Democracy is supposed to be a way of ensuring citizens get what they want, and a way of producing leaders who the majority of voters believe will deliver the best possible future.
In the past there were relatively simple choices of candidates along the left-right spectrum. But with the death of ideology politics has become a lot more complex.
History has produced two main structures, the ALP and LNP, and one smaller one, The Greens. All now fail to represent the key policies, and the mix of policies, favoured by most Australians. The appalling choice that will be on offer at the election this year makes many people angry but it is due to the lack of direct political engagement by almost the entire population.
The ALP and Libs have very few active members. The parties have given up on leadership as too hard, and only exist to provide employment for small cliques of people. Talk of "empowering the membership" is a sick joke.
Yet leadership is now more vital than ever. As the world faces crises in energy, finance, food demand, climate change, water, and population imbalances, Australia is still the lucky country. We can expect to ride out the coming storm and maintain most of our privileges, but only if we act decisively and soon.
Realist leaders wanting to make the necessary big changes should embrace the other key idea of democracy and give us what we want.
Polling over many years has clearly shown that big majorities of Australians want strong public health and education systems. We want an end to moral control by small religious minorities, allowing euthanasia and gay marriage. We favour a republic, and the stabilizing of the population as opposed to more endless rapid expansion. We want our refugee intake to be selected by the government, not people smugglers.
Other important issues are less polled but it is likely that majorities support lower taxes rather than numerous, expensive vote-buying handout schemes; a serious transition to new energy sources; more spending on science, and the introduction of justice into our appallingly inefficient legal system.
But we don't get any of these policies. Our big parties are run by people who equate deep cynicism with political genius. They assume most people will vote the way they always do no matter what. That leaves the most uncommitted and ignorant voters to be bought with small electoral bribes, and pressure groups to be appeased with token gestures or the continuation of policies that the majority reject.
That cynical analysis is simple but correct. The biggest downside is that no leader builds up the political capital needed to push through the big changes required to face the new realities. The "national interest" is rarely mentioned. Individual entitlement is the only game in town.
Young people are, as usual, the best hope for change. They used to be the driving force in political parties but now they are at least as disengaged as everyone else. Maybe this will change when they realize how completely they are being screwed by the current situation. Their economic interests are sacrificed to older generations, their moral values are repudiated, and, most importantly, the lack of any long-term planning to adapt Australia to new economic, environmental and social realities will have a negative impact for the rest of their lives.
Until significant numbers of Australians are prepared to ditch their old political allegiances and actually engage in political action our choice will remain the ALP, Liberals or Greens.
Syd Hickman has worked as a school teacher, soldier, Commonwealth and State public servant, on the staff of a Premier, as chief of Staff to a Federal Minister and leader of the Opposition, and has survived for more than a decade in the small business world.