There are a lot of genuinely terrifying bogies out there: COVID, climate change, rivalry with China, and Trumpism, to name but the most obvious. Even with these wicked scientifico-social hazards, though, it’s possible to conceive of solutions, actions that could be taken to avert any incoming asteroids.
What’s not possible is to conceive of any solution that doesn’t involve courage. And just at the moment it’s terrifyingly difficult to detect any of that.
Australia is the only OECD country with no fuel efficiency standards on its cars. Even leaving carbon dioxide and global warming out of the equation, this means that we use 30% more petrol than we could, driving up costs all round. There are no genuine arguments whatsoever against imposing fuel standards; it’s a no-brainer, to be done before lunch on day one. It’s one of the clearest examples there is of how political partisanship interferes with good policy.
And the Labor Party is about to give it a pass. Its new climate plan omits any reference to it.
It’s the smallest possible step that would differentiate the parties’ policies on climate change, and Labor don’t have the guts to make that step. It took policies to the last election – policies that would have done quite a lot to deal with many of the exact problems that are gutting us now – and it didn’t win. It’s not going to make that mistake again.
Aesop told the fable of the father and the son and the donkey. They’re walking along, and Scott Morrison sees them and jeers, ‘Look at these idiots – walking when they have a donkey!’ So they pop the son on the donkey for a few miles, until Scott Morrison jeers, ‘Look at that selfish little bastard – making the old man walk!’ So the father and son switch places and continue on for a few miles until Scott Morrison jeers, ‘Look at that patriarchal privilege – letting the little boy do all the work!’ So the father and son both climb onto the donkey, which keeps walking, until Scott Morrison shouts, ‘Animal abuse! I’m calling the RSPCA!’ And so the man and the boy pick up the donkey and carry it for a few hundred yards, until Scott Morrison jeers triumphantly, ‘Look at those idiots!’
Moral: you can’t please everybody.
Or, if you’re Anthony Albanese, moral: Why didn’t they just shoot the donkey?
Scott Morrison comes out of this showing he’s prepared to say anything to win the moment, regardless of consistency, but we knew that already. What we didn’t know before was that the Australian political system is circling the drain.
Everything we’ve ever told ourselves about the virtues of the Westminster system is bollocks. It can’t cope with the internet. We’ve painted ourselves into a constitutional corner. We have a two-party system where both parties think they’re caught in a Squid Game Red Light–Green Light situation where anybody seen to be moving when the election happens is shot out of hand. Anything you can do, I can do less of; I can do nothing for longer than you.
If this was the Titanic, Labor would avoid saying anything that might be seen as critical of the iceberg. Why risk it, when its deckchair policy has been so popular with the focus groups?
But what are the alternatives? The more successful the Greens are, the more they look like a real political party, which unfortunately makes Australians dislike them. Voting for independents gives us a little wiggle room at the fringes, but it’s not going to allow national mobilisation behind big ideas. Creative alternatives – selecting MPs through a lottery, or citizens’ juries, or football clubs – have to be able to sell themselves to the Australian public before they can get a trial to show they work.
To return to where we started, making any changes at all would require courage, which is what we haven’t got. The best lack all conviction, and the worst (Craig Kelly, to be specific) are full of passionate intensity. Help me find a way through. Call for courage.
The author of the Book of Revelations had the right idea. ‘So, then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.’ Vote for courage.
Denis Moriarty is group managing director of OurCommunity.com.au, a social enterprise helping Australia's 600,000 not-for-profits.