Feeling disenfranchised with politics? Fed up with politicians desperate for positive press? Tired of seeing the most important issues left off the national agenda?
You are not alone. And unfortunately this slow eroding of political process in our country bodes poorly for more united and effective action on climate change.
Australians’ faith in democracy has taken a major hit over the past decade, reflecting a broader global trend. According to the Democracy 2025 project Australia, it fell from 86 per cent in 2007 to 41 per cent in 2018.
To be fair, 2007 was a heady time of rhyming political slogans and a broad rejoicing for the end to a decade-long prime ministership, which by that time had become badly tainted by refugee scandals and unjust wars, among other things.
If ever there was a time for optimism it was the big refresh. However, since then things have gone, shall we say, not so smoothly. Australia’s almost comical leadership turnover raised eyebrows around the world, and when the music stopped, what we ended up with was the Steven Bradbury of prime ministers.
We may have gotten away with it too, had we not soon after been struck by back-to-back historic crises that laid bare our lack of national unity and faith in government.
As with any vacuum, Australia’s popular leadership void longs to be filled. Some of those seeking to do so appear magnanimous, and others not so much.
Our coverage of the “voices” model, which launched independents Cathy McGowan and Zali Steggall to power and is gaining momentum ahead of the next election, led a wave of mainstream attention for what is a promising alternative to gridlocked major parties.
The independent, yet interconnected groups, who are as interested in community
engagement as they are in political success, say they are driven by frustration over a growing chasm between the public and government.
That particular bell has rung true across not just the usual whinging hippies (guilty), but disenfranchised Liberal voters too who have already proved more than happy to ditch the blue, for a fresh alternative candidate who aligns with the dual concerns for responsible economic leadership, while also acting on climate change, political integrity issues and Indigenous representation.
Pete Shmigel, who writes our Talking Rubbish column, describes himself as a “lifetime Liberal” who is getting ready to jump ship at the next NSW state election.
Citing concerns over the handling of lockdowns in NSW, Shmigel says he has lost faith in the integrity of the current government, and while retaining his own core beliefs, is ready for an alternative.
“While I respect those with more collectivist and distributive outlooks, I remain on the side of individualism, free enterprise, smaller government with a strong safety net and the need to question change in our society before we adopt it,” Shmigel says.
Objectively, weighing up the merits of Labor leader Chris Minns, by the measures of competency, stability and integrity, the 41 year old is looking pretty good, Shmigel reckons.
While Minns stands to benefit greatly from the fallout of Covid and frustration over lockdowns and vaccine rollouts, others are also hoping to snatch a piece of the pie while the oven is hot.
Sadly, it’s hard to ignore Craig Kelly blowing up our mobiles and TVs with his UAP ads, and throwing every dirty trick he has at attracting lost political souls. Still using the “make Australia great” slogan, despite Trump’s embarrassing election loss and this year’s Capitol riots.
In his ads, Kelly doesn’t bother putting forward a coherent policy stance other than to “stop lockdowns”, “protect freedom” and “take our country back”.
However, the ad has already racked up 8.5 million views on Youtube while Scomo’s “vision for Australia” ad got just over one million on the platform.
We would like to think of Kelly’s campaign as nothing more than an obscene sideshow to the upcoming election. However, to do so may be making the same mistake as those who failed to see Trump as a genuine threat back in 2016.
This week we gave a glimpse further inside the type of groups that Kelly is aligning himself with.
Writing for us this week, Melbourne based political and social movement observer Daniel Lavelle (who hangs out in certain online spaces “so you don’t have to”), dubbed them the diagonalists, after a similar movement in Germany which overlaps with far right groups.
“Instead of seeking to operate inside public discourse, this milieu styles itself as freethinking outsiders assembling a new counter-public to challenge, expose and (somehow) defeat a totalitarian media-political-corporate cabal,” he wrote.
According to Lavelle, while the groups are overly dependent on current events and lacking a concrete political strategy, making them “unlikely to storm state or federal parliaments (physically or electorally)”, it would be a mistake to dismiss them outright.
You may have noticed, the crowds at these rallies bear little resemblance to the pre-pandemic anti-vaccination movement, which skewed more Byron Bay modern mum than Bankstown young and restless.
There’s more at play here than a few bored stay at home parents joining online groups.
The divisions are beginning to cut along social and economic lines and as Lavelle warns, the present politics of blame and the goal of a return to normal are likely to fuel, not stifle this movement.” It has implications for climate action, he says, as “the shape of climate politics as mitigation and adaptation measures deepen in severity”.
So what is the government doing about all this? What else can they do? It launched a parliamentary inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy.
The list of 18 recommendations that emerged from the inquiry, which concluded in February this year, starts with mandating the teaching of history and active citizenship in schools and increasing the number of trips to democratic and cultural institutions. A little reminiscent of something the Chinese Communist Party might prescribe, but OK.
A number of recommendations are aimed at increasing engagement with young people and migrants, and introducing far more recognition of indigenous history. Clearly more positive.
It also recommends establishing a Parliamentary Office of Science to provide independent, impartial scientific evidence, data and advice to the parliament. Assuming this will come with pressure to act on it, another positive!
Other recommendations include, ongoing independent audits of democratic institutions and suggestions on how to improve them, increasing voter enrolment and turnout, an independent federal anti-corruption commission and support for tackling misinformation and online hate speech.
The government will know just how much support they have lost when the next election rolls around, and we will see whether Australians can channel their disenfranchisement into something positive, driving action on climate change and other serious issues, or if our political system and the people’s faith in it, is too far gone.
And we haven’t even started on housing policy and the tax system.