Modern Australian politics is dominated by idealism and realism – enthusiasm for populist change, and the conviction that once elected, politicians will screw up any project that passes through their hands.
If we reflect upon the core philosophical tenets of the two main Australian political parties, we can feel the emotive power of their political ideals. The Australian Labor Party’s (ALP) ‘Light on a Hill’ dogma commits the ALP to bringing ‘…something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people…’. In contrast, the Liberal Party’s ‘Forgotten People’ dogma emphasises people who make contributions to the country, empowered by the dictum that ‘…Individual enterprise must drive us forward.’
But for all this idealist fervour, Australians are tormented by the possibility (nay, the expectation!) that our elected representatives will screw up anything in their control.
In other countries, people fear that the government will take them away in the night, that it will persecute them for their political or religious beliefs, and imprison them for their ethnic heritage or because of their support of opposition parties.
In Australia, we’re afraid that our politicians are incompetent.
Let’s look at some key elections of modern times – that occurred when Baby Boomers were in their political maturity, and while Generation X’ers were still emerging.
In the December 1972 federal elections, Gough Whitlam’s ALP government were elected on a rising tide of popular (and youthful) desire for political change. Whitlam’s government was an activist government, committed to social reforms in many public policy areas. After twenty-three years of conservative party rule (Liberal-Country Party coalition government), the ALP was elected with ‘Its Time’ slogan, accompanied by a jingle and music videos. However, the popular support melted away as Australia succumbed to the world economic recession and the government was perceived as lurching from one self-induced crisis to another. When the government was dismissed by the Governor-General during the 1975 Constitutional Crisis, the subsequent elections was a landslide defeat for the ALP. The Australian electorate punished the ALP for failing to deliver the dual expectation of social reform and good government.
We next turn next to John Cain’s ALP Victorian state government in the 1980s. Cain’s government was elected in 1982, the first ALP government in that state for 27 years. As with Whitlam’s government, Cain’s government was elected on a popular platform of social reform. Fast forward ten years to the October 1992 election. Cain had been succeeded as Premier by Joan Kirner, the first female Premier of that state. Popular support for the ALP government had crumbled in the face of industrial disputes, policy miscalculations, budgetary cuts and mismanaged privatisation initiatives. The Opposition ran a series of political advertisements characterising the ALP as ‘The Guilty Party’. A strategy that was so successful that the Liberal Party won the election and used the slogan again (successfully) at the 1996 election.
So, are Australian politicians incompetent? In a democracy, politicians are elected from the people and by the people. If we fear that our politicians are incompetent, what does that say about ourselves when we elect those politicians? And when we punish them? Electoral results are a window into the soul of the people.
|Title: Gough Whitlam
Source: Wikipedia Commons
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