The Brexit result in the UK and Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the US have been a warning for Australian politicians, already facing disillusionment from voters in the Federal election which saw 24 percent, almost one quarter, of the constituency not vote for either of the two major Parties.
With Brexit, the Remain team that found while London, which is full of foreigners, supported to stay IN, the rest of the country where most of the English live, did not. In the US, the Washington political establishment found itself attacked by Trump, an outsider, who appealed to the many disaffected across the country.
Different circumstances perhaps, but the result is the same and for the same reason: the politicians are out of touch with the electorate.
We face a similar problem in Australia.
While we bicker about the value of a plebiscite on same sex marriage, there is no indication a significant majority of the population think the issue is important enough to spend $160 million on finding out what we want. A minority do think differently but it is the politicians who decided upon this expense to satisfy this minority.
Then why don’t our politicians address the death with dignity issue, the right to die, which studies show over 80 percent of people support? Is it to satisfy the minority or are they out-of-touch like Brexit and Trump?
Could the same lack of connect be found in the failure to address mounting public concern about high immigration and overpopulation? Or are our politicians beholden to growth at any cost and the demands of big business and unions?
The inconsistencies of the examples demonstrate our parliament makes its own choice about what it will address, not what concerns the electorate.
Too often politicians show they are working in a world divorced from what ordinary people want. All legislatures are prone to this dangerous and often destructive hubris and, until the developments overseas, have not really been challenged.
Whether or not the events in the UK and the US and our own 24 percent of “other” voters are aberrations remains to be seen, however there is opportunity here in Canberra with a Legislative Assembly election in October for current and aspiring politicians to start listening to the electorate and, more importantly, acting upon the comments received.
Candidates should do more than gain a vote by genuinely seeking constituents’ opinions and then provide feedback to the Party, perhaps challenging pre-conceived prejudices. The voter too needs to be frank. No use complaining after the event like many young people in the UK who did not vote at all.
Participatory democracy requires the effort of politician and constituent and has been neglected by both sides.
Complacency has crept into political behaviour, the constituency is taken for granted and political expediency often has become paramount.
It is time the electorate reclaimed the role of arbiter and the politician retained that of its spokesperson, while governing “for all Australians” needs to be in deeds as well as words.