Comment: Parochial Australia needs to take its blinkers off

It's time for Australians to think big when it comes to politics, says Alistair Chisholm

Australia's luck has turned us into a country of politically disengaged egoists. It's high time we take a long hard look at ourselves and think twice before we cast our vote, writes Alistair Chisholm.

Brought up and educated in Australia, I recently returned to Australia after nearly 10 years in London during one of the most prolonged economically challenging periods there since the great depression. 

During this time, Australia enjoyed an economic boom. We like to think that it came as a result of hard work and planning but the truth is we owe a large debt of gratitude to serendipity.  China's demand for our natural resources and a ballooning property market fuelled by unprecedented lending have been two of the main drivers of growth. From memory, the only two Australian political issues that gained global attention during my time abroad that was the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol some ten years after it was penned and a massively belated apology to a stolen generation. Now, I have returned to Australia with a critical eye and what I see is not pleasant.

I am quite frankly embarrassed at the general narrow-mindedness and lack of real progress in our nation.

Australians would never admit it but we are vain and shallow.  We derive personal satisfaction by comparing ourselves to others in order to conclude that we are better.  I once believed Australia possessed an equitable egalitarianism - but the truth is our economy is fuelled partly by luck and partly by an ethos of "keeping up with the Joneses" which, just like everywhere else, is leading to a widening wealth gap, growing debt and ignorance of key global issues. We smugly label ourselves "The Lucky Country" without an understanding of why exactly that is (or the context of that quote). Not only are we geographically isolated from much of the world, we're also historically isolated, too, which probably explains why most Australians don't recognise that given time this trend consistently leads to an unpleasant economic and social outcome wherever it has occurred.

I have returned to Australia to discover parochialism on an alarming scale.  Trivial matters seem to absorb and entertain people. Another nice couch or new telly purchase remain major checkpoints to contentment. Meanwhile,  global matters seem to coast by.  Politically, people seem apathetic and unaware of their voting options. The media would have us believe there are only two political parties in Australia and persistently lull the masses into believing the election campaign comprises the same two parties who attack the same empty rhetoric as the other.  Worryingly, both major parties infer we live in an economy rather than a society - though arguably Labor less so. 

What really grinds my gears is the constant inference that a vote outside these two major parties is a wasted one.

The truth is the Labor versus Liberal tussle is an ageing one dating back to a relatively stable time, when people's vote was determined by much money the employee versus the employer would receive.  Now the world and the voting landscape is far more complex. As the electorate diversifies and the issues that divide us become more heterogeneous, minority parties are an increasingly important part of our democracy as they ensure the Parliament reflects the people.

Australians are lucky to live in a democratic nation where their voice can be heard fairly and equally. But despite compulsory proportionally represented voting, people rarely seem to vote outside the duopoly of the two major parties. Are the differences between these two parties really all we need for effective governance?

Australians face some monumental global challenges surrounding the issues of climate change, growing and ageing population and a widening wealth divide. To tackle these kind of issues, our economy needs to respect society first for what it actually is - people - and as a collection of money, goods and services second.

Such an approach would better respect society's diversification and ought to paradoxically solidify it, bolstering the economy in the process.  It may seem odd given these immense global challenges that our best way forward could be to exercise minority party votes.  But at the very least we could respect and be thankful for our freedom to a truly independent voice and put an end to the nonsense attitude that a minority vote is a wasted one.

Perhaps it was amiss for Sir Winston Churchill to quip all those years ago that "the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."  I maintain hope that Australians will carefully research and consider their voting options this election. After all, are we not the "The Clever Country"?

Alistair Chisholm is an industrial designer, studio manager and part-time political soapbox occupant.

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