Business has become a higher source of inspiration than the political process, Chief Executive Officer of the Committee for Melbourne Andrew MacLeod admitted at the Deakin University 2011 Richard Searby Oration.
Arguing for people to critically examine where public debate was now and demand a choice from their politicians based on hope rather than a choice based on fear, Mr MacLeod said he found himself in an unusual position.
‘I come from a nominally left wing background but I look to business as the most likely source of inspiration in today's Australia,’ he said.
‘Perhaps uncomfortably, the voices in our community that are now beginning to be heard are not those you would expect.’
‘Business is now beginning to exercise a voice to speak out against xenophobia – xenophobia in foreign investment, xenophobia in migration and yes even in the refugee debate.
‘Business is beginning to speak because, above all, business sees and understands the brand risk to our country.’
Mr MacLeod said there was a lack of long-term thinking in policy debate.
‘Be it disaster recovery, brand image, population, supplementing development aid or international education, the home of long term thinking is no longer our governments, it is business,’ he said.
‘Who would have thought that only 10 years ago that some of the most pro-refugee and pro-immigrant voices were not the left wing, but business?’
Mr MacLeod said the days of discourse surrounding great issues like conscription, urban planning, floating the dollar had gone.
‘Back then our politicians gave us alternative visions,’ he said.
‘We had terms like consensus and we had debate.’
Mr MacLeod said it was disconcerting that on an important issue such as carbon emissions he knew more about the disaster that would befall the country if it had a carbon tax, or the ineffectiveness of direct action, than he did about the positives of either program.
‘I am being asked today more often than not to vote against a fear than for a vision,’ he said.
‘Have we forgotten how to be positive, long term or visionary?’
Mr MacLeod said the politics of the negative could be turned around by people demanding that the media and politicians give them neither a choice of fear, nor a dialogue of the negative, but a choice of hope.
‘Demand of ourselves and of those commentators we read, listen to, or view: Say not what the other policies will do to send our country to certain ruin, say what your policy will do to improve upon the already good,’ he said.
‘Tell me how you will take our nation from good to great, don't tell me how someone else will take it to ruin.’
‘If you agree with me that we have a vacuum in quality public discourse, then you have two choices: sit back and lament the darkness, or engage in dialogue, demand quality and in doing so lean over and light the candle of hope.’