The death of iconic Australian politician Gough Whitlam made me wonder what leadership is and if visionary politicians still exist in Australia. Vision in modern politics appears to be dependent on opinion polls and that has created boring sameness in the political landscape, to the point where we almost have a political desert where no new trees are being planted for the future. People are leaving political parties in droves and it is hard to engage younger people in the political process because they are disillusioned with what is going on.
We have become very cynical about our federal, state and local governments and there is little trust. We do not see politicians as an extension of our communities, because there is an us and them attitude on both sides. Do politicians still represent their electorate and do they really speak for us and want the best for Australia, Western Australia, or Fremantle, or is it about feeding their own egos?
As an older person who is quite engaged in local politics I often feel my views are no longer being taken into account, but I am even more concerned that younger people don’t engage in the process, because they should let us know what kind of Freo and society they want in the future.
When I hear the many ‘visions’ of Fremantle Council I wonder if they lack the reality to deal with the fact that we have a rapidly growing ageing population in Australia. That seems to be ignored because we have a Council hell bend on telling people to hop on their bikes, get out of their cars, and don’t expect parking bays if you want to live in Freo’s CBD. That to me is discriminatory against older people because they often don’t have the fitness or courage to ride bikes or even use public transport after certain hours of the day. No car bay dwellings also ignore the needs of families who have to get their children to sporting and social events, and public transport just does not stack up to provide that sufficiently on weekends especially.
The two major visions for Fremantle in recent times were Council being pro-active on the council amalgamations and the, in my opinion slightly flawed, Economic Development Strategy.
Good vision to me is about inclusiveness. It is not about alienating some groups in our society and it is not about narrow-minded and one-eyed philosophy. Visionaries don’t create an us versus them political environment but inspire people to come on the journey with them. Leaders should inspire us to take ownership and be part of the solution, but sadly that rarely happens. People like Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating and Bob Hawke all were very controversial, but they had something Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard never had, and I don’t believe John Howard and Tony Abbott had it either. Charisma, inspiration and vision are lacking in modern day politics.
In local politics visions needs to be created through real community engagement and it has to be a broad and integrated vision with many outcome targets. The implementation has to be done realistically, providing for new needs before getting rid of old ones, e.g. we should not reduce CBD parking bays before we have provide new periphery parking spaces, and while providing Youth Plaza and things to do for younger people, it is essential to also plan for a very fast ageing population. To tell us all to hop on our bikes and leave the car at home is naïve and inconsiderate to those who don’t have the fitness or courage to do so.
Vision is about looking after the entire community, not just a select small part of it. The amalgamation outcome has shown that if we do have a vision and argue our points strongly we can achieve better outcomes for all. We need to learn from that and collaborate more intensely and intently.