It was unseasonably warm on the afternoon of Saturday August 28, the day before the election was called. I was relaxing in the backyard of friends, the parents of one year old Matilda.
Matilda’s birth 12 months ago should serve as timely inspiration for this website. I hope that its emergence on the Australian media scene will contribute to the kind of society I hope she gets to grow up in. Prosperous and humane. Secure and tolerant. One where I don’t have to travel 20 minutes by bus to visit a doctor who bulk bills.
Like all one year olds, Matilda is pretty trusting. I expect this to change of course. By the time she has her chance to vote, she may well take the attitude of her older peers, the members of Generation Y, 18-25 year olds, some of whom are voting for the first time in this election. For these fresh-faced citizens, politicians are placed on the trust scale somewhere down there with used car salesman and vendors of miracle weight loss products. And of course the media.
Members of Gen Y will be pretty bemused to find out that according to both leaders in the first few days of this campaign, this election will be about trust. Gen Y have never trusted politicians. Why should they? Not just because the media tells us all the time that we shouldn’t but because the politicians themselves (especially those from the major parties) fail to show us exactly why they should be trusted. This is a generation that is sceptical of powerful institutions, both public and private. I suspect many members of Gen Y will vote only because they have to or botch their vote out of sheer frustration or boredom. Many of them will vote Green because, surprise surprise, they seem to be the most trustworthy of an untrustworthy bunch.
Generation Y aren’t alone in this. A close friend told me that she thinks Labor may well win in October because people are sick of the old lies from the old bunch and are prepared to listen to new lies from a new bunch.
Labor is trying hard to address this issue of trust. Not just by hammering Iraq and children overboard and so on inside and outside Parliament but by pursuing some interesting policies that attempt nothing less than the restoration of the public’s faith in our democratic institutions and processes.
Day Two of the campaign and Latham, in concert with John Faulkner, released a machinery of government reform package that reforms parliamentary super schemes, makes ministers more accountable, places stricter guidelines on government advertising and attempts to improve the process of Question Time.
Ambitious indeed and if it succeeds will go a long way to improving the public image of politicians as squabbling children focused on their own gain rather than the best interests of society.
Who knows how much impact this reform package will have in the midst of the debate over rival tax policies. But it is the kind of big picture stuff that Latham cared about as a book writing backbencher, and the kind of questions he is prepared to pursue in the midst of a tight campaign.
Rebecca Huntley is a Sydney-based academic and writer. She is an active member of the Australian Labor Party.
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