Wentworth: The Australian Spring of democracy

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Wentworth by-election Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, overwhelmed by climate action protesters (Screenshot via YouTube)

The Wentworth by-election was not just a resounding loss for the Coalition, but also the clearest message yet that the people have had enough of party politics.

Fielding an impressive and likeable candidate, Tim Murray, who did almost nothing wrong in his campaign, the Labor Party lost, too.

Granted, Wentworth is not exactly Labor heartland; nevertheless, you'd expect some of the swing against the incumbent to go to the main opposition party, but it didn't.

Instead, Independent Kerryn Phelps won and the Coalition has lost their majority and will have to rely on crossbench support.

We can only hope that this means bringing the humanitarian crisis on Manus and Nauru to an end, that it forces the Government to recognise climate change as a real issue, leads to a sensible outcome of the religious "freedom" debate and that other issues are addressed in a less adversarial manner

And that is where Opposition Leader Bill Shorten comes in. Shorten and the Labor Party now have the luxury of setting the agenda from the comfort of Opposition. Shorten has an opportunity to recognise what PM Scott Morrison won't — that politicians are not trusted and people see politics as a game of the mediocre, the mendacious and the hypocritical.

Faced with an unpredictable Scott Morrison, Shorten has a unique opportunity to show he can be the leader of a nation and take on the quest for much-needed unity. 

Wish list for Labor and Bill Shorten

Mr Shorten, please don't gloat over the Coalition's loss. It's theirs to deal with. Take the high ground and let it be.

Please listen to a populace that is sick and tired of petty and short-sighted party politics and show the soon to be opposition the respect you think you have deserved. Show us it is possible to address policy issues with considered debate, broad consultation and search for consensus. 

Show us that politics is not run by donors and lobby groups — one of many areas of reform that will have overwhelming support throughout the electorate.

Tell us you are hearing the many voices asking for the end of excessive entitlements for politicians — past and present.

Recognise that some of your colleagues on both sides of the aisle don't always act in the best interest of the people and propose a Federal ICAC.

Restore decency into the political discourse by firmly renouncing the racist elements of our society — especially those that represent such sentiments in Parliament.

Recognise that good policy is not always popular policy; be brave, be clear and be bold and address the travesties of our border protection policies.

Set clear and aggressive emission targets. Use your platform of assumed authority to make combating climate change a national priority, not just a cost-cutting exercise.

And make it all about the people, about all of us. Not through the usual glib motherhood statements, but by running a campaign focused on issues and solutions, not just winning an election for a self-serving party. Be transparent, be honest, tell us the truth, not what you think we want to hear.

Restoring the trust in our democracy is no easy task. It will take time, it will take sacrifices by those that purport to lead, it will meet much resistance from those enjoying the status quo. It will take leadership of a different kind.

Kerryn Phelps' election is a win for democracy. But she is not the saviour. If the win is to mean anything the whole political diaspora needs to act. Let her win not be in vain and the opportunity for real change waste away like the Arab Spring.

Let this instead be the Australian Spring of democratic reform.

Kim Wingerei is a former businessman turned writer and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @kwingerei.

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