Back in the ’70s, when I was going to uni., we used to bemoan the fact that our parents, and most ‘adult’ Australians, just didn’t care about big, political issues. So long as the economy was ticking along nicely, they were happy to keep the incumbent government in power. For example, Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister from 1949 – 1966. That’s 17 years, without a break!
We, however, were more politically aware. We cared. We would hold our governments accountable.
We, of course, were the Baby Boomers, and we did do more than our parents before us, but there were still unspoken codes of conduct for voters and politicians alike:
– A State or Federal government had to be really on the nose [Aussie for really bad] for it to be voted out after just one term [3-4 years],
– Parties did not knife their leaders in the back, at least not once they were in power. That kind of politicking was meant to happen behind closed doors, while the party was jockeying to get out of Opposition.
In short, there was an element of the gentleman’s club about Australian politics. I think we can safely say that old school etiquette is well and truly gone. Or as our much unloved PM, Tony Abbott, once said, ‘dead, buried and cremated’.
In the last four years we’ve seen a never-ending merry-go-round of parties and leaders, all wanting their 15 minutes of fame. But we’ve also seen the electorate throwing its weight around like never before. The voice of the people is loud and raucous, and it’s being heard in high places.
[Sorry about the cliches but you must admit they fit really well just there. ;)]
A lot of the motivation behind the electoral swings is self-interest – middle and lower class [sic] voters are sick of politicians who promise one thing and deliver pain instead. In the past we’d shake our head with a cynical ‘Hah, politicians, what can you expect?’. These days our cynicism has turned to anger, and even if we can’t force the politicians to behave, we know we can pay back some of the pain they give us, and so we do.
So far, this awakening amongst the electorate has not been particularly good for politics because, instead of motivating politicians to ‘do better’, it’s just motivating them to jump faster every time a poll confirms or predicts a slump in popularity.
That is not the way to run a country. But, not knowing, and not caring what the electorate wants is not the way either.
The thing that excites me is that we, the voters, are finally starting to train our politicians. Catering only to the big end of town is not acceptable. Catering only to the unions is not acceptable. Making surpluses on the backs of the weak and needy is not acceptable. Being effing selfish is not acceptable. Being arrogant is not acceptable. Being a professional politician is not acceptable.
We are still a long way from training our polies to be ethical servants of the people, but I think we have made a beginning, and that is worth cheering about.
So if this truly is the end of Aussie apathy then I’m all for it. I’d rather see some chaos amongst the political parties than go back to the polite, but paternalistic standards of the past. Voters unite!