That was quick

Not long after the election, I perceived the signs of an emerging semi-formal coalition between the LNP and One Nation. Less than three months later, here’s Jeff Kennett, generally seen as a relative moderate in the Victorian Liberal Party, endorsing the idea.

To repeat what I said then, I remain convinced that this will prove a path to disaster for the LNP in the long run. One Nation is already repeating the history of meltdowns we saw in its first big run, and making clear that it stands for nothing beyond incoherent gesture politics. That’s true of rightwing identity politics in general, which is why I think it can’t last. It can, however, do plenty of damage in the meantime.

47 thoughts on “That was quick

  1. @GrueBleen

    I didn’t assert that ‘Stanley Bruce and his government were mere puppets of the plutocrats and oligarchs of the National Union’. I referred to the fact that there were contemporary allegations to that general effect. It’s not my opinion that it makes no difference who won elections then, but it’s also not my opinion that it makes no difference who wins elections now.

    It’s my judgement that Ikonoclast (and the many people who make complaints framed in similar terms) are exaggerating in two ways which have a cumulative effect of producing an exaggerated contrast. On the one hand, the dominance (or supposed dominance) of non-democratic influences over democratic influences in the present is being exaggerated; on the other hand, the dominance (or supposed dominance) of democratic influences over non-democratic influences in the past (typically an unspecified past, which may be the product of mere imagination) is being exaggerated.

    Australia today is not nearly as democratic as I would like it to be (and neither is the world in general). I would like to see Australia (and the world) become much more democratic. I would agree with Ikonoclast that it is essential for people who think and feel this way not to be deceived by democratic formalities into failing to recognise the huge obstructions to real democracy. But I also think it’s a mistake to frame the discussion in terms of a decline from a mythical lost golden age of true democracy, or in terms of a supposed recent sharp downward turn in the graph.

    For these reasons I think it’s relevant to point out that complaints like Ikonoclast’s about the dominance of oligarchic plutocrats are not a new phenomenon but are a recurrent feature of Australian history (and the history of other countries, too). That doesn’t mean I think they are or were wholly accurate (although I also don’t think they are or were wholly baseless).

    So, in short, I don’t actually think that Stanley Bruce and James Scullin were mere puppets of oligarchic plutocrats, but I also don’t think that Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, or Malcolm Turnbull were or are, and I am reminded of this by the similarities between Ikonoclast’s complaints about the state of politics now and past complaints about the state of poitics then.

  2. About half of one nation voted 2nd preference labour so it is an astute strategy to live with them in the short term. Trouble is about they are the type of people who do not work well in groups as the current nonsense over that Western Australian senator shows.

    I doubt one nation MPs will be anything more than a rabble of independents within 12 months. Place your bets.

  3. @J-D

    Hmm. Ok, well maybe it was my turn to be just a bit too literal minded. Because I was going to ask whatever happened to the evil rule of the H R Nicholls Society – much worse than the National Union.

    However, the issue surely is “what is a democracy” ? Was the Roman Republic a “democracy” because the Plebeians, and only the Plebeians, elected the ‘Plebeian Tribune’ who had very strong democratic rights and powers, including veto over Senate made laws – such that the position was amongst the first things Augustus Octavian destroyed by absorbing the Tribune’s role and function into his own powers.

    But I have a very simple idea of democracy: it is that all representatives (ie at every level of governance) are directly elected (ie ‘electoral colleges’ are out) and that if an elected representative is ‘diselected’ – voted out – he or she accepts that and stays voted out (ie no coups) plus the ineluctable requirement to be subject to periodic elections where the period cannot be significantly extended by act of the representatives. In short, we the people directly elect governments and we can sack governments and when we sack them, they stay sacked.

    Apart from that though, I never expected that all and every source of “power or influence” would be elected to government. Unions are not, business groups are not, etc. Indeed, I would be very suspicious of a system in which only elected governance representatives had any power. Checks and balances, you know and the ongoing right to civil disobedience.

    Ok, that’s me: simplistic to a fault. Now, pray tell, why in your view, Australia is “not democratic enough”. And don’t forget Edmund Burke’s dictum that the worst thing any elected representative can do is surrender their own sovereign judgement to that of their constituents. Is anywhere that practices Burkeism democratic ?

  4. I am in agreement with GrueBleen’s view that our societies and technologies have become so complex, that no one can hope to understand them sufficiently. The Dunning-Kruger syndrome rules supreme, and people are easily bamboozled into believing almost anything, depending on who can shout the loudest and most often (money).

  5. @John Quiggin

    That’s a relief, because I wasn’t trying to be overly sharp.

    But I find that if there’s passion, there’s sharpness (not always intentional) and if there’s no passion, what are we doing this for ?

    But, of course, your blog, your call as to how much sharpness is too much. I just personally didn’t think we’d been so very bad.

  6. I agree that the LNP will probably suffer some electoral cost from allying with PHON. However, by far the greatest cost will be suffered by mainstream centrist and centre-left parties continuing to neglect chronically high under-employment, unemployment, and precarious employment. I don’t see the Greens or the ALP engaging with that key problem in a substantial way. The chief economic policy goal of the federal government needs to be full employment (real full employment, not the Clayton’s full employment that mainstream macroeconomists talk about), with price stability and sustainable resource use.

  7. @Nicholas
    Absolutely agree, but it is not possible, given they all believe in neo-liberal macro-economic mythology. Even Wayne Swan does not accept (I have an eye-witness account) the three sectors financial identity, that the private sector cannot pay down debts if the govt. sector does not have sufficient deficit to cover the trade deficit and more. This is just financial arithmetic, but if someone doesn’t believe it, you have to think that there is something seriously wrong.

  8. @GrueBleen

    It’s interesting that you invoke Burke in a discussion of democracy. Burke wasn’t a democrat.

    People use the word ‘democracy’ (and the related form ‘democratic’) in a variety of ways, as I expect you’re aware.

    One useful way of using the terms is at a higher level of generality/abstraction, where it refers to the idea of people having influence over decisions that affect them. It’s something like this that people are doing when they refer, for example, to ‘industrial/workplace democracy’ or to ‘democratic schools’.

    That is the sense of the term that I have in mind when I write that Australia is not nearly as democratic as I would like it to be. Under the Australian political system, people have some influence over decisions that affect them, but not nearly as much as I would like them to have.

    There are other useful senses of ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic’, which are related to the highly general one but more specific. But that’s a separate discussion.

  9. @J-D

    It’s interesting that you invoke Burke in a discussion of democracy. Burke wasn’t a democrat.

    Certainly you, and I expect many others, would question Burke’s ‘democrat’ credentials. Yet he functioned as a directly elected representative in a mildly liberal nation with moderately inclusive voting franchise. So, isn’t that democratic ?

    Thus the issue comes down to what you, and maybe others, mean by “influence over decisions“. Why could it not be so that by electing Burke – presumably a man holding views that are at least simpatico with his electors – to ‘express’ their desires in parliament as ably as he is capable, they are, in fact influencing the decisions they care about. And if he ceases to adequately fulfill that role, the constituents will simply elect somebody else.

    I don’t know how directly it needs to be to meet your criteria. Perhaps in a Trades Union, the members could vote on every single decision if the executive, and that would have to be considered ‘influential’. But in decisions affecting a modern state as a whole, that would not be entirely practical, even in an electronic ‘vote from home’ age. (You did see, and do remember, The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer, yes ?).

    So, what do you mean by “influence” and how do you envision it being expressed, especially where there are multiple competing brands of opinion that will democratically demand to be taken account of.

    Perhaps, in the reality of modern large and complex states, the best we can manage is to go half-Burkean: directly elected representatives who mostly vote as they see fit, but who at least try to stay in touch with their majority constituent beliefs and opinions because they want to be reelected next time.

    Which is kinda what we have now, isn’t it ?

  10. And before I forget, I have reservations about ProfQ’s declaration that in cozying up to PHON “this will prove a path to disaster for the LNP in the long run“.

    My take is that while it may cause some pious wailing and gnashing of teeth in the short to medium term it will be quickly forgotten, whether PHON is merged somehow into the LNP or whether it simply self-destructs.

    Even the Coryites won’t cause much hassle: who remembers the New Guard of Australia or the League of Rights nowadays ? About as frequently mentioned as the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) is by the ALP. And the DLP too.

  11. @GrueBleen

    I am deliberately invoking a sense of ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic’ in which being democratic is a matter of degree, and democracy is not something you either have or don’t but rather something you have more or less of. It is inappropriate to try to shoehorn that into a binary classification of ‘democratic’ and ‘not democratic’ (although that may be appropriate with some other related but more specific senses of the terms). There are many different ways that people influence decisions that affect them; voting in parliamentary elections is just one of them. If you’re asking me to recommend one specific model of democracy you’re misunderstanding my point. If you’re suggesting that the arrangements we have in Australia now represent the highest degree of democracy that it’s technically feasible to achieve, and that no feasible increases of democracy can be conceived, then I disagree.

  12. @J-D

    It is inappropriate to try to shoehorn that into a binary classification of ‘democratic’ and ‘not democratic’

    Ok, but I thought that’s what you were doing when you categorically declared that “Burke wasn’t a democrat”. That sounded binary to me, viz, whatever democracy is, Edmund Burke isn’t it.

    Now I can grasp the concept of ‘graduated’, really I can, but I can also grasp the idea of ‘threshold’: below which nothing, above which a graduated something. Again based on your Burke pronouncement: he is below the threshold and therefore isn’t ‘democratic’.

    If you’re asking me to recommend one specific model of democracy you’re misunderstanding my point.

    And if that is genuinely your interpretation, then you are misunderstanding me. I do fully appreciate that “There are many different ways that people influence decisions that affect them. I am quite accustomed to the idea of negotiating with the people around me. And I’m familiar with the idea of campaigns – advertising and other – and with lobbying – professional and amateur – and with various forms of blackmail and/or vote buying etc etc. All being various ways of “influencing decisions”.

    And are they all degrees of democracy ? Or are some of them – in a quite binary yes/no way – not, or even anti-democracy ?

    Then you go on to say:

    If you’re suggesting that the arrangements we have in Australia now represent the highest degree of democracy that it’s technically feasible to achieve,

    to which I reply: why on Earth (or any other life supporting planet) would you say that ? What did I say that you’ve interpreted in that way ?

    I have more or less supposed that Australia has achieved the minimum level capable of being called democracy, and when you write that “Australia is not nearly as democratic as I would like it to be.” you might then go on to formulate how it might become more “as democratic as I would like it to be.” Can you ?

  13. @J-D

    why do you ask?

    Gee, J-D, I really don’t know. But let me postulate: maybe it’s simply curiousity on my part, that you’ve been so insistent that Australia isn’t as democratic as you want it to be, that I’m just curious as to what you think might be done to rectify that. Is that a possible explanation, perhaps ?

    But then, let me contemplate:

    that’s not the point

    Do please explain, as to a simpleton, what exactly is the point – or to be more precise your point.

  14. @GrueBleen

    Do please explain, as to a simpleton, what exactly is the point – or to be more precise your point.

    I thought I had already explained that, but perhaps this will make it clearer:

    Ikonoclast was making a mistake which involved confusing two different propositions, one of which was that Australia could be more democratic and the other that Australia once was more democratic; for people who would like Australia to be more democratic (a category which evidently includes Ikonoclast), it is a mistake to focus on an illusion of the past.

  15. @J-D

    I thought I had already explained that

    Goodoh, then.

    And now that’s been explained, perhaps you could explain the following comment by Ernestine Gross in a different post:
    “Troy is obviously smarter than I am. I shall try to avoid repeating the mistake of getting myself entangled with your posts.”

  16. @GrueBleen

    Evidently Ernestine Gross thinks it’s a foolish mistake to engage in discussion with me, but if you want to know why she thinks that, I think you’ll have to ask her.

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