Winter blues

I think I may be suffering the early onset of SAD (seasonally adjusted disorder). Even though the Australian winter only started at the beginning of June, I am already feeling the cold and the despondency. My condition is not helped by the knowledge we don’t have another public holiday until early November. Or maybe it’s a symptom of the current national mood, which suggests that although we are highly likely to vote for a change of government in the forthcoming federal election, we don’t exactly relish the prospect.

According to the latest opinion poll, most of us would actually prefer to see a former leader of both the two main political parties lead their respective sides into the election, rather than the present incumbents. Given our compulsory voting law, the preferential voting methodology, and the parliamentary system for choosing party leaders, the electorate is basically denied the opportunity to vote for its preferred Prime Ministerial candidate.

The general election campaign is taking place against the backdrop of an extraordinary period of critical self-analysis about the type of society we live in. For various reasons, our politicians, the media and the chattering classes have been debating the notion of whether or not Australia is a classless society, a racist society, or a sexist society. (To which questions the answer would probably be: “Possibly, but not all the time, and not everywhere.”)

Much of the surface debate has been prompted by behaviour and language generally deemed offensive, and by arguments about whether people actually meant (or understood) what they said or did, whether they appreciated the impact of their deeds, or whether they simply didn’t know any better. While everyone should be held accountable for their individual behaviour, this is not just about semantics, or different moral standards or conflicting social attitudes; after all, Australia is ostensibly an egalitarian, pluralistic and secular country, founded on the notion of “a fair go for all”.

I think this national malaise stems from a collective failure of leadership, which in turn leads to disrespect for our leaders and disregard for the institutions they represent. This failure of leadership is especially acute among institutions that were primarily designed to promote, serve, protect and cater to the interests of the working population. Too often in recent years have leaders, office holders and key figures within political parties, trade unions, religious orders, the armed forces, the media and even major sporting codes been found wanting in upholding a culture of robust ethical behaviour and acceptable moral standards. Quite rightly, people feel angry, demoralised and almost disenfranchised because they have been let down by the very establishments they believe were designed to be there to support and represent them.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that much of the population is tuning out of the election debate (such as it is) because they have little faith in our political leaders in particular, and in public institutions as a whole. Cynicism, even despair, prevails. Hence the mid-winter chill….

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