Our country’s politics have taken us to the brink of an interesting shift over the weekend. The tactics of the extreme conservative wing driven by the ideals of dry economic rationalism appear to have awakened the sleeping giant. The dramatic results of Queensland’s state election may well prove to be the hinge on which Australia’s current political history swings. Science, education, health, welfare, immigration have all taken a big hit over the last 15 months. The implications are coming home to a large slice of our mainstream population. The remaining problem is that the other party in our predominantly two party preferred system does not offer significant hope for social improvement. Their policies will be less draconian and more socially oriented, but still under the so-called guiding light of economic rationalism. Contrary to a lot of current opinion, I think it is the minor parties and independents that can make the difference given the right circumstances. They played a significant role in the previous hung parliament which saw a large number of good policy legislation passed. Parliament did what it was supposed to do – parly and hammer out agreements. Compromise was not a dirty word, but ensured considerations were accommodated rather than summarily dismissed. I think we got a taste of win/win during that brief period, before predators from both sides evoked and enforced the law of the jungle. Queensland on the weekend has brought some relief with its promise of change – like that light wind that blows in from the ocean after a particularly long heat wave. We shall see how the week unfolds.
The wedge has been used to good effect in Australian public life over the last decade. Politically, the strategy has effectively divided the community on such issues as immigration, Aborigine & Torres Strait Islanders affairs, the environment, sexual equality and, yes, public funding of school chaplaincy. The strategy is effective. Divide and conquer keeps the dominant party in the driver’s seat. Neither side of politics is coy about using it.
The best weapon against the wedge is awareness. A basic quest in the process of logic is the search for synthesis – the middle ground. This can be tenuous, tentative and temporary, because the synthesis itself then becomes a proposition that invites a new antithesis and synthesis, and so the cycle continues. Rather than frustrate the possibility of holding a position on anything, it simply debunks the integrity of wedge strategies to be other than they are – a means of demagogic control.
Neither does attending to the business of synthesis in public affairs necessarily trap one in an endless cycle of vacillation and fence sitting. Attention and awareness leads to greater clarity and precision in opinion forming, decision making, implementation and tweaking as the cycle progresses.
This is heavy going in public affairs where a focus on the 6pm news cycle and the opportunity to offer a doorstop “sound byte” is factored into political processes. It also appeals to a public angst that seeks immediate and simple solutions to complex problems.
Where am I heading with this? Nowhere in particular – just thinking out loud in an attempt to identify what seems to to be a growing preoccupation in many of my conversations. Naming the dragon weakens its power!
There will be considerable angst in Australia’s Federal Parliament today as a minority government seeks the support of the cross-benches to pass a flood tax levy. The Opposition prefers that post-flood reconstruction be funded by budget cuts, targeting a range of so-called “soft” options such as our commitment to overseas aid. Our friends across the Pacific and a little to the north are also debating budget cuts, hence the Sojourners project “What Would Jesus Cut?” Not a simple question to answer, as Jesus was never in governance, but many in government claim to to be inspired by his wisdom and guided by his principles. So “what would Jesus cut?”