OPINION PIECE by Dan Hutchinson – June 2018
Traditionally the bush has be the bastion of the National Party. Those who have attempted to take on the political wing of the farmer have, more often than not, come off second best. The merger of the Liberal and National parties in Queensland in 2008 formed the the Liberal National Party or LNP, and the status quo in Queensland politics began to shift.
The new LNP was the catalyst for those already disgruntled farmers, and the Katter Australia Party was the result. This ‘party of the disgruntled farmer’ now holds two seats in the Queensland Parliament. Why? The farmer no longer supports the LNP and certainly didn’t support Tim Nicholls from the inner-city seat of Clayfield at the ballot box in the last Queensland election. In an attempt to seize on the discontent in the bush, the LNP have elected self-professed ‘bushy’ and former lawyer Deb Frecklington as its leader. It is no coincidence that Tim Mander was not elected to that role, his seat being in the suburban seat of Everton in Brisbane. There was no contest in terms of appeal when compared to the rural surrounds of the seat of Nanango held by the new leader of the party. The LNP have missed the lesson handed out last election and by a very long way in my view.
No this is not a history lesson, it is a demonstration of a political climate that we need to be aware of and listen to. The Queensland experience is but a microcosm of the entire country. Yes, there are issues that differ from state to state and from electorate to electorate the underlying discontent and feeling of abandonment remains the same.
In Pauline Hanson’s very recent and very public meltdown on Sky News she made a number of points over and over again with her usual defiant and emotional tone “I am here for the people”. It is lines like this and her “I’m sticking up for Australians” that get her votes. I am no fan of Hanson and would sooner be trapped in an elevator with a flatulent elephant than vote for One Nation. I do however, believe that Hanson has, in her own chaotic fashion, stumbled upon why the major parties are on the nose more now than ever before: they are ignoring regional Australia. Perhaps unintentionally, but it is happening.
I contend that it is not just the bush that feels forgotten and ignored. By ignoring regional Australia, the major parties are also ignoring the Australian middle class, once known as ‘Howard’s Battlers’.
How can I possibly jump to such a conclusion?
I live within an hour’s drive of the Brisbane CBD. I live on 40 acres which by the standards of those around me is a “little block”. I have lived here for just over 8 months and I have been amazed by the conversations that I have had. Not one person I have spoken to identifies themselves as “city folk” or living in the suburbs. There is somewhat unbelievably an almost total disconnect with the capital city that lies less than an hour south-east of where I live. I am in the federal seat of Longman, the next few weeks will be interesting, particularly when the major parties are more interested in telling the constituents of the seat what the other side is doing wrong rather than what they will do for their potential electors. Going by the billboard advertising in my seat tells me “Turnbull is ripping million out of the Caboolture Hospital” and “Shorten is stealing your retirement savings”. Neither of these slogans entice me to vote for either candidate, my other option is One Nation and well…lifts and elephants, enough said!
Country people are blunt, they call a spade a spade yet they have so much in common with their city cousins when it comes to politics: they don’t trust politicians and they have no reason to. They have for too long been dictated to and told what is best for them. Sound familiar?
I propose that the reason they are more forthright is that they have regulation rammed down their throat by people who don’t understand them. That very same regulation, which was for the “good of the country”, has ruined some, broken up marriages and families, lead to suicide and pushed other below the poverty line.
The policies that have lead to this? De-regulation of the dairy industry, the total and overnight ban on live beef exports and the recent Queensland backflip in vegetation management that assumes that all farmers are environmental vandals spring to mind. In relation to the latter which is retrospective and draconian, the farmer is held to ransom while at the same time developers and miners continue to pillage and plunder with almost reckless abandon because that is the cost of “growth and prosperity” (to steal a phrase from our now federal finance minister). It is no coincidence that the same developers and miners are large contributors to the electoral coffers of the major parties.
So what does this tell me?
These people that I live amongst feel disenfranchised. They worry about their power bills, the cost of diesel, the cost of living, the beef price and above all else the viability of their very existence.
A lack of consultation and vision that makes some semblance of sense is what is missing. If we can sell ourselves to regional Australia, we can sell ourselves to middle Australia, and it is from those two places that we can gain support – from ordinary Australians, who don’t see themselves represented in the overly left or overly right.
Who are “ordinary Australians”? They are those who who want a fair pay for fair toil, who want to be able to educate and look after their children, who do not mind paying welfare for those who need it but are fed up with those who abuse it, that want to receive and open their power bill without the need to take a Valium before doing so and who worry about the environment they are leaving for their children and grandchildren. It is these people we need to represent. They don’t want a hand out, they just want to be listened to and to see that their elected representatives are doing something to try and make their lives a little bit easier and the country a little bit better. They don’t care who slept with who or why, they care about the issues they face every day, the issues that seem to be ignored by those in the corridors of power at the moment.
Since announcing my candidacy for deputy National President I have spoken to a few people who have asked, ‘how do you think we get back?’ My answer has been consistent and is simply:
Get the party registered. If the Sex Party and the Shooters Party can garner the necessary support and be registered, so can we!
Pick no more than 3 or 4 issues that we will develop policy on and stand on those policies.
Stand candidates in the next federal election on these issues (yes this is ambitious, no it is not impossible!).
In the next breath I have said that we need to be known for being centrist, progressive and fair. As being a party for those who are not unionists or corporate back scratchers but for those everyday Australians who are Police officers, Paramedics, Teachers, Cashiers, Taxi & Bus Drivers, Trades people, Primary Producers & Small Business people to name a few. These people turn to the likes of One Nation and others out of sheer frustration rather than actually knowing what it is they stand for or what their policies might be. These people need to be saved from what could be a catastrophic brush with the elephant in the elevator.
So how can you help? GET INVOLVED!
How do you get involved? Three simple yet effective steps:
Send this article to 2 or 3 other people and ask them to send it to 2 or 3 other people;
Ask these people to join the party (and if you’re not yet a member, find out about joining here!);
Send your ideas and their ideas to the National Executive. I cannot guarantee that they will be the 3 or 4 things that we campaign on in the preliminary stages. I can guarantee you they will be read and considered. I can also guarantee that you are no chance of changing the current political environment and the way our country is being run by sitting on the sideline and hoping that someone else will do it for you.
Two final thoughts from two people far smarter than me.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”
– Albert Einstein
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat”
– Theodore Roosevelt
There are plenty of reasons to pick apart this article and criticise it and plenty of reasons to take the easy path and do nothing. The challenge to everyone who reads this is to find a reason to contribute and make this country that we hold so dear to our hearts, a better and fairer place for all of us.
Dan Hutchinson is a new candidate for the 2018-2019 National Executive. Our leaders are elected by our members. If you are interested in having a say or even nominating for a position in the Australian Democrats, find out about membership here.