Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Petty Politics (Letter 5)

This is definitely an election being fought over details. Both parties promise better deals for the disabled and carers, programs are afoot for parental leave, all the bases are being covered.

But where are the big questions that dominated many of our more recent elections? 2001’s election was overshadowed by the September 11 attacks and it, and later elections, concentrated on the question of security. These weren’t just campaigns about individual issues, they were about defining what it meant to be Australian.

Today, those issues remain, but they are handled on their own, devoid of any broader context. Leaders talk about the ‘pacific solution’ and temporary protection visas, without anyone in leadership saying a word about the humanitarian side – a human rights crisis treated as a logistical exercise. A proposed nation-wide firewall prompts discussions of its feasibility and specifics of access, rather than a debate on what free speech should mean in Australian politics or the relationship between government and citizen.

The grand ideals are gone, replaced by a ‘safe’ message designed to annoy the least number of people. Practical solutions are easy to grasp, and most of the issues grappled with are important ones to many people – but national debate on the big issues is sidelined, our political future being decided not through debate or leadership but by the petty nature of issue-by-issue politics.

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