We witnessed a pretty significant moment in Australian democracy this month, when the country's Prime Minister announced his job to be partially redundant and that he'd be going part-time.
According to Scott Morrison: "[Australians] have had enough of governments telling them what to do. It's time for governments to step back and let Australians get on with their lives and get their freedoms back. That's how the federal government sees it."
It is an interesting worldview, given the bloke who holds it has a fair bit of power over all our lives - even if he only wants to wield it Wednesday to Friday.
Morrison's first underlying assumption seems to be that government equals interference. That was the line we were sold back in the '70s and '80s, when the market was being valourised and democracy put in its box.
Perhaps the PM missed it, but there's been a few developments since then that have showcased market failure and point strongly to the need for government intervention. Inequality has widened exponentially, for starters - the market didn't trickle down and look after everyone equally. The climate is also in crisis. As Nicholas Stern reminded us back in 2006: "Climate change is a result of the greatest market failure the world has seen". And remember the GFC, when the world's too-smart-by-half financial markets would have imploded except for the intervention of governments and state banks?
Morrison's next assumption about government's role is that it is all about telling people what to do. I prefer Saffron Zomer's take. Saffron heads up the Australian Democracy Network, and she describes democracy as an ongoing conversation about what people want and need.
A conversation. A novel take. It suggests respectful engagement, genuine listening, thoughtful consideration and transparent decision-making. Perhaps a bridge too far for a government not known for its attention to process or broad access.
It would be a significant rewriting of recent history if Australia's COVID response were to be characterised as the government telling and people obeying. This view fails to understand the critical role community decision-making played in our response - providing the permission to put health first, taking responsibility for each other and regulating our own behaviours to serve a higher good. Adam Tooze's latest book on the pandemic is instructive. Tooze calls the book Shutdown, rather than Lockdown, because he is able to show by tracking economic activity, cellular records and transport usage that global populations were responding to the pandemic well before government mandates were announced. Communities led, and governments followed.
And finally, there's Mr Morrison's assumption that the withdrawal of government equals freedom.
It's a loaded word, "freedom". But by whatever definition you use, it is hard to be free when you experience rental distress, when your job is insecure, when the NDIS isn't working for your family, when working from home is tough because the broadband isn't up to scratch, when your kid's school is struggling for the basics, or when you're on a very long waiting list for that knee replacement.
We spoke with Australians from many walks of life over the course of the past year. What we found is that governments matter. They matter because they have a role to play in shaping the response to all those issues and more. Not by telling people what to do - but certainly not by absenting themselves. We saw how Australians felt about the PM going missing in Hawaii.
So Mr Morrison, I'm sorry, but the job is too big for a part-time government. The community is much too savvy to simply be told what to do. And freedom is actually what active, well-functioning democracy is all about. Creating the infrastructure, the rules, the institutions, the services and the rights that enable people and the planet to flourish.
Rather than stepping back, Australians want and deserve governments that will step up.
- Louise Tarrant is chair of Australia reMADE.