Monthly Archive for August, 2010

"New politics” where Independents pretend there is no conflict: an undemocratic sham #AusVotes #AusWaits

Australia’s Federal Election last weekend has led to a hung Parliament. Three rural Independent candidates seem likely to decide whether Julia Gillard’s Labor Party will stay in Government, or whether Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party-led coalition will take over, only three years after former Prime Minister John Howard led it to defeat after thirteen years in office. While one Independent is already fantasising about a unity Government in which Labor and Liberal MPs sit in the Cabinet, the current rejection of parties and fetishisation of Independents is a rejection of real politics, and a backwards step for Australia.

There is no doubt that Australians, like many people in the Western world, have been badly served by their politicians, and this has led to the power vacuum which allows the Independents to pretend that what they offer us is politics. Gillard overthrew the elected Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in an internal ALP coup in June, and called the early election a few weeks afterwards. When people complained that the elected Prime Minister had been dumped in an undemocratic manner, they were met with the scornful response that “We have the Westminster System, stupid!”. Such a reply ignores the undemocratic nature of that system, especially in the modern style of politics where presidential-style campaigns replace parties standing on platforms designed to advance to interests of their supporters.

Rudd shouldn’t be mourned as a lost democrat, however. He is a bland bureaucrat who has been expertly removing politics from government, whose previously high popularity ratings plummeted after he backed down on an emissions trading scheme, after labelling global warming as the “great moral challenge of our generation” (pdf file) while in Opposition. He had appeared to stand for something after attempting to change the way Australia’s miners were taxed; a proposal no-one in Australia had heard of until it was a recommendation of a tax review released in May. While the opposition of miners and right-wing media allowed Rudd to pose as a man of the people who merely wanted Australians to have a fair share of the riches generated by Australia’s mining boom, it’s interesting to note that this was a top-down proposal, not one demanded by the Australian people and certainly not one arising from the clash of ideas in political debate. It was a technocratic solution to a technocratic problem, and the disconnection between government and people was demonstrated when the government planned a $38 million TV ad campaign – the idea that a network of political activists in the Labor Party should use their community connections to sell the idea of a major new government  policy was never even considered, because such networks don’t exist any more.

Rudd was dumped when the Labor Party panicked as his approval ratings dropped to merely comfortably ahead of the Liberals’ Tony Abbott. Gillard took over in June and immediately announced changes to the mining tax, called an election in July, and Australians voted in August.

This brings us to our hung parliament. Since it’s been clear that the three rural Independents will decide who takes power, a barrage of anti-political sentimentalism has erupted. Earlier this week on the ABC TV network’s Q and A program, one of the Independents, Tony Windsor said “one of the good things that will come out of a hung parliament is that a private member will be able to introduce legislation and not be shut down by the government of the day using their numbers”. No-one challenged him with the idea that a government has been elected and has a right to govern because of people’s votes.

Tony Oakeshott is another of the three Independents. His ridiculous idea of a unity government has already been mentioned. His anti-political “unity” ideas go further than that though. Today he told the “AM” program on ABC radio he wanted to talk “less about sides, I mean if we can get rid of this red and blue language, it’s more about what do we want from this Parliament and engaging the communities of Australia in public policy”. The idea that people want different things from Parliament, that politics is about the clash of those interests and desires, and that public policy isn’t simply a place for experts to work out the “best” solution, but about deciding who wins and who loses, seems to have escaped him.

Of course it would be naive to blame these Independents for the way in which their anti-political message is received. Ever since the ALP government of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating gutted the union movement, cut real wages and destroyed the ALP as a mass party in the 1980s, politics in Australia has been a game of pretending that all Australians share the same interests, and that conflict is divisive and unnecessary. Indeed, Hawke won power on the idea of “consensus” and the slogan “Bringing Australia Together” (which was cribbed from Richard Nixon). Consensus sounds pretty, but the trouble is, of course, that anyone who decides to fight for their rights can be painted as disruptive, rather than legitimately advancing their own interests. This gives those who already have power a huge advantage in hanging on to it.

What the Independents propose is not politics, but an undemocratic sham. Democracy isn’t pretty, it isn’t clean and it isn’t anything to do with pretending that sides don’t exist. Politics in Australia won’t be healthy again until people realise their needs and wants clash with the needs and wants of others, and we need to compete to work out who gets what they want. Until people grasp this most basic fact, we’ll be left in the hands of bland technocrats who resent the demands of ordinary people, occasionally tempered with pious witterings about how fighting is really nasty.

Monthly Argument debate on immigration (videos)

Two videos of the first Monthly Argument debate are now available. The topic for this first debate was “Immigration: Should we apply the brakes?”

The first video is short (just 6 minutes of excerpts).  The second one is the entire debate (almost 90 minutes).

Both videos can also be watched and/or downloaded from the Vimeo website.  (Debate Excerpts:  here . The entire debate  here.)  I’ve embedded them both here but I think that some people will find that the longer video loads much faster at the Vimeo site.

Immigration debate: exerpts from Monthly Argument on Vimeo.

Immigration: should we apply the brakes? from Monthly Argument on Vimeo.

Latham’s blank piece of paper

Mark Latham, one time leader of the Labor Party, has caused a storm by advising voters to not mark their ballot papers at this Saturdays Federal Election. Given his political history his motives for this sage advice are unclear and not particularly important. What is important is the nature of his advice and the sharp reaction this has drawn from the commentariat.

This election has been widely, amost universally derided as appallingly drab with both the ALP and the Coalition offering very little difference in either policies or style. Indeed I cannot recall an election where even the commentariat have been so distainful of the defacto non choice being offered to voters or so open about it. And they have a point; the quality of  “the debate”, of mainstream politics, even by bourgeois standards, is soporific and dreadful. If it could be distilled and bottled no one need ever suffer from insomnia again.

This is the arena in which Latham dropped his advice and where the same commentariat suddenly proclaimed the importance and the value of voting in the current environment and berated Latham for advocating to people to vote informally in protest.

This response is interesting. The objection is not to voting informally as such (journos and commentators can tut tut about this but it’s not that important). But to encourage protest, to stir things up with the implicit threat that this may become organised is a different matter entirely.

Continue reading ‘Latham’s blank piece of paper’

More numb and more dumb

I wanted to call this post “number and dumber”, but to my great frustration,  I just saw digits after I’d typed “number” into the title feed  And I was already frustrated because I was about to  eke out an election comment – this is supposed to be a political site after all, so we should be able to say something.   But I’m not interested in the election!  I don’t care who wins.

A woman came knocking on my front door a week or so.   She wanted me to vote for the ALP.   I told her that I’d be voting informally because I have no desire to vote for either, and that even if I happened to support one of the minor parties,  I knew that by the end of the count,  my vote would end up with one of the major parties, due  to the  fact that the electoral act defines a   formal vote as one in which the voter indicates a “preference” for every candidate on the list.

The woman at the door just looked at me and said “but it will be horrendous if Tony Abbot wins”.   Apparently,  I was supposed to vote Labor in order to do my bit in the fight against the forces of darkness or something.   She didn’t even attempt to give me any positive reason for voting Labor.  The only other thing she  mentioned was that the candidate is  a very nice woman – cares about the community, has an “open door”, and so on.

Continue reading ‘More numb and more dumb’

First Melbourne “Monthly Argument” debate this Thursday

Details in brief:

Topic : “Immigration: should we apply the brakes?”    Monthly Argument logo1


Sinclair Davidson (Institute of Public Affairs)

Chuck Berger (Australian Conservation Foundation)


Date: Thursday,  August 12

Continue reading ‘First Melbourne “Monthly Argument” debate this Thursday’

“Leave those kids alone” (or they’ll overthrow you sooner rather than later)

Ideas become a material force when taken up by masses of people. So, too, can music play a part in inspiring large numbers in the fight for democracy against tyranny. This is true everywhere, no exceptions. Including Iran.

The Pink Floyd classic, “Another brick in the wall” was first released in the UK in 1979, the same year as the Iranian Revolution. It became an anthem for those of us who don’t like constantly being told what to do by our supposed betters, be they teachers, politicians, priests, the ‘Moral Majority’, food fascists or Nature Worshippers.

Befitting a rebellious song, a version released in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle was quickly banned there. In 1990, the song was the leitmotif for the bringing down of the Berlin Wall.

And now, thanks to Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, a band called ‘Blurred Vision’, fronted by two Iranian brothers living in exile in Canada, have released a version of the song as part of Iran’s struggle for freedom. Waters gave them the rights to cover the song.

The title is the same except for the bit in parenthesis, which now says “Hey Ayatollah, leave those kids alone”! It’s on youtube and has proven very popular.

No doubt there will be those who see the song as a pernicious device in the Great Satan’s ‘plan to conquer Iran’. To those Iranians on the ground fighting repression, it will be encouraging and very uplifting, a source of hope. As it is for me, in solidarity with them.

Rock on!