By Robert Wood
No one living on this continent we call Australia, knows what it is like to have freedom here. Some might have tasted sweet moments of it elsewhere, but the nation-state does not present us with a sense of true liberation. It is not that it cannot in and of itself, but that it has failed to do so as of yet. It is always a work in progress, and, no matter what happens with the results of this election there will be more work to do. That will long continue. There have been recent victories for some, not least of all marriage equality, but the question is how to make that enter the public consciousness on a daily basis. I will ask that question as long as I am here to do so. I am asking it right now, with you, as the ballots are about to be counted on the East Coast.
I myself am on my way to vote. I will cast my ballot at my primary school, Wembley, which is up the street from where my parents still live and where I was raised until I left home at the age of 17. It is in the seat of Curtin. This is a blue ribbon Liberal stronghold occupied by Julie Bishop for many years, and, in an inner suburban neighbourhood of Perth. I grew up in an ALP and Greens household, and, when people ask me now about my politics, I describe myself as a ‘splitting voter’. I split my vote between those parties, but always have an ideological compass that sets me straight. You might call this progressive or leftist, but it is its own type of understanding. I do not swing. I know what I believe in.
And yet, there are possibilities in the national landscape that are not being seized upon. In particular, this is about the seats that the National party controls. Country Australia is calling out for political representation, which is something that the presence of Independents like Cathy McGowan, Rob Oakeshott, and Tony Windsor all represent. Call this the single-minded determination of community representation. We saw this with the ‘Lock the Gate’ movement and the ongoing disaster that is the Murray Darling Basin. I lived in the country for some time, and, contributed to the Witchcliffe Progress Association. I learnt my politics there as much as anywhere else. The people in that group, and what I took from them, was that no party is able to look after their interests. The Greens have gone after the inner city, and, the ALP is a suburbanist machine. What about the country?
I have not given up hope that one day there will be an Independent Alliance that can wrest control of the National’s stranglehold. This need be in seats like Nicholls, Mallee and Gippsland in Victoria, and Page, Cowper, Lyne, New England, Parkes, Calare, and Riverina in New South Wales. This is where the power lies in Australian politics – halve the number of seats the Nationals have, and, the Coalition cannot govern. It is not only farmers that are getting a raw deal, and the special interests that hold us captive. Monopolies of power do not help at all.
That might be one way through the morass of conservatism that creates a false sense of the nation here in Australia. Once that is faced, then we might know what liberation looks like. This is a liberation that looks like treaty and land rights, water rights and food security, caring for farmer suicides in India or wherever we turn our gaze as world leaders, being a good neighbour and a citizen for every sovereign subject.
I am fortunate that in my life, my family has been there for independence movements. My grandparents were there for the liberation of India, my mother and aunts for the liberation of Singapore, both from the British Crown that had taken these lands in the name of a Queen who did not belong there. On the other side of my family, my grandfather came to country Western Australia and was a worker in the Wheatbelt, aware of class-consciousness and his place in the world, and, my father was an economics speechwriter for Bob Hawke. This week has been poignant for me and I recall the times I was taken as a child to Parliament House. More than a few tears have been shed as I look back on what is a fortunate existence.
Taken together, I see in my family, an idea of how this nation might come to experience peace on this continent, how it can achieve political enlightenment through truly listening to country and custodians. Liberation here will look a little different than India and Singapore, and we will have to do it without Bob Hawke, but I hope a vision as big and generous as this is on the agenda when we wake up to a new government this week.
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