Monday, 18 August 2014

No politics in their politics

Written by

I’ve been thumping my fist on tables and yelling about the government since the grunge was a lad. And I used to love it. The heated debates, the personalities, the ideologies, the intricacies of parliamentary process and the real world effects of politics have never staled in their infinite variety.

Until now.

There’s nothing left to debate with proponents of the Abbott government because there’s no politics in their politics, no argument in their argument and no evidence in their evidence.

Tony Abbott himself succinctly described everything about the current government that makes politics so dispiriting:

To a conservative, intuition is as important as reasoning, instinct as important as intellect. A way of life has far more demonstrative power to a conservative than a brilliant argument.

Tony Abbott, Battlelines

That’s a disturbing enough as a basis for any of a personal philosophy, but Abbott et al are using it as a basis for government policy. Implicit in this is that they feel no dissonance in rejecting evidence-based advice that proves their policies won’t achieve their stated aims.

As Abbott pointed said, it is the nature of conservative governments to ignore science and evidence in favour of their feelings about the status quo. This was less of a problem under John Howard, whose strongest feeling was that middle class Australians should be leading a comfy little life, falling asleep in from of the telly with their slippers on. It meant he may have ignored or dismissed the difficulties experienced outside middle Australia, but he knew enough to not act punitively against them.

The feeling that underpins the Abbott government is anger; the sullen, retributive anger that comes from a perception that someone has done them wrong. The someone, of course, was Julia Gillard, who usurped their rightful place of power. "That woman" stole government from them, not once but twice, and the rage that powered them throughout their time in opposition was not dissipated by their win last September or by the fact that Gillard is no longer in public life.

Gillard’s disappearance and their resumption of their rightful place in government has robbed them of a specific target, so the anger is now scattered indiscriminately across all the perceived enemies. It’s a partisan grapeshot attack against all the causes “of the left”: the sick, the elderly, the poor, the marginalised, the unemployed, the Greens, the renewable energy sector, refugees, women, aboriginal people, people with disabilities, rowdy university students, the ABC and the list goes on and on and on. In their us and them approach to the electorate, the us seems to consist only of the fellowship of the rich, white men they meet at IPA dinners.

The Gratten institute and the AMA have been clear that the government health policy will not decrease medical costs, if it has any effect on costs it will increase rather than decrease them. Adding to the picture of punitive rather than corrective cuts are little tweaks like cutting payments to people suffering from dementia and their carers (because those dementia sufferers, they’ve gotta learn to lift and not lean).

Pensioners, particularly the aged and people with disabilities, for whom paid employment is no longer an option, are also under attack by the Abbott government. Reducing their ability to maintain basic living conditions serves little purpose and again, seems needlessly cruel.

The Business Council of Australia, not commonly among the critics of a Liberal government, have expressed concern that the 40 applications a week requirement will cause far more problems than it will solve.

Welfare groups and credible researchers have provided unambiguous evidence that work for the dole schemes and forcing young people off the unemployment benefits will increase not decrease the welfare burden.

Economic modelling, commissioned by the government shows that removing renewable energy from Australia’s energy mix will actually increase electricity cost in the long term. Despite this, Abbott is still hoping to remove the RET and continues to ignore the overwhelming evidence of the real cause of skyrocketing electricity costs.

Morrison’s Stop the Boats crusade has strayed so far from their original claim of “saving lives at sea” that Morrison, an allegedly devout Christian, is being accused of child abuse by the Catholic Church.

The changes to higher education funding will place such a burden on the professions so fundamental to a functional society – like nursing and teaching – that shortages will become a serious problem within only a few short years.

The ABC is consistently shown to be one of Australia’s most trusted media organisations. Reducing funding to the ABC might benefit the Murdoch press, but will do nothing for Australian democracy and cultural life. Particularly in rural communities.

Abbott’s ludicrous Paid Parental Leave scheme, which despite its gender neutral name, is aimed specifically at the women’s vote that has so eluded him, won’t have any significant effect on women’s work force participation. If such a thing was indeed the aim, investing money into the childcare system would be far more effective.

Unions, which may well be as corrupt as the corporate sector, or indeed the political class, are the subject of a royal commission. One that was aimed at Julia Gillard and, in absence of any proof of wrongdoing on her part, has expanded to include all unions. Union membership in Australia has decreased in recent years, primarily because the outcomes they fought for are now enshrined in law. Most Australians (at the moment) no longer need unions to ensure they are provided with paid sick leave, holiday pay, protection from unfair dismissal, safe working conditions and fair remuneration. It might be amusing if the Abbott government’s attempts to dismantle those legislative achievements instigated a revival of the union movement, but the damage to Australian workers and the overall economic well-being of the nation won’t be quite so funny.

Which flows perfectly into the lack of politics in their politics. Howard was the consummate politician. He knew how far he could go before the Australian public would refuse to follow him and used that knowledge to maintain one of Australia’s longest lasting governments. It wasn’t until the end, when too much power clouded his vision, that he lost sight of the relaxed middle class that kept him in the Lodge.

Abbott, Hockey, Pyne and Brandis have never had that clarity of vision. Since Howard’s demise their time in opposition was notable only in its ability to polarize and stultify debate of complex policy by endless repetition of divisive tabloid-style slogans. Had the media applied the same level of scepticism to the coalition that they applied to the Gillard government, Abbott would have been laughed into obscurity at the last election.

With the opposition still hiding under their beds, the media has nothing left to do but pick through the government’s scattered cats approach to policy and politics; for the first time, Abbott and his ministers are facing some semblance of media scrutiny. And under that lightest of touches, their house of cards is crumbling. As I’ve written before, Abbott is not a proficient or even willing leader, it’s difficult to see how the coalition under his leadership can reassemble itself into a coherent, skilled government. The only factor that might carry them into a second term is that the Opposition doesn’t appear to be doing much better.


Jane Gilmore

Jane Gilmore is the editor of The King's Tribune.

Follow Jane on Twitter: @JaneTribune