Thursday, November 22, 2007

Election 101 - or why we need a change

Regular readers would have no doubt about how I feel about John Howard and the Coalition government. You would think though that with this election bearing down on us, I would have written a lot more about it than I have. Perhaps it's just exhaustion – by the time the 'real' election campaign took over from the 'fake' campaigning, I was pretty much sick of it all.

That hasn't stopped me from following what I can in the news, especially ABC radio most mornings, some online reporting and the weekend papers. In all I've been digesting what this election means to me. Not deliberating who should win government – I know full well who I don't want to form government. But more reflecting on what this election means for me, my family, and the kind of community and country I want to raise my sons in. What has spurred me to now write on the election so late in the piece is actually what John Howard has been saying of late.

In trying to scare people over the dangers of changing the government when, as he believes, his government has been running the country well all this time, Howard has been warning us that changing the government will change the country – as if that were such a terrible thing!

I do what this country to change! In a fundamental, profound way.

I believe that the decade of Howard government has changed this country, and as I struggled to express how and why I think so, I find that Pavlov's Cat has already done a fine job of expressing it:
But we've now had eleven straight years of a government that has stayed in power by shamelessly playing to our weaknesses and our worse natures: self-interest, literal-mindedness, mean-spiritedness, fear and greed. And after eleven years of fear and greed being indulged, reinforced and rewarded by policies (and their accompanying rhetoric) in, especially, economics and immigration, you have to worry about what it's done to us as a people: positive reinforcement is a powerful thing, for better or worse. We all take it for granted that it is we who create the government, but that relation is actually a complex two-way street, involving the re-calibration of personal assumptions and the re-setting of social norms.

I believe that Australia is at a tipping point – after over a decade of 'head-in-the-sand' denial and inaction overy global warming by Howard, we cannot afford for Australia's government to drag its feet on real action on global warming. The next three years – not decade as I've previously thought – is when we must make the necessary changes to our economic, consumption, and social practices to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

We must stop the Howard government from prevaricating over our need to wheen ourselves from carbon-dependency and hamstringing renewable energy in order to shore up their mates in the coal and fossil fuel industry. We must also stop global warming being the excuse to unleash the nuclear power genie.

After a decade of the Howard government, Indigenous life expectancy is 17 years lower than the rest of Australia. Life expectancy (and other well-being markers) amongst indigenous peoples in Canada, USA and New Zealand has improved – why not Australia? This government has derailed Reconciliation and Indigenous self-determination, and allowed this situation to worsen.

On top of that, it has undermined the Racial Discrimination Act and the Northern Territory Land Rights Act to pursue its pig-headed, machismo Northern Territory Intervention – which is simply another attack on Aboriginal self-determination, something it has been chipping away at since it came to power.

When the news that the Navy had rescued some people from a leaky boat of the Western Australian coast, I was concerned for a moment that we would witness another Tampa – that the government would finally have its dog-whistling moment to finally wedge the Rudd Labor Opposition and win back voters through a fear of the Asian invasion, the Muslim menace or terrible terrorist. Thankfully, that hasn't quite happened.

For all the talk of economic conservatives, interest rates and budget surpluses, I still believe that this election will be an accounting of how the Howard government has treated asylum seekers, especially their mandatory detention in god-forsaken desert concentration camps, curtailed our rights and freedoms in the name of the war on terrorism, and marginalised the Muslim, African and Asian communities. And let's not forget the fictitious Weapons of Mass Destruction and the war in Iraq.

Despite the Howard government's much lauded economic credentials and the celebrated economic 'prosperity', Australia has become more unequal in significant ways. More young people, low income earners and first home buyers are locked out of home ownership. Australians owe far more today on credit cards and personal debt, which suggests to me that people are struggling financially. Despite lower than historical interest rates, households are paying more of their incomes in interest weekly repayments. And this on top of the increased insecurity, disadvantage, inequality and tension in workplaces since WorkChoices came in! Let's make economy work for us, not the other way around!

This election not just about making government accountable and answerable to the people of Australia. It is not just about who can reign-in the increasing cost of living, or who can help making housing more affordable for those of us locked out of buying our own homes one – although these are really important to many of us right now.

It is about ensuring there we tackle the urgent crisis of globbal warming, that our future is not of a parched, burned land with dwindling biodiversity, and neighbouring nations who have the seas lashing at their doorsteps.

This election is about the change we need. It is about the kind of future we want for our children.

[Image is one of mine (cc) used earlier this year]

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