Recently we have seen another Federal Budget come and go. The pork barreling has happened again, and of course no one is surprised, especially in an election year. This is what we expect months out from an election. According to the media, this was a good budget in that it gave something for everyone and no one missed out.
In the budget we were also introduced to the Government’s own version of Kevin Rudd’s ‘education revolution’. In addition to what we saw in the budget, we have seen the Government soften its stance on its contentious industrial relations laws by introducing a fairness test. In the process they clearly outsmarted the Opposition.
Australians have become used to such budgets and such promises by our leaders, and we have also been numbed to the media response. We are not surprised at the media’s reporting that these government initiatives are very strategically thought out to put the Government in the best position to outsmart the Opposition and prepare itself for the upcoming election.
We are told that the Government has been very clever in outsmarting Labor by giving something for everyone (although, as it turns out, there are some losers again, notably the poor who don’t earn enough money to pay tax and who will miss out on the tax cuts that many of us will enjoy). We have even been told, probably correctly, that the Government held back on some spending in the Budget, particularly on climate change initiatives, to be able to roll out more spending closer to the election in an attempt to try to convince the electorate that it is the party to trust when it comes to combating climate change. It is well thought out indeed, timed to gain maximum votes from a closely watching Australian public.
The game of politics is alive and well in 21st century Australia. And the thing that disturbs me is that so many people seem to swallow it. The underlying message in all these political games is that this is all about winning an election, and not what is best for Australians. I have yet to read an article decrying the hypocrisy and blatant dishonesty of our leaders rolling out massive spending and other initiatives like this in an election year and then having the hide to say, as Mr Howard did recently, that this proves that he is a Prime Minister who listens to the Australian people. Does he really expect us to believe that he would not have softened his stance on IR laws if this was not an election year? And do we really believe that Labor would not have done exactly the same thing if it was currently in Government?
The media has only touched the edges, at best, of the immorality, let alone the short-sightedness, of these attitudes. We have seen opinion pieces by none other than Laurie Oakes in The Bulletin talking about Howard’s tactics as being of ‘gold-medal quality’ and stating that, regarding the IR changes, the government “now has something saleable”. Paul Daley, also in The Bulletin, stated that Howard’s tactics “demonstrate the…benefits of election-year incumbency”. This is the closest that I have seen to anything like decrying the tactics of our nation’s leaders. Australia’s leading journalists are reporting on the politics, and not the morality, of the way our leaders do their job. And the public, by being offered no other options, inevitably fall for it.
To echo the famous slogan of Gough Whitlams’ Labor party in the early 1970s, it’s time that this country had some moral politics – God’s politics, as Jim Wallis from Sojourners has so eloquently written about. This is too serious for petty games, for playing the Australian public for fools. It is too serious for us as a society to be asleep at the wheel when we need to be wide awake to the gravity of these issues. When are we going to see spending that is genuinely aimed to bring relief for the most disadvantaged in our society, not timed to gain the maximum votes to keep the incumbent party in power? And when are we going to see the media speak out about this blatant hypocrisy and short-sightedness from our nation’s leaders?
The United States is also gearing up for an important election in 2008, and they seem to be a little more aware of the need for old-fashioned virtues like integrity and courage in their leaders. Newsweek recently ran an article about the fact that America is crying out for a ‘new Truman’. Harry Truman, who was president in the 1940s and 1950s, has gone down in history as an honest man who told it like it is. Wouldn’t it be great to see Australians crying out for a new Curtin, Chifley or Deakin?
Our political leaders and the media have failed us in recent weeks in their playing of the game of politics. This nation is crying out for leaders with the integrity to make unpopular decisions at an unpopular time if need be. Imagine a leader who was willing to take an unpopular stand right before an election because it was the right thing to do, and who did not hold back on the truth for the sake of staying in or obtaining power. Proverbs 29:18 says “Without a vision, the people perish”. Imagine a leader in this country with such vision, a leader who would genuinely wish to see justice roll down like a mighty stream and would risk their political career to see that come to fruition.
However it is easy to make judgments from afar. Thankfully in this country we have the ability to affect change. We are a fortunate nation indeed when we can speak out for political change without risking our lives. We have the ability to lobby, to write letters and to make loud noises about what we think is best for our nation.
It is our task as followers of Christ to seek first His kingdom, to do what is right and count the cost if need be. Let us be encouraged by the boldness of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who stood up to Nebuchadnezzar by refusing to worship other gods. Let us be encouraged by the boldness of the prophets of old, people like Jeremiah and Amos, who raged against the injustices of the rulers of their times. And let us be encouraged by Jesus, who went through the temple and overturned the tables in the Temple, the servant leader who laid down his life for us. There have been many other great and inspiring examples for us down through the ages. They include the early Christians, who would rather die for their faith than to deny Jesus as Lord, who stated openly that, even though they had been told to stop proclaiming the good news, said that they would obey God rather than the ruling authorities.
When Jim Wallis from Sojourners was in Australia in 2006, he made the brilliant observation that politicians walk around with their fingers in the air following the direction of the wind, referring to the prevailing mood of the times. He then said that our task was to change the direction of the wind. The task has now fallen on us to hold our leaders and our media accountable and to let them know that politics is not a game. The responsibility is great, but God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.