Like a coffin being carried around a cemetery, we seem to have lost the plot. Australian politics today has become a killing field of petty arguments. When the front page of newspapers over several days feature a stupid comment on whether poorer people have less cars, you have to wonder if our view of the world is through a microscope. Maybe we should stand back and look at the whole world. Spend some time to think about what is over the horizon. What values will guide us to that horizon?
Philosophy is defined as “a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behavior”. What is the Australian philosophy? What sort of things define us as Australians and what sort of things do we want our government to perpetuate?
Freedom and equality come to mind. Freedom to speak the truth without restriction. Freedom to practice our religion without persecution. Freedom to form a relationship with whoever we please. Equality of education. Equality of opportunity. Equality regardless of race. Equality regardless of gender.
Another thing that comes to mind is helping the less fortunate. The famous Australian “fair go”. Helping those who, through whatever circumstances, have fallen on tough times. It might be through disability, health issues, unemployment, or any one of a thousand reasons why they need help. Those who have, should help those who haven’t. Not forever, but until they can become self sufficient again.
An Australian value we seem to have lost sight of is that greed is not good. How much is enough? The business world should not be a place where you can metaphorically slash and burn your way to greater wealth. The “rip off” is not just something to be complained about when it happens to me. It should be condemned wherever it happens. Accumulating wealth by stealing it from others, even if it is just within the law, is not something to admire.
Another key value we seem to be giving up is that we need to take responsibility. If we trip over, the first thought should not be who do we sue. If we see a person on a bus abuse someone of another race, we are not spectators. We must take responsibility for the way that person is being treated.
I know all this is idealistic. It only happens in computer models, not in reality. But sometimes, we need to think about the world we live in, and the world we want to live in.
Politics and laws cannot make it happen. Laws addresses defined situations. They do not cover every situation in life. That is why we try to apply law rather than enforce law. A court looks at the law, and the particular circumstances of the case, and tries to reconcile the two. We cannot expect legislation and laws to maintain the Australian philosophy. It is much more fluid than a piece of legislation. More and more legislation only encourages those who do not share our values to find loopholes and ways around the legal constraints. Think CBA or Macquarie Bank financial planners. Think election funding in NSW.
What can move us closer to the world we want to live in is us. All 20+ million of us – or at least enough to make political parties take notice. It is on the philosophy of being an Australian that we need to focus.
Think about what we want to be as a nation. Then think about the day-to-day politics and how it fits that philosophy. How to create a balance between rich and poor; conservative and progressive; unions and business; city and country; educated and less educated; healthy and not so healthy. About the balance between freedom and regulation. About separation of church and state. About how we protect our children and pass on our values to them.
This is where current Australian politics has come unstuck. They forgot the Australian philosophy. They forgot all those values that make Australia what it is to live in. Why it is different to other countries. You can find each element of the Australian philosophy in another country, but not all of them in one country. That is what makes us unique.
Take one example. The budget raises the issue of responsibility. We are responsible for a growing deficit and need to do something about it. It then ignores the other values such as equality and says the least wealthy should pay disproportionately more to reduce the deficit. Equal accessibility of health services is replaced by a payment which hurts the less wealthy. A university degree is not equally available to everyone.
The media – all of them – need to give some oxygen to discussion about what we believe we should be as a country. This is the context for our politicians to create legislation. This is our context to judge those elected to lead us. Do they measure up to the values embedded in the philosophy that is Australia? If not, they should go.