Australia approaches the Abbott abyss

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Doug Evans maps the overall Australian political scene — and makes some stark predictions about Australia’s future under an extreme rightwing Tony Abbott government.

IN political fortune telling self-delusion is not helpful — the stakes are too high. This is my reading of the available evidence of our immediate political future. I think that we are witness to a frightening convergence of forces in Australian political and social life.

I fear that the upcoming Federal election will not simply mark another disastrous lurch to the right in Australia’s political trajectory but that, because of its timing, it will actually be the point at which the lucky country finally runs out of luck. Tony Abbott, far from the malign but easily dismissed buffoon he is often portrayed as, is both the product and epicentre of what may well become a perfect political storm.

Let’s look at the main features of our contemporary political landscape.

First, there is the crumbling ruin of the ALP a former social democratic ‘workers’ party with a major identity problem. As we all know, some years back the party moved quite a distance to the right to a new, temporarily more advantageous, location in the political centre. As a result of this move, it has lost much of its original reason to exist and appears incapable of formulating a coherent new rationale to replace the original. This formerly important political institution, hollowed out by corrupt, undemocratic internal processes and shedding members faster than asylum seekers drown as a consequence of its inept, inhumane, poll-driven policies, seems unable to act to help itself. Frozen in the onrushing headlights of history, its fate seems out of its hands, likely to be determined by circumstances beyond its control.

Still in government in Tasmania with the support of The Australian Greens and with some hope of returning to power in Victoria courtesy the extraordinary ineptness and borderline corrupt practices of the unpopular Baillieu government, Labor seems certain to be booted out of power federally at the next election. This would of course make Tony Abbott PM, a truly scary prospect, but more of him later.

There’s nothing new or original about this analysis of the current state of the ALP. As long ago as 2009, I vented my spleen here over the implications of Labor dithering over climate change policy. The broader implications of Labor’s decline have been widely discussed over the last year or so and, to the extent that Australians think about such matters at all, I think the position summarised above is the dominant view of Labor’s current fortunes. Of course, there is plenty of angry denial from within the tent, but given that the rapidly shrinking Labor party can only seriously claim about as many members these days as a moderately successful AFL club, the counter-view has less and less credibility.

Gina Rinehart’s ongoing assault on the languishing Fairfax media conglomerate will, I surmise, either succeed or, in failing, destroy the Fairfax press we know it and have come to rely on. Either way, one of Australia’s two remaining sources of reasonably objective reporting will be removed or seriously degraded. The other source, our ABC, which is still bearing the scars from its culture war battles during the Howard years, will struggle on but for how long? What will a cash-strapped Abbott government – so many promises, so little money – do to ABC funding? The answer is obvious.

Third we have the self-satisfied, Australian electorate with its enormous sense of entitlement. Each and every perceived challenge to our incredibly comfortable, materially privileged, way of life that is able to be confected by the mass media produces a ‘Pavlovian’ grumpiness with the government in the electorate. So politically apathetic are we that a widely quoted and much discussed,  recent Lowy Institute Poll revealed that just 60 per cent of Australians say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government, with only 39 per cent of 18 to 29 year olds supporting this proposition. So great is the confusion generated by the almost omnipresent propaganda from the megaphones of the right, that we are beginning to take to the streets to angrily denounce political initiatives clearly in our best interests and defend those that clearly are not. In this, as in so much else, we are following the lead of the US.

Fourth, and scariest of all is the timing of this gathering of malign forces. From the point of view of the climate crisis, it’s a question of act now or hang on tight as it’s going to be a rough descent into chaos that is unlikely to end well. The science overwhelmingly indicates that we are on track for at least a four degrees warmer world by 2100. By then, various critical tipping points will have been passed and the world may well be on course for a climate beyond the capacity of humans to endure and survive except, hopefully, for a remnant population clustered around the poles.

The International Energy Association, hardly a bunch of hysterical greenies, have given the world until 2017 to begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to give it a 50/50 chance of avoiding runaway climate change. Far from a minor player in this drama as the mouthpieces of the idiot right continue to assert, Australia has a starring role. Both of the major political groupings in the Australian political spectrum have done their best to avoid effective strategies in their response to this crisis but, as the Clean Energy Future legislation indicates, it has at least been possible to chivvy the ALP into something like effective action.

On the conservative side, however, the story is much worse. Abbott’s laughable Direct Action fig leaf is intended to do no more than assuage the consciences of potential Coalition voters with an interest in the topic. The behaviour of Coalition State governments during this brief period of waiting for the Federal political pendulum to swing back to the right is an excellent indicator of what we might expect under a future Abbott government. Yesterday, for instance, the LNP State Convention passed a motion to stop teaching climate science – or what they call “environmental propaganda” – from Queensland schools. Any reader of Sandi Keane’s excellent posts on Independent Australia understands that the response from the Tories at State level in anticipation of an Abbott victory federally has been disgraceful — nothing short of deliberate environmental vandalism.

There are many policy prisms through which to view the tug of war currently playing out in Canberra. I choose to highlight climate change firstly because this is the one I am most familiar with. Most importantly, however, I choose to highlight it because this is the big one, the big story of this and any other era in human history. The issue we can’t afford to ignore. The battle we simply can’t afford to lose — but are losing.

Fifthly and finally, into this seething mess, introduce Abbott and his band of humourless, talentless, right wing zealots. Effectively purged of any remnants of small ‘l’ liberalism, the Coalition is overtly taking its cues from the rabid Republican right over the Pacific, whose blitzkrieg pillage and rape tactics have brought politics in the US to its lowest ebb. The mass media is slavishly spreading the word. The big end of town is pouring in the dollars — which is another problem that the ALP has — not enough cash from a failing Union movement. The people have become an angry lynch mob, lapping it all up.

Abbott has already profoundly altered the Australian political landscape, probably forever, certainly for the worse. He has perfected the Howard art of dog-whistled approval for our most reprehensible national characteristics — think asylum seekers. He has conducted an unprincipled and mendacious blitzkrieg against a well-meaning and worthy – but, in truth, hapless – government of a level of violence that is new to this country and appears to have left the government, still a year out from election, more or less dead in the water — defenceless, dispirited and without direction. Aided and abetted by the mass media, Abbott has perfected the art of governing by continually fanning the flames of our selfish sense of entitlement and our innate fear of the other.

Daily we are reminded that only he can protect us from the dark unknown stranger who will come in the night to pinch your job, rob your home, assault your family and the message is being heard loud and clear. Abbott is a gambler with the crash through or crash audacity of a leader. He states a position clearly and simply (no headache-inducing complexity, thank you very much) and, publicly at least, he sticks to it.

Economists disagree with him on the carbon tax? They’re wrong. Naval men disagree with him on the practicability of turning back the boats? They’re wrong. In the ‘burbs and the bush the people lap it up. They see it as strength. With a strong man at the helm we can stop worrying can’t we? Abbott, by virtue of our peculiar political circumstances, has become a leader and, in uncertain, unsettling times, the nation cries out for leadership, for someone to convince us that he – we still can’t quite accept a woman as PM – that HE knows what to do and how to do it, so we can comfortably doze off again.

Of course, given a united Labor Party, a government with a coherent vision of a future Australia, a suite of policies to match and a popular leader in charge, Abbott would crash and burn. Of course, given a diverse and objective mainstream media and a politically aware electorate, Abbott would never have risen. We don’t have any of the above. We are not likely to get them in the foreseeable future and the mad monk is no figure of fun. He is simultaneously the inevitable product of our collective civic and political apathy and odds on to become the key figure in delivering its destructive consequences on us.

Faced with annihilation at the hands of the barbarian hordes of the right, how does the Labor party respond? Like a small, trapped animal with no possibility of flight. Lashing out mindlessly, all tooth, claw and noise, the contemptible moral and intellectual pygmies who have brought the party to this parlous state have decided that a campaign of disinformation in respect of The Greens is a good idea.

Their destructive threat to preference The Greens last at the next election shows that even with the looming prospect of a wipe-out at the ballot box, they are quite prepared to put at risk The Greens’ Senate balance of power — the last buffer between the Australian people and the deluge from the right that Labor ostensibly opposes. Should the Coalition achieve a majority in both upper and lower Houses we really will have the perfect political storm.

(Image courtesy The Monthly)

Tony Abbott hasn't come to power yet, but all the indicators suggest that he will.  For an indication of the values that will inform his government should come to power I suggest you conjure the memory of that vomit-inducing image of Gina Rinehart whispering sweet nothings in Abbott’s left ear. Now if you can stand it imagine Abbott’s other best friend, Archbishop George Pell whispering in the other. Barring a political miracle that just about sums it up for us between next year and probably sometime after 2020.

I am already a grandfather.  I cannot conceive of the possibility of the Labor Party ever governing federally in its own right again in my lifetime. Unless or until the ALP leaves its sense of disappointment and its overweening sense of entitlement behind and faces the reality that it must find ways to forge alliances with the Greens there will be no chance of a left-oriented, progressive Federal government in Australia, even in the medium term. Labor’s years in the political wilderness, following the split with the DLP, pale into insignificance compared to what it is now faced with. I can see no indication that the ‘faceless’ meat-heads pulling Labor’s strings have noticed this yet.

Now if I were a real leftie cyber pundit, this would be the point at which I explained how, despite all of the evidence, the scenario I have outlined will not come to pass and that there is still reason for hope. Unfortunately, I’m not, and, barring heavenly intervention, there almost certainly isn’t. No secret path to salvation. No way of avoiding the rise of the rabid right. A strong majority for the Coalition at the next Federal election will be a black outcome for Australia. The removal of the buffer of the Greens’ balance of power in the Senate and a Coalition majority in both ‘Houses’, would be an unmitigated disaster. As I said before, hold on tight it’s going to be a rough ride.

(You can read more by Doug Evans at the Earthsign blog. Do you agree with Doug’s analysis, or do you have an alternative perspective you think other IA readers should see. If so, send your vision for Australia’s political future to editor@independentaustralia.net.)

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