Listening in: using the election results to create a better Australia

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In the wake of the election results, Millie Rooney (Australia reMADE) describes how a united and inspiring vision for what Australia could be can help us work together across and around difference to create ‘the best version of us’.

Post-election we’re being bombarded with “what went wrong” analysis, from those seeking a livable and compassionate planet. I’m not talking simply about concern for the environment from those who voted Labour or the Greens; I’m also talking about those Liberal or One Nation voters who also want a safe climate future. After all, the stats suggest that at least 70% of the population wants action on climate change. And while we’re all going to be a bit nervous about polls from now on, I think we can still confidently say that many people who voted in a coal-loving government want action on climate change.

There has also been a lot of commentary on what went wrong with democracy. The fake facts spread via social media, the how to vote cards in Mandarin telling people to put the Liberals number 1, the high number of donkey votes and the disillusionment of the voting population.

We’re being told we are a divided nation. Heck, Clive Palmer came out saying he spent 60 million dollars in order to polarise the community (and regardless of whether this is just a sore loser’s statement, it looks to be close to what happened). While increasing polarisation is a trend worldwide its worth remembering that we’re always divided at elections. That’s what happens when you have a two-party system and a media that promotes winners and losers in politics. We become divided along Red/Blue/Green lines because none of us trust that a government or a Prime Minister will govern for all of us. There are numerous studies that show people have lost faith in politicians (although not necessarily in democracy, an important distinction) and we seem to have lost sense as a country of where we’re going.

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What if we made it more about what we care about and less about the party we vote for? What if we stopped dismissing people because they voted for party X instead of party Y? What if we made it an actual, resourced-priority to listen deeply to local communities and those we disagree with from a distance, in order to build common ground?  What if we found new ways to compromise? In other words, what does it mean to work together for the common good of our country?

I’m the National Coordinator for Australia reMADE, an independent, vision-based collaboration of everyday people and community leaders, working to build a country where people and planet come first. Australia reMADE began when a group of civil society leaders got together to see what it might look like if they started working together under a shared and articulated vision of what we’re for, not just what we’re against.

In 2017 we went around the country speaking with people about the Australia of their dreams: the Australia we are when we are at our best. The intention was to speak to a broad cross section of Australians about their vision for the future (you can read more about the process on our website). We talked with people who might identify as workers, single parents, first peoples, Muslims, immigrants, academics, LGBTQI+ and others about the Australia of their dreams.

The result was a vision for this country that we could all get behind and is based on the following nine pillars:

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  1. A first people’s heart

  2. A natural world for now and the future

  3. An economy for the people

  4. A society where all contributions count and every job has dignity

  5. A diversity of people living side by side

  6. A country of flourishing communities

  7. A new dawn for women

  8. A thriving democracy

  9. A proud contributor to a just world

These pillars were created knowing that the “solutions” are as inter-connected as the problems. We can’t talk about the environment we want without a plan for the economy we want.

They were also born from deep listening.  The first session I ever ran was with a group of guys from very different backgrounds to me who were angry at refugees for getting more help than their grandfathers who were war veterans. We talked about it and I listened. At the end of the day it became clear that they were deeply compassionate about people who needed help, but were also deeply concerned that helping others came at the risk of their own security.

There are other stories to tell about what we heard and you can read about them in more detail on our website. Stories about community and courage, about racism and hardship, about connection and love. Each of these stories fed into the creation of the nine pillars and each deserves time, care and attention.

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Post-election I vowed to not only listen, but be converted by the stories I heard. And I was. Converted by the anti-immigration immigrant taxi driver who didn’t want his adopted culture to change. Converted by the beautiful porsche owner in Warringah who sold the importance of compromise on taxes in order to elect a candidate who would take strong  action on climate change. Converted by my brother, whose Eastern suburbs fitness work had more in common with my manifesto than I had imagined.

Converted and reinvigorated because within each conversation I had, I heard a deep desire to spend time with family and to support those who need our collective help. I heard that while someone might vote for a coal-loving government, it didn’t mean they didn’t strongly feel that Australia has a role to play in addressing climate damage. I heard someone so very different from me think about how they could support the work that I do.

We must learn from this election. But I don’t believe the lesson is that we are hopelessly divided; nor are we the same.

What if, as a result of this election, we as policy makers, researchers and advocates listened out for nuance and complexity? What if we listened for difference and gave difference its rightful place, while seeking common ground? We are different and we do vote differently, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want comfort, security and care. That doesn’t mean we don’t want plentiful shade, a meaningful job or good healthcare.

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It’s not that people aren’t doing this work, although mostly it’s invisible and underfunded. People like Amanda Cahill and The Next Economy have spent years working with coal communities across Australia. Amanda listens deeply to communities as they work through ways to transition to a more resilient low-carbon economy. In her article for The Guardian, she reflects that everywhere she has worked people are interested and enthusiastic, and at the same time face complex challenges that often go unheard:

“My experience shows that the biggest myth that needs busting is the notion that coal communities aren’t interested in or aware of this transition. This is simply not true: everywhere we have worked, people have been interested in and even enthusiastic about the transition and its potential to create new jobs and attract investment.”

There are plenty of voices post-election urging us to get out of our bubbles and listen more deeply to those may who appear to disagree with us.  But this takes listening from an ‘undefended’ place -- knowing we ultimately want more or less the same things.

I’m proud that Australia reMADE offers up a vision that has the potential to unite so many of us. We’ll still be divided in how we get there, but imagine the trust, the faith and the courage it would give us all to refuse to abandon common ground?

Social media may reinforce the echo chamber, but there are so many other places to start listening: the tea room, the taxi, the queue for the loo, wherever you happen to be. And if you’d like to do this listening as a part of a broader community collaboration about what we all want and how we get there, I invite you to join in: visit our website. Sign up for the latest news. Look at the resources (in particular the conversations guides) and let’s, together, create the best version of us.

All images from the Australia reMADE website.

All images from the Australia reMADE website.