An esteemed panel of media personalities gave their thoughts on Australia’s growing disenchantment with the Federal government, and the country’s political system as a whole, at an event in central Melbourne this week.
Speaking on Monday at ‘Living in Australia Now, writer and comedian Sami Shah gave a stark assessment of Australia’s current leadership, arguing the nation’s politicians were letting the country down.
“The Australian public are being underserved by our politicians. They are mediocre people with mediocre ideas,” Shah told the audience.
The panel also included the Age news director Michelle Griffin, former Young Queensland Australian of the Year Yassmin Abdel-Magied, documentary maker John Safran, and Institute of Public Affairs senior fellow Chris Berg.
Berg praised Shah’s tough comments, and added that Australia’s electoral system was producing politicians who fail to fully represent the electorate.
“We don’t feel like our political system is responding to us. We don’t feel like our representatives are responding to us,” he said.
“The representative is almost ‘contracted in’ to look after our interests, but we don’t feel like they are doing that. We think that they’ve got other loyalties. We think they’ve got strong loyalties to a parliament or to an ideology that we may or may not share.”
Earlier this year, the public relations giant Edelman published its 2017 ‘Trust Barometer’ survey, which measures public trust in government, media, business and NGOs in 30 countries. In Australia, the survey found public trust in Australia’s government and in its current political system suffered one of the biggest recorded drop-offs.
Addressing the issue of trust, Berg argued that cultural changes in Australia are among the drivers of disenchantment with our political system.
“We demand more from the things we buy,” Berg told the audience.
“When we go to a shop, we are looking for something that is very specific to our preferences – but when we go to the ballot box it’s just like ‘Oh yeah, Labor or Liberal mate.’ That’s it. We don’t get much choice. We don’t feel we’re being satisfied by the political choices we are given.
“We know that [Australians] are voting more for minor parties. At the last two Federal elections, nearly 25% of people in their Senate have voted against every major party and I’m even including the Greens there as a major party.”
Berg said it was unfair to blame individual politicians, and that what is at issue is the system that produces them.
“We need to figure out a way that we can make the system make them more representable. I don’t blame leadership for that,” he said.
Key issues for Australia
The panel also explored issues facing Australia that need to be talked about more in public forums, such as racism and extremism.
Abdel-Magied opened up about her experiences with racism, saying that the way the world saw her, a Muslim and Sudanese-Australian, has changed.
“I didn’t change the way I viewed the world, the world changed how they saw me,” Abdel-Magied said.
“Living in Australia now I can’t honestly say that we aren’t racist. Individually maybe not, but structurally yes.”
When asked if Australia is more racist than the United States, Abdel-Magied said the US had an advantage in having a public dialogue about the issue.
“The US has the language to talk about race and its effects. In Australia people don’t like to talk about race at all,” she said.
Shah added that more needs to be done for Aboriginal Australians.
“Aboriginal Australians haven’t been just left behind, they’ve been pushed behind, shoved behind,” he said.
Berg also voiced his concerns over citizens remaining in their own political and ideological bubbles, saying that it may lead to cases of extremism.
“I’m concerned about the segment of the population that is embracing and seeking the bubble,” Berg said.
“I’ve seen some data on this, that people who are using the technological capacity they have now to grow into a narrower ideological frame. They identify a smaller community on the internet, and they choose to exclude information that violates the beliefs of that community”
Story and photo by Kyle Standfield.