November 14 2017
The Newspoll results yesterday came as no surprise. It fact, it was totally predictable. We are governed by a political party that doesn’t know what it stands for. It has no plan for the nation; no narrative that it can present to the Australian populace.
The fact is that as a party it is flat-out trying to define if it is a conservative party or just a tired old political “small L” one. The one certain thing that it can proclaim is that it is a party at war with itself.
What it does need is to lose an election and go away and decide what form of political philosophy it wants to be. As things stand, it would seem the neo-conservatives have the upper hand and it’s to that extremity it should go. Mind you, Menzies might wriggle a toe or two in his place of rest at the idea but it seems that is where they want to be.
And you cannot have a leader from the centre-left leading you. So in this party realignment, Malcolm Turnbull will have to go. It has been obvious since he took over that he is controlled in his decision-making by a group of neo-conservatives who control the party. Whereas when the party would describe itself as a broad church it is now obvious that the softer voices have no influence whatsoever. The voices of hate arise from capitalistic monopolies within the party.
Just when the spill will take place it is difficult to say. But rest assured, it will. The point here is that when the Prime Minister is culled, the moderates of this once great party will be weeded out until the extreme-right has control.
But all this kerfuffle in the Coalition has ramifications for Labor and Bill Shorten. The danger being that they gain office without earning it. And it is highly likely that they will. Increasingly it looks like one of those elections that former leader Bill Hayden described as one that even a drover’s dog could win. Is Labor ready for office is a question we cannot know the answer to. It also must define where its ideology sits.
I believe the current political environment, both internally, nationally and worldwide offers Bill Shorten a unique opportunity.
Putting aside the variations that occur from country to country, state to state and ethnicity to ethnicity it is manifestly true that people are dissatisfied with institutionalised politics. No matter how you come at it, it’s the only conclusion you can reach.
Brexit, the revival of Hanson and the triumph of Trumpism prove it. The young of course wouldn’t have a bar of these three changes to political history but they too feel disenfranchised by the process.
The overwhelming thing that comes from these three events is that people will respond to the voices of action. Action against any form of long-standing entrenched institutionalised politics. They don’t know exactly what it is they want but for sure they don’t want more of the same old self-serving politics that ignores them
Suppose for a moment you are an advisor to the opposition leader in Australia. What would you tell Shorten to do?
Some background …
The Australian people in their collective wisdom, or lack of it, depending on which side your bread is buttered, chose to give a leader and his Government that had failed miserably in its first three years, another three.
They had a one seat majority in the House of Representatives but now govern in a minority. Plus a Senate ruled by some peculiar personalities. Thus far they have governed deplorably and it is difficult to know how they will govern into the future let alone do anything good for the country.
The LNP just got over the line and at the moment face a nightmare of party disunity, with a leader whose judgement is in question, a treasurer ensconced in old economics and policies mired in the politics of power retention rather than a common good for the future.
In the last election there can be no doubt that Shorten surprised everyone with a better campaign than Turnbulls. So much so that he gained much prestige and respect both from the people and the media.
As it turned out he was the policy wonker that he said he was and now has the opportunity to cement his credentials in this area. The areas of education, health and social welfare were big winners for Labor and he must continue to present an activist image on all these policies particularly with the NBN and Climate Change.
He has the perfect opportunity to build on his policy accomplishments on the back of an excellent election campaign. People now understand Labor’s Economic policies and Shorten has the credentials to further press his case on the revenue side.
Given the closeness (I predict around early November 2018) of the election Shorten should not step back from any of his policies but balance an eagerness to help the county with good political decision-making. He can be conciliatory and helpful while at the same time still play hardball with Turnbull on the dual citizenship problem.But will that be enough. The aforementioned successes will be quickly forgotten over time. So when thinking about “what should Shorten do?” there are two issues that have to be tackled.
One is developing an explanation of just what a new Labor Party stands for and a reappraisal of and repair of our democracy.
Labor suffers from an emptiness of explanation that requires attention. What does Labor stand for? It is losing members and its primary vote is at an all-time low.
If the new politic is no longer Left Vs Right but Open Vs Closed then it needs to explain just what it means and how Labor and its values fit in this new political paradigm. Trump campaigned on a closed society in order to make America great again.
What I am advocating is that Shorten should take on the high moral ground starting with the repair of our democracy. Necessarily required because of the destruction caused to it by the former Prime Minister Abbott. There is any amount of evidence for it.
There is no doubt that the Australian political system is in need of repair, but it is not beyond it.
Labor has already taken a small but important first step in allowing a greater say in the election of its leader, however it still has a reform mountain to climb. Besides internal reform that engages its members, it needs to look at ways of opening our democracy to new ways of doing politics: ways that involve those that are in a political malaise so that they feel part of the decision-making process again. There is much that can be done at little or no cost.
Some examples of this are fixed terms, and the genuine reform of Question Time with an independent Speaker. No Government questions etc. Shorten needs to promote the principle of transparency by advocating things like no advertising in the final month of an election campaign, and policies and costing submitted in the same time frame.
You can add reform of the Senate into this mix, and perhaps some form of citizen initiated referendum. Also things like implementing a form of a National ICAC. Perhaps even a 10 point common good caveat on all legalisation. A plebiscite on the question. Should we have an Australian as head of state?
I have no doubt that the first party to deliver on these reforms and many others including politicians entitlements, will gain government. Recent experience tells us that people will respond to boldness. To anything that acknowledges problems and speaks to them.
Address inequality. The world’s richest 1 per cent will own more than the other 99 per cent of the world’s wealth by next year. It must promote and vigorously argue the case for action against growing inequality in all its nefarious guises: re-casting its socialist tag, giving it new meaning, and seeing policy in common good versus elitist/closed terms. The same fight must also be had for the future of the planet.
Appeal for bipartisan government for the common good as Howard did with Hawke and Keating. On top of this is the need to do something about politician’s expenses and their justification. Talk about the need to exercise our creativeness, use our brains, and talk about what is best for ourselves as individuals, couples, families, employees, employers, retirees, welfare recipients and what is affordable for the future of the country.
The biggest issue though is a commitment to truth. Shorten needs to convince people of the need for a truly collective representative democracy that involves the people and encourages us to be creative, imaginative and exciting.
In a future world dependent on innovation it will be ideas that determines government, and not the pursuit of power for power’s sake.
His narrative must convince the lost voters who have left our democracy to return. (And I am assuming that most would be Labor), Shorten has to turn Labor ideology on its head, shake it and re-examine it. Then reintroduce it as an updated enlightened ideology-opposite to the Tea Party politics that conservatism has descended into.
He must turn his attention to the young, and have the courage to ask of them that they should go beyond personal desire and aspiration and accomplish not the trivial, but greatness. That they should not allow the morality they have inherited from good folk to be corrupted by the immorality of right-wing political indoctrination.
He might even advocate lowering the voting age to sixteen (16 year olds are given that right in the Scottish referendum). An article I read recently suggested the teaching of politics from Year 8, with eligibility to vote being automatic if you were on the school roll. Debates would be part of the curriculum and voting would be supervised on the school grounds. With an aging population the young would then not feel disenfranchised. Now that’s radical thinking; the sort of thing that commands attention. It might also ensure voters for life.
Why did the voters leave?
How has democracy worldwide become such a basket case? Unequivocally it can be traced to a second-rate Hollywood actor, a bad haircut, and in Australia a small bald-headed man of little virtue. They all had one thing in common. This can be observed in this statement:
“There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals making their way. The poor shall be looked after by the drip down effect of the rich”.(Paraphrased)
Since Margaret Thatcher made that statement and the subsequent reins of the three, unregulated capitalism has insinuated its ugliness on Western Society and now we have an absurdly evil growth in corporate and individual wealth and an encroaching destruction of the middle and lower classes. These three have done democracy a great disservice.
Where once bi-partisanship flourished in proud democracies, it has been replaced with the politics of hatred and extremism. Where compromise gets in the way of power, and power rules the world.
Millions of Australians have tuned out of politics because of the destabilisation of leadership, corruption on both sides, the negativity and lies of Abbott/ Turnbull, the propaganda of a right-wing monopoly owned media, and the exploitation of its Parliament by Abbott in particular.
Somehow the lost voters must be given a reason to return. A reason that is valid and worthwhile. A reason that serves the collective and engages people in the process, and a politic for the social good of all one that rewards personal initiative but at the same time recognises the basic human right of equality of opportunity.
Shorten needs to promote a robust but decent political system that is honest, decent, and transparent, and where respect is the order of the day. A political system where ideas of foresight surpass ideological politics, greed, disrespect, and truth. Where respect, civility and trust are part of vigorous debate and not just uninvited words in the process.
Unlike America, “The right to vote is the gift our democracy gives. If political parties (and media barons, for that matter) choose by their actions to destroy the people’s faith in democracy’s principles and conventions then they are in fact destroying the very thing that enables them to exist”.
There is much in the way of common sense to support the narrative I suggest but will a politician of Bill Shortens ilk take the plunge?
My thought for the day
“We dislike and resist change in the foolish assumption that we can make permanent that which makes us feel secure. Yet change is in fact part of the very fabric of our existence. Change sometimes disregards opinion and becomes a phenomenon of its own making. With Its own inevitability.”