The 21st century international Right which has hijacked the old conservative parties is post-democratic. The use that the Coalition parties are making of the Voice debate shows the Australian inflection of this trend.
In the USA, the MAGA wing has taken over the already radicalising Republican Party. The conservatives of old tried to ride the tiger of popular grievance. They needed to in order to garner enough votes to win government for plutocrat policies. Now the big cat is eating the party’s face. A Trump (or copycat) win in the 2024 election would mean dire outcomes for America’s battered democratic systems. Trump is forecasting executing generals and shoplifters, sending the National Guard into cities to “combat crime,” mass militarised deportations and purging the civil service of anyone not strictly devoted to his cult. As many as 50,000 employees would be targeted. He has threatened to investigate news organisations for treason if he wins.
Directly after a violent mob invaded their workplace in 2021, 147 Republican congresspeople continued to refuse to certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory despite the fact that almost all of them knew it was the most secure election in US history.
The UK Tories threw their country over a cliff with Brexit built on lies and bigotry. The economy is savaged. The living standard is declining. The attempt to implement ideological-extreme economic policy was a catastrophe. Like the Republicans, they are forced to foment deadly culture war hatreds to distract the public from their failures.
Both the Republicans and the Tories have the advantage of deeply flawed electoral systems to maintain their hold on power. The absence of compulsory voting is the plutocrat’s friend.
The Republicans have the electoral college, a long history of suppressing the vote, and gerrymandered states with ever more partisan control of voting. The diligent work to subvert representation is well established.
The Tories worked to damage the independence of their electoral commission and introduced the unnecessary obstacle of voter ID in echo of Republican anti-democratic gambits. They simultaneously introduced suppression of the media, protest, and whistleblowers.
Australia is blessed by comparison. Our independent system of Electoral Commissions is critical to maintaining faith in the integrity of the system. Our compulsory voting and compulsory preferential voting are both protections from the machinations of oligarchs.
In the pandemic era, the mass inequalities of neoliberal capitalism have been exposed in much greater clarity. “Essential” workers were sacrificed while the white collar class worked from home in much greater comfort. The savings and reliable income of the upper cohort protected them from the terror of losing everything. Governments around the affluent world were forced to look at measures to stop the precariat becoming homeless and starved.
Voters are less tolerant of the old narratives that keep us in our place having seen so glaringly the chasm in pandemic experience.
The Australian Liberal Party has no interest in returning to its more moderate past where it balanced the needs of money with that of the worker and role of government. That version of itself has a chance to win government, but it can no longer acknowledge that the three forces have a legitimate voice. Workers are slackers. Government is the problem. “Woke” forces – like the Labor Party and and an independent media – are an impediment to their goals. The current Right no longer believes their opposition has a legitimate right to govern.
The NSW Liberals managed the first Australian attack on an electoral system that forces parties to campaign on viable platforms. Stripping the preferential system of the “compulsory” aspect gave them a leg up at the last election, although it wasn’t enough.
It will take much more work for the parties of the Right to cut away at the democratic processes in Australia that impede their push towards a more illiberal democracy.
The Voice to Parliament is being used as one of their tools.
Peta Credlin admitted in 2017 on Sky News that there had been no “carbon tax.” She explained, “It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax.” She described this reframing as “brutal retail politics.” And, she pointed out, that Tony Abbott used that perversion of the truth to overthrow Julia Gillard within six months.
The Voice is being used in precisely this deceitful “wedge issue” role to damage Albanese. Credlin is herself one of the generals directing the battle against a mere advisory body intended to help raise the wellbeing of First Nations people. And the wedge is fracturing the nation.
The use of culture war topics can be relatively trivial – such as the battle against induction cooktops. It can also be devastating, literally life and death, in the vindictive campaigns against First Nations people, refugees and trans people (as the vanguard for reversing marriage equality reforms). The point is to forge an anti-“woke” identity within the base: those coopted will never be able to vote for the demonised centre, let alone the Left. They will have lost the ability to see the facts to be debated, with all educated “elites” despised as the enemy dedicated to deception. Compassion and nuance are portrayed as weakness.
The No campaign, as a tool against democracy, has another facet. This role is a much longer-term gameplay. (And we see in almost a century of work against egalitarian reforms how long-term the vision on the international Right actually is.)
The second goal is to break faith in the democratic project itself. The base longs for the “honesty” of post-democratic authoritarianism where “elites” no longer deceive the populace about having a say. Trump’s MAGA crowds bay for the blood of military leaders and even Republican politicians who have not paid obeisance to their cult leader assiduously enough.
Around the Australian federal and state elections in 2022, the radicalised base spread conspiracies borrowed from the American sphere. Dominion voting machines were skewing the vote, even though those Trump-myth machines are not in use here. We vote on paper, in case they hadn’t noticed. Votes were, the Australian conspiracists claimed, thrown out or brought in.
The AEC’s Twitter/X account is tirelessly battling the cascade of lies on social media that are spreading saying that the AEC itself and the referendum processes are fraudulent. Peter Dutton exacerbated that conspiracy thinking in his declarations about the use of ticks not crosses meaning the referendum was “rigged.”
The latest polls suggest that while Dutton’s inexcusable decision to turn the Voice referendum into a wedge issue might prevent the referendum passing, it has damaged his own standing with voters. We must resist these culture war distractions wielded by divisive politicians and their spin doctors.
If the referendum fails, the Right – from parliament to the media and the social media swamps – will have caused great harm to First Nations people and the populace more broadly. The reiteration of voter fraud theories will have augmented the idea that voting is corrupted and the government is illegitimate. If the referendum succeeds, that latter message will gain in volume.
It is imperative that Liberal Party leaders contradict those rumours of a broken democratic process firmly if they want to prove the claim that they are post-democratic wrong.
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