In thinking about values and principles, it helps to fix the subject around an accepted proposition. Not to do so is to loose yourself in a world of linguistic complexity. A safe anchor is ‘What’s the point?’. A simple answer, and one that can function as a guide to frame values and principles, is ‘to make our dreams come true’.
In light of failure at federal elections, Labor’s values and principles are being examined for the purpose of rebuilding. But perhaps the issue is not the virtue per se of our values and principles but with what they are anchored to in 2005.
As many have pointed out, Labor’s values have shaped Australia, and they continue to provide fair guidance and solace. Yet something has failed us at federal elections. And worse, negative social consequences of this apparent dysfunction are being felt.
To a large but clearly variable degree, Labor’s values are held by all Australians. Perhaps then what has broken down is the relationship between our endeavors today and the traditional purpose of Labor’s values and principles. For most Australians, working towards ‘something better’ was the traditional purpose. This was most simply enacted by striving towards a better standard of living. As a whole though, have we not been delivered to this end?
We’ve acquired a better standard of living than almost every other country on earth. We’ve reached whatever milestone it is where our children have private telephones and have reason to fear obesity. Having well and truly built a nation, is the traditional purpose of our values and principles still a purpose we can use?
Obviously we can all stand to have more money and, certainly, Australia’s poor and disenfranchised are worse off than they were, but for those doing well after decades of dream driven work, and increasingly for their children, it is becoming less clear how Labor’s values and principles relate today to ‘What’s the point?’.
The point for those whose prospective gains remain tangible and alluring, is “I’m on a roll here”. But for a growing number, for those who’ve not benefited from our outstanding economic growth or have but feel our social morality has been somehow discounted, there is rising sense of dejection. Materially, it seems we are so close to the light on the hill that, as a practicable objective, it is no longer working as a beacon.
Australian society has been built by directing values and principles towards an ideal future. To this end, an enormous amount has changed for the better in the last 50 years. Labor’s principles, to a huge extent, have got us this far but only because we took heart in the future. We knew what we wanted as our aspirations were embodied and focused by Labor leaders. Perhaps we’ve stalled at the start of this century because we’re missing a universal, or even just popular, Australian sense of purpose, on where we want to be in 25 years.
‘Where should Australia be in 25 year’s time?’ strikes most Australians as a novel question; it’s a question that does not readily solicit an answer. In my experience, people from China, Denmark, India and Vietnam, for instance, readily offer detail of their country’s objectives and aspirations.
Two elements appear to be holding us from such engagement. Ongoing domestic struggles that require our attention and the vacuum that defines the space where the objective for Australia’s future should be. Both are largely courtesy of a federal Government content with maintaining the glories of the past but the latter is our failing too.
The Coalition does not have an inspiring futuristic vision for Australia. We’d have heard of it by now if they did. In a rapidly evolving and competitive world this is a dozy posture and has to be a weakness. Surely it characterizes the federal Government as a caretaker, as opposed to a manager, or a leader.
How does the mandatory detention of impoverished families fit with a view of Australia’s future? The awkwardness of this question underscores the lack of any recognizable vision, let alone one to believe in. But this lack of vision, or rather the gradual expiration of a past vision, coupled with the conservative mindset, allows the Government to hunch its shoulders and leave its morally questionable baggage behind.
If the future isn’t an issue then there can be no valid critique of any path we take. With a new Labor objective for Australia’s future, this conservative baggage can be properly checked through to the next election.
Without a decent national objective, the Government can go for the most convenient political option every time; and with the advantages of incumbency, such options are at their fingertips and easy to execute. Socially, these base courses of action are taking a toll on our social spirit, so much so that wellbeing is increasingly becoming the reserve of the inner family and material progression. Too bad though for people unhappy with their material reality or whose family has taken after their community, where neighbors have become strangers.
National identity is forged from our endeavors, peculiarities and heartbreaks; our reward for reaching for our ideals. Labor’s traditional values and principles remain robust but time and success sees Labor dragging its anchor. To be a worthy platform for government, a party’s values and principles need to be anchored securely in the future.