An apathetic and uninformed citizenry, electing clueless
second-rate politicians to govern us, is sending Australia to the dogs,
writes uni student John Ray, who says we must reform our faux democracy.
Ignorance is slowly killing our country. Ignorance has landed us with
the government and prime minister dubbed ‘Australia’s George Bush’.
I’m a 24 year old university student, and most people my age in my life have no idea about politics. They find it boring. They find it petty and dull.
They’d rather discuss sport, or Facebook – stuff more pertinent to their own lives. I don’t really blame them, this farce of a democracy we have at the moment is enough to deter even the most seasoned political reporter.
This is nothing new. But something my friend said really set alarm
bells ringing. He remarked that we should go to Antarctica, because
there’s "mad swell there, bro".
I mentioned that it was probably due to melting ice caps, rising sea
levels and its associated impacts, and he looked at me as if I were an
alien. He had never heard of climate change.
Whether you agree with it or not – but seriously, come on, the evidence is overwhelming – man-made climate change has been in the public forum for decades now.
I never blame someone for not knowing something — I mean, if you don’t know something, you don’t know. There’s no shame in that.
But how did an Australian human live 22 years in this country without
taking the slightest notice of the news? To me, the fault lies not with
the individual, but with the culture in which that individual was
He seemed concerned as I told him about melting ice caps, the soon to be open water at the North Pole and rising sea levels likely to wipe out many coastal cities. He relaxed when I told him it probably wouldn’t happen in our lifetime.
"Ah well, too late to do anything about it now I guess," he said.
There it was. It doesn’t affect me, so why should I care? Such an attitude pervades many levels of Australian society.
As long as we’ve got shelter, access to internet, food and whatever
else essential services / creature comforts – and beer – it's no worries, mate.
But what sort of attitude is that? It’s one steeped in ignorance. It’s lazy. It speaks to our isolated little continent, the Lucky Country.
Lucky in the sense we feel it’s okay to wash our hands of the world’s problems.
Asylum seekers are a prime example. Another friend of mine, a little more politically attuned, commented that we need "strong border protection" so that we don’t end up "like England". But he has never been to England — nor anywhere else, for that matter.
Speaking about asylum seekers, he said:
"I feel sorry for them, I really do, but we can’t afford to have
them here. I don’t like how they come here and try to enforce their
culture onto us. We should just stay out of it."
Young Australians seem to have developed historic amnesia – or,
perhaps more accurately, went through school around the centenary of
Federation, where patriotism was mandatory and the ills of our past were
glossed over (but that’s another issue) – about our past, where we came
from, and the circumstances under which we came.
On Indigenous Australians:
"The Government keeps throwing money at the problem, but they just waste it. We tried."
These facile, reductive arguments, which paint white Australians as innocent and blameless, are commonplace here in Queensland.
So too are emotional appeals to justify horrendous breaches of human
rights. I’m of course referring to the state where people can be
arrested for grabbing a beer, or getting an ice-cream together on their
holiday. Where else but Queensland?
"But I’m glad they’re doing something about the bikies," they say. "They’re out of control."
Campbell Newman has painted bikies as a scourge,
a threat to everyday people. But I know for a fact that most people in
Queensland will never have any sort of meaningful contact with anyone
from a motorcycle gang. In fact, most ‘bikies’ are not even part of such
Yet there the law stands. Much and more has been written
about this incredible breach of justice, but most people reading the
Murdoch press stand by their heroic premier in his steadfast
resoluteness against the bikie menace.
"I’m not a bikie, I don’t have anything to worry about."
The downed flight MH17
is another example of what we’re fed. Tragic as it is – and I don’t
wish to downplay the loss and grief that families of victims must be
going through – did you know that 108 of the world’s leading AIDS
researchers died on that flight?
You wouldn’t have known from looking at Australian newspapers and
televisions. All I’ve seen and read about is the shocked, grieving
families. And good on the media for seeking out the families and shoving
microphones and notepads in their faces. I’m sure they really
The deaths of those scientists marks a tremendous loss to not just
the scientific community, but the world. But we’re in Australia, so who
would really want to read about that anyway?
We’re an ignorant bunch, aside from a minority (and it is a minority)
of politically active, interested people. You know, the type who see
voting as a privilege, not a draining chore which takes them away from
the beach or beer.
When a 22 year-old Australian has never heard of climate change, it’s
worrying. It affects my generation — and future generations most of
all. It’s not good enough. It’s especially concerning given this
individual graduated from a private school.
There’s no easy solution, but here are some suggestions.
Firstly, we must introduce direct democracy.
Representative democracy made sense in 1901. Australia is massive,
there was no other way for people in Perth to have their voices heard in
the Federal parliament. But it’s ridiculous now in 2014.
We get to choose a mob once every three years that, as my political science lecturer put it, is "the least hated’.
That mob then dances a fine line between doing things, saying they’re
going to do things and then doing something else entirely.
Short-sighted policies designed to win the next election are generally the order of the day. And we have no say about what our government does during their time in office. None.
Sure, we can vote them out at the next election if we don’t like them
— but what if we don’t like the next lot? There’s very little
accountability. Tony Abbott now has free reign to do as he pleases with
I wasn’t especially happy to read that we’re buying a bunch of fighter jets – because we can afford it – but we’re scrapping essential Gonski education reforms because ... we suddenly can’t?
In Switzerland, their government faced the same situation — but they have direct democracy.
The Swiss public were sent out a brochure outlining the pros and cons
of buying the jets, why they were deemed necessary and what various
interest groups were saying about it.
There it was, a little bit of information about what decisions the
nation faced, all in one easily readable document. With some quick
Googling, more information could easily be found.
Then they put it to a vote — which vetoed the plan.
What a novel idea, that taxpayers get to actually decide what happens with taxpayer money. Not some corporate puppet residing in Canberra thanks to mining dollars, bound to party lines and the polls.
It makes our system seem like such a joke. It’s just so obviously
broken now that it demands attention. We make everyone vote once every
three years, in a system best described as ‘set and forget government’.
The majority of politically apathetic Australians enjoy such a
system, because they don’t have to worry about keeping themselves
informed. They might glance at the front page of the local News Corp rag
in the weeks leading up to the election, but apart from that, nothing.
We must abolish compulsory voting — you should be allowed to not care, if that’s your wish.
We should give those who do care a greater say in where we
head as a nation. At the moment, our voices simply aren’t being heard.
How many Australians can put their hand on their heart and say they
really want the Great Barrier Reef dredged? Or that our government continues to do absolutely nothing to address climate change?
So please, can we as a nation have a serious conversation about democratic reform? Let’s end the ignorance.
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