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

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August 24, 2010

A recent editorial in The Australian --Nation sends a message to its political class--- calls for a renewal of politics based on its standard talking point of equating minority governments with uncertainty and instability. How then does The Australian understand and conceptutalize the new politics?

Like others it understands the new politics in terms of a tectonic shock to the two party system. It says:

the election has delivered a severe shock to the predominantly two-party system that has served the nation well since federation. In itself, the breaking down of rusted-on, tribal voting patterns of the past is no bad thing. A modern, technically savvy and more politically literate nation is always going to question the old verities. But both major parties are paying the price of underestimating voters and for taking their loyalty for granted.

Most commentators agree on that. What then, given the emergence of the three country Independents, the big electoral shift to The Greens, and the refusal of both major parties to acknowledge and accept that ''good economic management'' also means devising the best way to tackle climate change?

The Australian's editorial is crystal clear and direct as to what the 3 Independents must do in the national interest:

It would be tempting for the three independents from regional areas to enter a Dutch auction or to allow past bitterness with the Nationals to sway their judgment. They must act purely in the interests of their voters, who have overwhelmingly rejected Labor. All other things being equal, common sense, not to mention the national interest in stable government, would lead them to back Mr Abbott.

That is clear. Labor must be tossed out of office. The Coalition, which represents authenticity, understands Australians much better than both the dysfunctional Labor machine men and the urban elites who have lost touch with the world beyond the inner cities.

This sounds like the old politics to me. The Australian's message is clear: Power is within the reach of the Coalition and Blue Australia must rule. The implication is that the Coalition's task is to cement power in 2013 or earlier, thereby consigning Labor's 2007-2010 government to a mere interlude across two decades of conservative rule. That is how things should be and the role of the 3 country Independents is to ensure that.

What of Labor then? What does it do when the Coalition entrenched in power for a decade or more. Well, The Australian has a clear message for Labor.

Labor's political class has paid a high price for losing touch with its heartland. The hemorrhaging of votes from both ends of the party is now confirmed and creates a Waterloo moment for Labor. It is being pushed to the Left by its Green wing but its future rests with its capacity to move more comprehensively to the centre-right inhabited by the new, aspirational, often self-employed enterprise class that wants competent service delivery, a tax system that rewards hard work, and a government that maintains a light touch over their lives.

Labor must move to the centre-right and so isolate the Greens. What is needed from Labor in The Australian's version of the "new politics" is to block the formation of a pro-climate action balance of power in both houses of parliament that would see progress on climate policy.

The Australian's scenario implies the Coalition has shifted even further to the Right, if Blue Australia is to rule the nation for another decade or more. So how are the conservative's going to fracture the left-of-centre Coalition (ALP + Greens) that is in formation to ensure that the ALP moves to the right-of-centre?

The Australian has another go in sorting out its understanding of the new politics in its ALP has no reason to lurch Left. It says:

The ALP vote fractured in favour of the Greens on Labor's far Left, not on the mainstream centre-right. Were Labor to lurch to the Left, its would alienate its middle Australian base, courting electoral disaster. It would surrender the mainstream centre of politics to Tony Abbott, whose leadership saw the Coalition make major inroads on Saturday among the former Howard battlers, who later became Kevin Rudd's working families. Labor has nothing to gain by wasting political capital wooing Greens voters. Under Australia's compulsory preferential voting system, the ALP gains the lion's share of Greens preferences anyway.

The Greens will implode just like One Nation and the Democrats:
The Greens will not survive as a political third force if they stray from the values of their voters and must occupy the ground between the major parties...In the long run, the Greens will not capitalise on their "doctors' wives" base in some of Australia's most prosperous electorates by clinging to tomato Left economics, pursuing policies to increase taxes, reintroduce death duties and ban uranium mining and new coalmines.

So Labor would be foolish to overreact by lurching to the Left at the expense of vacating the centre ground.

Update 2
Guy Rundle in Crikey observes that with this election the political question has come to the fore after it had been taken over, and submerged, by economics since the 1970s. He says:

The political question who leads, how and through what institutions has barely been regarded as political at all, or cynically manipulated, as in Howard's handling of the Republic debate. ...What's happened in this election is that the process of parliamentary electoral politics which is minimally democratic and the party-based politics of interests, which isn't democratic in the slightest, have come into contradiction, in a situation where the system usually silently serves the interests. The profound cynicism and mild fear of the commentariat have caused them to back the interests against the system.

The mere process over the last three days has made visible the invisible structures of power, and their potential (if not straightforward) transformability. The political apparatus has been put into question by the regional independents whilst the business-as-usual Canberra Press Gallery is trying to play catchup.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:33 PM | | Comments (46)


Would you expect different of the reactionary press? The Oz typically, is about obscuring the human cost of neoliberal extortion and misappropriation.
The mining industry will no longer pay rent for social infrastructure and there is the clawback on social infrastructure to be anticipated, also.
The notion of sustainability is the maimed corpse they want to bury, hence the return to strict neolibealism.
Bligh, for one, has heeded the call, arrogantly announcing just days after a diastrous election based on neoliberalism, that Queensland will perservere with its discredited privatisation push, despite the damage this bad faith has done to the country and to labor.

Paul Gilding in When push comes to shove at Climate Spectator says that:

Critically, over the medium term, Labor will have to face up to the collapse in their primary vote and stop taking the Green vote for granted via preferences.... If the greens go pragmatic and move to the centre, such a shift would be a huge threat to both Labor and Liberal – votes would start to bleed from both sides, rather than just Labor. We may even end up with a Green balance of power in the lower house being a common result and the Greens having long-term balance of power in the Senate.

That scenario is what The Australian is opposing.

yes we would expect that from The Australian.

How will the conservatives find the best way to split or fracture the left/progressive vote between Labor and the Greens to beak up the de facto coalition that is now in the majority? How are they going to do that? Will they dare to start thinking about changing the voting system? Have they? Minchin said it was a no no on election night.

If they are not going to do that---ie., shift to proportional representation--then what mechanisms will be deployed? Give their preferences to the Greens not the ALP when the Liberal run third in key seats eg., the inner city seats?

The election saw a majority of Australians shift to the left-of-centre coalition (ALP + Greens). Labor, however, simply sees the increased vote to the Greens as a protest vote that eventually comes back to Labor through preferences. But things are changing , as the Green vote is now high enough for the ALP to start losing its inner city urban seats at a state (Victoria) and federal level.

What are they going to do? Lose these seats in order to retain the ALP's traditional working-class suburban supporters, who flirt with the Coalition? Devise a policy platform that's progressive enough to minimise leakage to the Greens in the inner-city, but isn't so 'lefty' to alienate the socially conservative working class who have no time for inner city yuppies?

The shift to the right was the strategy of Bitar and Arbib in this election and it didn't work all that well. The progressive base of the ALP transferred to The Greens. It is likely to stay there.

'... its future rests with its capacity to move more comprehensively to the centre-right inhabited by the new, aspirational, often self-employed enterprise class that wants competent service delivery, a tax system that rewards hard work, and a government that maintains a light touch over their lives.'

Says who? What's new about small business owners who hate paying tax? God they write tripe. Why people waste time reading it is beyond me and the fact that anyone pays good money to buy it makes one despair of our future.

Shorter 'Australian': 'Labor's future is as a right-wing libertarian party.' I mean this is just drivel, even by the standards of Milne and Shanahan. Who are the Libs going to represent - workers?

My guess is that The Australian 's editorialists are not thinking straight at the moment. They are still stung by the Green senate--- and the horrors of the possibility of a Green balance of power in the lower house in the future.

Its a long way from their dream of the returning to the glory days of Howard and a strong executive under Abbott.

It's mind-blowing.

It seems that the corporate media still don't get it. Or maybe they do and are afraid to admit it.

BOTH of the major parties suffered because voters turned to candidates offering alternate versions of... um... wait for it... BOTH of the major parties!

In an unexpected blitz, a whole bunch of Australian voters have made it clear that they are unhappy with BOTH of the major parties!

Granted, it seems that more of that group are disillusioned with Gillard. But most of them did not go to the loopy right!

If I was the one indie that will decide (and it may be just that) I would say its an "F" for all concerned. Go back to the polls and this time lets look closer at the policies rather than the tripe that was dished up by the parties and the media.

yep the voters are thinking beyond the party slogans, talking points, negative campaigning and language of fear.

the Independents are clear that they want stable government, which means no elections. No one wants that.

The political war is hotting up with the Liberals raising the spectre of a Green dominated minority government based on a Labor-Greens alliance.

Media is pushing hard for an outcome, preferably the outcome they want, and the deciders are taking their sweet time. But you'd imagine they'd be getting plenty of calls from their electorates as well. If this isn't resolved fairly soon the independents run the risk of being seen as Steve Fielding-like attention seekers, rather than the various shades of wonderful they're being painted at the moment.

We'll be hearing a lot about "stability" in the next few weeks. As George remarks, that means "no elections" for a lot of the right-wing commentariat, and is likely to be a scare word for a lot of so-called progressives as well. But if "stability" only means a political Ice Age of two increasingly indistinguishable parties passing the plums of patronage back and forth across the Table in a way that guarantees all the big players do well for themselves, then I for one can do without it.

More fundamentally, how odd it is that the Greens are the ones who are breaking up the traditional two-party pattern! In an Australia where increasing social inequality is really the only big political issue, it has fallen to an environmental Party to pick up the reformist banner! I can only hope that they prove to be as much of a watermelon as the right-wingers like to paint them.

the 3 Independents cannot do much until the seats in contention have been decided. I understand that they have called for information" on seven key areas, one of which is access to the costings on all election promises and commitments.

Presumably, Gillard and Abbott make their pitch to the Liberals and Labor today about parliamentary reform and regional development in the next day or so. Then the Independents will mull the offers over whilst the AEC counts the postal, prepoll and absentees votes in the seats still undecided over the next week. The 3 Independents will meet with Gillard and Abbott next week when counting has finished.

No doubt the independents trust neither side's promises. They've been around too long to do that. Wilkie, who looks like winning Denison, says that he will not form part of a coalition (either Liberal or Labor) and that he will remain as an independent. He said whichever party he sided with, support would be limited to a pledge not to block supply or support unwarranted no confidence motions. Sensible.

Certainly the Murdoch Press is calling for the 3 country Independents to support an Abbott minority government as the only choice.

re your comment " I can only hope that they prove to be as much of a watermelon as the right-wingers like to paint them."

Rebecca Wilson at the Herald Sun in her Green mantra comes at a price highlights the watermelon bit:

anyone who earns a reasonable quid in Australia would be made to pay big time so the Greens could introduce more energy-efficient industries and turn their backs on the conventional mining sector...Keeping the bastards honest is one thing, but when everyone in Australia who earns over $100,000 will be penalised by the Greens with at least one of a plethora of new taxes, they may want to think again.

She says that we shouldn't be taken in by Brown's environmentalist blurb since many of the Greens candidates are far more Left-wing than anyone in the current Labor line-up.

Lyn, I don't care if it takes a year and three more elections, including at least one double dissolution. We need the debate more than we need the fake "stability".

If we take their words at face value, people like those writing editorial in the Australian and Rebecca Wilson (whose columns are written by a slime-mould 'brain' hooked up to a laptop) are hilariously oblivious to the increasing likelihood that it's only by adopting policies such as those advocated by the Greens that something resembling capitalism as we know it will survive. Not surprising though really, as their words are not to be taken at face value - the purported 'philosophy' of these people is merely a rhetorical stick to beat around the head those who would threaten their place at the feeding trough. Hard to see the horizon when your busy scoffing all you can eat.


What is stability? To not change a government now would be regarded by some as the stable thing to do. Given the way Labor has behaved in their last term some would say that is the opposite of stability. Does Bob Katter represent stability?
Personally my choice would be the coalition but if I was one of the indies I would try to send everyone back to the polls to get a clear winner as this is the best way to start to become stable.

re "if I was one of the indies I would try to send everyone back to the polls to get a clear winner as this is the best way to start to become stable."

That assumes a mistake was made by voters on Saturday, and that it needs to be fixed by a return to a majority government.

the 3 regional independents say they have issued a "call for information" on seven key areas.

One of the seven points was a guarantee that whatever government is formed will serve its full three-year-term. If neither Abbott ore Gillard are willing to do that, or they play dirty tricks, then the 3 Independents pull the plug, and there's an election.

Everyone voted the way they wanted. That's fine.
The outcome is that we may be getting 1-3 defacto PM's.
Mistake? Dunno. For my thinking one of the indies is a loon and the other two I really know nothing about them.
We are hearing the word stability a lot. I am questioning on what that means.

there are two main competing definitions of what 'political stability' means in this context:

(1) the Murdoch Press view, as articulated by Paul Kelly, hold that it means majority government. Minority government is instability by definition.

(2) the view of the 3 regional Independent's (plus Adam Brandt from the Greens) is that it represents Parliament going a full term. Instability is the minority government going for a quick election if it sees an opportunity to win it and become a majority government. Oakeshott addresses the issue on his website.

(3) there are other definitions and they have been mentioned by the politicians---a workable relationship between the House of Representatives and the Senate. I do not know what Tony Crook from Western Australia, who calls himself an independent National Party MP, means by stability as he is staying way in the background and saying little. Andrew Wilkie says that stability means it's in everyone's interest for a stable government to be able to last the full three years. So stable means something more than 3 years for Wilkie.

All three regional Independents--- Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott --- and new Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt, took part in a panel discussion at the National Press Club today. You could find out more about them--and how they replied to questions from the Canberra Press Gallery when it is posted is on the ABC's iView.

Katter is flamboyant and talks in an older regional populist language but he is definitely not a loony. He is spot on about what has been happening in regional Australia with respect to agriculture--it's hurting bad. He knows why that has happened, and he knows that something has got to be done before there's nothing much left.

Katter does comes unstuck with some of his policy solutions (protectionism), but he acknowledges that Windsor and Oakeshott are better at policy formation than he is, and he accepts the differences in policy (eg., on pricing carbon and a tax on mining profits).

The Greens and Katter have common ground re the development of renewable energy in regional Australia and breaking the Woolworths/Coles duopoly.

As other bloggers have said the major parties have lost the support of the electorate.
About 20% of the electorate didn't vote for Liberal or Labor. The Greens got over 14% of the vote and 1 seat, they should have 17 seats in the House of Reps. The Nationals have far more seats than their vote would suggest.
About 14% of western Sydney voters voted informally, perhaps they need Mark Latham to represent them so the soy Latte sipping inner urban educated [impoverished by their HECS debt] trendies have policies tailored to Australia's future rather than a bogan wish fest.


Yes I see. So if these defacto PM's decide at any time that they think dirty tricks have been played (and this is politics we are talking about) then they will bring down the house of cards on this stability.

3 years is a long time. Best to end it now I think.

the scenario is Abbott or Gillard breaking the contract--not the Independents. If Gillard or Abbott do, that then the stability contract is null and void and they withdraw their support from the minority government.

The problem is the dirty tricks behaviour of Gillard and Abbott. So how do the Independents ensure that Gillard or Abbott keep the contract?

"independents as de facto PM's" misses the point. Australian democracy has gone from a two party system to a multi-party system.

You are trying to squeeze it back into a two party system Les.

They could get Abbott to swear on the bible maybe and Gillard to swear on the Yellow pages.

At the National Press Club forum Tony Windsor says he reckons he has found a mechanism to ensure that either Liberal or Labor will honour the stability contract. It is in the 7 point document the Independents presented to Gillard and Abbott today--legislation is the mechanism.

Windsor said that the Independents want an agreed starting point for the talks that will determine who forms government. This is a full Treasury costing of both parties' election platforms as a starting point.

We seek access taccess to information under the ‘caretaker conventions’ to economic advice from the Secretary of the Treasury Ken Henry and Secretary of Finance David Tune, including the costings and impacts of Government and Opposition election promises and policies on the budget.

The Coalition is going to struggle on that as their figures were not designed to withstand scrutiny.

seems to me it has gone from a 4 party system plus others to a 2 coalition system plus others with the balance of power.
Yes perhaps I did miss the point. Perhaps I should of called them defacto El Presidentos.

Gary, re your reply to Les you say that Katter somehow "comes unstuck" on protectionism.
I think one thing the new MP's should do is trot the AUSFTA agreement out and present it to the public for public discussion, to see if we cant improve our communities defence against TNC's operating under conditions that place Australia and Australians at adisadvantage.
That way, we get closer to fair trade away from neo mercantilism.

In the three Independents 7 point plan given to Gillard and Abbott they spell out their reform proposals:

increasing the authority of the Committee system, private members business and private members bills, matters of public importance, 90 second statements, adjournment debates, and question time.

a reform plan for political donations, electoral funding, and truth in advertising reform, and a timetable for how this reform plan will be achieved in co-operation with the support of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Gillard has agreed.

Protectionism is my interpretation. Katter rightly talked about free trade that was not free trade because of subsidies--eg., Europe+ the US. He understands that countries adopt interventionist economic policies in order to get rich and then tried to forbid other countries from doing similarly; and that unregulated international trade (free markets) has very rarely succeeded in producing economic development.

However, Katter also wants protection against import competition for sectors such as bananas and tobacco, and support for small-scale farmers such as in sugar. He wants to use tariff protection and subsidies to develop their industries. That means rewriting the WTO rules so that Australia can more actively use tariffs and subsidies for agricultural development.

My point was that in a WTO world of neo-liberalism a regional power like Australia cannot impose its version of free trade on others--as can the US. We more or less accept what the US imposes on us.

Australia sees itself as a developed country, and along with other developed countries, it has exerted enormous pressures on developing countries to adopt free trade, deregulate their economies, open their capital markets, and adopt "best-practice" institutions such as strong patent laws.

Is the truth in advertising reform only related to political advertising?

I would suspect so. They are about reforming politics

The pressure put on the independents to be king-makers is understandable but I wish they would just say "Look, we are here to represent out electorates, we never volunteered to sort out hung parliaments, and we'll consider legislation on its merits."

AS I understand convention, Gillard is entitled to continue as PM and test her support in the House. There is no need for contracts or coalitions. If and when the House declares a lack of confidence in the government, or it loses a division over an important issue, either the opposition can form a government or an election will be called.

Yes this creates a lot of unpredictability, which is not the same thing as instability, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It means more attention might get paid to the evidence adduced in support of positions. Hardly anyone would be comfortable with such a system which is why it's very unlikely, but that is no reason to demand some kind of instant deal in the name of 'stability'.

I'm glad that the Independents are using the pressure put on them to be king-makers to try and reform Parliament. The push for reform wasn't going to come from Labor or the Coalition.

Yes I agree with your first statement. This is all starting to look a bit like personal vanity to me.

Gee, it hasn't taken long for The Australian to launch an attack on the Independents. Dennis Shanahan is almost spitting with rage. He says their proposals to reform Parliament use "spurious logic", "obscure language", "blackmail" and "erratic ransom." He goes on:

The demands and claims from the cross benches -- the sitting MPs Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, as well as the incoming Green Adam Bandt and the truly non-aligned Andrew Wilkie -- are becoming more obscure and contradictory with every day spent in the limelight. The independents declared for days that their core aim was stable, long-term government but it now appears one of the real options of the three amigos is simply to refuse to support Labor or the Coalition and force another election. So much for stability.

This is the opposite of what the Independents are doing. It's what the Liberal Party would like--another election so that they can gain a majority. That's the Australian's agenda.

Shanahan is so blinded by anger that he's not even willing to concede that Parliament needs reform.

Question Time is a farce, with both major parties responsible for poor behaviour. The Opposition always want changes, but the issue is convieniently forgotten when they get into power.

Now we have the opportunity for reform. It should be taken.

You wrote: "My point was that in a WTO world of neo-liberalism a regional power like Australia cannot impose its version of free trade on others--as can the US. We more or less accept what the US imposes on us".

If we're into "cringe mode" to that extent, maybe we should just ring up Washington and ask them who should form a Govt. here?

Anybody who wants to follow up on Paul Walter's remarks about fair trade and neo- mercanitilism could try Ha-Joon Chang's book "Bad Samaritans", which articulates what's wrong with the international trade system pretty well.

Maybe the Australian suspects /fears that Abbott looks increasingly unlikely to form government, so their best chance is now to push for a new election.

Is that the strategy?

The theory is that in a "flat world" everybody is not only able to compete with everybody else freely, but should be required to. It sounds nice. America trades with - and competes with trade with and for - the European Union. France against Germany. England against Australia etc

We know from the history of development that the world is not "flat" and trade is not "free"; that infant industries must be nurtured by government until they're ready to compete in global marketplaces; and that it is only once they are developed that countries adopt free trade.

Its not just cringe mode--Australia, as an "infant" economy - ones beginning to get on their feet - cannot "compete" with "mature" economies like the US. Australia lacks the economic power to change the rules underpinning free trade, which works to the advantage of the US and Europe.

Katter is right. The economic strength and maturity of a nation has historically came about (UK, Germany, US, Japan) as a result not from governments "standing aside" or "getting out of the way", but instead from direct government participation in and protection of the "infant" industries and economy.

However, he talks in terms of agricultural development to provide the bulk of growth in income and government revenues, not industrial or digital economic development. (research-intensive, hi-tech industries.) In some ways he is referring to an "industrial" policy that discriminates between sectors, which challenges the neo-liberal view that he government should not try to "pick winners" and provide inputs that benefit all sectors equally – like investments in infrastructure, research, and education.

thanks for mentioning Ha-Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans: Rich Nations, Poor Policies & the Threat to the Developing World

His ideas about protectionism are an interesting challenge to free market/free trade ideas.

re your comment:

Maybe the Australian suspects /fears that Abbott looks increasingly unlikely to form government, so their best chance is now to push for a new election.Is that the strategy?

The thinking has been that if the Coalition get more seats than Labor, then they will probably secure the support of the independents. But if they don’t?

Then the Coalition will push for a new election. That's what Shanahan's article is saying.

What worries me about Bob Katter isn't the protectionist rhetoric, it's the "Develop the North" mentality which has survived up there unchanged since 1950, rather like a prehistoric fly preserved in amber.

Mr Katter and his supporters would radically alter the biosphere North and West of Cairns, and demand enormous public investment to help them do so. Many of them would then promply retire to the Gold Coast after selling their land for a price inflated by the investment pouring in.

That would be successful policy in their eyes, and Mr Katter knows it very well.

yeah you are right about Katter being a voice from the past with his develop the North at all costs. I suspect that he has in mind a northern version of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme to build an irrigated agriculture industry.

On the other hand, Katter does talk about wanting top extend the power grid from the national grid at Townsville to Mt. Isa, so they can get businesses to build their renewables, (Katter mentions wind farms and solar farms). His argument appears to be that if you move business out there and the businesses hire people and grow the regional population, then you get better doctors and services simply because there's more demand for it.

If Gillard + the ALP played their renewable cards/green infrastructure right (eg., build clean energy corridor so that the proposed renewable energy sites are connected to the electricity grid) we could have 21st century pathways to populate and develop the north. Will they be able to do so? I think suspect that what lies behind Katter's idea is that North Queensland becomes the renewable energy capital of Australia. North Queensland could be a net exporter of renewable energy to Central Queensland.

That would mean a national feed in tariff that provides community ownership of micro-grid generation, co-generation or tri-generation. This would allow all those farmers who want to run their own methane, wind, solar or other renewable energy sources to earn revenue by feeding their excess energy into the grid. Community owned power to rural and regional communities would provide jobs and income.

Katter is also interested in Ethanol production as well and to the best of my knowledge there's no government initiative to assist this, just farmers learning and spreading the knowledge by themselves.

re Katter's idea of a clean energy corridor from Mt Isa to Townsville This is up to the federal Govt to build since the Bligh state Government is not interested in building an AC transmission line between Townsville and Mount Isa.

The coal industry and electricity generators have the government by the throat and they aren't letting go. So it is up to Gillard. She has shown little courage in investing in infrastructure for renewable energy so far.