No enemies to the right?

Anthony Albanese has a piece in the #Ozfail (not linked) restating standard [1] claims that political life is increasingly characterized by echo chambers and that we ought to make more of an effort to engage with those whose views differ from ours.

He mentions, as example of the dire consequences of not doing this, some international examples

this polarisation in global politics has seen the demise of many of the historically successful progressive political parties such as France’s Socialist Party, PASOK in Greece, the Partito Democratico in Italy, the Social Democrats in Germany and many other affiliates of the Socialist International.

In many countries, parties of the radical Right have emerged with disillusioned working-class people as their social base.

What’s striking about this list is that most of the examples lost votes at least as much to parties on their left, which rejected their complicity in austerity: Syriza in Greece, Melenchon’s la France Insoumise, and the Greens in Germany and the Netherlands. Yet there’s no hint in Albanese’s article that the centre-left needs to be open to the views of such groups and their supporters: apparently, we need to be talking to the supporters of Golden Dawn, Le Pen, AfD and so on.

Albanese’s position in Australian politics is exactly the same. He’s happy to talk to Andrew Bolt and the Oz in the interests of an open debate, but as far as I know he has never had a good word to say about the Greens, let along sought to open a dialogue with them. Apparently some alternative views are more equal than others.

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With notably rare exceptions[1]

One of the arguments being pushed by those on the political right seeking to downplay the Victorian election outcome is that Australian state governments generally get a second term. A look over the period since 1990, however, brings up  several exceptions to that rule. Here’s my list:

Borbidge (Queensland), Baillieu-Napthine (Victoria), Newman (Queensland),Mills-Giles (NT)

For the “second-term” argument to work in downplaying the result, more is needed. It has to be the case that, having won a second term, governments mostly fail to get a third.  Here’s a list [1] of instances where two-term governments have been defeated.

Groom-Rundle (Tasmania), Greiner-Fahey (NSW), Kennett (Victoria), Carnell-Humphries (ACT), Court, Gallop-Carpenter, Barnett (WA), Martin-Henderson (NT)

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that all of the exceptions in the first list were conservatives, while only two of the confirming instances in the second list were Labor.

With a limited data set, it’s easy to support a wide range of conclusions. Still if conservative commentators want to use historical patterns to argue that, having easily won a second term, Daniel Andrews is on track to lose next time, I think they’re dreaming.

 

fn1.  This is a moderately famous Internet meme, coined by Alan Greenspan

fn2. One might arguably add the Goss government in Queensland, which won the 1995 election, but lost office after a by-election required by the Court of Disputed Returns.

 

 

 

A state election outcome with global implications ?

After any state election with a decisive outcome, partisan analysis shows a predictable pattern. On the losing side, the state party blames its federal counterpart, while the feds say that the election was decided on state issues. On the winning side, there is generally enough credit to go around, with the state party basking in success, while the federal party (particularly if it is in opposition) points to the outcome as a “message to Canberra”.

The recent Victorian election is, I think, rather different. That’s because, on the conservative side at least, the usual state-based issues (health, education, roads) were disregarded in favour of a culture war campaign almost identical to that being run by the Morrison government at the national level and by the political right globally. Notable examples were an overtly racist law and order campaign, a revival of the drug war, and proposals for publicly funded coal-fired power stations aimed at appealing to climate science denialists. Guy’s slogan “get back in control” could just as well have been used by Donald Trump, or by the rightwing advocates of Brexit.

The stunning rejection of Guy’s campaign gives some hope that Australian voters will not fall for this. In part, that’s because Labor ran on its traditional strength at the state level. But the outcome was very similar to Morrison’s drubbing in the Wentworth by-election, where the state level advantage didn’t apply.

It’s only one election, but it’s one of a number, notably including the recent US midterms, where the supposed irresistible force of rightwing identity politics has proved to be not so irresistible after all. It’s too early to start cheering, but it now looks possible that, in a few years time, the whole rightwing upsurge will prove to have been the final spasm of the losing side in the culture wars. The question then will be how to build a better world from the mess we will inherit.

Welcome to the minority

The Ruddock inquiry into religious freedom obviously hasn’t turned out the way its advocates in the right wing of the LNP expected. Far from securing their rights to discriminate against gays,  church schools are almost certain to lose that right with respect to students, and will probably also lose it in relation to teachers. A recent opinion poll shows overwhelming opposition to discrimination, even stronger than the vote in favour of equal marriage last year.

The failure of the right on this reflects a central fact about the rightwing version of identity politics. Whereas leftwing forms of identity politics typically assert the rights of minorities[1] to a fairer share of power and respect, the right wing version starts from the assumption that their identity is that of the majority whose historical rights are under threat.  So, they see no inconsistency in demanding expansive definitions of freedom for themselves, while rejecting it for others.  The same thinking explains the pressure for a plebiscite on equal marriage: despite ample evidence from opinion polls, the right could not believe they were in the minority[2].

The situation has now changed, and rethinking is needed, both on the right but on the left. Rather than looking to expand the powers of employers to sack people on religious grounds unrelated to their performance at work, those concerned with religious freedom should be concerned about the possibility that such powers will be used against them in the future. A comprehensive protection for workers against dismissal on the basis of grounds unrelated to their performance at work is what is needed here.

As regards the left, we shouldn’t allow large, publicly funded institutions like church schools to practise discrimination. But we need to think more carefully about individuals with religious objections to gay marriage (for example, bakers who don’t want to bake cakes with messages of support for gay marriage) in the same light as other religious minorities who seek protection for their beliefs: Jehovah’s witnesses who object to blood transfusions, Muslim women who want to remain veiled, and so on. Most of these beliefs seem strange and objectionable to non-believers. But where they can be accommodated without doing any serious social damage, we should do so.

More broadly, as I suggested when the Ruddock review was announced, we should take the opportunity to push for a comprehensive Bill of Rights. Now that they are clearly in the minority on crucial issues, perhaps religious believers might see the merit in a supporting such a measure.

 

fn1. Women aren’t a minority, but they are under-represented.

fn2. It’s typically, though not always, at the point where dominant/majority status is slipping away that this kind of politics emerges.

 

Presidents, Prime Ministers and parties

The discussion of my Queen’s Birthday showed that at least some readers have problems thinking about how an elected presidency would work, what powers the president should have and so on. There are many different models out there, but my idea is that the president would acquire the current powers of the Governor-General (dissolving parliaments, including double dissolutions; resolving disputes between the Houses; and initiating the formation of governments after elections) but with less deference to the wishes of Prime Ministers than in the past. For example, the President could reject the shenanigans with absurdly drawn out election timetables that we saw in 2016, and saw proposed in 2013, and could refuse a snap election called to take advantage of a favorable climate.

Assuming this role, the President’s views on policy issues wouldn’t matter much; rather we would be looking for personal characteristics such independent mindedness and capacity for good judgement in a crisis. A possible side benefit would be that parliamentary elections would be more about policy and less about the personality of the party leaders.

Under the current system, we are called on to vote on a presidential basis, but with no guarantee that the elected leader will see out a term. Even if the rules were tightened to make spills more difficult, we would still have the problem of a successful leader voluntarily retiring mid-term, as Menzies did and as both Hawke and Howard promised to do.

Happy Birthday, Mrs Windsor

It’s the Queen’s birthday here in Queensland, having been moved by the Labor government to separate it from May Day, which they already moved from October, reversing a decision of the Newman LNP government. Apart from reports on what is open today, I couldn’t find any reference to this event in the media, even from notional monarchists.

That pretty much sums up the irrelevance of the British monarchy in Australia. So, this seems like a good time to think about when we should become a republic, and what kind of republic we want.

Our last attempt was run by the unlamented Malcolm Turnbull who assumed that what everyone wanted was a change of figurehead that left the reality of the system unchanged. That reality is a Prime Ministerial dictatorship, constrained only by elections, obstreporous Senators and the ever-present possibility of a party-room coup. Looking at our system over recent years, I don’t think it’s performed very well, and I suspect that Turnbull might now agree.

Another important change is that outright Lower House majorities are no longer assured and may soon become the exception rather than the rule. The role of the Head of State in deciding who should be invited to form a government is now increasingly important. These decisions ought to be made by a President with the independent legitimacy that comes from an election.

Obviously, this isn’t the most important issue facing the nation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it and get moving on the issue. As usual, Bill Shorten (despite his unalterable image as a cautious timeserver) has taken the lead. I hope he will get the chance to act on this after the next election, and that he will take it.