As we hurl ourselves into a new year, let’s pause to reflect on 2017, the year that was. Acts of terror across the globe; the passing of legends; stories of serial sexual offenders; the Manus Detention Centre mess.
So much has happened globally and locally in the last twelve months, and yet if we focus the lens on Australian politics, what has transpired? Much of the political year was dominated by distraction and a serious lack of leadership from both sides of the Chamber. There has been shouting about citizenship eligibility, instead of getting on and sorting it out; dodging around the marriage equality debate, with the community having to take the lead. Politicians in interviews (and in parliament) seem to be auditioning for a role in ‘Mean Girls’. They compete to deliver the most histrionic roast of their opposition; rather than respectfully debating points of difference and negotiating to govern this country. We are left wondering what work some politicians are actually doing? If we indulged the time to argue and grandstand that they do, we’d get none of our day job done.
Australians often lament that politicians are governing for one term, not willing to risk re-election by making bold decisions for this country’s future. Maybe our politicians need to stay away from ‘Mean Girls’ and instead take a leaf out of Dorothy’s book, on her trip to Oz. Dorothy thoughtfully lead the Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow in their pursuit of courage, a heart, and a working brain. If our politicians would be willing to embrace all three, they could woo the disaffected, disconnected masses and gain much needed respect. Giving them a mandate to assert power for the long term.
When was the last time you heard someone praise a politician for leadership? Certainly, when Howard tightened gun control; when Rudd apologised to stolen generations. But such definitive leadership is few and far between. And it’s not as if we don’t need it. We have the highest suicide rates in over a decade; we have increasing levels of people seeking support for homelessness; one woman dying each week from domestic violence; a widening economic gap between rich and poor. And, the hundreds of men that were isolated in PNG because of Australian policy and actions, breaching not only international standards but surely contravening the moral values we often profess.
Dorothy demonstrated the leadership our country is lacking. She was optimistic, brave and confident in the face of uncertainty. There have undeniably been a few moments of leadership in Australian politics in the last year. Jacqui Lambie’s powerful address to parliament on welfare cuts; George Brandis standing up to Pauline Hanson’s Burqa stunt; Penny Wong fighting for marriage equality in the face of an at times offensive opposing narrative. They each expressed raw emotion, standing up for marginalised people. These were rare glimpses of authentic leadership that our country is hungry for.
If our politicians had a heart they would have demonstrated genuine compassion to the men on Manus; even to allow NZ to assist these people if we won’t. But they don’t seem to have a heart. If our politicians had courage they’d stand up for their convictions rather than gauging the loudest dissenting voices to parrot. The liberals wouldn’t decide as a government on marriage equality. Yet, when there was a growing sense that yes may win, they came out of the woodwork claiming they’d supported the issue all along. And, if our politicians fully engaged their brains, they’d understand that much of this country is so sick of politicians and their sense of entitlement that they’d not risk our wrath. They’d understand that we’re desperate for a strong decisive government that connects across our social structures and our multicultural and diverse communities. If they had the courage, heart and brains to do so, they could so easily woo us. But they don’t move past their own petty arguments; trying to distract us with sound bites rather than action.
So, if our politicians won’t lead, will we? Recently I interviewed Kim Beazley. Speaking on the current state of politics in this country, Mr Beazley acknowledged both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten’s efforts, but stated that to reinvigorate this country politicians need commitment to properly worked through policy, that meets the country’s needs, even if they are not immediately appealing. Leadership. Mr Beazley added that members of the public need to “engage the political process, not in a partisan way, but with a purpose.”
We need to agitate for change. Will we ignite our brains and get off the merry go round of daily drama the pollies drag each other through in the media, and realise we do have a voice in this nation? Will we have a heart and show compassion to our fellow humans? Will we show the courage of our values? Or will we continue to allow ourselves to be distracted in the daily drama?