I’m going to sleep. Wake me up when the next generation are in charge.
There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Bart calls a character in Australia to ask if their toilet bowl drains counter-clockwise instead of clockwise. That’s the unsophistcated way our country is often portrayed by the rest of the world; even our shit is backwards.
I like to think it’s an unfair perception – and most of the time it is. But the past month of events in Australian politics suggest that our nation is indeed trapped in some kind of bizarre values time warp.
First came the sorry affair involving former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, a woman who had become all too comfortable with the perks of her office. So much so that she chose to travel almost exclusively by limousine, helicopter and chartered planes, while supposedly serving as the arbiter of appropriate parliamentary behaviour.
Next, a number of Members and Senators were exposed for pushing entitlements guidelines to the very outer limits. While not technically breaching the rules as written, their expenditure of other people’s money was well outside the bounds of modern community expectations. (Neither side of politics made too much of this of course; it’s generally inadvisable to dial up the outrage about something you’re probably guilty of yourself…).
While Labor’s national conference made progress in some policy areas, far too many of the difficult decisions were deferred or postponed. For example, Labor MPs and Senators will retain their free vote on the issue of same sex marriage for another four years but support for marriage equality won’t actually be party policy until 2019. And the same arcane factional infighting which the public is so desperately sick of, dominated media coverage of the event.
This week, the Government announced a woefully small target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; one which will see Australia lag even further behind the rest of the world. To add insult to environmental injury, the Prime Minister used a base year for those targets of 2005 (which was a particularly high emissions year) instead of the standard 2000 – artificially inflating his targets to sound more impressive than they really are.
Then this week, the Coalition Party Room decided to deny a conscience vote on same sex marriage, killing off any chance that equality will be achieved in this term of Government. As marriage equality becomes the norm around the world, Australia remains very much stuck in the past.
In short? The current standard of Australian political debate is this: The earth is flat, the gays are second-class citizens, political trickery is king, and our decision-makers spend to excess while telling the poor to tighten their belts.
We may be the nation at the bottom of the globe but we could (and should) be at the top when it comes to pioneering technology, equality of opportunity and a strong modern economy.
Like most political tragics, I’m waiting for someone whose leadership, charisma and values can drive this country forward; to help us live up to our enormous potential. In fact I’m hoping for multiple of those ‘someones’ and on both sides of the political aisle. Because when the standard of debate and discussion is higher amongst both major parties, the whole country wins.
Watch Jamila on Q&A say what she really wants in a Prime Minister. Post continues after video.
Instead, we’re too caught up with the bullshit of empty promises, three word slogans and gotcha moments.
Our politics and consequently our policies, are stuck in the past.
As voters, it’s easy to fall into the trap of disillusionment, despondency and ultimately disinterest. After all, trust and respect for politicians is at record lows and many Australians approach the ballot box apprehensively – feeling their only choice is the lesser of two evils.
But something happened this week that made me look up and smile, momentarily hopeful for what lies ahead.
Tim Watts MP, 33, who was elected only two years ago, rose in parliament to speak on the issue of gay marriage. Rather than reading a preprepared speech crafted by one of his advisors, full of standard party lines and sweeping values statements – he spoke from the heart and from his own experience.
Watts told the story of his two uncles, men who were never allowed to formalise their loving relationship through marriage. He spoke about the devastating social stigma of living with AIDS in the 1980s and poked holes in the shallow stereotypes anti-gay activists cling to.
Watch the below video where Tim Watts MP says to Eric Abetz, “Don’t tell gay men what they want”. Post continues after video.
Together with fellow MP Clare O’Neil, 34, Watts has written a book entitled Two Futures, Australia at a Critical Moment, in which the pair envision a higher standard of parliamentary debate; one that could drive Australia to become a better version of itself.
Perhaps more than ever before, Australia is in dire need of political heroes. Individuals who can restore the public’s faith in politicians – or at the very least elevate our trust in them to a rung or two above used car salesmen.
Is Tim Watts one of those heroes? Is Clare O’Neil?
Is the Liberal Party’s Josh Frydenberg or Kelly O’Dwyer? Is the Greens Party’s Larissa Waters?
But it it is nice to know that there are young up-and-coming members of our federal parliament who recognise that there is a problem with the current standard of debate. It’s nice to know that there are young people determined to see this country drag itself forward from the antiquated arguments that have characterised the past few weeks in politics.
Ask any corporate leader and they’ll tell you that the phrase “But that’s the way we’ve always done it” is the greatest enemy of progress and consequently, the greatest enemy of success. And yet that is exactly what our politics has fallen victim to.
I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of the revolving political door, spinning to reveal the same old stuff. It is, quite simply, exhausting.
I’m going to sleep. Wake me up when my gay friends can marry, the air is clean, politicians catch taxis not helicopters and the next generation is in charge.
Do you think it’s time for a political reshuffle?
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