Introduction by Daryl Karp, Museum Director

Last year the museum began a conversation with its visitors about their top 10 democratic values. Whether it was the rule of law, social equality and a ‘fair go’ to the separation of powers, free and fair elections and an independent judiciary, we were keen to understand what matters to them so that we could include their thoughts in a new exhibition. As you’d expect in a liberal democracy like Australia, these also included compulsory voting, freedom of speech and assembly, religious tolerance, human rights and freedom of the press. 

Nothing better represents the important role of a free press in a healthy democracy than political cartooning. And Australia is blessed with outstanding cartoonists from across the political spectrum — cartoonists who are mainstream, regional, digital and, increasingly, independent.

In a world where every year sees a decline in nations that enjoy a free press, our media daily offers up cartoons that comment, lampoon and occasionally sympathise with our politicians and their actions. This is something to treasure and defend. Despite the increasing difficulties in separating misinformation and opinion from matters of fact, our cartoonists are champions when it comes to cutting through the rhetoric, skewering the fake and talking truth to power. 

Our Cartoonist of the Year, Matt Golding, has had a particularly strong year as a cartoonist for Fairfax Media. He excels in the ‘pocket’ style cartoon, but also in larger editorial cartoons. Pocket cartoons tend to feature a single issue, and though they were once common in many newspapers and magazines Golding is one of the few cartoonists still working in this style in Australia. Interestingly, this format lends itself well to the social media experience — Golding’s use of it matches that of Instagram, for example. Through his pocket cartoons he skilfully sums up complex issues within one frame, and bridges the gap between old and new technologies.

This is not a time to be complacent. Democracy around the world is under increasing pressure. Our young people are disconnecting from the mainstream process. Trust in our politicians and the political system is at an all-time low. But when both media and politics are polarised, and fact and opinion collide, we turn to our outstanding political cartoonists because they are able to capture an essential truth and, perhaps, to offer us some solid grounds for optimism. Not to mention a good number of laughs and a few poignant moments.

Daryl Karp
Museum of Australian Democracy