WHEN announcing his candidacy for the President of the United States of America in 2007, Barack Obama said that what was stopping his country from meeting its greatest challenges was “the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems”.
Does that quote resonate with you? Does it make you think about the current state of politics in Australia? I suspect so!
Let’s face it; Australian politics is in a bit of a mess, thanks mainly to Tony Abbott’s combative and winner-takes-all style. It’s become a brawl, left-right, conservative-progressive, white-black, anglo-ethnic, rich-poor, city-rural, green-brown, idealist-realist, outward looking-inward looking, xenophobic-fearless, compassionate-tough, passive-aggressive, pro-immigration–anti-immigration.
The list goes on.
Never before, it seems, have the things which divide us so dominated the things which unite us.
Twenty-five years ago another leader said this: “I put forward a program to benefit every Australian and every Australian family, wherever they live: in the capital cities, the great centres, the country towns, the rural communities, and the sparsely-settled areas of this vast continent of ours”.
Then Prime Minister Bob Hawke went on to say – “Our whole object (as a government) has been to remove as far as possible, the needless misunderstandings between groups, between sections – and not least, to bring about a better understanding on the part of the city people of Australia, of the real problems and needs of country people and the vital contribution they make to our national economy, our national life and our national spirit”.
Hawke’s great strength was his consensus style. He sought to heal and unite rather than divide. How we long for such an approach today. It allowed him to shepherd through economic and social reforms which until then seemed too hard. By contrast, Tony Abbott’s combative style over the past four years has made the passage of reform proposals almost mission impossible. With the advent of the new Senate, the situation has grown worse.
Last week a number of the nation’s business leaders called on the major parties to build a consensus and to work together to secure the next important round of economic reforms, sounds sensible. But before you repair a problem you need to ensure the community is aware there is one to fix. In other words, like Bob Hawke, you need to take them with you. Salesmanship, good-will and a cohesive plan are key ingredients to a successful reform agenda and frankly, Tony Abbott lacks all three. Labor stands ready to work with the government, but it’s for the Prime Minster to provide both the opportunity and the tools.
But determined to re-kindle Bob Hawke’s sentiments on ending the city-country divide, Labor’s rural and regional MPs are not waiting for Tony Abbott. Labor’s new Country Caucus will strive to ensure the views, aspirations and challenges of rural and regional Australia are well known, respected, understood and acted upon. Both inside and outside the Labor Party, we want to ensure that rural and regional Australia is at the forefront of the minds of decision makers and householders alike.
Further, I’ve said publicly many times – I want agriculture policy to be above politics and beyond the political cycle. Sure, Barnaby Joyce and I will have our points of disagreement, but we must strive to ensure policy outcomes are sound and in the national interest.
Both Barack Obama and Bob Hawke were right and it’s past time for a new politics – one which unites not divides. One that serves the national interest not sectional or self-interest. One which leaves petty politics behind us.