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Australians are leaving our leaders behind



If you were to isolate your understanding of the Australian people to the statements made about us and to us by many of our politicians, you would be unlikely to form a very positive opinion.

Bush fire damage at Salt Ash (Amy Thunig)I've been reflecting a lot recently on the ways in which the estimation of the Australian voter, as demonstrated by the decisions made by those elected and paid to represent us, fails to line up with what I see interwoven and strongly demonstrated in our society.

I have seen numerous signs displayed in places of worship and community hubs, calling for #KidsOffNauru. This month the Australian Medical Association formally and publicly called on the Prime Minister to move asylum seeker children and families off Nauru; Australia has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations for this illegal detention. Globally, locally, informally and formally, we are calling for better. But our leaders do not appear to be listening.

As someone who works in higher education, I see how intelligent, capable, and passionate the young adult learners and mature aged students of this nation are. They think deeply, engage, rally, and are willing to speak up.

But this passion, engagement and critical thinking is not isolated to universities. Consider the number of local councils who, in response to their own communities, have moved to change the date on which they celebrate 'Australia Day'. Consider the estimated 60,000 people who marched through Melbourne this year for the Invasion Day rally. The thousands who turned up to commemorate Eurydice Dixon. The results of the same sex marriage postal survey — an example of wanton waste and weak leadership by the LNP, but a strong result from the Australian people.

Australian voters have a right to expect that the people paid to lead will listen to those they are there to represent. That they are in their roles because they are the best equipped, qualified, and able to understand the complexities of the issues of this modern world — rather than because they are wealthy and well connected.

2018 has seen the Australian climate undeniably changing. Bushfire season has begun months early, the rains of autumn and winter didn't eventuate, 100 per cent of my home state of New South Wales was declared to be in drought during winter. So where is the evidence and research-based policy and action, where is the strong leadership, responsive to the needs of this land and people? Certainly not visible in Canberra, as the LNP have been too busy with their infighting, culminating in yet another #libspill and leadership challenge.


"Here I suggest is a key failing of the current government: they fail to anticipate how educated and engaged the Australian voter actually is."


In the weeks since Australia experienced yet another mid-term change of prime minister, there has been a lot of bizarre behaviour and decision making to unpack. But if we consider the widely condemned move to create the position of 'special envoy of Indigenous affairs' and the choice of a non-Indigenous man, Tony Abbott, to fill this role, we can begin to understand the level of condescension and paternalism which seems to be a staple of the current government.

Formal education in Australia has historically been structured, delivered, and measured from a Eurocentric gaze but due to decades (even centuries) of advocacy and hard work, formal and informal educational opportunities in Australia have widened, as has participation. And here I suggest is a key failing of the current government: they fail to anticipate how educated and engaged the Australian voter actually is.

I, along with many others, have had access to opportunities which were intentionally denied to our ancestors. We also now live in a world where social media has broken down many of the barriers which separated, and kept oppressed, voices which sat outside of the dominant Anglocentric narrative often sold to us from politicians and mainstream media.

Australians, with all of our rich diversity, are more able than ever before to talk to each other. To understand and empathise with one another. To seek education and informed understanding on matters which impact not only our own lives, but the lives of those around us, and of future generations.

With this increase in communication, and a slow but steady re-empowerment of people historically oppressed in this country since invasion, has come an increase in critical thinking, and critical consumption among the broader community. In this way, the body of voters has become more complex. We are more sceptical, increasingly scientifically and academically literate, and more able to fact-check the stories being sold to us.

If they wish to remain in power, the politicians of today and tomorrow need to take the time to educate themselves on who the Australian voter is, to listen to what we are calling for, and to genuinely attempt to deliver it. It is time for our leaders to be better informed, better educated, and better at listening. This is what is required to lead, and if they are not capable, they will be left behind.



Amy ThunigAmy Thunig is a Kamilaroi woman, PhD candidate, and an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University. Juggling parenting and partnering, Amy's interests and writing centre around family, Indigenous rights, social justice, academia, and education. She is the recipient of the 2018 Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Emerging Indigenous Writers.

Main image: Bush fire damage at Salt Ash (Amy Thunig)

Topic tags: Amy Thunig, Margaret Dooley, Indigenous Writers Fellowship



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Existing comments

Do you agree that: “Seeking asylum is a human right. People who enter Australian territory to seek asylum do so lawfully. Asylum seeking is a humanitarian issue rather than an issue of border security or defence, and people seeking asylum must be treated with compassion, as our equal in rights and dignity. Indefinite mandatory detention of refugees and people seeking asylum is a form of arbitrary detention. As such, it is a gross violation of human rights.” Do you also agree that: “Human-induced climate change poses the greatest threat to our world, civilisation and way of life. Climate change touches all aspects of modern life, contributing to disruption of human societies through sea level rise, extreme weather events, desertification and changing weather patterns, and threatening food security, water, the economy, social cohesion and the well-being of humans and other living things. These impacts will escalate in the future. Australia’s climate policy should be consistent with our commitment under the Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this is essential to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.” Is so, you agree with some of the Ausralian Greens policies stated on their website. Sadly, I think the energy policies of our major parties reflect the donations they receive from the fossil fuel industry. And their refugee policies reflect the racism and greed in sections of our population. Just watch 'Go Back to Where You Came From' to see what I mean.

Grant Allen | 04 October 2018  

I hope that you are right Amy. Successive political leaders have cited their election victories as an endorsement of their policies by the majority of Australians. Of course they forget that electors are faced with a bundle of policies at election time. They make no mention of the least popular policies when claiming victory. It remains the task of advocates for human rights to demand of the Opposition that it develops a far different policy on say asylum seekers and refugees so that the electorate has a real choice on this issue. The Greens are winning increasing numbers of disaffected Labor voters on this issue. Bill Shorten take note.

Ern Azzopardi | 05 October 2018  

Archbishop Gadecki speaking in Rome recently said: Postmodern World Rejects Objectivity, Stability, Normality. Amy Thunig tells another story. Thanks, Amy, you are much more encouraging for us.

Tony Butler | 05 October 2018  

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