The Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and in particular – the Treasurer – have a problem; Australians have stopped listening.
Politicians have always assumed that money can solve their political woes. Make a mistake with a social policy? No problem. Offer the bereaved a handout in the next Budget. It is the equivalent of Medieval Europe where a noble kills a peasant and hands the family a gold coin for their trouble.
The wooden corridors of Canberra are pockmarked from the stampede of stilettos. Its cafes are circled by children in makeup, lobbyists, and bored public servants – all of whom have their eyes glued to incoming text messages. Parliament’s prison-like white walls are distinguished only by the occasional tasteless work of art, while its halls are inhabited by trolleys pushing the paper heart of bureaucracy around. The bells ring but ‘the ants’ rarely bother to appear in the Chamber to vote, preferring to remain in their nests, burrowed deep under Canberra until a skirmish breaks out.
As departing MP George Christensen noted in his valedictory speech, Parliament is an empty theatre – stale and neutered. The players are dressed for the occasion, but have little to show at the end of sitting week except for a few outrageous media grabs made under parliamentary privilege. The process of politics has lost its nerve, personality, and purpose.
Parliament has become a protection racket, not a place of civil representation. When MPs stand up and deliver passionate speeches, calling out corruption, poor behaviour, and negligence – it is almost always after they have lost their position and future within the party. Honesty arrives only when MPs are unchained from personal gain and factional benefits. Too bad these political warriors wasted their years as mute bodies making up the numbers when they clearly have a voice.
Policies that concern mainstream Australians are too often dismissed within minutes by major political parties that share identical ideological agendas behind closed doors. They may as well set up a shredder on the floor so that those present can hear liberty meeting its demise.
Instead of the usual indifference to politicians, two years of Covid health orders have focused civil attention on Canberra. Parliament has been scrutinised, and the public have given the show a zero-star review. Annoyance at public waste has evolved into fury, as Australians watched politicians embrace their status as ‘Covid celebrities’ and vote repeatedly to give themselves more power.
When Australians found that they could not work, shop, travel, see family, or have people inside their own homes without Big Government oversight – they lost faith in politics. Even those who bought into the ‘security blanket’ view of health orders have started to wobble in their dedication to ‘safety over liberty’.
Where does this leave the Budget?
The previous Budget was delivered after politicians actively ruined millions of lives by financially destroying families and businesses. However, there was just enough confusion in the locked-up, isolated Australian bubble to allow the sound of money being printed to keep people calm. 2021 was a suspension of reality. A pocket universe funded by fear and governed by power.
2022 is a wake-up call.
Australians are back on the streets, mask-free, and talking-out their frustration. Millions of uncensored conversations are happening and their contents will re-shape the political slant of the electorate. Anecdotes about harm caused to friends and relatives, concerns about rights, and whispers of economic ruin are spreading without the duct-tape of Silicon Valley to shut them up. The pent-up demand for free speech is exacting its revenge in every cafe, shop, street corner, home, and office.
People are wondering why their friends and co-workers had their lives ruined by government mandate. Their absence is undeniable, while workplaces full of triple-jabbed employees off sick with Covid makes the continued exclusion of unvaccinated staff look – not just wrong – but cruel.
When the Prime Minister crows about ‘the lowest employment ever!’ people glare in response. They know the government has used a deceitful definition of ‘employment’, where a large number of Australians have seen their full-time, high-paying jobs replaced with a few hours of casual work. This looks the same on a spreadsheet put in front of the Prime Minister, but it feels very different to a family trying to pay their mortgage. A similar sentiment surrounds the praise given by the Prime Minister about job re-shuffling during the pandemic. Yes, many moved jobs because they were fired over vaccine mandates or ruined by lockdown orders. It is not something the public generally feel ‘happy’ about.
Frydenberg has been forced to present his Budget as ‘Covid reality’ sets in and Australians assess the damage caused by the political class – of which he must shoulder part of the blame for rewarding state premiers with silver.
Had the Government listened to the protest assembled outside Parliament House a few months ago, they would know that at the top of the list for ordinary Australians is a return of their cherished rights and liberties. Overwhelmingly, they want the government to leave them alone. To bugger off. To extract themselves from fame and power. Forget the ‘New Normal’, the public are nostalgic for the old Australia.
Instead of rights, Frydenberg has offered coin. Instead of freedom, there are more grants for renewables. Instead of charisma and vigour, the government has presented itself as a safe bore.
The public know that both Labor and Liberal will offer cash in return for power, the problem facing the future of Australian politics is how to restore honour, dignity, and value to the institution of politics.
Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at donor-box.
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