Last night I attended a meeting in the town of Eudunda, located less than two hours’ drive from Adelaide.
Our Sydney readers might consider that a peak hour inner-city trek, but for South Australians, a couple of hours takes one well outside the city limits.
Eudunda is near the famous Barossa Valley wine region and is the birthplace of Australian author Colin Thiele.
It is also a haven of common sense.
Regional communities have such a practical sense of the fitness of things that they sometimes make the supposedly ‘informed inner-city elites’ seem even more out of touch. Last night was no exception.
At the local bowling club, a meal was shared by around 50 residents with a few interlopers like me. It was quintessential country catering: home cooked roast lamb with vegetables followed by pie, custard and ice cream.
Everyone pitched in to make the evening a success and a few dollars were raised for a good cause.
As one of two politicians in attendance, I was asked to say a few words. Never one to miss an opportunity, I spoke briefly about the current state of political affairs, framing my remarks around the principles that should be underpinning politics and political activism.
Scarcely a policy issue was touched until I sat down and had the opportunity to speak with some of the people one on one. This is where the divergence between the obsessive agenda of vocal minorities and the real world concerns of the rest becomes very clear.
The matters discussed were as practical and authentic as the fabulous meal; people wanted to talk about health care, the level of national debt, the opportunities for their children and the nature of Australian politics today.
Nary was a mention made of the three ‘Gs’ that seem to consume the political commentariat - green theory, global warming and gay marriage.
And yet, if you spent your day watching television or listening to ABC radio, you could easily be mistaken for thinking they were the only three matters anyone really cares about. Perhaps in Ultimo or Brunswick but not in Eudunda or thousands of other towns like it right across the country.
Therein lies the problem for politicians. If you don’t talk about what matters to middle Australia they feel left behind and unrepresented. However, if you do, then ‘our’ ABC and their ilk will suggest you are out of touch…or worse.
And this is why your local Member of Parliament is so important. The best of them work tirelessly to represent your interests without seeking public acclaim or the endorsement of the ABC talking heads. They simply get on with making a difference in a thousand small ways week after week.
In an equine parlance, they are work horses rather than show ponies and through the electoral process we all get a chance to back our favourite every three years.
However, as politics becomes more like ‘show business for ugly people’ than ever before, the hardworking local member is often relegated to second place behind the presidential-style leadership campaign. So much is invested in promoting the leader that the actual engine room of representative democracy can be forgotten.
But we cannot afford to ignore one of the most fundamental elements of our democracy. Just think about what’s at stake.
The Prime Minister is chosen as a result of the election of local MPs. Policy decisions are directed as a result of the election of your local MP and they are the person every individual voter is most likely to have influence with.
Put simply, your vote matters to your local member; after all, their current livelihood depends on it.
And that’s why we should all welcome the opportunity to render our verdict - not on some esoteric thought about whether we like the leader or not, but about the performance, the principles and values of our local representatives.
With a Federal election due this year, now is the best time to get in touch with your local candidates.
If you don’t already know, find out what they stand for, what they've done and what they intend to do. Look at their party platform and see how it sits with your values.
The answers might surprise you.
Surprised or not, at least you’ll be able to cast an informed ballot. After all, that’s the best way to influence the future direction of the country.
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