Can our leaders in Australia do what is right?

There is a lack of values driven leadership in Australia. By that I mean leadership that uses values such as community, equality, care for those in need, to relieve the suffering of those we can, as core criteria in political and social decision making.

Prior to an election many political leaders make speeches about what they will do. And they appeal to values such as the above (and others such as safety/security/tough on crime) in order to obtain votes on polling day. However, very shortly thereafter the decisions they make in parliament bear little or no resemblance to the pre-election promises.

Malcolm Turnbull inspired many (including me) who thought he was going to be a breath of fresh air after Tony Abbott, and likely to resolve the plight of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, move to a more compassionate and fair Australia, and engage in a response to climate change that would be effective and courageous.

What we got was a series of disappointing compromises to the hard-fighting right wing of the Liberal party led by a vengeful Tony Abbott and craven moderates.

You have got hand it to Tony Abbott. He might have beliefs that I abhor but at least he stands for something that is predictable and he is prepared to cop the negative response that ensues. It inspires a section of the population that need simple explanations and a rhetoric that assures them their streets, jobs and future in a largely vanilla Australia will be safe in a time of instability and worldwide population movement. Ditto Pauline Hanson. Like America’s Donald Trump they have managed to inspire people who wanted this type of snake oil. It makes them feel inspired, better than they were, and more secure and hopeful.

Some of us however, are cut from different cloth. We need different values to feel hopeful about. We are not inspired by the right wing conservative view of the world but want a future where people can be confident they will be treated fairly by the courts regardless of their ability to pay for an expensive barrister. A world in which we make national and local efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, in which the refugees and their children on Nauru and Manus Island are offered a life and hope instead of despair, in which our first nations people are regarded with respect and dignity and have the resources they need to make a life for themselves in this land. A world in which those of us in poverty can aspire to improve our lot, in which women are treated equally to men, in which integrity and honest dealing are evident in the daily behaviour of our political and community leaders and others in positions of responsibility.

Where are the leaders like Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who was assassinated in 1980? He has been canonised this week in Rome. The courage of the man to oppose the right wing militias and thus risk his life. Where are our leaders in Australia with the courage to believe in something enough to stand up for it let alone risk anything other than their political careers? Where is the consistent integrity that inspires us to be better people? Silence.

The left side of politics is no less inspiring than the right at the moment. Labor has imbibed the coolaid and have no other vision than the conservatives. They sold out on refugees and have a watered-down version of climate change response. The Greens are squabbling among themselves and the only person who makes much impression for integrity is Cathy McGowan, the independent member for Indi in north-east Victoria. She acts local and yet has an eye to just dealing on the national stage as far as I can see. But she is one person and do little without the involvement of the two major parties.

At the core of this is a cleft stick. It’s the same nasty squeeze Malcolm Turnbull found himself caught in. To satisfy the right and yet not alienate the left. But what about what is right? This does not seem to figure in their thinking and it disappoints me again and again. I wonder if they know how to think about what is the right thing to do. Ethical thinking rather than pragmatic short-term-gain thinking. They have been thinking about what is politically expedient for so long that they have lost their inner sense of what is right. They resolve the conflict that is created by this clash of left and right by choosing the pragmatic, the lowest common denominator. What is right and good does not figure in the range of options considered by our current leaders. Where is our Oscar Romero, our Xanana Gusmão?

There is in our leaders a short-sighted narcissistic need to relieve internal (party and personal) conflict to satisfy the almost instant polling of daily news feeds that fuel both sides of politics and propel leaders into expedient decision making and damage control on a daily basis. This is what all political leaders in living memory have done in attempts to remain in power: try to satisfy the demands of the mob. The shouting mob is led by the loudest superficial analysis and facile writing by major media outlets whose priority is grabbing the mob’s attention with sensationalist headlines that trivialised complex and difficult social, economic and environmental problems. See Rupert Murdoch’s goals for ousting Malcolm Turnbull.

Who is prepared to take a risk and stand for something that causes some short-term discomfort yet inspires because it is the right thing to do, e.g., release the refugees from the concentration camps we have created in order to discourage boat arrivals? Or take on the coal industry and make a significant decision to reduce carbon emissions? This may cause outrage among some. But it would be the right thing to do. To relieve the suffering of those we can. To take a stand. Our national conscience is at stake here. Particularly as we caused the suffering and despair of the refugees in the first place. Or is our national identity so polluted and self-serving that we have lost our sense of what is the right thing to do?