Newsletter 288

Published May 27, 2019
Incisive political critique, courtesy of Clive Palmer

In last week’s newsletter I wondered: does Jesus really want Scott Morrison to be Prime Minister? It seems the answer is ‘Yes’. After his grandstanding election victory, Scummo announced he has always believed in miracles, and has just delivered one. It was a pretty clear confirmation that he imagines God is in his corner. Now we have three more years to see how this translates into social and economic policy.

The positives from an election night that must have resembled Don’s Party in thousands of ALP-voting households, are twofold. After six years of galloping unpopularity, Bill Shorten has finally stepped down as Labor leader. If he had done so before the 2016 election it might have been a different country today. Rarely has vaulting ambition been so integrally matched with the most dull, cardboard, unconvincing persona.

Secondly, the ghastly Tony Abbott was taken out early in the night by independent, Zali Steggall. It would probably be more accurate to say Tony took himself out through his high-handed refusal to listen to what his electorate believed, and his inability to stop sabotaging his party with ideological bombshells. His speech in defeat was as gracious and cheerful as anything he’s said in public for years, suggesting that he knew he was a goner and is already looking forward to a plumb job as commentator with the Murdoch press and Sky Channel, where he can be as extreme as he chooses.

Even in defeat Abbott managed to reveal an utterly cynical view of politics when he said that when climate change is considered as a moral issue it works for the Opposition, but when taken as an economic issue the Coalition has the advantage. This was a pretty clear endorsement of immorality, or amorality. It’s not even good economics as it’s widely agreed that the government’s inaction on climate change and energy policy has been a burden on business and set back Australia’s opportunity to be world leader in renewables. Within one day of the election, business leaders were asking for certainty on energy.

The stress on “economics” is telling, however, because this was the major line of attack that Scummo took successfully into the election. He convinced voters to forget about the past three years of dysfunction, and feel anxious about Labor’s reform agenda. He promised virtually nothing and used Labor’s many policy ideas as a weapon to create fear and confusion. His “miracle” was to portray the Coalition as the party for jobs and workers, and the Labor party as a bunch of greenies who care more about modish ‘issues’ than people.

Before the election Scummo dismissed difficult queries by saying “That’s a bubble question!”, meaning it was something that would only concern an elite group in Canberra. Now he is telling us he intends to govern for the “quiet Australians” – ie. those who never complain, don’t have a thought about politics, and are happy to take whatever crumbs their leaders throw their way. It’s a statement of soft authoritarianism, buttressing the born-to-rule mentality so characteristic of the Libs. The PM’s biggest task may be to contain the croneyism and corruption this attitude seems to breed. In politics, when idealism is extinguished by cynicism, self-interest becomes the only game in town.

Vox pops in Queensland, where the ALP was effectively destroyed, found people saying: “It was all too complicated”, and “Too many issues”. Shorten said in numerous interviews that he was confident the Australian people were smart enough to see through the scare campaigns, but Labor badly overestimated the intelligence of the electorate. The Coalition simply said: “We’re the party for jobs, they’re the party for taxes”. That’s the message that resonated.

The depressing upshot of this result is that no party in the future will ever feel safe in going into an election with a raft of ambitious policies or a platform built on controversial ideas such as “fairness”(!!) It’s awful to say it, but a large part of the population is probably too stupid, selfish and narrow-minded to address anything of substance when faced with a set of scare campaigns and false promises. Hence the success of the repellent Clive Palmer in addressing the lowest-common-denominator, attacking the ALP agenda with claims Shorten would hit us with a “trillion dollars” in taxes.

Together with the triumph of Scummo’s populist posing this paints a picture of an electorate unwilling to make even the slightest effort to think beyond slogans and cliches. From now on, be prepared for dumbed-down politics as the order of the day.

In the past, left-wing parties put out posters of huge, fat capitalists in top hats sucking the blood of workers while right-wingers showed healthy, happy Aryan types surrounded by fruit and vegetables. Those days are coming back, aided by the new illiteracy born of social media and the Internet. In the next election Liberal posters will show Scummo with a halo and angel’s wings, while the Labor leader will have horns and a tail. The Labor posters will simply reverse the equation. Clive Palmer, if he hasn’t succumbed to a heart attack by then, will show pictures of mainstream politicians molesting children. There won’t be a policy within coo-ee.

Perhaps this wasn’t the best week to take a first look at the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of NSW. I’d fully anticipated a mediocre show, but it exceeded my expectations. There is such a lack of energy and imagination in the Archibald at present it makes me look back fondly on years I once considered to be write-offs. I’ve only discussed about the Archibald this time around, but the Wynne Prize was another depressing spectacle, having become an annual survey exhibition of indigenous work from the APY lands, with a few guest artistesthrown in. The work is generally good, but it’s remarkably similar from year to year, with the same artists and the same kinds of painting. Under the banner of innovation these shows are undergoing stagnation.

This week’s movie is Damon Gameau’s 2040, a surprisingly optimistic documentary about climate change. There’s some poignancy in such a film arriving in the very  week that Queensland showed it couldn’t care less about such “issues”, rewarding the Coalition for its environmental inaction. By 2040, Gameau tells us, the world could be a rosy place. In 2019 that seems a bold prediction.