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Tag Archives: the Nationals

Now is the Time for All Good Men and Women to Come to the Aid of the Party

By Allan Patience

This article has been re-blogged from ‘Pearls and Irritations’ with the author’s permission.

Richard Di Natale has called on the Greens to get ready for government. Well and good. The direction in which he is prodding his party is a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak Australian political landscape.

Whether in a coalition (likely with Labor), or in its own right (unlikely), what sort of public policy agenda would a Greens government pursue? It is time for it to come up with a broad and innovative policy agenda; otherwise a completely new political party will have to be created.

The other major parties, Labor and Liberal, have become ossified under the thumb of ideologically blinkered, self-perpetuating elites, the consequence of what Robert Michels once called the “iron law of oligarchy.” The Nationals are mostly irrelevant to mainstream policy debates, but they too suffer from the same organisational malaise as the ALP and the Liberals.

For over three decades now Labor and the Coalition parties have been in obsessive thrall to a neoliberal mindset, utterly insensitive to the havoc that neoliberalism has been wreaking on our economy. However, what they are clearly incapable of comprehending today is that the whole neoliberal (or “economic rationalist”) project is about to come crashing down.

Some of the catastrophes that neoliberalism has unleashed on us in Australia include: stagnating economic growth rates; sharply increasing socio-economic inequalities that are undermining capitalism itself (though, as with most subtleties, this irony escapes most neoliberals); the running-down of vital public services and the devaluing of public goods (for example, hospitals, schools, public transport); the appalling expansion of what were once termed “repressive state apparatuses” (increased powers for police and border protection authorities, state-sanctioned human rights abuses on Manus Island and Nauru, draconian meta-data gathering laws, the use of legally prescribed secrecy by governments to hide what they are really up to); and a society in which a range of social pathologies (family violence, depression, narcissism, drugs, begging, violent crime) are becoming thesine qua non of everyday life.

The licence that big private sector corporations have been granted by successive neoliberal regimes has not resulted in better services, cheaper credit, or widely shared prosperity across the community. As Milton once observed, licence is not the same thing as liberty. Markets are now being crowded out by start-up ingénues and fraudsters while being bullied by big local and overseas corporations intent on feathering their own profitability nests and with little interest in the needs or rights of their employees and consumers.

For example, the billion dollar profits that the big four banks are presently announcing (even as they increase their lending rates) point to the abject failure of the principles of deregulation and privatisation – that neoliberals have boasted endlessly will free up a shackled market, to benefit everybody. In the case of the banks, the only beneficiaries have been their obscenely overpaid executives and a narrow grouping of major shareholders. And, remember, many of those shareholders are offshore corporations.

Consider, too, the myriad private providers of electricity that have exploded on to the scene since the privatisation of energy generation. Neoliberals promised that privatising the delivery of electricity would bring vigorous competition into a previously lazy and cosseted industry, driving down the price of electricity in household budgets. But, as every household knows only too well, this simply isn’t happening. In fact there are now far too may competitors in the market devising all sorts of byzantine schemes to woo customers, while investing in costly advertising and hustling campaigns to cajole bemused and confused customers into signing up with one or other of them. The result has been a shocking escalation in the costs of a fundamental public good – affordable electricity. The privatisation of electricity has been one of the most spectacular of neoliberalism’s disasters.

These are only two examples of many failures by neoliberalism to progress our economy and enhance people’s lives.

So what sort of agenda should the Greens espouse?

Their first priority must be to counter-attack in neoliberalism’s war on public goods and services. Reimposing regulatory constraints on a private sector that is out of control is an impossible task. That horse has well and truly bolted. However, neoliberals love to extol the virtue of competition in the economy. So why not give them some real competition?

This is where Greens should enter the policy debates. They should can mount a political campaign explaining that there is no competing mechanism in the neoliberal quiver to challenge the social destructiveness and economic vandalising that neoliberalism’s privatising and deregulating have unleashed. They need to explain that the only achievement of neoliberal policies has been to oversee capital roaring up the system, not trickling down.

This should be the prelude for advocating a policy of strategically targeted public competition into the so-called “free market.”

The first item on the post-neoliberal policy agenda should be the setting up of a publicly owned bank, to provide genuine competition in the banking industry. Of course the neoliberal beneficiaries of the current banking order will scream like stuck pigs about the unfairness of a publicly owned competitor in their midst, insisting that only they be allowed to compete on that most sacred of neoliberal cows – the fabled level playing field.

Anyway, why must a publicly owned bank be seen as unfairly tilting the economic arena? Its establishment would simply provide more competition to bring the banking field back to an even keel, while returning profits to the community either though cheaper, more consumer-respectful services, and/or profits being invested in public goods (for example, better schools, railways, medical services).

Another strategic area in the contemporary economy is legal services. Thousands of Australians are locked out of the justice system because of prohibitive fees charged by the big law companies that as greedy as the banks. A publicly owned law firm providing cheap and friendly (dare one say compassionate) legal advice would help address the unjust over-representation of social minorities and the poor who are routinely and unjustly the majority victims of the pointy end of the country’s legal system. When did you last hear of a senior partner in a law firm, or a distinguished surgeon, or a bank CEO going to jail?

Other strategic areas in the Australian economy in urgent need of tough public competition include the real estate industry (agents’ costs and fees are a significant factor in pushing up already escalating house prices), medical (including psychiatric) and dental clinics, a publicly owned pharmaceutical corporation (once a dream of the Whitlam government), childcare centres, a government airline, and a comprehensive news and entertainment media agency (an expanded and properly resourced ABC and SBS).

A cautiously progressive introduction of public competition into strategic sectors of the economy would certainly contribute to improving the barrenness of our contemporary public policy environment. As each new public competition agency is settled in, further competition could be contemplated – for example a publicly owned supermarket chain.

And once people realise that this kind of state intervention doesn’t cause the sky to fall in, then even the nationalisation of certain crucial industries could be considered – an obvious example is urban rail networks and road tollways.

Indeed with the institutionalisation of a healthy culture of public competition in the post-neoliberal economy, further private competition could even be encouraged. But any new private enterprises will have to operate on a truly level playing field. Regulators will require them to demonstrate that their services are consumer-respectful and that the efficiencies they promise are genuine, not bogus as so many are right now.

If the Greens are unable to mount a public policy program for the coming post-neoliberal era, then a new political party will be necessary. That will be the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party.

Allan Patience is a political scientist at the Asia Institute in the University of Melbourne.

 

The Nationals are a waste of space

In 2013, with 4.3 per cent of the primary vote, the Nationals won 9 seats in the House of Representatives. The Greens, with 8.6 per cent of the primary vote, won one.

But even with this disproportionate representation, the National Party seem unwilling or unable to act in the best interests of their constituents.

We have seen mining approvals that endanger prime farm land and water resources. We have seen the relationship with Indonesia deteriorate so far that they have slashed their cattle imports. We have seen free trade agreements which, on closer inspection, deliver far less than promised, with whole industries ignored, long phase out periods for tariffs, and caps on tariff free exports based on 2013 levels.

Some Liberals are calling for a review of the evidence “underpinning the man-made global warming theory” and an investigation of “the reasons for the failure of computer models, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and prominent individuals to predict, amongst other things, the pause in global warming this century”. They also argue that, in light of the uncertainty around this issue, Australia should not sign any binding agreement at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, to be held later this year.

At the same time, a group of farmers who are “on the front line of rising temperatures and more extreme weather”, are calling for Australia to adopt post-2020 targets that will cut carbon emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2025, and at least 60 per cent by 2030 over 2000 pollution levels, in line with recommendations of the scientific community. Other farming groups are calling for an expansion of renewable energy which they see as a productive use for vacant land.

Regional Australia is also suffering from burgeoning unemployment, high suicide rates, and a lack of access to health and education facilities.

So what are the National Party doing to help?

A prime example of their lack of efficacy, and in fact perfidy, was given by Barnaby Joyce and recounted in Tony Windsor’s book:

I raised the issue of the Armidale Hospital with Joyce, and whether he was on top of it. A twenty-first century hospital for a catchment of about 80,000 people was needed and the long term success of the medical school would depend on it. And then, without any shame, he said it.

“You know Tony, until you had decided not to run, I had the money for the Armidale hospital, as well as the funding for the Legume to Woodenbong Road.”

I was outraged. I sat there thinking this bloke is an idiot to tell me this. This is a classic example of why the Nats are a waste of space. Here they are back in business but even before they are elected the first thing they do is take the electorate for granted by withdrawing funding for vital projects because they think they have the seat in the bag. He said the decision had come from Abbott’s office. Everyone, other than four people, had thought I would contest the 2013 election. Barnaby’s leadership ambitions meant he wanted a lower house seat so he had decided on New England. And here was Barnaby, sitting there blithely telling me the consequences of that decision for the people of New England, as if in some way it was my fault for not standing.

“When you were still the member and running” he said, “Abbott’s office said we could have a range of things, including $50 million for the hospital. But when you didn’t run they withdrew the money for the hospital and the road.”

Should Mr Windsor choose to run again, as has been suggested, I hope all New England voters compare what he achieved for his electorate to what Barnaby has delivered.

To all National voters, I understand it is hard to change the habits of generations, but your interests are not being considered by the office of the Prime Minister. It is in the best interest of your children for you to question a lifelong devotion to a party who has lost its identity.

 

Greens fringe dwellers

“The Greens vote is complex”, writes Douglas Evans in this analysis of not only where their votes come from, but likely to be found in the future.

A recent AIMN article by Sir Scotch Mistery included the following quote:

Some vote Green, but the vote is meaningless we are told, even though almost 12% of the population vote for them. Why is the 12% so meaningless? Labor gets into bed with Bob Brown and others with ethics and vision, and are immediately held up as some sort of traitors. But no one, even Antony Greene, of the ABC, can explain why that vote is wasted.

This struck some resonances with me and prompted a comment in response to the article that became the basis for this article. As a fringe dweller, more an observer than a participant, I’ve got a few (shamelessly partisan) thoughts about the Greens. My former Federal MP Lindsay Tanner apparently agreed with the ‘experts’ Sir Scotch refers to. Tanner liked to say that voting for the Greens was just “shouting from the sidelines”. Of course that was just before the shouting got a little louder in 2010 and his Labor successor in the prized ALP Seat of Melbourne was defeated by Adam Bandt. In 2013 of course the shouting became positively deafening when Bandt repeated this feat without the aid of Liberal preferences.

The most recent Age-Nielsen Poll has the Greens on 17% nationally (up 5%) mostly apparently (and counter-intuitively) on the back of disaffected L-NP voters. In WA apparently the Greens lead Labor in the polls 27% to 20% currently and over the weekend with Labor still engaged in its own life and death struggle to reform itself, Christine Milne called for reform of the Greens constitution to give more power to members in formulating policy. This in a party that (in Victoria at least) already formally and regularly, as a matter of course, invites the participation of members in policy formulation.

After the decline in the Greens vote experienced in the 2013 and yet another tiresome round of finger wagging predictions of the end of the ‘accursed Greens’ both in the MSM and online, Scott Ludlam’s re-election in the WA Senate rerun and a bit of good news in the polls is welcome to an ageing Green like me. But just as the doomsayers are continually wrong with their predictions of the end for the Greens so the cheerleaders hoping for the triumphant rise of Australia’s social democrats would be wise to take a deep breath.

Despite these positive signs it would not be sensible to get too optimistic. No-one should assume, either that the the size of their vote will correspond closely with the number of seats they win, or that their vote will continue to grow steadily. It is a striking illustration of how uneven the Australian political playing field is that around 10% of the primary vote delivers a single lower house seat (out of 150) to the Greens while 4.29% of the primary vote delivers nine seats to the Nationals.

The Greens have experienced such swings in the polls in the past only to fall back to what appears to be the baseline 10% of the primary vote. Nevertheless, The Greens vote is complex. People vote Greens for all sorts of reasons. Many find a policy agenda that prioritizes environmental responsibility, social justice and compassion attractive. Some ageing social democrats like me, who believe this is what the Labor Party should stand for but increasingly doesn’t, are encouraged to find it is still possible to vote for a party that reflects these principles and is not simply the least-worst option. Many find it energizing and refreshing to be around an organization with a positive agenda that still, in the face of darkening times, has faith in the possibilities of the future and the potential for positive change rather than offering up continually reheated versions of the same-old same-old that has failed us in the past. The irreducible core of the Greens vote, about 10% of the electorate seems (to me) to be firmly based on these factors.

Then there is a soft vote that will come and go. Some whose natural habitat is either the steamy L-NP swamp or the scorching ALP desert have found themselves so disturbed by individual policies on, for example asylum seekers or climate change that they have moved to the Greens at least temporarily.

Some have voted for the Greens simply because they are not either of the two old parties that so many Australians are so very tired of. A large chunk of this group (which is politically pretty disengaged) is fundamentally conservative. These deserted the Greens in the last election when Palmer showed up on the horizon offering them a conservative alternative to the L-NP. Others (who are basically Liberal ‘wets’) close their eyes tight and vote for the Greens because they profoundly disapprove of what Abbott and his bunch of goons are doing to their Party and they can’t bring themselves to vote for Labor – the old enemy.

Others have voted for the Greens because they have seen them as the new-on-the-block-little-guys sticking it up the tired old tweedle dum and tweedle dee parties in Canberra. For these people the sight of the Greens actually wielding some power both in Canberra and Tasmania (Oh no they are a political party after all!) was disturbing and at the last election these voters deserted for The Pirates, the Animal Liberation Party, the Sex Party etc.

The breakdown of the most recent Age-Nielsen Poll is informative. While about a quarter of Australians between the age of 18 and 39 suggest they will vote Greens, the percentage of older Australians who would do so falls away strongly until apparently only about 10% of the oldest cohort (55+) votes for the Greens.

By contrast Labor scores around a third of the vote across all four age groups. The L-NP coalition captures about a third of the vote from the two youngest age groups but this increases until about a half of the oldest age group say they would vote for the mad monk and his band of merry pranksters. If this breakdown were to be maintained for a decade or so natural attrition would see the Greens steadily increase their vote to somewhere north of 20% Labor marking time in the mid 30s and the Coalition falling back to Labor.

The Nielsen poll is consistent with research for the Whitlam Institute carried out in 2011 by Dr Ron Brooker which examined the voting intentions of young voters (18 – 34 age group) prior to a series of Federal elections from 1998 to 2010. This showed the following:

  • Those intending to vote for the ‘old’ parties declined by about 10%, from somewhere north of 40% in 1998 to around 35% in 2010.
  • Those intending to vote for the Greens increased by about 18%, from around 5% in 1998 to roughly 23% in 2010.

The study shows that young voters are the natural core of support for the Greens and perhaps the vehicle for expanding the vote. It notes the substantial, possibly determinative, impact’ of the youth vote ‘on the outcomes of the 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010 Federal elections.’ However it also notes the volatile nature of the youth vote as reflected in dramatic swings both to and from the Greens over the whole period.

The study argues that the electoral volatility of young Australians reflects that they ‘are strongly values driven and their attachment is to issues rather than traditional political organization.’ They ‘tend to … make decisions based on whose proposal or offer best fits their values on their issue of priority at a given time.’

The youth vote is electorally powerful but volatile. However it is also increasingly disillusioned with the political process. Half a million of them did not register to vote in 2013 and many more of them are presumably among the roughly 3% of Australians who deliberately voted ‘informal’. The rewards are rich for the political party that captures the attention and support of this group, particularly those currently opting out. The conservatives, in government, are focused on the establishment of ‘Australia Inc.’ for the benefit of their backers. Factions permitting, Labor in opposition might finally seriously begin to address its own deep structural and spiritual malaise. With the attention of the ‘old’ parties focused elsewhere and support for both falling among young voters anyway, neither are likely to make headway growing their support among this group. Both Scott Ludlam’s and Adam Bandt’s re-election campaigns bore strong similarity to independent Kathy McGowan’s successful community based campaign to unseat the unspeakable Sophie Mirabella in the Victorian rural seat of Indi. Taken together with the steady flow of emailed invitations from Adam Bandt’s office inviting participation in issues-based door-knocking and letter-boxing campaigns this suggests to me that the Greens’ approach to consolidating and strengthening their vote aligns precisely with what is most likely to attract the crucial youth vote.

I assume that as the crisis deepens (as it surely will) and both L-NP and ALP show themselves to have no remedies (as I expect to happen) support for the Greens will grow. I believe this will occur not only because of the revealed shortcomings of the ‘old’ parties but also because of the perceived strengths of the Greens. In a piece for Fairfax media discussing the current good news for the Greens Michael Gordon notes that they are being rewarded for not wavering in their policies and priorities.’ I think this is self-evident but this, of course is also the characteristic that marked the Greens as ‘unfit for government’ in the minds of granite brained, finger wagging, conservative political pundits and desperate Labor politicians in the dying days of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd soap opera.

However for Greens’ ‘policies and priorities’ to have any effect will mean coalition of some sort with Labor. For this to happen a number of things must change. Labor will have to realize that a Labor primary vote in the mid 30s and a Greens vote in the mid teens (eminently possible in the current climate) might just translate into some sort of progressive coalition government but in the absence of this would probably deliver power narrowly to the coalition.

Labor cannot simply assume that they can continue to disparage their progressive potential allies and float into power in their own right on a raft of Greens preferences. Those days are probably gone. Nor can they assume that they can get their primary vote back up into the 40s from where they might just achieve power in their own right. The breakdown of the Nielsen poll discussed above and the decades long decline in their primary vote to its current position in the mid 30s both suggest that ALP governing in its own right is increasingly unlikely.

They should get busy exploring the possibilities for co-operation and get used to the idea of shared power as an acceptable Plan B. Brad Orgill argued this in his eminently logical but (to me at least) hopelessly politically naïve book ‘Why Labor Should savour its Greens’. They should start exploring the possibilities for re-educating the Australian public who have been conditioned to believe that coalition with the Greens equates to a communist takeover or a pact with the devil. The Greens for their part must learn the hard political lessons of a couple of stints in power in Tasmania and the part they played in the Rudd-Gillard Federal era all of which ended in tears and recriminations.

To the Future and Beyond!

Image courtesy of couriermail.com.au

Image courtesy of couriermail.com.au

Should the Labor Party sever its long-standing ties with the union movement? In this guest post, well-known blogger Hillbilly Skeleton argues that they might suffer politically if they don’t.

Can we talk?

How can I put this?

I can either try and put this delicately, as some partners try to do when a long-term relationship ends, and hedge around the truth which is usually as clear as day in your own mind, hoping you won’t offend the other party’s feelings, or, you can be brutally honest and believe that by doing so you can have a positive, not negative, cathartic effect.

So, as I have never been one for humming and hawing, let me get straight to the point here.

It’s Time for the Australian Labor Party to cut the ties that bind it inextricably to the Australian Union movement and divorce itself from the overwhelming and over-weaning and disastrously destructive (in recent history) control they have over the parliamentary Labor Party.

“Heresy!!!” I can hear 90+% of you shouting at their computer screens.  Also, “Aren’t you a member of the ALP? So, why are you saying this?”

Well, no, and, yes.

No, I don’t think I’m being heretical, and, yes, I am a proud member of the ALP and will continue to be unless they kick me out for this blog. Lol.  Which I doubt because I am increasingly not on my Pat Malone in the modern-day ALP.  I know this because I have had many conversations with fellow ALP members about this subject, many of them members of unions too, and they agree that a redefining of the relationship needs to occur.  Something needs to be done about the overt ALP/Union nexus.  Major transformational change to the party scaffolding must occur. Or the ALP will simply bleed to death slowly but surely, as the Unions in Australia (and globally), with membership in Australia at a paltry 13% in private enterprise, are doing right now.

Which is not to say, most definitely and wholeheartedly, that I agree with the presumption of the Abbott government and it’s fellow travellers in the business community and in ideologically-bent union-smashing outfits such as the HR Nicholls Society and the IPA, that the very concept of workers organising for their mutual benefit is anathema and all stops should be pulled out, both legislatively and persuasively via the bully pulpit, to bring about their demise.

Not.  At.  All.

On the contrary, I fully support the concept of Unionism and collective organisation of employees for their mutual benefit as they attempt to gather strength from their numbers against any employer with the whip-hand who seeks to exploit and capitalise on their honest toil for their own profit, whilst the workers pay, and hard-won but reasonable work conditions languish or die on the vine by neglect and design.  More power to the workers in their constant struggle against this and strength to their arms in their fight against the oppressive forces of global and national monopolistic capitalistic enterprise.  It’s only fair and reasonable after all and the basis of a cohesive, harmonious, equitable and content society.  I’m a Social Democrat, after all.

Nope, what I think needs to be the transformative change that the ALP should, no must, undertake, is that it must change from being a party OF the Unions and BY the Unions, to being a party FOR the Unions, but first and foremost, simply a 21st century Progressive Social Democrat political party, whose narrative encompasses Unionism as but one of the pillars upon which the scaffold of the party is built.

Yes, over more than 100 glorious years the ALP has been the longest-lived, continuously-surviving political party in the land, and it’s a proud history which should be fulsomely embraced.  However, times change, situations change, environments change, and relationships, one with another, change.

Such that the cardinal rule of relationships kicks into gear.  ‘Adapt or die’.

That’s what the Liberal Party have successfully done, to the extent that they are presently cannibalising their Coalition partner, the National Party, by taking rural seats off them at elections.  Also, they have aggressively identified and gone after new constituencies as they have appeared on the horizon, and legislated to accommodate them felicitously, which has been repaid with loyalty to and membership of the party and enough votes to be winning elections more often than not.

New constituencies such as the Tradies, who are now also small businesspeople, the Franchise owners and operators, Small, Micro and Home Businesspeople, and ‘New Professionals’, if I can coin that term, in the Alternative Therapies disciplines.  Not to mention their traditional constituencies in Big Business who never desert them.

Yet Labor have doggedly stood by the Unions as this transformation of Australian society has occurred.  And turned a blind eye to the canker of corruption, all too obviously on display now and serving to aid the enemy.  Not only that, but if you play your cards right, in this Closed Shop, you could end up sitting in a comfy chair in parliament.  Not as a result of having any other talent beyond playing the Union Stepping Stone game well.

Well, in the words of that great Monkees song, ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone!’

It’s Time for the Australian Labor Party to undertake the necessary structural change that will see it survive and prosper against the Liberal Party in the 21st century in Australia.  We need an effective force for good (if you want to cast everything in terms of ‘Goodies and Baddies’ as Mr Abbott does) then Labor are the ‘goodies’ and the Coalition are the ‘baddies’, as so much of what made Australia a utopia in the 20th century is now under threat in the 21st.

Unions are a social good; however, the times whereby workers are herded into unions are gone.  Unions should be there for workers to choose them if they want to, and Labor should fight to the political death for unions to be allowed to exist in every workplace, and their practices should be their own best advertisement for the benefits of unions and unionism.  And each and every union member should have the choice whether they join and fund the ALP, or any other political party, and thus they should get one vote with one value only in the ALP.  The days of bloc votes and union Secretary control and string-pulling must be gone and we should see those ties that currently bind the Unions to the ALP severed.  Even if it does upset all the union factional heavyweights to do so.  Anyway, if a stronger Union Movement, with broad community support, arises from the ashes, then that can only be good for the Labor Party.

As I fear that if the party isn’t reconstructed along more democratic lines and the pre-selection of candidates not necessarily in a union, but who believe in unions, doesn’t occur, then all those people who recently formed a new relationship with the party after those liberating and refreshing signs of reform which broke out in the ALP after the last election, will come to the same conclusion.

ALP, I’m just not that into you any more. You’re a dud.

 

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