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October 31, 2003

a defining political moment

I have been thinking about the events of last week associated with the fleeing visit of the imperial presidency who sees the world through a self-enclosed security bubble: 750 security agents and a 24-hour fly-over in Canberra skies of F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets.

At one level the spectacle was a political stunt organized by John Howard to gain electoral traction as the political ground shifts away from national security to health and education. At another level it was a taxpayer funded private party for John Howard's mates that excluded everyone else from any ongoing dialogue with the Americans. At another level it was the American Secret Service taking over Parliament and excluding the Australian media from documenting the event.

Personally, I think it's a defining political moment. It is symbolized by Brown confronting Bush and so a challnged to the conservative cynicism that comes wrapped in the flag.

And the Parliamentarians knew in their bones that the template of public opinion had shifted underneath all their spin about bad manners, stunts, lack of decorum, boorish behaviour etc etc.
Press4.jpgThe Parliamentarians knew the significance of the numbers in the polls. Hence their outrage and anger.

They knew that electoral support for the Howard Government was slipping, as socially progressive liberals were leaving a conservative Liberal Party. They were going to the Australian Greens and not to the Australian Labour Party. The hardline stance on issues such as border protection and security policy was not biting like it once did because these political issues were dropping in importance of concern.

They knew that support for Labor (ALP) was slipping and that it was going to the Greens, and not to The Australian Democrats.

They knew that electoral support for the Australian Democrats was slipping and it was going to the Greens. The Demcorats were no longer the socially progressive alternative. They facing the end of their 25 year old historyas a Third Force.

The Greens are now the Party of political protest that had become a powerful third force in Australian politics.

Hence the speech by the Government attack dog, Senator George Brandis. He called Bob Brown an ecofascist. The Australian Greens were engaged in crypto-fascists politics. Brandis drew parallels between the political techniques of the green movement and the Nazi's in that both used the form of democracy as a political cover for their jackboot politics.

Astoundly, Brandis' understanding of German history showed no understanding of the corporatism in fascism, the development of corporatism in Australia, or the way this corporatism is being shaped by the Howard Government.

Why the attack? Because the trajectory of the political shift is one of the Australian Greens controlling the fate of government legislation by possibly holding the balance of power in the Senate. That is of a major concern to the Howard Government. Hence the politics of fear and loathing that is part of a scare campaign. The teeth are barred. It is political ugliness not policy that is the order of the day.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 31, 2003 11:43 AM

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Tracked on October 31, 2003 12:56 PM


I agree that Brandis was motivated by the reasons you outline but his methodology of attack - with its 'deep insight' into the true nature of the Greens - seems to me to be from the Straussian school. He spent time at American Enterprise Institute earlier in the year as a resident acholar or some such.

Posted by: wbb at October 31, 2003 03:49 PM

Still, it's pretty historically ignorant and offensive of Brandis to make such a comparison. (What next, Bob Brown is a vegetarian, Hitler was too? Maybe Brandis had been studying at the Ann Coulter Center for Political Thought)

By implication, Brandis is saying Green voters are facists or don't understand what they're voting for. This transparent slander shows the Liberals worried about higher Green polling, and not about their relationship with a minor party that may well hold the balance of power in the next Senate.

Great long-term thinking George, and the Nazi stuff shows what a deep thinker you are.

And what of the absolute crap that interrupting Bush 'suborns parliamentary democracy'. If interrupting any speaker 'suborns parliamentary democracy', this happens every day. And as if the leader of the United States is in danger of being denied free speech. How precious can you get?

Posted by: William at November 1, 2003 09:18 PM

Re 'the Political ground shifts away from national security to health and education' I would agree on the health issue(so would Howard with Abbott's appointment)but as to education I have my doubts. Gary, you might like to read Chelsey Martin's article on p16 of this weekend's Fin. 609,000 Australians now hold degrees or higher degrees. Also I just heard some media comment in the last couple of days that a job should not be under-valued in comparison to attending uni for school-leavers. Basically the point that we may have under-valued on the job training for our youth. Also with Finance Minister Nick Minchin's observation recently that if the PBS scheme continues growing at 10% like last year, in 13 yrs it will command more total expenditure than education. Education will be an issue alright-how to slash it to bolster health. Still maybe a Labor Govt will be the best to deliver the bad news to its traditional constituency.

Re 'The Greens are now the Party of political protest that had become a powerful force in Australian politics' the first part about political protest is true. As far as a powerful force goes I'd rate Bob Brown on a par with Pauline Hanson. Now both the majors have a repository for their loony fringe dwellers, while the majority of us hum to the tune of 'stuck in the middle with you' with Tweedledum/dee. It will be interesting to see if the mainstream parties can get Bob locked away too. Truth is if either Pauline or Bob ever hold the balance of power watch how quickly the majors will get all chummy.

The prob with Bob is he sounds just like Pauline to most of us. Simplistic, populist gripers with little or no answers. He'll have his 5 mins in the sun just like Pauline, then he'll probably trot off and do a Jim Cairns when he gets chewed up and spat out by reality.

As for being a Nazi I think nothing could be further from the truth. He would be more likely to be one of their happy souls popping off to the showers, whistling a fairy woodland tune, without realising he has no soap or towel.

Posted by: Observa at November 2, 2003 12:58 AM

I just wonder if Brandis the intellectual can tell us which countries the Greens would invade if they came to power, and which minorities are headed for the gas chambers. 'Cos those are the features of Naziism that, you know, kind of stand out. As Brown said on Lateline, nasty stuff.

These statements are all the more bizarre because they are supposedly made as a matter of high principle. High principles and the Liberal Party? I'd like to see that!

Posted by: William at November 2, 2003 09:54 AM

I think that you underestimate Hanson. She did not just speak for the looney tune fringe dwellers. She spoke for the Tory working class and lower middle class who had once voted Labor. She said their views were not being heard and that the parliamentary system was flawed through a democratic deficit.

That part of the electorate now votes for Howard and has taken up residence within his house of conservatism.

That is a big shift electorially speaking.It all take place during the latter part of the 1990s.

A similar shift is happening with the socially progressive, small l liberals in the Liberal and Labor Parties. They are shifting over to the house of the Greens. They are changing (eg.,embracing human rights after Tampa) to both attract and to accommodate them.

The Greens are seen to be more effective than the Democrats.

The Greens are no longer speaking on behalf of the looney tune fringe dwellers.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at November 2, 2003 10:03 AM

I agree with your point that just like One Nation, the Greens (or Democrats,DLP, etc)can from time to time emerge to capture a sizable disenchantment with the majors. However, historically these protest parties can only manage about 8% electoral support before their solidarity wanes. Even if the two major's votes slump to historical lows(about 35% each) they still command 70% of the vote, leaving the minors to divvy up the remainder.

It is basically a duopoly of ideas in the electoral market-place. At any time a protest party can emerge, led by extreme ideas/complaints, which also skims off some of the mainstream support,as you point out. However, the long term viability of this support is always challenged by the practical choices and compromises required in their representative's Parliamentary voting. This is evident with the GST or Telstra sale for the Democrats. As soon as you make choices, you disenchant some of your soft, disparate, or one issue supporters who then return to their major roots. End of challenge to the majors. Now even if these protest parties are extremely successful at capturing a sizable threat to the middle, the majors, who are closely allied in policy anyway, will combine on the floor of Parliament to defeat them(or at the very least their more loony proposals)

It is essentially for these reasons, that I believe the Greens(who are having a hiatus at present) will ultimately emulate the DLP, Democrats and One Nation. The other reason is because they have no coherent macroeconomic policy to achieve their aims and present a serious challenge to the status quo and its perceived problems. If you don't believe me ask yourself this- Why would you pick on plastic shopping bags, from amidst all the other packaging we shoppers cart home from the supermarket and put in our Garbag lined bins?

Posted by: Observa at November 2, 2003 07:41 PM

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