False balance

An almost-universal feature of current Australian political commentary is the idea that the process of major party breakdown is a symmetrical one, affecting both side of politics equally. At a global level, this is broadly true. European social democratic parties have faced huge challenges arising from their complicity in austerity, and their inability to formulate a coherent response to racism and xenophobia. Quite a few, like PASOK in Greece, have disappeared altogether.

In Australia, the situation is very different.  The rise of the Greens, and the formation of an effective Labor-Green coalition, long predates the crisis of neoliberalism. And the coalition has become more stable over time, not less. As Labor has moved, slowly but substantially, to the left on most issues, the  Labor-Green coalition has come to resemble, more and more, the permanent coalition between the Liberals and Nationals (nearly always treated as a single party in Australian discussion. The issue of refugees has provided the most important single point of difference, but hasn’t driven the kind of collapse seen in Europe. Moreover, there has been no sign of any kind of radical or populist left alternative to the Labor-Green party. Rather, the remains of the old Marxist left have continued their gradual decline.

The contrast with the chaos within the LNP, and in its fractious relationship with the various far-right groups* it now relies on for support could not be more evident, and has been discussed at great length. I’m just hoping that we can get past the ritual need for balance, and recognise that, in Australia, this problem is specfic to the right.

The fact that the right is in a chaotic and chronic mess doesn’t mean they will necessarily lose. Labor has shown the capacity to mess things up massively, even without any serious ideological divisions, as in the Rudd-Gillard feud and the spectacular corruption of the NSW party.  But that’s just day-to-day politics.

The bigger picture is that the Australian left is making a successful adjustment to the collapse of neoliberalism, while the right is not.

* There are also the centrist independents, most of whom hold seats that would normally belong to the LNP.





28 thoughts on “False balance

  1. Claims expressed in the post are themselves marred by false balance by failure to mention just how far the ALP and other conservative parties have in actual fact acted jointly and steadfastly together for over thirty years to move the Overton window far to the right.

    “Moreover, there has been no sign of any kind of radical or populist left alternative to the Labor-Green party.”

    This of course does not account for recognised NGO and more informal activist groupings, and does not account for their far larger membership base, nor degree of member contributions of time, resources, and funds (their funds distinctly not coming from outside vested interest one per center donors!). It doesn’t account for the weight of such independent groupings influence on those red and blue-green tory (rbgt) parties. Neither does it account for members of such groupings withholding their individual preferences from the rbgt parties, withholding their votes altogether, or voting for independent candidates.

  2. Svante says: “Claims expressed in the post are themselves marred by false balance by failure to mention just how far the ALP and other conservative parties have in actual fact acted jointly and steadfastly together for over thirty years to move the Overton window far to the right.”

    Really? If the Overton window has moved so much to the right please explain:
    – the fiscal stimulus post GFC (enacted by the ALP in 2008 as opposed to the austerity usually favoured by the right )
    – gay marriage (supported by the ALP from Kevin Rudd’s second stint as leader onwards and enacted under a conservative government)
    – support for removing the religious exemptions that let religious groups discriminate against gay teachers and students
    – the Fair Work Act vulnerable worker amendments in 2017
    – the Royal Commission into financial institutions and the policy changes etc that are already being rolled out
    – legalisation of abortion in Queensland by an ALP government just days ago
    -government funded paid maternal leave enacted in 2011
    -etc etc etc …

    Can you substantiate your claim with examples and tell why the above don’t matter? I appreciate that there are counter examples but the Overton window has not been pushed “far to the right” in the real world as opposed to the one that exists in your imagination.

  3. Shorten (and Chris Bowen, who is under-appreciated) deserve a lot of credit for recognising the zeitgeist and acting accordingly. But the Labor-Green “coalition” is a marriage of convenience at best. They are useful to each other in swapping preferences, a necessity with our electoral system. But there are still formidable cultural and philosophical differences between them.

  4. labor / green party ?
    what labor / green party?

    here in the west it looks like they can’t stand each other and take every opportunity to trip each other up.

    after the last election the greens helped the libs make it almost impossible for an individual to stand for election because there was clever-dick swapping of preferences resulting in wildcard results ensuing from the fact that the resulting winners were the ones everybody disliked the least.

    we can never be sure the person we vote for is as they present themselves.
    porter is a case in point.there are an awful lot of disenchanted porter-supporters.

    and we can never be sure until the consequence of an important vote validates the occasional wild card. see Ricky Muir and the close run renewable energy thingo.

  5. @Hugo

    While in no way diminishing those achievements you have listed, that really is cherry-picking at whatever you can find that resembles progress towards the Left. As for the fiscal stimulus, it’s difficult to say ALP is Leftist because of it, as it is also the ALP that has enacted the steepest fiscal contraction in the recent decade (far steeper than even the LNP in their recent years of government) soon after the stimulus.

    The fact that ALP at both the State and Federal level have supported privatisation, deregulation ever since Hawke and Keating. The ALP have also cut spending in education in real terms, as well as not acting on the crisis of the low level of social security. Also the bipartisan support of offshore detention which is first implemented by the ALP. What the ALP did since Hawke is indeed LNP-lite and should not be classed as a Leftist party.

    However, the ALP under Shorten have indeed campaigned on multiple fronts that are more Leftist than the ALP before him. Such as blaming privatisation for the electricity market problems, and suggesting that laying off public servants and replace them with more expensive contractors are not economically reasonable etc. This combined with the Green being traditionally more Leftist than the ALP have helped them form a unofficial coalition that could be more stable than the current LNP, so Professor Quiggin’s point in the main post isn’t wrong. Especially since its more than possible Shorten would be in for a 3 term PM as long as Labor don’t mess things up big time.

  6. Tom,

    Of course I cherry picked. I making the point that Svante’s claim is obviously false. And good to see you acknowledge that Shorten has taken the ALP further Left re privatisation etc…

    Also I think you may be wrong about education spending: ####theconversation.com/government-spending-explained-in-10-charts-from-howard-to-turnbull-77158

  7. Made a point. Really? I admit to no charge of falsity in my post above but I’m amused by the admission of falsity concerning the charge by them what made it. A falsely made out charge of falsity is indeed a rather sad straw man. And cherry picking is downright fallacious!

    Swan is the one that prior to his retirement announcement earlier this year was to be seen for a brief period of months energetically popping up in print and on stage all over strongly espousing that sort of lame ALP revisionism and also spruiking a new turn in ALP supposed anti-neoliberalism. Swan got short shrift where it mattered within his party, notably from Bowen, more guarded from Shorten. Three decades as the ‘us too’ consistently Alternative Liberal Party or LNP-lites in action speak far louder than any recent and often garbled and hedged mouthing of promises to be something of a labour party in future..

    (Cherry picking also known as: ignoring inconvenient data, suppressed evidence, fallacy of incomplete evidence, argument by selective observation, argument by half-truth, card stacking, fallacy of exclusion, ignoring the counter evidence, one-sided assessment, slanting, and one-sidedness…)

  8. the Liberals and Nationals are in a coalition. The ALP and Greens are not. I doubt very much they ever will be which in itself is a good thing.
    The ALP have never really been a left wing party except when good old Chif tried to nationalise the banks.Silly man

    They have consistently been of the centre. They will continue to be so if they wish to win government.

  9. Thanks, Svante.

    I’m just not seeing this Long March to the Right in either the ALP or Australian politics generally. You’ve written 500 plus words of toxic venom but you’ve failed to give the counter-examples that drown my plump cherries.

  10. There was a long march to the Right during the 1980s and 1990s, which continued, with partial reversals into the 2000s. The Rudd-Gillard government moved to the left on a number of issues, and this has accelerated since Labor has been in opposition. So, both Svante and Hugo can find plenty of examples to support their case.

    To be clear, the OP is talking about the period since the GFC.

  11. I will believe it when Labor gets in power and combats wealth distribution seriously . Markets are in nations but nations are also in markets ,the international Capitalist class would punish us if Labor threatened the level of return on capital that they are used to and have decided they are entitled to. The West is stricken with low growth so they wont let anyone get away with much redistribution now. If it comes down to it they support Fascism rather than Socialism ,its happening in other countries now. They get everyone punching downward and continue with wealth extraction .
    Had the increase in the 1% ‘s income in the US since the GFC went to the bottom 40% instead their income would have been doubled (from a book called ‘Rigged’ by Dean Baker) . The 1% are just a dead weight on society ,leeching wealth out .We have got to get them off our backs.

  12. One area where you see this is in selection of issues on current affairs programs..classic consent manufacture and censorship by default of real world issues.

    The presentation ensures we remain in the dreamyBrady Bunch Aristotelian simulacrum that all is well with the world apart from a few loose ends to tied up rather a mess revealed in the presentation of issues like the one with Yemen, where twenty million are starving to death or dying of a savage form of bellyache because we don’t want to disturb the sheep and then interrupt the mercantilist arrangements between big powers and, say, oil rich Mid Eastern satellites

  13. It seems to me that there are a few different things that ‘party breakdown’ might mean.

    One thing it might mean is the actual dissolution of a party in the way that PASOK, for example, has dissolved. Since nothing lasts forever, any given political party must have a finite lifetime, but that’s not the same as saying it faces a current prospect of going out of existence the way PASOK recently did. The Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste) in France occurs to me as an example of another political party, once important, which currently faces such a prospect (it’s not guaranteed that it won’t recover; but the chances for it don’t seem good). There may be other examples, too; but as far as I can tell, most of the major parties of Europe, of all ideological colourings, aren’t on the verge of breaking down in this sense. In Australia the ALP isn’t, but neither are the Liberals.

    Another thing it might mean is substantial internal conflict which is damaging to the party even if it doesn’t lead to it actually disappearing from the scene. In Australia at the moment that is happening to the Liberal Party but isn’t happening to the ALP. However, both the ALP and the LIberals (and also other parties in other countries) have gone through periods like that in the past, many times, and then recovered from them.

    Another thing it might mean is a long-term decline in a party’s electoral support, even if it’s not a fatal decline. Obviously it’s normal for a party’s support to change from one election to the next, sometimes upward and sometimes downward, but it also sometimes happens that there are longer term trends. In Australia, the level of voter support for the Liberal Party in elections over the last decade or two has been lower than its level of voter support in elections in earlier decades, but the same thing is true for the ALP.

    One thing that has happened in several European countries recently is a major increase in support for a recently formed party: for example, AfD (the Alternative for Germany) in Germany, Macron’s new party in France, the M5S (Five Star Movement) in Italy, both Podemos and Ciudadanos in Spain, the PVV (Party for Freedom) in the Netherlands, SYRIZA in Greece, the Sweden Democrats in Sweden. So far, there hasn’t been a similar development in Australia. There are also plenty of examples of European countries where there hasn’t been this kind of development. Also, where it has happened, the effect of the rise of these parties on the existing parties and the whole political system is hard to generalise about.

  14. The idea of Labor-Greens as an “effective coalition” is a bit hard to see here in the inner north suburbs of Melbourne, where they are actively fighting each other. It’s obviously because they are competing for seats, but the way it’s conducted is infuriating.

    Hopefully I’m not being partisan in saying that Labor is worse. ALP supporters seem to have coordinated lines they run, particularly suggesting that the Greens are close to/support the Liberals. That’s infuriating because it’s so dishonest, when the ALP is actually closer to the Libs on policy issues and votes with them more frequently in Parliament. I wish Shorten or someone would exert a bit of party discipline and stop this kind of dishonest attack. It’s really not helpful in the bigger scheme of things, where the key aim should be to act enough like an ‘effective coalition’ to defeat the Libs and get some things done. They managed to get things done that way in the Gillard era, until sabotaged by the ‘effective coalition’ of Tony Abbott-Kevin Rudd

  15. It’s obviously because they are competing for seats, but the way it’s conducted is infuriating.

    This is a textbook case of Freud’s narcissism of small differences.

  16. There are also plenty of examples of European countries where there hasn’t been this kind of development.

    The UK is obvious case (assuming it can still be called a European country). Despite the Brexit shambles, which has split both major parties, there is no sign of either the Tories or Labour going anywhere.

    The electoral system might have something to do all of this. It is probably easier for new parties to replace old in countries with proportional representation electoral systems, which Australia and the UK do not. (Though in the Australian senate, which is elected by PR, new parties have emerged.) With PR, a new party needs only a national profile, which is fairly easily obtained these days, through social media, but it doesn’t have to do the hard work of seat by seat campaigning, which requires resources on the ground that they do not have.

  17. @Val I left the ALP decades ago, but the Left-RIght infighting I saw then was more vicious than anything between Labor and the Greens today. And, from I can tell, it hasn’t gone away. I’ve seen suggestions that some on the Labor right are welcoming (and maybe supporting) the prospect of the Greens taking seats that would otherwise be held by Labor lefties.

    To restate, a fractious coalition, but a coalition nonetheless.

  18. let us get real.
    Given Nominal GDP is again back at normal levels it makes sense to consolidate.

    would the Greens agree on this?
    Of course not.
    Might I add Greens run against the ALP whereas Nationals only run against Liberals if the local member retires and it is an open seat.

  19. the Left-RIght infighting I saw then was more vicious than anything between Labor and the Greens today

    Sure, but there was substantial ideological difference between them, not to mention the use by the Right of criminal thugs to enforce branch stacking.

  20. Well I’m a bit over it all

  21. Val: “They managed to get things done that way in the Gillard era, until sabotaged by the ‘effective coalition’ of Tony Abbott-Kevin Rudd.”

    You appear to be rewriting history:

    “.Fresh back from the United States where she announced her undying love for America, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, let us in on a secret no one could have guessed. She is an old-fashioned traditionalist.

    In an interview for Australian Agenda on Sky News, Gillard declared she opposed euthanasia, opposed gay marriage, and wanted people to study the Bible. She doesn’t sound too different from Tony Abbott. He is a one-time Catholic seminarian – now married with children – who deeply opposes euthanasia and abortion. She is an atheist who keeps her unmarried partner in the Lodge. But when it comes to traditional family values Gillard wants you to know they are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”


    Rudd backed gay marriage before Gillard and Gillard, in perhaps the most regressive act by an ALP Government at any level over the last half a century, forced 100,000 mums on to Newstart:

    “In areas of social policy the mindsets of both parties are similar, if not identical. This was clearly illustrated by the support of both Abbott and Gillard for the passage of social security amendments, which will reduce the income of more than 100,000 sole parents — almost all female.

    At the same time as the government was bruiting its first tranche payment to low-paid welfare workers — a welcome, if slow, reform — it was conspicuously silent on its planned cuts to the single parent allowance. The only opposing views came from the Greens, who have since also sought extra money for the 60,000 sole parents whose income will drop by nearly $60 per week on January first 2013.”


    Thankfully Shorten has vowed to undo the damage done by Gillard. Gillard did some good things, like the Royal Commission on institutional child abuse, but in my opinion she was not a superior leader to Rudd, who was also a disappointment.

  22. The full story behind my current Twitter campaign about fairness in the Greens is available here, https://fairgreenplanet.blogspot.com/2018/10/calling-for-procedural-fairness-in.html in case anyone is interested. As I say in the post, I still think Greens are the best option, but there has been some serious internal crap going on in the party that they need to sort out. I’m focusing on my own story, but it’s actually a lot bigger than that. I hope they sort it out soon. The Andrews Labor government is likely to win the election, and isn’t a bad government, but could still do with some pushing from the left. The possibility of a real Labor Greens coalition could be interesting, if the Greens can sort themselves out and win some more seats.

    @ Hugo, I have fought on behalf of Julia Gillard, with whom I used to work, so many times here that I’m not going to do it again (no doubt JQ, who was very wrong on this issue, is breathing a sigh of relief). However I have to correct you, and apparently the Conversation, on one thing: shifting sole parents to NewStart when their youngest child turned seven was started by the Howard government. The reason the Gillard government got involved is that there were some parents were ‘grandfathered’ (allowed to remain on old scheme, protected from new legislation) when the legislation was introduced. When the grandfathering provision ended, the Gillard government had to decide whether to extend the protections, rescind the whole scheme altogether, or allow those parents to be moved to NewStart. They chose the last, which as you point out was not good, but the scheme itself was an initiative of Howard.

    I’ve had to explain this to so many people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a classic, and persistent, example of Blame the Woman for something that was actually done by a man.

  23. Val

    From your link

    Since that time I have twice applied to re-join the party, and been rejected, apparently because some anonymous people in my local branch (Moreland) are opposed to me.

    Hmmm … so the Greens’ membership application process is just like the Melbourne Club, where you can be blackballed? It’s amusing that the uber-progressive forces of inner-north Melbourne should model themselves on the Melbourne establishment.

  24. Val: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a classic, and persistent, example of Blame the Woman for something that was actually done by a man.”

    From SBS:
    “Former prime minister Julia Gillard has defended her government’s controversial decision to cut welfare payments to single mothers.

    The two men vying for the federal Labor leadership – Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese – have both disowned the policy and admitted the party did the wrong thing when it implemented welfare cuts this year.

    But Ms Gillard won’t back away from the decision. “I’m going to stand up for it as a decision of the government I led,” Ms Gillard said during an interview in Melbourne on Tuesday night.

    “It was always going to be controversial”.

    In January, tens of thousands of single mothers, many working part time, were shifted off parenting payments and onto the unemployment benefit, Newstart, leaving many between $60 and $100 a week worse off.

    The decision was to save taxpayers $728 million over four years.

    Ms Gillard admitted the unemployment benefit Newstart Allowance was too low and there needed to be more flexibility with the federal government’s approach to helping the unemployed.

    “I’m a big believer in the dignity that comes from work,” Ms Gillard said.

    She talked about entrenched poverty in her former electorate Lalor where there were some families of three generations of welfare recipients.

    “I want to see everybody have the benefits, choices and essential dignity that comes with access to paid work,” Ms Gillard said. “ ***www.sbs.com.au/news/gillard-defends-welfare-cuts-to-mums

    So I do remember that event correctly after all; Gillard supported the idea of getting women off the pension and on to Newstart. She could have reversed the changes but she chose not to. In fact she vigorously supported the changes, including by implication, the initial decision made by Howard.

    It will take a man, Bill Shorten, to clean up the Gillard mess.

  25. Give Swan some credit.


    “Surpluses built on some difficult savings, which avoid vulnerable Australians and front-line services”

    At least 350,000 Australians (163,000 single parents) were placed below the poverty line to “build” those fictional surpluses.

    Front-line services were obviously going to be affected.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s