You might have heard that there were some fireworks down at the ACT Legislative Assembly last week. This was pretty surprising given that this is the sort of thing we are more used to seeing from our Federal politicians. Indeed, the strong sense of community frustration and disengagement about the state of Australian politics is never helped when politicians use their positions to point score, bully or threaten each other, something that is all too regular in Federal politics.
Generally, local politics is much more sedate. Much of the business of local government occurs without much fanfare and without the public paying much attention. However, a level of incivility seems to be creeping into our local political arena and is getting our attention.
At last week’s Assembly sittings, we saw moves to censure the Chief Minister and heated debate regarding the proceedings of a parliamentary committee last year, that included exchanges between the Chief Minister and Opposition member, Jeremy Hanson MLA; the chair of the committee. Both these issues deserved scrutiny but did not need to descend into an unsavory debate or take up such a large amount of time. It was disappointing to the extreme that members were not able to step back, defuse the hostility and move forward discussions in a way that was more appropriate in a place where our democratically elected representatives gather.
While many people are dismissive of the importance of our local Legislative Assembly, this is where political decisions that affect our everyday lives, are made. These decisions include those about the shape of our city, the health of our local economy, and our access to local services. It is this level of Government that determines how our children will be educated, how we will be cared for when we are sick, where we are likely to work and how we will get around our city. These are important decisions and require the time, attention and engagement of our local politicians.
Given the important policy debates and proposals we need our politicians to progress, why was it that last week the major parties seemed more interested in scoring points, threatening each other and using threatening and bullying language? The performance of hypermasculinity in a chamber that is in fact dominated by female representatives has brought feelings of despair from those of us who want to see a different way of practicing politics that is based around a contest of ideas debated in a respectful and thoughtful manner.
A few years ago, I took the step and became involved in party politics as a member of the ACT Greens due to the belief that in this progressive city, we can do things differently. I believe that we have the opportunity to give up tired old adversarial politics and practice politics in a way that serves people rather than egos. I recognize that none of us are perfect, and we all have exchanges that upon reflection, we understand could have gone better. Last week’s events however have left me feeling pretty deflated.
I really hope that in the near future we can again look at the Legislative Assembly and see it as an example of respectful political debate and progressive political decision making. What do you think?
Rebecca Vassarotti is an active member of the ACT Greens and ran as a local candidate in the 2016 Territory Election.