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The week the government broke and Australia was remade

Date published: Monday 27 August 2018

Category(ies): Comment

BY MARCIA BALZER
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
@marcia_balzer

The Baptist Care Australia team spent much of last week glued to rolling news coverage and Twitter commentary as the government slowly imploded and a new Prime Minister finally emerged.

No doubt most people whose work involves national politics, policy and public debate likewise found themselves hanging on every unfolding detail, wondering where it was all going to end up. For us, we also had an immediate problem that was at the forefront of our minds.

We are very close now to our annual Converge event, where 40 Baptist leaders from around the country visit Parliament House for two days to discuss social justice issues with politicians. (You can read about last year’s Converge here.)

We were about halfway through setting up meetings with politicians for Converge when the first spill was called. From then on, we speculated about what might possibly happen and whether or not the event could go ahead on 11-12 September.

Might there be a successful no-confidence motion (and therefore an election called)? Might upheaval from the leadership spills mean our meetings would be cancelled at the last minute? How long would the uncertainty drag on? What would we do if it kept on into the following weeks?

Among the citizens who were aware of what was happening, the shemozzle of last week prompted widespread anger and frustration over a dysfunctional political system that seemed to represent no one’s interests, let along the public good.  This sentiment has been building for a number of years, of course, and I wonder whether the extreme events of last week might herald a shift towards common sense and common purpose among our elected representatives. I hope so.

Prompted by such sentiments, just a few weeks earlier a group of civil society organisations and individuals launched their new vision for the Australia they would like to see. Australia Remade articulates the collective answer of hundreds of ordinary Australian to this scenario.

Imagine you have woken up in the Australia of your dreams. What is it like?

The vision is a decidedly human one, where Australia is a collection of strong, cohesive communities rather than an economy or a market. It’s an enticing vision – both impossibly idealistic, and almost tangible at the same time.

It sees the First Nations as integral to our identity, and their wellbeing and autonomy as key to our success. It seeks equality, and fairness and values other than those relating to money held highly by most Australians. And it articulates a strong connection and care for the land for the benefit of both current and future Australians.

How would you answer that question? Now, given what’s been happening over the last week?

Imagine you have woken up in the Australia of your dreams. What is it like?

I think my answer would reflect Australia Remade in many respects, particularly the emphasis on an Australia filled with people, communities and culture rather than money, markets and consumers. But countries include all these things, and the tensions between them are often the centrepiece of disagreements about policies and politics. Somehow we need to be big enough to see and balance them all if we want to ‘create the best version of us’ as Australia Remade sets out to do.

Here we are with a new Prime Minister, perhaps the best option for stability of those available. Converge will go ahead in two weeks, and we will need to continue to pray and work for a better Australia.

I hope the week that broke the government does change the paradigm for how we do politics in Australia. And perhaps that might open a door to a better, calmer and more inclusive nation – maybe even ‘the best version of us’.