Sunny Grace describes how she has gone from political engagement to disenchantment and despair during one of the most dispiriting election campaigns in recent history.
I was born in 1971, the year John Lennon released his iconic peace song, ‘Imagine’. It was a time of social and political upheaval in Australia and around the world. I grew up in a politically engaged household where my parents and their friends rebelled against their conservative upbringings to protest the Vietnam war, racism and sexism. They rallied to save the forests with the spectre of global warming already creeping into their vernacular and argued passionately for nuclear disarmament.
When Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam – who they saw as a true representative of the people – was controversially dismissed in 1974 after introducing radical reforms to education, women’s and human rights, they were bitterly upset. The Liberal Party remained more committed to conservative policies, ready to wind back the freedoms that had been so hard won.
My mum and her friends talked about moving to New Zealand if Fraser was voted in at the next election. The irony? Fast forward to 2010 and Malcolm Fraser became disenchanted with his own party and quit.
I remained politically engaged from childhood, particularly in women’s and environmental issues, and enrolled to vote as soon as I turned 18. As a young arts student in the late 1980s at Swinburne University, I remember my politics lecturer being delighted that I was an out and proud Australian Democrats supporter.
Some of you may remember the Democrats. The party started in 1977 and won the balance of power in 1980 under the leadership of Don Chipp, famous for promising to “keep the bastards honest”. They were born out of discontent with the other parties and appealed to the disaffected with their focus on environmental issues, women’s rights, nuclear disarmament and many other progressive policies. Meanwhile, the Labor Party was intent on showing that, unlike the Whitlam years, it had real economic policies; from floating the dollar to privatisation, alienating many former Labor voters.
Disinterest rates rise
The battle over which party is the better economic manager continues to this day, often at the expense of equality, humanity and fairness. The Coalition tries to scare the disinterested electorate into voting for them and to prepare for interest rates to rise under Labor. And when the rates rise under their watch, the Coalition argues that only they can manage an economy beset by rising interest rates. Talk about spin!
The whole world is dealing with the rising cost of living due to many factors including floods, war and the pandemic. But here in Australia, the sight of two white men arguing on national TV with each other and not offering any kind of inspirational change or light on the hill moment has me sick to my stomach and dreading the upcoming election.
My political disengagement started with the Tampa affair. I cried that night, about our country’s loss of humanity; about our wealthy and famously lucky country, where people cared more about their own wallets than helping those in need – a trend that has continued since then. Today’s politicians are still stuck in this blame game. Labor tries to pull itself out of the quagmire but struggles to be heard above the bully boy shouting of the incumbents, who have proven themselves to be liars, covering up everything from economic mismanagement to alleged rape.
Can the teals keep the bastards honest?
Is our only hope the disaffected independents who are appalled by our climate change inaction, the so-called teal candidates? They are primarily female and focussed on climate change, gender equality and political integrity – like Sydney’s Allegra Spender, who has a decent chance of wresting the seat of Wentworth away from the Liberals.
Like the Democrats in 1980, these independents may end up with the balance of power and have indicated they will vote according to issues their communities cares about.
What is evident to me, though, is no matter how much things change, they stay the same. Ironically, in 1971, when he was Opposition Leader, Gough Whitlam made a trip to China, to make high-level political contact with the world’s most populous Communist power during the Cold War. Now, we find ourselves again dealing with similar geopolitical schisms. History repeats and humans never seem to learn.
If the Coalition gets in again, maybe we will go to New Zealand, just as my parents threatened back in 1975. My husband is from New Zealand and often dreams of returning home. A country with a female prime minister who breastfed her baby while running the country? Sounds too good to be true. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but it must be better than another three years of ScoMo.