EDITORIAL: Reimagining democracy – and leadership – in the wake of crisis – Extract
Much has already been said about the devastating bushfires that have been burning – and continue to burn – across the country. We can expect that much more will be said, and that more sage advice will be ignored.
Like many Australians, I changed holiday plans over the Christmas break as one area, then another, and another, were impacted. And like many I was astounded by the silence from federal politicians of all colours.
There was no shortage of local leadership. From the firefighters and emergency response volunteers to the Anglicare staff on the ground in the evacuation centres. From the local people in impacted communities to the apps and platforms that sprung up to match needs with resources. Leadership and generosity was everywhere. Everywhere, it seemed, except for federal politics.
Of course, the best policy is enacted at the level closest to its effect, at the local level. But climate policy requires at least a national government response. And with half the country on fire, people were searching for national leadership, calm and empathy.
For months, they did not find it. Instead they were told not to expect it, not to look for it, that the issues facing millions of Australians were someone else’s problem.
With trust in politicians at an all-time low, and engagement in traditional politics declining, this seems like the worst possible time for politicians to leave the space vacant.
Late last year I was honoured by being invited by the Brotherhood of St Laurence to give the Gerard Tucker Oration . In that I talked about the ‘patronising democracy’ we seem to have come to where the only input sought from citizens is at the ballot box.
Political democracy seems to have allowed itself to shrink into a tiny ballot box shaped space, painted into a corner. By removing itself from more and more of the public sphere and pushing for small government, it would appear that it is getting exactly what it sought. While small government might have been what was aimed for, the bullseye of that target is irrelevancy in the day to day life of Australians.
It seems to me that this summer has the capacity to unite us or to be the death knell of political democracy. Too little too late to unite us, the response of politicians has contributed to their exit from our national life.
Where the real leadership and democracy is rife is in the debates, discussion and innovations that community groups are bringing to life. At the beginning of the summer, a survey was done to find out how much Australians would be willing to pay to combat climate change. The figure was $200. This may not seem like a lot, but it could fund a raft of policies that would prevent further climate change, adapt to the changes we’re already seeing, and transition away from polluting industries. If the survey were to be conducted again, I daresay that number would soar in the wake of this bushfire season.
The survey may have been testing a hypothetical, but it shows the power of harnessing people directly – not just through government. We now have an unprecedented opportunity to think, together, about how we rebuilt. We at Anglicare Australia have long believed that the everyday citizen is not happy with the society we are building. The precarious job market, the degradation of our natural environment, the concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people, the sheer lack of kindness and the outright denigration of people who need to seek welfare – this is not the Australia that most of us want.
SOURCE: Anglicare Australia. “Aspect.” Anglicare Australia, January 2020
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COUNTRY
The Brotherhood of St Laurence acknowledges and recognises the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we live and work, and we pay our respects to their Elders both past and present
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia