But one of the most vexing criticisms has been the donation of a large sum of money (believed to be $325,000) to the Greens campaign by the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union. A significant portion of this ended up with Adam’s campaign. Beyond any right-wing outrage, such as that practiced by the Murdoch press, progressive Sydney Morning Herald columnist Lisa Pryor has also weighed into the debate, broadening it to the question of political donations more generally.
Saturday’s result can be viewed as a great exercise in democracy — or a poor second-best outcome. The independents now crucial to who forms Australia’s government would tell you it’s the former. Commonsense leans to the latter interpretation.
As one might expect, the lack of a clear winner in Saturday’s federal election has led to much discussion of the democratic processes that delivered such a result, and whether it was “a good thing”. Most prominent have been suggestions that this was a bad result because it has created “instability”, which is hurtful to “the national interest”. It’s never quite made clear but the national interest seems to be whatever is synonymous with what business needs to do business, and “the markets” have been sending clear messages about the need to speedily resolve the deadlock, including a brief dive in the value of the dollar. Key corporate leaders have also been explaining how Greens influence is a bad thing, how they have already “factored in” a Coalition win, and that they expect the mining tax to be scrapped.
When we started this blog in July, we addressed the “democratic deficit” in Australian society. Yesterday’s result, of a likely hung parliament, is a reflection of the inability of the main parties to even create the illusion they have won a mandate to govern.
The election was a disaster for the ALP. Having killed the sense of progressive hope that gave him a landslide victory, Rudd was knifed by a party who ultimately did the same to remaining hope. This was Gillard’s function, to triangulate Abbott by simply appropriating his most noxious policy positions. In doing so she legitimated his right-wing agenda and gave him a veneer of respectability that many had thought impossible. Even in those late moments when the ALP tried to speak to its working class base, their campaign could offer only piecemeal reforms that didn’t fit into its neoliberal narrative. And while sympathetic commentators managed to get Gillard to recognise, “It’s the economy, stupid,” the stimulus tale of massive state intervention didn’t sit logically with the rest of the party’s fiscally conservative image, focused on how responsible their spending would be and how little they could give their base because of the pressing need to get back into surplus.
Among progressive environmental thinkers it has become de rigueur to attack economic growth as the main problem leading to ecological destruction and runaway climate change. The argument is put with certain variations, but the central theme is always the same: economic growth is infinite while the planet is finite, and so we cannot afford to keep going in this direction.
The “growth fetish” has also been attacked in a particular critique of neoliberal ideology, which tends to equate GDP growth and increasing consumption with human wellbeing. Contra the thesis of homo economicus, there are masses of data indicating that in rich nations “prosperity” (more broadly understood) cannot be read off headline growth figures. In The Spirit Level, Wilkinson and Pickett demonstrate that in rich countries raw GDP figures have little association with a wide range of health and social indicators, and that the latter are much more closely related to economic equality. Whereas neoliberal thought would have us believe rising inequality is a small price to pay for economic growth “lifting all boats”, in fact even well-off people in more unequal societies suffer from greater problems than their peers in more equal ones. This association even holds true for countries’ action on climate change, which (it is argued) is impeded by more individualistic, consumerism-oriented social organisation.
For too long the system has focused on treating people after they become unwell, and this has resulted in vast social and economic costs associated with chronic disease.
—Commonwealth Government response to the Report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce, May 2010
“Prevention” has become the health reform buzzword du jour, accepted at all points of the political spectrum. The spiralling costs of acute and chronic treatment have led to a search for more efficient and beneficent approaches to health and illness than merely cleaning up the burden of illness at the pointy end. Yet the logic of the current focus on prevention says more about the narrow ideological assumptions of mainstream discourse than a genuine attempt to prevent illness.
In recent weeks many political commentators have argued that what is missing in the current, dispiriting campaign is a serious debate on economic policy. But it is hard to see what real debate can be had given that both major parties share a near-identical obeisance to neoliberal orthodoxy: low taxes, balanced Budgets with an aversion to deficit spending, cutting business red-tape, limiting trade union rights and leaving real economic decisions to the “free market”. Lest there be any concern that Gillard was following Rudd in pronouncing the death of neoliberalism and predicting a new era of social democratic ascendancy, her National Press Club speech just before calling the election put paid to that. As one perceptive commentator has put it, any differentiation between the two parties is illusory:
There is no real alternative of economic policy. Rather one is hiding behind the stability of the Howard years three years ago, the other the recession that was avoided last year. Take your pick on the past you prefer.
This, then, is where the Greens come in, spruiking a “transformative” new politics and an economics that supposedly breaks from the numbing orthodoxy of the mainstream. The current political vacuum has meant that their policies are analysed with a seriousness not previously afforded them.
This morning on our way to the city my husband told me how his cousin’s car had been smashed up and he’d been left a note — “go back to your own country terrorist”.
Welcome to Australia, 2010.
H lives and works in a remote mining town in Western Australia. He moved to Australia nearly 2 years ago after completing his MBA at an Australian university’s Malaysian campus. Like many from the Middle East his undergraduate qualifications are in Petroleum Engineering. H struggled to find a job in Sydney and when offered the position in WA took the opportunity gladly. Bet he’s probably regretting that about now…
I wonder how you see the Greens party. I mean is it an ecological party or is it maybe Australia’s only left wing party?
—Laurie Oakes to Bob Brown, 11 July 2010
The persistence of polling showing the Greens at 11-13 percent has meant that for the first time in a federal election the party has been taken seriously by the MSM. Apart from some unsavoury red-baiting directed at Lee Rhiannon, the usual scare stories about crystal meth being available to kids on street corners have been few and far between. Instead we have seen significant media time, positive coverage of the party’s most important lower house campaign, reports on relatively minor preselections, and detailed discussions of party policies, especially those on economics.
Soon after becoming leader, Mr Abbott stated in parliament “I have even been accused from time to time of flirting with the deputy Prime Minister”. And in rising to congratulate him, Ms Gillard reciprocated the banter with “obviously I know Tony well, we spent a lot of time chasing each other round…we were for a while a Punch and Judy show for Australian politics”.
If postmodernism represents the philosophical and aesthetic logic of late capitalism, then we have certainly scored ourselves the ultimate postmodern election. Fragmentary policy announcements, a lingusitic turn on the messaging front and, of course, such self-reflexive narratives that it’s hard to tell what is “real” anymore. Actually, hold that thought, because there is nothing real, just the bubble of the official discourse, however shifting and indeterminate that seems.
It has now reached the stage of madness, where the ALP’s recent addiction to focusing on the process of politics rather than politics itself (who would name their campaign Kevin07 if they wanted people to take politics seriously, after all?) has morphed into the bizarre spectacle of a dual prime ministerial assassination. I refer, of course, to that “first as tragedy, then as farce” double entendre; the sudden dumping of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd followed by the even more sudden dumping of Prime Minister Fake Julia Gillard*. Not only is Ms Gillard Mk II providing knowing metacommentary on how she has replaced her former self (in case we miss what has happened), but the murder of her own evil twin is itself a metacommentary on how she knifed Rudd.