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Passing the baton to a younger generation of governance

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Young, eager political voices such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could be exactly what Australia needs to step out of the past into a brighter future (Screenshot via YouTube)

Clinging to the past is no way to run our country and it's time we let some new blood in to revitalise the Government, writes Peter Henning.

FOREIGN MINISTER Marise Payne has given her good friend a job as ambassador to New Zealand, even though she has no background experience and it is a post that has always gone to a career diplomat.

Let’s not get too upset, because it’s just another example of the “adult” Liberal rampage through the corridors of principled governance, due process and ethical political morality, shredding them all as contemptible impediments to power for personal, partisan and any whimsical reasons at all.

We shouldn’t get too upset about Georgina Downer putting the Liberal logo on a taxpayer-funded cheque, because that’s relatively small in the general scheme of the rip-off rorts now normalised by the “adults in the room”, ploughing billions of dollars of public funds into destroying people in concentration camps at home and abroad.

We can’t begrudge the Liberals’ Craig Kelly his stance ignoring the worldwide evidence of climate change – let alone his blindness to what’s happening in his own electorate – after all, his candidacy for the seat of Hughes in NSW has been rubber-stamped by Scott Morrison, despite the local Liberal Party faithful supporting someone else as their preferred candidate.

The $400 million of public funds given to Paladin to do with as they please – which doesn’t mean spending it on anything they received it for – and the $400 million given to an office of six in Queensland to do something they never asked to do is the way of the “adult” bubble of seamless, neverending “non-core” values and beliefs, meaning belief in nothing to do with the national interest or the future of Australians.

Nor should we worry too much about the Dutton-Morrison conclusion that refugees being treated in Australian hospitals will wreck the health system, because it just confirms they can’t handle the “simple math” that sending all refugees on Manus and Nauru to hospital in Australia would cost less, much less, than keeping them in the concentration camps. That’s the “simple math”. 

Not to mention that the Helloworld scandal, involving a paltry $1 billion, is just the way this bunch of “adults” conducts their daily routines of pouting in the mirror. They actually believe “l’etat, c’estmoi”. Everything they do confirms it. It works, after all, for they are never held to account.

They hold accountability in contempt.

It’s well past time to hand the baton on. We’ve wallowed in the swamp of inert power for its trough’s sake beyond the point of living dangerously to the point where our kids’ future is in real peril.

I’m not just talking about throwing the Coalition in the bin and getting Labor into office. If Labor fails to understand that the nature of the baton, at this point in time, is somewhat different to business as they’ve been used to doing, what then?

As in 1942, business as usual has passed its used-by date. Back then, John Curtin and his government transformed Australia and transformed it rapidly. That’s the kind of baton Shorten has to carry.

As the youngest U.S. Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said recently:

That goes for “delayers” of many kinds, not only the climate change ostriches but the merchants of inequality, inhumanity, lack of transparency, dishonesty and fearmongering. No nation or society ever prospered that was structured on those values and history shows that every society which introduces those values condemns itself over time – sometimes rapidly, sometimes more slowly – to decline, poverty and disintegration.  

When the much-quoted – increasingly in our time – William Butler Yeats wrote his poem The Second Coming in 1919, he was writing in the aftermath of the atrocity of the Great War, which turned Europe into an indescribable charnel house – which I don’t think we have ever come to terms with – where it was nothing for 30,000 young people to be killed on a hectare or two of ground in a week.

When he penned those oft-used lines, ‘And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’, he was suggesting perhaps the end of the best of Christianity, or the end of all elements of civilised governance, social cohesion and humanity. 

He could not predict that the shape of the ‘rough beast’, ‘with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’, would have many incarnations in the century after 1919 and nor could he have foreseen that the “beast” – more often than not – was the cancer within a society, ‘moving its slow thighs’ within the fabric of checks and balances, tearing the fabric apart, undermining all values of decency and corrupting the very heart of institutional structures, political and religious.

In 2019, it is the old men in power, whether old in age like the moribund leaders of the Catholic Church, in their purple robes signifying the lost glories of Roman Imperial power and the authoritarianism of medieval monarchs, or old in their inherent ignorance and denialism, who are wrecking the joint before our eyes.

It is time to pass the baton on to people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and to encourage with hope and support the voices of Emma González and Greta Thunberg. We must make a start by rejecting the current crop of troglodytes in Canberra, those who care not that their denialism and their callous indifference – and their contemptible misuse of public funds – are, in effect, wilful and wanton abuse of the lives of our youth and their children.

Yeats was haunted by the vision of ‘a waste of desert sand’.  It is no longer some nightmare of the surreal, but there before us in clear view, as the millions of the dead fish in the Murray-Darling system show.

In the 1940s, Australia mobilised for total war against fascism. Those in the frontline were young, whether in uniforms of the military or of the uniforms of nurses and young women who took over essential jobs in industry and on the land. We relied on our youth to make life-giving sacrifices in the past. 

We who have grown old and we who will grow old cannot condemn our current and future generations of young people by continuing to elect governments that have held the reins of power in Canberra for no other reasons than personal and partisan hubris for too long and have proven to be completely incapable and incompetent in dealing with any of the urgent issues facing this country.

There is a chance, of course, that the “centre cannot hold”, that it is beyond repair and we must seek leadership from outside, from within local and regional communities. Perhaps Australia’s Murray-Darling system can only be saved by local and regional communities working together across arbitrarily-imposed state borders and dictating the agenda rather than having it imposed from the Court of Versailles.

We certainly must reject the principle, as enunciated by John Howard and his successors and his religious and corporate mates, that the law is inapplicable to them, that they are entitled to wage war in foreign countries using Australian resources and military forces for personal political reasons and that they are entitled to destroy the lives of ordinary people simply because they have the power to do so. 

Peter Henning is a Tasmanian historian and author.

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