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03 February 2015
by Syd Hickman

Why Australian politics has become so bad

The decline of Tony Abbott should not be a surprise. But the fact that leadership change within major parties is now an annual event shows the entire political establishment to be out of touch with the Australian public. The simple reason for the horrors of current politics is that so few smart people want to play the game any more.

The established parties survive on old lifers who need meetings to attend and young people in search of a career. Even the numbers of those are declining.

These parties are now just brands that are manipulated to continue the illusion that they represent broad sectors of society.

The political disengagement of citizens is a world-wide phenomenon and has various causes. These include a long period of economic growth allowing governments to focus on individual entitlement, the increasing complexity of issues leading to the death of ideological faith, and media focussed on the simple and trivial as it tries to survive in the new world. But the overriding point is that new realities have emerged, in the economy, technology, social values, plus environmental and population issues and all these demand new thinking. Ordinary people accept this but smug political insiders reject it.

The Greens, after being taken over by the reds, have come to represent mindless self-righteousness. Shooters and other single interest groups make the effort to get representation, but only to influence the big parties, not to take responsibility for governing. Meanwhile the saner citizens keep hoping that their old party will get back to representing their views, and use that hope as an excuse to do nothing.

Social media provide the comfortable illusion of participation in national life while again allowing the evasion of any real action or responsibility.

With no significant citizen guidance the parties of government do whatever their out-dated ideologies or cynical pragmatism suggests.

The Howard Governments did a few good things like the GST and gun laws but generated lasting disaster by quietly boosting immigration under cover of the refugee issue, trying to destroy public health, public education and public broadcasting, granting ridiculously generous tax benefits to wealthy retirees and adopting a foreign and defence policy of blind obedience to US dictates.

The subsequent ALP governments were even worse. They failed to fix any of the nonsense foisted on us by Howard or engage with the urgent need for big changes, preferring to dabble in handouts and tokenism.

As a result we now have a liberal government left with problems that can only be fixed by doing things such as getting the rich retirees to pay some tax and cutting back the handouts to private providers of health and education. As this is not possible for them they must fail.

Meanwhile the problem of transitioning to new energy sources, to a more realistic view of 'growth', to a post-religion set of moral positions, to a new strategic and defence plan that accounts for the rise of Asian wealth and power, and so on, are ignored.

Parties were once coalitions of interests. Libs ranged from the very wealthy seeking lower taxes to small business people and east European migrants opposed to any leftist party. The ALP included conservative Catholics and left libertarians, unskilled workers and intellectuals.

Now hardly anyone joins big parties. The current dominant interests are property developers, the most appalling union leaders, elderly tax avoiders and religious fanatics eager to stop widely held moral positions being put into law. They represent big bags of cash, not large numbers of people.

Progress now depends on people reclaiming their citizenship and forming a new grand coalition. The new divide is between those who want to maintain various illusions and deny any fundamental change is required, and those who want a rapid transition to the acceptance of new realities in energy use, morality, social organisation, education and so on. There is scope for great disagreement within the two camps but no more so than the old left/right split.

A new approach is needed to provide a long list of policy changes. But just as important is the need for leadership in touch with reality when the impending financial, population and environmental crises strike. Crisis management by people looking backwards, such as Abbott, would be a disaster.

The ALP would once have been the party to form the basis of the new coalition of interests but is now more than ever controlled by cynics and conservatives. There is a complete absence of leadership. The Libs are already established as the flat earth party, refusing to believe anything is changing and still fighting the old battles against public services while maintaining a one-dimensional short-term economic view of society.

One Nation and PUP have shown that success for a new party can be rapid but both fed on dissatisfaction without offering a real alternative. A party that represented the broad views of the majority of Australians could do even better, but only if sane citizens get back to playing the political game rather than just commentating.