Standing up for Canberra

The Chronicle: Uncivil discourse

'Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.'

Man's Search For Meaning - Victor Frankl

Since being elected Member for Canberra, I've become increasingly concerned about the uncivil nature of public debate in Parliament, the media and the wider community.

We all know Parliament is a contest of ideas and that contest should be rigorous and robust.

But the contest shouldn’t be personal and it doesn’t need to degenerate into a deafening blood sport where the person, not the argument, is attacked.

Canberrans have told me time and time again they want more policy and less posturing in Parliament.

And I agree.

But I'm worried that the lack of civility is not limited to Parliament - that unacceptable behaviour and language is widespread and causing Australians to disengage with their democracy.

In an age where individuals are more connected than ever – where that connectedness was meant to enhance democracy – Australians now seem to be more disillusioned with our democracy and through that, disenfranchised.

This year’s Lowy Institute poll of Australian attitudes found that just 49 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds say ‘democracy is preferable to any other kind of government’.

And last year’s Plan International Australia survey of 1000 young women and girls on sexism found that one percent or less wanted a career in politics.

These are disturbing findings and, I believe, a sign that the bile-filled debate and lack of civility in our broader public discussion on policy and politics has alienated many.

At a recent Australia Institute ‘Politics in the Pub’ speech, I argued that the responsibility to improve the pitch and tone of public debate rests with all of us.

Because the definition of civil is, 'polite, obliging, not rude'.

And it is also, 'of or belonging to citizens'.