By Candy Lawrence
Australian Progressives is a political party which achieved registration in February 2015. The party was originally conceived in late 2013 by a group of young progressive thinkers. The most influential was Vinay Orekondy, then a law student, who would become the most persistent driving force behind the party’s direction and the inaugural President upon registration.
Disillusionment with the two-party system and with the behaviour of politicians was pervasive in society, and the original think tank had observed that disengagement from politics was growing amongst the very people whom politics was meant to serve. The growth of protest movements such as March in March suggested that the time was fast approaching for a major change in Australian politics. The notion of seeking happiness and fulfilment for the Australian people, as a political rather than a personal goal, was derided by those in power as soft thinking; profit and economic growth had become a Holy Grail. The attitude of the major parties to the most disadvantaged in society and to the health of the planet were no more diverse than Coke and Pepsi, while the Greens had polarised rather than united the community. Meanwhile, our representatives continued to behave like disruptive schoolboys on the floor of the Houses of Parliament, with cheap point-scoring and abusive language having long been the norm.
In response to this, over time a radical set of six guiding principles was established for the party: ethics, empathy, equality, evidence, engagement, and empowerment. The party would not seek to align itself with a left, right, or centrist position; rather, it would take a logical position and seek well-referenced information and the best, most ethical solutions to Australia’s problems.
‘Ethics’ was the crucial principle which would differentiate this party from all others. Ethical behaviour in politics seemed on the verge of extinction; were these people, abusing each other, backstabbing within their own ranks, lying, breaking their own rules – were they really worthy of the people’s respect? They most certainly were not getting it. Public cynicism about politics was rife. Before anything else could be achieved, the issues around member conduct needed to be addressed. To this end, the Progressives created a Code of Ethics which enshrined respectful, ethical behaviour at every level, from online in-house interactions to engagement with members of other parties. The Code is taken seriously and members who breach it, regardless of their position, are subject to a formal disciplinary process which has on a number of occasions ended in expulsion of senior members. The process is time consuming and has held the party back from quick progression into the public eye, but this is deemed the necessary cost of creating a completely new standard of conduct for politicians.
‘Empathy’ was also a new concept in political circles. The treatment of asylum seekers in particular had made many people ashamed to be Australian, with the treatment of our own Indigenous peoples not far behind. Neither major party had had the gumption to admit that there, but for a sheer accident of birth, go all of us. Again, compassion for others was looked on by those in power as ‘soft’ rather than humane thinking. The Progressives take a strong stand against treating human beings as political pawns.
‘Equality’, again, was a sore point in the community. The middle class was in danger of disappearing entirely as the ‘haves’ increased their wealth and advantage, while the ‘have nots’ were portrayed as morally bankrupt and unworthy of assistance to justify reducing their access to financial security and medical support. Divide and conquer was the new order. The Progressives are working towards uniting the community and ensuring that all people are treated equitably and respectfully, regardless of ability, sexuality/gender, race or financial demographic.
‘Evidence’ referenced the growing anti-science movement spawned by the internet and the tendency to justify policy based on, or playing on, personal biases in order to seek re-election above all things. The policies of the Progressives are groundbreaking, in that they are fully academically referenced; the policies, with references, are freely available for public perusal.
‘Engagement’ expressed the need to give politics back to the people, who have often felt that they are suffering under edicts imposed without reference to those they affect. This, again, is an ambitious goal amongst people who are time-poor and financially pressured. Breaking into this hamster-wheel mentality and drawing Australians back into the political process as active members of the party is a slow but vital process.
‘Empowerment’ of communities to take control of their own future is another time consuming and challenging process. The dismantling of a system where elected local representatives are pressured to vote with the party rather than in the interests of their own constituents is an ambitious goal, but one the Progressives believe is the only way forward. Creating a belief that the average Australian can pick up their own power and have a say that matters, beyond casting their vote, will take time and effort.
Australian Progressives is a growing party with ambitious but worthy goals which aim to redefine politics for the good of all Australians. Currently the party is working to achieve state registration in the ACT, NSW, Victoria and Queensland in the near future.
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