Thawing the frozen continent - Page 11
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 19: Re-imagining Australia
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by George Williams
THE REFORM AGENDA MUST take a radically different approach. Political leaders must take charge and be prepared to devolve real power to the people. Australians need more than a veto at the ballot box; they must be given a genuine say in shaping reform itself. Change must be led from the ground up, rather than being imposed from above.
We also need to build a narrative to support change that relates to Australian values and icons. The story needs to explain and justify significant reform about how we are governed as part of the larger Australian story. Reform might be justified as a people-led initiative that, like the work of our forebears in the 1890s, readies the nation for future challenges. The narrative should also be positive rather than just responding to past failures, and focus on community-led processes of modernisation. Such a narrative, that supports and reinforces the process of change, is essential for success. Unless people can see how reform fits into their vision of Australia, they are unlikely to trust the reformers or to support the outcome.
Australia also needs leaders equal to the challenge. Compared with nations like Canada and Britain, we have had few leaders who grasped the need for reform and had the skills and commitment to drive it. Good leaders need imagination. They need to envisage how our long-term future could be better on a different path. Our leaders need to be able to convince others of their vision, something that requires political talents of the highest order. We should not be pessimistic about the possibility for good leadership. Australia has an exemplary record in public policy-making in economic, social and health policy.Australia needs a new agenda for reforming how we are governed. It needs to be bold in what it tackles, but also pragmatic and realistic, avoiding wherever possible the need to hold referenda until people become more comfortable with change. The strategy should focus on incremental reform, small achievements that generate the momentum needed for more significant improvements. History shows that there are no quick paths to success, only quick paths to failure. This means we need a forward-looking agenda that educates people and encourages them to be involved. We need to trust people so that they have a genuine say in shaping the future of Australian democracy. ♦