CANBERRA REPORT: Timely reminder of out-of-touch state

A visit to Versailles during my recent holiday in France seemed a timely reminder of the consequences of out-of touch leadership.

In the end, the elitist, arrogant and born-rule attitude of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette cost them their heads.

In a more recent but less dramatic uprising, the major parties failed to make the final cut in France's Presidential election.

Of course France's surprising election outcome follows shock election and referendum results in the United Kingdom and the United States.

There have been other unexpected outcomes in other European elections too, and Germany could yet provide the next tremor.

In an earlier column I suggested people need to think about what the alternative might look like before seeking radical change. I stand by that view and time will tell whether our European and American friends should have thought harder.

But voters have few choices and voting for someone different can easily become their only option. Politicians have many choices and ignoring the feelings of their people is the dumb choice.

That's the message I saw in France and it's the message I hear at home.

With real wages falling, prices rising and income inequality growing, too many people are feeling left behind.

Equal opportunity for all is not possible in those circumstances.

Politicians have an obligation to lead and persuade; to make the right and tough decisions.

But ultimately we are obliged to represent the will of the people and business-as-usual is not want they want. Not here, and not elsewhere.

Many European politicians have learned that the hard way. Not as harshly as King Louis and his wife, but dramatically and painfully just the same.

Will Australia's politicians make the same mistake? I thought Labor Leader Bill Shorten made a very useful contribution in a speech last week.

Acknowledging a problem is the first step to fixing the problem and Shorten is the first major party leader in Australia to do so.

Those who want to argue that all the data suggests the people have never had it so good do so at their peril.

Like Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake" line, it can only end in grief.


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