It’s not enough to care, the government should love us

Posted on 18 Oct 2022

By Denis Moriarty

Loveheart rainbow i Stock 541979964

No government can be much worse, or much better, than the people who voted it in, and anything I say about Australia’s immediate past government must be taken as retrospective self-criticism.

That said, I have to say that I enjoy the novelty of a government that doesn’t see its core business as kicking people.

Looking forward, though, we have to be able to ask more of a government than simply ‘not that’, and we haven’t got long to get our bids in before the new clean slate gets scribbled over.

As a minimum, we want a government whose instincts are sound. Cruelty should be seen as a bug, not a feature. That’s not a high bar, but we’ve had a long streak of Australian governments noisily not caring about the goody-goody soft girly community things of this world, and we need to get some things clear from the outset. The bottom line is common decency.

At the moment the government is concerned with fulfilling the list of promises it took to the election – making a difference, yes, but not the kind that actually involves dramatic and systemic change for every portfolio. It’s already being jostled out of that course by events (the politician’s worst enemy), but it’s yet to show any commitment to addressing the elephants in the room (remember when there was just one?).

I know that governments have to compromise with vested interests, and guard against bad actors, and take electoral realities into account. I’m not asking for a fully consistent philosophical position across all its actions. I just want to know where my government’s starting from, and what it sees as its part of the process. I need to know what values it’s prepared to fight for.

Denis CIC19
Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty

The values that power the community sector are a good place to start:

  • Everybody matters. Everybody needs a fulfilling life. Everybody who has a support system that allows them to achieve a fulfilling life has a responsibility to contribute to the support systems of those who can’t (that’s in large part what taxes are for).
  • Markets work well where we don’t really care what happens – purchases of stationery, for example, or Cornflakes. Where there’s more riding on it – with cigarettes, say, or AK-47s – we don’t listen to them. Markets exist in the open ground between institutions, and their boundaries need to be carefully policed.
  • Governing Australia isn’t done just by government, or politicians, or public servants. The web of civil society that ensures we live, near as possible, in harmony is maintained by hundreds of thousands of not-for-profit associations and voluntary contributions. Don’t take that for granted.

The trouble with those values is that nobody in politics is going to disagree with them, provided that values aren’t expected to influence what they actually do. It’s always possible to find an argument for saying ‘Yes, I’ll do the right thing – but not this exact time.’ Political constraints – voting the bastards out – just aren’t quick or accurate enough to move the needle in particular cases.

If we are to trust the government we must know that it wants what’s best for us rather than what’s best for it, and between climate change, healthcare funding and public education there are enough ways for it to demonstrate good intentions. The government needs to get into character.

I’m tired of settling for the lesser of two evils. I want to reach for the ideal. I want to appeal to the kind of motivation that the community sector relies on and political science has more or less written out of the record. I want (following the lead of New Zealand economist Girol Karacaoglu) a government that acts as if it loves us.

Without that vision, without the kind of commitment that powers a mother to lift a car off her child, I can’t see any government successfully meeting the challenges of bringing Australia through the global environmental, economic and social polycrisis in one piece.

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of, a social enterprise helping the country's 600,000 not-for-profits.

This article was first published in Australian Community Media.

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