Madness in the Coalition’s ranks over the Finkel report and sleaziness in ALP ranks over clandestine foreign donations are just the latest evidence that the current pack of parliamentarians is incapable of governing in the interests of all Australians. What this country needs is a strong political enema to clean out the political constipation from which the country is now suffering.
The evidence is crystal clear. Leading politicians in Canberra are demonstrating daily that they have completely lost the plot. Ideology rules. Tribal factionalisms, acrimonious infighting, and personal vendettas have replaced the main game. Personal authenticity and public policy wisdom are glaringly absent among parliament’s baleful ranks.
Meanwhile across the country wages are stagnating, families are struggling, public hospitals and schools are under-resourced, cities are bursting at the seams, socio-economic inequality is climbing, climate-change looms perilously, we are endangering the lives of our soldiers in wars we should never have gone into, and in the name of all Australians our country continues to persecute asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru.
Who will rid us of these troublesome politicians?
In the last few weeks in France and in Britain we have been witnessing remarkable political developments that defy conventional politics and open up real possibilities for a revival of democratic politics.
In Britain Jeremy Corbyn has inspired young people and others who normally avoid politics to come together, almost bringing down one of the most powerfully entrenched political parties in British history. He may yet succeed. The massive mistake of under-estimating Corbyn – a disastrous error committed by nearly all in the major parties and by most pontificators in the media – has shocked many while delighting many more.
Whatever you think of Corbyn, you cannot doubt his authenticity. He has persistently shunned the craven kowtowing and self-serving compromises that characterise conventional politics. He sticks openly to his principles while his honesty and integrity are unmatched by his political peers. That is why now a near majority of the voting population regards him with respect and will vote for him and the principles he represents.
He cares about ordinary people, not about the privileges of being in parliament rubbing shoulders with the self-congratulating, self-appointed elites. He knows what ordinary people are experiencing. He has an agenda that specifically addresses their struggles and concerns. And while those who voted for him in unprecedented numbers may think him odd, they know he is infinitely preferable to the conventional hacks in parliament.
In France Emmanuel Macron has brought together a spectacular diversity of political “outsiders” to seriously challenge the sclerotic political class that has been in power for too long. Gallic politics is being turned upside down. Macron has seen off political enemies on the right and on the left as he charts a new way forward for governing France.
Now it is highly possible that both Corbyn and Macron will go down in flames, crashing spectacularly. Their programs may turn out to be so idealistic, so unrealistic, that their reforms will fail. Maybe. But they might just succeed too. But even if they fail, they have put the entrenched political class on notice while breathing new life into an old and stale politics that was beginning to rot the body politic.
Can a similar movement gather strength in Australia?
Political sociologists have been warning for years now about the disaffection and alienation of young Australians from established politics. Across the board young people in Australia are losing out because of the old politics practised by our narcissitic and self-regarding politicians in Canberra and in the State capitals. The causes of this alienation are obvious.
Governments of all kinds have been systematically degrading trade apprenticeships and TAFE institutes. As manufacturing industries have withered and died so have many employment prospects for young people. Where there are jobs they are mostly part-time. Welfare payments for unemployed young people have become punitive measures, robbing the young of their sense of worth and contributing to their desperation as they turn to illicit drug taking and other anti-social behaviours. Our schools remain poorly funded and our universities are being treated with contempt by governments. No wonder young people are being turned off from the whole political process.
Then we have young couples can’t afford to buy houses. Nor are their struggles to make ends meet while raising small children adequately recognised by the politicians, many of whom are negatively gearing multiple properties and otherwise rorting their entitlements and enjoying their parliamentary perks while preaching the politics of austerity.
So, yes, there is a large constituency out there that could be mobilized against the entrenched political class that has placed the country on a hiding to nowhere. And there are plenty of other people who have been excluded from the economic achievements of this country. They too can be brought together if the right kind of movement can be started. All it needs is the right leadership.
Just as Emmanuel Macron started his En Marche! (Go Forward!), movement, so an Advance Australia! movement is now needed in Australia. Is there an equivalent to a Macron in our midst.
Or is there someone of the calibre of Jeremy Corbyn within the ranks of the Labor Party who could provide the leadership and the inspiration to challenge and eventually take over from his (or her) inauthentic party leadership? Anthony Albanese? Ed Husic? Tanya Plibersek? Penny Wong? Surely it’s time…
Allan Patience is a political scientist in the University of Melbourne