Everything has changed in Australian politics
2 June 2022 at 8:56 am
It is up to us to build on that change through our own organisations, writes David Crosbie, who says charities can learn a lot from the approach taken by climate activists in this election.
There has been a major shift in Australian politics and the implications for charities are enormous.
We haven’t just seen a change of government, but a change in what it means to campaign, to win voter support, to represent a community. And yet, few commentators seem to be exploring what this may mean.
Most of the post-election analysis seems focused through the narrow lens of a two-party preferred world view in which we are all partisan. Politics is described like a football match, two competing teams, barrackers and supporters making lots of noise on the sidelines, the teams scoring points from the commentariat and attracting supporters with hyper-partisan barbs and slick marketing messages – victory and power being all that matters.
The reality has proved to be far removed from the shallow and lazy Tweedledum Tweedledee version of politics.
The election results have clearly highlighted the previously untapped power of women, the impotence of mainstream media, and the fundamental importance of community and connectedness.
When it comes to actual policy, one of the strongest messages from the election is that climate matters to people. Despite both the major parties officially embracing a net zero climate target by 2050, disillusioned climate science deniers, freedom crusaders and Sky overnight fans did not swell the votes of One Nation or the United Australia Party. The absurdist right of politics spent close to $100 million to be outpolled by the informal vote in most electorates.
The outcome of the election suggests that the campaigning insights from our environmentally-focused colleagues deserve much more attention than they are receiving.
Unlike previous election campaigns, there were less direct protests by climate activists during the election campaign. There was no Adani Convoy, no Extinction Rebellion blockade, the coal trains moved freely, and the fossil fuel ships came and went. This was no accident. As Dave Copeman from the Queensland Conservation Council told Annabel Crabb, “The climate movement learned the lessons of 2019 and realised we had to avoid whipping up people’s fear or allowing climate to become something that regional Queensland feared.”
In the same Crabb article, Nic Seton of Parents for Climate Action described how they took a less confrontational approach, opting not to hand out a scorecard for major parties on climate, but holding many community events like climate walks and climate picnics. “We’re into building bridges, not walls,” he said.
Seeing how well this approach worked should change the way many charities campaign for their issues. There are two fundamental points of importance here.
The first is that climate campaigners were very successful, and this was no accident. In the vast majority of the seats where they invested most of their door-knocking and community engagement time, they won. While we cannot and should not attribute their success in so many electorates solely to their efforts alone, there can be no doubt that what they set out to achieve, they achieved.
A second important learning emerged in the electorates where sitting members of parliament lost their seats in this election. This key lesson was also reflected in the major themes that, along with concern about our climate, drove so many people to change how they voted in this election; political integrity, representation, and offering a voice for women. The new central principle in Australian elections is that good politics is about our communities, not just in the cynical short-term local council level pork barrelling that was so central in the Morrison miracle victory of 2019, but in the active engagement of communities in choosing and supporting their representative.
Thousands of volunteers supported local candidates, mostly women. In polling booths across Australia, when people turned up to vote they saw their neighbours, friends or friends of friends, often standing with a local candidate whose representative had already knocked on their door. There was an army mobilised to not only support the environment, but to support candidates who were not playing the combative games of political spin and confected fear.
At the heart of these successful campaigns was listening to people, bridge building, acknowledging the experiences and perspectives of others. Central to this process there is the most important aspect of community building that charities know is essential to most of their work, connection and belonging.
Time and again the pollsters’ surveys highlighted that Australians recognised the need to do a lot more to protect our environment, that people wanted integrity in politics, and that we were prepared to accept some personal cost to improve our collective wellbeing.
This election was about us, not just as individual economic units, but as communities connected to each other. This election was about trying to make our country better, not for short-term self-interest, but for our collective future.
Community engagement is not all we need to do. Recent success in taking on big polluters through shareholder activity has again shown that there are different ways to campaign and be successful. But community engagement is something we can all be part of either directly or indirectly. It can be about on-line communities, or activity based, it doesn’t have to be about knocking on doors. It is something we can and should build into the way we govern and operate our charities.
As the post-election dust settles, and some seek a return to narratives they understand and feel comfortable with, we need to acknowledge that politics in Australia has changed. Now it is up to us to build on that change through our own organisations.
There is so much we can all achieve if we choose to reach out beyond our insular approaches and practice the kind of engagement that has rewritten the rules of politics in Australia.