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Abbott and tribalism

March 14th, 2014

I’ve been too busy to post much, but I’ve written a number of articles over the past month or so that might be interesting to readers here. This one, published by various Fairfax papers looks at the damp squib of the G20 finance ministers meeting, and links it to the Abbott government’s elevation of tribalism over good government, and even over market liberal ideology.

There’s a follow-up here from Charles Richardson at Crikey and something more on similar lines by Rob Burgess at the Business Spectator

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  1. March 14th, 2014 at 20:19 | #1

    this is a government whose driving force is tribalism, not ideology

    Sorry to be boring and repetitive, but the ALP & LNP are driven by both tribalism AND ideology.

    Sadly, the ideology is shared – i.e. free-market fundamentalist neo-liberalism (with some different colouring around the edges to distinguish the two tribes).

    The tribalism is utilised by both to further the commonly shared ideology. “Yay red team. Boo blue team.” The illusion of a genuine contest where the winner will be guaranteed to carry on the shared ideological program.

    This weekend is “March in March”. Despite the denials, it is by silent default an ALP supporting event. The whole theme is exclusively anti-Abbott, anti-LNP government. Implicit but unstated is the obvious corollary “anti-LNP? Vote ALP instead”.

    Publicising itself as “grass roots” when it is implicitly ALP annoys me.

    As I said in another thread, I sincerely wish the best to the genuinely non-partisan protesters but I can’t join in on this one.

  2. JKUU
    March 15th, 2014 at 00:56 | #2

    I don’t really want to be repetitious, but here’s my slightly modified comment on Charles Richardson’s piece at his Crikey blog:

    If “politics is the art of compromise,” then it is an art unknown to contemporary politicians.

    You (Richardson) say “So what’s new? Hasn’t politics always been largely tribal in nature? Well, yes and no.” Yet the fear of excessive partisanship in government brought about by tribal loyalties has been around for a long time. Recall James Madison’s words in the Federalist no. 10 (which I paraphrase): A faction is a group of citizens with interests that are adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the best interests of the whole nation. Because of the nature of man, such groups (political factions cum parties) are inevitable. Moreover, in a free society, they are unavoidable, because they result from the different interests and opinions that arise from persons differently situated, especially with respect to the ownership of property. And then, we have George Washington in his 1796 farewell address, warning that political factions are “likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”

    Madison thought that a large enough democratic republic and the multiple jurisdictions of a federation would have such diversity that the effects of political factions would be buffered or muted. Unfortunately, history has proved him wrong.

  3. John Quiggin
    March 15th, 2014 at 06:20 | #3

    You’re both missing the point. The fact that political parties exist (which is what Washington means by factionalism, and the only point made by Megan) is not at issue here.

    Of course, political parties are partisan: that’s true by definition. The question is whether they represent a coherent ideological viewpoint, or simply a collection of tribal groups defined by their hatred of other tribal groups. The answer, almost invariably, is a mixture of the two, but Abbott has gone much further in the direction of tribalism than any Australian government in recent history.

  4. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2014 at 07:19 | #4

    I’ll be going along to March in March and I’m certainly no ALP tribal partisan Megan.

    I will go because whatever the intent or the conceptions of the event brought to it by the majority of those attending, a great many of those who go will simply want to demur on the reactionary consensus, and those of us who bring more than “I don’t like it” or “down with Abbott” get to talk with large numbers of people who want to know how this disaster happened and what they can do to unpick it and build something better.

    A demonstration is the easiest way that large numbers of politically atomised folk can become part of something larger than their circle of friends, and for a few precious minutes be part of something as loud as the boss class press that tells them they only count to the extent that they accept its memes du jour. For a moment, they count because they turned up. Those of us who celebrate their courage in dissenting from the boss class-shaped consensus should want them to feel energised and determined to shape a new consensus, based on equity and inclusion and the legitimate needs of the humanity they see about them, reminding them that ALP tribalism is merely a maladaptive response to the powerlessness they felt that brought them here.

  5. JKUU
    March 15th, 2014 at 07:34 | #5

    @John Quiggin
    No John, I haven’t missed the point.

    I will set aside Washington’s words (since you seem to know better than I what he means). However, Madison got it right. Madison’s studies of ancient Greek and Roman political structures allowed him to see the dangers of government plagued by self-interested factions. He knew (from his studies) that such groups would inevitably arise in an otherwise free society because people with tightly held viewpoints (be they philosophic,religious, cultural, etc. differences) consolidate into partisan groups. Tribalism occurs when these groups become intolerant to the views of others.

    For liberal democracy to succeed, we need people with different word views to come together and move forward on common ground. John Rawls would call these “reasonable” people operating in a just society. Unfortunately, when factions become tribal, reasonableness goes out the window (hence my “politics is the art of compromise” comment). I take it that this is the situation you say Australia is in with the Abbott government.

  6. JKUU
    March 15th, 2014 at 07:39 | #6

    I meant “world” not “word” in the first line second paragraph.

  7. Crispin Bennett
    March 15th, 2014 at 08:02 | #7

    @JKUU I read JQ’s point to be that Abbott & Co don’t even possess an internally-coherent foundation from which to maintain principled intolerance to other ‘views’. It’s not really about ‘views’, and arguably no longer even entirely about the basest available type of foundation (self-interest). It’s crude Us vs Them. Even the apparent intolerance is obviously a crude manufacture.

  8. Ikonoclast
    March 15th, 2014 at 08:03 | #8

    “Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
    Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.” – John Harrington.

    Labor has committed treason against the working class by adopting the policies of neo-conservative capitalism. This is the treason Labor fellow travellers never mention.

    So, it as Megan has said. The two party, one ideology system gives the voters little real choice. This is the phenomenon that JQ, if I recall correctly, shows no interest in analysing. He prefers to talk about tribalism. I don’t recall him giving an analysis about how “tribalism” is different from ideology. If he did such an analysis he might find that tribalism is about symbolism, rallying around symbols, and that the purpose of the symbols is to stand as a rallying point for an ideology. Tribalism leads straight back to ideology. Tribalism rallies the emotional to an ideology. Ideology rallies the intellectuals to ideology.

    Tribalism exists to rally the goons, the mindless votes, the brainless muscle, that every oppressive ideology needs. Tribalism is a tool of oppressive ideology. I’d like to think that JQ gets this and I have missed his point. I hope so.

  9. John Quiggin
    March 15th, 2014 at 08:07 | #9

    @JKUU

    “Tribalism occurs when these groups become intolerant to the views of others.”

    It isn’t even views, so much as culture. Abbott and his supporters have in mind a caricature of their enemies: unionists as beer drinking thugs (see Rachel Nolan who has the same stereotype), latte-sipping inner -city lefties, dreadlocked greenies etc etc.

    If you look at Direct Action vs Carbon Price, it’s not that Abbott hates greenies because they want a carbon price or even because they believe in climate science. He rejects climate science and carbon prices because he hates greenies.

  10. John Quiggin
    March 15th, 2014 at 08:08 | #10

    Also, what Fran said. I’m certainly no ALP tribalist, and, while I can’t make it to the March in March, I’ve given a statement to be read there.

  11. Ikonoclast
    March 15th, 2014 at 08:16 | #11

    In other words, with Abbott, there is “ideology in his tribalism.”

  12. Ikonoclast
    March 15th, 2014 at 08:31 | #12

    @John Quiggin

    Look at my post at #8. You need to come up with a coherent theory explaining how and why “tribalism” is the same as or different from ideology and how it might relate to ideology. Your implied thesis, that modern “tribalism” is unrelated to ideology, in particular to class interest, I find highly implausible. Anyway, you would need to define what you mean by (modern) “tribalism” as a first step.

    The closest you come to a definition about tribalism is that is about (unexplained) hate. “He (Abbott) rejects climate science and carbon prices because he hates greenies.”

    Surely, you have to ask why he hates Greenies. The answer is immediately clear. All we have to do is look at a little history. Abbott’s class hates Greenies because Greenies are an impediment to the unhindered exploitation of the environment for gain by the capitalist and rentier class.

  13. John Quiggin
    March 15th, 2014 at 09:55 | #13

    @Ikonoclast

    Your position is self-contradictory. If the two parties share much the same ideology, as they do, then it can’t be the case that the support base of one party represents a mortal threat to that ideology.

    Greenies (ie mainstream environmentalists and supporters of Labor or the Greens party) aren’t a threat to the capitalist class as a whole and indeed get plenty of support from the dominant component of that class, the finance sector. After all, the long term survival of capitalism depends on the long term survival of the planet, and plenty of capitalists can see that. Greenies are a nuisance to a subgroup of capitalists (miners, loggers etc) who are part of Abbott’s tribal base, and are hated by the kinds of people who listen to Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt, even though these people have no economic stake in the issue at all.

  14. March 15th, 2014 at 10:00 | #14

    Abbott government’s elevation of tribalism over good government, and even over market liberal ideology.

    Have all and sundry just noticed that Abbott is a conservative rather than a liberal!

  15. Megan
    March 15th, 2014 at 10:11 | #15

    @Fran Barlow

    As I said, I sincerely wish the best for non-partisan attendees but this is one (rare) occasion where I won’t go along – and I’m not advocating that others don’t go, I simply wanted to explain why I won’t.

    I agree very much with what you say about the utility of protest gatherings. If they had come at the protest as being against a whole suite of objectionable policies they would necessarily have a theme of “sending a message Abbott and Shorten”. I looked into the organisers and there are links to the ALP (nothing wrong with links, I object to pretending they’re not).

    My objection is that tribalists can harness the energy of idealists for their own goals and we can do without the tribalists.

  16. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2014 at 10:29 | #16

    My objection is that tribalists can harness the energy of idealists for their own goals and we can do without the tribalists.

    That is a risk, but it’s one well worth taking, given that the tribalists, who, by definition, are far better organised and resourced than us do that in every other place. We however, have the better ideas and it being unclear of the extent to which anyone is rusted onto the tribe, there is no better place to be at that time to reach those whose commitment to tribe maybe trivial, reflexive or non-existent.

    If there is something you’d like to put to such folk, you ought to attend, if only to contest the field. Influence is acquired not merely by title but by work and custom, and in my experience, these latter are the more insistent.

  17. March 15th, 2014 at 11:44 | #17

    Jim Rose #14 is close to the mark. Abbott reminds me a lot of John Howard in his later years, in that they have no particular desire to change anything. They want to be in government to prevent assorted radicals, socialists, foreign threats etc upsetting the comfortable status quo that has treated them so well. That involves looking after friends, both domestic and international, and hurting enemies whenever the opportunity arises. Conservatism of a quite pragmatic kind, with no real desire to improve the world and scepticism that it is even possible to do so.

  18. Megan
    March 15th, 2014 at 12:20 | #18

    I’m seeing some early pictures from’March in March’ and at the head of one column was a large “Labor” banner.

  19. BilB
    March 15th, 2014 at 12:28 | #19

    The consequence of Abbott’s tribalism is that his mob completely ignore vital changes such as

    http://arctic-news.blogspot.com.au/search?q=high+methane+levels+over

    Study this carefully. This is the end game setting in permanently. There is no recovery in our civilisation’s time once this process is in full flow.

    I’ve spent way too much time attempting to understand the Jo Nova syndrome. The core substance appears to be that the Libertarian drive hates taxes, to an irrational extent. No doubt there is more under the surface in that there is a tribal thing going where they are convinced that addressing climate change is pointless and any action would require government expenditure or induced private money diverted for no useful purpose. To isolate their following from any change of understanding they have mounted a massive programme of demonising scientists, at least those scientists that produce any research that threatens their position.

    Need I say that intentional ignorance of fact this is mind bogglingly unbelievable in this day and age. The Abbott tribe appear to be in lock step with the Libertarian Tribe only falling short when taxes cannot be removed in a manner to satisfy the expectations of the Libertarian Zealots.

    Nova recently went to great lengths to isolate herself from the label “Denialist”, prefering the bet hedging term “Skeptic” despite every article on her sight screaming denial of that our world faces anything other than the occasional inconvenient summer.

    Our Global environmental peril is magnified not in that there are no solutions, as there are, but in that we are barred from even talking about them when and where it matters, such as in the G8 conference where Abbott specifically deleted those subjects from the agenda. This is tribalism taken to extremes.

    What sort of a person does that???

  20. Paul Norton
    March 15th, 2014 at 13:39 | #20

    Have all and sundry just noticed that Abbott is a conservative rather than a liberal!

    The point of the post is that Abbott is not a conservative in any sense in which any serious conservative thinker, or a reputable university politics textbook, would define the term. He and a large percentage of his colleagues possess an essentially adolescent worldview in which certain groups of people are framed as baddies, things that are valued by these groups of people are therefore framed as “bad” not on their actual merits but simply because these groups value them, and the goal of government becomes the infliction of vengeance on the baddies and the destruction of whatever it is that they value.

  21. Paul Norton
    March 15th, 2014 at 13:47 | #21

    To me one of the indicators of the mentality at work was a comment by Abbott’s old friend and comrade Greg Sheridan on Q&A when it discussed the wall-punching allegations against Abbott from his Sydney University days. Sheridan’s defence of Abbott included the assertion that the leftists that he and Abbott were opposing were “bad people”. It is one think for Sheridan and Abbott to have thought this way when they were both 18 year old students; it is quite another to hear that sort of talk coming from the same people when they are mature men in their mid-50s.

  22. Crispin Bennett
    March 15th, 2014 at 15:05 | #22

    @Megan I didn’t notice whether or not there was a Labor banner at today’s Lismore march. The emphases were clearly issues rather than organisations. Apart from generic anti-Abbottism the dominant banner types referenced climate breakdown, CSG/fracking (as might be expected by anyone knowing the area), and the Pacific gulag.

  23. Ikonoclast
    March 15th, 2014 at 15:28 | #23

    @John Quiggin

    I don’t agree that my position is self-contradictory. You claim, “… it can’t be the case that the support base of one party represents a mortal threat to that ideology.” This assumes that Greenies form part of the support base of Labor. Greenies do not support the Labor Party and have not done so for some time. They support parties like the Greens, Green Left, International Socialists etc. They left Labor after it became obvious that Labor had gone over to the other side.

    Then you say, “Greenies (ie mainstream environmentalists and supporters of Labor or the Greens party) aren’t a threat to the capitalist class as a whole and indeed get plenty of support from the dominant component of that class, the finance sector.”

    I think it is using all too broad a brush to claim that Greenies support Labor as well as the Greens. Greenies are a (mild and marginalised) threat to the capitalist class as a whole. The capitalist class as a whole (the whole 1% of them) support BAU which is endless growth based on the inexhaustible resource model. Any Green concern at all conflicts with this model: must inevitably conflict with this model. If the finance capitalists (as opposed to industrial or primary production capitalists) appear to support Greens at times I would suggest 99% of it Greenwashing and Astroturfing and the other 1% is NIMBY concern. Capitalists always like a little “pristine” wilderness to reside near or fly to (when not going to ski resorts).

    Then you say, “After all, the long term survival of capitalism depends on the long term survival of the planet, and plenty of capitalists can see that.” I am sorry, that one made me laugh. I have never seen any evidence that capitalists understand this at all. If they had understood, they would have taken serious, effective action as soon as Limits to Growth and Global Warming research laid out the reality of what we were facing. Instead, we saw a renewed push for endless growth capitalism particularly from about 1991 until the GFC and then it has continued pretty much non-stop after the implications of the GFC were rapidly swept under the carpet.

    We can never solve these problems without changing the system of ownership. When a tiny percentage of the population own the means of production, own the mass media and own the politicians, we will never get decisions which are in the interests of the majority of the people.

    BTW, you have never answered the question of what you mean by (modern) “tribalism”. “Tribalism” in this sense is an imprecise “catch-all” by which you attempt to explain (explain away?) social and political conflicts after rejecting the obvious fact that these conflicts are still clearly about well-defined class interests.

  24. Paul Norton
    March 15th, 2014 at 16:19 | #24

    I think that if one looks at the percentage of the population expressing pro-environmental sentiments as measured by reputable studies such as the successive Australian Election Studies and Australian Social Attitude Surveys, and then compares it with the actual vote for the Greens, the parties Ikonoclast mentions and other minor parties and independents that emphasise environmental concerns, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that a considerable number of greenies do support Labor. Whether they should do so is a matter on which people here will differ, but there is little room for doubting that they do.

  25. Michael
    March 15th, 2014 at 17:28 | #25

    I agree with John Quiggin. Abbott isn’t ideological in the traditional sense. His game is political fight, and it worked a treat in opposition because he was opposing everything unconstrained by reason, logic or principal.

    Now that he is in government and faces a weak and confused ALP his game is petty retribution. He is a vindictive leader with no forward looking policies except reward for his friends and payback for his enemies. His own party will soon lose patience with him and replace him, all they need is a sufficiently big stuff up or bad poll to give them a face saving excuse. I’m sure it won’t be that long. Unfortunately he will do a lot of damage in the meantime.

  26. Hermit
    March 15th, 2014 at 18:21 | #26

    If as seems likely everywhere but the ACT goes Liberal it will be like being spreadeagled on thin ice that is likely to crack. In Tasmania a poll found 71% of people opposed tearing up the forest peace deal. That tearing up could be just a week from now. Elsewhere the public are blaming the socialists and their taxes for the job layoffs. However the highly visible mass exodus is yet to happen for employees of Holden, Alcoa and Qantas. If the public still blames previous governments when it happens I’d say collectively the public is not the full quid.

  27. Megan
    March 15th, 2014 at 19:42 | #27

    @Hermit

    Unless I’m very mistaken, it looks like the Greens have been almost obliterated in Tasmania (from 5 seats to 1 at present count) and ALP also taking a beating. Antony Green has already called it for LNP to form government.

    The Greens getting into bed with the ALP obviously wasn’t a good idea, unless the idea was to ensure there would be no electable “left”.

  28. Hermit
    March 15th, 2014 at 20:00 | #28

    @Megan
    According to the ABC website several Greens are back and it was PUP that was shunned by the voters. Premier-elect Hodgman after a 16 year apprenticeship in opposition says his first order of business is to tear up the forest peace deal that even timber companies supported. It could also mean that violent protests are coming back after falling silent for some time. That and no likely economic improvement during Hodgman’s term don’t augur well.

  29. March 15th, 2014 at 20:22 | #29

    see http://blogs.abc.net.au/antonygreen/2012/09/the-greens-versus-labor-geographic-and-educational-dimensions.html for an explanation of the drop in the green vote.

    Scratch a green voter and you will find a hip-pocket voter with a large super to protect.

  30. Ikonoclast
    March 15th, 2014 at 20:32 | #30

    I am a bit worried that using the term “tribalism” as a pejorative epithet and synonym for blind, illogical hating runs the danger of evincing progressivist chauvinism and cultural supremacism; ie. of denigrating people from tribal cultures. I think it’s a bad choice of term.

    Furthermore, the term, as used by its proponents in the discussion above, appears to me to be devoid of definable social or political or ideological content. It is purely an emotional word and as such does not further any discussion. The phenomena under discussion are not about “modern tribalism” (a meaningless term). The whole thing is about class interests and the clash of class interests. Intra-class conflict occurs as well as inter-class conflict. Indeed, the ruling class is particularly adept at promoting intra-class conflict. It’s a divide and rule tactic.

    If you call any particular instance of intra-class or inter-class conflict “modern tribalism” it only means you haven’t done the class interest analysis and you haven’t determined which resources or which power displays or which status displays the dispute is over. Power displays and status displays are always at base demonstrations of rights to control and possession of real resources, including other humans when so objectified. Hating arises when wishes to control and possess are thwarted.

  31. Megan
    March 15th, 2014 at 20:42 | #31

    @Hermit

    Antony Green says, according to ABC site, ALP to hold 5 and Greens 2.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cheering the LNP landslide (I live in Qld, so I wouldn’t wish that on anyone). What I’m saying is the same thing I said about NSW, Qld, Fed – evrything that happens from now on is the ALP’s fault. They abandoned all principle to be neo-cons and got punished electorally for that.

  32. Ikonoclast
    March 15th, 2014 at 20:55 | #32

    @Jim Rose

    Well, Green and Greenie are too loosely used. I have a few Green sentiments and quite a lot of Green ideology I “aspire” to live up to. I have solar PV but too many cars in the family garage. I vote for the Greens these days. Does this make me a Greenie? No, it just makes a hypocrite.

    If I was a real Greenie, I would live in much smaller, simpler house with far less mod-cons. I would be mostly vegetarian. I would own no cars. I would walk or cycle everywhere. I would never fly in a passenger jet aircraft or go on holidays which require fossil fuel to get there. I would have far less possessions. I would work hard every day at home even in retirement home-growing, repairing, maintaining, ekeing out and doing without to make everything last as long as possible and to consume as little as possible.

    There are very few real Greenies. It takes enormous dedication, hard work and self-denial to be a real Greenie in an age of environment damaging over-production. Very few people are that virtuous. But as T.S. Eliot wrote;

    “Virtues are forced upon us by our impudent crimes”.

    Eventually, the natural world will force us back to genuine, austere virtues. Or in the case of people my age, we’ll just die. There is no way we will be young enough or tough enough to live in balance with nature.

  33. Ikonoclast
    March 15th, 2014 at 21:04 | #33

    @Megan

    I agree Hermit. It is hard to do the self-denying, virtuous thing. Pay more for green power, live simpler etc. But it is easier if the difficulties are shared and we all make a virtue of (eventual) necessity. Labor was the major party that should have led and facilitated the movement to a greener, low consumption society to help save the planet. As a shared enterprise with mutual encouragement we all could have and would have made a better effort. (Imagine if everyone praised you for getting a smaller car or selling the car and using public transport. Imagine if conspcicuous consumption drew widespread censure and ridicule.)

    But instead Labor sold out and became indistinguishable from the LNP. So then the people’s choice was Clayton’s Necons or Real Neocons. (Hmm, does the Clayton’s reference date me.)

  34. Paul Norton
    March 15th, 2014 at 21:07 | #34

    In Tasmania the Greens will retain between 3 and 5 seats, although the primary vote fall is undeniable. In SA the Greens primary vote has increased, although it’s too early in the count to know what this will mean in terms of Legislative Council representation.

  35. Paul Norton
    March 15th, 2014 at 21:09 | #35

    Update: the ABC computer is predicting a close-run thing between Greens and Shooters & Fishers for the last Legislative Council seat in SA, with under 30% of the vote counted. The Greens vote will most likely improve as more votes are counted.

  36. Paul Norton
    March 15th, 2014 at 21:29 | #36

    Further update: with 42% counted the Legislative Council prediction is 4 ALP, 4 Liberal, 1 Family First, 1 Green and 1 Xenophoid.

  37. Fran Barlow
    March 15th, 2014 at 21:32 | #37

    @Megan

    Doubtless that’s so — accepting responsibility for a government that is on the way down makes no tactical sense, and that’s especially the case when Federally, the ALP is also going down.

    The tricky thing is that if The Greens had stood on the sidelines then a new election would have to have to have been held. Unless the Liberals had achieved a majority, or less probably, The Greens, the same question would have been posed again. So in effect, The Greens would have been pitching for a Liberal government or saying that there could be no government unless we won. That wouldn’t have gone anywhere good.

    Nor could we have insisted on being senior partner. The ALP would have pressed for a new election. So in the end, the only thing that could have happened did happen.

  38. Megan
    March 15th, 2014 at 22:13 | #38

    @Fran Barlow

    I agree with the idea that in Tas the Greens had to make that choice, and the LNP had said ‘no way’, so it had to be ALP or back to the polls. BUT, I don’t think they handled it well in either the deal (don’t know the details) or in the execution. I think of the other ‘Nick’ in the UK from the Lib Dems who is in a similar sleeping arrangement with David Cameron while they sell off the NHS.

    Hermit: I never had cause to read the “TASMANIAN FORESTS AGREEMENT ACT 2013″ but I just did. In order to rip it up they would have to find something of substance in it – there is nothing. Everything is aspirational, weasel-words, minister’s discretion, House can declare something square to be round, no recourse etc….

    As a piece of legislation you could drive a logging truck through it in its current form without amending or repealing a word.

    For example: “substantial active protest means an activity that has a negative material impact on forest operations legally carried out or on any processing of timber legally carried out”

    And (section 24a): “Either House of Parliament may make a determination that there has been a failure of durability including, but not limited to, substantial active protests or substantial market disruption”

  39. Hermit
    March 15th, 2014 at 23:10 | #39

    The forest peace deal might be waffly but it brought a stop to this kind of thing

  40. March 16th, 2014 at 01:13 | #40

    @Hermit

    You mean it allowed that kind of psycho to roam free without being forced to violently attack and abuse a peaceful protester?

    That’s an interesting point of view. It reminds me of the infamous Israeli response to resistance:

    “I am able to forgive you for killing my child, but I can never forgive you for forcing me to kill your child.”

    The parallel is exact.

  41. March 16th, 2014 at 01:29 | #41

    About 20 years ago I was doing business with someone from “Stihl” in Brisbane and he was telling me about “greenies” who “spike” trees. I had no idea what this meant, and he explained that these greenies drive steel reo rods into trees so that when loggers try to chop them down with chainsaws they hit the spike and the chainsaw kicks back and chops off the worker’s arm or otherwise seriously injures them.

    I actually believed that for several years and told people about it. Then I discovered that it was a lie put about by the logging industry (and the chainsaw industry).

    I hate liars.

  42. Ikonoclast
    March 16th, 2014 at 08:32 | #42

    Capitalism won’t be “happy” until it has despoiled and destroyed everything. I’ve lived long enough to know that Green attitudes and Green politics are now in retreat. People were more concerned about the environment twenty or thirty years ago than they are now. The environment had more real protections 20 or 30 years ago than it has now. Greenwashing and astroturfing have completely confused the issue. Much environmental “protection” these days is fake. Its pure 1984 language now. Protection these days means exploitation.

    Every process of destruction of our environment is accelerating. The only phenomena that will likely stop it are global economic collapse and die-off of the human population. The only hope is that a “salutary event” occurs early in this process. A “salutary event” will be a major ecological or climate disaster killing or displacing milllions to tens of millions in a clearly defined area and unambiguously attributable to ecological or climate change factors. The motivating effect of the salutary disaster will be enhanced if it happens to hit Westerners.

    If humans finally realise they are in imminent danger of extinction they ought to be able change course significantly. Of course, if too much damage is already baked into the cake it will still be too late.

  43. Crispin Bennett
    March 16th, 2014 at 09:04 | #43

    @Ikonoclast: but Capitalism can keep on keeping on well into the process. Illich’s useful ‘disvalues’ notion explains much: growth-oriented capitalism can only work by ensuring people are unhappy enough to spend more, and at a certain point of material development it must do this by systematically degrading free sources of happiness. A pleasant environment, affordable food and housing, social conviviality, security, and increasing leisure time are inherently inimical to it.

  44. Jim Rose
    March 16th, 2014 at 10:16 | #44

    Labor vote has halved since 2007, greens halved their vote since 2010. The left is on the nose.

  45. Hermit
    March 16th, 2014 at 10:28 | #45

    Now even rocket scientists have succumbed to doom and gloom
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists
    If economic growth (say as measured by per capita GDP) is coming to an end perhaps the trend towards electing conservative governments is a last throw of the dice. It is not hard to envision the economy being more crook in say 2016 than now. I suspect that the centre left will get back into power across Australia maybe not the ALP as we know it. The emphasis will be more on the personal safety net not corporate welfare and reality denial.

  46. Crispin Bennett
    March 16th, 2014 at 10:35 | #46

    @Hermit
    I suspect as economic and environmental catastrophes spread and deepen, more fatherly leadership is the likely prospect. Positive feedback.

  47. Crispin Bennett
    March 16th, 2014 at 10:51 | #47

    @Hermit
    The money quote (though hardly anything not previously highlighted by Tainter etc) from the article you linked:

    [Elites] are buffered from the most “detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners”, allowing them to “continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe.” The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how “historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory

    Abbott and Co. are components of this buffering process, that’s all.

  48. rog
    March 16th, 2014 at 11:12 | #48

    @Megan Recently the ABC went to Hounville and interviewed a number of timber workers. They indicated that campaigns by “greenies” were more of nuisance value – the primary reasons for the downfall in their industry were a high AUD and the downturn in domestic building, particularly after the GFC.

    They also thought the forest agreement was OK, it gave them certainty and no agreement was bad.

  49. Donald Oats
    March 16th, 2014 at 11:17 | #49

    I’ll avoid comment on ALP.

    With the current Abbott-led government, it seems to me that the vast majority of the cabinet, aside from being men, have a particular religious perspective, world view. While a certain amount of self-selection (i.e. where the main cohort of LNP members come from) could explain this to an extent, it certainly looks to me as if the religious outlook took on an importance in people’s placement within the new government, an importance that is disturbing for a supposedly secular society, if it is true.

    I remember how the previous Liberal government made a public push for Intelligent Design to be a part of the science curriculum at school, and through the mechanism of private schools, this took place. When politicians push particular barrows of interest into the curriculum for a subject in which they have limited knowledge—especially because of their own education—it is a concern. When it is religious material masquerading as science, it is immoral to do this, surely. My personal view is that religious material is best left to what people indulge themselves in after school, outside of work hours (excepting those who are religious workers, I suppose).

    I hope to be quite wrong on this, but I have a deep concern that sooner or later a push will be on to shift manifestly religious ideas into school subjects, as “the other side of the debate”, or some similar claim. With such a strongly homogeneous cabinet, it won’t take much of a religiously inspired lobby group to make inroads, I’d think.

    As a final comment in this vein, the staunch rejection of climate scientists as having any merit in contribution to understanding climate systems, we see the anti-science view as dominant in the cabinet; they agree with the science on something when it suits their policy (or ideological) objectives, happily rejecting it outright when it is contrary to their world view, their belief of the world as they wish it to be, not as it actually is.

    This is certainly tribalism going beyond mere political ideology.

  50. rog
    March 16th, 2014 at 11:20 | #50

    Just in case anyone was wondering voting patterns in Australia have remained fairly even over time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Australia#Primary.2C_Two_Party_Preferred_.28TPP.29_and_seat_results_since_1937

  51. Donald Oats
    March 16th, 2014 at 11:32 | #51

    @Donald Oats
    To follow up with a link, Anson’s article on Abbott’s speech to the logging industry is worth a quick read.

  52. paul walter
    March 16th, 2014 at 11:58 | #52

    One of your best summaries .@Paul Norton

  53. John Quiggin
    March 16th, 2014 at 13:29 | #53

    @Jim Rose

    You have exceeded your quota, and haven’t contributed much beyond snark. Please take a break of at least 24 hours from all threads.

  54. Will
    March 16th, 2014 at 14:07 | #54

    The fact that this thread has gone off the rails to the point where everyone is chipping in factoids to support their worldview is A-grade evidence that the left does not suffer from tribalism. Knee-jerk defences of the left against the out group du jour has been very few and far between in this thread. Compare that to any given right-wing thread where they will go on the offensive whenever they are called out by using the same stale talking points about commies and unions and welfare recipients as they have done for the past century or so.

  55. Faust
    March 16th, 2014 at 18:09 | #55

    Heat a wonderful echo chamber it is here.

    Firstly, Professor Q has not demonstrated that Abbott is any more tribal than other governments. No evidence at all. Just his personal distaste for a LNP government.

    Secondly, as much as I abhor violence, that video posted by Hermit is what happens when Greenies try to destroy someone’s livelihood. For people that “care” for the working class you aren’t demonstrating it!

  56. faust
    March 16th, 2014 at 18:28 | #56

    Meant to say that “it is” a wonderful echo chamber… Damn my ipad!

  57. Nathan
    March 16th, 2014 at 19:02 | #57

    @Faust
    Your statement is false. There are several examples in the article. Since you don’t refute any of them, nor offer comparable acts by other administrations it would appear the person making statements without evidence is yourself.

  58. Geoff
    March 16th, 2014 at 21:11 | #58

    @Megan

    Hi Megan

    I usually enjoy your posts and find them very informative, which is why your comment that Labor is just as tribal as the Libs, surprises me.

    In several other areas (such as political viciousness and treatment of refugees) I could agree to a point, but John Quiggin has pointed out in this very post the example of Tony Abbott as head of the G20.

    I just can’t imagine Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Paul Keating or Bob Hawke (let alone Gough Whitlam) embarrassing Australia the way Tony Abbott has.

    Even at its worst, on refugees, Labor seems to be playing “catch up” with the Libs, so as to neutralise refugees as an issue and then get the conversation back to real problems like improving education and help for disabled people, as through Gonski and NDIS (which the Libs have now abandoned or threaten to abandon).

    As Scott Morrison said about Kevin Rudd’s cruelty to refugees “His heart just isn’t in it”. Morrison on the other hand actually seems to enjoy cruelty to refugees.

    On economic issues the two parties are arguably converging, but on education, disabilities, environment (specifically climate change) Labor is streets ahead (although not perfect, particularly on climate change).

    Can you imagine a Labor PM giving the go-ahead to dump three million cubic metres of rubbish on the Reef?

    Cheers,

  59. James
    March 16th, 2014 at 21:36 | #59

    I see Mr Shorten has ‘distanced’ himself from the March in March. He appears to be morphing into the alternate face of the government, not the face of the alternate government.

  60. TerjeP
    March 16th, 2014 at 22:29 | #60

    Speaking of raw tribalism protests often bring out some “colourful” characters. This report on March in March:-

    Newcastle Trades Hall Council secretary Gary Kennedy launched a vitriolic and pointed attack on some of what he regarded as the biggest symbols of corporate greed, describing Gina Rinehart as a ‘‘filthy animal’’ for the way she protected her wealth while calling on others to work for less, and saying Qantas chief Alan Joyce should be ‘‘shot in the back of the head’’ for proposing to sack 5000 workers to pay for his failed management strategies.

    Given recent debates over the abusive language aimed at former prime minister Julia Gillard it was perhaps surprising that Kennedy used such descriptions in a public forum, but I believe it would be a shame if they were taken as symbolising an event that was emphasised by its organisers as a ‘‘peaceful’’ protest.

    http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2153746/ian-kirkwood-anger-mobilises-crowd/?cs=391

  61. March 16th, 2014 at 22:47 | #61

    @Geoff

    With the greatest respect (and thanks for the kind words), WTF?:

    neutralise refugees as an issue and then get the conversation back to real problems

    This is the weirdest, and yet sadly typical, ALP ‘pragmatism’ I have heard in a while – and I appreciate your honesty about it because I think it also makes my point about being unable to have anything to do with a political party that thinks/operates this way.

  62. Fran Barlow
    March 16th, 2014 at 23:06 | #62

    @Megan

    Hear! Hear!

    FTR Megan, you will be pleased to hear that the Sydney rally/march barely mentioned the ALP except to damn them as complicit. “Sonia”, for the organisers declared herself and her colleagues politically non-aligned. There were no banners or speakers from any of the parties on the podium (not even us) and I didn’t spot anyone from the ALP until the march ended at Victoria Park, Glebe. A guy was wearing a t-shirt.

    I had many positive conversations and even ran into those Year 9s who made the viral video of Newtown Performing Arts Year 9 excursion to Canberra, in which they buttonholed Abbott. Wendy Bacon referred to them in her speech, not knowing that a number of them were there. It was a great moment. Along with a number of others, I commended them on their commitment to social justice and their intellectual accomplishment.

  63. March 16th, 2014 at 23:26 | #63

    @Fran Barlow

    Glad to hear that the Sydney protest didn’t live up to my worst fears. It looked like Melbourne also had a dilutive effect on the ALP links.

    Sadly, Brisbane didn’t. It was, from reports, far too ALP. Jo-ann Miller spoke and wheeled out the spectre of “Joh!”.

  64. March 16th, 2014 at 23:38 | #64

    @James

    Shorten was at the Croatian Festival, “another example of the success and importance of multiculturalism”.

    For their sake – I hope the pies were to his liking.

  65. JKUU
    March 16th, 2014 at 23:42 | #65

    John Quiggin’s IA post on his MiM paper generated extensive discussion (to which I refer you). For me the take home message was general satisfaction of participants that the aim, a “Statement of No Confidence” in the Liberal National Party Coalition Government, was achieved.

    So what happens next? I hope that the 3 marches in WA would affect the outcome of the upcoming half-Senate re-election in April with its 77 candidates. From the viewpoint of containing the Abbott regime’s pernicious agenda, it’s import that he be denied easy control of the Senate, which can at least hold the government “accountable.” Then perhaps Australia can limp along with its dignity intact until the next federal election.

  66. rog
    March 17th, 2014 at 06:24 | #66

    Twitter tag #MarchinMarch

    Lots of good pics eg https://twitter.com/misskayesera/status/445036303759843328

  67. John Quiggin
    March 17th, 2014 at 07:00 | #67

    Terje, well-deserved criticism of particular individuals for their actions and words is not “tribalism”. Rinehart would be just as repugnant, though less important, even if she’d been less successful in court, and some other family member had inherited her father’s money. Ditto for Joyce.

    If Labor figures routinely denounced farmers and small business owners (or even big business owners) as a group*, you might have a point. But they don’t. Maybe they did in the distant past, but not in my memory. The closest thing I can think of to an exception is Paul Keating, who could do a good line in tribal rhetoric (any kind of rhetoric, for that matter) when he wanted to.

    *Though even here there is a critical difference between pointing to the conflict of interest between classes, and attacking your opponents as “the wrong sort of people”.

  68. Ikonoclast
    March 17th, 2014 at 08:07 | #68

    @John Quiggin

    I am still waiting for an cogent explanation of your “tribalism” thesis. What do you mean by the term “tribalism” when you use it as in your comment article in The Age March 2nd?

    I can safely assume you do not literally mean traditional tribalism. You might mean some sort of modern tribalism possibly based on the thesis of neotribalism. Neotribalism postulates “that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society, as opposed to mass society, and thus will naturally form social networks constituting new “tribes.”" – Wikepedia.

    However, if you meant “tribalism” in this sense you would ackowledge that both Liberal and Labor were “tribes” in some senses. This would particularly be the case as their ideological differences melted away. And nowhere do you come up with a theory which might explain why their ideological differences are melting away.

    Do you have any reasonably precise technical meaning in mind for your term “tribalism” or is it a loose journalistic term with a sensationalist, attention grabbing factor? Are you are using sensationalist and emotive terminology devoid of any intellectual content? If so, how do expect to perform any meaningful social, political or economic analysis with this term?

    Background: “French sociologist Michel Maffesoli was perhaps the first to use the term neotribalism in a scholarly context. Maffesoli predicted that as the culture and institutions of modernism declined, societies would embrace nostalgia and look to the organizational principles of the distant past for guidance, and that therefore the post-modern era would be the era of neotribalism.” – Wikipedia.

  69. geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 10:46 | #69

    @Megan

    Hi Megan

    Sorry, it was late, far too much abbreviation.

    Without being presumptuous again, I think we’d agree that the number of refugees coming into Australia does not pose a threat to Australia. The issue is a beat-up by Abbott and Murdoch to cause fear and distract Australians from what I at least would describe as real issues, Liberal cuts to health and education.

    As PM, Kevin Rudd originally closed Nauru and got rid of TPVs. Therefore we might assume that he wants to do the right thing and be compassionate to refugees.

    But, during an election campaign, the Liberals stopped Kevin Rudd from pointing out impending Liberal cuts to jobs and services, by going on about refugees. Therefore in the middle of the election campaign, given that a section of the community is racist and ignorant and easily manipulated the Liberals and Murdoch, Rudd had to appear to be as mean-spirited as the Liberals, to neutralise the issue and try to change the conversation. Only this way did he stand a chance of returning to power (I would prefer Julia Gillard but that’s another story) and so doing things in the background to help refugees.

    You said “This is the weirdest, and yet sadly typical, ALP ‘pragmatism’ I have heard in a while – and I appreciate your honesty about it because I think it also makes my point about being unable to have anything to do with a political party that thinks/operates this way.”

    I think that Tony Abbott and the Liberals used refugee advocates during the 2013 election, to return to the racist and ignorant hysteria about refugees, and so return to power. Now, back in power, Tony Abbott claims a mandate to cut tens of thousands of jobs and attack the unions, just as Reagan destroyed the pilots union in the US and then the US middle class in the 1980s, paving the way for the financial sector’s takeover in the 1990s and 2000s.

    Just as the Timorese army ran for the hills in 1999, rather than give the Indonesians an excuse to perpetuate their killing by claiming a civil war, so too refugee advocates might have been quiet on refugees and campaigned on other issues instead, to stop Abbott’s election.

    As it was, refugee advocates help Tony Abbott get elected, by focussing on refugees. (I presume you disagree?)

    But now that the Liberals are in power federally, and have shut down discussion of refugees (with their Murdoch friends), I whole-heartedly support refugee advocacy again. Unlike Labor, the Liberals have no track record of helping refugees behind the scenes, while reflecting (racist and ignorant) community sentiment.

    Hope this doesn’t dig my hole even deeper,

    Best wishes, G

  70. Tim Macknay
    March 17th, 2014 at 11:46 | #70

    @geoff
    Geoff, while Megan can, and no doubt will, speak for herself, I imagine she would agree that it is absurdly, even frighteningly, euphemistic to say that Rudd had to “appear to be as mean-spirited as the Liberals”. What Rudd did, in fact, was deliberately establish a policy that is cruel and inhumane, very likely in breach of Australia’s international human rights obligations, and certain to ruin the lives of people affected by it. The policy has been only mildly intensified by the Abbott government – the core remains Rudd’s and the ALP’s.

    Rudd’s deliberate initiation of such a policy renders his earlier, apparently more humane, position entirely irrelevant. I think this defence of an evident willingness to treat human lives as garbage in order to “neutralise the issue” and “change the conversation” is precisely what Megan objects to. The fact that Labor did it with less enthusiasm than the Liberals is hardly an excuse.

    But now that the Liberals are in power federally, and have shut down discussion of refugees (with their Murdoch friends), I whole-heartedly support refugee advocacy again.

    That sounds an awful lot like you’re saying you only care about refugee rights when the Liberals are in power. Without wanting to sound disrespectful, that doesn’t sound very principled to me. In fact, it reminds me disturbingly of Orwell’s doublethink: This week we profess our undying enmity of Eurasia. Next week, of course, we will have always been at war with Eastasia.

  71. geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 12:20 | #71

    @Tim Macknay
    Hi Tim, thanks for engaging.

    I have to disagree. I campaigned for refugee rights while Labor was in power, so your personal attack falls flat.

    Mr Rudd’s closure of Nauru and ending of TPVs was not “apparent” compassion. As for politics, do you really think that everyone in a cabinet agrees with every decision that a cabinet makes? Or that everyone in the public service agrees whole-heartedly with every decision that they have to carry out? Sometimes people have to weigh up the pros and cons of leaving the public service or cabinet, and the personal cost to them and their family, or staying and trying to change things from the inside. Same with Mr Rudd.

    If you were Rudd and you were faced with the immediate prospect of Mr Abbott becoming PM, might you not think it was necessary to do what Rudd did?

    I would again refer you to the heroic example of the Timorese. At the risk of appearing to treat human lives as expendable, they allowed thousands (was it a quarter of the Timorese population?) to be killed by the Indonesians, in order to avoid giving Indonesia the excuse of claiming a civil war had occurred in East Timor. It was a terrible responsibility for the Timorese leaders to have to bear, but they faced it and did the right and heroic thing.

    I’m not going to call Mr Rudd heroic, but I can accept that someone who had previously cared enough about refugees to close Nauru and stop TPVs, could adopt a different course in order to stop Tony Abbott becoming PM. It didn’t work, partly because clever Liberal Party operatives were able to manipulate refugee advocates into bringing the conversation back to refugees.

    For example I remember how during a debate in Brisbane Mr Rudd made an incisive point about Mr Abbott’s plans to attack Australians. A refugee advocate in the audience immediately jumped up and asked a question about refugees, and Mr Rudd was on the back foot again. Well done guys! I think the conniving and manipulative Liberal Party operatives would have been toasting their own cleverness at that point.

    These are very clever people and they know how to manipulate racist and ignorant people for their own political and material advantage, and they also know to manipulate idealistic people like refugee advocates. Good on people for being idealistic, but not at the expense of inflicting worse conditions on refugees under an Abbott Government.

    I presume you deny that refugee advocates help get Tony Abbott elected?

  72. Tim Macknay
    March 17th, 2014 at 13:03 | #72

    @geoff

    I have to disagree. I campaigned for refugee rights while Labor was in power, so your personal attack falls flat.

    I’m sorry you saw it as a personal attack. I didn’t intend any offence – it was simply how I understood the remark quoted, which I read as you implying that you didn’t support refugee advocacy while Labor was in office. You now say that in fact you campaigned for refugee rights while Labor was in power. Fair enough, although I’m now having trouble understanding what you meant by the earlier comment.

    I presume you deny that refugee advocates help get Tony Abbott elected?

    I strongly doubt that refugee advocates made the slightest difference to the outcome of the last election. No doubt they criticised Labor before and during the campaign (although I personally don’t recall them receiving any significant attention), but seriously, how many voters moved from Labor to Liberal because of outrage at Labor’s treatment of asylum seekers?

    I presume that the debate you’re referring to is the second leader’s debate, which was held in Brisbane. I didn’t watch it (the first election in my adult life I haven’t bothered to watch the debates), but I note that the leader’s debates were the least watched in any election campaign since that type of campaign event was introduced, and I haven’t been able to locate any MSM reporting that referred to the exchange you mention.

    The East Timor analogy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, sorry.

  73. March 17th, 2014 at 13:09 | #73

    @geoff

    I do agree with what Tim wrote.

    As I read your argument, refugee advocates helped get Abbott elected by being critical of the ALP’s refugee policy, even though that policy was shared by the LNP. Therefore, it was the criticism that changed the vote and not the policy.

    For that to hold true, a fair percentage (say about 2%, given that the swing against the ALP was 3.6%) of voters changed their vote from ALP to LNP because refugee rights advocates criticised the ALP on refugee policy even though those voters were fully aware that the LNP shared the same policy.

    In that case it could be argued that rather than cunning LNP operatives it was in fact cruelly idiotic ALP operatives that brought about Rudd’s defeat. By your reasoning, the ALP could have won the election by silencing the refugee critics through going back to a less inhumane policy.

    As with the defeat of Howard in 2007, my belief is that a major factor among others was humane treatment of refugees.

  74. J-D
    March 17th, 2014 at 13:26 | #74

    @Ikonoclast
    Political parties and their leaders can adopt or advocate positions out of a mixture of motives. Sometimes they can be motivated by a belief that a policy or program will materially benefit groups they rely on for organisational, financial, or electoral support; sometimes they can be motivated by belief in moral principles; sometimes they can be motivated by calculations of strategic advantage in their competition with other parties; sometimes they can be motivated by a reflexive impulse to oppose what their (real or supposed) rivals support and support what their rivals oppose. I suspect that it’s rare for them to be motivated solely by that kind of purely reflexive opposition, but it’s clear that John Quiggin is suggesting that Abbott and the Abbott government are much more driven by that kind of impulse than past governments have been. I am inclined to think this suggestion is correct, but even if it’s not the meaning is clear. Possibly the use of the word ‘tribalism’ obscures that meaning, which is why I’ve tried to articulate it without using that word.

  75. Crispin Bennett
    March 17th, 2014 at 14:14 | #75

    @geoff Is this really how you see these things, purely as a chess game between political idiot savants, with citizens as pieces? Your vision would exclude this possibility by fiat: that democratic candidates and their supporters might get everything right, but still cannot attain power because the citizenry gets it wrong. If that’s really how it is, then we might as well eliminate democracy altogether, as passive subjects are more efficiently managed by a kind and intelligent uncle.

    Julian Burnside gets this right (http://theconversation.com/how-we-treat-the-vulnerable-is-a-moral-test-beyond-politics-24412). This is a test that Australian society at large has failed, thus far. I doubt that cunning leadership is best placed to make a fat lot of difference at this point.

  76. Crispin Bennett
    March 17th, 2014 at 14:20 | #76

    @geoff Is this really how you see these things, purely as a chess game between political idiot savants, with citizens as pieces? Your vision would exclude this possibility by fiat: that democratic candidates and their supporters might get everything right, but still cannot attain power because the citizenry gets it wrong. If that’s really how it is, then we might as well eliminate democracy altogether, as passive subjects are more efficiently managed by a kind and intelligent uncle.
    Julian Burnside gets this right (“How we treat the vulnerable” in The Conversation [link just forces mod]). This is a test that Australian society at large has failed, thus far. I doubt that cunning leadership is best placed to make a fat lot of difference at this point.

  77. Fran Barlow
    March 17th, 2014 at 15:05 | #77

    @Megan

    It’s my view that whatever most people think the settings for brutality should be, the ALP was never going to win a debate nor neutralise the issue by posturing as every bit as hostile to IMAs as the LNP. ALP-inclined voters who fear boats are every bit as likely to continue effectively preferencing the ALP for the same reason that most Green voters swallow hard and preference the ALP — they see the LNP as the greater harm.

    What the ALP ought to have done was offer those inclined to vote ALP but concerned enough to consider defecting to the LNP on the matter a reason for not doing so other than we’re just as horrible”. Better would have been “it’s unthinkable that we could entertain the brutality needed to convince people that seeking our protection would be a fate worse than death. That’s not who we are as a country and we are disgusted that the Liberals say we are. This election people can declare whether we are callous and indifferent as the Liberals imply, or compassionate and humanitarian as we believe.

    A shibboleth like that turns the contest into one for the high moral ground and the nation’s values — and that’s one contest the ALP could hope to win, because a good many conservatives are uneasy about the policy and morality is not counted in the boat scorecard.

    Of course, they’d have had to do that from at least 2009 and repudiate Tampa and moved to exclusively humanitarian dealing, but it’s an entirely plausible policy position. I doubt the ALP would have performed worse with this policy — I suspect they’d have done far better because there would have been no pictures and no internment camps and you could have run feelgood stories about how fabulously the asylum seekers were doing and how we were ahead in revenue terms and how this like more liberalised trade — but in any event, even had they lost the election, they’d have won the battle for the high moral ground and opened up a clear space from which to attack the Liberals now.

  78. Megan
    March 17th, 2014 at 15:25 | #78

    @Fran Barlow

    I agree.

    I would say the ALP could even have taken that stance as late as Rudd MkII (although it would have been better to be consistent from 2009, as you say).

    Which brings us back to my first position at #1 – BOTH the ALP and LNP share virtually indistinguishable ideology (neo-con and all that goes with it) and deliberately choose to “fight” each other by seeking to rally voters along purely “tribal” lines (no offence Geoff, but your arguments above would bear this out I suggest).

  79. Geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 20:08 | #79

    @Tim Macknay

    Hi Tim

    “You now say that in fact you campaigned for refugee rights while Labor was in power. Fair enough, although I’m now having trouble understanding what you meant by the earlier comment.”

    While Labor was in power there was a chance for the government to treat refugees more humanely in private, although claiming to be as vicious and hard-hearted as the Liberals in public. That’s why over time I came to see that private advocacy could be useful, although I came to stop the public lobbying and protesting I had been involved in (because it kept the issue in the headlines, and offered Mr Abbott a chance to even more cruel to the refugees than Labor – in public it seemed a race to the bottom.

    “I strongly doubt that refugee advocates made the slightest difference to the outcome of the last election. No doubt they criticised Labor before and during the campaign (although I personally don’t recall them receiving any significant attention), but seriously, how many voters moved from Labor to Liberal because of outrage at Labor’s treatment of asylum seekers?”

    Then did Labor figures say “We’re dying in Western Sydney?” and Labor put such an effort into appealing to voters there? Also, personally speaking, I know recent immigrants who feel better when they (wrongly) criticise refugees as “queue-jumpers” etc. It wins votes for the Liberals votes and distracts the public conversation from the severe cuts that Tony Abbott is about to make right now.

    “I presume that the debate you’re referring to is the second leader’s debate, which was held in Brisbane….”

    It wasn’t just a one-off. It kept happening, repeatedly. Labor also campaigned poorly, with Mr Rudd leaving his big policy launch too late, but as long as the Libs were able to rely on refugee advocates to bring the conversation back to refugees, they were always going to win because they were avoiding scrutiiny of Lib policies. They are able to get recent immigrants to vote against their own interests. The Republicans in the US are brilliant at this.

    “The East Timor analogy doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, sorry.”

    I think it’s pretty straight forward. Doing the apparently wrong thing of running away can sometimes be the right thing. Applied to Australia, the apparently wrong thing of running away from debate on refugees and instead debating economic policy would have helped keep Tony Abbott out of office.

    Cheers, G.

  80. Geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 20:16 | #80

    @Megan

    Hi Megan

    “I do agree with what Tim wrote. As I read your argument, refugee advocates helped get Abbott elected by being critical of the ALP’s refugee policy, even though that policy was shared by the LNP. Therefore, it was the criticism that changed the vote and not the policy.”

    Well, the criticism stopped the ALP from getting its message out on other issues.

    “For that to hold true, a fair percentage (say about 2%, given that the swing against the ALP was 3.6%) of voters changed their vote from ALP to LNP because refugee rights advocates criticised the ALP on refugee policy even though those voters were fully aware that the LNP shared the same policy.”

    I’m not sure about the “fully aware” part. Voters who are swayed by the anti-refugee arguments seem to be prepared to vote against their own economic interests, in order to feel better about themselves, that they at least are not “queue-jumpers” like those awful people coming on boats.

    “In that case it could be argued that rather than cunning LNP operatives it was in fact cruelly idiotic ALP operatives that brought about Rudd’s defeat. By your reasoning, the ALP could have won the election by silencing the refugee critics through going back to a less inhumane policy.”

    Sorry, perhaps it’s a bit late but I don’t understand your argument. I am admitting, though I hate to do so, that appearing just as cruel as the Liberals are, to refugees, appears necessary to stop people like Tony Abbott getting into office.

    “As with the defeat of Howard in 2007, my belief is that a major factor among others was humane treatment of refugees.”

    As Pauline Hanson said, please explain. Perhaps you do in later posts below.

  81. paul walter
    March 17th, 2014 at 20:18 | #81

    I agree with John Quiggin’s response to- guess who- Terje, a little earlier.

    I think “Tribalism” is a good way of explaining politics in this stressed world, something fairly mindless, reactive, isolationist and an encouraged fear-driven retreat from engagement with life in the meaningful sense.

    Am not going to deny the element of tribalism also residually exists withing the ALP, but that is a deeply ingrained and inscribed working class survival response from harsher times in the past, where unity could mean life or death.

    Besides, why is it not right to recall the messages of the 1890′s, as to courage and resolution in the face of employer power? I proudly identify with older generations and their resistance, the foundation upon which I got a better chance at life than them. If I am going to belong I am happy to belong “here” although I agree that right wing populists should not be allowed to twist elements of working class culture involving identity, into racism, sexism, gay bashing or anti intellectualism.

  82. Geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 20:29 | #82

    @Crispin Bennett

    Hi Crispin

    “@geoff Is this really how you see these things, purely as a chess game between political idiot savants, with citizens as pieces?”

    I hate to admit it, but the fact is that some people can be manipulated. Repeatedly. Against their own economic interests.

    “Your vision would exclude this possibility by fiat: that democratic candidates and their supporters might get everything right, but still cannot attain power because the citizenry gets it wrong. If that’s really how it is, then we might as well eliminate democracy altogether, as passive subjects are more efficiently managed by a kind and intelligent uncle.”

    It’s just that we have malicious and crafty “uncles” running things at the moment. I’m just pointing out that the good guys also have to be crafty to beat them. As in my Timorese example, sometimes it is necessary to not make a valiant stand. Or as Kenny Rogers said “you got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away, know when to run”. (Country music is not a crime. Although perhaps it should be. ;-) )

    “Julian Burnside gets this right (“How we treat the vulnerable” in The Conversation [link just forces mod]). This is a test that Australian society at large has failed, thus far. I doubt that cunning leadership is best placed to make a fat lot of difference at this point.”

    I really really REALLY want to agree. But we didn’t go for cunning “followership”. Through refugee advocacy the conversation stayed on refugees, the Liberals didn’t have to make their case for government – remember how they released a limited version of their policies in the last day or two or the campaign (or even not at all – I found it too ugly to watch) – and we now have Tony Abbott as the Prime Minister of this beautiful land – ie. a disaster.

  83. March 17th, 2014 at 20:54 | #83

    Treating the Liberal and Labour policies on asylum seekers as equally bad is odd.

    I really liked the Malaysian solution proposed by Labor. It essentially told people attempting to come directly to Australia that they were queue jumpers and that they would have to join the queue in Malaysia. And the good bit was that we would take 4 Malaysian refugees for each new one we sent them.

    So the total amount of good in the world increases.

    Of course this doesn’t address why there are so many people desperate to leave their homes and start a new life. We seriously need to fix this.

  84. March 17th, 2014 at 20:57 | #84

    @Geoff

    You argued that the criticism of cruelty to refugees (rather than the policy) helped the LNP defeat the ALP.

    The ALP could have avoided the criticism by not having the cruel policy.

    Therefore, my point is that – using that argument – refugee advocates’ criticism of the ALP’s adopting the ‘lurch to the right on refugees’ was not cunning on the part of LNP strategists but stupidity on the part of ALP strategists (assuming the goal was to win the election and not simply to lock Australia into a concentration camp system of refugee treatment, an assumption that is not necessarily valid).

    …appearing just as cruel as the Liberals are, to refugees, appears necessary to stop people like Tony Abbott getting into office.

    The most obvious difficulty with this proposition is that Abbott is the PM. So there cannot be anything “necessary” about the ALP’s decision to be cruel to refugees, if the goal is to stop Abbott winning the election. It didn’t work, predictably.

    The “please explain” is:

    In the years before 2007 the Howard LNP government was heavily criticised for cruelty to refugees. In 2007 the ALP defeated the LNP (oppositions don’t generally win elections, governments lose them) on a few key issues, one of which was humane treatment of refugees.

    The new ALP government initially kept to that commitment, then they did the internal coup thing and adopted – or attempted to adopt – a suite of policies that treated refugees more inhumanely to varying degrees.

    Then they did the other coup thing in 2013 and Rudd implemented the most cruel and inhumane refugee policy of them all.

    Then in September 2013 the ALP lost government, I say (as you appear to also say) that refugee policy played a major part in that loss.

  85. Fran Barlow
    March 17th, 2014 at 21:08 | #85

    @John Brookes

    I really liked the Malaysian solution proposed by Labor. It essentially told people attempting to come directly to Australia that they were queue jumpers and that they would have to join the queue in Malaysia. And the good bit was that we would take 4 Malaysian refugees for each new one we sent them.
    So the total amount of good in the world increases.

    People trafficking, only this time by the state, and for PR rather than money. It’s unethical to violate one human’s rights to serve the advantage of others. That trade by implication, turns something non-convertible — the right to be free from arbitrary application of force, kidnapping and arrest — into a mere value in a ledger.

    Human rights vanish in that calculus.

    You should stop glossing the barbarity of the ALP. It’s over. Their nasty baton in their nasty political relay race has been passed to their rivals who have said thanks, we will use it to imprison claimants in Cambodia. That’s where your argument went, unsurprisingly.

  86. Fran Barlow
    March 17th, 2014 at 21:14 | #86

    @Megan

    One might add, Megan, that if there’s one thing worse than bad people doing bad things, it’s apparently good people doing bad things, followed shortly thereafter by the forced conclusion that all people are bad and one must simply accept that.

    Tony Abbott winning was not the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing that could happen would be for the whole polity to become debauched and defined by fear and hatred. That’s what the ALP did in a futile attempt to keep its snout in the trough and its rump positioned for the government benches, if not now, then next time. Everything principle of conduct was expendable and secondary to that.

  87. March 17th, 2014 at 21:23 | #87

    PS: If refugee policy was a distraction, wasn’t that in large part because ALP supporters spent so much time attempting to defend it?

  88. Crispin Bennett
    March 17th, 2014 at 21:57 | #88

    @Geoff: true though it is that people are often manipulable against their own interests (and have been quite deliberately crafted to be so by various forces, most saliently corporate propaganda), thinking about politics in that tired old way puts you on the horns of a dilemma. You play to win, and lose people who may have a sympatico picture of the good society, or you play fair, and lose the cattle. Counsel of despair, eh?

    Except that, let’s face it, that game’s up. It’s run its course and no-one truly believes in its potential to create meaningful change. Labor hasn’t so much lost the progressives, as they’ve moved on and decided they don’t want to play any more. Even the cattle are sniffing the air.

    Whether all this is a good thing or not has yet to play out. It depends in part on whether there turns out to be a stable alternative to the cynicism which has become the norm in contemporary liberal democracies.

  89. geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 22:39 | #89

    Hi Megan

    “You argued that the criticism of cruelty to refugees (rather than the policy) helped the LNP defeat the ALP. The ALP could have avoided the criticism by not having the cruel policy.”

    Sorry I don’t argue that at all. I argue that (refugee advocates’) criticism of cruelty to refugees (rather than the policy) helped the Liberals defeat the ALP” because it allowed the Liberals to evade discussion of their own policies. Had the ALP not had cruel policies toward refugees, the Liberals would have played upon the fears of racist and ignorant people even more. As Kim Beazley recognised when the ALP suffered a 20 point drop in the polls.

    If I may say so, the rest of your post is based on a different view of people to mine. I do think that Liberal strategists can count on refugee advocates winning elections for them, by getting angry about refugee issues rather than other issues which many of advocates would also feel passionately about.

    I would also note that you haven’t responded to my argument that the Timorese retreat in 1999 from the Indonesians was necessary and yet resulted in many people dying. On a much lesser scale, and wanting to respect all those people and the terrible sacrifice made, I would yet again suggest that the ALP refugee policy was necessary and yet also resulted in a (much less) bad thing – Tony Abbott becoming PM.

    I think I have to beg to differ on the rest. I would also say that I am active in refugee issues, now that the Liberals and the Murdoch press are conspiring to hide them. I believe that unlike the Labor Government, the Liberals are not doing anything behind the scenes to try to alleviate refugees’ suffering, but rather in statements like Mr Morrison’s “you will never settle in Australia” are trying to destroy refugees’ hope.

    I still maintain though, that the ALP has been trying to “keep up” with the Liberals (in a most dreadful sense) rather than actively promoting racism and ignorance, because the ALP does have positive policies to offer Australians whereas the Liberals just want to pillage and plunder the Treasury.

    Thanks for engaging and your informative posts.

  90. geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 22:42 | #90

    @Fran Barlow
    Really well put and powerful point if I may say so. Much to think about.

  91. geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 22:43 | #91

    @Megan
    A bit circular, I would suggest. ALP supporters had to spend so much time defending it, because refugee advocates … you get the idea.

  92. geoff
    March 17th, 2014 at 22:46 | #92

    @Crispin Bennett
    So true Geoff, we definitely need an alternative to the present cynicism. It is so soul-destroying, for both individuals and our society (not to mention the physical and mental effects on refugees in Australian concentration camps).

  93. March 17th, 2014 at 23:43 | #93

    @Fran Barlow

    But what then Fran? Lets say we don’t try and stop asylum seekers reaching Australia. And in order to have them not die at sea, we simply allow them to fly here. And to be fair to persecuted people without money, we should pay their air fares.

    Given the current state of many countries, we’d be totally flooded, as would Europe and North America. Maybe you think we should accept that? I’m in favour of us taking more refugees. But definitely not as many as would come if we threw open the doors.

    I have no idea how to solve the problem. And its easy to rail against the viciousness of our asylum seeker policy. But have you got a humane solution?

  94. Megan
    March 17th, 2014 at 23:53 | #94

    @geoff

    No, you didn’t get the point.

    It wouldn’t be circular at all if ALP supporters had been straightforward about the policy:

    “It’s cruel and inhumane and it has to be this way because Australians want us to be cruel and inhumane and they also want NDIS and Gonski and NBN. You can’t have one without taking the lot, deal with it.”

    Although on reflection that pretty much was the ALP supporters’ pro-ALP argument leading into the 2013 election.

    That didn’t really work out so well as an election strategy I would suggest.

    I don’t really care, I have made my views on the ALP clear many times before. If they wish to drive themselves into oblivion I’ll happily wave them off.

  95. Megan
    March 18th, 2014 at 00:08 | #95

    @John Brookes

    It isn’t very complicated at all.

    When people apply for refugee status we assess that claim in a fair, equitable, transparent and just way within our legal system including avenues for appeals and ‘natural justice’. This applies whether for the tiny amount who seek asylum having arrived by sea or the huge amount arriving by air.

    Obviously they need to be accommodated, fed and cared for, if necessary, while we carry out that process.

    Those who are refugees will be treated accordingly and those who fail to make out a claim would be deported.

    I can’t understand why that is so complicated that it requires an entire concentration camp complex spreading from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific incorporating privatised unlicensed ‘security’ guards bashing an asylum seeker to death.

    And especially why it needs an entire army of online apologists to try to make me think it’s OK and normal.

  96. Patrickb
    March 18th, 2014 at 00:12 | #96

    @geoff
    I think you make a valid point in that there was an attempt by Rudd to make the issue of refugees go away. Initially that meant dismantling Howards camps. What upset that was the ascendecy of Abbott, Rudd expected to deal with Turnball and thought there would be some bipartisanship. Abbott had outstanding success at creating an atmosphere of crisis. He was helped by the failure of various policy initives and the ALP coup. In end Abbott’s rhetoric took on a life of its own leading to Rudds second attempt at neutralisation which came to late, was immoral and bound to fail. My 2 cents worth.

  97. Fran Barlow
    March 18th, 2014 at 07:05 | #97

    @John Brookes

    But what then Fran? Lets say we don’t try and stop asylum seekers reaching Australia. And in order to have them not die at sea, we simply allow them to fly here.

    That has nothing to do with the rationale for “stopping the boats”. It’s cant designed to forge an alliance that can politically engage open reactionaries and those who know they are crossing a huge ethical rubicon but want to keep voting ALP anyway. The reality is that if there were 95% mortality the regime wouldn’t bother having a policy different from that of NZ.

    Current policy was adopted because mortality was too low (about 5%), notwithstanding the attempts of successive regimes to raise it.

    I will discuss alternatives below.

    And to be fair to persecuted people without money, we should pay their air fares.

    The point of the Refugee Convention is to provide relief to those who seek protection from signatories. That is the limit of its humanitarian offer. It makes no distinction in its choice based on wealth.

    One may argue — I certainly do — that the wealthy parts of the world ought to do a great deal more to relieve poverty in situas this would foreclose displacement on a far wider scale, but that is a separate question from the more narrow one here.

    Given the current state of many countries, we’d be totally flooded, as would Europe and North America. Maybe you think we should accept that? I’m in favour of us taking more refugees. But definitely not as many as would come if we threw open the doors.

    IMO those countries who pay lip service to the convention ought to bind themselves to sponsor resettlement based on their own GDP, domestic population size and the size of the world asylum seeker numbers and so forth. They could host or sponsor with financial support for placement or some combination depending on circumstance. Provided they met quota, they could choose the regions from which they drew. It would be open to them to consult with non-signatories to offer sponsored places in third countries for non-coercive placement. They might like to package this with honouring their commitments to MDG, which obligations most countries have as yet failed to honour.

    Countries like Australia could become processing hubs, assessing and qualifying applicants in major aggregation points — such as Indonesia. In some cases, those there might be qualified for placement under skills-driven rather than humanitarian programs. Again, this would count as “aid”. I’ve done some calculations and under my system Australia might be responsible directly for something like 300,000 per annum all up, though not necessarily settling them all or mostly here. Bear in mind that non-coercive 3rd country placement and skills/business migration would alter the net migration here.

    I have no idea how to solve the problem. And it’s easy to rail against the viciousness of our asylum seeker policy. But have you got a humane solution?

    See above.

  98. Ikonoclast
    March 18th, 2014 at 07:28 | #98

    @Fran Barlow

    “One may argue — I certainly do — that the wealthy parts of the world ought to do a great deal more to relieve poverty in situas this would foreclose displacement on a far wider scale,” – Fran

    If the West stopped fighting wars where it has no business fighting wars, stopped supplying military aid to proxies, stopped supporting dictators and stopped pushing arms with its arms trade this would go a long way to reducing refugee numbers.

    The world is over-populated too. Educating and empowering women does much more to reduce over-reproduction than does war. It’s a lot more cost effective and humane too.

    However, a person like me can have all the opinions he likes. So can everyone who blogs here. Opinions are largely forceless in our system. The results we are getting are the inevitable result of the system we have chosen.

  99. Crispin Bennett
    March 18th, 2014 at 08:16 | #99

    John Brookes :
    Lets say we don’t try and stop asylum seekers reaching Australia. And in order to have them not die at sea, we simply allow them to fly here.

    That’s already what happens in most cases. The relatively smaller number of boat arrivals are highlighted in order to stoke fear and hatred. If the boat arrivals were of white Europeans or Americans, this manipulation would obviously fail, which is how we can be certain that racism, not practical policy constraints, is at the root of all this.

    Given the current state of many countries, we’d be totally flooded, as would Europe and North America. Maybe you think we should accept that? I’m in favour of us taking more refugees. But definitely not as many as would come if we threw open the doors.

    Arrival numbers (both informal migration and ASs) are larger in Europe and the US. By our standards they are ‘flooded’. So far (and this could easily change) they have managed to resist any temptation to set up concentration camps.
    This does make for policy challenges. They’re the costs of humanity, take them or leave them. But you can’t leave them and still pretend to be humane.

    I have no idea how to solve the problem. And its easy to rail against the viciousness of our asylum seeker policy. But have you got a humane solution?

    The Pacific camps can only be considered even to make the list of candidate solutions if you consider the Pacific internees nonhuman. There’s a great deal of government and media effort exerted to maintain the two fictions (that it’s a solution–which can only be maintained by forgetting what the problem is–and that the internees aren’t fully human–the efforts of a vastly expensive and extra-democratic militaristic secrecy regime).

  100. geoff
    March 18th, 2014 at 08:45 | #100

    @Megan

    “… an entire army of online apologists to try to make me think it’s OK and normal”.

    Ouch.

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