Feminist options: revive the Social Contract and fix the trust deficit.

So the ALP lost the election and everyone has a post mortem explanation of what went wrong (eg Ian Macaulay: it’s the economy)or what needs to be the future focus (Albo: It’s jobs, we are here for the workers). Yet the big story should be how voters reflected increasing distrust of the current  ‘democratic processes’ because of policy omissions. The low turnout, reported high levels of really undecided voters, and the failure of the accuracy of poll sampling to reflect the results are all indicators that too many voters were not engaged because of not trusting their decisions.  

My earlier contribution https://johnmenadue.com/eva-cox-the-trust-deficit-a-seriously-neglected-election-issue/ in late April made the case for these problems. So what do we do now to fix the undoubted mess? The growing number of votes against centrist parties here and elsewhere suggest the need for some serious rethinking. The government’s and opposition’s narrow margins are not ringing indicator of the legitimacy of their policy agendas.

Neither party addressed possibilities that many voters are rejecting the diminution of government roles in the funding and delivery of what were the public services.  So where do we start?  Why not revive the once discussed social contract which has been part of past debates on progress?

To quote Menadue’s recent part3: ‘Our life in the public sphere is no less necessary than our private lives. As citizens we enjoy and contribute to the public good. It is where we show and learn respect for others, particularly people who are different. It is where we abide by shared rules of civic conduct. It is where we build social capital – networks of trust. We need to behave in ways that make each of us trusted members of the community. ‘Do no harm’ is not sufficient.

Citizenship brings responsibilities – political participation, vigilance against abuse of power and paying taxes.’  

We need to restore the social to the debate as Menadue mentions in part 1.’ Curtin’s vision – ‘the social question’. ‘Curtin’s social democratic vision contrasts sharply with the Liberal Party platform that ‘only businesses and individuals are the creators of wealth and employment’, a view that reduces government to a burden rather than a contributor to the common wealth’

This is where I diverge from nearly all the commentators and experts seeking to explain the current political mess.  Using a mix of feminist analysis [there have been few women’s comments] and some of the Indigenous frameworks of what matters, I suggest thatit’s NOT the economy, stupid! There is more to life than materialism and GDP, and the lack of socially related policies, values and vision is seriously undermining beliefs that democratic governance needs to covers what really matters to voters and thus create legitimacy..

When Rousseau put up the idea of a social contract as the basis of functional societies, he recognised that humans were socially connected beings, and that our relationships mattered.  However, despite the concept informing  the Western European growth of nation states over the next centuries, it is now no longer an evident part of our current priorities of governance. These issues and concerns need to be revived and renewed

This is not a new problem. In 2014 I wrote in  The Conversation, to quote 

How we’re doing now?   Measures of inequality are problems as they indicate unfairness, not money deficits, per se, so  increasing, with the potential to damage social well-being. Progress, as such, is no longer used as a term to describe social change as the reforms of the post-war period, such as poverty reduction and gender equity, slow and even reverse. Today’s policies tend to punish those who do not fit the new, leaner, economic model. There is no valuing of alternative social contributions: parenting, Indigenous traditional roles, or volunteers who care for others. We turn back and punish those who arrive by boat seeking asylum. Recent data on social inclusion show visible flaws in our social cohesion as seen by newer arrivals.’

Exactly five years later, I ask the same question even more acerbically. We have growing levels of distrust of  both major parties, high numbers of non voters,  and similar emphasis on predominantly economic policies from both major parties. The best on offer was the ALP promise to fix the high costs of privatised services by offering subsidies, not the structural reforms needed. There were no serious commitments to prioritize public provision of social policies that could be seen as part of a social contract.

So here is the question that need answering. Whatever happened to the various public and private institutions we once trusted?  For example, most community services, health care and a range of children’s services are now profit making and no longer publically/communally owned or run. The existing and past recent Royal Commissions have identified deep distrust and profit motives that make us customers, not citizens with entitlements. Airports, banks, harbours, energy providers and other once public utilities or services are now all privatized, and the emphasis on getting paid work ignores the very necessary unpaid contributions, especially by women as carers plus.. Robo-debts and increased conditionality on payments eg the Cashless Debit Card, make life a misery, and payments are far too mean to live on. Stigma of non paid workers is rife and the idea of just voluntary contributions devalued.

Medicare is a mess and promising extra payments to greedy providers will not solve the problem. In times when there is the threat of environmental damage from the emphasis on increased production and  growth. Where are discussions on shorter paid working hours and more socially valued contributions to the common good!

We have in our First Nations’ history a wealth of examples of ways of living together and sharing resources and time use that we can learn from. From our own varied histories, we have long term examples of communal caring and creative ways of reusing resources. Much is already happening at local levels as the growing interest in mutuals co-ops and commons is. revised and revived. The wide interest in sharing common wealth via some forms of universal dividends are further examples of options that can tapped.

Then we can rebuild the social democratic base that retains voter trust, in order to focus on what really matters – the balance between being citizen,  not customers, in more civil societies.