CLIVE KESSLER.  Daley’s Asian blunder … And beyond

 Yes, Michael Daley’s Asian blunder was a bad choice of words —— and more. But when we have finished fulminating about his “racism”, consider this. What he is talking about to people in “the stressed and stalled lower middle” of Australian society touches upon a deep reversal in their, and most Australians’, long-ingrained attitudes, assumptions and expectations.

Expectations arising from our long-held “elevator” or “successionist” ideas about immigration and integration.

The underlying idea, long held and tacitly assumed here, is that you come in, start to move up, and that, as you do, other later arrivals then come in behind you to occupy your former niche and “take their turn”. There is a tenacious idea lurking within these assumptions that there is, if not an orderly immigration entry and social mobility queue, then a rough and ready and well-known one.

That has long been a fundamental “Oz” idea and assumption.

It is one that has been put in question and overturned by current immigration patterns and policies: the giving of priority to middle and upper-middle class profession and enterprise visa immigrants.

And that is what disquiets the “decent middling battlers”.

To understand their social anxieties and ensuing political disaffection these days, you must set that attitudinal and expectational collapse alongside something else.

You have to put it together with the subliminal (and to me ethically distasteful) messaging that comes along with PM Scott Morrison’s “have a go and you’ll get a go” rhetoric.

Scomo’s standard ideological and key gut-level “pitch” here plays artfully upon a nasty, studied ambiguity.

He is forever urging people to get on side with his version of the Australian ethos and way —— and in that way to “get ahead”.

He cunningly, and disquietingly for many among the middling battlers, touches on and plays upon an only half-recognized raw nerve here.

“Get ahead”. He ostensibly appeals here to the widespread desire that most people have to get ahead of where they were and now are —— as the overall tide rises and “all boats are lifted”. The desire for a better tomorrow, a continually improving future. A general improvement “all round”.

This we may call “Get Ahead 1”.

But he is also appealing to and pushing the nasty doctrinaire neo-liberal idea, and is encouraging as “the greatest good”, the less attractive competitive impulse to “get ahead of others”, of everybody else around you. He is invoking and promoting the unpleasant readiness and even eagerness to “get the better” of the other guy, to do the other guy in. Not to emulate but to outdo the other, to your own advantage and glory and the other’s embarrassment and shame. To “have the better” of one’s consociates.

This is “Get Ahead 2”.

It has a certain, and not altogether attractive, pedigree. It is the same complacent and self-serving fix-all remedy that was urged by the grubby nineteenth-century French liberal “statesman” Franҫois Guizot. His panacea to heal all social and political “ills” was his catch-cry “Enrichissez-vous!” —— get, make yourselves, rich!

“Get Ahead 1” and “Get Ahead 2”. It is this ambiguity that Scomo and his like-minded carnivore Liberals are forever playing upon these days

And which is now constantly “in play” —— and which is increasingly becoming a source of anxiety to the “middle battlers”.

“Progressives” need to find a way to talk to their fellow citizens —— clearly and simply, directly and accessibly and without scapegoating anybody —— about this ambiguity and all that goes with it. About the difference between the two kinds of “getting ahead” and the moral chasm, the ethical clash, between these two worldviews.

If they and we do not, we are all for the chop!

Make no mistake. What lies behind and informs Scomo’s “Getting Ahead 2” is nothing other than an asocial “competitive individualism”, acquisitive and possessive(1) —— which subverts the ethos of publicly generous, and at times even altruistic, sociability upon which civic citizenship rests —— and a variety of “amoral familism”,(2) a narrowly focused “me and  mine and us against the world” outlook.

“Scomo-ist” ideology is an artfully confected combination or malignant hybrid of those two unpleasant doctrines.

Be clear here. I am not seeking to “excuse” Michael Daley for his “racism” or whatever it is. To rationalise his words or justify the worst sentiments that they embody.

I am excoriating Daley and other would-be “progressive” politicians for their lack of analytically informed social awareness and, ensuing from it, their poor, even disastrous, political judgement.

That is what annoys me most.

That deficiency is what gets them, and all of us, into this kind of mess.

It is not just a matter of “thinking before you speak”. Rather, what is required from those who offer themselves as the people’s champions is a readiness, and the ability, to speak, naturally and with conviction, upon historically well-founded grounds and on an analytically clear intellectual basis.

Is that too much to ask?

Will somebody please try that way next time?

Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor, Sociology & Anthropology,  School of Social Sciences
The University of New South Wales

  1. As in C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, Clarendon Press, 1962.
  2. As in E.C. Banfield, The Moral basis of a Backward Society, Free Press, Glencoe Ill., 1958.




This entry was posted in Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to CLIVE KESSLER.  Daley’s Asian blunder … And beyond

  1. Charles Lowe says:

    Who, Clive – just who?

    (Re: “Will somebody please try that way next time?”)

    Any nominations for our Jacinda, anyone?

  2. Leong Ng says:

    It is very safe to be a reckless politician and partake in the revolving door game, in this country is not called “corruption”. For professionals, the sharks are there to get you and place a false taint on your personna and resume. This, is modern Australia. It was not like this 30 years ago.

  3. Anthony Pun says:

    I concur with the Professor Clive Kessler’s views on the touchy nerves of the struggling middle class.
    What we used to have a balanced immigration policy have changed to show a bias for skilled and business migration caategories in the last decade. This policy inevitably moves the “struggling” middle class one notch lower and cut their expectations in jobs and housing matters. What seemed unethical is the same group of politicians on both sides which supported this change in immigration policy is now exploiting the disaffected citizens for political purposes. The benefits of the changes are now conveniently forgotten.
    Recently, PM Morrison has made announcements on new immigration policies, including cuts to immigration intake to 160,000 and proposals for regional migration, infrastructures etc. through the Department of Home Affairs and community groups were invited to comment on those new proposals.
    Immigration and infrastructure go hand in gloves and the lack of planning and commitment in these areas always ends up in a patch up job. As far as infrastructures are concerned, where is our 2nd -airport, fast train (>300 kpm) for Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne, and our (3-year-old) still constructing Sydney light rail. Hence where is the public confidence? Immigration planning should be independent of election cycle otherwise it will end up in political vote buying strategies.
    Real issues and their pros and cons are not usually debated in public and usually distracted by extreme views.
    On the subject of Daley’s remarks, a response by the community has been published in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian (20/3/2019); and can be summarized as:
    Politicians sometimes do make public remarks which they regret later. However, if a public apology was made, then the person has shown to be prepared to eat humble pie and move on. If one makes the same mistake twice, then he/she would be place in the same category as a as some die-hard racists. Daley is big enough to apologise and should be given the benefit of a doubt. Let’s look at the real election issues and not side tracked by this resolved matter.

  4. Lorraine Osborn says:

    Thank you Professor Kessler. You request to consider your wise words is not too much to ask of any reasonable human being. I wonder if prosperity theology is also in play with people like Morrison and co. Such a good excuse for being a hypocrite, mean and tricky.

  5. Kien Choong says:

    Hi, I’m a migrant and believe migration makes the world as a whole better off. But I also do think governments must pay close attention to the redistributive effects of migration, just as governments must pay close attention to the redistributive effects of international trade.

    I’m not sure to what extent migrants are in fact responsible for rising house prices. It seems reasonable to believe that migration is a key factor (but I defer to the evidence-based view of economists on this). But I don’t think reducing migration levels is the right course, and I’m sceptical of (but not opposed to) a policy of encouraging migrants to spend a minimum period in towns outside the major cities.

    Personally, I think governments ought to take a more hands-on and holistic approach to housing, and look to Singapore for inspiration here (but not necessarily adopt everything that Singapore does). I would argue that just as a “private sector only” approach doesn’t work in health, neither does a “private sector only” approach work in housing. The private sector cares only about private profits, and simply does not take account of social externalities, whether in health or in housing.

    Set up a publicly owned Housing Board tasked with building affordable housing-cum-public transport-cum-facilities, and allow taxpayers to draw on their superannuation savings to invest in owner-occupied housing at concessional tax terms. (Just my suggestion, not necessarily the best.)

Comments are closed.