Overcoming my political apathy in the wake of a never ending groundhog day


I used to be so focused and passionate about politics, and I can still get steamed up over issues. After all, political decisions have the potential to affect us all. They have the potential to introduce new policies to overcome existing disadvantages or to boost the economy – sometimes both at the same time. They have the potential to introduce controls to stem the degradation to our environment – and to lead to long term improvements. Legislative changes and advocacy  positions are influenced by outside factors – by community groups, by businesses, by other countries – and in turn can encourage those groups, and individuals to make changes in their own right. They matter.

But I can’t watch any debates or discussions, at least at the moment (and thank goodness – I could avoid the USA presidential candidate debate yesterday). I’m so sick of talk, point scoring and no action. There’s only so much that I can take – and I suspect many others feel similar. I didn’t watch Q&A on Monday night as, frankly, I was more interested to see if Richmond’s Dustin Martin could defeat the odds and win the AFL’s best  and fairest player award, the Brownlow medal (unsurprisingly he didn’t – well done to Geelong’s Paddy Dangerfield).

Don’t let the groundhogs get you down

I did, however, read about it today in an article titled Q&A recap:  Wong’s ‘get it done’ message in the face of groundhog day politics. And I realised three things:

  • Politics at the moment seems to be stuck in a never ending loop of talk and little action. This is so annoying that it can be disenfranchising, and we can switch off (case in point). Sometimes we can justify it by pretending the particular issues don’t directly affect all of us, right now.For instance, some relate to particular groups in the community, some we can try and close our eyes to, or issues that we can pretend we don’t need to deal with yet. The article I’ve referenced includes the following topics, and I’ve added some reasons (in brackets) for why we might make the decision that it doesn’t matter to us:
    • climate change and energy policy (do we have to deal with the pain now? Surely it can wait a bit longer – can’t it?)
    • asylum seekers (it’s awful, but can we send them somewhere else and deny the problem exists?;
    • education reform (if we move to the right area, maybe it won’t be an issue for us?),
    • same-sex marriage (well, that only impacts some of us – and I can’t really get involved, plus maybe there’s another perspective I should consider? Maybe? Note – do you really think that?).

So we continue to seek other views, or throw queries about small details, or avoid in another way addressing the issues. And nothing gets resolved, while we persist in thinking we need to continue to explore options.

  • If it’s frustrating for someone out of politics, it must be even more so working within it. I hadn’t realised that Penny Wong has now been on Q&A 16 times, and most of those times, she has been asked about the same topic, over and over.
  • You can’t let the frustration, the lack of action, or to quote The Age, ‘the nation’s endless debate over the many things it would apparently prefer to debate endlessly than actually resolve‘ get you down, stop you trying to make a change, allow yourself to disengage. Because that’s the easy approach – but it further embeds injustice, it further bogs the issue and makes it even harder to gain momentum.

Leaders need to lead. They need to make decisions on things that matter. And they can’t do so by avoiding making a decision – as Waleed Aly said some time ago, they can’t  avoid being targeted by anyone by not standing against (or for) anything. Eventually they’ll end up tangled in their own avoidance (and I love this illustration by Simon Letch from the same article – see below).




However, it’s not only up to the leaders to make changes. It’s up to those of us with a voice – which is almost all of us – to keep them focused. And not give up on reaching these outcomes.

Issues of climate change, improved access to education and employment opportunities, disability insurance, housing affordability, environmental improvements, marriage equality (and the list goes on) do matter – and they matter to us all. They can’t be put off for ever. They need to be addressed, as soon as possible.


So what’s the alternative? Maybe – just start?

One of my favourite quotes when I get frustrated at the pace of political change (including at work – things move very slowly in the urban planning sphere) comes Ken Henry, former Secretary of the Federal Treasury department. You may remember Mr Henry who, among other things led the preparation of a thorough reform to the taxation system (I understand none of the recommendations have yet been implemented. Add them to the list):

‘Good quality outcomes are much more difficult to secure where visionary ideas, big challenges and creative approaches are floated for the first time in the announcement of a policy decision. A better outcome will usually be achieved when the visionary idea is so well acccepted that it seems banal; where the challenges are so broadly accepted that everyone is worried sick about them; and when approaches to dealing with these challenges appears merely natural’ .

Surely, surely, we’ve reached this point on most of these issues. Most of these seem fairly clear to me. The clock doesn’t stop in terms of impact, and our lack of action is creating impact. We need to address these matters. 

It’s time to stop talking around the things that make some of us uncomfortable. We all need to break the cycle of talking to avoid real action. 

As Penny Wong said on Monday night, in terms of marriage equality:

“I’m really tired of talking about it. I’d just like to get it done.”


And to that, I’d have to agree. So now – what to do??


Tell me I’m not on my own, and you also share my frustrations!

I’d love to know what issues you feel passionate about, and what you plan to do about them – because I need some inspiration!


3 thoughts on “Overcoming my political apathy in the wake of a never ending groundhog day

  1. Hi Helen.

    Some perceptive points. Trump, Pauline, Hinch et al are only there because politicians just talk and people are sick of verbage and are looking for something different. Regarding marriage equality, our Canadian friends cannot understand why we are STILL talking about it! They have had it here for years. We really enjoy reading your writing. love to All,


    Sent by iPad power



  2. You’re not on your own and I share your frustration! Our governments will continue bicker and blow smoke until we stand up and demand better from them.

    I believe the best place to start would be to increase our terms. 3 years is a stretch to pretend to be busy but if we double that term to 6 years, I feel we will force their hand into proactivity.


    1. Thanks Lauren! Certainly the short term thinking doesn’t help. I’m not sure whether increasing terms would help, but maybe if bipartisan agreement was reached to depoliticise some elements (for instance, infrastructure prioritising and finding as a start, as they already have an organisation who could do that), that might help (for instance, the way the Reserve Bank is a bit more removed). I don’t know, but something needs to change!


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