I’m rather fond of sport. I love the thrill of my team winning, the suspense in the minutes before the siren sounds in a close game. I love watching a horse I’ve backed thunder down the track and love screaming as it makes its way to the front. I love seeing a player come back from two sets down and a couple of match points against them in the third to win it in five. There is nothing like the feeling of watching your team’s captain lift the premiership cup above their heads, a once-in-several-generations experience.
So I have a suggestion for a significant number of Australian political folk: you need to watch more sport. Because I guarantee you, it can be as thrilling as any electoral victory. And unlike politics, it actually is a game.
Politics, on the other hand, is not. Governing is certainly not. It is grave and serious and important. Unfortunately, our Australian political landscape is dominated on all fronts by political actors who love the thrill of winning, but whose interest wanes when it comes to actually governing.
By emphasizing the game of elections, rather than the challenge of governing effectively, our current party system rewards those who gain power rather than wisdom, insight or understanding. It has led to our current crop of largely uninspiring political leaders. These childish, playground games turn off sensible, smart people and encourage the small-minded and manipulative. We are undoubtedly ensuring that the best potential political leaders look elsewhere for rewarding work, and leave us with the game-players. Instead of competent leaders, we are electing self-interested, power-hungry cowards.
It’s not the fault of the soundbite world. Too often, politicians blame the media for flaws that are far more fundamental and systemic. Away from the glare of the cameras, the scheming and machinations are more concerned with who is aligned with whom than what allegiances are based on. Politicians accuse the media of treating elections like a horserace at the same time they are putting on colours and saddling up, while the party machines place their bets.
Several months ago, on Q&A, Penny Wong, speaking about why there aren’t more conscience votes in the Labor party, said “ I have a view that you join a team, you’re part of the team and that’s the way, you know, we operate.” This is the party system in Australia. And so our politics is a realm dominated by people who pick a side and stick to it, choosing to spend more time concerned with machinations than with ideology. Where political positions are determined not be what they think is best, but by what will gain them the most power. It is politics at its worst- a hollow shell of power games in which a few win, but everyone loses.
We deserve better, and we can certainly do better.
There absolutely should be battles in Australian politics, both within and between parties. But these battles should be based on the most important questions regarding what will make our cities, our states, our country better. They should be based on substance, not style.
The only way I can see to break the cynical cycle is for more people to join Political parties. Parties need more people who are less interested in winning, and more interested in governing. People who have a vision for what they think the Government can do, a case for why it’s right, and the courage to stand up for that conviction. Disagreement is fine. Sides are fine. But opposition should stem from genuine differences regarding what the country should look like.
I recently joined a party. I can promise you, though, I didn’t check my capacity to question at the door, and I most certainly did not join a team. I will not sit on the sidelines and cheer. I’ll save that for the weekend, when I watch the footy.