Leaving the Star Wars cantina: Time to have an adult conversation about politics

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The Star War cantina: how many Australians see the current Senate (Image screenshot YouTube)

Attacking and belittling Senate crossbenchers is likely to be counter-productive for their opponents, says Tom Ravlic.

BY THIS STAGE OF THE YEAR, many people reading this will have discarded some of the resolutions they have made for 2017. It happens when people set targets they know are unachievable or are uncommitted to in the first place.

There is one resolution that we should all make even at this late stage, however, and that involves establishing a degree of respect for the choice people make at the ballot box in the way in which we talk about political debates.

We have seen disparaging remarks made on too many occasions about the politicians elected by people in the Senate. One observer rather patronisingly and, in my view, offensively referred to the Senate composition as a "Star Wars cantina".

Those of us that momentarily laugh at the silliness of the analogy are actually encouraging the people who make it to continue on their merry way, making light of the way in which voters use their democratic privilege to elect who it is they want to parliament.

I am quite happy to say I voted for six minor parties above the line in the Senate at the last Federal election. Does that make me Greedo’s cousin five times removed and born with a blaster attached at the hip?

I don’t think so, somehow, and it is time for commentators to realise that in attacking the personalities of the people that real people – not commentators paid to watch politics – have chosen to represent them actually makes those candidates even stronger.

The fact is that real people with a vote out in the suburbs and regions have elected a Senate with which a government must learn to work and not disparage.

Commentators must also learn to become more comfortable with an environment that makes them work a little harder to understand where the various parties represented in the Senate may fall on issues.

This is obviously easier in a Senate, for example, where the Federal government, of whatever colour, has a majority or there is only limited negotiation required because there are few crossbench groupings.

In the case of the current Senate, you have the Greens, One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, the Liberal Democrats and Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party that require attention.

This is not so much a Star Wars cantina scenario. These people are not aliens from outer space nor are they that voted for them. They were elected because there were people out there in the right numbers in the relevant state that felt those parties represented a chance to be heard. And that the major parties had switched off.

There is also another minor point that needs to be considered here. No individual party has been born to rule. Each party must earn the votes at each election and any major party – any organisation for that matter – that believes it has some divine right to govern should take a closer look at the professional environment before they take their membership and their broader Australian electorate for granted.

This disconnectedness is not a unique phenomenon. I have seen it elsewhere and it happens for the right reasons.

In the area of professional services, a group grew basically out of nowhere many years ago when people working in the area of self-managed superannuation funds felt their specialist needs were not being met by the major professional accounting bodies.

They are now a strong group and a group to be reckoned with, because the architects recognised a need that needed to be serviced well. It was a need that could not be ignored.

That group is SMSF Australia and they are now regarded by many as a body of which they should be a member to get ahead in the self-managed superannuation side of financial services.

This is an issue that political parties and advocacy organisations in Australia must confront head on.

Political parties cannot allow themselves the luxury of complacency because others will move quickly to fill a gap. Undermining smaller parties by patronising them and effectively engaging in name calling is unhelpful and will damage the cause of major parties more than they themselves realised.

Political parties must find a way to speak to and for the audience that acknowledges their intelligence and their importance or face a decline in votes and – where relevant – a decline in membership. No organisation is ever too big to fail.

A voter that feels belittled in any way by a conversation being had in public will find a different place to park their vote the next time around. Attacking the political parties they have chosen to represent in the upper house of any parliament in this country is also a sure way of making those parties stronger.

This does not mean you fail to hold people accountable for any abuse of power or resources. There must be a light shone on all circumstances where taxpayers’ funds have been abused. Procedural inefficiencies and things that are plain dumb should be called out. This can be done without using terminology that patronises the voter that put the minor parties where they are and should be today.

Let’s collectively make a New Year’s resolution to elevate the quality of discussion about politics in this country. Tone is everything.

We owe it to the people.

Tom Ravlic is a journalist and governance professional. You can follow Tom on Twitter @TRAVLIC.

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