Quick thoughts on the Australian election

Oswald Spengler noted that as a society moves further down the track of civilisation the traditional two parties in a democracy become indistinguishable from each other and all that is left is just a single party representing the bourgeois. Nowhere is that dynamic more obvious than here in the most bourgeois country in the world, Australia. As we come to the end of an election campaign that seems to have been going for an eternity, the difference between the two majors parties, Liberal and Labor, is smaller than ever. In fact, they really should change their branding colours. The upcoming election is a choice between beige and off-white rather than red and blue.

I saw an unintentionally amusing post online during the week where somebody was speculating that our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has Bell’s Palsy as a result of getting the vaccine. Sorry to disappoint, folks, but that really is what his face looks like, the default configuration of which is a look of smugness that in any other institution in the country would be a liability but in the Liberal Party with its private school educated, born-to-rule pretentions, is part of the job description.

Morrison has been a party man his whole life. So has his opponent, Anthony Albanese. Like the Prime Minster, Albanese appears to have failed upwards and somehow ended up as opposition leader through the occult inner workings and factional machinations of the Labor Party. Did nobody else want the job? The question must be asked. It certainly isn’t a good election to win but there might not be any better ones for a long time.

One of the main issues of this election was that core element of the bourgeois dream: home ownership. This has been steadily slipping out of reach for more than two decades now thanks partly to the reforms ushered in by ex-Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard. Albanese has a collection of investment properties which makes him somewhat of a hypocrite on the issue but hypocrisy is no hindrance to the highest office these days. It might even be a necessary quality.

Albanese’s solution to the problem is to have the government become co-owner in property purchases while Morrison’s is to let people draw down their superannuation (this is not a new policy but an old pig that the coalition slapped some lipstick on for the final week of the election). Neither is a real solution because the cause of the problem, the real cause, is that which cannot be spoken i.e. the fact that the US Federal Reserve has been spinning the printing presses so fast they’re damn near falling off. But that’s been the election in a nutshell. Six weeks of systematically avoiding any real issue.

Of far more interest in the election campaign has been the influence of the billionaires, forerunners if Spengler is correct, to the age of Caesarism. On the right, we had Clive Palmer reprising his role as a c-grade Trump wannabe. Unfortunately for him, Palmer simply doesn’t have the cachet for media manipulation that Trump has. Although, to be fair, it’s also the case that the media landscape in Australia is far more controlled than the US meaning that the bourgeois uniparty that governs the country has the discipline and wherewithal to systematically exclude alternative voices from the conversation.

It’s here that the arrival of a second billionaire on the scene has been of interest because this billionaire has received plenty of attention from the establishment and that is because he is, in fact, a political insider having previously been aligned with fundraising efforts for none other than the current treasurer Frydenberg. I’m talking here of Simon Holmes a Court, whose father was Australia’s most famous corporate raider back in the 80s where he built his fortune from scratch buying and selling companies. Like Palmer, Holmes a Court is not running for office directly but rather has funded a group of Karens….errr, I mean….candidates to run in blue ribbon inner city seats currently held by the Liberal Party including, amusingly, the treasurer’s seat of Kooyong. Holmes a Court had previously been kicked out of the Kooyong 200 association where he had been raising money for the treasurer.

If all this sounds like an internal spat between the blue bloods that’s certainly true but that spat has wider significance in the electoral landscape. The Liberal Party has adopted a “net zero 2050” position largely because of this internal pressure. In doing so, it has been trying to defend the inner city seats where the average voter’s idea of helping the environment is to trade in the Porsche for a Tesla.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this election will be whether the Liberals lose those seats. Meanwhile, both the United Australia Party and One Nation look to do well in the outer suburban seats currently held by Labor. It’s one of unspoken facts of Australian politics that these supposedly right-leaning parties actually owe a great deal of their vote to what you might call old-Labor voters. The Labor Party sold its economic soul back in the 90s in the same way as Labour in the UK and the Democrats in the US. So, there’s a lot of old-Labor voters looking for a home. UAP and One Nation probably won’t do well enough to win any of those seats but they might flip a few to the Liberals on preferences.

All this implies a realignment of Australian politics which mirrors exactly what has already happened in the US and the UK. The right leaning parties could capture the old Labor vote in the outer suburbs. In order to do so, however, they would need to abandon the inner city blue ribbon seats such as the one the Treasurer currently holds. They won’t do that voluntarily. But if those seats get lost, they might figure it out the hard way.

That to me is the most interesting part of this election. I don’t expect it to happen yet. Australia doesn’t seem ready for our Brexit/Trump moment. As a resource rich nation, we actually benefit from some of the turmoil in the world which drives up the price of our food crops and energy exports. That might pay for quite a few electric cars for wealthy inner city denizens in the years ahead. The petrol price hikes and inflation, however, will hit home most squarely in the outer suburbs and it is there that the future of Australian politics lies.

I’ll be watching with interest one of those seats which is the electorate of Fowler in Sydney’s west. Australia’s answer to Hillary Clinton, Kristina Keneally, has been parachuted in by the Labor Party machine. Keneally, who even has an American accent, shares with Clinton the strange combination of being spectacularly unpopular with the general public and incredibly popular with the party machine men (I suppose we should call them machine persons nowadays). Her main opponent in the seat is a Vietnamese refugee who had previously left the Liberal Party to became deputy mayor to a man who had left the Labor Party. Together they formed an independent local council. In that local story there is a lot about a potential future direction for Australian politics. Fowler might be a bellwether for a more general trend in future years.

17 thoughts on “Quick thoughts on the Australian election”

  1. Hey mate,
    great analysis. Depressing, but spot on.
    Should be an iteresting weekend.
    I wonder if a splintering of the political spectrum like it happened in Germany over the last few decades is in the cards?
    Probably a bit harder with the Australian voting system.

  2. Roland – actually, if you look back in history, the parties seem to change quite rapidly, especially in times of crisis. I could easily see the Liberal Party split between old conservatives and the woke/climate brigade. Labor could split the exact same way, assuming there’s any old Labor people left. Next election might put the cat amongst the pigeons if things go south economically as seems likely.

  3. Even though we have quite a few parties in the Bundestag, you often get the impression that you have one bourgeois uniparty (CDU, SPD, Die Gruenen, FDP) plus the “Communists” (Die Linke) and “Nazis” (AfD). The current government, as every government before, only contains parts of the uniparty (SPD, Die Gruenen, FDP), and it is really hard to see any differences regarding the overall politics if you compare it to the previous government of CDU and SPD. The only difference is that Die Gruenen want to further accelerate the deindustrialization of Germany.

    The SPD would be the equivalent of the Democrats and Labour Party. Being formerly a party for the working class, they now are fully onboard of the whole wokery show and don´t give a f… about their former client base. In comparisson, I once read that 90% of the AfD voters are from the working class now.

  4. Hi Simon,

    “through the occult inner workings and factional machinations”. That’s the funniest observation I’ve read today. Nice one.

    Mate, you are on fire this week: “defend the inner city seats where the average voter’s idea of helping the environment is to trade in the Porsche for a Tesla. “ OK, you just managed to beat the previous quote for hilarity. Tidy work.

    I used to live in the Fitzroy North which is so green aligned, yet I’m not convinced there was all that much environmentally sustainable about the area. My neighbour in a Victorian terrace house with a 5m property width, managed to get approval for a 7.5m high wall on our northern property boundary which blocked out most of the sun, for a goodly chunk of the year. Yeah, solar panels, not good under those conditions. But the neighbour did install as part of the build, 3 large outdoor compressors on the roof for the split system heating and cooling. Yeah, so green it hurt.

    The bush is different again. When we moved up here out of the green area, we were candidly put to the question by a few interested locals. Fortunately we did not identify ourselves as greens, and yet the weird thing is, some of the people up in the bush live the greenest lives of all – such a strange situation.

    I used to be a rusted on labour voter, even forgiving them for the neo liberal policies introduced with the Hawke – Keating governments, but now after the lockdowns, well, let’s just say that there are some things that cannot be forgiven.

    Yes, this election outcome will be very weird, and I’m looking to the Senate outcome in particular. The possibilities are many and varied. A bit of chaos might get the numpties to pull their heads in and get back to the forgotten centre.

    Hey, I got a personalised letter from John Howard, how funny is that? I see that the letter has been making the rounds of marginal electorates (and I happen to live in one such). It seems extraordinarily targeted, and Sandra didn’t get one – she’s a bit miffed about that. 🙂

    Cheers

    Chris

  5. Secretface – that doesn’t surprise me about the AfD’s voters. They seem to have about the same overall voting percentage as the equivalent parties here (One Nation/UAP). Wasn’t it interesting that those were the only parties to speak against the lockdowns. I saw quite a few speeches by Christine Anderson who is in the EU parliament. Her roasting of Justin Trudeau was especially good. So, now wanting freedom makes you a “Nazi”, essentially the opposite of historical reality.

    Chris – I noticed they wheeled Howard out down in Kooyong too. Bit of nostalgia kicking in there. He put fuel on the property fire at the time when he should have been hosing it down. As for environmental credentials, I think the greatest picture of the election campaign was the Zali Steggal people packing their signs into a V8 Porsche – https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/blogs/tim-blair/monday-noticeboard/news-story/1a83dd327f887edb85bb709cf3cf35ff

  6. Secretface – that doesn’t surprise me about the AfD’s voters. They seem to have about the same overall voting percentage as the equivalent parties here (One Nation/UAP). Wasn’t it interesting that those were the only parties to speak against the lockdowns. I saw quite a few speeches by Christine Anderson who is in the EU parliament. Her roasting of Justin Trudeau was especially good. So, now wanting freedom makes you a “Nazi”, essentially the opposite of historical reality.

    Chris – I noticed they wheeled Howard out down in Kooyong too. Bit of nostalgia kicking in there. He put fuel on the property fire at the time when he should have been hosing it down. As for environmental credentials, I think the greatest picture of the election campaign was the Zali Steggal people packing their signs into a V8 Porsche – https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/blogs/tim-blair/monday-noticeboard/news-story/1a83dd327f887edb85bb709cf3cf35ff

  7. Hi Simon,

    Don’t you find it odd that the media, who’s been banging on for years about the threat of far right folks, has suddenly found itself apparently (be careful here) supporting some such groups? And I’m deeply troubled by how the argument is presented as if somehow it is only bad on one side of that continuum. Either ideology taken to its end point has been proven to yield vast body counts.

    That’s not a good look, but it sends a message and perhaps the candidates did not specify who was to take the cuts? Many years ago I was ‘cancelled’ for making the helpful suggestion that it is probably not a good look to solicit mad cash from the public, when there are photos of the family on holidays at the intended destination for the mad cash. Yeah… Few ever thank you for such kind suggestions. 🙂

    And yes, I agree there were a lot of tax give-aways introduced during the Howard era. The thing with such policies is that they are easily introduced, and very hard to remove. Dude, you may not be aware, but generally: If you’re age 60 or over, your entire benefit from a taxed super fund (which most funds are) is tax-free. Some folks are more equal than others, but try telling them that.

    My best guess is that such arrangements will be ‘grandfathered-out’ by the time we’re eligible.

    Cheers

    Chris

  8. Chris – That city/bush dichotomy is standard. The most environmentally friendly people I know are some of the old farming bachelors who live downstream from my place on little farms divided up over the years by multiple brothers. They very rarely travel anywhere, most have never been beyond a 100km radius of their local area, they grow/hunt/catch most of their own food, repair everything, heat their houses with wood from their land, delight in the local flora and fauna, and don’t engage much in the monetary economy. Some don’t even have electricity. They barely even ‘farm’ their land, and I’m not sure how a lot of them get by (having zero debt probably helps).

    And all of them would be considered in the current Australian political climate ‘far right’.

    David Holmgren delights in this tension, he often comments about how the greatest allies in Australia actually exist at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, if only we would throw away our prejudices. He himself would probably be called far right now too due to his resistance to the draconian Covid policies. But right and left are pretty useless terms now, probably always have been.

  9. Very funny post, thanks, Simon. Sad too, of course! A few weeks ago, waiting for the lights to change on a corner where two UAP volunteers were waving their signs, I wound down my window. ‘Freedom from what?’ I asked. ‘Freedom from fear!’ said one of the guys. ‘You can’t stop people feeling fear,’ I said. ‘Well, then, freedom from control,’ he said. Would’ve liked to pursue that but the lights changed.

  10. Chris – psychology 101: people resent losing what they had more than not getting it in the first place. Of course, Howard and Costello’s only role for most of their time in government was spending the proceeds of a once in a generation mining boom. Tough job but somebody had to do it. My guess is the whole system will have crashed and been rebooted by the time I come to collect my super. Who knows what the world will look like by then.

    Shane – isn’t control mostly maintained through fear these days? I expect that to continue for many years. It allows TPTB to say “yeah, things are bad, but they would have been much worse if you didn’t do what we said.”

  11. Simon – Maybe the AfD could be speaking against lockdowns because they were already pariahs for the system. In comparison to system compliant people, they had nothing to loose. Interestingly, there was one politician from the party Die Linke who was also very critical of all governmental measures, Sarah Wagenknecht, but she is also some kind of pariah within her own party. Unfortunately, these pariahs don´t have much political influence. The AfD even lost vote a few % of votes during the last federal election in 2021.

    From my point of view, the AfD (maybe also similar parties in other countries) has a few problems to overcome if they want to increase their influence:
    1. The AfD politicians have the same charisma as the politicians from the uniparty, which means they don´t have any. There is no Trump or De Santis in sight.
    2. The AfD politicians also don´t practice what they preach. They once had an initiative that more German poetry should be taught at school, but when asked what his favourite German poem was, one of their party leaders promoting this topic could not answer the question at all.
    2. They have the whole mainstream media against them, and we know how effective their propaganda machine is.
    3. They don´t know how to utilize the internet to get around the mainstream media like Trump did in 2016.

  12. People just voted in Germany’s most populous republic, and the two most enthusiastic war parties gained the most votes.

    Economically there apparently were some bad news to be digested by voters, so the federal finance minister’s party promptly lost votes.

    Yet another non-election. Next year’s will be different.
    I hope yours will be colourful.

    One most colourful thing, certain to bring people together much more closely, has now been launched by the government:
    Without so much as a penny spent in preparation, everyone can now buy a 9€-a-month-ticket for regional train services across the country.
    Which means that all the poor lower middle class shlubs who can’t afford the petrol for their commute anymore now get to bind their neckties in the morning, and then sit next to all the immigrants they so enthusiastically welcomed into our country on the bus, and finally actually talk to, but not talk down on them.

  13. Secretface – agree. People underestimate Trump’s skillset. He was an expert level media manipulator with decades of experience using the media to further his own interests. And he also had experience in large scale business where he would have directly understood the impacts of different political policies while also needing to provide products that real people wanted to buy. The latter part is important because it seems to have kept him connected to the common person whereas your average politician might as well be living on Mars for all that they know about how real people live.

    Michael – we saw something similar here with the petrol price spike. How ironic that after two years trying to keep everybody apart, we now have to cram everybody into trains and buses again. Of course, this ridiculous flailing about with completely contradictory policies just sows distrust with the system and leads directly to populist takeovers. It’s only a matter of time.

  14. Simon, yes – at the polling place I saw the poster of a Liberal candidate, whose rival is a teal independent, warning that a hung parliament would be bad for the economy. LOL! A volunteer for that same teal independent promised ‘change’ when offering her how-to-vote card. ‘Do you like her?’ she asked. (Um, it’s hard for me to ‘like’ a politician who hasn’t thought through critical issues pertaining to, say, housing affordability…)

  15. Shane – hah. I managed to avoid any interactions while running the gauntlet although the advocate for the socialist party, who looked like an antifa rioter complete with black mask, did throw out a “vote socialist, tax the rich” line. I guess it’s more palatable than “eat the rich” (pardon the pun).

  16. Hi Simon,

    I agree with your suggestion that the money will be gone (or be of lesser value than it is today) by the time you or I are eligible to get access to it. And with the ALP in the hot seat, I doubt we’ll see the coffers opened from that $3tn pool of funds – it is their baby after all.

    It is hard to escape that the ALP got 32% of the primary vote, and appears to have got in on preferences. I do hope dan is taking note of that.

    The Senate is interesting indeed, and I noticed that there is a strong possibility that the UAP will gain a Senate seat in Victoria – at least that’s what the ABC is reporting at the moment. The news is suggesting that based on the current count, in order to get legislation passed the ALP will have to negotiate with The Greens and Jacqui Lambie. I’ve heard her interviewed and she is a no nonsense kind of politician from a military background.

    Mate, it is super weird to wake up and discover that the things that I value are of little consequence to the rest of the population. But we’ll see how things roll from here. I reckon the two major parties are on notice, and they had it coming for they forgot the centre – and house prices are crazy.

    Cheers

    Chris

  17. Chris – wow. Victoria is the last state you’d expect to see UAP win in. I think the swing against Labor has been hidden by the two-party preferred reporting. There were a lot of seats in Vic where Labor’s primary dropped substantially. In my seat, they were down 8% with most of that going to UAP, One Nation and LibDems. We’ll see what the Liberals do for the next election. If they target the outer suburban seats, they should be a shoe in. Especially as the next few years look to be very tough economically and Albanese’s gonna be the poster boy for it all.

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