Here’s the case for bored: they’ve done everything they promised to do and they hate the idea of a government who actually does stuff so they’ve got no idea what to actually do. There’s nothing on the agenda. Literally. In my professional experience, when you have a committee that meets regularly and gets to a point where there’s nothing on the agenda, there is usually a consensus acceptance that the committee has run its course and can be disbanded. What’s the point of meetings without agendas? That’s what the Abbott government is finding their whole government has become. A meeting without an agenda. When they were elected, they promised to ditch the Carbon Price, axe the mining tax and stop the boats. And presumably, having done all of this (well, if you count stopping the boats as just not telling us about the boats), they’re now devoid of a purpose.
Of course there is no narrative, because there are no ideas. Stories don’t exist without at least a ‘once upon a time…’. And there sure isn’t a ‘…happily live ever after’ with these morons in charge. They don’t want to reform, they just want to wreck. Much of their wrecking is being blocked, thank fully, by the Senate, so the wrecking ball hangs idle and there’s no future plans going into or coming out of Credlin’s office. A small, ineffectual government is boring. Being in government when you don’t actually like the idea of government is sort of like having a car but not having any interest in learning to drive it. You can sit in it in your driveway, you can wash it and admire it and use it to make yourself feel good about yourself. But you can’t do anything with it. It’s boring.
Hence why this week Dutton, ex-policeman and current-potato-head was presumably responsible for the latest farce: Border Farce. The scare machine has got boring; no one cares about the ‘death cult’ anymore and the promises to bomb Syria are not having the desired effect of persuading Australians to back a war. Wars are a good way to pass the time in government, and to whip up fear, but when the electorate is just ‘meh’ about the whole thing, it’s no wonder Dutton and Abbott are keen to flick the idea around of perhaps having a civil war. Checking visas in the street is a good way to divide the masses into those who belong in Team Australia and those who don’t. It’s just a game to these crazy cats.
So, like a child who has many books, but hasn’t learned to read them, who has the attention span of a flea and has smashed up all their toys so they don’t work anymore, the Abbott government is so bored they’re playing games, fighting amongst themselves and are taking expensive helicopter rides to party fundraisers because, frankly, they have nothing better to do.
Here’s the case for panicked: the Canning by-election polls. People’s jobs are on the line. Not just jobs, obviously, but salaries and, shock horror, entitlements. The panic must be worsening every time they see another poll, and they realise that the Canning by-election swing, if played out across the country, puts many of them in the unemployment queue come the next election. That’s when it becomes every blue-tie-wearing man (and a few women) for themselves. That’s when Joe Hockey decides he’s interested in the Republic Movement for its two advantages of being a potential poll boost for him personally, and to differentiate him against Monarchist Abbott. Panicked is when there are slogans without policies and they can’t even get the three words in the right order (Jobs and Growth, Growth and Jobs, Jobs and Jobs, Growth and Growth, Green Eggs and Ham, I do not like them here or there, I do not like them anywhere). Panic is when talking points reminding people not to leak are immediately leaked, and then there are leaks about the displeasure Abbott has had in learning of leaks. Leaking from every pore is a sure sign that the government is a dysfunctional, disunited, chaotic train wreck. That’s what they said about Labor wasn’t it? That’s what they are. They don’t care about the economy, they don’t care about people out there in their electorates losing their jobs, they don’t care if climate change is getting worse and there’s no plan to address the health and education needs of the community, there’s no infrastructure plan, there’s no jobs plan, there’s no growth plan. There are anti-Labor-attack-ads being produced. There is a Royal Commission into Trade Unions (designed to destroy the Labor Party) which has descended into comedy. There is a delusional hatred of wind farms. And of course there’s a violent-gun-nut change to gun laws to bring back deadly weapons. But there is no plan. There is just panic.
So I think I’ve answered my question. Clearly there is an eerie mixture of both: the Abbott government is both bored and panicked. Every day is a new day ready to stuff things up. Amusing to watch, I must admit. Like a slow motion car-crash, and the car is packed full of clowns doped up on valium. Someone pass the popcorn!
Is he worth it? Is Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministerialship worth it since he’s done such irreparable damage to your brand?
I have no doubt when Abbott won the election, you thought you’d done the right thing. After losing in 2007, I’m sure you were upset. But then losing again in 2010, after Abbott failed to negotiate to form a minority government, must have been torture. You must have been livid that Julia Gillard, a leader you despised, (a woman no less!), was so proficient at getting things done, developing progressive policies and negotiating to make them happen. Policies that filled you with dread that Australians might actually care about each other. I understand you’re all very confused about whether you’re neoliberal ideologues or socially conservative, and sometimes it’s hard to know what you really are because all you truly care about is looking after your business mates at the expense of workers. It makes it hard for you to have a persuasive narrative. Because some of you only care about keeping Australia backward, focussing on destroying socially progressive policies such as marriage equality, while the rest are only interested in your special brand of small-government-neoliberalism which is defined by a quest to increase the profits of those people who finance your campaigns. But you understood Gillard and Rudd, and the Labor Party, were a threat to all of you one way or another and therefore must be destroyed if you were ever going to undo all the progress they made. So you built the Abbott wrecking ball with this mission in mind. With the help of Rupert Murdoch and his flying monkeys in the conservative press, you designed this wrecking ball, this no-machine, this village idiot who spouts three word slogans like an android, in order to scare the electorate into giving the Liberal Party what you feel is your entitlement; power. And it all seemed to be going so well! That is, until the first day in the job when you surely immediately realised you’d made a mistake. And that’s why I ask whether this mistake was worth it. Maybe you’ve been too scared to ask yourself this question, let alone answer it. But now you’re heading towards the next election, surely you have to face reality at some point? How about I try answering the question for you and you can decide if you agree with me?
There are three reasons why Abbott was not worth it for the Liberal Party. He might have got you the term in government that you desperately wanted, but what has this term done to your future?
The first reason Abbott was certainly not worth it is because he’s impotent. Politically, he has achieved very little and made a huge amount of mess in the process. Yes, he got rid of the mining tax and the Carbon Price. But this caused problems for you too since revenue disappeared along with these policies. Yes, you think Abbott’s done wonders in ‘stopping the boats’. But once this promise helped win the election, what good did it actually do for your political fortune? Other than costing a lot of money to keep people locked up in a hell-hole indefinitely, and causing you to have to keep secret anything to do with boats, which you’re no doubt not happy about because you love demonising refugees so you must be sorry you’ve painted yourself into a ‘we can’t tell you what’s going on because you’re not going to like it’ corner. And then there was the promise Abbott made, which you no doubt regret, to not make any cuts to education, health, the ABC and SBS. But what is the point of a Liberal government that doesn’t make cuts to education, health, the ABC and SBS? I do understand that you have to pretend you’re something you’re not in order to get elected. It must be very stressful having to keep up this façade when all you really want to do is bring back WorkChoices. Either way, Abbott’s promises were quickly broken, so even where he has managed to make spending cuts, they’ve not been celebrated as you might have hoped, but rather accurately painted as lies and more fodder for the independents to block much of the ‘reform’ you would have liked to make. If reform is the right word for a hand-break-turn-around-and-go-backwards policy platform. This impotency is surely of concern to you.
The second reason I don’t think PM Abbott has been worth it for the Liberal Party is because he is deeply unpopular and very good at finding ways to increase his unpopularity. I don’t have time to give you the entire laundry lists of Abbott-stuff-ups that have contributed to his terrible polls, which you’ve no doubt noticed have been terrible since pretty much day one. Dodgy scholarships for his daughter, insane ‘captains picks’ such as the Knighting of Prince Philip, biting onions, shirt-fronting the Russian President, choosing only one woman in his cabinet and then making himself, a known misogynist, Minister for Women, a Speaker expense scandal and of course your own leadership spill shenanigans. Sometimes I wonder if Abbott is actually one giant satire comedy routine sent to entertain the lefty-lynch-mob on Twitter. I’m sure you’ve wondered the same thing. The bottom line is, Abbott as Prime Minister doesn’t make Australians proud to be Australian. The last poll I saw was Essential Poll which had the two party preferred figures at Liberal 47, Labor 53. And this is after Abbott’s spent most of the last few months doing his best to whip up fear about the ‘death cult’ with a growing collection of flags and tried unsuccessfully to mount a smear campaign against Bill Shorten. Is Abbott’s poll-boosting bag of tricks empty? This far out from an election and you’ve got nothing? This must be worrying for you.
The third and final reason why Abbott most definitely has not been worth it for the Liberal Party is because his incompetence in managing the economy is destroying your long-relied-on strategic mantle of claiming Liberal governments as better economic managers than Labor governments. Of course we all know this mantle isn’t based in reality. But nevertheless you’ve used it successfully to win power, along with scaring people about national security, for the past 20 years. But how can you possibly think you can keep using this ‘economic competency’ line when Abbott, and his Treasurer Hockey, are making such a mess of business confidence, consumer confidence, growth, unemployment, debt and deficit and pretty much every other economic indicator that Liberal voters apparently obsess over when deciding that they will again vote Liberal. The bottom line is, your wrecking ball, which you used so successfully to wreck Labor’s electoral fortune, has swung back and wrecked your ‘economic competence’ campaign line. What will you do without it? I suspect you’ll lose. And you may not win again until Abbott has been long-forgotten by the electorate. How long do you think that will take? 50 years? Maybe even 100?
You’re probably feeling a bit depressed now that you’ve seen my very valid reasoning as to why Abbott surely wasn’t worth it for the Liberal Party. You’re probably feeling a bit silly for being so short-sighted in your quest to get power that you’ve made such a huge #OneTermTony problem for yourselves. One term of power isn’t really enough to justify all the effort, and money, you put into getting Abbott elected. And this one term will likely ensure you won’t get another term for a very, very long time. I, however, have no sympathy for you. Like a drunk-fool with a horrible hangover, you brought this on yourself. So in the words of Darryl Kerrigan: ‘Hey. Bad luck. Ya dickhead!’
Abbott is gearing up for an election. First he wants to ensure he will be the leader who takes the Liberal National Coalition to an election, and this is by no means a done deal. And then he is convinced that he can sloganeer away the poll deficit he needs to win a second term. Or rather, his strategists are convinced they can come up with effective slogans to take Abbott to victory, and Abbott is happy to believe them.
As reported in the Guardian this week, Lynton Crosby of campaign strategist firm Crosby Textor, is confident he can use the Liberal staple of simplistic messaging around ‘economic competence’ to convince a not-very-interested-in-politics electorate to forgive everything Abbott’s wrecked with his wrecking ball, and to have permission to fire up an even bigger wrecking ball in a second term. But the question is, will the electorate fall for what basically comes down to a dirty, negative, fear campaign again? Because that’s what Crosby really means when he says Abbott needs to rely on a simple message focused on economic competence. He really means that Abbott needs to scare the electorate into thinking they’ll lose their jobs, they’ll lose their homes, they’ll be destitute and on the street if they don’t do what they’re told and vote for Abbott’s Liberals. It really is as simple as that apparently.
But are Australians going to fall for this again? Are the Turkeys really going to vote for Christmas? Will Australians again drink up ‘Great Big Tax’, ‘Axe the Tax’, ‘Stop The Boats’ and more recently ‘Jobs and Growth’ – the bogan slogans that make Abbott sound like a 2 year old whose just learned a new word and wants to wear it out on his parents?
This is where I pause from typing and I sit back and worry. It doesn’t make rational sense that Australia would be so gullible to fall hook-line-and-sinker for such an obvious, shallow, implausible slogan to scare them into making the second biggest mistake of their lives after their first mistake elected Abbott in the first place. But there is nothing rational about politics. Especially when you mix irrationality with fear, a fear that experts like Crosby and Textor are very good at whipping up. This is why the re-election of Cameron in the UK sent chills down my spine. Cameron was just as unpopular as Abbott and resided over just as big an austerity-caused-badly-managed-economy with high unemployment and barely any growth. Yet he still was given the keys to the country again to wreak more havoc on not just the UK economy, but also to hammer the UK health system, education and social welfare system. But Crosby and Textor helped the very-easily-frightened electorate to forget about all this havoc and they’ve given Cameron a mandate to make the situation even worse. Fear really does make people do stupid things.
It seems like a simple problem to solve, however, it’s not. If you were working as a campaign strategist for Labor, you would think you could just point out to voters how utterly hollow Abbott’s ‘economic competence’ slogan is, how unfounded in reality, and how dangerous it would be to let Abbott’s economic incompetence continue to hurt the economy and to destroy jobs. The statistics are easy to quote – Abbott’s unemployment rate of 6.34% is the highest in 13 years, growth is stagnant and even Abbott’s favourite stick to beat Labor with – government debt – is up $100 billion since Abbott took over the job. The ironic thing is that Australia’s debt and deficit wasn’t even a major problem when Abbott turned it into a vote-winning-slogan, and yet he’s gone on to make this debt even larger. Yet still his strategists feel confident that they can run a fear campaign based on the strongly held electoral perception that Liberal governments are better economic managers than Labor governments. Even after Labor saved the country from a recession during the GFC, a GFC the Liberals claimed never happened, which Labor says didn’t happen to Australia because of Labor’s good economic management, which the Liberals now say is the reason the Australian economy isn’t strong – because the world economy still hasn’t recovered. See how irrational politics is? Facts are irrelevant when it comes to emotional responses to fear campaigns. Labor strategists have hopefully worked this out.
But what’s the answer then? If you can’t convince the electorate that Abbott’s claims of economic competence are as baseless as all the promises he made during the election, which have now been broken, how does Labor ensure that Abbott doesn’t win a second term?
I suggest Labor should learn from Abbott’s success and forget about quoting facts. Facts are really good at convincing people they are right when they can use them to back up their own preconceived, emotional beliefs. For instance – I know Abbott’s the most incompetent and unproductive Prime Minister Australia has ever had, and this article gives me the facts to prove it. A swing voter, on the other hand, doesn’t care about such analysis. So what Labor needs to do is forget about facts and appeal to emotions. In doing so they have two options: the first is to use the dark-arts of Crosby and Textor by scaring people about the prospect of an Abbott second term. This should be relatively easy. The very thought of such a thing terrifies me and although I know I’m not your average swing voter, surely Abbott has done enough scary things in the last two years for Labor to be able to convincingly show how things could get much scarier if Abbott has another go? And surely he’s given enough hints about what he might do in a second term – such as his promise not to increase the GST this term or to make any industrial relations changes this term – to scare people off living this reality?
The second option is to rise above the negative fear campaign of what an Abbott second term would look like, and to appeal to a much more savoury emotion – hope. Labor’s ‘hope for the future’ campaign could focus on all the things Abbott is interested in wrecking that Labor wants to invest in. Jobs of the future. Technologies of the future. The educational needs for jobs of the future. A safer environment for the future. Energy needs and industries of the future. I love the idea of a ‘rise above’ campaign, but I also recognise it’s naïve to think the electorate is ready to put long term progress ahead of short term Abbott-opportunism. So really there is a third option; a little from column A and a little from column B. Simplistically it looks something like this – ‘Abbott will wreck everything, so vote Labor for a brighter future’. Sounds good doesn’t it. If only it was so simple.
The Adam Goodes booing saga has me shocked. I’m not shocked at the incident itself; as a lifelong AFL supporter I’ve seen a lot of booing in my time. I’m not shocked at the accusation of some of the booing being racist; clearly we can all acknowledge that even though many of the booers have no racist intent, some of them do and obviously all the booing of Goodes must stop. I’m not even shocked at the saturation media coverage of the story, and the fact that everyone who is anyone has weighed into the debate; social media has also been in a lather all week. This all comes as no surprise to me. The issue is rightly one that should be discussed and I welcome calls for a national focus on combatting racism and discrimination. What does however come as a huge shock to me is that the public seem shocked that racism exists in our country. Anyone who is surprised that in a crowd of around 30,000 members of the Australian public, there are a few hundred racist people, needs to take a closer look at their country. Because of course there are racists in Australia. Have you seen who our Prime Minister is?
I understand that it’s not a nice subject for many people to talk about because it doesn’t make them feel very good about Australia. But let’s take a good, long, hard look at ourselves and avoid the temptation to put our heads in the sands of denial. The election of Tony Abbott and the continued national acceptance of his strategies of using divisive, racist policies to turn Australians against minority groups is all the proof you need of a strong racist element that runs through our national veins.
Let’s not forget that racist attitudes gave birth to Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party. Sure, this party hasn’t had any recent success. But it’s easy to forget that in the 1998 election, Hanson’s party received 9% of the vote. And then of course Abbott set up a slush fund to get rid of Hanson. Because his Liberal Party needed her voters. And his Liberal Party has been courting the votes of those people who supported Hanson’s racist views about indigenous Australians and opposition to multiculturalism ever since. How has this huge population of racist Australians whose votes are so important to the Liberal Party’s electoral success escaped the attention of people so completely shocked by the Adam Goode’s booing saga? This is not some niche success either; this is Abbott’s success at becoming Prime Minister.
Fear-mongering towards racists is at the heart of Abbott’s favourite vote-winning, or poll-lifting policies. Look at Abbott’s obsession with national security, including his reaction to the Sydney siege, which was automatically framed as part of the ‘Islamic fundamentalist terrorist’ threat facing Australia, rather than a mentally-ill-lone-nutter who just so happened to be of Muslim faith. Who do you think Abbott’s appealing to when he talks about ‘Team Australia’ and says ‘whose side are you on’? When he obsesses over taking away people’s passports? Yes, it’s the part of Australia who boos Goodes for racist reasons. And what about Abbott’s asylum seeker policies that block the world’s desperate displaced people from getting to Australia, or living here if they’ve arrived previously. Does Abbott stand up for the indigenous Australians living in poverty stricken remote communities by working to improve their access to healthcare, education and social services that would help to narrow the gap? Of course he doesn’t. Instead he makes racist statements about their ‘lifestyle choice’ after withdrawing Federal support, forcing the WA government to close over 100 communities down. Where was the outrage then?
More recently, Abbott has refused to ban one of his government MP’s from speaking at, and endorsing, a Reclaim Australia rally. These rallies were attended by Australians who hate a particular religious minority so much that they are willing to march in the streets to advertise their hatred. Does the site of these rallies not shock Australia? Do people waving Swastikas in our streets not warrant a national conversation about racist elements in our society? Apparently not.
The point is, Tony Abbott isn’t some bogan at the footy booing an indigenous footballer. Tony Abbott is our Prime Minister. He was chosen by the country to represent us. He’s supposably the best leader we could find. And his entire political career is reliant on division, scare-campaigns and appeals to the racist element of Australia which people shocked by booing football fans appear to forget exists. So I’m glad that something has put racism on the agenda, even if it’s not the issue I expected to spark the debate. And now that we’re talking about racism, and we’re all determined to do something about it, can we have a look at the Prime Minister we’ve chosen and accept that if we’re going to be shocked that racism still exists in our community, we should be shocked, and ashamed, that Abbott and his government represents us.
While the Labor Party debates their asylum seeker policy at their national conference this weekend, grappling with the task of finding a tenable position, a challenge that has plagued Labor Prime Ministers for the last 20 years, I would like to ask a question: can progressive voters debate this position without bitter accusations and name calling? I hope we can.
To try to encourage civil discussions, I’ve come up with an analogy for Labor’s situation which might help us to look at what I have previously described as a ‘wicked problem’, a phrase I note Labor’s Immigration spokesperson, Richard Marles also used to defend his argument at the conference.
Imagine you are the government, and Australia is your home. Your home is large, comfortable and well-resourced with plenty of food, air conditioning, many bedrooms and a communal kitchen with a huge dining table, perfect for dinner parties. The catch is, your home is on Kangaroo Island so the only way to visit is to either take a ferry from the mainland, or fly in a small plane. Nevertheless, since you have many friends and family on the mainland, you decide you would like to host a huge dinner party where guests are welcome to stay for the weekend. Planning this dinner party and weekend getaway is, however, fraught with problems.
Unlike the actual ferry to Kangaroo Island, which is expensive to catch, the ferry in this analogy is not only expensive but also dangerous. As far as people can tell, because not all accidents are recorded, at least one in ten ferry passengers fall off the ferry in stormy weather and drown. No matter how hard the authorities work to inform passengers of these risks, the ferry owner selling the tickets has a vested interest in hiding the dangers from his customers and therefore many people pay the expensive fare without realising the game of Russian roulette they are entering into. Would they really pay all that money to come if they knew? Would they risk the lives of their families too? But you know all about these risks, having lived on Kangaroo Island your whole life, so when you invite people to come and visit, you hate the thought of endangering their lives. Some residents on the island are more blasé about the risks, saying ‘let them come by ferry if they really want to’. But you couldn’t live with yourself if you encouraged people to take the ferry ride and you waited for them at the dock and they never arrived. Luckily, there is another option; a small plane. So you make sure that all your guests are going to be advised that the ferry is not a safe option, and instead you insist on them flying to visit you.
Once you have travel plans sorted, you need to have a serious think about how many people you can accommodate for the weekend. In a perfect world, you would put an open invite out on Facebook and anyone who felt like turning up would be welcome. But you know that’s not practical; you have over 500 friends on Facebook and there’s no way you can accommodate all of them. If you told them all to turn up if they feel like it, making no effort to find out who is coming in advance, you would run out of space on a first come, best dressed basis and would have to turn everyone else away. But how do you turn people away when they’ve made all the effort to get to Kangaroo Island? You’ve already put bunk beds in three of your bedrooms to sleep as many guests as you possibly can, and you’ll seat as many as you can afford around the huge dining table even if they have to sit on stools to fit. But there is a practicable limit, so you settle on a maximum number of 30 friends and family, 6 more than you were able to welcome last year.
Most of your friends can afford the cost of a flight, which is not only safer, but also cheaper than the ferry. However, some of your family aren’t well off and, although they too would love to come and stay, can’t afford the cost of a flight. But you really want to make sure these people aren’t left out of your dinner party plans, so just for those who can’t afford it, you offer to pay for their flights. It’s worth it to make sure they come safely and aren’t disadvantaged by their financial position.
When the weekend arrives, you welcome your 30 guests with open arms. Everyone sleeps comfortably and are well fed and entertained during their stay. By the end of Sunday afternoon, a discussion has started amongst a group of your guests who have decided they love Kangaroo Island so much that they too would like to live there. There is plenty of land on the island to build new homes and the local businesses would love the extra business from the growing population. One of your guests is a primary school teacher, and the island has a shortage of teachers, so her move is extra advantageous for everyone. You’re also thrilled to know you will have more friends living on the island, because it means next year, you will be able to invite 30 friends and family from the mainland for another weekend away, or maybe even more if you build another two bedrooms on the back of your house. And everyone lives happily ever after.
Yes, this is a simplistic appraisal of some of the wicked problems faced by governments designing a workable asylum seeker policy. But I hope it’s made you think a bit harder about the reality of these issues, rather than jumping to either the ‘let them come’ or ‘don’t let them come’ black and white ends of a very grey situation. I hope Labor can find a way to design an asylum seeker policy that it is both humane and workable, and as I wrote previously, doesn’t preclude Labor from winning government. Because we all know Abbott’s home might be just as large and comfortable as Labor’s, but since he’s banned house-guests and enjoys the support of many voters encouraging him to keep the door locked forever, it’s not the Australia we, as progressives, should feel proud to call home.
On Sunday I attended the Showdown and was exposed to the most outrageously, offensive, fickle, disrespectful behaviour I have ever seen in the football watching public in my lifetime of watching football. For the uninitiated, the Showdown is the AFL rival clash between Port Adelaide and Adelaide. Basically there were three Port members sitting behind me and my family who decided part way through the match to start cheering for Adelaide. Because Port apparently weren’t playing well enough to ‘deserve’ their support. As a lifelong Port supporter, I don’t want this type of fickle, nasty supporter embarrassing my club by bagging their own team and switching sides at the first sign of scoreboard trouble. But as my mother pointed out to me, perhaps this is what I need to put up with if I accept that to be financially viable, my football club needs as many members as possible. And inevitably, since Port has done phenomenally well to reach 60,000 members this season, a fair chunk of the new members are going to be fickle in nature and will show their disloyal easy-come, easy-go, jump-on-the-band-wagon colours whenever Port is behind on the scoreboard. This is a disappointing reality. But it is a reality I have to accept. Even if it leaves me feeling a little dirty by being forced to pragmatically forsake the club-for-the-true-believers character of my Port Adelaide, to allow for crap supporters who bring financial gains to a previously struggling club; if my beloved club isn’t financially viable, it’s not much use to the true believers as it would soon cease to exist.
So what has this tale got to do with asylum seeker policy you may ask? I see this pragmatic reality as an analogy for what it is like being a member of the ALP and having to accept the political reality of the need to win government by appealing to sections of the electorate who don’t share the values of Labor’s true believers. Case in point is the announcement that Labor’s Shadow Immigration Minister, Richard Marles wants Labor to adopt Abbott’s reprehensible policy to turn back asylum seeker boats. This policy is totally not OK with me. In fact, the whole idea of Labor supporting this policy leaves me feeling disgusted and as a Labor member, dirty. I know for a fact that I’m not alone in this reaction. My ALP branch unanimously passed a motion asking the party not to take this path. I could leave this post at that and go and rant on Twitter about how much I hate the ALP because it has stooped to this low and how I will never vote for them again and will become a Green etc etc etc. But life isn’t as simple as that. Yes, I feel dirty and ashamed. But I also understand why Labor is tempted to take this path. Because no matter how much I hate this fact, it’s still a fact; if Labor’s asylum seeker policy results in a perception in the electorate of the likely return to boat arrivals at the scale that occurred under the Rudd and Gillard governments, Labor will likely not win the next election.
Yes, there are plenty of arguments to say that Labor should lead this policy debate in a positive direction rather than appeasing the bigoted voters who will never welcome asylum seekers with open arms. In a perfect world, Labor would have done a much better job of changing public opinion so that asylum seekers aren’t demonised and rejected by the majority of voters. But in reality, Labor have failed to shift the electorate’s support towards a humane asylum seeker policy, and so too have the Greens. So just like the reality of my football club not existing is much worse than putting up with disloyal supporters, there is far more at risk if Labor loses the next election than a bad asylum seeker policy. In the absence of this shift in the electorate, a pragmatic person would need to consider this risk carefully. This risk is one word. Abbott.
I could spend hours listing all the risks of a second Abbott term. All you need to do is read my blog posts from the previous few years and you will see plenty of evidence of the dangers of giving Abbott a second go with his wrecking ball. The thought of this happening fills me with a deep dread. And even if asylum seeker policy is the only policy you care about, and you vote based on this policy, disregarding the damage Abbott has done, and would further do to health, education, welfare, infrastructure, climate change, environmental policy and many others, alongside a vicious, petty culture war, you can’t ignore that an Abbott government’s asylum seeker policy will always be worse than Labor’s asylum seeker policy.
Before I’m accused of doing this, I’ll admit to doing this. I’m asking you to hold your nose at the dirtiness of Labor’s asylum seeker policy, with the knowledge that it’s nowhere near as dirty as Abbott’s. This argument by refugee advocate and Director of Welcome to Australia, Brad Chilcott, outlines where Labor’s policies could make a difference; such as increasing Australia’s intake of asylum seekers and improving the protections for asylum seekers in the Australian community. Anyone who has followed the changes Abbott’s government has made in this policy area will know that it’s an understatement to point out that there is much room for improvement. Labor can only make these improvements if they win government.
So bring on the abuse I will no doubt get in the comments section of this post, because I’ve heard it all before. I understand that some people can’t ‘support the lesser of two evils’ if Labor goes ahead with their plan to court the bigot vote by confirming that the turn back the boats policy will stand under a Labor government. But I’m desperate to get rid of Abbott. Desperately desperate. Just like I’m willing to accept that my football club’s membership won’t be made up of the old-school true believers anymore, so too am I willing to acknowledge that Labor needs to do whatever they can to get rid of Abbott. And I’m willing to feel very dirty in accepting this reality.
It’s time for the political class in Australia to admit that they’re well and truly addicted to the Labor Party. I’m not just talking about the obvious Labor-obsessives, including Labor’s own community of politicians, staffers, supporters, donors, members and affiliated unions. I’m talking about everyone else who use Labor as they’re first point of reference, as their yardstick in every and any discussion, or even every thought, that they have about politics; everyone including the Abbott government and each State’s Liberal or National Party, including those in government and in opposition. The mainstream media. The Greens. Independents. And everyone who takes any more than a cursory interest in politics, including the political wonks on Twitter. There is no discussion of politics in Australia without Labor being at the centre of it.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the example of the way the Abbott government communicates with the electorate. Every single policy announcement and comment on pretty much anything that the government does is littered with ‘Labor did this badly so we’re going to do it this way’. Or ‘Labor caused this problem and we’re now left to solve it’. We all know that Abbott has a particularly strong loathing for Labor because Gillard out-negotiated him in 2010 to win government, taking away from Abbott something he believed to be rightfully his since he was born to rule. This loathing is clearly an obsession Abbott will never recover from. We also all know the Abbott government is the most right-wing ideologically extreme government the country has ever seen. But we never get to actually hear about these extreme values from the mouths of the politicians who hold them because the only values they are willing to admit to are ‘we’re not Labor’. So rather than actually explain that they’re slashing and burning government spending on services the community, and economy, relies on because they ideologically prefer small government, instead Abbott and co just say ‘we’re fixing Labor’s mess’. It’s simplistic rubbish because in fact Labor left the country in an incredibly strong position, having managed to successfully intervene in the economy to save it from a GFC-led-recession. But the problem is, Abbott always got away with this type of rubbish because no one calls him out on it. Because everyone else is as obsessed with Labor as he is. Because Labor-bashing has become so mainstream and predictable that when Abbott bashes Labor to justify his ideological war on Australia, no one looks past bashed-Labor and actually asks who on earth this Abbott government is. That’s how we’ve got where we are now. No one looked at Abbott in opposition and no one really knows how to look at Abbott now he’s in government, because they’re still obsessed with Labor.
The mainstream media showed off their obsessiveness over the last few weeks in a flurry of over-excited commentary and analysis of the ABC’s Killing Season documentary. This documentary, which I very much doubt was watched by anyone but the politically obsessed niche audience who knew all about the history being reported anyway, provided a gift to the media. The gift of being able to talk about Rudd and Gillard again. Because oh, how they missed talking about Rudd and Gillard! Let’s remember that the Rudd and Gillard thing happened 5 years ago in 2010. It was covered in the news consistently all day every day up until Abbott won the election in 2013. There’s hardly a political journalist in Australia who can claim not to have been themselves one-eyed obsessed with the Federal Leadership of the Labor Party between 2010 and 2013. But the simple fact of the matter is that Rudd and Gillard are no longer involved in Australian politics. Yet, the media still think they’re the story. And they’re trying to pull Bill Shorten back into the story like desperate drug addicts scrounging around in the gutter for a sweet hit of Labor-bashing.
Amazingly, the mainstream media’s Labor leadership tension obsession has outlived a much more relevant story; Abbott’s leadership problems. We had Abbott’s leadership opponent Turnbull this week contradicting Abbott’s political game playing strategy of using ISIS to scare people in the most obvious, purposeful differentiation of leadership styles Turnbull could have possibly chosen. We’ve had numerous leaked memos, including the leaking of a cabinet conversation basically word for word published in the Sydney Morning Herald. Yet these blatant leadership tensions, and the leadership crisis from the start of this year which saw Abbott only keep his job by a narrow margin, pale in the media’s coverage as compared to their delight at talking about Rudd and Gillard again. The obsessive addiction to Labor-bashing is incredible to observe. Shorten’s appearance at Abbott’s witch-hunt of a Royal Commission into Trade Unions this week is just another example of how the media love to play into Abbott’s Labor-bashing hands and happily repeat phrases like ‘Shorten has questions to answer’ that have no basis in rational reality, just as the phrase had no basis when applied to the proven-yet-and-yet-again entirely innocent Julia Gillard.
It’s not just the Liberal National Party who use Labor-bashing as their political reference point, nor is it just the mainstream media. The Greens are also guilty of such an obsession. Because the only reason the Greens exist is to differentiate and they hope, one day, to replace Labor as the left-wing party of government. So everything they do, naturally, has to explain why they’re different from Labor and so, naturally, they spend much of their lives Labor-bashing in tune with the Liberal National Coalition, the media, and everyone else interested and involved in politics in Australia. Did anyone notice the Greens recently had their own leadership change, which if the media had bothered to take any interest in, would have been ripe for stories about Milne handing Di Natale the baton in an obvious back-room deal that precluded any other candidates from nominating? No, of course not, because the Greens are pure and don’t get probed like Labor do. There’s no time to probe Greens back-room deals when there’s Labor-bashing to be done! When this Greens leadership change occurred, I wrote about what it would take for the Greens to become a mainstream political party. This included the advice that Greens would have to start to develop their own policies and to stop trying to take credit for Labor policy that they have supported in the past. That’s the thing about the Greens – they only differentiate themselves from Labor when it suits their political purposes, but when Labor has done something popular the Greens try to steal the credit. Talk about unfair! Yet of course they get away with it because, well, they’re not Labor.
Once you notice the Labor obsession, it is impossible to stop noticing it. It’s become such an engrained feature of the political landscape in Australia, it’s clear if the Labor party disappeared, no one else would know what on earth they stand for and how to talk about politics without them. And you also need to notice that in all commentary about Labor, Labor can do no right. As an example, if a policy such as how to manage asylum seekers goes to Labor’s National Conference to be debated, this is framed as Labor disunity. But if such a policy was decided outside of a democratic debate, it would be framed as Labor’s faceless men making back room deals. The irony is, much commentary bemoans Labor’s apparently missing values and asks what it is that Labor stands for. But it’s just Labor-outsiders who are confused. Because Labor knows exactly what they stand for. Maybe if everyone else stopped Labor-bashing for one second, they might actually understand too.