There is nothing like an election to galvanise voters into a choice: “A vote for a minority party is a wasted vote.” The belief that one of two parties represents the only real choice is the greatest impediment to reform of our political system, as it guarantees the perpetuation of the existing power structures which have largely been set – through evolution – by and for them. Because independents and minority parties do not form governments in their own right, we are steered away from them.
This systemic problem is perpetuated by a media which concentrates on the major parties at the expense of other candidates, and whose coffers are substantially fed as a result of their advertising campaigns. Little debate of substance takes place – as evidenced by Friday night’s ‘debate’. Are we simply left without a real choice, or is there an alternative?
A regularly-rehearsed argument against turning to alternatives is an inherent instability generated by minority governments. But we do well to ask whether we are being well-served by the stability of the current system, which has tended to ossify and degenerate into a self-perpetuating and largely unresponsive elite establishment. The commitment of successive governments to a just and equitable society has diminished as the prestige and perks of office have increased.
The pathway to justice is never a smooth and easy one – it involves leaving unjust paths in order to walk an unfamiliar pathway. The ways forward are not clear-cut or well-defined, nor resolved through reference or access to well-defined formulae. Each step requires fresh consideration, rather than ritually placing our feet where others have gone before. The pathway of justice is made with each new step, requiring fresh thinking about every step of the journey, as opposed to following well-established rules and customs. It is an uncertain path, yet one marked by an unusual freshness and vitality.
The installation of a courageous and creative government requires a courageous and creative electorate – one willing to leave behind established patterns and launch into new areas of initiative. Herein lies the nub: true justice requires a letting go, a dissatisfaction with the status quo serious enough to search for an alternative.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Kennett years, it is that cultural shifts do not come without bold and creative thinking. Kennett created significant cultural shifts in Victoria, while entrenching the sense of a ruling elite within the parliament. In the absence of a leader with an innovate and fresh approach to justice – electoral, social and economic justice – this thinking must emerge from the electorate in the form of bold action.
It requires an act of faith. Bold faith. The call of justice asks us to consider an alternative to the present system. Are we dissatisfied enough to experiment in search of it?
November 10, 2002