With gritted teeth – the Australian Federal Election

“With gritted teeth.”

That’s how one Liberal Party member described the way voters should approach the ballot box on Polling Day. Come 2nd July and the voting public of Australia had other ideas. At time of writing, votes are still being counted in a number of seats. The final result will not be known until week’s end, at the earliest.

The Australian federal election has just been run. We don’t have anything like hanging chads, we just have a short piece of paper, a very long piece of paper, and a pencil. Once complete, our votes go into two separate ballot boxes that look like they’d break down at the first touch. But they don’t. The system works. The volunteers do a sterling job. And democracy is the sure winner.

Malcolm Turnbull, who took over the leadership of the Liberal Party in a leadership spill nine months earlier, could have been described as over-confident in his exuberance on Polling Day. It seemed clear to him, in particular, but to all and sundry, in general, that the government would be returned, some said with a small majority, others thought comfortably.

Everyone was proved wrong.

Neither major party was able to get more than forty-one percent of the primary vote. Put the major parties together and they only obtained a little over seventy-five percent of the vote. The voting public thought both parties were ‘on the nose,’ devoid of leadership ability, not speaking to them, speaking over them.

The Prime Minister was referred to as ‘The Great Communicator,’ a term used often to describe Ronald Reagan. This election proved him to be ‘The Great Ex-Communicator.’ The look on his face in the early hours of Sunday morning as he faced his supporters from behind the lectern was one of anger, frustration, and contempt for what had just happened. It looked like he thought the people of Australia did not appreciate what he had done for them, did not appreciate his great leadership skills.

It took him the better part of three days to deliver the speech he should have delivered on election night, his ‘mea culpa’ speech. The volunteers were not recognised, his opponents were not recognised, and the members of his party that had just lost their seat to a minor-party backlash were not mentioned. Words used to describe the speech included ‘lousy,’ ‘pathetic,’ and others unable to be printed here.

The question on everyone’s lips was; ‘why?’

There was clearly a conservative ‘revolt’ against the Prime Minister’s leadership. Mr. Turnbull comes from the ‘moderate’ faction of the party and his ability to disenchant those on the right began with his leadership spill of Tony Abbott, the former Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister. From the same party but opposing factions, their views were differing in many ways – on issues such as the republic, gay marriage, even whether or not Australia was ‘invaded’ or ‘colonised.’

The attitude of the moderates, though, was that the conservatives could not vote for a minor party, they could not vote for the Labor Party, a union-backed political organisation as old as Federation. In fact, in their view, they had no-where to go.

The abrasiveness of this attitude was clear for all to see. And the fact was it was foolish, for the disaffected conservatives did have somewhere to go – from One Nation to Family First to the Christian Democrats to the Liberal Democrats to the Australian Liberty Alliance – take your pick.

And, in fact, this was proved to be the case as the numbers were counted and the votes started coming in. In 1951, 2.5 percent of the voting public voted for minor parties. By 1975, the figure was 7.5 percent. With eighty percent of the vote counted, in 2016 the percentage was 23.2. Over the last four federal elections, those voting for minor parties had risen from fourteen percent to eighteen percent to twenty-one percent to almost one-quarter of all votes tallied.

I call that a trend, and a significant trend at that. But do those voters believe that the major parties are not for them or have they just ‘parked’ their vote there until they like what they hear – from the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader, and so on?

In Australia this week many commentators are saying that the major parties and their leaders have lost touch with their voter base, they are arrogant, over-confident, speak down to the voters, question decisions made at the ballot box, and have an inability to discuss real issues, from job security to pension entitlements, from securing our defences to gay marriage, from freedom to associate to securing our borders against potential terror threats.

Enter Donald Trump. Enter Brexit. Enter Pauline Hanson.

Ms. Hanson is back in the Senate after an eighteen year hiatus. Back then she was well known for her declaration that ‘Australia is being swamped by Asians.” Now she wants a Royal Commission into Islam. But she speaks a lot of sense. Even sitting, watching her on talk shows this past few days I’ve caught myself nodding my head as she speaks about job security, about climate change, about the Coalition being the best party to lead this country to economic health and well-being.

In essence, people like Ms. Hanson say what a lot of people out there are thinking. She’s just got the guts to stand for public office. That’s democracy!

Couple that with commentators descriptions of major parties as tired, unrepresentative, with little idea what they stand for, no understanding of what they really offer the voting public, plus the regular infighting the major parties carry on with, and how can one be surprised at the ascendancy of minor parties as a way for voters to express their displeasure?

In Australia over the past four and a half years we have had five Prime Ministers; Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd (again), Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. This seems to reflect an ‘Europeanisation’ of Australian federal politics. Is it here to stay?

I think not. What is required is a leader who can speak to the people, not above them, who sees themself as first among equals, who can speak the language of the voting public and understand most people aspire to something better than what they have, are ‘aspirational voters,’ and look to their leaders to articulate their vision for the future.

Personally, I’d like to see a return to the core values we hold dear, the values that were centripetal in the creation of our Federation; to aspire to improve our ‘lot,’ hard-work, a ‘fair go,’ a ‘hand-up’ not a ‘hand-out,’ and a freedom to pursue our interests without intervention.

Smaller government may be a stretch too far but certainly a more efficient government, and a quieter one. Ideally, we could benefit from a government that stands back and allows the people, the voting public, to take the lead in their own lives, incurring praise when warranted and interjection by the powers-that-be when needed. A government that believes it is their role to govern by the rule of law but not to moralise or to lecture.

A return to a philosophical base would be a fresh start for politics in this country. We need to give the people a clear choice, a clear vision, so they can go to the ballot box with a smile rather than gritted teeth, showing their pearly whites rather than their frustrations.

Are we up for the challenge?

 

first published on https://mytrendingstories.com

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