The Real Electoral Crisis

Posted on: June 6, 2019, by :

The outcome of the recent Federal election surprised most people: the return of the Scott Morrison-led Liberal/National Coalition was not anticipated by the polls or by the political commentators. But more surprising and disappointing to me was the shift in campaign focus away from social issues like climate change, treatment of refugees & asylum-seekers, health care and overseas aid towards matters of personal interest such as taxation, employment and superannuation. Ultimately, both major parties chose to fight the election not on a platform of progressive social policy, but on the basis of personal interest or individual benefit. Rather than focus on what might help to create a safer, more just society, or on how we as a nation might contribute to the wellbeing of others in the world, we were transfixed by issues of personal wealth and security, by ‘what’s in it for me?’

This is a deeply concerning trend in global politics. The Brexit dilemma in (once-)Great Britain, the election result in the European Parliament, the ongoing Trumpism in US politics, and so much of the tension in the Middle East are instances of societies appearing to opt for a ‘me first’ approach in local politics. It wasn’t long ago we were talking of the ‘global village’ and developing policies for the betterment of the world as a whole: the Millennial Development Goals that were adopted by the bulk of the world’s ‘developed’ economies, and the more-recent Paris Agreement that was hailed as a pathway to arresting climate change, are good examples of this. Now, the MDGs are forgotten and the Paris Agreement is being steadily abandoned.

Before being too quick to blame the politicians for this shift in sensibilities, it must be acknowledged that politicians are pragmatists and tend to develop policies that resonate with, or respond to trends that arise out of, the general public. The fact that Australian parties tend to campaign on matters of individual gain rather than community benefit is a reflection not so much on politicians as on the people they are appealing to. That’s how democracy works – we get the policies and the government that the majority seeks. So, if we want to change the focus of electioneering, and change the tenor of self-interest that determines policy outcomes, we will need to change the values base of the electorate.

Ideally, this is one of the roles that faith communities play in society: modelling and articulating values that eschew self-interest and facilitate justice, wellbeing and harmony. In Christian faith communities this ‘mission’ is predicated on the story of Jesus, who lived the way of humility and self-sacrifice for the sake of others, who taught that love and compassion are the way to a better community/world. But all faith traditions have these same values at the core of their teaching and this same goal at their heart. Perhaps this is a challenge to mobilise people of all faiths (and of no faith) who share the yearning for social policies that seek the best for all people, locally, nationally and globally, to make electoral choices according to the values of their faith. Who knows, together, people of faith might just change the world!

In the words of Aldous Huxley, Every moment of our human life is a moment of crisis; for at every moment we are called upon to make an all-important decision – to choose between the way that leads to death and spiritual darkness, and the way that leads towards light and life; between interests exclusively temporal, and the eternal order; between our personal will, and the will of God.  [Aldous Huxley: A Quest for Values]

David

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