Why is the status quo the only go?

Posted on August 4, 2010 by

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This election has become a choice between two parties with very few differences. We’ve seen a race to the centre as both Gillard and Abbott try to prove to voters that they would be the best at maintaining the status quo. This has been at the expense of pragmatic policy making.

Avril Henry is an expert on generational behaviours in the workplace and she thinks this is having an effect on the way young people are engaging with politics. Henry doesn’t think young people are necessarily uninterested in politics but says they just don’t feel there are any options at this election.

“I have spoken to them and they are saying that they don’t feel they’ve been given enough reason to vote for the major parties.”

Henry says Generation Y’s are “the most marketed to generation of all time” and this changes how they view politics.

“Young people need politicians to be authentic, to be relevant, and to be honest.”

Whereas veterans are influenced by authority figures and boomers want data and facts, Henry says Generations X & Y are a little more cynical.

“They’ve said to me: ‘tell us what it is, tell us what it does and don’t play the national anthem while you’re at it’”.

As I wrote previously, this election has seen record numbers of eligible Australians not enrolled to have their say. Henry said that she’s spoken to a number of Gen Y’s who are “bright, educated and have not enrolled to vote”. She says this is because they don’t see what they’re voting for at the election, and don’t feel the major parties are taking them seriously. Henry says the key messages of both sides are irrelevant to young people, and says they are questioning what the campaign slogans really mean.

“The Liberal’s are cutting debt whilst Labor are moving forward but many voters are asking what are the parties really talking about? What are they actually going to do?”

She believes part of the problem stems from a lack of diversity in leadership positions within society more generally. Henry highlights not only politics but also corporations and churches as the other major estates that still “tend to be run by a group of older white males with a particular view on leadership”.

“The penny is beginning to drop I think. We don’t expect leaders to have all the answers anymore. We do however expect them to listen. Part of the problem is that we have a generation of leaders who believe they need to have all the answers and see themselves as the problem solvers”.

Michelle Grattan of The Age wrote back in June that the three issues Gillard needed to “neutralise” leading up to the election were the Mining Tax, Asylum Seekers and Climate Change. She also said Gillard needed to find an overarching “narrative” that would contain her policy visions. This has not yet become apparent. We have however seen so-called ‘solutions’ for each item on the checklist. Yet none have proved to be particularly robust or stand up to any great scrutiny.

From the Government, you’ve got a mining tax covering only part of the industry. This essentially undermines the message that its policy is about getting something back from the sale of our resources. There’s an asylum seeker deal pending with East Timor, who have said they don’t actually want a deal, and finally a climate change policy that will simply fill time between now and 2012 when we are likely to see the return of an ETS anyway. There’s nothing wrong with community engagement, it’s just that it inspires cynicism when the Government announces such a thing at this point in time.

The claim that this is about community consensus building also seems deeply flawed. How can the Government ignore the fact that 83% of voters think pollution is making climate change worse, or that 60% currently support an ETS? If that really isn’t enough, who knows what is. With the next Government likely to be elected by just a whisker, how can political parties justify doing anything, ever, if it’s all about consensus building? Democracy isn’t about satisfying everyone. And it shouldn’t be about achieving an impossible consensus. As a system, it is set up to represent the views of the majority. With all its flaws, it’s the best we’ve got, and political parties need to respect that. As we saw with WorkChoices, if a policy isn’t popular then the electorate will make their voices heard and elect the other team.

Maybe if it weren’t all about having a solution a day to keep the Opposition away, the Government would come to some better long-term, sustainable policy decisions.

With little choice at this election over the issues that matter most to younger voters, you can’t help but be drawn back to Avril Henry’s comments about young people needing to be taken more seriously. Maybe there is a need for a party representing the views of those on the sunny side of 30. With one in five Australians between the ages of 12-24, is it time we sought real representation in our parliament?

Words – Zach Kitschke

Image – news.com.au

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