The death of a visionary and the decline of Australian democracy

The political malaise currently gripping Australia is made all the more poignant when an iconic leader of the past leaves us.

Whatever your political bent, the passing of Gough Whitlam reminds us of a time when leaders helped shape what the country would become and what it meant to be Australian.

The visionary jingoism of Gough’s time is now a relic of the past. The benefits and complexities of living in a globalised, multicultural world is giving rise to two conflicting ideologies.

The first is a new kind of humanist consciousness, which is often at odds with national policy making and the second, an ever more insular hyper capitalism in which organisations shape policy and democracy ‒ of, by and for the people ‒ takes a back seat to capital markets.

For any nation looking to prosper in a world becoming more connected ‒ where nations are increasingly dependent on one another ‒ forging your own path, living to your own values is sadly seen as politically dangerous and diplomatically reckless regardless which party you represent.

In the past twenty years, Australia has moved from being the envy of the world ‒ a strong, free, principled, fair and welcoming society ‒ to becoming a more mean-spirited, intolerant, arrogant and crude sidekick of Westminster and the Oval Office. This transition was intended to endear us to larger, richer, stronger nations thought to be in the best position to protect and support us . From whom I still have no idea.

It is true that Australia’s relationship with the United States and Britain provides us with benefits, but does it deliver enough value to compensate for the damage it has and continues to cause to our freedom, our democratic rights and our national identity?

I am not yet forty years old, but in my lifetime we have gone to war in Iraq three times. We have destroyed a nation on the other side of the world that never threatened nor attacked us.

Confusingly, however, we allow the genocide of impoverished people in Africa without raising an eyebrow. We stand silently as a generation of people fight for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong and Tibet and we say nothing.

Our diggers went to war in Europe, Korea and Vietnam, fighting for the principles of democracy, fighting for freedom of all people — and yet now, when others want to secure that very same right, we remain silent; the aggressor is a major trading partner and heaven forbid we offend the golden goose.

It seems our moral conscience has a price and our federal politicians have been under instruction to sell, sell, sell!

The reason Australia teeters on the edge of a moral identity crisis is that we have allowed the slow, steady erosion of our democracy. The leadership required to turn the ship around ‒ visionary leadership and political courage like that provided by Whitlam ‒ simply cannot exist in today’s political system. A system which has nothing at all to do with delivering the will people and everything to do with power and partisanship.

In 2006, the ABS counted political party members at just 1.3% of the Australian adult population — yet political parties are required to deliver the outcomes sought by their members.

But what about the other 98.7% of voting aged Australians, who want their politics, sans entrenched ideology?

There is no other environment in the world in which the selection of a leader based on capacity, merit and intelligence could install Tony Abbott ahead of Malcolm Turnbull.

Only political party politics ‒ a system that relentlessly protects its base, operates with factions and is driven by powerful ideology ‒ could provide Australia’s current Cabinet.

Change is not just inevitable, it is vital for our survival.

Everything in your world has been innovated in the last forty years — your technology, entertainment, job, food, medical support, transport, travel, telecommunications and a thousand other things. My grandmother is 98 years old and today’s world is unrecognisable from the world she was born into, just as it is unrecognisable from the world she lived in when she was the age I am now.

Everything has changed, been innovated, evolved and been improved.

Yet, our system of government ‒ which is older than my grandmother and is intended to serve our entire society ‒ has remained unchanged. Real democracy requires a complete overhaul of what we the people are prepared to accept from our representatives.

Real democracy that will deliver nation building demands an informed constituency, accountability of representatives, transparency and removal of all corporate donations and lobbyists; a system based on merit, an agnostic non-partisan approach to all issues, a fact based solutions oriented commitment from all sides of politics and equality of opportunity for those willing to participate and commit themselves to civic duty.

Many people across the globe are exploring what Democracy 2.0 might look like and it is time Australia joins the conversation.