the Henry Review) Tony Abbot called it a big new tax, which was very misleading and Julia Gillard chose to remain silent. And so on all accounts it was very disappointing. It will probably be a very long time before we learn the truth of the involvement of mining interests in this election. Australia must have an independent government, one working for the common good and not sectional interests. The electorate must play its part in being informed and involved. We must protect our democratic system. Our ways of Donating and lobbying need reform as both have a tendency to poison democracy.
Anne Schmid | 24 August 2010


Thanks Andreew for a timely reminder to reflect inwardly and act locally; I agree this political conundrum may do our polity the world of good. I hope so!
Denise Nichols | 27 August 2010


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