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Fear and managerialism veto ALP vision


An increasingly disaffected electorate prefers the political status quo than reform and vision, argues Malcolm King. 

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We must give credit to Scott Morrison for realising that the Australian electorate is so scared of change, that the word ‘taxes’ sent many of them to jelly and into his arms.

Morrison attacked the ALP’s plan to increase taxes on the rich to fund education and healthcare – an ALP’s core policy since the 1950s – as he warned we’ll all soon be singing The Internationale.

We enter the theatre of the absurd when Coalition politicians and business lobbyists oppose tax increases on the wealthy, by portraying the ‘enemy’ as a cabal of middle class lawyers, intellectuals and unionists, who want to destroy capitalism.

With the political landscape now cleared of any reformist forces, businesses can continue with growing confidence to not pay workers more, thereby creating deflation and forcing more shops to close.

The ALP’s policies were so tame and inoffensive, it was a credit to Morrison that he could generate a fear campaign at all. He settled on ‘Bill can’t be trusted’ or in the active voice, ‘don’t trust Bill.’

Both the ALP and the Coalition targeted the ‘median voter’. This mythic individual cleans his sports ute on Sunday and says ‘fair go’, ‘crikey’ and ‘fair suck’ a lot.

Let’s cut to the chase. Unless you’re over-educated, middle class and live in the eastern suburbs, most lads and ladettes couldn’t give a fig about politics. They wouldn’t vote at all if it wasn’t compulsory.

Rather than a genuine contest of ideas, elections have become superficial, increasingly presidential, driven by slogans, sound bites and stunts.

Voters feel disenfranchised and ignored, so they drift from the two major parties, both in protest and in the hope that minor parties may be able to force better government.

More than five million people voted early at the 2019 election, and I suggest most of them were utterly bored with the two-party candidate smorgasbord.

I will bet my franked share credits on money I didn’t earn that turnout rates will have fallen again at this election.

The turnout rate for the 2016 federal election was the lowest recorded since compulsory voting was introduced in 1924.

I agree that many Liberal voters have the right to reinstall a government beset with rolling scandals and resignations, to-the-death fractional brawls and the political knifing of Malcolm Turnbull. It is their prerogative.

Voters rewarded Peter Dutton with a seat in parliament for overthrowing the Prime Minister.

They also rewarded Barnaby Joyce with the same for having an affair with a staff member, getting her pregnant and leaving his wife.

Our moral framework has some serious WH&S issues.

Consider too, we just elected a Prime Minister who never wanted a royal commission in to the finance sector. Wage fraud? Payday lending? Whistleblower legislation? Goodbye to all that.

Morrison’s focus in the election was on broad economic management, a return to surplus and debt repayment.

But none of these issues resonated with the lived experience of voters struggling daily with ever-rising costs of living and under employment.

Yet they voted Morrison in. How does one explain that? The threat of living under a Stalinist regime with comrades Shorten, Plibersek and Wong got too much for them.

So instead of voting in a government to focus on the most severe political, social and economic tremors building along the fault line of western capitalism – we’re getting tax cuts. Hooray!

Let us briefly consider the role the ‘Overton Window’ plays in Australian politics.

This concept states that there are only a limited number of policies the electorate will accept. The more conservative and orthodox, the better for the Liberals and Nationals.

No matter if the Chinese are building their third aircraft carrier; if unemployment and under employment are under reported or if withdrawal of quantitative easing sends the finance markets in to a tail spin, the Coalition will plod down the road most travelled.

This create a psychic prison and it has some direct effects.

It engenders managerialism. Meetings are held, resolutions are passed and nothing happens. Corporate values replace societal values or what we conceive of as the common good. Spin replaces policy implementation.

Some years ago, I flew in to Adelaide after spending a month in Spain. The taxi driver said, ‘you don’t need to go overseas, mate. We have everything here.’ Parochialism is a form of psychic prison.

I harbour two fears. The first is that the power of ‘the word’ is dissolving. This is paradoxical as more people are consuming the news than ever, across a raft of mediums.

Yet in a world where whiz-bang technological tools, fab digital graphs and cute kitten YouTube clips rule, what’s the point of reading at all? I suggest much political opinion is formed devoid of background or context but then again, the mainstream print media has been like that for 40 years.

My other fear is heretical. What if our appeals to egalitarianism are mere lip-service? Australia has turned in to a more insecure and insular nation. Appeals by politicians to the better angels of our nature, mask a colder truth: it’s all about me, me, me.

Malcolm King is a professional writer who splits his time between Adelaide and Canberra. He is a regular InDaily columnist.

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