I write this letter sitting on a bed halfway across the world, yet outraged by what can only be described as the farce of a political system currently being played out back home. The problem has reached such unfathomable proportions that I struggle to even know where to start my letter, so let me start, instead, with a couple of questions.
Why do we continue to swallow the substitution of political representation and efficacy for conventionally and institutionally biased, two-party drivel? Or more so, At what point have we, the citizens of Australia, forgotten what it means to live in a democracy?
Let us take a brief look at the situation of our two main political parties. We have one, the current government, scrapping amongst themselves for leadership like rabid dogs over a bone. Not one, but two rounds of backstabbing, back-flips and resignations; the re-instatement of a past (failed) leader; and the critical vote in both instances carried by a man who holds far more power than his safe Labor seat would suggest. While the other main player, the Liberal party, surges ahead in the polls, not necessarily because of any merit of their own, but more so because of the manifest failure of their opposition.
Regrettably, however, it is not just the status of our two main political parties which is farcical, but the entire panorama of the political arena. Just recently, before the Labor spill, we had one of the premier newspapers in the country, The Age, present as an official position of the newspaper itself the idea that Julia Gillard should resign immediately. What happened to the notion of an unbiased media? An opinion piece from a single journalist I can understand, but the official position of the newspaper itself? Even before the blatant editorial piece, Fairfax headlines seemed to be pushing the 'Gillard-has-to-go' line. But why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that largest shareholder of the Fairfax Media group is Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart. Although this might seem to some a rather long bow to draw, Gillard's opposition, Tony Abbott, has announced extremely vocally that if elected he will repeal both the mining and carbon tax – right in-line with the not-so-quiet wishes of the über-rich matriarch of mining and "unbiased" media. So is it that unthinkable that, just like FOX News in the US and the already subtle bias of Australia's newspapers, that the Australian population is getting their daily dose of the corporate line with the morning news? While this won't be a novel idea for some, perhaps it has amassed to such an extent that it is now toogreat to ignore.
What we are forced to endure, unfortunately, is a system of media that obscures the reality of policy and political action from the consumer. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the media has, in fact, contributed enormously to the public's perception of Julia Gillard's time in office and the precipitation of her fall. Their constant bleating of her failure as well as the leadership turmoil within her own party has deflected critical debate over policy and reduced Australian politics to nothing more than a vapid, 'Hunger Games' style popularity contest between our leaders. What we are left with is a media that is unable to effectively report on even the most basic morsel of policy debate and continues to muddy the waters for the Australian public instead of clearing them.
So if the media is becoming more partisan, what is happening with the politics itself? Well to start with, one of the ostensibly key issues in the upcoming election will be the handling of the so-called "boat people". People in Australia are terrified of this malign, amorphous threat – Illegal! Foreigners! Invasion! (Who could imagine having your country invaded by foreigners in boats?). But how many people among us actually know the statistics about this most pressing fear?
The fact is that the majority of illegal immigrants in the country are actually people who entered into the country on tourist or temporary work visas and simply never left, and among the citizens most guilty of such an offence we find countries like America, Britain, China and Malaysia. In comparison, on average over the past four years, over 95% of "boat people" were found to be legitimate refugees and granted temporary protection visas. Well, that's all well and good, you might say, but it's the sheer number of these refugees that we should be worried about, not whether they are illegal or not. But yet again, the statistics tell another story. At the end of 2011 it was revealed that Australia had an estimated total of almost 60,000 illegal immigrants living within its borders (and remember it's the British and Americans we should be most worried about here), while the total number of asylum seekers that have arrived on our shores since 1975 is just over 31,000. That's an average of less than 1000 a year. And in the same time frame we have had over 4.5 million immigrants move to Australia by other means. In fact, no doubt some of those 4.5 million immigrants are you.
So one of the main issues to be "addressed" in the upcoming election is not even an issue at all but instead a shameful display of xenophobic fear mongering. This leads me to ask, what are we doing about the actual issues – the very real threats of global warming, climate change, peak oil, and a one-horse economy that relies on bleeding the very ground we walk on dry, for example? The simple answer is, not enough. I've already mentioned that Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party have promised to repeal the only two policies that showed any real movement on any of these issues, while Tony Abbott himself has been quoted as saying that climate change was "absolute crap". The new (old) Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, on the other hand, touted his recognition of the need for climate change action during the 2007 election then failed to do anything about it during his 3 years in office.
So what are we left with? The Greens? Oh wait, the current two-party system in Australia leaves smaller parties with little to no chance to make a difference! Well, actually, that's not entirely true, but the smaller parties unfortunately swing between having no power at all to wielding the extremely powerful balance of the house, neither of which is desirable in a theoretically representational democracy. What we are left with, in reality, is on one side an outdated misogynist who has 1970's era views on everything from climate change, women and immigration to homosexuality and indigenous affairs (no offence intended to the 1970s), and on the other side we have a recycled narcissistwho is undoubtedly more interested in the effect that power will have on his own ego than he is inhis ability to change the country. And all the while, the media seems only to pander to the sheer spectacle of it all, entrenched in the corporate interests that insidiously work their way into every crevice of our society.
And what about the people of Australia? Have we stood back in horror? Have we shouted, and screamed, and banged ourfists in anger? Have we done more than 'tut' at the idea of our country being represented by either one of the highly undesirable choices that stand before us? Australian politics in its current form is unquestionably grotesque, yet the Australian people seem to be more entranced thanthey are disgusted. But this is not some sitcom or daytime soap, nor is it a dream from which we will soonawake. This is not some utopian political process by which, through the mere fact of going to the polls, Abbott will stop being a unwelcome anachronism and Rudd's ambition will suddenly include more than his own power. This is real life, and the reality of it is scary.
I say that it's time for the citizens of Australia to get up out of their armchairs and into the political arena. Are you going to accept a government that is more interested in its own political machinations than the good of the nation? Are you going to accept a Prime Minister whose views on gender, climate change, equality and indigenous affairs make us look like a backwards ass-hole of the world? Are you going to accept a world or a country whose environment has been pillaged beyond repair and whose prospectsdoom future generations to destruction? Are you going to sit around and let all of this play out around you, simply accepting the failure of the political system as a constantfeature of our socialdiscourse? To all of this I say, no.
In the past couple of weeks we have seen widespread, dramatic protests by the people of Turkey and Brazil; hundreds of thousands of protesters, citizens, on the street crying for the government to hear their voices. In 2009 Icelandic protests and far-reaching community dissent brought about significant overhauls to the structure of their government and political system, even up to the drafting of a new constitution. So what will we do in our own country? Simply go the polls in silence? Merely hope for the best and take solace from the silent political criticisms that we deliver amongst friends? These are options that we as a nation can simply not afford to take. We must do something. Whether it is by sending a letter to your local member, or by protesting in the streets, or by, more simply, abandoning the sinking ship that is our two party political system, one way or another we must make it known to the powers that be that this is not the state of politics we want to represent our country.
And from the bottom of my heart I hope that my fellow Australians do, because, with the direction this is going, I'm not so sure we will all be oh-so-very proud to still call Australia home.
With hope for our future,