You Little Ripper!

November 26, 2007 at 1:25 am (Uncategorized)

I am one relieved, hopeful, happy Australian after Saturday’s federal election. You bloody beauty: it’s all over and Kevin Rudd has won. I hope my faith in him and his abilities proves well-founded; I am certainly one of the many Australians who have placed my confidence in his party’s ability to steer Australia in a new and exciting direction.

Saturday itself was anxious here at Chez J. Llew and I both slept badly, our minds whirring with a range of conflicting emotions. I wanted to be outright confident about the result, but I couldn’t be; I just didn’t know how, on the day, the country would behave. Media talk of a late Liberal surge and of a nail-biter added to my sense that any optimism was cautious at best.

We sat in our courtyard reading the newspaper coverage and chatting with a neighbourhood friend who dropped in for a coffee. He’s met John Howard many times because of his job, and he said ‘Look, he’s a good bloke, I like him. He’s such a proud Australian.’ Let me say I have never doubted that Howard is a proud Aussie. In fact, I think he has helped stir nationalism in this country to a new (if flash-flood like) fever pitch. I find excessive nationalism really unpleasant and alarming, and what always disturbed me about Howard’s brand was that he gestured toward this intense, genuine love of country as justification for even his most extreme positions. It had to be the right thing to do, so went the logic, because there was no doubting the man loved Australia. Well, no, actually, in some ways (and often) that passionate nationalism horribly distorted the issue at stake. His tacit support of Pauline Hanson and her vile One Nation party really underscored the problems inherent in Howard’s claim to the role of No. 1 Aussie. Interestingly, our friend was planning to vote for Kevin Rudd because he believed Rudd’s small business policy was better for he and his wife.

Now, this brings me to the suggested increased homogeneity between the two major parties. It’s worked very, very well for Rudd, because if people perceive the politics of the two parties are becoming more and more aligned, then they start looking – finally – at the policies. This is Llew’s observation and I think it’s really astute: Saturday’s Labor win was a triumph of policy over politics, and it signals a huge generational shift in the way Australians vote. For our parents’ generation, many Liberal voters (and Liberal MPs like Bronwyn Bishop) still believe they are locked in a fundamental battle between capitalism and socialism. They have dark memories of the Whitlam era, and they think that a vote for Labor is a vote against a free market economy, against entrepreneurship, against individual responsibility and possibility. They believe this incredibly strongly.

What we’re seeing now, though, is a younger voter who looks at the two major parties and sees that in today’s domestic and international climate, they’ve become much more ideologically aligned than either party’s actual founding principles would suggest. Both parties have arch conservatives, both have small ‘l’ liberals, both have social progressives and social conservatives, both have economic rationalists and reformers. What that means is that average Australians, and probably in particular the younger voters, increasingly simply DON’T CARE if it’s a Labor or Liberal government in power as long as they see the right policies in place. It was a battle won on policy, not politics. If the Labor party and Rudd misinterpret the win as a wholesale endorsement of the union culture, they’ll get a nasty shock at the next election, because (total paranoia aside) many people are frustrated and angered by certain consequences of the union movement’s power in this country. A vote for Labor on Saturday was not a vote for unionism, and I hope the new leader grasps that and grasps it now.

It is a given that we expect our government to responsibly manage our economy. Voting for Rudd was not Australia’s way of suggesting we don’t wish to be an economically prosperous nation. We are a capitalist economy, and that’s not going to change. We are also concerned about climate change, and education, and health, and reconciliation, and a whole raft of issues that fall under the banner of something like ‘social progressives.’ Surely it is possible to be pro a robust economy and competitive workforce and pro world class public health and education? Pro immigration? Pro improved processing standards for refugees seeking a new life in this country? Pro equal rights for same-sex couples? Pro affordable childcare? Pro research and development in the area of alternative energy sources and water management? Pro further R & D into Indigenous health and education? We are a liberal capitalist democracy, so that’s the challenge, isn’t it? Having strong economic growth coupled with strong social growth? They’re not mutually exclusive, and they absolutely can’t be if Australia is to genuinely prosper, which takes a whole lot more than a budget surplus.

Australians are very passive aggressive when it comes to our politics. We’re not activists per se, we don’t go in for a whole lot of mass demonstrations and so on. No, it looks as though we prefer to store our ammunition and then unleash it in one day of reckoning. Saturday was one such day. We were coy, guarded, no one really knew what was going to happen. But when it came down to it, we unleashed a barrel of fire on Howard’s conservative vision and left the Liberal party in no doubt that the economy is not enough. Like the good little capitalists they’ve taught us to be, we want more. More for our money, including some social, environmental, and cultural good.

And it was a fine day too for Australian women, a mighty fine day: Maxine McKew relieved Howard of his own seat of Bennelong, Julia Gillard is Australia’s first female Deputy Prime Minister, and our new first lady Theresa Rein is a formidable and successful businesswoman, wife, mother, and potential role model to the women of Australia. Bring it on, ladies.

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