The most recent Quarterly Essay – Australia Fair: Listening to the Nation by Rebecca Huntley – is fantastic! Rebecca doesn’t take a controversial stance, but makes a political point based on social research that she has done. It is a well-backed argument for a return to social democracy in Australia.
She defines this ‘broadly speaking’ as:
‘politics [that] seeks to ameliorate, rather than dismantle, capitalism in the interest of equality and social justice. It conceives a critical role for government: to protect people, especially the working and middle class, from the vagaries of the free market and technological disruption.’
I guess we have moved away from the social side of democracy, and are more about capitalism and individualism at the moment.
In proposing a move back to social democracy, Rebecca points out the dissatisfaction that the majority of Australian voters currently have with our political system, and advocates for reform. In her social research, Rebecca has found that the issues that the majority of Australians most want addressed (and which haven’t been adequately addressed for years) are:
- affordable housing
- banning foreign donations to political parties
- further regulation and transparency on donations to political parties
- more investment in renewable energy
- maintaining and even increasing funding to the ABC
- cheaper child care
- increase funding into Medicare and the NDIS
- implementing the Gonski education reforms, and
- installing a world-class national broadband network.
Addressing climate change is not on the list, although Rebecca does spend a whole section on climate change in her essay. It appears that the majority of Australians, across all sides of politics, want increased investment in renewable energy. But we only have a slim majority of Australians who think that the climate is changing and the cause of the change is human activity.
What Rebecca does point out is that because the media focuses a lot on battles over climate change, we have mistakenly tended to think that the fights in parliament are a reflection of community division. It’s not. Parliament is not representative of the community on this issue, and hence the frustration of voters.
In fact, it’s interesting that Rebecca’s research somewhat reflects my unspoken concerns. Voters she has spoken to, are so worried about the lack of movement on climate that they are even worried about our survival, long-term, rather than just being worried about a healthy environment. Apparently we are starting to give up on the prospect of having a healthy environment, due to the lack of action!
Another issue which gets a lot of media attention, Rebecca purports, but is not representative of community discussions, is on immigration and asylum seekers. Rebecca’s research confirms that most people agree that immigrants are good for Australia’s economy, and are proud that we’re a multicultural country.
Rebecca has articulated our concerns very well – and it’s not a racism issue. Australian’s are concerned with the kinds of people that might be coming here (is the government screening and protecting us properly), and concerned that the government doesn’t have enough forward planning to invest in the infrastructure needed for increased population. Our concern is actually a reflection of our lack of trust in our political leaders.
I cannot do the essay justice here, although it has made me very thoughtful. Rebecca advocates for a discussion about our country’s values, and what we believe good society is. She also suggests that we need more people articulating the benefits of democracy – when it works.
I am definitely an advocate for democracy and the freedoms that it protects. At the moment our government doesn’t truly represent us. The need to give ordinary citizens a greater say in the formation of policy would not be needed if our elected politicians actually represented us properly!
Maybe I’m too hopeful that we can be properly represented under a system that involves so much party politics. But I’m also concerned that a system with many minorities would also not work, despite some positive examples, such as Germany.
At the very least, I am hopeful that this essay will prompt some discussion, and be read by some politicians.