The recent story whipped up by the Australian Sex Party regarding restrictions on, amongst other things, small breasts appearing in pornography in Australia (on grounds of them appearing child-like) highlights some of the subtle problems that exist in Australian political life. Whilst it concerns the independent classification board, this story has stirred commentary from politicians. Most Australians would find the censorship ridiculous and a little abhorrent. We do not like censorship per se, believing that freedom of expression, properly used, is a cornerstone of democracy. On the other hand, we have a strong underlying discourse on “family values”, much of which is born out of a Christian heritage. Pornography has a tendency to upset these family values, and so no one is too fussed about its censorship. However, in this instance, the difficulties in interpreting the new position without actually banning a whole raft of products does in fact, on a first pass, look like the kind of moralistic, sweeping censorship of which we should be most wary.
Realistically, the vast majority of Australians would probably not agree with or fail to understand the rationale behind the new rules. At least that is, not until a politician takes a strong moral stance. Then, because of their “leadership” status, some more susceptible types go along with it. The politicians know this, and so once upon their soapbox on an issue, they can drive the nail home knowing that there is, to quote and oft-stated phrase “growing condemnation”, or “growing support”.
Politicians in Australia have more influence on public opinion than any would like to give them credit for. There is a “public conversation” that goes on between the public and the politicians. The crafty pollies drive the agenda. Look at what John Howard did in his years as Prime Minister – the country’s attitude is in a different place since. Now look at the death by a thousand cuts of rhetoric that we are getting from Kevin Rudd. Charisma is a dirty word nowadays. Really, Australian politics has lost its soul.
There seems to be a belief amongst politicians that the people do not want charismatic leadership, instead, they want good management. I am not convinced that this is true – one only has to look at the (slight) increase in popularity Tony Abbott has achieved by being a “straight talker”. Whilst no one is about to accuse Abbott of excessive charm, this does show a hankering for charismatic leadership amongst the people. We want to be lead. We want our national leaders to reach down and help us through adversity and with us to celebrate good times. Good leadership is soul food for the masses. Sure, we distrust the salesman with his snake oil; but a few well chosen words, delivered with the passion of conviction, spoken in common language, can transform people’s belief in their leaders.
We look across the pond and see Barack Obama rouse his people from a kind of slumber; we want the Australian version here. That version would not have the same sermon-like qualities. We would not be hearing any “one nation under god” type speeches, and we couldn’t expect to be asked “not what our country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Australian political life has never been like that. If only our leaders could cut through the management babble, reach for the point of the conversation and deliver a passionate call for developing our wonderful country, I think the people would listen.