We certainly live in a period where politics as usual has been turned on its head. Time and again we have seen orthodoxy abandoned in favour of candidates and platforms of the right, left and centre.
But what these movements have in common is they have tapped into an increasing dissatisfaction with the outcomes of economic globalisation.
This is despite the substantial benefits we’ve seen accrue from globalisation, which has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. But the simple fact is that some have benefited from globalisation more than others. Unpredictable election outcomes and expressions of dissatisfaction with the prevailing order exemplified by Brexit have been described as politics in the age of disruption. This has led many active participants and commentators to be negative about the future. I think this assessment is wrong and self-defeating. In our pursuit of change it can feel like every time we take one step forward, it’s followed by two steps back. In Australia, it is fair to say that recent years have seen an increase in negative politics on a superficial level.
We’ve had changes of prime minister, with two replaced in the first term after their election. The question is: will this instability become a permanent feature of the political landscape?
There is no doubt that the pace of the media is having an impact.
Complex issues cannot be addressed in 140 characters.
The immediacy of online news websites means that no one wants to miss a big event so detailed discussion of ideas is reduced to political power plays. It makes a mature discussion of challenges more difficult.
This can advantage the Opposition, but a plan to get into government does not equate to a plan to govern, as we saw with Tony Abbott.
The Australian people are desperate for an end to disruption. Both major parties clearly have a vested interest in renewing faith in mainstream politics. We need to ensure that as our nation’s wealth grows, the benefits are shared more equally. Those of us who are concerned that the age of disruption could lead to a downward spiral of respect for our institutions and capacity to deliver real solutions to challenges have a responsibility to engage positively to avert such a scenario. We must secure outcomes in the national interest. That includes real needs-based funding for education, investment in infrastructure and the digital economy, regional economic development and strong and decisive action on climate change.
We must continue to be the land of opportunity. If we deal with these challenges we can create a more positive political culture and indeed give people “reasons to be cheerful”.
This is an excerpt from the Earle Page Political Lecture delivered by Hon. Anthony Albanese MP at the University of New England this week.
This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph on Thursday, 20 July, 2017: http://bit.ly/2u9phN0
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.