If you treat voters like misbehaving teenagers, don't be surprised when they move out

Former PM John Howard with Ryan MP Julian Simmonds during the campaign. Mr Simmonds was defeated by the Greens. Picture: AAP
Former PM John Howard with Ryan MP Julian Simmonds during the campaign. Mr Simmonds was defeated by the Greens. Picture: AAP

Even after the weekend's election, after the definitive defeat, after the felling of leadership giants: They. Just. Don't. Get. It.

Listening to former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce's bitter, childish rant on Saturday night, and former prime minister John Howard's sour complaints in the press in the lead-up to the close of the polls, I am left shaking my head at the fact that they have learnt nothing.

Former federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, former minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt, former assistant minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction Tim Wilson, and high-profile Liberal member Dave Sharma, among others, have all been toppled. But still, their heads remain planted firmly in the sand.

Mr Wilson blamed an "unholy alliance" for his defeat, all but stamping his foot and declaring "it's not fair". He reminded us that he "literally approved Australia's offshore wind industry", but conveniently omitted the fact that he is still a member of the climate-sceptical IPA organisation that isn't even on board with 2050 targets. Despite holding a postgraduate qualification in climate science, Mr Wilson supported the Morrison government's climate policy, which analysts have projected would result in global heating of 3 degrees or more if Australia's example was followed by the rest of the world. Mr Wilson has said that it's vital to reduce emissions, but his continued support for his party's inadequate policies perhaps indicates exactly why voting along party lines achieves nothing for the future of our country.

While entertaining, Mr Joyce's Saturday-night rant on Sky News was indicative of the very problem with politics that Australians have apparently had enough of. His arrogant, condescending and offensive tirade claimed that only cabinet ministers can actually do anything in Parliament, and if your member isn't in the cabinet all they can do is write letters asking for help. Tellingly, his dismissal of the possibility of a minister being willing to hear a representative from an electorate not of their party laid bare the power politics that is played in Canberra: they aren't there to actually serve the people of Australia, they are there to feather their own nests and grow their own power base. I assume Mr Joyce doesn't anticipate being effective for his own electorate this term as he has been ousted from cabinet and installed firmly on the shelf.


Mr Howard appears to think the people are "cranky" with the party and is treating voters like misbehaving teenagers, claiming they are only not voting for the Liberals because they want to "send a message". This is both downplaying the seriousness of voters' concerns, and also still not listening to the "message" in question. The Liberal Party will continue to see its support decline if its members follow their traditional approach to career politics and staunchly refuse to acknowledge that gaslighting a nation through infantilising and condescending to us all will get them nowhere.

Once upon a time, party politics had its advantages. Parties can make decisions quicker, create a system of checks and balances where they hold each other to account, encourage public participation and create connections between people of similar beliefs and ideas. But this only works when the wheels of government are not powered by self-serving career politicians who are more focused on getting re-elected and keeping their sponsors happy than they are in genuinely listening to and serving their constituents.

On the flip-side of party politics, parties can become abusive, encourage polarisation, prioritise party lines over community needs, sacrifice individual members' expertise and experience, and ultimately invite corruption. This is where we are sitting right now. This is what the Australian people have responded to. This is what the outgoing government refused to see and learn from.

A government we cannot trust, a government without transparency, a government that grinds its citizens into the dust of poverty under the shoe of authority, is not a government owed a thing by its people.

In 2022, we have more than double the number of independents we have ever had in Parliament before. Instead of lamenting the "failure" of the people to vote them back into power and blaming the voters for their apparent ignorance of "how the system works", perhaps they should take a good, long look at themselves in the mirror - and begin to question if the system's evolution itself isn't the problem in the first place.

This story This is what happens when you treat voters like misbehaving teenagers first appeared on The Canberra Times.