On joining political parties.

Contemporary Australian politics is stuck in a difficult place, there’s no denying. In our life as a Western, democratic and modern state we are relatively young and once were (may still be) considered one of the more socially progressive nations of our kind. Australian history is complicated, mixed with embarrassing and regretful approaches to our indigenous population and our slow emergence out of institutionalised racial discrimination. We’ve built a national identity out of quaint suburbs and trademarked washing lines, as well as dreams of home ownership and overly ambiguous application of terms like ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘fair go’.

Now that nation building 101 is out of the way things are more complicated for our political landscape; to me this is a pretty basic fact that is constantly underestimated. Politics is difficult, let’s not pretend that it isn’t. It’s not built of romantic West Wing troubled genius characters who sleep two hours a night and always make the right decision and it was never meant to be made of a group of political parties with diminishing memberships and an agitated public who don’t want to pull their socks up and get involved.

I made it clear at the beginning of this blog that I vote Labor. My examples are going to be Labor party examples as they are the only experiences I can speak to; I don’t intend for this to become a politically one-sided post. I’m saving that for later. My mum explained to my boyfriend the other night that she and her friends had realised that this election couldn’t be won with them siting in the pub doing no more than feeling angry about the future of the Labor and union movements, that if the government were to win another three years then it needed to be because of people who want to make the party better and who want to support a party they believe in and want to make it better. She explained that she’d let herself forget the lead up to the 2007 election and the countless weekends she spent campaigning for Your Rights At Work. Most significantly, she’d forgotten how it felt being part of that victory and the satisfaction of her work helping create a national issue, one that could have otherwise been neglected.

That’s why I join political parties. Because I don’t want to be Kate Miller-Heidke on a Q&A panel being frustrated about social policy without being able to provide an alternative, a solution or a course of action for young people who feel the same.

More importantly, when did we forget that party platforms are built from votes within the membership? I can’t speak for the internal workings of the Liberal party but I have seen Labor members work hard, dedicate themselves to a cause and change policy. This is from people who are my age, of my experience and of the same frustrations that suggest that political parties are ‘all fucked’ and prefer to complain to Twitter about how no one is ever going to get it right. And when did we start thinking that politicians are ‘bland, boring, depressing and uninspiring?’, how the fuck do you think they came far enough in their careers and their parties to be Prime Minister of Australia? It’s these statements that are beginning to dominate our media and it’s these statements that are some of the most naïve and idiotic I’ve ever heard.

Tasmanian Senator and Leader of the Opposition in the Australian Senate, Eric Abetz once suggested to me in a public debate that an opinion I expressed might change as I get older. It probably will, though I doubt it will ever come to reflect anything he stands for. What struck me is that as a politician, you should never tell a twenty year old that. You know why? Because I can vote and because my vote is of equal value to anyone older than I am. We lose track of things like that, both in regards to the importance of young people and how important one vote and a forum for your opinion is, both of which are available in a political party.

Kate Miller-Heidke, Pinocchio and Joe Hildebrand won’t change the world. You might though.



About Liam Carswell & Jamila Fontana

We are two twenty something, pop culture loving, politics loving, left leaning, female rap adoring, fashion obsessive friends from Hobart, Tasmania, Almost Melbourne. On politics, world affairs, relationships, society and all things unspoken and awkward. Liam likes vinyl, Topman and coke. Jamila likes Eve, middle aged folk singers and Che Guevara (still!).
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5 Responses to On joining political parties.

  1. Anaxagoras says:

    If you want to be in a political party, be my guest, but don’t be telling me that it’s my political imperitive as someone who aspires to change policy. If an organisation does not represent your beliefs & values then it’s a perfectly reasonable decision to stay the hell away.

    Many politicians are “bland, boring, depressing and uninspiring.” Put those ingredients in a large (okay, not that large) mixing bowl, add a dash of hydrochloric acid and you get Dr John Winston Howard OM, AC, SSI. You don’t need to be vibrant, interesting, optimistic and inspiring to be powerful, infact it probably helps not to be. And while our beloved PM might well be “tough as nails” and a very intelligent person, she is also craven, entirely without conviction and (especially for the first female PM this country has ever had) crushingly uninspiring.

    When (let’s not kid ourselves) Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister of Australia, how do you think he’ll have come this far in his career and in his party to become Prime Minister? Through hard work? Certainly. Does that make it any less depressing, him any less bland & boring or Australian politics any more inspiring?

    Do you think Simon Sheik would have done more to change policy if he’d joined the ALP instead of GetUp!? Do you think Rodney Croome would have had more impact if he’d joined the ALP or the Libs in 1990 and worked them round from within?

    Do you think progressive politics in this country would be anywhere where it is today if Dr Bob Brown had decided to join the ALP and try to get preselection instead of running for Parliament as an Independent Green?

    Joining a political party is one way of changing the world. It’s certainly not the only way, and this post does its readers a disservice by making that suggestion.

  2. Briefly I’d say that I don’t think this post was nearly as prescriptive as you’ve taken it to be. The post isn’t called ‘5 reasons why you should join a political party and why you’re failing the system if you don’t’. It’s also not called ‘On how Get Up has failed progressive Australia’. It’s Jamila broadly exploring the nature of organised political parties in modern Australia and her own experiences with this.


  3. Coming in for a team effort and to help shed some light:

    This post doesn’t make that suggestion. I’ve been far more involved with groups like GetUp! than I have with political parties. I didn’t at any stage attack the people you’re defending and I didn’t address them because that’s not what I chose to write about. I don’t mean to be anticlimactic but I agree with the points you’ve raised on alternatives to political parties. I think though, there is a direct change that occurs through political parties that lobby groups can’t achieve. I’m not advocating one over the other, just highlighting that they’re different bodies that serves different functions in a political system. Your comment reflect the problems I have within this issue, it’s not one against the other and it makes me a little sad you assumed that’s what I was saying.

    I don’t find Julia Gillard ‘craven, entirely without conviction and (especially for the first female PM this country has ever had) crushingly uninspiring’, but that’s purely a matter of opinion.


    • Anaxagoras says:

      My apologies. When you said “That’s why I join political parties. Because I don’t want to be Kate Miller-Heidke on a Q&A panel being frustrated about social policy without being able to provide an alternative” & finished your post with “Kate Miller-Heidke…won’t change the world. You might though” I read that as being a strong endorsement of the notion that political party membership was, if not required, certainly a desirable attribute if one seeks to change the world.

      I understand that is not what was intended, so like Bronwyn Bishop hurtling obscenities over the dispatch box, Madame Speaker, I now find myself compelled to withdraw.


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