‘There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.’
From Emerson’s essay: Self-Reliance
You know that Australia is on the map when the New York Times carries not only one but two articles within 48 hours of an election Down Under.
Australia’s ‘Climate Election’ Finally Arrived. Will It Be Enough? Under this banner, one of the world’s heavyweight newspapers contends that ‘Voters rejected the deny-and-delay approach that has made Australia a global laggard on emission cuts. But how far the new government will go remains to be seen’.
Many of us living in the Lucky Country are wondering the same question.
Our new Prime Minister wants to end the ‘climate wars’. Adam Bandt and the Greens want to end coal and gas mining. An assortment of independent new members, collectively the Teals, want action on climate, integrity and social justice.
And when do they all want it? Now!
Meanwhile, the shell-shocked Liberals are tipped to elect a hard-line Conservative from Queensland (rebranded ‘Greensland’ after the success of candidates in inner Brisbane seats). How Peter Dutton could placate a litany of coal enthusiasts let alone reinvigorate his party, remains to be seen.
Bright new dawn? Well, we hope so. The Greens have been kicked around and disregarded for years, copping some self-inflicted wounds but maintaining the rage against climate deniers and gutless politicians. Having greater numbers in Parliament will help the cause. And the influx of intelligent and articulate women under the Teal banner offers a real prospect that debates will be more respectful without losing passion. Albo’s reputation for consensus-building will be put to the test and like everyone running the show, his honeymoon will be short. Those of us who have lived through the Whitlam era know the enthusiasm and hope engendered by his election after 23 years of conservative rule. And we also know how it came crashing down in flames within a few short years. Let’s keep fingers and toes crossed that the latest progressive incarnation will do better.
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Some of the post-election commentary has swirled around community involvement. Monday night’s panellists on The Drum took this up with vigour. They spoke about the thousands of volunteers who came out of the woodwork to support candidates not aligned with the major parties. This groundswell of support had much to do with frustration around climate change inaction but also, it seems, reflected a felt-sense by many in the electorates that they were taken for granted. This feeling of disempowerment translated into action and enthusiasm for candidates who were perceived to be outside the party process and could apply pressure ‘independently’ in Parliament.
Climate change action, of course, towers at the top of the bucket list but catchphrases like ‘integrity’ and ‘social justice’ also loom large. This appeal to values strikes a chord with many of us. For too long, politics has foundered on pragmatic ideologies, resulting in a race to the bottom. No one who has been around for any length of time is under any illusions that there is a magic wand in the wings. But, I sense, there is a growing recognition for systemic change. Sticking with the status quo is not only debilitating individually – leading to disillusion or remaining outside the political process, but also reflects a kind of stasis where tough decisions remain in the too-hard basket and the prospects for the future grow dimmer by the day.
Much has been made in recent times of ‘polarisation’, where those with extreme views, whether on the right or on the left, exert undue influence not only in political spheres but in many aspects of daily life. Many countries are riven with divisive discourses. The loudest and most persuasive voices, buttressed by the eccentricities of social media, seduce otherwise sensible people. This problem has been well documented. Books have been written. Documentaries have been made. Commentators have analysed and pontificated. Yet nobody, at least to my knowledge, can envisage a time when there might be clean-air. A time when sense and sensibility gather sufficient momentum to dispel and disperse the hysteria, misinformation, and confusion engendered by powerful proponents of ‘my way or the highway’.
I tend to be what author and polymath Iain McGilchrist calls himself – ‘a hopeful pessimist’. Sometimes, the forces of oppression and zealotry seemed to be entrenched. After all, the world as we know it has fought war after war after war; nations and empires have risen and fallen; major religious figures have emerged and talked of love and beauty, only for their words to become embedded in doctrines and used as an excuse to inflict hardship on others.
Is humankind destined for what seems to be an unending spiral into a dark tunnel?
Well, that’s the pessimistic bit. But hope does spring eternal. And when I see people of all manner of cultural backgrounds getting together to promote a different way of living; getting together to support candidates for election who embody shared values and visions; and getting together in a spirit of passion and harmony – some of that inspiration rubs off.
Ignoring Emerson’s plea, to my mind, is a cop-out. We need to find ways, each of us, to toil and contribute. Otherwise, we will indeed reap what we tend to sow.
* Based in Fremantle, most of the time, Bruce Menzies is the author of three novels, a family history, and a recent memoir. Details at BruceJamesMenzies.com
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