The claim that Australians are conservative and opposed to change has been turned on its head by the Yes vote, writes Douglas Ross.
Both preceding and in light of Australia’s postal vote, there has been a repeated phrase from columnists such as David Marr and Sean Kelly that rings like the platitude you’d hear on a TV drama set in the American south. Spitting a wet gunge of tobacco into a tin pan, some wise local states that, “Yes’m…you know those Australians, well there’s one thang we always say about them, yes ma’am. They don’t like change, much. No they don’t, nossir.”
Who held it to be a truth self-evident that Australian’s don’t like change? The postal vote is a clear-as-day affirmation of our willingness to embrace the new and the different. There would have been even more evidence of this warmth had we not had to suffer through months of vitriolic messaging from the Australian Christian Lobby, who successfully managed to confuse a great number of people who would otherwise have been perfectly happy to tick yes to gay marriage.
You can’t start denigrating members of the public for being weather vanes and stating that they’re all recalcitrant bigots just because they’re simple enough to allow their minds to be changed by scaremongering. Scaremongering wouldn’t be scaremongering if it didn’t scare a few… million… people. Just give them a little nudge back towards us, we’ll welcome them back.
Economist Ross Garnaut wrote a few years back in his Dog Days: Australia After the Boom that the increasing power that specialist groups have when lobbying against policy changes has been a festering thorn in the side of Australia’s ability to wrench itself out from an economic attitude that Garnaut labels as ‘The Great Australian Complacency’.
Ever fed your dog and then tried to take away its bowl mid-feed? Some dogs will let you, because you might have previously returned it with some steak off-cuts mixed into their usual meal. Others will growl that adorable but still menacing warning that if you touch their food they will be, well, disappointed. Other mutts will just take your hand off right then and there.
Well that more psychopathic dog took the form of the mining industry in 2010 when it lobbied harder than the NRA on a good day against any further tax hikes to its industry from the Rudd government. The industry spent nearly $22 million in a six-week period on campaigning against Kevin Rudd’s resource super profit tax. It was enough to scare the living daylights out of Julia Gillard and tame her own attitude towards taxing the resources sector, while obscuring the public’s view to any of the long term benefits of Rudd’s various attempts to spread the yield of a visibly finite mining boom.
Considering the eventual usurpation of the Rudd office by Julia Gillard, this sort of lobbying also contributed greatly to Australia’s regretful acquiescence to the idea that a Prime Minister is as disposable as toilet paper. Not afraid of change? We’ve had four PMs in 10 years. Throw another one to the dogs, why don’t you, we love it! Whitlam’s ousting brought protests. The next one will bring a tut tut, a wry smile and the complacent, “Who next, then?”
Australians are not afraid of change. Our island status no longer renders us a cloistered lot. We have the world and its achingly slow progression amid the seemingly endless sea of ‘2016-like’ events beamed to us through our phones every day. We are not afraid of change, but there are those with power that are.
It is naive to think that the Abbott government’s failure to create investment confidence in renewables was driven by Tony Abbott’s own ideologies. We know that deep down Malcolm Turnbull would be happy to see his sunny country lap up the rays and the wind to generate its energy, but it is the power of lobbyists that has increasingly paralysed successive governments’ ability to effect policy change that serves the public interest.
So now that our politicians have seen that Australia doesn’t just let change through the door with a smile but actually embraces it with a huge, “Yes!”, perhaps it shouldn’t be taken as a ‘given’ that we are opposed to constitutional reconciliation in the form of the Uluru Statement of the Heart.
Back up that first yes with another affirmation, Australia.