Contributed by Jim Hayes
Peter Dutton seems to be getting himself in all sorts of trouble. The latest is his clumsy performance on the Voice issue. He can’t get it right anywhere, and a growing list of parliamentarians are walking away from the Liberal Party.
Everything can and sometimes is blamed on Dutton. He doesn’t help matters at all. But the basic problem is that the party is divided and fighting within itself, and this battle is reaching a new level. Any leader would be stumbling in these circumstances.
Two divergent dominant tendencies exist. They share broad support of a belief in the market as the solution to everything. But they differ in how this should be achieved. One holds that the future lies in a hard-line approach of unrestricted capitalism, with the strong arm of the state to enforce it. The other considers that the way should be capitalism with a more human face, including some public intervention to correct market failures. This is the broad difference that is the source of the existing division.
Division has become so intense because it exists in circumstances of a deepening crisis in the economy, characterised by a worsening crisis of production and debt, coupled with a rising distrust of the political system. Each tendency sees its own way as the only possible path to rescue the situation.
Neither has sufficient dominance to get its way, and this leads to division, inconsistency, and loss of direction. After a series of humiliating electoral blows, internal argument is becoming more desperate. Argument about how to restore credibility with the disintegrating political base, win it back and move forward, is becoming increasingly fierce.
Dutton belongs to the hard-line faction, which, from the time of John Howard, has had the upper hand. It has however, failed to consolidate and pull enough of the party and base, in the face of the strength of the opposition.
Some of the opponents have left the Liberal Party. Others continue to battle within. Division is the reason for the inept tactical blunders. The way in which the Voice issue has been handled is one of them. But it is not the only one, and we are likely to see more tactical blunders. whether Peter Dutton stays at the helm or is replaced won’t change this.
While this is bad for the Liberal Party, it is not so bad for Australia. The self-destruction provides an opportunity to build more support for a real alternative, based on a new broad front around the main concerns facing Australia and our national community, and to lead us into the future.
Only through a decisive break from economic and social policy orthodoxy can this be realised. Instead of the iron hand pf the market leading the way, this new path consciously recognises that the future lies in an economy and society that is for people first. A path that realises success can only come about if we work together for our shared needs.
The main difficulty in the way is that Labor, especially now that it is in government, is not making the break, despite its own political base and even more than a few of its members of parliament wanting to. It is not surprising that elements of division exist here too, even if they are less visible today.
Labor is not able to embrace a real alternative. Of course, The differences between it and the liberal Party and its National Party ally in the Coalition, are important and mut be taken account of. This doesn’t mean failing to recognise the limitations.
If Australia is to discover a new way forward, a new political movement, and one that doesn’t exist merely within a single political party and goes beyond parliamentary politics, is necessary. This is a movement that embraces a form of democracy founded on the realisation that the new path must be for all to have a voice that transcends elections every few years.
This sort of democracy means a shared voice in decision making and the implementation of these decisions. Democracy must be brought to the workplace, neighbourhood, and home. Without this, elections and the administration of the state can only offer limited democracy at best. Without this, the real power will remain in the hands of the few.
In the environment of extended true democracy, the likes of Peter Dutton could not rise to the top, and we would all be far better off for it.