Have you ever seen small children with an array of paints? In separate little containers they may have many colours, Tony-Abbott-tie blue, Eddie-Obeid-face red, verdant-conservationist green and a myriad of smaller containers of various bright colours.
Leave the children for a few minutes to complete a painting of their choosing and, when you return, each of the paint containers will hold nothing but visceral brown paint.
So it has been for me with my journey through Australian politics.
It was not always thus. I began as an excited, political “infant”, enthusiastic about these political colours. I asked for and was given a book on the history, ideals and manifesto of The Australian Labor Party when I was just into my teens. I found it fascinating and extremely idealistic. At thirteen I was taken to a political rally to hear the then “Bob” Menzies. I was awe struck by his speechifying abilities, his delight at dealing with his hecklers and his overall statesmanship.
I admired “Doc” Evatt and his statesmanship too, and was very sad to see him later on the bench of the NSW Supreme Court when I was a young articled clerk and he, such a great man, no longer coping.
Thrilled I was to cast my first vote after I was 21 and again at the time when I actually cast a vote that I could count as a win. That was in the referendum which gave our indigenous population the vote. Australian politics was still, to all of us, in bright colours back then. I never queried the fact we have compulsory voting here, unlike most parts of the world. Who would not want a chance to make a difference?
Then came some decades of the Don’s Party era, and did we have some good ones. Liberal or Labor, Australia Party or Democrats we could all combine and celebrate triumphs and disasters. We voted Labor, we voted Liberal and we even “kept the bastards honest” . We saw in the 1972 election when “it was time”, and Gough Whitlam only lost me when he said after 1975, “No one would vote Labor in the House of Representatives and Liberal in the Senate”. I had and it still appears to me that it was sensible at the time.
We even had one Prime Minister elect who whose image in a wax candle was burnt at many an election party leaving behind two very large ears. And, of course, the major politicians of the time were all men.
Even in the good old days of bright political colours there were the back stabbings, coups and disputes. But in these, each épée appeared to be skillfully wielded. There were few of the bludgeonings we have today.
We saw in and out and sometime helped, the Australia Party, various democrats and independents, such as Edward St John. Those with a cause.
And that is the operative difference today, the lack of identified causes.
It was a cause when we needed to get out of wars in places where we should probably not have interfered in the first place. It was a cause if there was injustice. There were causes if it was felt there was a cover up or the government had lied to the people. These things we almost all agreed, needed political action.
I lived in the UK for some time in the 90s and there was still passion there. The man in the street was interested in what went on. And as there is no compulsory voting over there (as in most democracies), there had to be issues raised to rouse people to leave their homes to vote. And it is not as though there are not problems, difficulties and sadnesses all around Australia here now that we will have to deal with some day. But we have too much apathy to do it now.
In Australia we have been playing with our colours too long. There is a disinterest in our paintings for the future. We do not think about a bright slash that a cause would make on the political landscape. Perhaps it is because we have been too comfortable for so long? Perhaps we have been too separate from the outside world? Perhaps voting, because it is compulsory, has become a chore rather than an exciting opportunity and that attitude is now reflected in our choice of politicians?
When I look around the only thing that a great majority of people appear to be interested in is money, economics, our standard of living. Who is going to bring in more taxes or who will give us the best fringe benefits? Logic tells us all that what the government buys for us we have to pay for. Therefore we have to go back to what sort of country to we want to have for us all, before we look at the money issues that will then follow.
We have vigorously stirred money in with our paint. And as long as we get our share of money out of the bowl for ourselves we do not care from what visceral source it comes. That most of our politicians today have almost identical neutral brownish policies, manners and dress is our fault. It is very boring so we just get more bored. Even feminism has been able to make little headway into the system yet. But whilst so ever we continue to stir our brown paint and slap it onto our political landscape after we have taken out all the money swimming in it, we will have the apathetic, self absorbed society we deserve.