Monday, 1 August 2016
When Howard announced the intervention into Northern Territory indigenous communities in the run up to the 2007 election, it was widely seen as a political masterstroke, comparable to the storming of the Tampa that was supposed to have won the 2001 election (so mis-reading both elections).
At the time this blog suggested that the invasion of Iraq might be a better comparison. First because there was as little evidence of widespread sexual abuse of children as there was of WMDs (although just as widely believed). Secondly, because an intervention driven largely by domestic political considerations could destabilise its intended target.
That destabilisation has happened in two, related, ways. Firstly on indigenous politics. The intervention became a catalyst for what was already building up as a decisive shift in how the grotesque gap between the social conditions of indigenous communities and those of the rest of Australia is viewed.
Traditionally the right tended to put more emphasis on individual responsibility whereas the left tended to emphasise social factors and look to social solutions. The report that triggered the intervention Little Children Are Sacred was very much in the latter tradition seeing the possibility of child sexual abuse being a call for more funding and resources.
But the report’s authors seemed oblivious to not only the claim of sexual child abuse being qualitatively different to poor health or education, and so could hardly be treated as just another call for resources, but how much the ground had shifted away from their approach. The intervention saw a fundamental realignment with the right’s focus on personal responsibility being picked up by not only by Labor under Rudd and Gillard, but also increasingly by prominent indigenous spokespeople such as Pearson and Langton.
This realignment was taken up by the Coalition as well, especially Abbott, who saw it as an opportunity to reshape the debate around indigenous affairs with an interest that received little critical examination, being just part of the unthinking oscillation between outrage and “that’s nice” that indigenous affairs usually receives. With Abbott recognising, unlike Howard, that Rudd’s apology cleared the decks, he saw the intervention gave an opportunity to realign a key part of the Whitlam Settlement that the Coalition have never been completely comfortable with.
Part of that realignment was updating and gaining a new consensus on the Constitution’s race powers – powers to make laws based on the colour of a person’s skin that should be swept away but cannot without undermining the entire edifice of land rights and native title. Dressing it up has been the role of the Panel of Constitutional Recognition which recommended in its report to split the powers up between a provision to make laws to the advantage of any specific group, and then to highlight the special place of indigenous people as a group through recognition in the Preamble to the Constitution.
In effect indigenous recognition in the Preamble, while a nice idea, is the cherry on the cowpat of maintaining the race powers. However, posing the Preamble as an end in itself has led to it being seen by some indigenous critics as tokenism and opening up the question of a Treaty. Since a Treaty is officially unacceptable, we now have the current bogus exercise in democracy by the Referendum Council to manage dissent by “gauging indigenous community concerns” that they didn’t before preparing the report. Nor is there even any consensus on what “laws to the advantage” of indigenous people actually are, with both Pearson and Langton on the Expert Panel, for example, supporting the intervention and its race-based restrictions on welfare.
This lack of resolution to indigenous politics thrown up into the air by the 2007 intervention has also had a destabilising effect on the politics of the Northern Territory.
Race had traditionally played a key part in Territory politics since self-government in 1978. The federal government set up land rights in the NT and self-government within a couple of years of each other, and the Country Liberal Party quickly used opposition to land rights claims “imposed” by the federal government to maintain a grip of government for the next 23 years. CLP support was entrenched in the suburbs of Darwin while Labor was stronger with the indigenous vote. Labor’s first win under Clare Martin in 2001 was a sign that polarity was starting to break down as it made inroads into Darwin’s suburbs, consolidated with a sweeping win in 2005.
The intervention of the military and the federal government into the running of indigenous communities was a hammer blow to the authority of the Northern Territory government, especially the Labor administration that initiated the original report on child abuse. Clare Martin resigned a few months after the intervention, after increasing tension between her and several of Labor’s indigenous MPs, and the government just scraped back to power in 2008.
When the CLP returned to power in 2012 it was a different political environment than a decade before. The party included several indigenous members, with Labor retaining a hold in Darwin while the CLP made inroads in the south, and even providing the country’s first indigenous head of government under Adam Giles who took over in an underhanded coup in 2013.
It was also far more unstable. The CLP government has been nothing short of chaotic in the last few years, especially with its relations to its indigenous members, with several members leaving then joining and swapping parties, descending to the farce in February last year of Giles being ousted from the leadership but refusing to step down – with no one knowing who was heading the government before Giles had clawed back support.
The chaotic political situation is leading to increasing concerns about the viability of the heavily subsidised state itself. As Peter Martin highlights, much of that subsidy has been ostensibly marked for supporting disadvantaged indigenous communities but without being necessarily tied to doing so.
Ironically just when the political situation is so unstable, the government has intervened more heavily into indigenous communities. If the spending is not getting through, more forcible intervention is. Across Australia, the apology for the last stolen generation has been swiftly followed by a new one with the number of indigenous children forcibly taken from their parents soaring over the last decade, with a staggering 10% of NSW indigenous children taken from their parents. In the NT, detention rates of youth, predominantly indigenous, have also soared under both the previous Labor government and the current CLP administration.
Of course the NT government is not the only one in a bit of bother at the moment, and in Canberra a weak Prime Minister has leapt on the reports from a television program to instigate a Royal Commission into events that have been well recorded and known by government for months.
There has been an attempt to make the appalling scenes shown on Four Corners to be simply about race – but it is not so clear cut. Not so much because those incarcerated are not overwhelmingly indigenous, they are, but because the response by indigenous politicians has not been straightforward. When the measures against incarcerated youth, including the introduction of the infamous restraining chair, were debated in the NT Assembly in May, four out of the six indigenous members supported it. Bess Price, a vocal supporter of the intervention, and who voted for the amendment, has been equally vocal in the past over the virtues of the incarceration of indigenous male youth. It seems some of those complaining about the lack of indigenous input have taken little notice to what some have already been saying that may not agree with their own views.
A weak Prime Minister’s intervention into the Northern Territory could be just as destabilising as that of a beleaguered Prime Minster nearly a decade ago. It is perhaps to minimise this that Turnbull has appointed a former NT chief justice to head the inquiry – but then this raises not only questions about investigating a system he was intimately bound up with, but about some of the decisions while he was.
The broader political situation is also unstable as both the CLP and Labor NT governments bear responsibility for the events shown on Four Corners. It suggests that the discussion could quickly turn it into a discrediting of the political class as a whole and only resolved outside the normal political process, as implied by the NT News headline.
Similarly, any attempt to turn this into a simple race morality tale doesn’t fit how race politics has been in upheaval since the NT intervention. Such an attempt mirrors the lack of critical interest in where the race issue has gone since that intervention, typified by the largely uncritical response to the Recognition campaign. As usual in Australia, race remains too central to the state to expect any sort of political clarity on it.1 comment
Sunday, 3 July 2016
A newly installed Prime Minister goes to the first election and claims a mandate that doesn’t exist while an opposition leader claimed a victory that he never won. The eerie mirroring of the 2010 result shows that Australian politics still hasn’t left the deadlock it’s been in since then. Read more …15 comments
Monday, 27 June 2016
It was hard not to escape the conclusion from the reaction to the shock Brexit vote that this was an internal Conservative leadership contest that had somehow spun out of control. Read more …12 comments
Monday, 20 June 2016
The “I” word
Against the terrible events of the last two weeks the general political response from left and right has been dire. It is not, as some have argued, wrong to immediately impose political agendas when something like the attack on an Orlando gay club or the murder of Jo Cox happens. It’s the inability of those political agendas to get a grip on what actually did happen that’s the problem, and the cynical way it was used in Australia immediately after.
After the Orlando shooting it was the right that could identify it as Islamist terrorism while the left dissembled the motive of the killer. Within a few days both sides had clambered over each other to take opposite positions on the murder of Jo Cox. This time it was the left who could call it the far right terrorism it was, while the right tried to shift the discussion away to his mental health.
But it was not just the back-flipping and hypocrisy of both sides’ positions in a matter of a few days. It got much worse than that.
A few weeks ago ISIS was reported to have made a call for “lone wolf” attacks across the Europe and the US during Ramadan. Within a couple of weeks there were two attacks close to each other, the Orlando shooting and the stabbing of two police officers outside Paris. Both followed the usual pattern: claiming allegiance with ISIS on Facebook and, in the Orlando case, by dialling 911, and holding hostages for maximum publicity. Both were designed to increase ISIS’s profile around the world at a time when it was on the retreat in Iraq and Syria.
What ISIS may not have allowed for, however, was the extent to which sections of the US political class and media would go out of its way to deny that the killer did what he several times said he was doing. Instead, the first response from some was to claim it was just another problem of gun control, ignoring not only the fact that he had a security licence and been twice cleared by the FBI, but the particular targeted intent of this attack rather than just a random cinema. Even worse, some jumped on the theory that it happened because Mateen was a repressed homosexual, as though that explained anything, a particularly tasteless speculation given the target, and the sort of psychosexual babble you’d expect in the 1950s of Agatha Christie and her homicidal lesbians. Reports that the FBI is dropping that theory are unsurprising.
The result of all this wriggling on the left side to avoid saying the “I” word – summed up by the President’s meaningless labelling of it as a “terrorism of hate” (as opposed to a “terrorism of love”?), a tactic followed by Clinton (wisely abandoned) – was to let the right completely off the hook and sound almost sensible. It obscured that Trump had no solution than to revive the Muslim ban he previously dropped, out of time not only because after the event, but given Mateen was born in the US, would have required time travel to around 1979 when his father came to the US and Islamic fighters were being armed by the US to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
When the left side did acknowledge that Mateen might be who he said he was, the usual response then was to argue that this shouldn’t reflect on other Muslims, even if they hold anti-gay views.
Actually, this is fair enough. Words are not deeds. There is a world of difference between saying a religious belief, no matter how vile, and carrying it out in practice (otherwise the world would be full of good Christians). Even the so-called “hate speech” preacher who was in Orlando weeks before the shooting and hurriedly (and opportunistically) denied a visa to Australia can hardly be directly linked to such killings.
Mateen’s profile is similar to many observed in Europe going to fight for ISIS in not being especially theological or even that clear on the myriad of Islamic militarist groupings in Syria. The answers surely more lie in the social reality they live for which Islamic radicalism is more likely a vehicle than the primary driver. For example, it has been reasonably suggested that the second generation immigrant status of many who go to fight for ISIS, and Mateen, is more pertinent to their radicalisation – nicely described as the Islamification of radicalism than the radicalisation of Islam.
The trouble is, however, this is not what the left actually thinks. Generally for politicos words are deeds, or at least an incitement to them. The whole concept of “hate speech” is embedded in much of left politics and the calls for bans on, er, black US rap artists coming to Australia is based on the idea that inflammatory speech will directly link to violent acts.
Thirty years ago, it tended to be the censorious right that was more willing to ascribe words or images to violent acts (the new-fangled “video games” were a particular target) while the left’s attitude was more to take pride in criticising what was said to reveal the social reality behind it. With the left having since lost its direct connection to social reality and also ascended into the ether, clamping down on words and images is now presented as an act of social change.
That’s why on Islamic terrorism it has nothing to say. So embedded is the idea that words drive action, that it is hard not to ascribe terrorism to the anti-progressive elements of Islamic teachings, rather than the particular lived reality of the terrorists in the west, and their response to it.
With the murder of Jo Cox, however, to this blogger one of the saddest political events, positions were at least initially more back to normal, and it was instantly ascribed to the far right ideology as details emerged.
But then it changed and it began shifting to something else than just about far right ideology. To understand why it is necessary to look at what was happening in the days leading up to the murder.
As noted before, the dynamic of the Brexit campaign was similar to last year’s Scottish referendum with two campaigns running at the same time: an official nationalist campaign, that was more a middle class concern, and a more hidden anti-establishment anti-elite campaign running in working class areas.
Cameron did the same thing he did in Scotland: wheel out the experts to warn of the economic danger of leaving, something that appears to have some impact on the traditional Conservative base. But the result was also to polarise the “anti-expert” mood in the Leave supporters, especially with traditional Labour supporters.
Labour’s low profile has been noted and explained by its unenthusiastic leader and as a tactic to let the Tories tear each other apart. But when tight polls put increasing pressure on Labour to bring its supporters in line, the real reason for the Labour reticence became clear, it had completely lost touch with them.
That Labour has disconnected from its base is hardly new and has been going on for at least 30 years. But until recently it could be ignored as politically in England there was nowhere else to go. While Scotland, its historical stronghold, was wiped out to the SNP, in England the only party making inroads was UKIP, and even here not as much as some thought – although the fact that an ex-Tory stockbroker could make any headway at all in northern England showed how bad the situation was.
With the EU referendum there is no reason to hold back, and the breach between Labour and its traditional working class base is now fully in the open. There is a highly illuminating video of a Guardian reporter following a Labour MP around her constituency in northern England campaigning for Remain. What is illustrative is not only the surprise of the Guardian reporter at the depth of Leave sentiment with white working class and Muslim communities, but the cluelessness of the MP that is supposed to represent them (the MP seeking refuge in the pottery factory near the end is especially amusing).
By midway through last week, Labour was in full panic mode. The problem was not only the breach with the base, but precisely because of that breach that Labour is desperate to retain ties with the EU bureaucracy. By mid-week some senior Labour figures were promising to make a deal with the EU to restrict immigration (unlikely) while being flatly contradicted by its leader. Guardian columnists were warning darkly of forces being unleashed from a working class no longer under Labour influence.
Then the murder happened. Almost immediately the panic in the Remain camp meant the traditional response to blame the message became focused not just on far right ideology but on the mainstream Leave campaign as well.
Leaving aside that Mair has been a far right activist decades before the EU referendum, from a democratic point of view this is not such a great development. For a UK political campaign, the Brexit campaign is pretty run of the mill. Indeed the farcical “flotilla war” the day before summed up for many what had been a petty and silly campaign. Britain has certainly had more vitriolic campaigns in the 1970s and 1980s. Nor is immigration being a centre-piece that unusual. The Conservatives ran directly on it in 2005 under the classic Crosby dog whistle slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” (it flopped). Even at the last election, immigration was enough of an issue for Labour to issue reassuring mugs and Cameron to promise an immigration level he had no intention of fulfilling.
For a start, it is surely up to the public in a democracy to determine how a campaign is conducted and on what issues. More importantly, letting the actions of a far right nut job determine the limits of what can be talked about is hardly healthy. Even worse, the murder then became linked to a broader “anti-politics” mood against the “elites” that stemmed from the quite justifiable anger about MPs expenses – a bizarre accusation that had nothing to do with the murderer who seemed to be suffering less from anti-politics, than a bit too much of it. It seemed more about the reasserting the battered reputation of a political class than the murder of Jo Cox and her killer.
Cynicism at home
In Australia we saw last week just how crass this approach can get. In the Facebook leaders debate, fortunately watched by no one, Shorten tried to make a link between the Orlando and Cox shootings and the dangers of holding a plebiscite on same sex marriage (from which he later backtracked).
The hypocrisy of Shorten and Labor on this is staggering. Leaving aside that a plebiscite wouldn’t be needed if Labor had passed it in six years of government, it will be remembered that last year Shorten took the lead in blocking an attempt at Conference to make support for same sex marriage Labor policy in favour of keeping it a conscience vote. Funnily enough a block on same sex marriage that was policy when Labor joined the Coalition to apply it in 2004, must now be a conscience vote to lift it.
In reality, same sex marriage has been an internal party political football in Labor even more than it is in the Liberals. Support for same sex marriage has usually been taken up as part of a modernising push against right-wing union control. Their declining grip might have something to do with the shift in “consciences”, especially with NSW right MPs, over recent years, making it otherwise the biggest simultaneous conversion of consciences since the Resurrection.
This is just politics. But to then turn and echo the sentiment in the UK against the public, as being unable to do what the Labor party still can’t, is really too much. Probably one of the most annoying offenders is Senator Wong, who has spoken before about the homophobia in the public that makes her concerned over holding a plebiscite, forgetting that the “homophobic public” was able to tell pollsters they supported same sex marriage before her political career allowed her to do the same. Yesterday she was again warning of the dangers of a public debate, raising hurtful comments about bestiality, while forgetting that it came not from the masses but a fellow South Australian Senator opposite her in the chamber we are now supposed to solely trust with the debate.
The final irony to all of this concern over a public campaign on same sex marriage is, of course, it is precisely what Labor is doing right now in the election campaign. It seems the only safe way to campaign on any issue is when it ends in Vote Labor. And if words are now deeds, it seems the only responsible guardians of them from the public are the politicians they are supposed to elect.1 comment
Monday, 30 May 2016
If a car crash is two vehicles heading in the opposite direction on the same track, then we had the definition of it at the leaders’ debate on Sunday night. Both the press and the two leaders are grappling with the same thing but coming at it from completely opposite directions, and despite all the swerving and evasion to avoid it from both sides, the result ended up being a mess.
Away from the tedious finessing over policy detail, there really is only one issue this election: where both parties go from here now they’ve run out of options. Both parties come to this election exhausted. The leadership toing and froing of the last eight years has solved nothing. Rudd/Turnbull failed to take their parties somewhere new, the return of the old under Gillard/Abbott only made things worse.
Since it became clear that the 2013 election and the end of the Gillard/Rudd period, has solved nothing, there is now more talk of a widespread political malaise in press commentary. But no real attempt to get what was behind it. Instead there has been an exhortation from the more serious commentary to reignite the serious drive for reform from the Hawke/Keating era that never actually happened. As a result, we had this belief when Turnbull took over the leadership, that he could simply over-step the paralysis in the parties and solve the political crisis through his own Fabulousness and pick up where Rudd left off but without the policy waffle.
But Turnbull is no Rudd. He simply does not have the political smarts that allowed Rudd to defeat a long term Prime Minister and become, at least for a while, the most popular political leader in a generation. Rather than take on his own party as Rudd did, Turnbull looks keener to tread water and wait for an election victory to give him the authority he still lacks.
But this isn’t going to happen. Unless it is a landslide, surviving a first term against Shorten Labor is unlikely to be seen by his critics as such an achievement as to shut them up – especially as they will regard him as having watered down the agenda to do so. But as was already clear under Abbott, other considerations than electoral ones apply. Turnbull will still face the almost impossible task of finding a way of promoting the party’s brand and remain electorally viable.
So on Sunday night, we had a format and questions that were suitably high-minded and serious to evoke the, er, great debates of the Hawke/Keating/Hewson era, and two leaders who were simply not in a position to respond.
Of the two, Shorten at least seemed to have adapted more to the times. The little man act, the bad suit, the excessive politeness, the “keeping it real” counter-position of mums and dads against the big corporations and the banks with their $50bn tax cut, was more in keeping with the diminished expectations of current circumstances.
In contrast, Turnbull still has the windy rhetoric that he had when he took office but without the expectation now that it would actually mean something. Without understanding the situation both leaders’ find themselves, there has been understandable annoyance from the press at the two leaders’ lacklustre performance, but especially on Turnbull from whom so much was hoped.
The debate is unlikely to have changed much, given that it reflects the reality of which everyone is already aware. But it might give an indication that in the unlikely event Labor does win, there will be complete incomprehension from some quarters as to why.4 comments
Tuesday, 24 May 2016
The current state of the British political project.
There is a fundamental (and fairly obvious) flaw at the centre of the Brexit campaign. Read more …7 comments
Monday, 9 May 2016
It is not right for Australians to be forced into a guessing game, and it’s not right for Australians to not face this year with certainty and stability. So in the interests of certainty, in the interest of transparency, in the interest of good governance, I have made the date clear today.
J Gillard, January 2013
Turnbull’s bold play came as the latest Newspoll showed his authority sliding, and his government wearing the costs of a perceived drift. Turnbull’s frustration at these perceptions has been as evident as it has been pointless. Having so many unknowns in play at once has done the new PM no favours.
This special sitting / early budget / early double-D election announcement will change all of that smartly.
Mark Kenny, 21 March
Poor polling is making the decision to defer the election until July look increasingly questionable.
Mark Kenny, one month later
This is the second election in a row that the date has been locked in well in advance. The key advantage of choosing an election date, so helpful to a Prime Minister’s authority, has been thrown away by Prime Ministers who desperately needed all the help they can get, because other concerns prevailed – namely the need to lock in a party behind them that was in danger of drifting and fragmenting beneath them. Read more …4 comments
Monday, 28 March 2016
Like a dead fish, a paralysed government soon flips upside down in the water. Read more …14 comments
Monday, 29 February 2016
Why has everyone been so desperate for Tony Abbott to quit the political stage? Read more …5 comments
Monday, 1 February 2016
Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say China in a trade deal?
I beat China all the time. All the time.
Republican and US Presidential front-runner Donald Trump
When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?
Rupert Murdoch 18 July 2015
London elites, media, etc sneering at Trump, others. No understanding of mid-America conditions or politics.
Rupert Murdoch four months later
Mr. Trump, in 1999, you said you were, quote, “very pro-choice.” Even supporting partial-birth abortion. You favored an assault weapons ban as well. In 2004, you said in most cases you identified as a Democrat. Even in this campaign, your critics say you often sound more like a Democrat than a Republican, calling several of your opponents on the stage things like clowns and puppets.
When did you actually become a Republican?
Megyn Kelly at the Fox debate
It might seem to be similar. Like UK Labour, the US Republicans are now stuck with a front runner they don’t want and have been trying to get rid of.
But there the similarities end. Read more …6 comments