DEMOCRACY IN AUSTRALIA: Where Do We Go From Here?
Australia is the envy of much of the world. Known for its high standard of living, relaxed lifestyle, plenty of warm beaches, and political stability, it is understandably a favoured haven for migrants from around the world.
At the centre of this stability is the Australian Constitution of 1901, which has provided a healthy dose of ‘checks and balances,’ ‘balance of power,’ and an apolitical head of state. The results speak for itself: no civil wars, race riots, or outlandish scandals that have crippled the United States.
In every way Australia is considered a ‘model democracy.’ Yet there is something very unsettling happening. On the evening of September 14th, 2015, Malcolm Turnbull successfully challenged sitting Prime Minister Tony Abbott, thus becoming Australia’s 29th PM.
Take a step back: Australia has had 5 prime ministers in 5 years. Even Israel, with its raucous parliament, minority governments, and all-too-frequent elections, is starting to look like the Rock of Gibraltar in comparison.
Anyone who has ever met Tony Abbott finds him as likeable, intelligent, with a touch of grace. Yet the portrait of him by the Australian media conveyed distorted him beyond recognition. Something else to consider: as Paul Kelly of The Australian comments: ‘The moral is that being a successful Prime Minister is a harder task than our political culture credits.’
Think about it: the last long-term Prime Minister, John Howard, who served for almost 12 years, left office nearly 8 years ago. Since then, the culture has been most turbulent.
Is it really healthy for a nation to be changing its leaders like Melbourne changes its weather? The simple answer is ‘No.’
Why it it harder to be a successful leader today? Consider the following: Part of the reason is that’s challenges are greater and deeper than ever before. With a global economy highly dependant on a cooling China and debt-riddled United States, how can you keep a local economy humming instead of succumbing? What can you a national leader do about global hotspots (e.g. North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran-Israel) from without and a clamorous cultural civil war within? Especially a culture that calls evil ‘good,’ abnormal as ‘normal,’ the exception becomes the rule, and common sense has been beaten senseless, survives on a life-support machine, and any moment the ‘Off’ button will be pressed.’
Add to the mix of challenges that today, leadership requires exceptional courage, something we probably haven’t seen since the days of Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s. Public opinion polls seem to drive politicians more than policies and then, on top of it, is the postmodern doctrine of ‘perception is reality.’ Mr. Abbott fought an uphill battle of managing perceptions of himself and his government, be it from a hostile senate, an antagonistic media, and a volatile electorate. The ‘media Abbott’ is a different person to the ‘real Abbott.’
Mr. Turnbull, the new prime minister, is a highly intelligent communicator. Though he heads a so-called ‘conservative’ party, Turnbull is not known for his conservative views. He strongly favours same-sex marriage, had policies identical to the left-wing Labor party on climate change, and, lest we forget, was the head of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM), that brought the nation to a costly and unsuccessful referendum on replacing the Queen and Governor-General with a parliamentary-elected President. Republicanism in Australia is not inherently conservative.
What should a person of faith think, especially those who believe in the sanctity of life, marriage-integrity, freedom and respect for all citizens. Is Mr. Turnbull’s rise a cause for concern? Not necessarily.
Remember three principles:
1.Our first port-o-call is to pray for Prime Minister Turnbull, as per I Timothy 2:1-2. The Bible is clear that we should remember and pray for our political leaders so we can have quiet and peaceful lives.
2. Australia is a democracy and for much of the nation it is ‘business as usual,’ no matter who is in charge. If it were a dictatorship, that would be a different story. But it’s not all.
3. As a democracy, we have ‘checks and balances.’ Any political leader who wants to impose drastic change will have to face a gauntlet of opposition and eventually compromise. In this milieu, do not underestimate the power of Biblical Christian lobby groups in Australia; they have had an enormous impact on governmental policy and deserve our full support.