Australia is in the process of choosing a new government.
Sounds good when you write it like that … Australia … Choice … Government.
Unfortunately it’s a little less elevated than that. Australia is actually in the process of deciding whether the time has come to rid itself of the current administration.
Half-flush or full-flush? Does the Howard Government now pong so mightily that the time has come to despatch it down the democratic dunny?
A few hundred years ago, instead of elections a few honest burghers would take to the streets and demand that the king sent a courtier or two to the scaffold. Our only improvement on the system is that now nobody dies. We’ve simply replaced riots with campaign ads. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already got a peg on your nose.
No-one’s arguing that governments don’t need turfing out. On the contrary, it is the only real right we hold in a representative democracy “ the right to periodically flush our waste. But what about the real issues? Does kicking out a set of ministers really amount to making a positive choice about Australia’s future? Where are big differences on big issues?
Check out the economy. Messrs Latham and Howard are both pledging to keep downward pressure on interest rates. And both men agree a budget surplus of nearly $2.5 billion is needed to do that. Most married couples can’t get that level of agreement on their families’ finances.
Check out foreign policy. Mark Latham wouldn’t have lead us up the WMD garden path over the war in Iraq, would he? Just give a guy a chance. Remember onetime social democrat pin-up boy Tony Blair. He became a political Pinocchio over WMD and Iraq, making John Howard look like Jiminy Cricket. The reason had nothing to do with Blair’s domestic agenda. When you’re not in the driving seat foreign policy choices rarely do. Of course, things look a little different from the Oval Office. As George Bush told American television viewers last month: ‘When I’m making my calculations … I’m not doing a focus group in Pakistan.’
Would Mark Latham really not want a welcome at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Is he really going to stick two fingers up to the US of A? Think about it.
Let’s not dignify this election campaign by dressing it up as anything other than what it is, a clearing of the drains. Latham and co may promise to use a little air freshener and open the window but the pan remains the same.
That’s the problem we really have to address. Why Australia leaves its politics to representatives, why our democracy doesn’t allow more of us to get involved in decision making. So that little things like Free Trade Agreements don’t creep up and surprise us.
Here’s one parent’s take on the election: ‘I’m paying absolutely no attention to any of it. As a mother I just don’t have time. For me, I just think, okay, so they are putting all these policies out now, I’ll wait for people to analyse it for me in the newspaper, come back and give me some little fact boxes on what’s going to happen, then I can sit down and compare them.’ And this is no dope. This mum of two happens to have a PhD in medical sociology. She is the kind of person civil servants should be preparing briefs for, so she can play a part in deciding Australia’s future.
Right now our democracy leaves her out of the equation altogether, providing her with a sterile choice between one pile of crap and another, giving her the privilege of numbering a box once every three years.
‘Yeah, but we haven’t got time to get involved “ we’re too busy,’ we hear you scream.
That doesn’t seem to be the case, not this election, anyway. Troops are mobilising on all fronts. Check out the Not Happy, John! movement (no pun intended) here – democratic action from the ground up.
Maybe it should be called Not Happy, Any Of You “ but let’s not argue over a name. The challenge will be to keep it up after the election, no matter who wins “ dragging the power down to where we are, rather than leaving it up there where the pollies will do with it what they will.
Our twenty-first century democracies need root and branch reform, but the boys (and they are mostly boys) in Canberra are not about to hand it over without a fight. Australians are used to asking for the max on the sports field, why shouldn’t we do the same in the democratic arena?
Think about it next time you flush the loo.
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