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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the fracturing of the body politic « Previous | |Next »
August 28, 2010

Unsurprisingly, many in the Canberra Press Gallery cannot see beyond the two party system.That is liberal democracy for them, so they just dismiss the situation by saying that a new election would be the best way out of our federal political imbroglio; or they dump on the Independents.

There is not much thinking through about what has happened in terms of a challenge to the two party system or what it means for Australian democracy. Australia's political culture is not about to change.

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The position of George Megalogenis is more thoughtful than simply saying that minority government is a minefield or a gridlock. In his Divided we stand column, he says that Australian society fractured along lines of state, age and sex.

He highlights the shifts happening in the electorate as revealed by the 2010 election:

Both sides now have a base revolt on their hands. To the left of Labor in the capitals, the Greens are on the rise; to the right of the Coalition in the bush, the independents are claiming a moral victory in their turf war with the Nationals.

However, he doesn't take it much further than that in terms of the significance of the long term trends --the formation of loose right-of-centre and left-of-centre coalitions.

Sure, the party system will endure, and it’s likely that the next election will bring a return to majority government. However, the fracturing on the right and the left will continue to happen bit by bit, opening up a space in the middle for the Independents to locate themselves and for us to hear their different voices. At the moment these voices are not taken seriously. Thus Tony Wright says:

They are legitimate voices with a number of legitimate axes to grind, but their current influence - and the potential for continuing influence over national policy - is a distortion of reality, even if Oakeshott and Windsor are more considered men than Katter, have been placed in their current position through no fault of their own and sincerely want stable government.....nevertheless, the peculiarities of the election-without-end mean that if either Abbott or Gillard can't woo the blokes from the bush, there will be nothing for it but another election, which would likely be as popular as poison to all concerned.It might, however, be a better alternative than to have the likes of Bob Katter holding a blunderbuss to the nation's decision-making process.

Despite the appalling state of parliamentary politics there is no consideration of the Independents push for reform of Parliament. No consideration how this situation may lead to more infrastructure investment in renewable energy or regional development.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:18 AM | | Comments (17)


"...the fracturing on the right and the left will continue to happen bit by bit..."

Well, that's PART of the problem, isn't it? Many people (hi, have we been introduced?) are very disillusioned with what passes for the "centre" these days. As far as I'm concerned, both parties are planted solidly on the right.

The Insiders, perhaps habitually, dismiss the Outsiders, so I suppose it is not surprising they would be blind to positive possibilities of minority government. This situation also puts on display the relative political skills of the alternative prime ministers.

A very similar fracturing is occurring in the US, where there is also the same
"...aggravating factor of a nihilistic commercial media"

The ALP continues to assume that it can keep relying on votes in the right-wing territory of the suburban heartland, with disaffected voters on the Left return to it automatically through Greens preferences.

They either hope the threat from the Greens will go away, or they are quite relaxed about the seats currently held by Albanese, Ferguson and Plibersek are expendable -- just like Tanner's seat of Melbourne.

Paul Kelly's judgement from his eagle's nest on Mt Olympus is that:

....where, exactly, is Labor heading? Its tactical skill at clinging to office is impressive. The risk, however, is that Gillard is affirming Labor's weakness and accentuating its decline into a situation where, with a falling primary vote, its future is to share power with Greens and independents as the once mighty Labor Party fades into history.This risk should neither be exaggerated nor ignored.

He talks nonsense. What is likely to happen--as Lindsav Tanner pointed out is that it is increasingly difficult for the two major political forces to hold together under a single umbrella the disparate aspirations and interests of their constituencies.

Kelly only speaks from the point of view of the interests of Murdoch and that class.
When he says something is "bad", he only ever means, from the point of view of TNC's bottom lines.
He has handed us the shovel to dig our own graves and expects us to be enthusiastic; to "make willing" and is upset when we are not.
He is just a Quisling for the hard right; gutless creature that he is.

thanks for your link--- Matt Taibbi's Tea Party Rocks Primaries in Rolling Stone. I see that it is about the fracturing of the Republican Party by the Tea Party movement, which is partly driven by real local issues.

Taibbi says:

Everyone involved with politics understands the current dynamic. It’s not hard to grasp. You take very tough economic times, add them to a heavy dose of political opportunism, and multiply both by the aggravating factor of a nihilistic commercial media, and what you get is ethnic scapegoating on a massive scale....What we’re watching is a calculated campaign to demonize blacks, Mexicans, and gays and convince a plurality of economically-depressed white voters that they are under imminent legal and perhaps even physical attack by a conspiracy of leftist nonwhites. They’re telling these people that their government is illegitimate and criminal and unironically urging secession and revolution.

Australia doesn't have the very tough economic times nor anything equivalent to the Tea Party movement thank goodness.

But it does have frustrated/angry white suburbanites and a toxic right wing media that is pushing this populist movement to make money.

Now, if it was a church wedding Arbib would be a ringin' da bell.

Nup, I don't buy George's analysis which is just a tad more thoughtful than the usual media punditry.

What is different from last election?

The ALP lost a % or so to the COALition.
That is not surprising and certainly not a fracturing.
They have been swapping a few percent every election for yonks.
The Independents got roughly what they got last time within the parameters of a small national swing.
Nobody presumed anything else before the election, AFAIK all the pundits presumed they were safe in their seats.

The Greens gained a big swing mainly from Labor and probably a small part from the COALition and others.
That is shown by them picking up swings in all seats, all states and all regions, urban and rural, [lets get rid of this fallacy that they get their support from the capitals only] and it is in line with their consistently better performance in all recent elections, again no surprise, no fracturing.

That is not surprising given that many opinion polls have shown consistently for years that their policies are popular eg climate change, water, same sex marriage, industrial reform, NBN etc.

Really this election has just shown that the Greens are getting more powerful despite the influence of the media which managed to hurt Tweedledum and praise Tweedledee leaving the Greens as a more viable choice than previously.

we are a much more diverse and pluralised community. We no longer simply divide along binary lines. We no longer have two parties divided by a clear programmatic orientation.

(1) aren't the country Independents a fracturing of the Nationals? Do not the Greens represent a fracturing of Labor as a social democratic party?
(2) both major parties failed to gain a majority
(3) coalitions are becoming the norm at the state level
(4) isn't the Coalition really a coalition of several parties (Liberals, Nationals, WA Independent Nationals, Country Liberal Party).

Paul Sheehan does go on. He lays into the Independents:

Now we get to the critical point. The independence of these independents only exists in the context of electorates where Labor is not a viable alternative and the Greens are regarded as dangerous and alien. Their voters were thus able to choose former National Party renegades because they promised to be even more parochial for rural voters than the Nationals themselves.These men have been given no mandate whatsoever to form a government with the party their electorates so comprehensively dismissed.

He finishes on a strident note:
Their ultimate mission is to reflect the will of their electorates. So if either Katter, Windsor or Oakeshott throw their fate in with the Labor-Green alliance, they may as well buy themselves some fishnet stockings, follow-me-home stilettos and micro-miniskirts because, for many bushies, they will have become streetwalkers, the prostitutes of Parliament Drive.

Prostitutes? Sounds more like the Nationals to me. Seems Sheehan thinks that Independents should only express their electorates views and avoid having anything to do with the public interest.

In Harsh light of reality about to hit Greens David Burchell tries to firebomb The Greens for Murdoch.

Referring to their policies on climate change, refugees and a sustainable Australia he says:

All of these positions depend for their utility on pure, virtuous, political impotence. To maintain them from a position of political responsibility is bound to look, at best, like an evasion, and at worst like downright political cynicism.

He adds:
Sooner or later the Greens will have to start talking the truth to themselves, as well as to us. The alternative is to descend into the crudest political cynicism, dressing up inaction as a virtue, evasion as a courageous stand on principle, doubletalk as political rectitude.

Basically The Greens are two faced. They are also blind to the political reality that the electorate has not swung to the Left in any demonstrable fashion (even if a few thousand young professionals in inner-city Melbourne have). If anything Australians today are more conservative-minded, by all the usual measures, than they were three years ago.

Henry Ergas is calling for proportional representation for the House of Representatives in The Australian.

Things are shifting

What surprises me about the alleged 'fracturing' of the 'binary' party system is the statement that it a recent phenomonem.

Its being going on for yonks.

I left the ALP more than a decade ago when it finally dawned on me that the difference between the ALP and the COALition was minimal.
And I was not alone.
Barry Jones in his autobiography relates how Malcolm Fraser confided in him that he, Malcolm, could not think of a single issue in which Kym Beazley was to the left of him.
Thats how close the 2 parties have become. There has been a merging, rather than a spintering, in that camp.

The Greens vote has shown a positive trend, particularly in the Upper Houses, for more than a decade as people have searched for an alternative to Tweedledum/dee.

Its not a new thing.

Similarly splits between the COALition partners have been around for ages and independents have come/gone/hung around for a long time.
Harradine federally, Stott and Quirke in SA way back decades ago and still plenty of such eg Xenophon/Disability Party /Such/ the fella in Frome.
The rise and fall of the Democrats.

Its not new.

What is happening is that slowly but surely an increasing number of people are realizing that we have one party of the conservative Right which has 2 wings, Labor and Liberal, and mere tribalism loyalty is
what maintains the media inspired perception that there is a gulf between them when it reality its a mere crack.

The present hysteria by the media, in presenting the current scenario as a 'fracturing', is because they are fearful that they can no longer control the political agenda via the 2 major parties.

Having been in denial about the slow but inexorable rise of the Greens and the ever present 'splinter' groups within the main party structures, they are responing hysterically with images of doom and chaos.

Its simple a belated recognition of what has been going on under their noses for a long time.

Just to add some glaring omissions from my comment that the 'fracturing' of Oz politics allegedly occurring currently is not new.

Remember the DLP?
For decades back in my youth they were a 'dog in the manger' party splitting the ALP vote.
And now slightly resurrected [?]thanks to preference deals in Victoria.
Similarly we have the Family First party which has been garnering a small but significant vote around the place for the past 10 years or so.
And of course the splintering of the ultra Right vote as represented by the surge and then decline of One Nation.

"Fracturing" is not new.

point taken re:
(1) that the process of fracturing has been going on form some time, and;
(2)the difference between the ALP and the Coalition is minimal.
(3) that what is new is that an

increasing number of people are realizing that we have one party of the conservative Right which has 2 wings, Labor and Liberal, and mere tribalism loyalty is
what maintains the media inspired perception that there is a gulf between them when it reality its a mere crack.

What is happening federally in 2010 is what happened in Tasmania some time ago.