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A restless muddled class

With one word – zeitgeist — Germans manage to describe two complex metaphysical concepts:- time and spirit.

Zeitgeist as adopted by the Anglophone world means the spirit of the age and defines seminal points in history.

I detected a shift in the zeitgeist over these last few weeks and I suspect the middle class to which I belong noticed the flux as well.

But the majority, who aspire to a middle class life, seem more muddled than middle. The outcome of the last federal election underscores the point.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating focused on Australia’s middle class during an interview on the ABC’s 7.30 Report. Among topics raised by Laura Tingle, Keating outlined the ALP’s woeful failure to communicate with the middle class, a corps largely created by him and Bob Hawke.

As Keating’s band of baby boomer brothers and sisters retire from the work force at an unprecedented rate, they take with them swags of money unimagined by their parents.

Baby boomer wealth, enterprise and business acumen, underwrite the success of the Australian economy, and the stellar performance of the ASX – Australian Stock Exchange.

And so to the second shift in the zeitgeist; the extraordinary attack on China by Andrew Hastie, Federal MP for Canning.

So powerful is Hastie within conservative ranks, Prime Minister Morrison laughed off his comments as the observations of a mere back bencher. If this is so, perhaps the PM might check whom Hastie voted for in the recent Liberal Party nastiness.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham’s appeal for reticence by his colleagues on ABC TV Insiders on August 11 2019, is too little, too late.

A recent essay published in The AIM Network by Dr Binoy Kampmark, illuminates the vacuity of Hastie’s intemperate remarks.

Hastie’s comments underscore the inability of the current government to manage the national economy, let alone conduct cordial relations with a significant trading partner.

Indeed the government’s misreading of China per se, date back to Andrew Robb’s mind boggling rubber stamping of the 100 year lease of the Port of Darwin to China.

South Australian Labor MP Nick Champion attempted to revive the Port of Darwin fiasco, but to no avail.

Of the two criticisms of Chinese dealings with Australia, we know the issue to which Beijing responded.

The conservative Liberal Party is fiscally clueless, and the nation’s muddled middle class is finally realising its wealth is under threat from a Wunch of Bankers who came together last week for a right wing back slapping orgy known as CPAC.

Keating’s critique of Labor’s failure to communicate its policies with all Australians but especially the middle class, flushed out an old left wing warrior who sprang to the party’s defence.

But Kim Carr’s swipe at Keating proved that neither the right nor left wings of the ALP know how to craft a meaningful dialogue with a bemused middle class.

This conundrum is a major challenge for both Anthony Albanese MP and the trade union movement which conducted one of the worst political campaigns in its history during the last federal election.

Thus it is fair to ask where to now for an increasingly restless middle class.

The answer might be found in another German word, Mittelstand, which roughly translates as “a statistical category of small and medium-sized enterprises”.

In German Mittelstand is expressed as kleine und mittlere Unternehmen or KMU.

Mittelstand companies typically have a maximum of 499 employees. According to an internet definition, “the term is not officially defined or self-explanatory, hence in English linguistic terms, SMEs are not necessarily equivalent to the Mittelstand. In fact, even larger, and often family-owned, firms claim to be part of the Mittelstand”.

In his heyday Prime Minister Bob Hawke touted European social and economic models. This admiration, aided and abetted by Paul Keating as Treasurer, led to the Australian society we enjoy today.

Perhaps a shell-shocked ALP might deploy its brightest thinkers to evaluate Mittelstand as a way forward for both the Party and the nation.

Sadly the non-aligned Dr Andrew Leigh has a lot of spare time on his hands.

Dr Leigh possesses the intellectual clout to craft an Australian model of Mittelstand which is increasingly popular in a faltering United Kingdom where it is known as Brittelstand.

Perhaps the ALP might scrape up some money for a couple of air fares to send Dr Leigh and Paul Keating to a Brittelstand symposium next month at the University of Reading.

As changes to the spirit of the age develop, Australia’s muddled middle class will again look to the ALP for answers. And if Labor manages to craft a new way of doing business with business – including Howard’s Battlers — and communicate simply and clearly with a suspicious middle class, it can win government.

But if Labor fails to craft policy for the future, the nation remains at the mercy of a conservative clique, who for no apparent reason, is determined to bankrupt and impoverish every class of Australian society.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here

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  1. New England Cocky

    uhm ….. does the ALP stand for nothing these days?

  2. andy56

    i think the last statement is pretty close to the bone. When every segment of society is pared back to survival of the fittest, we will be ripe for revolution.

  3. RosemaryJ36

    We need a new party devoted to social justice.

  4. Joseph Carli

    ” We need a new party devoted to social justice.”..NO!..we need more educated blue-collar tradies to step up and take command of leadership in Labor…less of the worst of the middle-classes and more of the best of the working class…:

  5. guest

    Nowhere does Henry Johnston explain exactly where Labor failed the middle class. The only thing Henry tells us about the middle class is that it has heap of money brought about by the wealth of the nation, something Hawke and Keating helped to create.

    But a good part of that economic success was created under neo-liberal conditions. That is what keeps the 1% top on top and the rest of us, including the middle class, as the underclasses.

    One of the things which is attributed to the success of the Coalition at the last election was the promise that citizens could keep their money with lower taxes. But the middle class, after reaping a heap of money, are hell bent on spending it before it is too late – big houses, big cars, big holidays, big spending – because there is nothing much to invest in here in Oz, China has us by the short and curlies.

    Whereas Labor set out to create more equality through policies which needed a bit of understanding. And no one told us – not even the media – that the middle class did not understand anything except that Labor was out to get their money.

    The problem was a web of lies. Even the Coalition thought they had lost. Morrison had no speech prepared, just as he has no overall policy plans.

    The middle class are spending up big before the fall.

  6. Trish Corry

    I agree with Guest’s points above.

    The election loss is multi faceted. The demise in QLD was three pronged. With regards to the regions I wrote for many years about the sickening privilege of the Stop Adani movement. I still advocate that any change from Labor must be worker centric. This would smash the right and stick it to the Greens, who have no interest in our regions, but the opportunism the regions as pawns can play in harvesting votes elsewhere. Otherwise, their energy would be focused on regional disadvantage. It never is. Labor, too concerned with the impacts on Labor in enviro votes didn’t fight back ala Douguie Cameron style. The had to. They must treat the Greens as an opposition or we are toast. When people see a threat to livelihood they don’t care about anything else. You could feel the fear in the air here. The vocal online “Left” and other activists are not connected enough to working class issues and that is a huge challenge for Labor as well.

    The other factor was the massive onslaught of Clive Palmer’s lies about death taxes. A right wing Ind blogger Michael ??? Who dredged up the “Shorten is a rapist memes”. It was such a high saturation no one could escape these two things.

    The other was many retirees live on the coast. That’s why Sunny coast and Gold Coast are LNP. Labor made the same mistake as the Greens. Pushing a radical change (Franking Credits) without bringing people along. You can’t do that from opposition.

    Labor had a great set of policies based on fairness. The problem is, and I think what Keating means, is Labor didn’t use any type of emotive marketing to sell people to touch their core values that we are a fair society. They didn’t link the “give up” to the “give to.” This struck me as I signed up for the Smith family not long ago. I give up a little and it changes a person’s life. It’s so little, it doesn’t affect me and I do good. I still believe that is the real Australia. However, I feel we are lost.

    The media is a powerful beast that has led people to suppress our desire for fairness and lead us to a dog eat dog world. As the forever Marxist, this is always about pushing us to believe we must accept the scraps, cos they are our scraps. Even if that means not being permanent, unsafe workplaces and unfair pay, but most of all the cheapest disposable labour they can win for their own gain. Everything else is white noise.

    This is the key reason why I support Labor being quieter than Shorten. The Libs are like a bad pimple that needs to be drawn out. Up until now, the media has focused on how effective the Clearasil is, without talking about the ugliness of the pimple.

    Labor must centre everything around the worker. Because even a worker on 130K a year is nothing with no unfair dismissal, no security and torn up EBAs. Some of the working middle class need to find themselves again. To me, that’s Labor’s biggest challenge. I have no concern with any Labor policy not being good enough. Labor policy would have changed this country for the better.

  7. Matters Not


    must treat the Greens as an opposition or we are toast.

    So nothing will change. Because it’s worked so well in recent times? (Shakes head.)

    Any glance at the figures will show the large number of Labor seats which would’ve been lost without Green preferences. (Including my seat of Lilley which just got there via such an allocation.) Talk about toast.

  8. Joseph Carli

    What you say, Trish…agree…but still would like to see a bit more “mongrel” from Labor…

  9. guest

    Trish, you say:

    “When people see a threat to livelihood they do not care about anything else. You could feel the fear in the air here. The vocal online ‘Left’ and other activists are not connected enough to working class issues…”

    What is the “threat to livelihood”? Being unemployed is one. So many of the unemployed were/are hoping to get a job in coal-mining, perhaps with Adani. And here is the rub. There will not be many jobs with Adani or with any other coal-mining. Coal-mining will become redundant. Insurance is withdrawing from supporting coal-mining.

    And what is coal-mining about? It is about digging up coal to be shipped to be burnt to create CO2 emissions. And the result of that is human induced global warming. Do the unemployed fear for that and for the effects on them and their families? Is there no fear in the air in Queensland about that?

    If not, why not?

    As for “working class values”, most people are workers at some time in their lives. Labor has to be all things to all people. They know what working is about and the way they have been manipulated under neo-liberal attitudes to working people, especially the poor and disadvantaged.

    It is false to bundle together “the online ‘Left’ and other activists” as if they are some fake, latte-sipping urban lefties, which is the urban myth espoused by the Right. And presumably you include ‘Stop Adani’ activists who emphasise the fear that should be felt for Climate Change which should be a working class issue as well.

    Nor should we treat the Greens as enemies. They are more Left than the Coalition and with negotiation could be as the Nationals are to the Coalition, so we have a coalition of the progressive left.

    And that would include intellectuals who might not be regarded as “working class” but are of socialist left thinking.

    Besides, it is intellectuals such as the scientists and people like David Attenborough who warn us about loss of environment and species and imminent threats in the future – of the kind we can see happening now world wide.

    Why can they not be seen in Queensland?

  10. Kaye Lee

    No-one’s job was threatened by the Stop Adani campaign because Adani has no intention of employing anyone. As Bridget McKenzie revealed, there might be 100 ongoing jobs – but how many jobs will be lost if the reef dies? What will be the cost to Queensland of increasingly severe cyclones, floods and droughts?

    I put Queensland miners in the same category as the franking credit retirees – they know what they are doing is unsustainable but they are too greedy to accept that there must be change.

  11. Trish Corry

    For Guest and Kaye – I am going to just come out and say it. What YOU see is not the actual reality. As I have explained a million and one times before, it may be about Adani to you, but it is not to the people who live here. It is about the destruction of thousands of jobs – direct and indirect that will be lost with the demise of mining. The Greens announced here that they will shut down coal mining in ten years. I know it is hard to fathom, as you seem to believe coal jobs are less worthy than other jobs; but they still put food on the table. So when you have a Greens idiot, who is has zero respect announce in a region he cares absolutely nothing about and has done nothing about, says he will MAKE Labor shut down coal. Lets just say the thousands of people who, on your high horse think are delusional, because its not what you see – voted to keep those jobs. That is the reality of it. Whether you think you are sooo much smarter than them and say there will be no jobs is actually so far from the point it is ridiculous.

    This is not about ADANI it never has been and it never will be. It is the threat to the highly concentrated industry here, that dictates, jobs, money, lifestyle, house prices, whether a supply business has anything to supply to, whether a small business has enough people to have expendable income for their business to exist. It impacts on population which then impacts on what services we get – school, health, community services (and we get stuff all already). It impacts on the surrounding farming areas to sell their product. It impacts on local market people who sell their products at market. When there is a mining downturn – ALL of these things are affected. People here know mining downturns are tough and the Greens decided they would announce – not that they would force a downturn, but ensure that there was no mining at all. Good Job Idiots!

    The most idiotic thing about it all, is the Greens being so freaking clueless don’t realise we are mainly metallurgical coal here and although their fine print said “thermal coal” do you think people give a rats to sort through the mud when there is a huge threat looming. Do you think anyone is going to trust them that is just Thermal when the main message is how much they hate coal? OMG They handed the LNP and PHON the most massive anti Labor-Greens campaign on the planet in the history of our country.

    and Shut the hell up about the goddam reef. Most people who rave on about the reef don’t give a stuff about the reef. They probably haven’t even visited the reef. The reef operators around here are complaining that any business downturn is not because the reef is dead – its not! Its like 45 to hour from my house!!! Yes, we have co-existed with mining, beef farming and the reef for a very long time. It is because Greens are telling the world that the Reef is dead. The other point with killing off mines – is do you know who a lot of the tourist dollars are for the reef operators – local domestic tourists who have really good paying jobs, like in the mines – who take their kids and boats out on the weekends. Have any one of you who talk the high talk – ever actually discussed this with these operators? Do you really think they want mining shut down with nothing in its place? The fact that the tourist operators here put in full page ads about how much MINING EMPLOYEES spend on reef tourism was really helpful for the LNP – who most REEF tourists are aligned with!

    The fact that Kaye says Coal miners are GREEDY is the sick pathetic message that these hard working men and women heard from people like Kaye – in abundance and it is downright insulting as they do an extremely hard job and a very risky job where WORKERS DIE, just so we can have steel and electricity – and THEIR perspective is you slap them in the face because you take all that for granted. That is what they heard. That is the reality. And THAT is the reality of the Greens Left – which Kaye says she is not, but always stands up for, is so out of touch with the working class issues about it is not funny. That is a challenge for Labor.

    The other point is, thousands of people attacking our region for four years is just far too much. Ever heard of a thing called “Agency”? Well the Greens think the people in these regions are not worthy of agency. There has been no community consultation. No encouragement of people having agency as participants of change. Just telling everyone what we can and can’t do. and you all wonder why people arked up. Are you for real?

    If you think I am still wrong on this, after I wrote a number of articles warning what would happen, and was told I was wrong, the abuse I have copped over this for years now is intollerable – and even after the votes came in and exactly what I said would happen, happened, yet apparently I’m still wrong.

    Why not go to any capital city and get thousands and thousands of people to shut down the public service with nothing in its place. But those nice white collar jobs are better people than the coal jobs, I guess. See if people ark up. See if people want to protect their jobs!

    As Hawke said – A fitter is a fitter is a fitter, no matter where they live in Australia.

    A worker is a worker is a worker – It doesn’t matter what they do, they deserve a job and respect. That is what the enviro left doesn’t give coal workers.

    Keep on going with your heads in the sand and keep pushing around regional areas and dictating to these regions what they can and can’t do when you know nothing about them – then we will have Morrison longer than Johnny.

  12. Kaye Lee

    No-one abused you Trish but you, as always, launched straight into attacking anyone who has a different opinion to you.

    It would be a lot more helpful if you offered ideas about alternative employment for the region. It isn’t the Greens that will shut down coal mining – no-one wants to invest in it and no-one will insure it so regardless of how much people might like the idea of keeping their $250,000 a year job, and who wouldn’t, it would be foolhardy to think the industry can go on forever.

    And what of the jobs in existing coal mines that would be displaced by new mines? Do the miners in the Hunter matter less than those in Queensland?

    I worked on a dive boat out of Cairns and my friend still owns it. The reef IS dying Trish. It is absolutely unacceptable to ignore climate change and the damage that it will do to everyone.

  13. Phil

    Laugh at your leisure the Greens will form government in the not too distant future.

    They will form a coalition with the true believers. The light on the hill is glowing dim but, it is not out.

    People who think the planet can be exploited for ever, are barking mad. The elites who have caused the massive degradation on the planet are already either getting out of Dodge to places like New Zealand, or building underground bunkers to hide from the coming Apocalypse. The Eco system is breaking down now and we are headed for a depression that will make 1929 look like a family BBQ. Not to mention the conflict about to go possibly global from the Straights of Hormuz to the Kashmir we have let leaders take over who by any yard stick, should all be in an insane asylum.

    All the arguments about left and right politics will soon not be worth the oxygen discussing. It’s over.

  14. corvus boreus

    Have to say I disagree with your first statement.
    The escalating consequences of humans mindlessly raping our own habitat will be well on the way to buggering our species into self-extinction long before the increasingly manifest realities of the unfolding biospheric crisis finally bring environmental politics to the fore, and by that time the standard human response to extreme adversity (usually a combination of religious fatalism and tribalistic conflict) will probably render our current ‘democratic’ political processes irrelevant.

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