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.