2019-05-19

I Wish I Could Understand Australia Better

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by Neil Godfrey

I am an Australian but I think that makes it harder for me to understand Australia in some ways, especially the weekend’s depressing election results. Perhaps that’s because what I would like to see obscures my view of the reality.

Scott Morrison, a Pentecostal churchgoer who attributed his election victory to a miracle, is once again Australia’s Prime Minister — after winning an election that broke the standard rules of the game. His Liberal-National coalition was meant to be thrashed at the polls after all sorts of not very secret political power plays that saw ugly challenges and changes of party leadership prior to the election.

The good news:

Tony Abbott, ex-Prime Minister, eater of raw onions with skin, Catholic, anti-abortion, a climate change denier who becomes a climate change believer when he sees his support base waning, and back-stabber and leaker-of-dirt-on-colleagues-to-the-press-in-chief, lost his seat and is finally out of Parliament for good.

The bad news:

Peter Dutton, an alt-right type racist and all-round bigot who was the one Abbott and others in the Liberal National coalition hoped would be the new Prime Minister could not be unseated despite massive campaigns from all sorts of movements and notable persons to target him in his electorate.

Following on from the entrenched support for Dutton we have further alt-right type persons, racists, fear-mongerers, — Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer — giving their preferences votes to Scott Morrison’s party and handing him a secure and unexpected sweeping victory in north Queensland. That is despite Pauline Hansons’s party being caught out in a sting operation by Al Jazeera journalists approaching the U.S.’s National Rifle Association for donations and Clive Palmer being such an obviously dishonest jerk going all out to imitate Donald Trump’s worst attributes. (Palmer cheated workers of wages when one of his mining businesses collapsed and promised to “repay” them just on the eve of the election — surely such an obvious con no-one could possibly take him seriously.

But surely racism and fear of job losses as a result of environmental priorities is not the whole story. Those states of mind are always going to be with us.

On the other side, I find myself despairing of public “debates” and interviews. Political leaders now have the art of evading direct answers to questions down to a fine art. Scott Morrison doesn’t use the term “fake news” but he does regularly speak of the “Canberra bubble” to dismiss any serious questions. Same thing, just an Australian branding.

Yet the “serious” interviewers don’t do seriously informative interviews. They play the game of asking questions from the opposing party’s point of view. They don’t stand back and challenge the respective parties from the perspective of the broader public. Interviewing a Liberal politician they challenge them with Labor Party points; and vice versa and so on. It’s all removed from the real world.

Except for the shock-jocks — who play the anti-immigrant and fear cards.

And the shock-jocks and the mainstream interviewers are earning fortunes to do their work of trying to score political points and win audience ratings. And meanwhile both major parties are dancing and dining comfortably with big business and careful not to upset the media giants.

It’s all out of touch with reality — at least the reality of the root drivers of the forces shaping the worlds of most of us.

Democracy and political debates is primarily about media management and media images. And that gives the victory to the cleverest or luckiest and/or richest manipulator.

There’s something ugly happening here and we’re waiting for something positive to return to the play. That’s how it seems to me. I wish I could understand it more clearly.

 

 

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9 Comments

  • Ross Cameron
    2019-05-20 01:12:08 GMT+0000 - 01:12 | Permalink

    Not alone in wondering about the results. Neil. The polls tipped Labor, those infallible guides, the bookies, tipped Labor, any thinking person who recalled the long list of failed Coal-ition ventures, the mis-handling of public monies, the climate denials,the lies and smears, all counted for naught with voters. May they rue the day their brains went on hold.

  • JBeers
    2019-05-21 00:35:26 GMT+0000 - 00:35 | Permalink

    Elsewhere earlier this year I read the assertion that in nations where two political parties dominate elections the results are mainly determined by turnout–more specifically, by relative lack of turnout. Thus in the US in 2016 Clinton supposedly lost because there was a significantly greater lack of participation by voters who might be expected to vote D than those who might have been inclined to go R.

    In Australia–correct me if I am wrong–voting is mandatory. Nevertheless, this formulation could still be more or less correct. Voters generally inclined to vote for Labour but disgusted or otherwise disappointed with the candidates might have declined to participate by voting for minor party candidates or perhaps by literally spoiling their votes, and disaffected potential Liberal voters could have done the similarly. Thus the results could, in theory, represent a greater degree of lack of participation deriving from lack of enthusiasm overall from voters who might have been expected to vote for Labour, whereas perhaps there was less disaffection on the part of potential Liberal voters.

    I have been wondering whether this assertion about relative lack of support of voters as the main determinant of electoral results is correct. Unfortunately I know all too little about Australian politics. Do you think that this formulation might have explained the results? Did a lot of voters thought possibly inclined to vote Liberal really dislike “their”candidates?

    • JBeers
      2019-05-21 09:20:06 GMT+0000 - 09:20 | Permalink

      OOPS! I repeatedly exhibit the lifelong flaw of typos despite rereading 3 or 4 times!

      In the last sentence I meant “Labout” not “LIberal”!

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-05-22 02:24:37 GMT+0000 - 02:24 | Permalink

      Yes, voting is compulsory here. (For some of the pros and cons and comparison with the US not long ago I posted https://vridar.org/2019/03/09/australia-and-the-united-states-interesting-comparisons/ )

      From both listening to discussions among people who follow the ins and outs of politics more closely than I do, and comparing with my own observations, I think Labor (because of one of those curious accidents of history the political party is spelt the American way) did have a problem with its leader’s lack of popular appeal, so they concentrated in their campaign on a range of policies; the Liberal leader, Scott Morrison, was always “the preferred prime minister” between the two leaders on a personal basis, and he played that to the hilt in the campaign, presenting himself as the “daggy dad” people find themselves more-than-just-tolerating and embracing. (Some compared his campaign to a US presidential one, showing off the family and personal attributes of the leader.)

      I haven’t heard anything about the informal votes being unusually high this election, but it is clear that Labor has lost a lot of support to the “red necks” and racist types (Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer) and their preferences went to the Liberals.

      Much of the problem seems to have been related to controversy over a new coal mine many are hoping will open up soon in Queensland and fear of job losses if it doesn’t go ahead.

      In my fantasy world I would think the “best” (unrealistic) way to talk about new mines would be for obligations on the companies to finance projects that would offset the environmental damage, or at least to replace the mine idea with other environmentally friendly energy projects instead. None of this “either this or nothing at all” stuff.

      • JBeers
        2019-05-22 10:35:08 GMT+0000 - 10:35 | Permalink

        If I recall correctly from all too many decades ago, in his introductory lectures on psychoanalysis, discussing “Freudian errors”, Freud discussed how once someone makes errors one keeps making errors.

        He gave an example. Its English translation was wonderful. An Austrian newspaper referred to the “Clown Prince” instead of the “Crown Prince.” The newspaper followed up with an abject apology stating that of course they did not mean “the Clown Prince.” The apology stated that of course what they really meant to write was “the Clown Prince.”

        I did not make as amusing an error by a long shot, but I seem to have made a double-botch in correcting my typo. Instead of changing “Liberal” to “Labor” I not only did not realize that the party was spelled “Labor”, not “Labour”, but I also hit “t” not “i”. However it gives me an excuse to repeat Freud’s anecdote. I wonder how it went in German. I wonder how much I am botching this current comment.

  • Ross Cameron
    2019-05-21 05:18:38 GMT+0000 - 05:18 | Permalink

    Hi, JB, I think Labor lost because they attempted to right too many wrongs like their hero, Gough Whitlam, who also paid the penalty. Maybe folk like small changes or, as in the case of their opposition, too few and badly done at that. Climate change might hit home with a wallop.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-05-22 02:36:51 GMT+0000 - 02:36 | Permalink

      Yeh, Labor did have a dizzying array of policies but was not able to deliver them with the same “millennial hopes” that Whitlam did in 1972. I think (from what I hear) that Whitlam’s failure had more to do with a failure to step forward in synch with what the economy would allow and the betrayal of the unions who took advantage of his victory to go all out with disruptive strike activity. I can’t argue with Whitlam’s pulling Australian conscripts out of Vietnam, universal health insurance, free university education, increases to war and related pensions . . . . I did hear one commentator say that voters tended to be suspicious or fearful of hearing too many different policies being offered from a party that was not tested in government and so shied away from Labor for that reason, preferring the devil they know.

      (Just an aside: People speak of Hawke as a great reformer, but I keep finding myself wondering about his “consensus” method, bringing big business and trade union leaders to the same table to work together. Isn’t that what the Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) platform was about in the 1930s? From there it didn’t seem to take much for Howard to oversee the demise of trade unions as a political force entirely.)

  • James Branscome
    2019-05-21 07:14:51 GMT+0000 - 07:14 | Permalink

    Neil, we’ve spoken before about Jacque Ellul’s analysis of modernity, particularly on his ideas on propaganda. Here’s the blurb from his book, “The Political Illusion,” which, I suggest, has some insights for the political conditions in both your country and the US:

    “What is politization? . . . (It is that) all problems have, in our time, become political” -J. Ellul, from the Introduction Jacques Ellul, the author of The Technological Society and Propaganda, here examines modern man’s passion for politics, the roles he plays in them, and his place in the modern state. He holds that everything having now been “politized” anything not directly political fails to arouse widespread interest among contemporary men-and in fact might be said not to exist. He shows that political activity is now a kaleidoscope of interlocking illusions, among which the most basic and damaging are those of popular participation in government, popular control of elected and other officials, and popular solution of public problems. This domination by the political illusion, Ellul demonstrates, explains why men now turn to the state for the solution of all problems-most of them problems that the state could not solve if it tried. This close-reasoned, brilliant diagnosis and prognosis is, like Jacques Ellul’s earlier books, an alarming analysis of present-day life.”

    I had a couple of radical Christian friends, members of the Committee of Southern Churchmen here, who ministered to other ministers defrocked for promoting racial harmony, who insisted that the best insight into modern politics is to think about “politics as Baal.” It’s all just some messed up messianism that appeals to baser electorate instincts.

    And it all reminds me of, I think, a comment by Wm. Faulkner, that the religion freaks in the US South emigrated here “not to escape tyranny, but to erect one in their own image and likeness.”

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-05-21 09:11:41 GMT+0000 - 09:11 | Permalink

      In the interests of full disclosure let me say that I have read both Ellul’s Propaganda and The Technological Society and I continue to refer to them from time time. One of those titles was part of my formal reading list (and part-target of an assignment) in a post-grad course. So I think we’re on the same page. I liked Ellul’s insights.

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