Last Saturday marked an important moment in the popular fight against floated changes to Medicare and the system that allows Australians free access to GPs. The ‘Save our Medicare’ rally at Town Hall was organised by the Young Greens, the Socialist Alternative (SAlt), and the Young Labor factions. It could have been a demonstration of the strength of opposition to the potential reforms. Instead, it was a demonstration in pettiness and division as factions of the Left fought one another for ownership of the campaign.
Labor shirts and Greens flags painted the rally in Christmas colours as each faction strived to be the loudest and the most visible. As the factions sought to be the most closely associated with the campaign, the cause was reduced to little more than a convenient excuse to generate party exposure. A rally that could so easily have been a display of unity degenerated into a backdrop against which the never-ending games of factionalism and party politics could play out.
The President and Immediate Past President of the University of Sydney SRC, both members of Young Labor, chose to rally behind a banner that spoke exclusively of their loyalties to their faction and their own political ambitions: “Today’s Activists. Tomorrow’s Leaders!” It contained not so much as an allusion to the issue of healthcare and the possible co-payment scheme.
Rally organisers Evan Van Zijl of the Young Greens and Cat Rose of SAlt approached SAlt member Sarah Garnham, the National Union of Student’s Education Officer, to speak, at the expense of GPs.
These baffling decisions reveal a strange psychology, one that suggests that this campaign exists to serve the PR goals of Young Labor, or the Young Greens, or SAlt. Such an order of priorities is perverse.
It was this very psychology that, on Saturday, led the different political groups to attempt to claim ownership of this particular fight. Ironically, in striving to own this cause, those same political groups only weaken it.
The emphasis placed on Party politics and exposure distracts from genuine discussions of the protest’s true purpose. After the rally, a Young Labor memberposted a celebratory Facebook status. It generated 57 comments. Amidst the political gainsaying, not one of those comments made mention of the importance of ensuring the existence of free GP visits. In each seeking to be seen as the central protagonist of this campaign, the different factions exhaust themselves by critiquing the activist credentials of one another, as opposed to constructing cogent arguments against their real opposition: a federal government that threatens the accessibility of our healthcare.
Perhaps more alarmingly, in striving to turn a Medicare rally into a Labor/Greens/SAlt rally, student protesters alienate the very people they need to engage: Liberal voters who care enough about the provision of free healthcare to reconsider their support of the government at the next election. Voters who, instead of being forced to rationalise their thoughts on a contentious political issue, are offered a cheap and easy excuse to ignore what seems at best to be a partisan protest and at worst a rally for young wings of political parties.
The politicisation of this cause succeeds only in hamstringing a potentially cohesive opposition, an opposition that, with every social media argument, with every meaningless party slogan and with every irrelevant piece of branding sinks a little further into mires of pettiness and infighting. In this cause, as with all others, the political Left finds itself engaged in a fight against lobbyists, think tanks and governments. Inexplicably, it chooses to also fight itself.
Clarification: Honi would like to clarify that rally organisers Evan Van Zijl of the Young Greens and Cat Rose of SAlt approached GPs and Union representatives, in addition to Sarah Garnham. However, Garnham was prioritised following logistical complications which resulted in the exclusion of practicing GPs from the speakers list.
Greens Senator, and speaker, Richard Di Natale is a former GP. No practising GPs, however, spoke at the rally.