The conversations we must have to protect our democracy


Indeed, both political parties have trouble articulating how we are going to restart immigration and fill the desperate skills vacancies crippling the economy without giving up the record levels of employment and consequent upward pressure on wages that is benefitting lower-skilled workers. The echo chamber here is, of course, the business and political classes who agree that migration is needed but fear the conversation with the community.

The United States has become famous for its echo chambers. The country has become so divided that many supporters of the two major political parties find it almost inconceivable that their rivals could win without perpetrating some kind of electoral fraud. Baffled that anyone could choose Donald Trump over her, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton repeatedly suggested that the 2016 election must have been stolen from her. When President Trump lost the 2020 election, he returned the favour by creating a cult around the idea that he would not have lost a fair fight against Joe Biden.

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2021.

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2021.Credit:AP

These types of divisions and self-sustaining silos are becoming just as much of a problem here. I recently had the surreal experience of receiving in my inbox the topics for an ABC panel show and a Sky panel show on the same day – if I’d consumed media exclusively from one outlet that day, the topics of the other would have been completely alien. But that is exactly what happens to people who have no cause to switch their consumption.

In Australia, our echo chambers are again being exposed by the reaction to the endorsement of Liberal Party candidate for Warringah Katherine Deves. One tribe is wondering why we are suddenly engaged in “hate speech”. The other is breathing a sigh of relief that this candidate hasn’t been “cancelled” by the “woke bullies”, and it is no longer necessary to “walk on eggshells”.

When the media which serves either of these tribes attempts to offer an insight which might help us understand the other side, it is accused of becoming an instrument of propaganda. This is war, you understand, waged mostly against strangers on the internet, and we must not give them an inch.

And yet, despite these echo chambers, it seems that there is a lot of unity on some topics, if not on how to discuss them. Polling by Equality Australia, taken in an inner-city seat and an ethnically diverse suburban seat, found that in both areas, Australians overwhelmingly support trans people having the same rights and protections as other Australians, and “would be less likely to vote for a candidate who expressed views critical of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Australians”.

The Liberal’s Warringah candidate, Katherine Deves.

The Liberal’s Warringah candidate, Katherine Deves.Credit:James Alcock

Despite Equality Australia’s fears about a “damaging debate” the news is excellent: Australians are overwhelmingly accepting of these minorities and supportive of their rights and inclusion. It’s a shame the poll didn’t ask whether people are open to a sensitive and respectful discussion about potential conflicts of rights, because that would have been the start of a conversation, not the end.

Back in France, Macron now faces the monumental challenge of starting a conversation in a culture which has turned away from itself. We, on the other hand, face an opportunity. Equality Australia’s polling shows that there is a strong foundation for a respectful conversation. Macron could only wish he were in such a strong position.

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