September 2013

An election, a new government: your thoughts?

The Good Oil canvassed some of our readers from across the nation for their reaction to the recent Federal election and their hopes for Australia’s new government.

Mary Gregory SGS (Campbelltown, NSW) says:

Generations ago my grandfather was a founding member of the Labor Party in the Coffs Harbour district. He passed on to succeeding family members the original Labor values. Times and conditions change, however, and we became independent thinkers pondering issues in light of the common good, especially those relating to social justice.

For 70 years now I have exercised my democratic right to vote. During the recent pre-election debacle I was tempted, though did not succumb, to vote informally. The negativity and personal vindictiveness was sickening.

Now what? We have heard almost nothing about issues affecting the vulnerable in our society, such issues as living below the poverty line, Aboriginal rights, unemployment, among many others. The politically motivated attention given to the environment, foreign aid, asylum seekers took no account of the human dignity of the person. Dare we hope for a listening ear from our politicians or a bi-partisan approach to social justice issues especially in view of the pending Senate composition?

What about our own response? Whatever our limitations we must find small ways through prayer to stand in solidarity with the voiceless we meet each day. They will thus be inspired with hope and courage to speak and be heard on the issues that cause their oppression.

Garry Everett (Brisbane, QLD) says:

Who won, who lost? They argue still.
The Libs, The Greens, Labor, “the swill”.
It’s not the parties – they miss the mark.
Vision and hope were left in the dark.

Did you hear Pope Francis say,
“Remember the poor on election day?”
Did you read what Frank Brennan wrote?
That it’s wrong to try to stop the boat.

Who won, who lost? As if anyone cares,
Life goes on – a breath of stale air.
Those with the power bring in the change;
The others look on, and deck chairs arrange.

The dollar is mighty, the king of all things.
Stop the aid, the taxes, the climate, he sings;
Forget what matters: the values and goals;
Just be pragmatic, and fill in the holes.

Who won who lost? We all did, I say;
The will to keep trying, to face a new day.
“We lost” cry the poor, the homeless, the stranger;
“And us”, cry those whose lives are in danger.

“I have a dream”, the brave man cried.
“But it remains un-finished, because I died”
So for us too, the election knives fall –
It’s not an end but a beginning, a Gospel call.

Who won, who lost? It depends you see,
On the efforts of people, like you and me!

Liz Wiemers SGS (Santa Teresa, NT) says:

There are many areas that I hope our new government will consider or re-consider, not the least of which is their asylum seeker policy. Closer to home here in the Northern Territory, as attentively as I listened during the election campaign, I heard very little mention of the respective parties’ policies around the situation of our Indigenous Peoples.

For Aboriginal people in the Territory I hope the new government will consider doing away with Stronger Futures (the revamped Intervention). In so many respects this is a matter of justice, or injustice. Health, housing, education, and employment are key issues if Aboriginal people are to develop a future for themselves that is both meaningful and sustainable. But there is a fundamental need for genuine respect, genuine listening, genuine partnership, and genuine accountability. Housing is the place to start – I hope all the excuses will be set aside, all the bargaining will cease, and that the government will focus on seeing an end to over-crowding, that every family lives in a house of their own.

Most of all I hope the Aboriginal People here will not have their hopes dashed yet again. They do have real hopes that things might be different for them.

Evan Ellis (Sydney, NSW) says:

After an exciting sporting match between two competitive teams, it’s common to hear a commentator intone something like, “Cricket was the real winner today”. I feel the reverse after this election. Our democracy was the real loser.

In a healthy democracy costings would be released with enough time to debate them; journalists would be encouraged to ask questions as well as record sound bites; foreign wars would not be used for photo ops; the better angels of our nature, not focus groups, would shape party platforms; voting above the line would not create a lucky-dip Senate; and election day would be just one part of democratic participation, not the pinnacle of it.

That said, we did witness 22 million people peacefully transitioning from one government to another, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh. However to indulge in one last sporting cliché, “let’s keep the bar high”.

Cheryl McInnes (Melbourne, VIC) says:

I have found the political parties and the politicians themselves, very disappointing for a long time now. So what are my hopes for the new government? That they represent the views of the Australian people and form appropriate policies for our present and future; no more petty bickering and self interest. And I’d like them to have social justice as part of the lens with which they apply their assessment of where they need to expend time and energy. Unfortunately I don’t have much trust, but perhaps I will be proved wrong. One can only live in hope.

Bernardina Sontrop SGS (Brisbane, QLD) says:

No doubt, like many Australians, I have mixed feelings in response to the federal election. Initially, I felt a sense of relief that the pre-election hype had finally ended, and to some extent it has! I can’t say, however, that the election restored in me a strong sense of hope. I was surprised at the election to the Senate of members from a number of minority parties, that do not reflect the interests of the majority of Australians. This will be a challenge for the new government and has the potential to block legislation or, hopefully, put a check on the government’s total control.

I have little confidence that the newly elected government’s policies offer much hope for the most needy in our community, refugees and asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians, the aged and infirm, the unemployed and those struggling to make a living on low wages. I believe parliament has to work hard to regain the confidence of the majority of Australians.

My hope is that the common good of all Australians and the world’s citizens, regardless of culture or creed, not self-interest, will form the foundation of the work of the new government. Only time will tell!

Michael Slinn (Sydney, NSW) says:

It seems to me that one of the biggest moral issues facing our country is how we treat asylum seekers, and my feelings over the election period were those of frustration and helplessness, as I waited for somebody from one of the major parties to show leadership and offer a compassionate way of helping them. Needless to say this didn’t happen.

Whilst the Coalition government may return the budget to surplus more quickly than would Labor, my fear is they will do so at the expense of the more disadvantaged in our society and end up increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. Their plan to defer an increase in our overseas aid budget is a disappointment, and I also fear they will fail to take appropriate action in respect of the environment.

Although I’m disappointed at the outcome of the election, my hope is that now the campaigning is over there will be sufficient people of goodwill and moral courage within the Coalition to influence the setting of policies so there are just and equitable outcomes for all. In this regard, we, for whom social justice is an imperative, need to regularly tell our politicians what we feel about different issues and encourage them to act in ways that are fair. I confess to failing miserably myself in contacting politicians, but hope to do better in future.

Bishop Pat Power (Canberra, ACT) says:

I was so fed up with the campaign that I could hardly wait for 7 September to arrive. The appeal to self-interest, the lack of any real vision for the future and most especially the heartless attitude to refugees and asylum seekers by the two major parties were, to my mind, demeaning of our Australian character.

As it happened, I had been asked by the Missionaries of Charity in Queanbeyan to celebrate a Mass in honour of Mother Teresa on election day. I was struck by the contrast between her passion for the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable people in our community and the issues which were being canvassed for the election.

It is my hope that all sections of the new parliament will focus on returning Australia to its core values where there is a real sense of social justice and the recognition of the dignity of every person.

I hope that on the world stage, Australia will play its part in building peace and seeing that the Millennium Goals are pursued. Finally, I believe the media should refrain from sensationalising the trivial aspects of the political scene and concentrate on matters of substance.

Margaret Keane SGS (Sydney, NSW) says:

My reaction to the federal election was one of not being surprised by the overall victory. I felt a sense of disappointment that the size of the victory did not seem to reflect any decline following the announcement that foreign aid was to be reduced by so much, indeed by anything, in order for us to have more.

My hopes for the new government would be that they be a united group on all the human issues. The refugees and asylum seekers can no longer be treated as they are at present. Aged care and disability care need to be primary areas for solid and robust policy translated into action.

Any governing party does well with strong opposition so I hope the Opposition can be strong, united and respectful of all people. I hope both parties recognise that the issues above, and many others, deserve unity of policy and action.

Marie Mohr (Melbourne, VIC) says:

Within the context of my role as Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator for the Good Samaritan Sisters, I was particularly interested to hear from both parties about their commitment to address the health and ageing issues for the nation.

Over the five weeks leading up to the federal election I found the rhetoric of the major parties conveyed in their campaign against asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat – and the respective solutions for the ‘protecting our borders policy’ – both confronting and disappointing. This, followed by the debate over scrapping the carbon tax and the changes to the paid parental leave legislation, overshadowed any real discussion in relation to the health policies of either party.

On the other hand, it was reassuring to see the commitment from both parties in supporting the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme which was one of the key achievements of the previous government.

In recognising the rapidly ageing population and associated increase in chronic medical conditions in Australia, we need to build on our primary health care capacity and continue to reform our approach to aged care in this country. I would hope the new government: 1) adheres to its campaign commitment to work with the Medicare Locals in enabling communities to plan and co-ordinate health services within the community; and 2) will continue to build on the initiatives undertaken through the “Living Longer Living Better” aged care reform agenda implemented by the previous government.

Virginia Ryan (Sydney, NSW) says:

US journalist John Allen (Jr) has described Pope Francis’s impact on the tired and cynical lay Catholic faithful as the “Francis effect”. It’s my strong recommendation to our new Prime Minister to take a leaf out of Francis’ book and start the “Abbott effect”. Here are a few ideas.

Keep it simple. Pope Francis has cut through pomp, prestige and privilege to demonstrate the true purpose of his leadership. He’s dispensed with ostentatious trappings in favour of a refreshing simplicity. In our heart of hearts we applaud this behaviour because we all know how tough it is to question traditionally held beliefs about ‘the way we do things around here’. Mr Abbott, I suggest you give it a go.

Remember the poor. When Pope Francis chose his papal name, he announced his deep desire to listen to the poor. There are signs that Mr Abbott is trying to listen to the voice of our poor. He has risen above past party politics regarding Aboriginal affairs and has decided to listen to Warren Mundine, a former Labor party national president. The decision to appoint him as head of the Indigenous Advisory Council is a brave and interesting new direction.

Be humble. Leadership beyond ego and image is attractive and inspiring. It’s a tall order for any of us, but Pope Francis has led the way. I’m not sure how Mr Abbott will go here, but there are hopeful signs. His Jesuit education should kick in some time soon; the student from Riverview College has called him on it. Mr Abbott did spend formative years at St Patrick’s Seminary, so it’s possible they covered humility. But the answer may lie with his young adult daughters. Spending time with them will certainly develop his humility.

The Good Oil

‘The Good Oil’, the free, monthly e-journal of the Good Samaritan Sisters, publishes news, feature and opinion articles and reflective content which aims to nourish the spirit, stimulate thinking and encourage reflection and dialogue about contemporary issues from a Good Samaritan perspective.

If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.