Home > Oz Politics > Conceding defeat in the culture wars

Conceding defeat in the culture wars

October 25th, 2007

Not long ago, Tom Switzer (opinion editor for the Oz) was claiming victory in the culture wars at a Quadrant dinner (hat-tip to reader Jason McDonald). Now, Greg Sheridan is conceding defeat, at least on the assumption (now nearly universal) that the Liberals are heading for defeat. Unsurprisingly, both of them focus a lot of attention on the ABC, though Sheridan’s list extends to the media in general (News Limited? PBL?) and (a kind recognition that we still exist) universities.

The most striking feature of both articles is that they seem stuck in the fights of the 1990s, over political correctness, multiculturalism and so on. There’s no mention at all of climate change, and hardly any of Iraq (Switzer notes in passing that he opposed it). Yet if you want to explain the failure of the right wing in the culture wars you can’t go past these two cases. In both cases, having chosen sides, the right treated facts as being either utterly irrelevant or as talking points to be trumpeted or denied according to political need. In both, they hung on, time after time, to positions that had long since ceased to be defensible. These are tactics that worked reasonably well in culture wars and history wars, since there’s rarely any final reckoning. But in the case of Iraq and climate change, reality has a way of obtruding.

Looking at the disagreement between the two, Sheridan is much more focused on the Liberal party, and on control of institutions. He recognises that the attempt to impose control from the top has failed, though he persists with the silly “elite” terminology in which a university lecturer is a member of an elite from which, say, the CEO of a major company is excluded.

The other big difference is in the implied view of Kevin Rudd and, implicitly, of other centrists like Clinton and Blair (or, more relevantly now, Gordon Brown). They are clearly not leftwingers, and in that sense, the culture warriors can declare victory and go home. On the other hand, although their commitment to the social democratic strand of liberalism is so thin as to be almost invisible at times, they are clearly in a different category from the US Republicans who carry the rightwing flag in the global culture wars.

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  1. October 25th, 2007 at 14:50 | #1

    Sheridan’s nonsense defies description. Claiming that Howard’s mob have had to contend with the ‘relentless opposition’ of inter alia the public service and the media is an exercise in pure fantasy. But my favourite is this:

    ‘And in the end it appears that it is impossible to govern permanently against elite opinion.’

    Yep, the poor old Libs have been so worn down by the force of elite opinion that they can’t even stay in power forever. And he seems to think this is a Bad Thing.

    Regardless of the election outcome, can ‘The Australian’ survive much longer in its present guise? It’s credibility as a newspaper of record is surely damaged beyond the possibility of repair.

  2. October 25th, 2007 at 14:56 | #2

    Not that there’s a huge difference in terms of credibility, but I think you’ll find it’s Sheridan rather than ole “Sausage” Shamaham. Quite right, fixed now thanks

  3. Sam
    October 25th, 2007 at 15:52 | #3

    I found Sheridan’s attempt to depict academics as ‘elites’ hilarious! The ‘average’ academic is probably a lecturer on $60,000, working in a non-humanities area and whose relationship with the media doesn’t go past the telly at night and he thinks they’ve got a greater influence on the public than CEOs and ‘born to lead’ types like Downer! Give it a break Sheridan! If anything, the real elites are more commonly found in blue…

    Maybe this is reason they ‘lost’ the ‘culture wars’…they just don’t get it…

  4. Peter Evans
    October 25th, 2007 at 16:11 | #4

    Groan! Yet again, clueless, blind Sheridan aims high and hits low. Can’t Uncle Rupe tap him on the shoulder and dispatch him to some meaningless think tank to serve out his servile days? Do the world a favour…

    Sheridan over-estimates the shape the Liberal Party will be in after this election. They are effectively finished, a situation to be formalised in a three or four years. The supreme irony is that he seems to have completely missed the fact that politics in this country has become only about patronage (the real elite have it to parcel out) and the Libs will have no access to patronage after Nov 24. And that means no funding, business will drop them like a stone, and they will disintegrate along cultural lines – uglies and moderates – the former unelectable, the latter squabbling for their 20% of the political space.

    And Howard has massively worsened the problem by gutting the party from the inside (it’s membership is far smaller and older than the ALP, which will see a resurgence) and failing to fix up the disfunctional state divisions owing to his various petty hatreds. And he knows it – it’s why he’s hung on so long.

  5. Persse
    October 25th, 2007 at 16:58 | #5

    Sheridan’s cri de coeur is premised on the Howard’s government made ineffective, because it has been in a weakened position, citing the narrow electoral wins in 1998 and 2001.
    Despite 11 years and control of the senate to implement whatever policies they wanted, good or bad, that is not enough apparently.
    What is Sheridan saying, that a Liberal government needs reassurance and handholding from an adoring and supportive public to function?
    Well, in this country, you can’t dismiss an electorate for getting it all wrong, and elect another, more to the governments taste. So, I regret, I can’t see a remedy for Mr Sheridan’s anguish.

  6. October 25th, 2007 at 18:06 | #6

    If the winners write history then what does it mean to win a history war?

  7. rog
    October 25th, 2007 at 19:32 | #7

    I thought centrist Blair was pro Iraq?

    And when it comes to science wars, the Brown Govt has its hands full with badger culling and bovine TB.

  8. rog
    October 25th, 2007 at 19:34 | #8

    Centrist Blair has recently compared Iran with pre Nazi Germany, hardly a cenrist ideology.

  9. swio
    October 25th, 2007 at 22:02 | #9

    Hard though it is to imagine I agree the Liberals could well be finished in another 3 or 4 years. THe professional class is leaving them in droves. They’re struggling with some of their heartland seats even now. After three years of a centrist Rudd government traditionally blue ribbon Liberal seats like North Sydney could fall to Labor all over the place.

    I think the problem for the Liberal party going forward is that their extreme right believes it can emulate the success of the American extreme right. As long as they hold that belief they won’t feel the need to compromise with the moderates and will driev them out of the party making them unelectable. We just saw it happen in NSW in the previous state election.

  10. melanie
    October 26th, 2007 at 10:13 | #10

    I think the attribution of ‘elite’ status to university lecturers by some journalists is a result of envy and maybe guilt. At least the excuse I’ve heard used is that the pressure of deadlines prevents them from doing the kind of research that they’d like to. After a time, of course, if you’re not always reading new things, you stop thinking and start reiterating what you’ve said before. Besides, the prevailing media culture in this country is one in which “research” consists of going out and talking to a few people and reading the odd government report. The rest can be picked up off the wires. And unsurprisingly, this kind of sloppiness cops a fair amount of criticism from academics.

  11. Andrew
    October 26th, 2007 at 10:36 | #11

    I’m not sure that you can equate an ALP election with the left winning the ‘culture wars’ (whatever that means). I don’t think the average Australian’s political views have changed all that much in the past decade.

    If by culture wars you mean a battle between left and right idealogy – then in my view the war was over long ago. The only people continuing to skirmish are soldiers lost in the media jungles (new and old) who don’t know the war is over.

    Australians are by and large ‘centrists’ – neither side of politics would do well to move too far from the centre. Fringe dwellers like One Nation, Family First and the Greens will always pick up a number of uneducated protest votes, but the country will always be governed by a party firmly centred in the centre.

    In my view that’s why we’re going to get a change in gov’t next month. The Coalition moved a bridge too far from the centre with its new IR laws, and the ALP have sensibly moved to occupy the centre-ground with its me too approach.

  12. Doug
    October 26th, 2007 at 11:46 | #12

    I have never been quite clear about the culture wars – what they were about and howe could declare a winner. It assumed that all the interesting and relevant intellectual debate was taking place in some realm defined largely it seems to me by those who declared that there was a war on.

    However that said to make the sweeping sociological generalisation that Green voters are uneducated is something that can be empirically tested.

    I’d need to check to confirm my suspicion but areas recording relatively high Green votes are electorates like the ACT and inner city urban electorates characterised by relatively high levels of tertiary education.

    If andrew thinks people supporting specific policy views advanced by the Greens are wrong on the grounds of argument thats fine – but to dismiss them on the grounds that Greens supporters are uneducated is not really an educated apporoach to take.

  13. Andrew
    October 26th, 2007 at 12:43 | #13

    Point taken Doug – and ‘uneducated’ was the probably wrong term to use. In fact I suspect the ‘education’ levels (as defined as traditional academic education) of the protest groups is probably quite high (lots of idealistic Uni students etc).

    What I was meaning to imply by the term ‘uneducated protest vote’ was more of a ‘world wise’ view of education rather than an ‘academic’ view. There’s a naivity to the One Nation/Family First/Green view of politics than means they will only ever attract a protest vote and will never appeal to mainstream society. Australian’s are, on average, too ‘centrist’ and ‘world wise’ (aka educated) to elect one of the off-central parties to govern.

    There is no culture war – except in the minds of those on the political fringe. The possibility of a change of government from the Coalition to the ALP should not signal a win or loss in a mythical war (as suggested by Sheridan) If the ALP wins government that’s probably more a reflection in subtle shifts in both the Coalition (to the right) and ALP (to the ‘me too’ centre) positions than shifts in the electorate.

  14. melanie
    October 26th, 2007 at 12:53 | #14

    Andrew, it is pretty hard to define the ‘centre’. I think most people would say that the so-called ‘centre’ has shifted a long way to the right over the past few decades (Blair et al). Mind you, it’s pretty hard to define ‘left’ and ‘right’ these days – as indicated by your lumping the One Nation, Family First and Greens into the same category. It seems to me that their roles, with respect to influence or otherwise on the policies of the major parties, are quite different.

    Maybe what you really meant to say is that most of the voting masses tend to dumbly go with the flow?

  15. Andrew
    October 26th, 2007 at 13:12 | #15

    No Melanie – there’s nothing dumb about the voting masses (i.e. average Australian) – I think that’s one of the big mistakes that fringe groups make (on left and right) – to assume that the middle ground are simply apathetic and ‘dumb’.

  16. Crispin Bennett
    October 26th, 2007 at 13:24 | #16

    Andrew, melanie’s spot on about the mistake of grouping the minority parties. The Greens, for example, are well aware that they are not going to carry the majority. They aim to exert pressure where they can (hence their emphasis on the Senate), and keep working away on the consequences of a position on the primacy of environmental matters that they think, perhaps rightly, everyone will eventually find compelling (though then of course Labor will pretend that they believed the same things all along).

    As for the ‘worldly-wise’ nature of the electorate: I’d categorise it more as corporate-addled. Our electorate, more than perhaps any wealthy country other than the US, is in a phantasmic daze, barely aware of the physical realities facing humanity (near universal ecosystem collapse; see GEO-4).

    The Greens are right on our fundamental problems. Alhough they’ve no more idea of a politically-realistic solution than anyone else has, at least they’re not ‘worldly-wise’ enough to pretend, like the major parties and co-dependent citizenry, that our Schlaraffenland can continue.

  17. gerard
    October 26th, 2007 at 14:39 | #17

    “there’s nothing dumb about the voting masses”

    If I may plagiarizea section of my own post from LP a couple of weeks ago on the subject of dumb voters…

    there is a huge number of people who are extremely uninformed politically and whose vote is not determined on the basis of any sort of informed, rational consdieration. It’s not a character flaw on their part but a consequence of a political and media culture that reduces the level of public participation to what is basically a triennial personality contest between two ‘teams’ of career-hacks, all managed by public-relations and advertising firms…

    if you think that every voter makes their choice on the basis of equally informed consideration you are deluding yourself. I was a phone pollster during the 2004 election campaign and a huge number of people that picked up the phone don’t know the first thing about politics and just aren’t interested in it. Given that the modern parties and the media exclude ordinary people from any meaningful involvement and have reduced the level of political discourse that most people are exposed to to 10 second dog-whistle soundbites on the six o’clock news, I am not surprised that people in this culture are politically apathetic. The alienation of people from the modern political process means that many people do not vote according to the merits of the various parties’ policies (which they quite often don’t have a clue about), but rather according to the effectiveness of the parties’ media (especially television) campaigns, superficial things like the personality characterisitcs of the leaders, or according to family voting tradition.

    Especially with the decline of organized labor and religion in recent decades, along with the monopolization and dumbing-down of the mass media and the general commoditization of culture and society, there has been an evaporation of public interest in social issues and grassroots political organization in the wider community. This has been exacerbated by the anti-intellectualism of the Howard years, which has seen those people who roundly ridiculed as ‘elites’, ‘latte Leftists’, ‘chardonnay socialists’, ‘the chattering classes’ etc. etc. This phony anti-elitism has debased political discourse in the 00s to a level that can safely be characterized as moronic. It has become easier for conservative and reactionary forces to ‘wedge’ their way into power by stoking widely held prejudices, such as an irrational fear of ‘illegal immigrants’ in 2001, or to take advantage of heavily indebted people’s ignorance of how Central Banking works in 2004…

  18. Andrew
    October 26th, 2007 at 14:54 | #18

    ‘corporate-adled’, ‘phantasmic daze’…. hmmm, a little arrogant don’t you think?

    Crispin – whilst obviously the minor parties all have very different agendas – I think grouping them together for the point I was making is spot on. I don’t think One Nation or Family First have any greater delusion than the Greens that they’re going to govern the country! OMG – imagine if one of those groups actually ended up in power – actually don’t, it doesn’t bear thinking about!

    The naivity of the minor parties is in painting everything in black and white and not recognising that the world is a complex place and conflicting views on various topics can and are held by ordinary people.

    For example – it is possible to both admire America and detest George Bush. It is possible to be concerned about climate change but drive a 4WD etc etc

    The vast majority of Australians are relatively well informed on these issues and educated enough to form their own opinions. They are not ‘adled’ or in a ‘daze’ just because they see the complexity in the issue and reject the simplistic and agenda driven policies of the fringe political groups.

  19. Andrew
    October 26th, 2007 at 15:03 | #19

    Gerard, I’m not normally rude…. but I think that is just absolute garbage. The rant of someone who’s spat the dummy. Just because your narrow view of the world is not accepted by most Australians they all must be stupid hey?

    very arrogant. And that’s my beef with the fringe dwellers on both sides – don’t dare tell me how to think and vote I’ll do it for myself. My thoughts, opinions and vote are as good as yours – and if I happen to vote the other way it doesn’t mean I’m dumb!

    I’m actually your classic swing voter. I voted Howard in in 1996, but I’ll vote for Rudd this time because the Coalition have had long enough, it’s time for a change, and the ALP have a pretty rational set of policies.

  20. gerard
    October 26th, 2007 at 15:15 | #20

    I’m not telling you how to think or vote and I’m sure you’re not dumb, I’m just giving my opinion of the state of political culture these days. I am not talking about people in general or conservatives or swing voters in general being ‘dumb’, if you think that is what I was saying then go back and read it again.

  21. Crispin Bennett
    October 26th, 2007 at 15:19 | #21

    Andrew: it is no more “arrogant” to be a member of a minority that thinks the majority is wrong than vice versa. Take the merest glance through any of the major journals that report studies looking at (a) environmental psychology (b) cognitive biases in judgement-making or (c) public understanding of science, and you’ll see that your notion that (any) general public takes a view rejecting simplicity in favour of complexity is just false. Hominid common-sense isn’t effective in this context.

    Taking one set of issues (runaway ecological destruction) as taking primacy over others (owning more stuff, more cheaply) isn’t any more ‘black and white’ than the majoritarian contrary. It’s just a reversal of priorities from what presently dominates. A glance at GEO-4, or any of hundreds of individual studies and reports, makes it clear that the reversal is needed. We need to be on a ‘war footing’, and damn fast.

  22. gerard
    October 26th, 2007 at 15:38 | #22

    Wayne Swan seems to think the voters are pretty dumb, this is from his latest youtube effort:

    WAYNE SWAN: It’s really important to shop around, particularly in the major shopping centres where there are a number of supermarket chains. Don’t always go to the same place. And in particular keep an eye on the specials, and that’s where catalogues come in really handy.

    Also make sure that when you go to the checkout, you check the docket, that’s very important and always keep an eye on the weight and the price, because sometimes they change suddenly.

    And if you’ve got some shopping tips, send them to Kevin07. We wanna know what you’ve got to say.

    Gee thanks Wayne! I never thought of looking at the catalogue, or checking the weight and price!!

  23. October 26th, 2007 at 15:57 | #23

    Andrew Says:
    October 26th, 2007 at 2:54 pm
    ‘corporate-adled’, ‘phantasmic daze’…. hmmm, a little arrogant don’t you think?

    That’s a bit rich, coming from the guy who (1) conflated One Nation and FF voters with Greens voters and (2) described the latter as variously uneducated and naive. Pot, meet kettle.

  24. chrisl
    October 26th, 2007 at 16:15 | #24

    Gerard: Your post makes perfect sense.People are getting “dumber and dumberer”. Radio stations, newspapers ,current affairs shows steer away from politics unless absolutely necessary. In the words of Neil Finn “In the paper today, there is war and there’s waste, but I turn right over to the TV page”
    By the way ,who should I vote for again?

  25. Andrew
    October 26th, 2007 at 16:21 | #25

    Helen, I suspected I was going to hit a raw nerve by grouping One Nation/Family First/Green together – bingo!

    However – in the context of this thread it’s a good grouping. The fringe dwellers can have their culture war whilst the vast bulk of us just get on with life.

    I did ‘retract’ the uneducated comment (at least in the context that you mean it) – but my naive comment definitely stands.

    Crispin – again you miss the point – the majority don’t take primacy of one set of issues over any other, that’s the realm of relatively single interest minor parties. Most peoples form a broad spectrum of views across many topics – many seemingly contradictary. The ‘average’ result is a centrist Australian population. They care about the environment but they also want to buy more stuff more cheaply. They don’t subscribe to a ‘runaway ecological disaster’ is looming view but neither do they have a denialst ‘all is ok’ view. They are quite relaxed about buying the kids a Macca’s burger, but think Bush is a dangerous idiot. They think budget surpluses should be returned as tax cuts – but are also concerned that we’re not spending enough on education, health and infrastructure.

    They are more informed than you think – but don’t agonise over these issues.

  26. chrisl
    October 26th, 2007 at 16:27 | #26

    And another thing! Compulsory voting! If you mustmake it compulsory, at least make it compulsory to teach people about the system.
    Daughter 1. Why should I pay tax? I can’t believe how much they tax me!
    Daughter 2. I’m not joining the union. They take $3.10 out of my pay EVERY week!

  27. Crispin Bennett
    October 26th, 2007 at 16:50 | #27

    Andrew: disagreeing with you isn’t the same as missing the point! The major parties, and the majority of folk, still absolutely prioritise having more stuff over pressing ecological issues, notwithstanding the odd verbal fig-leaf. Imagine the electoral catastrophe that would ensue if Rudd publicly admitted anything could be more important than GDP growth. He’d be roasted by the media, and the public would fall in line.

  28. jquiggin
    October 26th, 2007 at 16:58 | #28

    Please keep it civil, everyone

  29. October 26th, 2007 at 17:11 | #29

    Howard (and even more many of his admirers) had and have sympathy for the view that Australia should be a largely Anglo-Saxon country. However his immigration policies have not supported this goal, defeat on this cultural front was conceded long ago.

  30. Dylwah
    October 26th, 2007 at 21:06 | #30

    Andrew, i think that you have to separate One nation, FF and the Greens.

    One nation, well you are not going to get a lot of argument that they were a monumental waste of time and effort.

    FF, they take their guidence from The Bible, and without going too far into q’s of why those gospels and not the rest of the apocrapha and whether they take every word of The Book as the truth, as some of the louder strands of Christianity do today or adopt a more Augustinian, Calvanistic or Blakian, (doubtful)humility and acceptance of doubt, there is an essential irrationallity at the foundation of their logic system.

    The Greens are children of the enlightenment and their worldview is based on an understanding of cause and effect. sure they have their dark green and pagan adherants but all the aussie parties have supporters that they would rather the rest of us ignored.

    Two examples:
    AGW, the only people banging on about AGW in Australia before the Greens was CSIRO (Special mention ought to go to Senator James Webster, Frazer’s science minister who, in 1976, at least asked the Acadamy of Sciences and CSIRO what might happen with all this extra CO2)

    Illegal Drugs; the Greens illegal drugs policy is essentially a return to the legal regime of the early 1950’s with a greater emphasis on treatment. Normally i don’t like major backward steps in policy, but the irrationality and downright pigheaded indiference to the suffering caused by prohibition exhibited by both the major parties on this issue is breathtaking. and lets not forget the enormous fortunes generated by death worshiping thugs who cheer everytime a major shipment get seized by the authorities, because what they do get through makes a bigger profit.

    Andrew, you want to label and consign the Greens to the fringe. That is where the ALP started, it is also where Menzies found parts of the Liberal Party. it is also where it became possible to live as i do, with my mediterranian and anglo buddist and old school anglo ect neighbores. As you swing between the dinos of oz politics, please be aware of what they have cherry picked from last decades fringe.

    If Howard’s loss in the Culture Wars is accompanied by Howard’s loss of the Govt there may be some chance that we can find some rationality not only in the way we address our history but also our present. but only if we embrace our fringes.

  31. melanie
    October 26th, 2007 at 23:27 | #31

    All of us are trying to work out what to do in the face of a reality that we cannot individually control. I am very well educated, but I feel dumb in the face of such complexity. If you are not, I envy your simplistic view of life.

    Your fringe dwellers can and do play a very important role in keeping debate alive. No need to denigrate them as naive, while you (unthinkingly?) “just get on with life”.

    You didn’t say anything about where the centre lies or has lain in the past. Since I’m quite old, I can remember when it was a good deal to the left of where it is now.

  32. BilB
    October 27th, 2007 at 09:00 | #32

    Terge 6

    Unless the internet collapses, your comment is redundent. History is, now, what anyone who asks the question will perceive it to be. All information is available to all.

  33. BilB
    October 27th, 2007 at 09:07 | #33

    Melanie 31,

    I be you have some stories to tell.

    I remember reading a quote many years ago (the 50’s) paraphrased:

    “The world of the future will require great complexifiers, not great simplifiers.”

    Today there could be no truer reality. Left or right it is the substance that matters.

  34. October 27th, 2007 at 12:39 | #34

    Tune in next week when Andrew will be irrationally accused of hating the troops?

    The whole history wars nonsense is something that only the extremists in the ALP and Liberal party have cared about. ‘Ordinary’ Australians see through it like the meaningless cr*p it is.

  35. Crispin Bennett
    October 27th, 2007 at 13:02 | #35

    alpaca: if ‘ordinary’ Australians are so astute in seeing through such silliness, how come whingeing about ‘political correctness’ is so prevalent in my neck of the woods (usually used to explain why it’s OK to blame crime/interest rates/bird flu on Our Indigenous Brothers, or on the most recent Official Outcasts; or to defend sexist abuse of the latest winsome young employee, etc)? Perhaps your (or my) ‘ordinary’ Australians aren’t representative of all?

  36. October 27th, 2007 at 13:57 | #36

    Crispin: Blaming ‘political correctness’ has become a major pastime, but doesn’t really have any meaning philosophically IMHO.

  37. Crispin Bennett
    October 27th, 2007 at 14:15 | #37

    alpaca: true, it’s just another silly bogeyman pushed out by the right to convince us that there are really scary people out there (some nearly as fearsome as Julia Gillard with her handbag full of knives).

    But I think you’re wrong about ‘ordinary’ Australians, at least from my experience sample. Use by them of culture-war vocabulary is ubiquitous, and its function is generally to justify something that they understand to be vicious, but want to do or say anyway. Thus anything negative said about indigenous people is often very swiftly followed by a reference to “the Black Armband view of history”, by those who have never read a single work on Australian history (yes, I ask).

  38. October 27th, 2007 at 17:06 | #38

    Crispin: Hmm… not 100% sure about that. I think if you have enough talk-back radio, television and newspapers that use terms like ‘black armband of history’, ‘endless bureaucracy’, ‘political correctness’ etc… then these phrases are going to slip into everyday conversation.

    But just because they’re parroted, it doesn’t mean that people understand, nor subscribe to the tenets of the ‘culture wars’. (Again, IMHO.)

  39. rog
    October 27th, 2007 at 17:43 | #39

    Actually it is not compulsory to vote, it is compulsory to attend a voting station and have your name ticked off.

    What you do after that is nobodies business.

  40. rog
    October 27th, 2007 at 17:48 | #40

    “The world of the future will require great complexifiers, not great simplifiers.�

    I think its the reverse, simplification has brought great wealth to its proponents.

    Bar coding, direct debit, EFTPOS, B-pay, GST, SMS, WIFI – its all so simple.

  41. Sinclair Davidson
    October 27th, 2007 at 19:49 | #41

    rog – it is compulsory to vote in Austalia. At present the secret ballot prevents complete enforcement of the law. In future, however, electronic voting systems will make it difficult to not register a valid vote. See also here.

  42. Bring Back CL’s blog
    October 27th, 2007 at 20:45 | #42

    well I have actually worked at a voting booth and it is NOT compulsory to vote in Bennelong.

    It is compulsory to turn up and get registered. what you do with the voting papers is your own business and you do NOT have to hand them back to said officials.

    Rog is correct.

  43. Sinclair Davidson
    October 27th, 2007 at 21:05 | #43

    Read the legislation and the court cases Homer. The fact that officials choice to ignore tha law simply reflect on them, and the inappropriateness of compulsory voting.

    I should also point out that you’re not supposed to give the voting papers back to the officials – you’re supposed to put them in the box.

  44. October 28th, 2007 at 15:09 | #44

    I maintain that the benefits of homemade jam at polling stations outstrips the benefit of not voting, so there’s no welfare loss from maintaining compulsory voting.

    (Sinclair Davidson from RMIT, or am I mistaking you for someone else?)

  45. John Quiggin
    October 28th, 2007 at 16:16 | #45

    Sinclair, all the discussions of the Langer case that I’ve seen say that it is not an offence to cast an informal vote, though it is an offence to advocate one. The act to which you point doesn’t explicitly require a formal vote – can you point to court decisions saying that voting informally, for example by submitting a blank ballot, is an offence?

    The impact of electronic systems does raise some interesting issues. I might post on this.

  46. Sinclair Davidson
    October 28th, 2007 at 16:31 | #46

    From what I recall of the Langer case, he was imprisoned for contempt of court. The basis for that order was changed after he went to prison. In the Policy piece I linked to we have this paragraph.

    A reading of some of the court cases involving compulsory voting is instructive. The definitive case is Judd v McKeon (1926) 38 CLR 380 where the general principle of ‘valid and sufficient’ was determined to be a ‘personal physical inability to record a vote’. Of course, the court left open the notion that ‘valid and sufficient’ cause was a function of the circumstances, yet it is difficult to understand what these other circumstances could be. They are not, for example, an ideological objection to voting (Judd v McKeon), nor is a lack of preference for any candidate (Faderson v Bridger 1971 126 CLR 271), or even ignorance of the candidates (O’Brien v Warden 1981 37 ACTR 13). The latter cases are quite remarkable. Mr Faderson indicated he had no preference for any of the candidates, and to say he had would constitute a lie. High Court Chief Justice Barwick indicated that voters are not expected to express an opinion of what they want, but merely to indicate, from the choice available to them, what they must have. This neatly sidesteps the issue of voters being forced to lie. The Warden case is even more damning. Here the issue of voters lying is not sidestepped. Mr Warden arrived in the ACT just prior to an election, and was ignorant of the candidates and their policy platforms. Nonetheless, he was found not to have a ‘valid and sufficient’ reason for not voting. In the words of Chief Justice Blackburn of the ACT Supreme Court: ‘In my opinion the Act does not oblige the elector to make a true expression of his preference among the candidates. On one view he must make an expression of apparent preference; on another he need not express himself intelligibly or at all.’

    The section of the Act is titled “Compulsory voting”. The intention is to make voting compulsory. We also write

    Despite the plain language of the Act, many Australians are under the impression that voting per se is not compulsory. Rather it is compulsory to simply turn up to the voting booth, and have your name struck off the register. Whenever compulsory voting is discussed in the media, the letters pages of the newspapers are filled with correspondents claiming voting is not compulsory, while attendance is compulsory. Before discussing this notion in greater detail, consider the case of Krosch v Springell: ex parte Krosch [1974] QdR 107. Mr Springell arrived at a polling booth and handed the electoral officer a note saying he did not wish to vote for any candidate, as he found them all to be unworthy. He was prosecuted, and fined, for not voting despite the fact he had made the effort to turn up on Election Day. In its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) Inquiry into the 2004 election, the AEC makes the claim ‘Because voting is compulsory in Australia, turnout is regularly in the vicinity of 95%.’[7] Clearly, the AEC takes the view that compulsory voting leads to high turnout, not compulsory turnout leads to high voting.

    The electronic business is very interesting. Voters should have the abiliy to cast a donkey vote if they really want to. By that I mean to arrive at the poll and express dissatisfaction with the choice available to them. But with elctronic voting, I suspect, your vote and being registered as having voted will be recorded simulataneously. That is a problem to my mind, and I hope many others too would be disturbed.

    Alpaca – only during office hours.

  47. John Greenfield
    October 28th, 2007 at 17:19 | #47

    Far too many people have a very myopic view of the Culture Wars. They are not merely an obsession of John Howard, nor were they Howard’s creation.

    The Culture Wars started in the 1970s, reaching a peak in the 1980s US campus ‘political correctness’ movement where a large chunk of the humanities and the soft-social sciences, insisted on ‘correct’ readings of history, literature, and politics. The rise of neoconservatism in the late 80s and 90s was the response.

    In Australia, a similar ‘political correctness’ emerged on university campuses, except it was more an adjustment process as Leftists shifted out of Marxism into postmodernism.

    The Australian Culture Wars only went mainstream when Keating became PM. One Nation was the response. It has taken Labor a long time to realise the folly of its cynical hitching of its soul to the Luvvie pomo agenda.

    Still, given that Labor has dropped Socialism, Class, and now multiculturalism, we have to wonder just what role it could possibly play going forward. While it is true, Labor has significant Culture War constituencies and clients, I cannot see Rudd doing their bidding, unless caucus is extremely committed and adamant.

  48. John Greenfield
    October 28th, 2007 at 17:24 | #48


    The term “chardonnay socialist’ has been around since the 1970s. It was, quite rightly, used to describe the Rosemount Estate-quaffer, Neville “the best thing about the working class is getting out of it” Wran.

  49. John Quiggin
    October 28th, 2007 at 17:44 | #49

    John, the political correctness movement of the 1980s is a figment of your imagination. The term “political correctness” (in Australia “ideological soundness”) was used ironically within the left to denote a dogmatic insistence on the kind of thing you are talking about, which was regarded as silly by most leftists.

    As for postmodernism, it’s very much a rightwing phenomenon these days, as witness climate change delusionism, intelligent design and so on.

  50. gerard
    October 28th, 2007 at 22:18 | #50

    I’ll grant that PoMo identity politics has had its fair share of the overly self-righteous.

    But frankly I think that in many cases ‘political correctness’ is just another word for ‘good manners’, which Rightwingers greatly resent because they can no longer get away with the type of racism, sexism and homophobia which was totally accepted 50 years ago.

    There is of course another type of ‘political correctness’ upheld by the mainstream, the type that shuts out criticism of the Australian government and its role in the world with the absurd accuasion that it is ‘unAustralian’.

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