Contributed by Joe Montero
The recent Western Australian election saw a wild swing that brought in a new Labor administration. Is certainly had a lot to do with a turn against the One Nation Liberal Party alliance. There was also more to it than this.
The number of voters not tied to one or the other major parties no matter what is growing and this is important. And it is happening in every part of the country. These are the Australian who feel let down by living experience and want action to address growing unfairness, falling living standards and opportunities and subjection to what is shaping up to an uncaring big brother style of government. They feel alienated and disempowered and they want an end to it.
Politicians are on the nose. At election time, there is a tendency to vote for the one you hate the least. Part of the frustration is that the electoral system we have in Australia offers little chance for any alternative. If a threat of a fine was not there, only a minority would even bother to cast a ballot.
Regular politicians and mainstream media seldom talk about these things. When they do, the alienated are dismissed, as not really understanding and the solution offered is, to improve communication. They understand what is going on all right.
These people deny that there is a real basis for the changing mood. Secondly, the rising mood is explained a something bad, cause a non-compliant public brings the threat that the existing political order will be upset.
The point is that this is a good thing. A population prepared to assert itself, is a population that can build a better future. This should be welcomed. The more of it the better.
Some commentators are bemoaning what they call the rise of the populist backlash. This avoids the issue. Perhaps one part of it is the rise of One Nation. But this is not the whole of it. If the rising mood is to be defined, it is that at heart it pitches itself against economic and political power in the hands of the big corporations. The turn away from traditional politicians, is based on the belief that they are in the pockets of these corporations and the turn away from traditional political parties exists, because they come across as sharing the same corporation serving policies.
Over the last three and a bit decades there has been a noticeable growth in the merger between the state and the corporate world. The former is increasingly taking the shape of a committee of management for the competing corporate interests. This new regime introduced by Labor, during the early 1980’s Hawke and Keating governments and the Prices and Incomes Accords. Corporatism has since stuck deeper roots and grown.
Combined with deepening economic troubles, the rise of corporatism has seen the hard face of the bean counter step to the front. Society must be run like a corporation. The discipline of a corporation must be imposed on society. There is no longer even much of a pretense that the running of the country is a collective effort and that government expresses the popular will. Politicians and high level officials do not serve as representatives. They are managers and service to the corporation is everything.
Australia is not unique. Corporatism and economic stagnation in the industrialised world have given rise to the Trump factor and Bernie Sanders in the United States, Nigel Farange and Jeremy Corbin in the United Kingdom, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron in France, SYRIZA and Golden Dawn in Greece, Podemos and Ciudendanos in Spain. These few examples make the pattern clear.
On the surface this looks like a polarisation to the left and right. It is part of the picture. But this is also too simple an explanation. What drives the base in each camp is the call for a seismic political shift from corporatism to a politics that works for people
In terms of economic policy, this is about rejecting neoliberalism, with its austerity, lack of care for people, privatisation, the decimation of services and the growing use of the big stick to enforce it. Those who listen will hear the call to bring into place policies that ensure a fair distribution of the wealth of society, that all sections contribute fairly and restore needed services.
The biggest threat is that there are elements working to exploit the discontent and channel it into dead end and divisive paths. These elements do not really honour the discontented. They are chained to the corporation and pretend that all the problems are the fault of minorities that have “taken what belongs to you”. Their trademark is the politics of hate. The purpose is to divide the population into warring camps and become easier to manage.
One Nation expresses it. This factor, combined with political incompetence in the leadership is pulling the party apart. The gap between what the base wants and the leadership is doing is too wide to bridge.
The Coalition parties also try to drag their shrinking bases down the same road, showing the degree to which corporatism has developed in Australia
The Labor Party will face the greatest test. Its future is will rest on whether it is seen to break away from the corporatist consensus or to be part of it. Internal tensions are deepening and Labor’s base can no longer be taken for granted.
Some of its bae has gone to the Greens. Labor’s links to the unions are more tenuous than they used to be, regardless of momentary surface appearances. The pressure for change is great.
If Labour chooses to remain a party of corporatism, it stands to suffer the fate of its overseas counterparts. If it chooses to be a party of a new direction, it may gather a groundswell behind it.
Change in the thinking of Australians will continue to grow and there are already signs that this will morph into a new movement to make a difference.