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

Tony Windsor's maiden speech « Previous | |Next »
September 4, 2010

In Roots of the rural revolt in The Australian Gabrielle Chan says that the

2010 episode of "bush leverage" is a result of a backlash by conservatives against a conservative government because rural voters feel that John Howard failed to protect them from the disruptive changes of a deregulated economy.

Chan's argument is that the regional backlash is a rural revolt against neo-liberal economics and policies pursued by both the Liberal and Labor parties.


Many interpret this rural revolt as a reaction to modernisation and as a heritage of the past based on tradition and on refusal of modernity that needs to be negated in the name of ongoing economic reform. It is a revolt that expresses itself in a highly emotional and simplistic discourse that is directed at the ‘gut feelings’ of the people and advocates simple solutions to complex problems.

What Chan calls a rural revolt has emerged into the formation of regional populism. This populism, as I argue in philosophy. com can be understood as an appeal to ‘the people’ against both the established structure of power and the dominant ideas and values of Australian politics and society. The context of this emergent populism from the heartland is the political collapse of the two ideological camps represented by Labor and Liberal.

Tony Windsor, the member for New England, show why populism should not be dismissed as a pathological form of politics that deserves to be mocked. He recently pointed out that a hung Parliament presents country Australia with a very real opportunity to lay a platform for future generations.

In his maiden speech in 2002 Windsor spelt out his approach to a better deal for regional Australia:

We are in a unique situation politically, and have been have been for the last decade... where the basic policy framework that the nation is operating under has been by way of agreement by both sides of the parliament. We have had the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the National Party agreeing with a basic policy framework. I take issue with that agreement taking place over this last decade, and take issue with some of the patchy benefits of that economic framework, particularly, but not only, for country people.

He highlighted that country Australia has the potential to have the balance of power—irrespective of who is in power in this chamber—and influence the political process far more than it has in the past. There has been a lack of flexibility. The only way to influence that is through the federal chamber.

Windsor's populism is a critique of the democratic limitations within liberal democracies. He says:

Some of the rules applying to competition policy, with its economic rationalist approach on many of these issues, have no flexibility in regard to smallness, distance and remoteness. The very policies that are emanating from this place, whether they be fuel policy or aged care policy—even policies relating to country doctors, or the lack thereof—are emanating from that basic policy framework, which has not delivered equity to country constituents in particular...If that policy is not changed to recognise distance, smallness, remoteness and some degree of social equity, you will continue to see a shrinkage of regional Australia, something which should be abhorred.

He says that the message a neo-liberal mode of governance sends to country communities is to proceed to your nearest major regional centre, go to the coast, go to Sydney or go to buggery.

Populists like Windsor aim to 'give power back to the people' and it calls for more political participation. So this populism can be interpreted as a political logic which aims at attacking the centre of the democratic system, by giving a different interpretation of the principle of the sovereignty of the people.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:30 PM | | Comments (11)


The Coalition's strategy places it off side with the Independents working to ensure a better deal for regional Australia. Peter van Onselen writes that:

senior Coalition sources were telling journalists that a return to the polls was the best option, that when the Greens gained the Senate balance of power in July next year it would provide the perfect trigger for an early election, and that because defeat would lead to internal blood-letting for Labor it wouldn't be long before the polls made an early election too tempting to avoid for the Coalition -- so that it could win a mandate in its own right.

That cannot go down too well with the Independents

country areas don't benefit from economic irrationalism either. The buckets of money poured into middle class welfare ends up in the new suburbs around capital cities. The ones being built on what used to be farming land.

Many commentators in the mainstream press see Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor as half crazy populists, who give voice to the politics of frustration. The commentators generally understand populism as a pathology in Australian society.

In Rethinking Populism it is stated that:

populism see that it can move to the left or right. It can be tolerant or intolerant. It can promote civil discourse and political participation or promote scapegoating, demagoguery, and conspiracism. Populism can oppose the status quo and challenge elites to promote change, or support the status quo to defend "the people" against a perceived threat by elites or subversive outsiders.

We need to start thinking in terms of the political logic of populism; a populist logic that could be put at the service of the most diverse ideological contents, from the radical left to the extreme right.

Finally, someone gets it. Thank you Gary

no problems. Glad to be able to do my bit. Thanks for the link on your blog to Peter Andren's 2002 insights into the reform of parliament. He is one of the few arguing for a proportionally representative electoral system.

I wish that Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott had picked up, and carried on, this argument for reforming the House of Representatives.

Proportional Representation is the part I am not convinced about. There is the possibility of losing the "local member" and given the proportions are heavily weighted against regional and rural areas, I am not convinced the result will be anything more than the usual status quo.

Peter Andren's argument in his article on your blog is very persuasive. He says:

..the House of Representatives vote for other than the main political parties has grown to a consistent 20 per cent, yet the proportion of seats representing that vote has ranged only from a possible five (including four former party members) independents in 1996, to 1 (me) in 1998, to 3 in 2001. That’s hardly reflective of the vote. Yet when a believable, broad-based independent offers himself or herself for election in recent years, the voters have taken that option in preference to the major parties.

He goes on to say that:
The political parties have evolved to the point where they no longer represent the broader electorate. Their memberships are pitifully low, their procedures antiquated, their preselections pre-arranged, ordained, rigged or overruled by faceless unelected national or state executives. They are captive to special interest groups, which represent but a tiny fraction of the wider community, and a privileged fraction at that. Their power is sustained by patronage and electoral laws regularly modified to enhance that power.

So there needs to be reform. He finishes by saying that in the absence of proportionally representative multi-member electorates, a cross-bench of independents (whose preselection and election is one and the same), holding the balance of power, seems to me the most satisfactory solution to what is currently a representative vacuum.

I'd trust Andren on the need for proportionally representative multi-member electorates. Isn't this what they have in Tasmania + the ACT? It appears to work well there.

Peter, I agree they're persuasive but I am yet to find them convincing. I shall discuss and debate the merits another time. I certainly agree that a crossbench of independents holding the balance of power is a worthwhile solution. It is also why I am very supportive of the current situation despite the attempts of the media to derail it.

Ted Mack, the father of the Independents told ABC radio that he suspect the three regional Independents:

will back the Gillard Government. Now that sounds a bit unusual because they are sitting in National Party seats but the point is, if there is a Liberal/National government formed, then that government will do its best to get those three out of office because they think that those seats belong to them, whereas if Labor is in government, they know that they can never win those three seats so they have a vested interest in keeping those three independents in power.

He adds that:
I think those independents and their residents will get a lot more money spent on them than they would if there was a Liberal National Party government. I think that is probably the logic that they'll follow as well because they didn't come down in the last shower.

An interesting insight.

Bob Carr has a blog called Thoughtlines. In his latest post he says:

make Oakeshott or Windsor Minister for Regional Development and recruit a Coalition MP as Speaker. Offer Malcolm Turnbull a post in cabinet.

That is thinking outside the box--along the lines of the early Rann Government.

If Labor gets up I say Rudd as speaker. Now that would be hilarious!