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(Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons)

John Passant reflects on a week of insanity in Australian – and world – politics, saying Labor and the Greens must do better.

World changing events happened last week. Xi Jinping entrenched his rule indefinitely in China. Vladimir Putin threatened the U.S. with potential nuclear destruction. Donald Trump began a trade war.

In Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian dictator kills Syrian children with Russian help. In Yemen, tens of thousands of kids are dying because of Western support for "our" side.

And in Australia? With Barnaby Joyce resigning, Michaelia Cash slut shaming and Peter Dutton "moralising", we have distractions from the real issues and the politics of the personal becoming the politics of the gutter.

Yet, these "brain snaps" and calculated gutter sniping expose deeper truths about Australian politics. Take Barnaby for example. It is not about the rooting. It is about the rorting.

In Peter Dutton’s case,  we have the man who runs Australia’s concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru lecturing Bill Shorten and Tony Burke on morals. Why Shorten and Burke? Could it be because they divorced and then remarried? Nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I mean, know what I mean? dogwhistles Dutton.

Dutton was threatening to unleash the sewer dwellers on Shorten and Burke if Labor continues to raise questions about the rorting of Barnaby, and others. While Dutton was sniping, Cash went full metal jacket.

In Estimates, Senator Doug Cameron asked Minister Cash about who her new chief of staff was or was going to be. The Senator was trying to establish links between her staff and the right wing industrial relations cabal in light of the potentially criminal leaking of details from Cash’s office of a raid on the office of the Australian Workers Union. That leak saw her previous head of staff resign.

 According to Jenna Price in the Canberra Times, it

‘... looks like Cash has just appointed a brand new chief of staff, Gisele Kapterian, who will leave the office of Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, where she is deputy chief of staff.’

Perhaps in her own mind, Cash was linking the Prime Minister’s recent ministerial bonking ban to Cameron’s questions. Who knows? 

Whatever the explanation, this was Cash’s "response":

If you want to start discussing staff matters, be very, very careful. I am happy to name every young woman in Mr Shorten’s office about which rumours in this place abound.

If you want to go down this path today I. Will. Do it.

Do you want [me] to start naming them? For Mr Shorten to come out and deny any of the rumours that have been circulating in this building for many many years. [It’s a] dangerous path to go down, and you know it.

The former Minister for Women was attacking women for being women. Much has been written about this and I won’t go over that ground. One point that has not been raised very much if at all is that the Liberal and National Parties have a problem with women.

Then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, misogynist extraordinaire, was also Minister for Women. That sums up the problem the Liberals have with women. But not to be outdone, his then Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women and then Minister for Women under Malcolm Turnbull, until the 21 December 2017 reshuffle, Michaelia Cash, now slut shames women. And Barnaby Joyce has joined her, slut shaming his pregnant partner Vikki Campion.

You can see it too in the leadership arrangements of the Liberals and Nationals. Julie Bishop has been the loyal deputy to four male Liberal Party leaders. But she has never run for the leadership.

Bridget McKenzie is the Deputy leader of the Nationals. Last year, she beat Michael McCormack for that position in a party vote. McCormack is now the leader. The argument is framed of terms of being in the Senate rather than the House, but the reality is she is a woman and the reactionary Nationals will never have a woman leading them.

It should not come as a surprise that the conservative forces in society hold conservative views about women. These views express the oppression of women under capitalism, and their role as the unpaid bearers and carers of the next generation of workers. 

Only a mass movement of women, the women’s liberation movement, challenged this and won, admittedly, partial victories. However, until the role of women as the brood mares for capitalism is fundamentally challenged, women will continue to be oppressed.

Mass movements are the key to change, both within and outside the current system. On Saturday night, I was flicking between various TV channels to watch the Tasmanian election results, the Australia South Africa Test cricket and the Sydney Mardi Gras.

In a way, all three are linked. If you don’t fight, you lose.

The first Sydney Mardi Gras, in 1978, was organised to commemorate the ninth anniversary of Stonewall — the riots in New York that sparked the gay liberation movement. The police attacked and brutalised the protesters. They fought back. That fight back was a culmination of years of organising, and fighting for equal and democratic rights. 

For many years, apartheid South Africa was banned from playing test cricket, and sometimes other sports like rugby. The movement against apartheid in Australia saw radical protests against  the touring Springboks rugby union team in 1971.

These support movements reinforced the magnificent struggle against apartheid in South Africa. That mass movement won when, built on the back of local anti-apartheid struggles, the black working class in South Africa began to flex its muscles, linking the economic and political struggles. 

And then there is the Tasmanian election. The Liberal Government has been returned. The swing to Labor was 5.5%. However, this only raised the ALP’s vote to 32.8% — still a very low figure. Given the swing against the Government was only 0.8%, much of the swing to Labor apparently came from The Greens, whose vote fell 3.8%.

The majority of Tasmanians supported Labor’s proposed ban on poker machines. It was, however, not a vote changer from Liberal to Labor. The Greens could talk about the environment, but they said little on the other big issues, namely falling living standards, growing inequality, unemployment, and poor public education and health systems. They offered no way forward for winning a more just society, other than vote Green.

Since 2010, the Greens’ vote has fallen from 21.6% to Saturday’s result of 10%. The swing against them in the state election in 2014 was 7.78%. Perhaps it is time for the Greens to radicalise their program and actions. Perhaps it is time to abandon the goal of managing capitalism for the capitalists, and to try to mobilise the masses in a fightback on the streets and in the workplaces for a better world.

Given that Labor only improved its number of seats by two or, at best, three and is still well short of winning power, voters evidently did not think what Labor offered on the big bread and butter issues was going to improve their lives either. The swing against the ALP in the State election in 2014 was 9.55%, so winning back only 5.4%, much of it from the Greens, is not a great result. Perhaps it is time for the Party to radicalise their program and actions?

Perhaps it is time for Labor to abandon the goal of managing capitalism for the capitalists, and to try to mobilise the masses in a fightback on the streets and in the workplaces for a better world. Who knows, maybe mobilising the masses a la Jeremy Corbyn around a radical program could actually make it easier for Labor to win elections?

And if there were that mass mobilisation, maybe we could hide all the puritanical and personal crap seemingly about to be unleashed behind Michaelia Cash’s whiteboard and enter the realm of real politics, class politics.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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