It’s the timeless sales pitch for joining a political party: A megaphone and bad hair will only get you so far, the real way to effect political change is from ‘inside the tent’.
But when it comes to politics, we’re not happy campers. Membership of mainstream political parties is on the slide, with Labor’s shrinking and disaffected base a key area of debate during the weekend’s National Conference.
Essential polling this week shows meeting the Prime Minister’s target of 8,000 new members this year will be a serious challenge for the party. In fact, to achieve the target will mean improving the current performance by a factor of about 8,000.
This week we asked about membership of all sorts of social, community, recreational and political organisations and of all these categories, it is the political parties that are suffering the most.
Every Australian Counts is a campaign that has hit many highs since it’s launch in January 2011. The campaign to implement a National Disability Insurance Scheme is about to reach 80,000 supporters on the campaign website, close to the 2011 goal of 100,000. There are almost 12,000 active supporters on the lively Facebook page.
These numbers are absolutely fantastic – they show a growing movement committed to work to get the NDIS in place. But the figures come second to the big win of the campaign so far – the Federal Government’s announcement in August that it ‘shared the vision’ for an NDIS.
The Government has dedicated $10 million to the groundwork recommended by the Productivity Commission and initial advisory committees have been established. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is also on board at this point.
Now, the hard slog begins.
You see it with almost every digital campaign – an action directed to government in which you are asked to “email your MP”.
These are usually campaigns initiated by political lobby groups, where many people are asked to write to one or more pollies about an issue. The letters may range from those actually composed by the writer, through to form letters and signed postcards.
Form letters and postcards use pre-generated content that in many instances you can edit, but generally you don’t.
The reason for this is it’s much quicker and easier to enter your details, click send and then be done. You can feel like you’ve taken part and made a stand, but for less time and effort – it’s the lazy-man’s activism.
It’s been a year of big political fights: about the future of the world; about the future of the nation; and then some that seem to be akin to war over a barren piece of rock in the middle of the Atlantic.
If carbon tax has been the battle for the planet and the mining tax the battle for the nation; then the fight over bringing the budget into surplus could well be the Gillard Government’s Falklands War.
Because while Tony Abbott huffs and puffs and Wayne Swan blows back over who has the littlest one, the presence of a budget deficit in 2012-13 is regarded as a matter of little consequence to most Australians.
For the recovering alcoholic, every day is defined by the decision not to have another drink. The Opposition leader should know how this feels as he attempts to swear himself off WorkChoices.
As the business lobby and former Coalition danger-men like Peter Reith urge him to take a tipple, Tony Abbott is attempting to stay off the juice even as every fibre in his being wants him to say ‘just a little one’.
And the public? They’re just waiting for him to fall off the wagon.
If you thought coverage of the Queen’s hats and curtsey-gate was bad, just wait until Air Force One touches down in Australia this week.
There will be excruciating live crosses counting down the minutes until president Obama lands on Australian soil; describing in detail each element of the motorcade snaking through the roundabouts of Canberra.
It’s hard – make that impossible – to imagine an Asian head of state receiving such fanfare.
But it turns out media overkill is no guide to the way Australians understand our place in the world.
We might admire the Queen’s class and staying power, we might love the thrill of a POTUS visit; but we hold our cultural allegiances at arms length from our views on our future prosperity.
Amidst the industrial carnage wrought by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce last week was a brief glimpse of what survival for the Gillard Government might look like.
It would start with a corporate leader arrogantly putting his commercial interests ahead of the national interest, to the cheers of his fellow CEOs.
It would move into a debate about whether loyal Australian workers had a right to expect any sort of say in the way their workplace was run; or whether they should be forced to cop whatever the latest management team cooked up.
It would give voice to the federal front bench, for once united on a matter of principle they truly believed in, providing a platform to speak up for the values of their movement.
And it would end with the Federal Opposition, stripped of any pretence of policy, in a tangle over the WorkChoices bogey, simply barracking for the big end of town because that is what they are conditioned to do.
Protest about corporate giants holding the nation to ransom and you’ll get hauled away by police under cover of darkness.
Be a corporate giant and actually hold the nation to ransom and you’ll get a $2 million pay rise and a pat on the back from your mates.
Only slightly less bizarre than Qantas CEO Allan Joyce’s decision to ground his fleet over the weekend, stranding thousands of innocent punters, has been the muted response by the nation’s media.
Imagine a union leader taking wildcat industrial action and grounding an airline, with no thought of the implications. The tabloids would scream “industrial thuggery” and “un-Australian bastardry”; there would be calls for deregistration of the union, possibly jail for the rogue official.
Every decent industrial dispute needs a villain, but it seems Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s efforts to cast unions as corporate wreckers are backfiring badly.
With 30,000 workers, 11 unions, an iconic red and white kangaroo and the perennial headline-grabbers of aircraft safety, Aussie jobs and stranded holidaymakers, occasional high-profile industrial disputes are a fact of life at Qantas.
The airline has traditionally responded to union campaigning with a straight bat – make any claim and the airline would shut the issue down, convinced that responding would only inflame the situation.
But managing his first showdown, Joyce has opted for beat-up over hose-down. He’s grabbed the microphone off the unions, cranked up the amp and is ripping through his song-list at high volume – “A new spirit of Australia”, is followed by “Qantas pilots are greedy” with an encore of “I’m a really nice person and they’re trying to kill me”.
As our Prime Minister and Opposition Leader continue to struggle under the weight of negative approval ratings perhaps the time has come to draw guidance from the humble hagfish.
Tomorrow is official Hagfish Day, a day to celebrate the ‘beauty of ugly’ and make the point it’s not just cute and cuddly creatures that deserve our attention.
Haikus are written, songs are sung, school kids are encouraged to learn more about the slimy deep-sea scavengers.
It’s not that our political leaders are slimy scavengers. Hang on… it’s not that our political leaders bear any physical similarities that make Hagfish Day relevant; but their pursuit of popularity does end up reinforcing all the negatives that drive our disdain with politics.
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