It did not take long for the ‘Quexit’ memes to start appearing in social media feeds after the surprising victory of the Coalition in Australia’s recent election. Following the latest episode of leadership spills that saw Malcolm Turnbull deposed and Scott Morrison installed as Prime Minister of Australia, many (me included) thought the Liberal Party was surviving on borrowed time.
The Liberal Party’s inaction on climate change and the lack of a concrete agenda seemed to point to a Labor victory on 18 May.
But that was not to be. The Coalition, led by Scott Morrison, have secured a third term.
Queensland voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Coalition, and Labor’s gains in other parts of the country did not live up to expectations. For voters who were scared by Labor’s ambitious platform of tax policies (including franking credits) and climate change, the result was a relief. For those who embraced Labor’s comprehensive plan for reform, it was a kick in the teeth.
I’m not here to tell you that you should be elated or disappointed about the result. But I think there is a bigger point we all need to consider: we need to become better at listening to each other.
The election result shows that Australians are fundamentally divided on visions of our future. This divide appears particularly pronounced between urban and rural areas. This should trouble us. Regardless of where our party allegiances lie, the ability of rural and urban Australians to reach a consensus is important for our long-term future. Yes, we will always debate and have different ideas about what our country’s priorities should be, but at some point we have to reach a resolution and move on.
We can’t overturn the previous government’s policies every three years. For policy to be successful, it needs to graduate from the political arena and harbour at least some support from both sides of politics. Medicare is a good example of this. While it was introduced by Labor in the 1980s, Liberals have accepted it as part of Australian healthcare policy. They might disagree over how well it should be funded but the ‘Mediscare’ campaign from three years ago show us that if the Liberals ever tried to privatise it, there will be major backlash in the community.
I hope that we can reach a similar consensus over climate change. Yet for that to happen, we will need to start listening to each other rather than talking at each other.
For the better part of 20 years, advocates for stronger climate change policy have used moral arguments and a slew of facts and expert opinions to substantiate their cause. I think the time has come to reconsider this approach because it has failed miserably.
Effective action on climate change will only occur if communities can see it aligning with both their short-term and long-term interests. And to achieve that, we need to listen more to rural and coal-producing communities. Without their support, we can’t proceed. Their lack of support cannot be seen as simply uncooperative – many of them face precarious economic futures in which coal mining can represent some certainty. If we want their support, we need a counter offer for rural communities: an offer that presents a solid and dependable job alternative and also happens to reduce emissions. That order is important in communicating such reforms: job security first, emissions second.
But, I hear you say, we only have a limited amount of time to come up with an effective response to climate change. We need radical change!
But no radical change has come about without popular support.
Building consensus and support in the community should be our first priority, and framing climate policy as a new economic and jobs package is, I think, the way forward. We have no time to lose in building that consensus.
Protests and advocacy are important in any social change movement but I think it is reasonable to ask whether it is helping or hindering our broader cause at the moment. Are we preaching to the converted and alienating those we should be trying to persuade?
I understand why some voters felt Bob Brown’s Adani caravan and other protests were tone-deaf and unpersuasive. Just imagine if the situation was reversed and Queenslanders came to campaign in a Victorian electorate about an issue locals felt affected them far more than it affects the Queenslanders. We would see it as arrogant.As things stand, Adani has been approved and none of the protests have come close to producing the desired result.
And we are not helping ourselves when we use media outlets whose views align with our own. While this is convenient, it can insulate us in a bubble. To listen means to read and interact with views and perspectives you don’t often encounter and might not agree with. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, but it is crucial.
I discussed this with a friend recently, who said, ‘I know you should read stuff you don’t agree with, but I prefer to just read people who know what they are talking about.’
It is so easy to point out other tribes and their blind loyalties. In that moment, you might consider yourself to be better educated and informed. You might be both, but that does not make you a neutral observer or right. You are still part of a tribe, happy to listen to your own views and ignore those who don’t conform. Research has shown that we, as humans, are very bad at spotting our own biases when trying to convince someone with different moral and political beliefs. But if we stop, listen and consider what might actually be a persuasive argument for a person with a different set of beliefs and who finds themselves in a very different position in society, then we can reach some sort of consensus. By listening, we can build bridges to a better understanding. It does not mean that you will agree on everything, but common ground for building a consensus can still be found. That consensus is essential for progress.
If we value effective action on climate change, then building that consensus should be our first priority. There is no time to lose.
Hendrik Jacobs is a freelance writer and graduate politics student at The University of Melbourne.