Australian Politicians Fail to Lead
Political leadership is part of the job
To paraphrase Oliver Yates, the independent Federal candidate for Kooyong, Australian politicians have reversed the democracy pyramid, prioritising the interests of themselves, of their faction and of their party, and only – as an afterthought – looking after the interests of their constituents.
Representative democracy requires elected politicians to firstly represent the interests of the people in their electorate. But democracy also requires politicians to show leadership, and to prepare and implement a plan for their region or country.
In 1992 in Singapore, the importation and sale of chewing gum was banned. This was just one example of how Singaporeans gave up personal freedoms for the sake of the community – in this case the elimination of used chewing gum that caused inconvenience on public streets and damage to public transport facilities like trains and train stations.
Big picture – Singaporeans made a number of personal sacrifices when their political leaders asked them to so that this small nation-state could become a better behaved and more agreeable place to live. To this day Singapore remains a peaceful, successful and prosperous regional hub for transport, logistics, manufacturing, banking and communications.
Australia’s politicians representing but failing to lead
In the video link below, Liberal politician David Southwick (State Member for Caulfield) is representing the interests of some of his constituents. While this is part of his job, he is failing to show leadership – or any real vision for the future.
DAVID SOUTHWICK: So Kate Ashborn [spelling?] and I have been taking a walk down Inkerman Road. Bit of campaigning, many locals. We’ve bumped into Simone Food [spelling?] who’s been leading an important campaign to save Inkerman Road. What is this big issue? Tell us, why do we have to save Inkerman Road? What are we saving it from?
SIMONE: So, the Council’s planning to make Inkerman a safe cycling corridor, for people, ah, from Caulfield Council [sic] and Monash through to St Kilda Road. And generally, residents’ concerns at the moment are about parking because, as you can see, there’s almost no space for parking.
DAVID SOUTHWICK: So that’ll all be gone.
SIMONE: So, we don’t exactly know but it looks like at least one side they may want to remove. And also just a real concern about safety and amenity not just for residents but for pedestrians and cyclists and motorists. We all have to work and live here together, and making sure that stays.
KATE: We do. And I work and I live here. I’m a local, so my phone’s been ringing off the hook with people who are confused, who are concerned, who want it to be safe for cyclists, but we must ensure that car parking and safety of locals is kept as well.
The transcript with my ‘translation’
DAVID SOUTHWICK: So Kate Ashborn [?] and I have been taking a walk down Inkerman Road.
TRANSLATION: Get ready. They’re not just walking because they want to enjoy the day.
DAVID SOUTHWICK: Bit of campaigning …
TRANSLATION: This is, indeed, a campaign.
DAVID SOUTHWICK: … many locals.
TRANSLATION: We don’t see any locals walking past; we only hear passing motor vehicles.
DAVID SOUTHWICK: We’ve bumped into Simone Food [?] who’s been leading an important campaign to save Inkerman Road.
TRANSLATION: Simone is important, and David supports Simone, and this campaign is important because someone called ‘they’ is trying to ‘kill’ Inkerman Road.
DAVID SOUTHWICK: What is this big issue? Tell us, why do we have to save Inkerman Road? What are we saving it from?
TRANSLATION: Yes, a grave danger is coming. To save Inkerman, where do I send my money?
SIMONE: So, the Council’s planning to make Inkerman a safe cycling corridor, for people, ah, from Caulfield Council [sic] and Monash through to St Kilda Road.
TRANSLATION: Okay, so a suburban public road is going to be used to get people to work.
SIMONE: And generally, residents’ concerns at the moment …
TRANSLATION: Simone purports to speak for all residents. She more likely is just speaking for people who want to continue to park an unlimited number of cars, for free, on public roads. She is not speaking for residents who currently cycle when going about their business. She is also not speaking for residents who might decide to cycle to work or around the suburb if they felt safer on the roads.
SIMONE: … are about parking …
TRANSLATION: Yes, it’s all about the parking.
SIMONE: … because as you can see, there’s almost no space for parking.
TRANSLATION: Well, Simone, we could chop down all the trees to make more space for cars. But seriously, already this 1950s solution of everybody being able to park for free on public roads is failing. Already there is not enough space in our cities to park as many cars as we want wherever we want.
DAVID SOUTHWICK: So that’ll all be gone.
TRANSLATION: David is playing the ‘fear’ card. This plan by the Council to create a safe cycling corridor is going to unfairly take something away from you.
SIMONE: So, we don’t exactly know but …
TRANSLATION: Before we know what is being proposed, David and his friends are against it.
SIMONE: … it looks like at least one side they may want to remove.
TRANSLATION: So even if the Council’s plan is to only re-allocate one side of this public road from free parking to a safe active transport (bicycle) lane, even this amount of sharing a publicly-funded road should be unacceptable to everyone.
SIMONE: And also just a real concern about safety …
TRANSLATION: Even though only 27 pedestrians have been killed by bicycles in Australia since Federation in 1901, while over 190,000 people have been killed by motor vehicles here since 1925, Simone and David are concerned about the safety of residents from increased bicycle traffic. This is a nonsense; bicycles are far less dangerous than cars.
SIMONE: … and amenity …
TRANSLATION: So, Simone thinks it makes a suburb more attractive to have smelly cars and large trucks that drip oil on the road parked in front of homes than it is to have a bicycle lane with a bit of green paint on the road? Really?
SIMONE: … not just for residents …
TRANSLATION: Yes, for David and Simone it is only about the residents, but only the residents who have more than one car and who don’t want to have to move that one car so their adult children can get out of the driveway.
SIMONE: … but for pedestrians …
TRANSLATION: No, Simone, you are not concerned about pedestrians. Last year, 37 pedestrians were killed by drivers of motor vehicles in Australia. If you were concerned about pedestrians, you would be encouraging fewer cars in your suburb and more bicycles.
SIMONE: … and cyclists …
TRANSLATION: No, Simone, you are not concerned about cyclists either. If you were, you would not be trying to 'save' Inkerman Road from becoming a safe cycling corridor.
SIMONE: … and motorists.
TRANSLATION: Now that sounds more like the truth, Simone.
SIMONE: We all have to work and live here together …
TRANSLATION: Yes. And ‘we’ includes people who choose to commute by bicycle.
SIMONE: … and making sure that stays.
TRANSLATION: Simone concludes with the mantra: “Let’s make sure free on-street parking is never taken away from us.”
KATE: We do …
TRANSLATION: Kate is on her high horse, and joins the ‘discussion’.
KATE: And I work and I live here.
TRANSLATION: I pay taxes, and I own and don’t rent, and I therefore own this street.
KATE: I’m a local …
TRANSLATION: I am more important than commuters who may drive through my suburb on their way to work. But I’m happy for cars to drive down my street, I just don’t want bicycles on my street because I want to always be able to park on taxpayer-funded public roads for free.
KATE: … so my phone’s been ringing off the hook …
TRANSLATION: A few older residents have been ringing her repeatedly, because the younger ones would be texting … or maybe they’re out riding their bikes, or just getting on with the realities of living in a growing city that does not have room for each house to have four cars – three of which are usually parked on the street.
KATE: … with people who are confused, who are concerned, …
TRANSLATION: The people ringing me are confused and concerned because I’m filling their heads with incomplete and inaccurate information in my attempt to scare them about falling property prices. And my plan is working.
KATE: … who want it to be safe for cyclists, but …
TRANSLATION: Kate, when you end a sentence with ‘but’, you are being disingenuous, or worse, you are lying.
KATE: … we must ensure that car parking and safety of locals is kept as well.
TRANSLATION: Kate, what you really mean is: “we must ensure that car parking … is kept”. Full stop.
This video is full of spin, of slogans and phrases designed to elicit emotional responses. It contains a lot of mis- and dis-information.
I met David Southwick a number of years ago. He seems to have spent a lot of time and energy over the years engaging with the local community, and he seems to be representing his constituents fairly well. But he is not showing leadership, and he is not presenting a sustainable vision of the future for his constituents, his state or his country.
The local residents in this video are not bad people. They just don’t want things to change. Or if things do change, they just don’t want to have to make any personal compromises or concessions for the greater good. In short, ‘not in my back yard’.
But this is where leadership is required. The quality of life in Australian cities will continue to fall unless Australian politicians, through leadership, map the way forward to creating sustainable urban environments.
Try this for a vision
Taxes pay for the creation and the maintenance of public roads, and this is not cheap. So why, as a modern urban society, do we allow people who buy a home in a suburb to continue to use those expensive public roads to park as many cars as they wish – for free in most cases – with few limitations?
Instead, why don’t we allocate some of the space on our public roads for active transport options? When suburban streets permit on-street parking on both sides of the road, we are effectively preventing half of the road space from being used for travel, and instead allocating this expensive public resource to free parking.
It is likely that the solution for making urban centres sustainable in the future will include: more and better public transport solutions (train, rail, bus); more public transport options (pedestrian zones, bicycle paths, bicycle lanes); more active transport (walking, cycling, mixed-mode transport); fewer people using personal/solo transport vehicles (petrol cars, electric cars, self-driving cars); and fewer spaces where personal/solo transport vehicles can be freely parked on public roads.
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