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Remember the Art of Compromise?

By Warwick O’Neill

Unlike a lot of people who follow the political and media ramblings of this country I like to ensure that I’m informed about issues from as many perspectives as possible. I don’t just stick to the tried and trusted papers and sites which comfortingly reaffirm my point of view and lead me to believe that the rest of the known world shares those views. I read and listen to various outlets, even though the opinion expressed may run counter to my own. Why?

It’s quite simple really, how can you form a valid and intelligent opinion if you haven’t bothered to hear all the arguments? How can you have an open and robust debate on vital issues if your only tactic is to shout down and silence dissenting opinion, simply because you don’t know enough about that opinion to debate it fully?

So what’s my point here? Well through looking at all these various sources and opinions, particularly the comments section of many on line media sites, I’ve come to realise that both sides of some of our most pressing issues have some very good points, some very ill-informed points and some wildly and incredibly dangerous attempts to take things to the extreme. But the one thread that runs through all these debates is this – no one acknowledges the good points in the other side’s opinion, they only attack the bad and attempt to crush the entire proposal because a percentage of it is no good.

Remember that old saying, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”?

And so what is the end result of all this? We keep devoting hours and hours of time and possibly millions of wasted dollars (remember that we’re paying politicians to resolve many of these issues – which remain unresolved), for years and years and go nowhere. One side has a win and the other side then goes about dismantling that progress while Australia floats around neither moving forward nor moving back.

The most obvious example of this is/was the ‘carbon tax’. Whether you agree with it or not, you can’t deny the fact that millions of tax payer dollars were thrown into its implementation, infrastructure was being installed and things seemed to be running OK. This was back in 2012. The debate was had, Labor/Greens won and that should’ve been that. But nay. Along came Tony and in 2014 the whole thing was scrapped, and here we are in 2017 still arguing about carbon emissions etc.

This is indicative of the state of public debate in Australia these days. The art of compromise has been annihilated, not just in politics but also in the court of public opinion. It has become a story of ‘if you’re not with me 100%, you’re against me’, ‘if I can’t have everything the way I want, then you can’t have anything’. We have developed tunnel vision where the only valid point of view is apparently the one to which you subscribe.

Let’s take this whole climate change, renewables versus coal thing as an example.

In the Green corner we have the great unwashed, three hugging, social justice warrior lefties. In the Brown corner we’ve got the greedy, power hungry capitalist environmental vandals. The lefties want all coal fired power stations switched off ASAP and mining and exportation of coal to be ceased yesterday, if not sooner. The vandals on the other hand want an indefinite future for coal, no need to invest in renewables and only coal can lift those poor third world peasants out of poverty.

Each side of the debate will tear out the throats of the other if they dare to imply there is a different way of viewing things. There is only one way and that’s either renewable now and to hell with the jobs of miners and power station workers (Green corner), or coal all the way and to hell with creating a cleaner world (Brown corner).

But what if, shock horror, both sides admitted that the other had some valid points? Jobs are important, particularly to the economy of rural and remote communities. Renewables, at this point cannot carry the full load. Climate change is real. Coal is not the way of the future. What if they managed to agree on all these basic points?

Well they’d compromise, wouldn’t they? They would say let’s invest as much as possible in renewals, while maintaining the current coal fired power and as more and more renewable projects come on-line, gradually reduce the reliance on coal. Natural attrition as coal workers retire will ensure a gradual reduction in numbers to coincide with the reduction in operations without causing too much misery to people whose jobs are on the way out.

On the other side, employing and training fewer people to work in coal will keep the numbers down, and those who would otherwise enter the coal industry can instead enter into and be trained in the renewable industries in which they can look forward to life-long careers.

And imagine if this approach had commenced twenty years ago. We’d be close to completing the transition by now, instead of still arguing about it. As it is, if everyone put their own bullshit aside and decided to act like intelligent human beings, we’re still looking at twenty to thirty years to end up where we should be now. All because of everyone’s ‘no compromise’ attitude.

But this isn’t the only area where real results and being delayed due to an inability to compromise. Immigration is either a ‘keep them all out’ or ‘let them all in’ approach, each of which is just as ludicrous, but each side will scream at the other in an attempt to stifle debate. Same sex marriage is suffering the same thing when an obvious solution is staring people in the face – ie most of the objections are based on religious grounds. So, the simple solution is one side allows that same sex marriage be legalised while the other side allows that the various churches can decide whether or not they’ll allow a religions service. If they won’t, then so be it, do what the rest of us do – have a non-religious marriage.

The inability to acknowledge other people’s point of view as being valid, and working with them to reach real solutions, in my opinion has reached crisis point in Australia. We have radio personalities having pies shoved in their faces while launching books, or CEOs having pies shoved in their face for supporting gay marriage (what’s with all the pies?). Apparently, daring to have an opinion in Australia means you can be assaulted by the self-righteous. What a sorry state of affairs.

Recently a movie producer attempted to bring a film to Australia which dared to suggest that men don’t necessarily have it all their own way. Did the SJWs take time to actually view the movie, or did they just simply decide it was an anti-feminist/pro domestic violence construct of the mythical Patriarchy and pressure theatres to cancel screenings and have the sweet and beautiful faces of a militant left wing media (The Project, Sunrise) lambast the whole thing and viciously attack the young LADY who made the film? Yup option two was the preferred option. Don’t even debate it, just attack it and tear it down so that the least number of people as possible get to see it. The funny thing is, due to the righteous indignation of all the bleeding hearts, more people found out that it was actually in Australia than otherwise would have. Something of a Pyrrhic victory I’d suggest.

Now I don’t think for a moment that people on either side of any number of divisive debates in this country are intrinsically nasty horrible people. I’d even go as far to say they actually believe they’re interested in what is in the best interest of the majority. I’ll admit myself to automatically adopting a stance in relation to various issues without necessarily considering the full story, but hopefully more often than not, before I start jumping on people I take the time to fully consider their position and I try my utmost not to look upon them disparagingly for having a differing point of view. Unfortunately I think I’m in the minority.

Until we all hold our own egos in check, until we all start encouraging open debate, until we start to accept that our point of view may not be the only correct one, then Australia will end up going round and round and round and going nowhere. I’m reminded of the old joke, ‘my dog just spent ten minutes chasing its own tail and I thought to myself how easily amused dogs are. Then I realised I just watched a dog chase its own tail for ten minutes’. So before you attempt to force your opinions on others to shut down debate, ask yourself is that really going to be productive, or do you just enjoy watching the dog chase its tail?

Warwick O’Neill’s passion lies in exploring the nooks and crannies of Australia, both physically and historically and combing it all into writing historical fiction novels which showcase the colourful history of this country. His first novel; “Flames of Rebellion” is a fictional tale set amongst a real life backdrop of the Victorian Goldfields and the Eureka Stockade.

His blog site contains a collection of tales relating to his experiences over the last twenty years of parenting, off-roading/camping and occasionally managing to avoid incarceration by the skin of his teeth. He also hosts the YouTube video blog “On This Day In Australia” showcasing the lessor known events and people in Australian history.


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  1. Hettie Lynch

    The aspiration to compromise an conflict resolution is admirable, but it is not likely to be achieved when the startinv position is based on lies and misrepresentations of party positions!
    For example, the Greens are the only party with a program to assist displaced workers from coal mines and coal fired power stations to retrain and transition to other work within their communities. Hardly a “bugger the workers” attitude.

  2. Terry2


    Just a point on marriage equality, there is no suggestion that churches or religions will be required to consummate or solemnise a same sex marriage. The whole issue is about changing the Marriage Act so that the offending sections, introduced in 2004 are removed viz :

    *1 Subsection 5(1)


    marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

    88EA Certain unions are not marriages.

    A union solemnised in a foreign country between:

    (a) a man and another man; or

    (b) a woman and another woman;

    must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.*

    This is a civil act of the parliament and in no way impacts on religious organisations, this is why a simple act amendment in our parliament is all that is required and a plebiscite was over the top.

    I agree with you on the matter of compromise overall but on this subject it is more about getting the relgious Right to understand that they will not be impacted by the change as proposed.

  3. Alan Luchetti

    The earth isn’t flat but it isn’t round either. It’s sort of like a jellybean.

  4. totaram

    ” The lefties want all coal fired power stations switched off ASAP and mining and exportation of coal to be ceased yesterday, if not sooner.”

    I agree with Hettie. This is not the position of any party, so a straw man.

    Alan Luchetti has put the matter in a nutshell.

  5. Warwick O'Neill

    Totaram – I exaggerate for effect to illustrate the views of the extreme right. I do find it interesting that you don’t highlight “The vandals on the other hand want an indefinite future for coal, no need to invest in renewables and only coal can lift those poor third world peasants out of poverty” which again was an exaggeration for effect to illustrate the views of the extreme left. Could it be that you agree with that view?

    Hettie – much the same as my response to Totaram. I’ve not actually expressed my personal opinion on any of the issues in the article. I accept the fact that my opinion doesn’t amount to a fart in a cyclone, so I don’t impress it on anyone. I’ve taken the general view of both the extreme left and the extreme right, exaggerated a little to show just how reluctant both sides are to try and find a middle ground. And that is what the article is all about. However your last comment “More suited to a Murdoch rag……” has eloquently proved the point I was making – a reluctance to listen to anything which may run counter to your opinion followed by an attempt to invalidate that concept as being only worthy of “a Murdoch rag.” I thank you for proving my point.

  6. Johno

    Warwick…. thanks for a thoughtful piece.

  7. wam

    Great read, Warwick, but surely this government is adept at the artifice of compromise?
    Gonski two: What, in addition to my TV exposure, will you give me to vote with you?
    Elections: Trust me, I will not change the reformations in health, education and welfare?
    Promises: the wall will have solar panels oops sorry that slipped in, Medicare will not be sold in its present form.
    Reviews are quicker and more controllable than evaluating a project before, during or after any action.
    Twiggy can donate some of the cash, his cashless card schemes will squeeze into his ample untaxed pockets.
    Perhaps the real keys to compromise are:
    knowing what you are doing in the first place. (Do the names, the rabbott, Pauline, Senator Malcolm and the melbourne menace instil confidence?)
    Declaring any vested interests, history of reliability, examples of trustworthiness, or previous successes. How about the slimey X, billy and the diludbransimics. (could make a good band? Wagon?)

    The world is flat from where you are. So to see it is not flat you need to observe, inquire and think? There are heaps of people who score none out of three.

  8. Warwick O'neill

    wam – I totally agree that this government is guilty of all those things and in no way, shape or form should it be imagined that I have one iota of support for them. But nor should it be imagined that this government is in any way unique in this area, although it has to be said they are probably the most blatant example of it. Labor has also told some pre-election whoppers in their time – ‘there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead’ for example, or for those of us in Queensland Anna Bligh claimed a few elections ago that ‘the fuel subsidy in QLD is safe’ and then three months after the election the fuel subsidy was gone. My point is, all sides of government and all sides of media play the same game regardless of their leanings. What is needed, and is the point of the article, is for us, the voters, to make sure we take the blinkers off, view all sides of the argument and debate the issues rationally and with a view towards resolution, not just with a view to suppressing opposing opinions.

    Your ps is spot on, all I would add is that you need to ‘observe, inquire and think’ from ALL angles before entering the debate. And you’re right, there are heaps of people on all sides who fail. Thank you for your comment.

  9. Kyran

    What a great piece. It seems our current ‘leaders’ see it as an imperative that they must establish what makes them different, rather than what makes them the same.
    In a previous life, I was mentored by a fellow who was actively involved in an industry group. Through a quirk of the Victorian parliament, there was an act from 1958, the Private Agents Act, that combined regulation of four separate activities; debt collectors, crowd controllers, private investigators and process servers. From the late 80’s to the early 2000’s, there was a myriad of ‘new’ legislation that required negotiation on behalf of the ‘licensee’s’ with the legislators, community groups, rights activists, those affected by our activities.
    His approach was rational and realistic. Look at the proposed change and the intent of the change. Identify what your ‘members’ interests and concerns were. Identify the interests and concerns of the other groups involved in the negotiation.
    For the sake of example, take debt collection. You have consumer rights groups, finance providers, police, civil rights groups, the politicians and various representatives of other interests, all of whom are equally entitled to representation. Brian’s approach was to identify, in the first instance, the areas of agreement. It never ceased to amaze me how often a group of people with wildly different interests could agree on so much so quickly by starting with the similarities. It invariably made the discussion of difficult aspects, requiring respectful negotiation, far easier. You wouldn’t be assured that your point would be the prevailing point. You would, however, have a clear and rational reason to go back to your members with to explain why any given concession was made.
    This approach has been equally applicable (in my experience) with sporting groups, school groups, community groups. As an observation, I always found that when there was a good female representation the approach was far more collegiate than when the groups were primarily male, which tended to be more adversarial.
    As you say, the art of compromise (and you can add negotiation) seems to be lost. These days it seems to start with an ultimatum and finish with a series of ‘horse trades’. How I wish we could go back to the future.
    Thank you Mr O’Neill and commenters. Take care

  10. diannaart

    Thank you for an interesting topic, Warwick.

    Unfortunately the adversarial system upon which our legal and economic systems are based clash with the very idea of compromise.

    Given that our political system is fragmenting into diverse, smaller and often extremist groups, the art of compromise is worth learning and being taught (Brexit, Trump, One Nation,

    I agree with Kyran, with his observation that starting off with similarities before any negotiation can start, is an excellent approach.

    I guess this is why those who like the power pyramid just as it is as so much in favour of segregation. The old adage of :divide and conquer” remains all too true.

    A sad example is Pauline Hanson who would divide everyone into little boxes and maintaining such order.

  11. Warwick O'Neill

    Thanks Kyran. I think you’ve put it much more eloquently than I ever could. We seem to have replaced negotiation with argument. Without negotiation you can’t get compromise.
    Divide and conquer indeed diannaart. The key is to not allow ourselves to be divided, and that goes for both left and right. Essentially most of us are decent human beings who want the best outcomes for everyone. It will never happen while we try to tear each other apart over our differences, like Kyran pointed out.

  12. Kyran

    LOL. Me? Eloquent? I have siblings with decades of experience to the contrary. For many of my early years I honestly thought my name was ‘Shutup’.
    “We seem to have replaced negotiation with argument.”
    That’s the part I can’t work out. In my experience, the ‘bully’ tactics seem to have become more prevalent since the early 2000’s and they have only ramped up since. If I were to guess at a cause, I’d go with 9/11. That was when dissent was reclassified as ‘unpatriotic’, when reason and thinking were thrown out the window and replaced with mantras. It permeated every level of society. The loudest voice became the leader. I can only guess, but it seemed to be a global transition in thinking and that is the only event of such a magnitude that could have caused it, IMO.
    There was an article written by Ingrid Matthews that contained a paragraph;
    “A classic example is the god debate. If I say that god exists, the onus is on me to show, using logic and evidence, that god exists. The onus is not on others to disprove a claim that I made without any evidence.”
    To me, that concept is from the last century. Things were accepted as irrefutable fact, eg climate change, and it was incumbent on anyone wanting to dispute it to bring logic and evidence in support of their disputation. Sooo last century.
    The current clime is such that we have no end of complete and utter fools who make outlandish and ridiculous claims, citing their right to ‘free speech’. Somehow, it has become incumbent on anyone wishing to dispute their absurd claims to at least acknowledge that their absurdity is worthy of consideration. As you point out, how much time has been wasted in the discussion of absurdities suggested by morons?
    In the modern context, the god debate has a reverse onus of proof. The burden of proof is not on those claiming to have a god to prove their god exists. It is incumbent on the non-believers to prove that god doesn’t exist. And as long as it can’t be proven that god doesn’t exist, those claiming to have a god will use their belief to justify their outlandish claims. Gender and marriage equality are both stuck in that mud trap, with the wheels well and truly spinning.
    There was a comedian, Flip Wilson, who created an alter ego, Geraldine. ‘Her’ explanation for all of ‘her’ misdemeanours was “The Devil made me do it.” We tried using that one as kids. It was funny in the sense that, in a catholic primary school, if you did well, it was because of god’s gift to you. It was, however, unacceptable to invoke the devil as an equally likely justification for behaviour.
    Thanks again Mr O’Neill (and diannart). Take care

  13. Phil

    There is a formula for solving this problem – for all information/offerings/statements/advertising/claims – 1. suspend judgement – 2. think critically – 3. do your own research – 4. repeat, starting from 1.

    True, only a minority will ever use the formula and even then, some will succumb to stupidity only to prove the infallible accuracy of Professor of Economics, UC Berkley, Carlo M Cipolla’s ‘The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity’ – check it out on Google – brilliant and hilarious observations on us all.

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