We don’t yet know what caused the online census to crash. Either the site was attacked by hackers, or it couldn’t cope with the level of real traffic from people trying to fill in the survey. Either way, it’s a massive government failure. I’m not just talking about failure of security, planning, management and communication; though obviously it was all of these things. No, I’m talking about the beast of an elephant slobbering and wheezing in the corner of the room, which the media have done a great job of ignoring, but has crashed its way onto centre-stage regardless, in the most public and embarrassing way possible. By shitting on the floor.
The census fail is the public face of the consequence of slash-and-burn-small-government-cutting-spending-for-the-sake-of-cutting-spending-worldview which has been imposed on the public by the Abbott and Turnbull government and every Liberal government throughout history because, well that’s just how they roll. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, one of the victims of this mess, had a $68 million dollar cut in Abbott’s 2014 wrecking-ball budget. The same year, the census site was outsourced to IBM for $9.6 million dollars. I am not a tech-expert but I know enough about the internet to know that it costs money to keep sites secure, and it costs money to host a site on a server large enough to accommodate millions of users at once. If there’s not enough money, say if you’ve had a huge cut in the budget, you trim where you can. $68 million is a lot more trimming than a couple of redundancies and no biscuits in the tearoom. So when tech-experts scratch their heads and ask why on earth the census site could only cope with 1 million users an hour, when it needed to cope with 3 million during the peak evening hours, they should be drawing a straight line from the census fail straight to the small government ideology of the Abbott / Turnbull government.
The census fail has reminded us, not that we didn’t know already, that the budget is not just a spreadsheet of numbers, with cuts here, cuts there, cuts everywhere, which don’t impact on the reality of life in Australia. We’re not living in a virtual government spending world here. We live with the consequences of the Liberal cuts every day. Sure, we might consider ourselves a first world country with a high standard of living, as a country who is smart and has our shit together. But our government couldn’t even survey us without causing a huge debacle. The reason for this is because they cut-corners on the project. They treat the jobs of public servants – the servants to the people – like they don’t count. Like they’re dispensable. Multiply the census fail across every sector hurt by Liberal budget cuts, whether Federal or State governments, and you have the same problems occurring in education, health, public transport, the arts, infrastructure, social services, aged care, child protection, environmental protection, the list goes on and on. These cuts aren’t just abstract concepts. They impact on us. They impact on the quality of our lives. On the number of jobs in our economy. On our standard of living.
Just because we don’t all get to see the massive failures of government as publically as we saw the census fail last night, doesn’t mean there’s not a huge amount of pain out there. But it’s not just the pain we have to worry about. It’s the lost opportunities. An ineffectual, underfunded, badly run ideologically-skewed government is bad for all of us. Bad for our health. Bad for our education and skills. Bad for our economy. Bad for our wealth. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this article about the wealth of blue Democrat run states in America versus red Republican run states. The authors describe how red states, who ‘cut and extract’, are poorer overall than blue states, who invest in education, health, infrastructure etc. Even though blue states pay higher levels of tax to maintain this investment, low and behold, the investment pays off because the people in blue states are healthier (they live longer), they are better educated and they are wealthier.
So next time you hear Turnbull, or a journalist for that matter, explaining how sensible and wise they are for cutting government spending, to fulfil their goal of getting-government-out-of-the-way of their profit-making-mates, remember you’re the one hurt by the cuts. Your country is poorer because of Liberal cuts. You are poorer because of Liberal cuts. The census fail is a public humiliation for the Turnbull government. But it’s not just a technology fail. It’s a failure of ideology. Full stop.
The left is never going to stop the rise of President Trump, the worst imaginable outcome, without acknowledging reality: the US election is not a debate over ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. No amount of emotional appeals to do what is ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘fair’ or ‘smart’ is going to convince Trump’s growing legion of supporters that they’re making a horrible mistake voting for this lunatic. We grow up thinking that when we’re arguing with someone, all we have to do is bring them around to our way of thinking and then they’ll agree with us, and we’ll all move on happy that the issue has been solved. But this is not the reality of Clinton versus Trump. The reality is a battle between the new American social order of inclusion, multiculturalism, tolerance, a black man as President, a woman as President, a society where there is no longer a pecking order of privilege where white men rule, versus Trump’s promise to take America back to the old order, to ‘make America great again’, code for ‘put American white men on top again’. There is no argument that will stop these people fighting for this hand-break turn, because, to put it bluntly, they have primal urge they don’t even consciously realise they are craving. But, like a dog chasing a rabbit, these voters are going after their prey with a determination which clouds any resemblance of rationality. Like zombies, the movement is contagious in its urgency and zeal.
George Lakoff explains the cognitive causes of this phenomenon in his description of the two types of thinking, which inform two world views; left wing nurturing views, which Lakoff calls the ‘mothering’ side of ourselves and the right wing authoritarian ideology, which Lakoff calls the ‘strict-father’ side. Lakoff’s explanation might sound simplistic, but he does acknowledge that all of us have the ability to think using both perspectives, it’s just that all people sit somewhere left or right on the continuum, where one type of thinking dominates our thoughts. Lakoff says Trump’s success has come from a connection he has made with the authoritarian side of American thinking, which wants to reinstate the social order, where strict-father is again head of the family. It’s important to note that this viewpoint can belong to both men and women who prefer to see men as the ultimate authority. And here is the crux of Trump’s success: he represents the perfect strict-father because he promises to put white men back at the head of the American family, back where they feel they belong, back where they are again ‘winning’ and in control of ‘their family’, or in other words, ‘their country’.
Progressives automatically celebrate milestones in America’s history such as the success of the civil rights movement, greater tolerance and celebration of gay rights, multiculturalism, increasing participation of women in the workforce and in positions of authority, the election of a black President, and now, the nomination of a female potential-President, as proof of the country’s fortunes. But, the left won’t win this election until they realise that for a huge number of Americans with authoritarian world views, many who feel disenfranchised and resentful due to growing wealth inequality, all these social changes represent an uncomfortable undermining of their perception of their own control over their country.
It’s no coincidence that Trump’s political career grew from his ‘birther’ movement campaign, framing Obama as an ‘illegitimate President’. Julia Gillard faced the same accusations of illegitimacy as Australia’s first female Prime Minister, culminating in misogynistic and sexist abuse by men who could not abide such a shift in the social fabric of their lives, where men were no longer in control. Trump’s constant catch-cry of ‘lock up crooked lying Hillary’ is a metaphorical promise to ‘put that damn woman back in her place!’
Lakoff says the authoritarian viewpoint places the social order in a neat hierarchy of privilege with white men at the top, followed by white women, then black Americans and Latinos, gay people and other cultural, religious and social minorities such as Muslims, cascading down the rungs of power. When authoritarian white men see these groups as gaining more rights, and therefore, in their perspective, undoing the natural social order, it is akin to their delinquent children running the family, and they will do anything to take back control. So we see this play out Trump’s promise to ban Muslim immigration and to make Mexicans build a wall. We see it in literally tens of millions of Americans accepting Trump’s outlandish, nasty, cruel, racist, sexist, defamatory, hypocritical, contradicting and scarily unstable statements, like water off a duck’s back.
It is too simple to just say ‘why are all these Trump supporters so stupid’, or ‘how can they all be so nasty’, or ‘so easily fooled?’ The truth is, it actually doesn’t really matter who Trump is or what he says, or how he says it; all he has to is promise to put white men back on top of the pecking order, and they will fight tooth and nail for him to bring about this outcome. Rational facts, emotive appeals to reason, hope and dignity, are irrelevant.
The left need to realise there isn’t an argument going on where Trump supporters will suddenly feel enlightened by the persuasiveness of a different viewpoint. Until the left understand that Trump supporters want a very different world than the one the Democrats represent, they will never convince them. I don’t have the answers, but it’s clear that the Democrats must start looking at the world through the authoritarian viewpoint in order to understand the end goal of a huge proportion of American voters. This is not to say they should pander to hatred, encourage division, or go down to Trump’s level. But you can’t persuade someone until you understand them, and you’re not going to change someone’s mind until you know what that mind is. The Democrats needs to find a way to frame their policies which works for everyone. The left needs to find a way to show why inclusion is good for everyone, no matter their worldview. And the left needs to get to work, because the problem is getting worse, and the election is only three months away.
After watching Steve Price block Van Badham’s attempts to speak about the cultural problem of disrespect to women, in what could have been a training video to teach people exactly what disrespect to women looks like, I was angry. It wasn’t just that Steve was being rude and aggressive, interrupting Van while it was her turn to speak. It wasn’t just that he used the oh-so-typical-sexist description of Van as ‘hysterical’, attempting to put her back in her place, to tell the silly woman to shut up. I am used to seeing privileged-middle-aged-white-men treating women like this, including me, all the time. No, the thing that made me most angry is that this behaviour is Steve’s bread-and-butter. This is what he gets paid to do. He is a shock jock. The ruder he is, the more controversial, the more unpleasant, belittling and unapologetic he is, the more he succeeds in his career. That made me angry, not just at Steve, but at our whole society, which not only normalises Steve’s behaviour, but incentivises him to keep it up.
If we lived in a fair and respectful society, the Steves of the world wouldn’t be paid to be nasty and rude. When we bring up our children to have good manners, to treat girls and boys as equals, to show other people, even those we disagree with, respect, and then they grow up to see the Steves of the world being paid huge sums of money to be the opposite of all these things, what standards are we setting as acceptable in our society? What behaviour are we ‘normalising’ for the media audience? What are we telling everyone watching that it’s ok to do to others?
The more shocking Steve is, the more likely he is to move up the shock-jock career ladder. The more controversial, the more likely he is to get a regular seat on TV shows like The Project and ABC’s Q and A. These shows, and other similar programs, such as ABC’s The Drum and Insiders, justify having Steves on their shows in the pursuit of balance. Steve represents the ‘right wing’ perspective. It’s not clear who is balancing out the ‘left wing’ perspective; is anyone who doesn’t yell at others and generally be insolent, grumpy and disparaging about everyone else automatically count as left wing? As I saw pointed out on Twitter recently, to really balance out the Steves, or the right-wing representatives from shady-paid-to-think-tank-organisations such as the IPA, you would need a representative from the Socialist Alliance or even the Communist Party to balance out the extreme views espoused by these so-called commentators. How often do the media have a communist on a panel, or even a self-proclaimed socialist? Very rarely as far as I can tell, and when they do have one (Van identifies as a socialist), they get hectored to the point of silence by the Steves of the world and the producers think this is fantastic entertainment. Is this balance? Is this fair?
Even if you accept this shallow procedural formulaic tick-the-box token-rude-right-winger on every panel, what do the Steves of the world show us about the way ‘right wing’ representatives are allowed to behave? I often hear the argument that the Pauline Hansons, Steve Prices, Andrew Bolts, Alan Jones, Tim Wilsons, Piers Akermans, Cory Bernardis, Miranda Devines, Paul Murrays, Gerard Hendersons and all the other myriad representatives of ‘the right’ should be given a platform to share their nasty perspectives of the world so that more reasonable people can pull them up on their views, and we can have mature conversations about what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in our society. But Steve Price’s attack on Van Badham, which shut down her ability to express her very valid argument, is a perfect example of why, in practice, these right wingers always get away with doing nothing other than offending people, denigrating, refusing to be polite, refusing to back down when they’re quite obviously wrong, interrupting, never listening and generally personifying troll-like behaviour at every opportunity. And what do they get for this behaviour? Another seat on another television show or another column in a newspaper, or a highly lucrative job on a television or talk-back radio show. And what does society learn? That this behaviour is acceptable and the representatives of the ‘right’ can behave however they want because, you know, that’s just how they are. Really?
I’m personally sick of it. I’m sick of media organisations favouring this rudeness over rational, the bullying over fair, the shouting and nastiness over considered and eloquent. The media have fed the normalisation of behaviour which has led our society to assume that to be ‘right wing’ means you automatically get away with being a horrible person, but to be ‘left wing’ means you automatically have to put up with people being horrible to you, and this is just the way the world works. The more horrible you are as a right-winger, the more valued you are in the media. The more colourful, the more lucrative. It’s blatantly ridiculous.
This situation is never going to change until we have some standard of what is considered acceptable behaviour and there are negative consequences, rather than incentives, for behaving this way. I enjoyed watching The Project hosts Carrie Bickmore and Waleed Aly criticising Steve Price’s attack on Van Badham. In this interview, Steve admitted he didn’t care if the word ‘hysterical’ is deeply-sexist; he is going to keep using it anyway because, like a four year old, or Donald Trump, ‘he tells it like it is’. But the result of this interview is nothing unless it finished with one of the hosts saying ‘do you know what Steve? We’re not going to give you a platform to be rude to people anymore. We’re better than this and we don’t think it is good television to let you offend people from a privileged position on a national prime-time television show. We won’t have you on our panel anymore’. Only when this starts happening will the Steves get the message about the standards of acceptable behaviour in our society. It’s all very well for there to be public backlash, and for advertisers to withdraw sponsorship due to controversy, which I applaud. But Alan Jones still has his job. Sam Newman still has his job. Cory Bernardi still gets a spot on the Liberal senate ticket. What on earth will it take for these people to be told enough is enough? You can have a debate, sure. But there is absolutely no excuse for rudeness, put-downs, discrimination, sexism, personal-mockery and bullying. We don’t want our children behaving like this; it’s time we stopped accepting and promoting public figures who won’t live up to this standard
It is hard to understand why the media are surprised at another undecided election result where we are once again headed towards minority government, since the polls predicted this knife-edge outcome for the last eight weeks. Either way, the media’s prevailing election campaign narrative, which congratulated Turnbull’s clever, safe, detail-light strategy has come crashing down since Saturday, replaced with an analysis of what went wrong for the Liberal National government.
One of the more thoughtful post-election narratives is exemplified by Ian Verrender who says wealth inequality has caused mass-disenchantment with ‘the establishment’. Verrender writes:
A revolution is sweeping across the developed world, as an increasingly disillusioned lower and middle class find themselves threatened and disenfranchised by the economic forces unleashed by the rise of technology and an increasingly global economy.
This analysis is correct; there is no doubt people earning lower and middle-incomes are slowly awakening to the raw deal they are getting from neoliberal economic policies which hurt them whilst making a shrinking elite-class richer and richer.
Such a revolution is used to explain the shock Brexit result in the UK, and the popularity of supposably anti-establishment candidates such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US. Here, Verrender argues, it has caused an increasing number of voters to abandon the two-party system in favour of minor parties and new-or-re-released ‘others’ such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Xenophon’s NXT.
But while commentators like Verrender have identified the problem (wealth inequality), they still seem blind to the solution. This ‘inequality causing a pox-on-both-the-major-parties’ narrative is missing the elephant in the room. So, while journalists don’t understand, nor report the solution, their audience remains uninformed, and low and behold, the problem goes unsolved. Have the media forgotten that it’s not just their role to report what happened in the election, but to give voters the information they need to make the best decision before they go to vote?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but not once did I hear, see or read a mainstream journalist during the election explain that wealth inequality would not be solved, or even lessened by voting for an anti-establishment candidate. Nick Xenophon might be very good at attracting media attention through stunts and a hollow promise to ‘do politics differently’, and Pauline Hanson might be adept at attracting racists, but how far did any journalist get in unpicking soundbites to explain how a vote for these diverse ‘other’ candidates does nothing to improve a voter’s inequality of wealth?
For those who were looking, who weren’t distracted by the anti-establishment-rejection-of-major-parties symptom of wealth inequality, there was actually an election campaign going on over this very issue. In fact, the entire election campaign was a battle between Turnbull, representing the neo-liberal trickle-down narrative, where tax-cuts-for-capitalists are responsible for ‘jobs and growth’, versus Shorten, representing the inclusive growth narrative where the consumer-power of lower and middle-income families is the generator of jobs and growth. This consumer power arises from a more equal distribution of wealth, benefiting all. Labor’s narrative goes beyond the old ‘safety net’ concept of welfare for those left behind by a globalised economy, replacing it with an understanding that prosperity is driven by inclusion; by not leaving anyone behind.
If you want to simplify this conflict further, which no doubt journalists would prefer we do, we saw a merchant banker versus a union leader fighting it out over the best way to manage the economy. Don’t believe me? Do you remember when Turnbull said this during an ABC 730 interview with Leigh Sales?
Well everybody knows that their prosperity depends on the prosperity of their employer…they want to know that their business is doing well, that the company they’re working for is investing, is growing, is able to retain more of its earnings and put more of it back into the business. You see everything we’re doing is going to encourage more investment.
This is an example of the completely-de-bunked trickle-down narrative which assumes that any policy benefiting an employer will benefit employees.
In contrast, did you notice how Shorten, numerous times, in fact, every day of the election, said something like this statement he made on the day of the Brexit, when journalists repeatedly said share market volatility would help the Liberal campaign:
The argument about not changing the government goes down to the economic fundamentals and the economic plan… our decisions to invest in people through a good education system, a world-class education system, and a world-class health system … to invest in public transport, in infrastructure for roads, in tourism infrastructure, in the NBN, is the right way to go…It is all about building sustainable growth, and at the heart of sustainable growth is inclusive growth. When working class and middle class families… feel disengaged from the political process, then you see the sort of results you see in the United Kingdom.
Shorten’s entire policy platform and election campaign were, in fact, encapsulated in the inclusive growth narrative I wrote about before the election. I heard this storyline repeatedly in Labor candidate statements, and just as importantly, in Labor’s policy platform: funding for education, health, infrastructure, protection of wages such as penalty rates, reforms to negative gearing to reduce inequality in the housing market. These policies are the nitty-gritty real-world outcomes which help to reduce growing inequality, which in turn helps grow the economy and creates jobs for everyone’s benefit. How many voters were told by the media about this solution to growing wealth inequality and were told Labor is offering policies benefiting everyone’s collective prosperity?
While the media focused on soundbites, gotcha moments and gaffes, and reported the ‘jobs and growth’ slogan as if it were a plan, and while they gave endless publicity to the side-show-no-policy-detail-required to anyone running against the major parties, they missed the real ideological battle playing out right in front of them throughout the entire campaign.
The most interesting element of the election result, however, is that I don’t think the electorate made the same mistake the media did. Voters know personally how important education, access to healthcare, a fast NBN, public transport, environmental protection and renewable energy, penalty rates and childcare funding is to their everyday cost of living, and their ability to compete in an economy stacked in favour of the rich. That is why, even with a low primary vote, Labor has still managed, through voter preferences, to put themselves in a winning position.
Therefore, the real story this election is the backlash against the Liberal National’s neoliberal trickle-down agenda, which, even when propped up and maintained by the mainstream media, isn’t attractive to voters anymore because they can see the damage these policies cause to the economy and social fabric of their communities.
Even if the Liberal Nationals manage to form a minority government, with a wafer thin majority and possibly 20 crossbench senators to work with, every neoliberal policy brought to parliament will have to be sold, negotiated and justified to MPs and senators elected by voters who are concerned about growing wealth inequality. So voters have, in a way, got what they voted for; a government who will be forced to take their needs into account. What could be more exciting than that?
I look forward to the media catching up with the electorate to recognise that the major parties are offering two different world-views, and reporting their policies as such. I look forward to the media realising a hung-parliament and a diverse senate is a good outcome for Australians, rather than framing this situation as chaos and unworkable. An uninformed electorate has put Labor’s anti-wealth-inequality policies within striking distance of government. Imagine what an informed electorate is capable of.
One of the most interesting post-election whinges we’ve seen from the Liberals is Perth MP, Andrew Hastie’s confession that he found it hard to stay on message with Turnbull’s ‘jobs and growth’ campaign, so ended up, in his words, basically running his own show. He explains that he realised he couldn’t keep up the party-line when he found himself struggling to explain to a constituent how the Liberal’s plans would benefit the man’s children. I heard Liberal Rowan Ramsey, whose electorate of Grey in Adelaide’s far-northern manufacturing and farming belt, say something similar on ABC radio this morning, explaining that the ‘innovative’ and ‘agile’ lines parroted by Turnbull had little connection with the voters he was trying to persuade to support him rather than Xenophon’s NXT candidate – who may still win his seat.
What struck me is that these Liberal candidates are using this criticism as a suggestion that Turnbull’s campaign wasn’t effective for their electorates, when actually, what they are saying is that the Liberal policy platform, indeed, the Liberal’s entire ideological worldview, is really hard to sell to voters. There’s a reason for that. And can I suggest to Hastie and Ramsey and any other Liberal candidate who felt the $50 billion tax-cut to big business was a difficult ‘sell’, and cutting education and healthcare funding was a difficult ‘sell’, perhaps should think about changing political parties before they go ‘off message’, which is basically akin to false advertising.
This hard-sell is the reason Turnbull’s campaign was a lot of flaff, colour and cheese, but very light on actual policy detail, or strong arguments in favour of a policy platform. Deep down, the Liberals know that there is no argument that can convince people that trickle-down economics is an effective wealth generator for ordinary Australians, that is, the 99% of Australians who aren’t super wealthy. There’s no simple catch-phrase or slogan that can hide the fact that a corporate tax cut makes the rich richer, and sends a lot of profit off-shore, with barely any discernible impact on GDP growth. The vast majority of Australian journalists would no doubt blame Turnbull’s ‘messaging’, or ‘campaigning’ on this disconnect between what voters want, and what Turnbull is offering. But the truth is, no matter how well advertised a can of soft drink is, no matter how much money is spent on savvy strategists, opinion polling and glitzy campaign launches, or how many journalists campaign for this world-view, if people taste the drink and it tastes like cat-piss, they’re not going to buy it. Or, more importantly, they’re not going to buy it a second time.
A man like Turnbull, who lives in a harbourside mansion worth god-knows-how-many-tens-of-millions, who made his money in unproductive merchant banking, who uses Panama tax-havens to ensure his own astronomical wealth continues to grow at a pace grossly outstripping low, average and middle income wealth growth, will, I suggest, find it difficult to come up with a really convincing reason why an ordinary Australian should support a trickle-down economic agenda, which has, for the last 20 years at least, failed to have a positive impact on their livelihood. Turnbull is out-of-touch with electoral tastes because he is out-of-touch with the real needs and wants of the electorate.
Let’s get something straight. This is not class war. This is class awakening. Ordinary Australians, even Liberal candidates, are realising that leaders like Turnbull and his Liberal colleagues, don’t have the best interests of ordinary Australians at heart when they stake their political careers on policies that hurt ordinary Australians. It was bound to happen eventually.
So what can Hastie and Ramsay and any other Liberal candidate do who finds it difficult to sell the Liberal’s cuts to education, to healthcare, a slow NBN, cuts to arts funding, a $50 billion gift to mostly-offshore-multinationals, a pathetic-wasteful-not-effective Direct Action climate policy, lower-wages-through-threats-to-penalty-rates, a freezing of the childcare rebate and any other number of policies which have the net-result of increasing wealth inequality at the expense of the wealth of the 1%? The answer is not in messaging, or in finding a more authentic ‘real tradie’, or changing leaders to see if someone else can sell the snake-oil to the ordinary folk more effectively. The answer is having a good long hard look at a world-view which doesn’t serve the interests of the Australian electorate, who have the democratic hiring and firing power to choose who runs the country. If the electorate doesn’t like what you’ve got to offer, maybe it’s time to change that offering. If Liberal candidates want to campaign on a platform that’s easier to ‘sell’ to voters, such as offering better education, better healthcare, infrastructure and an array of social and economic policies which reduce wealth inequality and low-and-behold, create the growth and jobs which the Liberal’s trickle-down policies do not, maybe they should campaign for the Labor Party.
Yes, this is a simplistic metaphor, but you get my point. The electorate’s, and coincidentally media’s growing love for any candidate who doesn’t come from a major party is akin to children picking their cool Aunty Heather over their parents in a contest of who is the better caregiver. Sure, the whole idea of picking one parent over the other is unrealistic, but an election is basically a contest between who is going to care best for the country; a Labor government or a Liberal government, and in this election, it appears, in South Australia, at least 1 in 4 voters chose neither.
My favourite cognitive linguist, George Lakoff, who studies political metaphors, is responsible for the idea that left wing governments represent mothers – based on nurturing values, whereas right wing governments represent fathers – based on authoritarian values. Using this metaphor, I am heartily sick of hearing people say ‘a pox on both their houses’, ‘I don’t like either party’, ‘the establishment is broken’, ‘our cool aunty or fun-loving uncle Xenophon / Greens / Hanson / Lambie etc will look after us better than our boring old parents’!
The thing is, as fun as it is to spend a few hours a week with cool aunty or fun-loving uncle, they’re not your parents. They don’t have to pay the mortgage, organise your school lunch box or follow-through on promises to buy you a pony, which then has to be looked after for its entire life. They can buy you an ice-cream once every three years and apparently that’s all it takes to make some voters happy. The messiness of actually having to parent, to form government, to take legislation to parliament, to develop policies in the national interest, to balance a budget, to deal with the constant media narrative of ‘major-parties just aren’t credible’ is a completely different kettle of fish than appearing on the TV for the odd sound-bite and never actually having to give away anything about ideals or vision of policy positions BEFORE THE ELECTION. The media helps facilitate such Teflon-campaigning.
Before I get jumped on as being unfair, I am happy to acknowledge that Australia’s cool aunties and fun-loving uncles have been good to us over the last three years. The cross benchers in both the lower and upper houses, including Greens, McGowan, Wilkie, Lazarus, Xenophon, Lambie etc, did manage to pretty much scuttle the Abbott and Turnbull budgets three years in a row, protecting us from the worst of their neoliberal agenda. I have a great love for Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott who helped Gillard’s productive minority government achieve many great policy outcomes. But the thing is, if that’s these people’s roll – if they’re here to mediate the odd policy, to block the very worst, to negotiate some pork-barrelling for causes they care about – that doesn’t make them pure and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re undeserving of scrutiny during the campaign. In fact, it could be argued, it’s even more important to know where they stand if they have the power to determine what happens in parliament. It also doesn’t mean the majors, who are doing the hard-yard policy work of government or opposition – are somehow automatically ‘not-credible’, just because this work is harder, messier and therefore easier to criticise. The work of a parent is different from the work of an aunty or uncle. I think it’s time the media stops the childish, simplistic narrative of ‘majors bad, minors/indies good’, to better educate the electorate exactly what they’re voting for, no matter who they are.
The absolutely worst thing that can happen to the reputation of cool aunties and fun-loving uncles (or in some cases, racist aunties and the gun-loving uncles) is that they’re given the responsibilities of a parent. For example, if Xenophon’s lower-house MP, Rebekha Sharkie, is responsible for making-or-breaking key policy outcomes, such as protections to Medicare, climate change policy, school funding, corporate tax cuts, penalty-rates, trade deals, the continuation of paid-parental leave, industry-protection, funding to childcare rebates and any manner of real world situations which actually impact on the every-day lives of the Australian people, no amount of stunt-making and Teflon coverage by the media is going to protect NXT from the scrutiny they should have had before the election.
I met many Xenophon voters and volunteers throughout the course of the campaign in South Australia and without fail, the majority of them justified their support of Xenophon with a statement such as ‘he’s keeping the bastards honest’, ‘the majors are corrupt’ and so on and so forth. But when you dig a little deeper, there is very little policy behind this supporter base, very little detail about what exactly the Xenophon candidates stand for, and no unity in their positions. Most of them have little to no idea how Xenophon himself voted in the previous two terms because, frankly, they don’t seem to care.
Taking a position is dangerous. Aunties don’t have to force their nieces to brush their teeth. Remember what happened to the Democrats when they sided with the Liberals to bring in a GST? What sort of backlash could Xenophon expect by being a policy king-maker, when his reputation is for ‘doing politics differently’, which in his case, mostly means ‘flying under the radar of scrutiny and getting away with doing whatever he feels like at that moment’. We already know his voters are disillusioned with the traditional business of politics because that’s why they voted for his party. What happens when that disillusionment is directed at the real-world decisions his party will now be forced to take a position on? What happens when voters realise Pauline Hanson isn’t going to be able to arrange a racist-Royal-Commission into Islam or that her climate-change-denial doesn’t stop Australia taking action against climate change? It’s all fun and games until aunty and uncle have to disappoint the kids.
The next three years are going to be fascinating to watch. There has never been a more exciting time to be scrutinising independents and minor parties! As I’ve said many times since Saturday afternoon: PASS THE POPCORN.
What did we learn Malcolm? We learned that the policies from Abbott’s 2014 budget have been comprehensively rejected by Australia. You chose to tinker round the edges by putting lipstick on the pig, but you didn’t actually change anything. Continuity of Abbott’s policies with a change of leader. Australians aren’t stupid. Voters saw through your say-nothing, waffle-spin, no-plan, tax-cut-for-rich-mates, vision-devoid flaff. Voters felt disappointed in your spineless-lack-of-leadership, letting the extreme-far-right-dinosaurs run your government rather than standing up for positions you used to hold. We learned that your ambition to be Prime Minister drove you to the top job, but once there, you shrunk into slogans, fear campaigns and Abbott-like-pettiness-and-dysfunction; that you’re just not as smart as you think you are. From the looks of things, you and your colleagues are desperate not to learn these lessons, and will blame everyone and everything rather than yourselves for the position you are in now. We’ve learned you are incapable of self-reflection. We’ve learned you don’t have the capacity for leadership which Australia craves. You might be a good merchant banker so maybe it’s time to go back to that. We learned to Australians are tired of hopeless and voted for hope instead.
What did we learn Bill? We learned Labor in opposition can unite. We saw how this unity lifted you and grew your confidence and mobilised your supporters. We saw how hard you and your colleagues worked every minute of the eight week election campaign. We learned that Labor can reform from opposition; you put sustainable investment in health and education front and centre of the national agenda and shattered the Liberal’s trickle-down-tax-cuts-create-jobs narrative in a campaign Clinton’s team will no doubt have paid close attention to. You were told over and over and over again that Labor will never win enough seats to get close to the Turnbull government and this seemed to spur you on. The bottomless-pit-of-Liberal-campaign-funding was no match for a united Labor with a positive story to tell. You’ve taken this election right up to the Turnbull government, you’ve blown their majority out of the water and are still in with a chance of victory. We’ve learned you will be a great Labor Prime Minister. Against all the odds, this is a Labor result for the true believers.
What did we learn Rupert? We learned that the media, all of you, chattering on about what might happen in the election for eight weeks and ignoring the policies which actually mean something to voters is the quickest way to make yourselves completely irrelevant. We learned that when you said Brexit would play into the hands of Turnbull and give him an easy victory, you were completely wrong and clearly unqualified to offer comment. We learned how out-of-touch you are with reality when you forgot to even notice the death of the neoliberal ideological argument about six months ago, or if you did notice it you were incapable of reporting it as fact. We learned your so-called-journalists would prefer to interview other so-called-journalists and ex-political-staffers than speak to policy experts or, heavens forbid, voters out on the streets to find out what is really going on outside of your ivory-tower-bubble-of-irrelevancy. We learned that your fun-and-games-search-for-gotcha-moments and dedication to debt-and-deficit scare campaigns means nothing to your audience and has got so boring people are clearly turned off. We learned your hatred and fear of independent and social media has pushed you further and quicker into irrelevancy, when you get a handful of shares from a shrinking pool of readers, and innovators like this guy get a million views in a handful of hours. We’ve learned that your influence and power is running down the sinkhole and you don’t have a plug.
We have learned a lot in the last couple of months. There is no result yet, but we’ve already learned Malcolm and Rupert are losers and Bill a clear winner. And as it turns out, we’re also learned Malcolm was right about just one thing. There really has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian.