No Resurrection – an update

Monday, 3 July 2017    

David Rowe, AFR

Same sex marriage is obviously an issue of interest to same sex couples who want to marry and those committed social conservatives who oppose it – and Liberal politicians who are, by and large, neither.

What is happening here is that same sex marriage is being used as an internal political football in the Federal Liberal party, much as it was an internal political football in Labor a few years ago. Then it was taken up and used by the “modernisers” around Rudd to undermine Gillard and the unions who opposed it.

The issue is now caught up in the undermining of the current Liberal leadership but is now even messier, since it all hinges around a plebiscite, that most of the country may want (hardly relevant right now), but arose out of a hash compromise by Abbott to hang on to his leadership. This forced him to adopt a position in support of a plebiscite that he himself opposed only a few months before but has now been turned into a major point of principle as only Abbott can. It symbolises the way that Abbott has been able to (almost) get away with passing off a Conservative agenda barely two years after a Premiership where the only Conservative Principle most people can remember is wanting to knight Prince Phillip for something.

The Liberals are not in a good position right now.

Just how bad is being perhaps under-estimated by the commentary since the “principled positions” of both sides are being taken a little too much at face value. This is not just on the conservative right. On the liberal side, we have those like Senator Dean who very much wants to have a vote in Parliament rather than a plebiscite, when presumably he will vote in support, which would be a nice change since every other time he has had the opportunity his conscience has told him to vote against it.

The underestimation comes in seeing this as yet another unpopular Prime Minister in trouble and just more of what we have seen for the last seven years. But the very big difference this time is that nobody can summon up an argument why dumping another Prime Minister would make things any better. At least when Abbott and Gillard were dumped there was a polling justification, and the same reason was even tried for Rudd (there wasn’t). This time there is no one who can make a case they would make any real difference to the government’s polling fortunes. No wonder Abbott’s attempt to make this about principles is being given a bit of a run, because the leadership implosion that is actually happening is just a little too awkward to contemplate.

In reality, behind all the polling justifications we have had for the last seven years, they have really been leadership implosions too, i.e. leaders are being replaced with nothing new. The last time it wasn’t the case was arguably when Rudd took over from Beazley in 2006 and at least signalled a more technocratic shift against the “old politics” that ended when Abbott and Gillard took over their respective parties. Both attempts to reinstall the old, whether ideologically or institutionally, flopped. But neither Rudd nor Turnbull, when they returned, could reinvigorate what they had before.

The technocrat moment, that saw Obama and Rudd create some degree of enthusiasm and popularity against the old politics, is now truly over. Politicians and the media have leapt all over Macron as representing its revival while conveniently ignoring the historically low turnouts for the subsequent parliamentary elections, the unpopularity of his policies, and a Presidential win that had more to do with the collapse of traditional parties and his main opponent being Le Pen, than anything else. The right populism was the busted flush it always was, and let’s talk about “Corbynism” when it actually wins something.

So what we are left with is a sort of technocracy by default. In Canberra we have a Prime Minister who is in limbo against a right he kowtows to and a liberal wing who claims him as their own except he can’t actually do much about it. Labor is in the same paralysed, if more catatonic state, under Shorten.

So from where will change come? Unlikely from Abbott’s phoney Conservative Agenda which is going nowhere even with Liberal supporters, and highly unlikely from Bernardi’s more authentic Conservative Agenda, which may have allowed him to suck up fringe Senators desperate for funding, but when electorally combined, as seen in his home state, is proving that 1+1=1.

More likely change will come from two sources. Internationally, the US, the stabiliser of the 20th century is proving the destabiliser of the 21st, whether intentionally or not. No matter what brave face the Europeans put on it, the climate change agenda has been dealt a blow by Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Accords, only underlined by the laughable suggestion that the mantle will be taken up by China, who killed the Copenhagen talks, agreed to the Paris Accords only if it doesn’t need to do anything for years, and can’t even stop the unnecessary choking of its citizens in Beijing (including the party elite in the compound) even if it wanted to. There must surely be a temptation on the Liberal right to follow the US and make climate change an even greater touchstone for mobilising against the moderates than it was in 2009.

And, of course, the second destabiliser of this stalemate could be the one that caused such political headaches in 2016, and is still reverberating, but as yet has not really impacted the Australian political scene – a change in the public mood.


No Apology

Monday, 26 June 2017    

Mutitjulu. Ground zero. Photo: Kia Mistilis

Ten years ago this month the then Northern Territory Labor government published a report Little Children Are Sacred that claimed widespread sexual abuse of children by NT indigenous communities.

This followed a Lateline report a year earlier, somewhat luridly titled ‘Sexual slavery reported in Indigenous community’, that claimed much the same thing in a small NT town called Mutitjulu. Based on testimony from a “former youth worker” (actually an advisor to then Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough) the ABC report claimed that young girls in Mutitjulu were being traded between indigenous communities as “sex slaves”. Subsequent investigation by the police found no evidence to back the claims and residents of Mutitjulu lodged a formal complaint to the ABC.

Now we find out that after ten years, there was no data to back the claims in the Little Children Are Sacred report either. This should not surprise. Read more …


The confusions of anti-politics: UK edition – an update

Monday, 12 June 2017    

Back to the 1980s! Not.

When the British Prime Minister called an election seven weeks ago, it wasn’t just the pundits who thought she’d romp home in a landslide, so did the public. Theresa May was facing one of the most unpopular opposition leaders in modern political history leading a party scraping historic lows in polling.

And it was not just the polls. Read more …


The fracturing – an update

Wednesday, 26 April 2017    

Don’t get too comfortable.

The first round of the French election confirmed what should now be clear, a profound political realignment is underway across Europe and the US. Yet the nature and extent of that realignment is being continually distorted because it is looked through the left-right prism of the past, or its current version, “globalism versus nationalism”.

The French election has been described as a break in the upsurge of right wing nationalism from Brexit to Trump but that requires a mis-reading of both those events. Read more …


No resurrection

Tuesday, 18 April 2017    

David Rowe AFR

Let’s get something clear from the outset. What is going on in the Liberals right now is not a re-run of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. This is worse. Much worse. Read more …


A morbid symptom

Monday, 13 March 2017    

In the run up to the WA election, with the focus on One Nation, several vox pop pieces came out to explain its support. They were presented as empirical evidence from which political conclusions could be drawn but in reality they were the reverse Read more …



Tuesday, 17 January 2017    

David Rowe: AFR

The age of entitlement is over. The age of personal responsibility has begun.

Joe Hockey, 2 February 2014

Four discussions are going on right now that tells a lot about the current state of play between Australian government and society: means testing on pensions, the Centrelink fiasco, MPs expenses and the implementation of income management through the BasicsCard.

Actually, tell a lie. Read more …


2016: The fracturing

Friday, 30 December 2016    

One of the fascinating things about Australian politics is its sensitivity to global politics, a sensitivity that is often disguised unconvincingly by politicians and those with an interest in pretending that it all emanates from the security compound on Capital Hill – even though much of the public is fairly wise to the fact that it doesn’t. It has been useful looking at Australian politics over the last decade because it gives some details on a period in global politics that is now coming to an end. Read more …


A mini Menzies ice age

Tuesday, 27 December 2016    


Howard’s attempt to rehabilitate Menzies this year on telly may have been unconvincing, but its timing wasn’t too bad, since right now Australia is going through a late Menzies period – politically paralysed in the face of international change. Read more …

1 comment


Friday, 18 November 2016    

That other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change.

It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

– The empathy bit in Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” speech

There is a persistent confusion in most political commentary, and the election of Trump shows that this had better be sorted out, and quick. This confusion rests on the relationship between politics and society, and especially an increasingly common habit of projecting what is going on politically directly on to society. Read more …


Earlier posts →