Weekend reflections

An email from Paul Norton reminds me that it’s time, as usual for Weekend Reflections. The idea is that, over the weekend, you should post your thoughts in a more leisurely fashion than in ordinary comments or the Monday Message Board. Paul kicks off with some polling data that does not support the idea (pushed from a variety of perspectives) that Australians are becoming more traditionalist on gender issues. Feel free to discuss this, or something completely different.

27 thoughts on “Weekend reflections

  1. Comment from Paul Norton, posted by JQ

    A look at the findings of successive Australian Election Studies since 1987 reveals an interesting trend in public opinion on gender equality and on access to abortion.

    Every AES contains a question on each of these topics. On the first question, respondents are asked whether social changes intended to provide equal opportunity for women have gone ?[much] too far?, are ?about right? or have ?not gone [nearly] far enough?. The results over time have been as follows:

    GONE TOO FAR: 25.8% in 1987; 21.2% in 1990; 18.3% in 1993; 17.6% in 1996; 12.1% in 1998; 11.0% in 2001; 9.5% in 2004.

    ABOUT RIGHT: 54.7%, 52.3%, 48.0%, 50.7%, 56.3%, 51.1%, 50.3%

    NOT FAR ENOUGH: 19.5%, 22.6%, 33.7%, 31.7%, 31.6%, 37.9%, 40.2%.

    On the issue of abortion, respondents are asked which of the following options they support: ?Women should be able to obtain an abortion readily when they want one?; ?Abortion should be allowed only in special circumstances?; ?Abortion should not be allowed under any circumstances?; ?Don’t know?. The results over time have been:

    OBTAIN ABORTION READILY: 38.6% in 1987; 50.3% in 1990; 56.1% in 1993; 53.5% in 1996; 50.3% in 1998; 57.6% in 2001; 54.2% in 2004.

    ONLY IN SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: 65.0%; 39.5%; 34.7%; 37.0%; 39.8%; 32.5%; 34.7%.

    NOT ALLOWED: 6.4%; 6.0%; 4.8%; 5.5%; 4.6%; 4.1%. 4.0%

    DON?T KNOW: NA; 4.2%; 4.4%; 4.1%; 5.3%; 5.8%; 7.3%.

    These figures would seem to have significant implications for a number of fashionable pub theories and media theories about Australian social and political attitudes, viz;

    1. At least on gender issues, the evidence does not support the notion that the Australian public has become more socially conservative in recent times ? quite the reverse, in fact. The ?hard? anti-feminist positions have become increasingly marginal.

    2. There is little evidence that a public backlash against socially progressive policies on gender/family/sexuality occurred around the time of the 1996 election and contributed significantly to Labor losing office.

    3. Insofar as these figures lend themselves to any conclusions about the assertions of Elizabeth Meryment and her correspondents about a rise in sexist attitudes in society and a loss of feminist ideals and consciousness amongst young women, they suggest that such assertions are not well founded. However it would be necessary to conduct serious empirical sociological research into the attitudes and life-choices of young women to be able to settle the issue.

    One can also conclude that the tendency of the media and politicians to base commentary on gender/family/sexuality issues (and public opinion thereon) on impressionistic analyses, anecdotal evidence and media fads leads them into constant and serious error.

  2. My gut sense is that the mildly permissive majority on these socio/moral issues is holding firm.

    On the other hand, and conversely, there is a radicalisation of opinion on the censorious, morally intrusive side.

    More and more folk over on that side of the bunker are inclined to act like the Australian Taliban.

  3. This is why John Howard has done exactly nothing to wind back abortion rights and the like. He can read the opinion polls as well as anybody, better than most, in fact.

    Sure, he has stopped the extension of socially liberal reforms (gay marriage etc) but that is a lot different from taking away what is in place. Clever politician that he is, he also gives encouraging signals to his Oz Taliban supporters, but without doing anything, and without them realising that he isn’t doing anything. If you asked them, they would probably say that John Howard has done a wonderful job in winding back the socially liberal excesses from 70s and 80s, and they would be horrified to learn that he hasn’t actually done anything.

  4. He has not done anything with unemployment either but everybody thinks he has.

    Unemployment figures might be going down but the unemployable is going up dramatically.

    Are the unemployment figures published by the Government a true representation of unemployment trends and rates?

    The trend estimate of unemployed persons rose from 728,200 in June 1995 to 771,800 in February 1997. The trend then fell to 583,200 in September 2000, before rising to 685,200 in October 2001. The trend has since generally fallen to stand at 536,100 in June 2005. A fall in the figures of about 192,000 since 1995

    Disability Support Pensioner persons have increased about 232,000 between 1995 and 2004, whilst unemployed persons have decreased about 192,000. A net increase in the underlying unemployed of about 40,000 not a decrease of 200,000

    Click to access 06rn02.pdf

    If we take the increase in the number of DSPs as just moving the deck chairs, then the underlying unemployment rate is about 7.4%

    In this case he has done something but its not what everybody thinks.

  5. It appears that Morris Iemma now has a clear run to be Premier of NSW. There will be no leadership contest. Why? Because he the majority in the sub faction which has the majority in the faction which has the majority in the party which has the majority in the lower house of the NSW parliament.

    Plus, or perhaps alternatively, he has the support of “head office”, whatever and whoever that means.

    In other words, Iemma will become Premier next week with the support of about 10 people.

    What a farce. It is reminiscent of the time when the leader of the British conservative party “emerged” after behind the scenes meeings of Tory grandees, except that that was more democratic and transparent than the processes of the modern day Australian Labor Party.

  6. One can also conclude that the tendency of the media and politicians to base commentary on… impressionistic analyses, anecdotal evidence and media fads leads them into constant and serious error.

    That problem doesn’t only afflict pollies… it can also be said about ppl who add comments to blogs.

  7. Ricardo

    And your point is? What were you expecting would happen? That the ALP would hold a plebescite anong the voters of NSW to determine their wishes?

    At the end of the day the person who becomes premier is the person who for whatever reason has the confidence of the ALP parliamentry caucus. After all it is their careers which will rise or crash and burn on the basis of that decision.

    Do you honestly think that the decision to change NSW Liberal leaders from whoever it was to Chikka and then to Brogden was arrived at after wide ranging consultation by that party? Yeah right.

    Personally I am somewhat in favour of the system in place in the UK which allows the rank and file of all major parties to have a say in the selection of the parliamentary leader. But this is a fairly recent innovation. And in any event the winner has to be already a member of the lower house.

    In the US the primary system is used widely to select party candidates and leaders. Given the dross thrown up by that system, perhaps the election of party leaders should be left to those who are in a position to closely oserve their talents.

  8. Pro Ricardo, contra Albatross, it seems to be more than just a matter of having the ‘confidence of the ALP parliamentry caucus’. If it’s true, as we keep hearing, that ‘Sussex Street’ has the ability to ‘lean on’ members, especially in the upper house, threatening to block their preselection next time around, that doesn’t sound very healthy. Unfortunately I never quite understood the ALP’s processes, and why the ‘machine’ has such authority. Maybe there are some machine cognoscenti out there who can explain.

  9. Albatross, my point is that because the labor party has degenerated into factions within factions, a leader emerges as the person who does not necessarily command the majority of the caucus. In this case, it is near certain that the non-Iemma votes on the right, plus the left, are more than 50% of the caucus. But we’ll never know, because Sussex Street has stitched things up so that there will be no ballot.

  10. “At the end of the day the person who becomes premier is the person who for whatever reason has the confidence of the ALP parliamentry caucus.”

    In this instance, as interpreted by Messrs Mark Arbib, Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid.

  11. Lest my previous comments be interpreted as being in defence of ALP factionalism which on rereading them I find might be so, I have to say that the current system of deciding who is to be the leader is odious – but what is the alternative?

    Neither major party seems to be keen on changing their internal rules.

  12. Paul,

    One interpretation of the data you present is that the legal position in 1987 had pushed ahead of societies position on these issues. Since then society has been relatively catching up, although you could argue that on the feminist position, that it had moved ahead of the legal stance by 2004.

    I also wonder how responses reflect how people perceive the immediate trend rather than the actual position. The people saying “its gone too far” seem more likely to say so if they believe the government is trying to change the status quo, rather than when they believe its not – general conservatism. Hence the drop after 1996, similarly people are more likely to say “not far enough” if there is no perceived move to change.

  13. Albatross,
    Well, in the spirit of youthful optimism, I’d say a primary contest of some sort would be the best way to determine a new leader as well as some form of party convention. I don’t think that Australians are getting all the democracy they’re entitled to (I’d have a federal election every month… but that’s just because I like numbering boxes).

    The only problem I can see with this is that it would cost a lot. I can’t seem to find the costs of the last NSW state election… but the last federal election cost just over $117 million.

  14. I suspect that Elizabeth Meryment’s views come not from actual rising sexism but from a combination of things. Firstly there is an expectation by a lot of people, generally unconsious, that attitudes on gender and sexuality will gradually improve, partly because an older, more conservative generation will die off, while younger people will have been raised by parents exposed to feminism.

    If there is little change, or it comes slowly, there is an understandable frustration leading to the conclusion that things have actually gone backwards. It’s similar to the situation where people in a slowly growing economy feel that society is getting poorer, simply becuase it is not getting richer as fast as they expect/are used to.

    Secondly I think that people who travel a lot compare Australia with other countries, as I think Meryment did explicitly. It may be that change is happening faster in some other countries – although probably not the US.

    Studies like this are a good way of reminding people that change may be slow, but it is occuring, and things are better than they seem, so thanks to JQ and PN for bringing it up.

  15. Watching last weeks’Australian Story; on ABC TV was very eye opening experience for me and I imagine a lot of other Australians. I think that we need to congratulate both Lt Colonel Collins (One of the heroes of East Timor) and Captain Toohey for having the courage to stand up for themselves.

    Lt Colonel Collins was savaged by a number of the bureaucratic ‘toads’ that inhabit the the top echelons of Defense in Canberra after he complained about what was clearly an illegal act by the head of Military Intelligence – ie. Cutting off MILITARY INTEL during a critical time in the Timor operation as a means of keeping him in line over his vigor into looking into Indonesian War Crimes (that the Australian government obviously did not want him to delve too deeply into).

    As Lt Col. Collins said “Since I became involved in this thing six years ago, I’ve been confronted with a legion of hired liars who keep pushing this message – I’m just doing my duty, I’m doing what I’m told – and that’s actually the ethics of the hitman, nothing personal, just business.”

    He was particularly appauled at the disgusting smear campaign against the Naval Legal Officer Captain Toohey’s, who defended him. Explaining that the vitriol and backstabbing that Captain Toohey has had to endure over this case has effectively destroyed his career in the Navy.

    As Colonel Collins says “Captain Toohey was truly heroic,” …… “If he had toned down the findings, or if he’d produced a different report, then he could be living a vastly different life now.”

    In previous times a lot of those working in Defence had the idea they worked for the Commonwealth, the Governor-General, or the Chief of the Defence Force, however today many of the political hacks dropped into Defence by their political masters the Howard Government and no longer consider that they work for the people of Australia. They forget Australia is a parliamentary democracy, and that Howard is neither a President nor a dictator despite what they might think.

    The Howard Government very aggressive use of rewards and punishments to control the military has been evident during their period in office. Advancement in Defence depends on doing what you are told by the likes of men like Moore, Reith and Hill, it’s no longer about acting in Australia’s best interests any more.

    (It is interesting to note that none of Howards three defence ministers served Australia during the Vietnam War despite being all just the right age and supposedly all supporters of that war).

    This lack of commitment to Australia I think can be further evidenced by these toads selling off much of Australia’s non operational Defence infrastructure at well below commercial rates to friends of the Government ( See http://expage.com/hochtiefairport3a ) and the incredibly wasteful and some would say very suspect defence purchasing since howard has come to office. ( See http://expage.com/defencewaste )

    These are just some cases in point of this malaise. There are many more.
    I think its long overdue that some of these faceless bureaucrats who have been tormenting good men like Collins and Toohey be subjected to some of their own medicine.

    If for nothing else than for the sake of our country. For yes men, make for very dangerous men in these times that we live in.

  16. Comment from Paul Norton, posted by JQ
    July 29th, 2005 at 2:52 pm

    These figures would seem to have significant implications for a number of fashionable pub theories and media theories about Australian social and political attitudes,

    I see Paul Norton is perhaps having a slight dig at the “Decline of the Wets” (DoW) thesis. He has a small point although I think he misses the big picture.

    The DoW thesis was mostly about party politics and state policy and less, although somewhat, about social structure and cultural interpretation. But deeper issues of social structure and cultural intepretation are germane.

    But it is important to keep ones mind on the Big Picture and Long Term trends. I maintain that there has been a Great Relearning of conservative and nationalist valuse during the nineties and naughties which has set about repairing the social damage caused by the Great Disruption of the sixties, seventies and eighties. As Tom Wolfe predicted

    “The 21st century will have a retrograde look and a retrograde mental atmosphere.”

    The neo-classicism is clearly apparent in aesthetic, scientific and politic trends.

    We have discovered that empirical science validates some of the proverbial wisdom of our ancestors in matters of gender, ethnicity and sexuality. The socio-biological synthesis (neo-conservatism in sociology and neo-Darwinism in biology) has destroyed the ideology of the seventies cultural liberationists. The more lunatic forms of cultural theory (feminist, Black and queer studies) no longer command a respectful hearing. No serious scientist takes out-and-out cultural constructivism seriously anymore.

    This was most evident in the cultural wars waged in the party polity. Over the late nineties and early naughties we saw the Rise of the Dry (RoD – Howard and ON) and the Decline of the Wet (DoW – Keating and DEM) politicians and parties. The most recent SEN result sees both ON and the DEM’s converging back into Howards moderately conservative LIB cultural populism – which is from where they came.

    Similar political trends are apparent in both European and American political systems where nationalist and conservative parties are ascendant.

    The DoW is also about conservative-cultural and nationalist-political trend in state policies, particularly in ideological issues that got a high profile over the nineties. Thus the fact that the Republic flopped as a national identifier, ATSIC was discredited as an instrument of reconciliation, multiculturalism failed to properly settle the most recent generation of migrants all showed that the high tide of the Wets (sorry) had ebbed.

    At the same time there was a converse Rise of the Dries (RoD) evinced by the resurgence of conservative-cultural and nationalist-political policies over the same period, most noticeabely in the AUS governments’ projection of the ADF into several theatres of conflict (TIMOR, AFGHAN, IRAQ) which had strong ethno-sectarian overtones, the strengthening of anti-terrorist police powers, the implementation of mutual obligation in (esp. indigenous) welfare and the tightening of border control and security measures.

    At a deeper level I believe that there are some signs that Australia’s objective social indicators and subjective cultural articulators – in sofar as the focus on the popular median – are both showing a tendency to return to conservative-cultural and nationalist-political values.

    The trend towards cultural differentiation has abated. Alternative lifestyles are not-so-common. And there are signs of cultural integration – most particularly in the revival of religious schools and communities. There has also been a revival of the nationalist cult of ANZAC.

    On the issue of gender and vice the DoW evidence is mixed. I would suggest that there is probably less tolerance of infidelity and promiscuity amongst the young of today than there was a generation ago, although I have little hard data on that (sorry!). The Ice Storm was a remarkable filme that would have been rejected by the “Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice” push.

    OTOH, the decline in martial and fertility rates continued through the nineties at quite Wettish rates. Although marriages tended to last longer and birth rates just perked up. Certainly the Wettish feminist trend has stabilised, although the days of Dryish patriarchy appear to have gone forever.

    There has been a reduction in social acceptance and practice of drug abuse and illegitimacy. OTOH there appears to have been an increase in social acceptance of pornography and sexual deviancy.

    Much of the DoW trend can be explained by the simple maxim that people get wiser as they get older. There is also Conquest’s First law of politics as it applies to the ubiquitous professionalization of personal knowledge:

    Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.

    Since everyone can now, through the internet, get a professional opinion about socio-political matters it follows that conservatism will spread.

  17. Bad one for the Lions to lose tonight in terms of where we can get this year. But have to give it to the Bulldogs: they backed themselves and it paid off. In the end I think a good lesson for the young Lions. Have a look at our backline tonight only 2 out of 6 had played more than 20 games. Lions fought back from 8 goals down and got in front but in the end shouldn’t have let the dogs get that far in front.

  18. Bad one for the Lions to lose tonight

    Obviously something wrong the d/base JQ. The Lions tour of New Zeaalnd finished a few weeks ago.

    And I can’t think who these “Bulldogs” could be – one of the New Zealand provincial sides perhaps but I can’t think which one it could be.

    So annoying the “catchy” nicknames given to sports teams these days. You can never be sure which side the commentators are referring to. At least the Rugby code teams don’t abandon their traditional fanbase like the carpet bagging Fitzroy and South Melbourne (now known, I think, as the Sydney Swine or some such).

  19. Come to think of it “Swans” is such an inappropriate name to give to a Sydney based side. I don’t think I have ever seen a swan paddling around on Sydney harbour.

    There are other water fowl floating around Sydney harbour of course including the endemic Eudyptula minor or “Fairy Penguin” is worth considering. The “Sydney Fairies” has such a good ring to it.

  20. “Come to think of it “Swansâ€? is such an inappropriate name to give to a Sydney based side. I don’t think I have ever seen a swan paddling around on Sydney harbour.”

    Perhaps not, but there are lots of them in Centennial Park, just down the road from the SCG.

  21. Dave Ricardo, Steve Edney and Stephen all make some interesting points in response to my opening post.

    I agree with Dave’s comment and would add that we on the left need to be more mindful of Howard’s skills in this regard and his capacity to trim his sails rather than “crash through or crash” when public opinion runs against his convictions.

    I had similar thoughts to Steve about the reasons for the large “Gone Too Far” sentiment in 1987 and the subsequent shift the other way. Remember that 1987 was just after the Hawke Government had established HREOC and put through the Equal Opportunity Act, and three years after the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act, with roughly comparable legislative action also having occurred at State level in (at that time) the recent past. I think, thought, that a secular trend in a more liberal direction is probably at work even after we allow for public responses to actual government action.

    I also think Stephen is onto something in terms of people’s subjective responses to the difference between the actual pace of change and their expectations of how fast things ought to be changing.

  22. Jack Strocchi makes a long and detailed response in which he restates and elaborates his Decline of the Wets thesis. Interestingly enough, the evidence of the Australian Election Study, and of the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and its precursors, tends overall to support the DotW thesis on issues other than gender, family and sexuality. I’m currently thinking my way through a couple of potentially fruitful alternative ways to frame the analysis of current trends in social and political attitudes, and will share these with y’all (and in the process pick up some of Jack’s points) in the near future.

  23. Strocchi’s claim that every one is conservative about what he knows best runs into the usual problem about the definition of conservatism. To some conservative means a desire to preserve the status quo, to others it simply means right-wing, so when leftwing change occurs conservatives desire the status quo ante, rather than to keep things in their new state.

    If the initial meaning of the word conservative is used then the claim is dubious. However, using the more widespread definition it is demonstrably false more often than not.

    A few examples – most people have an unthinking support for the death penalty. In the US this is a conservative position on both counts, in Australia only on the second. However, the more people know about the topic, particularly the rate of false convictions the more likely they are to become opposed, that is less conservative.

    There are quite a few other topics that are similar. Climate change is one. Perhaps the clearest contradiction of Strocchi’s claim is the issue of gay rights. The evidence is overwhelming that many people in the broad community are homophobic, and the most effective cure is for them to have a friend or close relative who comes out as gay or lesbian. A few maintain their bigorty, but most don’t. So in other words the people who actually learn a bit about what having an alternative sexuality means become *less* conservative, in refutation of the supposed law.

    BTW the link didn’t work for me, so I can’t see the basis on which the “law” was constructed.

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