Politicians spend a lot of their time listening to lobbyists with vested interests.
The general population also have some representatives who try valiantly to make their collective voice heard but they are being undermined, ignored, silenced, and attacked from every direction.
Legal aid centres, NGOs and NFPs have had their funding cut with threats of further cuts if they engage in advocacy. Charities face similar threats to funding (those that still get any) and to their charitable status.
Lawyers who work pro bono for refugees are labelled “unAustralian” by the man some suggest as a future leader for the Liberal Party, the man who wants sole power to determine people’s fate with no recourse to legal appeal. Human rights advocates like Gillian Triggs and Yassmin Abdel-Magied are personally attacked and mercilessly hounded.
Apparently, it’s very Australian to subject traumatised people to indefinite incarceration, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, medical neglect, and then pass the buck, abandoning them entirely and cutting off food, water, sanitation and security.
Environmentalists are accused of lawfare when they use the courts for legitimate challenge and accused of being ecoterrorists if they take peaceful direct action. People spit words like socialists and greenies to dismiss their concerns – for some reason those are bad words just like feminist.
Unions, the only group strong enough to organise workers and to negotiate on their behalf, have been undermined and demonised and under ferocious attack. Strikes have become basically illegal. Those who withhold their labour suffer severe financial penalty and possible criminal charges. Because of comparatively minor wrongdoing by a handful of people, unions find themselves the most highly regulated organisations in Australia.
Politicians and big business are, of course, another story.
Climate scientists are routinely accused of lying to gain government funding by people being funded by the fossil fuel industry.
Adani, on the other hand, will help save the world if we will just give them lots of money to dig up coal that belongs to us, and don’t you worry about royalties any time soon. And they promise not to use foreign workers for their driverless trucks and trains and port loading machinery – well not many anyway, unless they are Chinese? Don’t be concerned about emissions because the coal will be burnt elsewhere. Not that that will help with our power prices but oh well.
Teachers try to make their voices heard in curriculum development and education policy but their thousands of submissions and years of frontline experience are no match for some woman from a conservative think tank who just so happens to have a phonics program to sell. Or for old white bureaucrats who want to bring back corporal punishment, who think Australian history started in 1788, and who blame teachers for student disadvantage.
We can’t regulate the gambling industry despite what any coroner tells us about suicide statistics, what domestic violence support groups and victims tell us, what health professionals tell us about associated depression and anxiety, what we know about lost productivity, what intelligence agencies tell us about organised crime and money laundering.
Drug addicts are dealt with by the legal system rather than the health system – unless their addiction is to “legal” drugs that provide a lot of government revenue like tobacco and alcohol. And it doesn’t matter how many experts or how many statistics show that education, prevention, support and rehabilitation are far more cost effective, “cracking down on crime” sells better.
We proudly announce, every year, an increase in defence spending over and above the budgeted amount and, beyond that, can easily find an extra $20 billion a year for the next two decades to spend on weapons of war.
We can easily find hundreds of millions to try to stop or delay marriage equality.
But we can’t regulate staff to resident ratios in nursing homes. We can’t afford more rehabilitation beds. Or refuges and emergency housing. We can’t fund universities and TAFEs. We can’t pay early childhood teachers a liveable wage.
We pay lip service to Aboriginal recognition and spend lots of money on talkfests and advisory groups but have absolutely no intention of actually listening to what our Indigenous brothers and sisters want and need.
It seems an insurmountable task but there are very dedicated people who keep plugging away regardless. It is up to the rest of us to support the experts by informing ourselves, spreading the word, and applying pressure on our politicians to remember who they are supposed to be representing.