Forget recession. This country is suffering from depression, and I don’t mean the economic definition as much as the psychological one. There is a malaise afflicting the nation.
We keep hearing that the economy has had 25 uninterrupted years of growth but then we are told we have a debt and deficit disaster and a budget emergency. Are we supposed to be confident or alarmed? Shouldn’t that debt be looked on as an investment that facilitated the growth? Why is our standard of living going backwards?
We are told that climate change is real and that we must take action at the same time as being told we must open new coal mines and resist a price on carbon for the sake of the economy.
We have an aim to plant 20 million trees at the same time as we petition to have old growth forests deregistered from World Heritage protection so we can log them. We loosen regulations on land clearing and then pay people not to take advantage of them and then claim that as emissions reduction?
We spend millions entertaining delegates and producing glossy pamphlets to convince the world we are looking after the Reef whilst fast tracking the dredging and expansion of ports to ship more fossil fuels around the world. They mightn’t count towards our emissions but they sure as hell count in the ocean warming and acidification that is destroying one of nature’s great wonders and putting in jeopardy the reef tourism industry that employs tens of thousands of people and makes the country billions in revenue.
We despair about youth unemployment whilst increasing the pension age to 70. Young people can’t get work whilst older people cannot retire.
We worry about technological change reducing the number of jobs whilst sending so many jobs offshore. Government departments have been told, if someone says they can do it cheaper, then use them – unless we are talking vote-winning submarines.
We sack thousands of public servants and then pay consultants for the advice that government departments used to give. Nowadays, doing anything other than rubber stamping government policy is basically a career ender. Political appointments are gifted to those whose opinion is in line with ideology and consultants and reviewers are constrained by terms of reference designed to gain an outcome rather than an independent investigation or fearless advice.
We are to be the smart, innovative nation as we slash funding from early childhood education, schools, vocational and tertiary education, and research bodies.
We pretend concern about closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage as we terminate many successful programs, slash over half a billion in funding and remove any input on self-determination. Our idea of helping is to confiscate their money and employ more truancy officers.
Domestic violence is given lip service by advertising campaigns on how we should speak to our sons as we close refuges, reduce welfare payments, strip funding from community intervention programs and from legal aid.
The proceeds of crime used to go towards funding crime prevention programs like those carried out by PCYC. Now they go towards budget repair and the ubiquitous campaign announcements of more CCTV cameras.
As people outdo themselves to claim convict heritage to prove their “Australianness”, Pauline Hanson calls for the families of dual nationals who have infringed on new anti-terror laws (that have been condemned by human rights watch and the legal fraternity and will likely face high court challenge) to be deported, regardless of their citizenship and having committed no crime.
We are told we must all help to repair the budget, that “the age of entitlement is over”, as we hear case after case of politicians claiming to go to weddings, cultural and sporting events, family holidays – you name it – all “within entitlements”. Sometimes they meet with an unknown someone, sometimes the event itself is considered “networking”, sometimes they are just asking a third party to foot their bills. The irony of Julie Bishop spending over $30,000 of our money to charter a private jet to attend a charity dinner, or Tony Abbott’s really expensive volunteering, or chartering helicopters to attend fundraisers, seems to escape them.
Depression can be caused by many things. One is the confusion caused by lies from those you should be able to trust. Being made to feel unworthy, a leaner, is a common ploy. Another is a feeling of hopelessness to change the situation you are in. Many people are feeling that disengagement from the political process, feeling themselves unrepresented by parties whose main aim seems their own survival rather than the nation’s.
People are also focused on survival. They don’t direct their attention towards the real causes of their depression, or the solutions we could employ. They do not, or cannot, question the powerful. They believe what those with power, be it political or media reach, tell them. That is why people like Peter Dutton employ hundreds of media advisers and marketing gurus whilst his department is lambasted for its lack of expertise, experience, and achievement in actually doing their job.
We need a makeover.
We could start with symbolic changes like beating New Zealand to a flag that is truly ours. We could move Australia Day to February and make it a day of celebrating diversity and the contribution that all people who call Australia home make to this country, regardless of their heritage or length of stay. We could legislate a Bill of Rights that recognises the traditional owners of the land and all who have since come to share in making this country a free, safe, tolerant nation where all can live in peace and dignity.
Whilst nostalgia for the Queen is something many people feel, her death, though sadly felt, will be an opportunity for us to change the way this country is governed. The Westminster system has had its day. We must change our parliament into a governing system that can protect us and invest in our current and future best interests.
We do not have to follow any other model but can take the best from others and make our own. Churches should be protected to be able to practice their beliefs within the law rather than making the law. A few fear Sharia while many more suffer from Christianity enforcing their rules on all of us. Business should be told what the rules are, rather than being asked. Minority rights should be protected by law, not majority opinion. We should reward ethical businesses with tax concessions, not those who make a certain turnover.
Whatever shape it takes, this country needs change and our politicians had better catch up with the times. Accountability and productivity apply to all of us.
The people are the abused who need to sever the current relationship. They need to recognise their own worth and the value of their effort. They need to challenge those who hold the purse strings of the wealth we have created and demand a say on determining societal priorities and how our money will be invested. They need to regain their independence to demand better.
Stop the lies. Stop the spin. Stop the fear. Use your best resource – the people who live here. They are smart. Listen to them, learn from them, help them, and nurture them – stop fighting, blaming, and dividing them.