We could, and should, do better.
It might be said that our national leader could sell you the harbour bridge but couldn't run a tuckshop. Think aged care, vaccination, quarantine, defence procurement, and a foreign policy which looks backward, neglects and irritates the region and fumbles the relationship with our major trading partner.
On integrity, other national leaders feel our leader plays fast and loose with the truth, and the government itself seems to have little or no desire to ensure the basic decencies of public life with the formation of a suitable anticorruption body.
On top of these issues, the government struggles with the place of women in our society and, on the key issue of climate change, its policy seems to be largely based on the vague hope that something will turn up. And why? Well, it's simple - the government does politics but not policy.
And where is the opposition? The image they conjure up is of a "wood-be" alternative government dominated by fear - fear that the government might run a scare campaign if they outline publicly what they really believe. They seem to be running on a platform that they are not quite as bad as the government.
The towering figures of the past, that led the nation in peace and war, are a distant memory. The present leaders no longer seem capable of mounting a public case and persuading the public on the great issues of the day - being largely content with nibbling away on the side with bitty policies and carefully constructed sound bites when an opportunity presents itself.
Small target, small party, but alternative government?
And of course, on other key issues - such as how Australia is to reform its economic, industry and tax policies to meet the shifts in overseas markets, the impacts of climate change and demographic transitions in order to be able to fund the programs the public needs and wants - you won't hear a peep from either party. But why would you, if your blinkered gaze was fixed firmly on the marginals and social media?
My thumb is showing signs of overuse from pushing the mute button to avoid the formula-speak of our leaders. The repetitive, carefully crafted, robotic focus group utterances of our leaders throw little or no light on the issues of the day. Meaningful comment seems to be the province of former leaders and, above all, the independents. They actually speak like human beings, and seem to mean what they say. And what they say makes sense. Think Helen Haines, Zali Steggall, Andrew Wilkie, Jacqui Lambie. Think John Hewson and Kevin Rudd.
In this national vacuum, the states have had to step up, and they have. The jurisdictions have to deal with the day-to-day realities of service delivery. They have largely kept Australia safe through the COVID pandemic and filled the void left by the Commonwealth. Sadly, however, NSW - having led the way nationally and internationally in the earlier waves - messed things up with a change of premier at a critical stage of the pandemic. But there have been bright spots. Matt Kean has shown us how it is possible to craft sensible environmental and energy policies, and build the political and public support for the changes that have to be made. Industry also can't allow itself the luxury of spin when confronting looming realities, and has increasingly moved to fill the void left by national leaders.
But our political problems need to be viewed in perspective. Australia overall has still managed the COVID pandemic better than most other countries, and has cushioned most, but not all, sections of the public from the worst of its social and economic impacts. Our leaders may be mediocre, but who would rather live elsewhere? Who would choose the United Kingdom or the United States, whose faded and fading empires our government seems to have shackled us with into the future, as places to live? Or Europe, or any of the other major regimes? But these are challenging times for Australia and the planet, and our current trajectory will not suffice on multiple fronts.
Perhaps Australia's best chance of lifting itself from mediocrity and facing up to the tremendous challenges of the future may lie in electing sufficient independents to hold the balance of power, forcing the major parties to lift their game. A number of able candidates - interestingly enough, mainly female - seem to be willing to offer themselves as candidates for the arduous responsibilities of public life. At this stage, Australia's future may rest in no small part with them.
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