25 September 2023

Australia Fair: Listening to the Nation

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Rebecca Huntley, Black Inc./Quarterly Essay, $22.99.

It is hard to define what it means to be an Australian, but a foremost social researcher pays attention to the people and heeds the call for change.

Huntley reveals the state of the nation and makes the case for democratic renewal – should the next government heed the call.

“Often the claim is made that our politics and politicians are poll-driven. This is, on the whole, bunkum. If polls were influential, we would have invested much more in renewable energy, maintained and even increased funding to the ABC, and made child care cheaper. We may already have made changes to negative gearing and moved towards adopting elements of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We would have taken up the first iteration of the Gonski education reforms. These are some of the issues where a democratic majority comes together, a basic agreement crossing party lines.”

For some time, a majority of Australians have been saying they want change – on climate and energy, on housing and inequality, on corporate donations and their corrupting effect on democracy, to name just a few.

QE73 is a persuasive, well-balanced essay that looks at the state-of-the-nation and asks what does social-democratic Australia want?

“Reflecting on everything I’ve ever heard from every Australian in the research I’ve conducted, I might distil it to this: a good government is one that makes it hard for people to buy a gun and easy to people to get health care. That seemingly bald statement says a lot about Australian attitudes to the role of government and the purpose of democracy.”

What about why the notion of social democracy remains attractive to the majority of citizens? Defining ‘social democracy’ today is no simple task. “…Broadly speaking, a social-democratic politics seeks to ameliorate, rather than dismantle, capitalism in the interests of equality and social justice”.

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