“What do rowers and politicians have in common?” asked Dr Simon Longstaff AO, Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre. “They both look one way and go another.”
This resonated with the 265 attendees at the “Indi talks Democracy” event who came to listen to Simon Longstaff and, “the warhorse from the inside”, former Federal Independent Member for New England Tony Windsor, discuss the ethics of politics. As the two men delivered their words, listened and answered questions, it was clear that it wasn’t so much what they said as the conversations that were being had that were paramount. The attendees were reminded of what they already knew but had, perhaps, put aside in their frustration and disappointment at the way politics is being played out today. Democracy is government by the people, for the people.
No politician or political party owns the parliament. The parliament is a public institution and it is ours. A political party is simply a private organisation. The persons of the government are the ultimate authority and they are there, by consent of the people, to exercise that authority not to wield power. Power resides with the people.
“The only authority I have, is to go to Canberra and vote. The power is ours to make the community the one we want it to be.”
Cathy McGowan, Federal Independent Member for Indi
When we cast our vote for our preferred candidate we are giving our consent to be represented by them. The making and keeping of promises by the candidates is paramount in the process of informing us, the voting public. If election promises are not kept the process is a sham. We have not been properly informed; in fact we have been misinformed. That is not democracy.
We need to rethink what our democratic system is doing. The party machine does not champion the constituents. Career rewards are given to politicians because they are good party members not because they are good parliamentarians.
“Major parties have vacated the position with respect to ethical commitments and honoring commitments.”
The attendees at the Inditalks event were asked what was their motivation for coming. Overwhelmingly the message was that they were disillusioned, disappointed and disenchanted with the current political system and political media coverage. They were disgusted at the culture of mud slinging, the lack of respect and the spin. Former publisher of the Mansfield Observer, Joan Tehan, commented that she worked in media at a time when it published people’s opinions but now “media had turned into a superpower”.
Competition is the major driver of the political process today and the prime objective is to obtain power. Marginal seats, which Indi has now become, are the focus of the party machines because they can make or break a party’s power. Safe seats are invisible. You just need to look at what is being offered up by both Labor and the LNP to the marginal Victorian seats of Geelong, Cranbourne and Prahran in the run up to the state election and compare that to safe seats whose names don’t rate a mention in the media.
“The major political players have lost their philosophical drive. What we have now are management teams vying to control the country…some people would prefer to see an electorate go backwards for political advantage.”
Social, health, education and environmental issues are constantly described in economic terms, a practice that has crowded out our language and infected political debate. Prosperity is framed by materialism and security is framed by fear. Ethics is not valued in the decision-making process.
“The world is run by those that turn up. If you don’t bother to turn up you will end up with a world run by others.”
People need to begin to be proactive and move from wanting something done to doing something in a way that works for them. Participation is an antidote to cynicism.
“We can be the change we want to see in our world.”
Jenny Podesta, Labor candidate for Benambra
To effect change, enough people have to want change and to find agreement on a set of shared interests. Simon Longstaff tells us that:
“Ethics is not about mindlessly conforming to a set of rules…it is about thinking about what you are doing.”
On finding common ground, Tony Windsor asks us to challenge ourselves:
“Do I really disagree, or do I traditionally disagree”
When people have a voice, are listened to and really listen to others they feel they have some form of ownership in the outcomes. It is a conversation they are a part of. Disparate groups can find points in common and can coalesce to have a strong voice.
Voice for Indi’s genesis came from the same sense of disillusion and disenchantment with the electoral process described by the people who attended IndiTalks. Voice for Indi was not a collective of people who magically agreed on all points. They were members of a community who came together and defined an ethical framework by which they wished to operate and by which they wished to connect with the wider community and their elected representative. They were proactive, worked by consensus and invited community conversations. They operated on values of respect, equality and accord. The electorate of Indi’s voice was heard in the 2013 election. It was not always listened to respectfully, but it was heard.
True to the Voice for Indi model, IndiTalks promoted discussion through participatory conversation, respectful listening and finding common ground as a way forward. The Voice for Indi model has evolved. In line with the value that every voice is important, it is now Voices for Indi and this event heralds the transition from facilitating community conversation to encouraging community activity, IndiTalks to IndiActs.
Community engagement is not only necessary but it is also our responsibility. The ways in which we engage with our political representatives are important. We have to insist on conversations that go beyond the economic imperative. The parties will have to do the listening and be attentive otherwise an independent will step in.
Jenny O’Connor, The Greens candidate for Northern Victoria, attended and later tweeted:
Great to see engaged people from across the political spectrum put difference aside and find common ground – our communities #inditalks
— Jenny O’Connor (@JennyJenocon) October 19, 2014
Bill Sykes, the National Party member for Benalla was there as was Jenny Podesta, the Labor candidate for Benambra and Cathy McGowan, the Independent member for Indi. Simon Longstaff later tweeted:
However, for some members of the political spectrum it seems that the common good is not something they would bridge the political divide for and they were noticeable by their absence.
The message to be taken from those that attended IndiTalks was “lets do politics differently”.
In Tony Windsor’s words, “it is not rocket science”. Listen to your electorate and represent their interests in parliament.
Speeches delivered by Dr Simon Longstaff and Tony Windsor.