Last year I wrote about my growing concerns about the democratic crisis which seemed to threaten liberal democracy and ‘Enlightenment’ values, admittedly a Western construct. In 2022 the situation has improved remarkably in some areas. Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison have gone, Lula defeated Bolsonaro in Brazil, Macron was re-elected in France.
The Continuing Democratic Crisis
In the United States, Donald Trump had been extraordinarily effective in harvesting the rage of angry white males. This had several elements: the disappearance of many traditional work forms, the threat to patriarchy by feminist activism, the speed of technological change. Elites were attacked as condescending for using evidence, statistics, expertise to tell people how they should live, including eating, drinking, gambling, entertainment, what vehicles they should drive, waste disposal, having greater respect for women and girls, restricting gun ownership, and how they understood and interpreted the world. There was also ‘dog whistling’ on race, refugees and ‘the Other’ generally. Covid proved to be a catalyst.
In the US, in the mid-term elections in November 2022, the Democrats polled surprisingly well, only losing the House of Representatives by a whisker, but retaining control of the Senate. Donald Trump came under increasing fire, but remains favourite for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2024, despite being surrounded by people like Mitch McConnell who hate him and the threat of criminal prosecutions. Will Joe Biden be the Democratic candidate then? He’d be 82 on a second inauguration and even now sometimes seems frail or uncertain.
The global challenge to liberal democracy remains.
Bongbong Marcos was elected on a collective amnesia platform as President of the Philippines, Georgia Meloni, who says kind words about Mussolini is now Italy’s Prime Minister, ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu returned to power in Israel, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian in Turkey.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and continuing war of attrition is an atrocity. He is a war criminal. The war has had a devastating impact on fuel and grain prices (and availability) throughout the world. NATO is unwilling to intervene directly and Russia’s veto has crippled the Security Council. However, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has emerged as a hero – and his people.
Putin’s hypocritical reaction to the death of Mikhail Gorbachev was chilling.
Xi Jinping is now in absolute control in China, probably for life, but undoubtedly sees Putin as a bad example. He may be recalibrating some policies, including when to strike Taiwan or lift selective trade embargos with Australia.
The situation in Iran deteriorates daily, especially the suppression of women, and now executes more people, per capita, than any nation. (China still executes more in absolute numbers, but is secretive about it).
Myanmar’s brutal regime has now resumed executions after decades without them and Aung San Suu Kyi remains locked up. North Korea is increasingly belligerent.
Afghanistan remains a horror show. Indonesia, traditionally the most tolerant of Muslim states, is adopting elements of sharia law. Qatar demonstrates that money can buy everything, including reputation. (FIFA may be struggling). The Saudi Crown Prince is a welcome guest everywhere. Modi is increasingly authoritarian in India and Pakistan bitterly divided.
In our region, Malaysia has become less authoritarian, Singapore more so.
The Great Political Crossover
Australia’s most significant social, economic, cultural and political division is no longer between the traditional or hegemonic political parties but between graduates v. non graduates, at present about a 50/50 split among voters.
Tertiary educated professionals, many with high incomes, are becoming radicalised.
Blue collar workers, especially self-employed tradies, miners and construction workers are becoming more conservative, as non-unionised independent contractors.
Surgeons in Malvern were becoming more radical while carpenters in Ringwood became more conservative.
Early signs of this dichotomy were in voting in the 1999 Referendum on a Republic, the same sex plebiscite in 2017, on taxation reform in the 2019 Federal Election, on attitudes to tackling climate change, environmental issues, Covid vaccinations, and tackling male dominance.
The French economist Thomas Piketty in his very important book Capitalism and Ideology (Harvard, 2020) analysed voting patterns in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Australia from the 1970s.
Trump had some impact in Australia – essentially on the fringes, with angry, alienated voters, more than 10 percent in 2022. But in a close election contest, that 10 per cent can be decisive.
Opinion, feeling and gut reaction has become more powerful than evidence and scientific method, witness the powerful reaction by anti-vaxxers and climate change denialists. Reliance on social media as the principal source of information creates an ‘echo chamber’ effect, with a unique capacity to spread misinformation, unchallenged.
The Federal election of 21 May 2022 did more than bring about a change in government with the defeat of the Coalition, it challenged the duopoly of the two major hegemonic parties, which are both under threat. They have become undemocratic, inward looking, faction ridden and resentful of criticism. I keep hoping for change.
The Liberal Party had its lowest primary vote since 1946, the ALP since 1934.
The concept of elections as analogous to sporting contests, where only two teams can play in the grand final, has broken down.
The most encouraging sign was that professionally qualified people who used to be disengaged and voted with pegs on their noses, are now playing an active role – recognising that existing hegemonic parties have a very small, moribund, faction driven, membership.
This was exactly what I had advocated the last chapter of What Is To Be Done (2020) but credit for it happening belongs to others.
Voters proved to be more interested in the destination than the vehicle and put far more emphasis on seeking solutions to ‘wicked problems’, such as climate change, corruption and integrity, gender issues, foreign policy and national identity. Yet the issue of securing an adequate taxation base for the long term was evaded.
Clive Palmer’s investment of $100,000,000 for his UAP gained only one seat, in the Senate from Victoria, courtesy of Liberal preferences. NewsCorp’s hostility to change, or Morrison’s appeals to fear and greed failed to work. However, the Trump phenomenon has spread and is supported by more than 10 per cent of angry, alienated voters, hostile to science and evidence based policies, exacerbated by Covid restrictions.
On climate change, the combination of ALP, Greens, teal and rust independents secured more than 60 per cent support for effective action and destroyed the veto power of the National Party, with 6.2 per cent of the national vote.
Australian Federal Election 21 May 2022
Almost all elections turn on three factors: leadership (a highly personal judgment (‘I don’t trust X’), ideological or ‘It’s Time’ (‘give the others a go.’)
The 2022 Australian Federal election had a disconcerting resemblance to the US Presidential contest in 2020, with Scott Morrison playing the role of Trump- lite, but smirking, not snarling, with Albanese paralleling the immensely experienced but uneasy Biden, then aged 78. But Biden won. So did Anthony Albanese.
Ultimately a fourth factor, loathing of Morrison, was decisive. In 2019 he was not well known, a daggy dad, uninspiring but not threatening. By 2022 he was too well known, a sanctimonious hypocrite, rewarding sycophants, punishing dissenters, secretive, flexible with the truth, an habitual ‘gaslighter’, with a tin ear on gender equality, and heavy reliance on ‘narrowcasting’, essentially ‘dog whistling’ to attract the votes of religious minorities. He won the lowest percentage of female votes in the history of the Liberal Party.
The Albanese Government, elected despite the ALP’s modest campaign agenda, has already exceeded all expectations. It has begun to restore ambitious policies, optimism and trust, set a new political and social agenda. In its first seven months it has slain a few dragons:
- Legislating a higher target (43 per cent by 2030) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, after a decade of paralysis
- Capping oil and gas pricing to assist domestic consumers
- Establishing a clear path towards a post-carbon economy
- Ending the war against nature and acting to preserve biodiversity
- Creating a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) with significant powers, including retrospectivity
- Abolishing the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), hopelessly compromised by underqualified political appointees
- Restoring closer relationships with France, Indonesia, New Zealand and other Pacific neighbours and negotiating with China on trade sanctions
- Taking gender imbalance and sexual harassment seriously
- Dropping the trial of Bernard Collaery and negotiating with the US about Julian Assange
- Taking action on ‘the Voice’ to Parliament
- Industrial relations reforms
- Less secrecy, more open government
- Ministers answer questions directly
- In the Budget, acknowledging the threat of high and rising inflation and interest rates
- Enabling serious debate in the House of Representatives
- Excellent in negotiating across party lines
- Restoring confidence in the Commonwealth Public Service
- Adopting evidence based policies and ending ‘gaslighting’ and ‘dog-whistling’
- Coherent leadership and an excellent team of Ministers
Taxation reform and a humane approach to refugees still have to be addressed.
Simon Holmes à Court asked John Hewson and me to be Patrons (with a capital ‘P’) of Climate200. I told Wayne Swan, the ALP National President about the invitation and he said ‘Go right ahead!’ We were on the fringes, but observed its Advisory Council meetings. Neither of us leaked. Between us, we have enough political experience to recognise a political party when we see one. Climate200 was not a political party.
Protests by Josh Frydenberg and his allies that the ‘teal’ candidates were ‘fake independents’ being centrally controlled by Climate200 were completely false.
There was no central direction – only an offer to provide financial assistance and technical advice (podcasts, social media, et al.) to candidates who had emerged from community consultation, were committed to stronger action on climate change, an Integrity Commission and gender equality, and could demonstrate strong local support and capacity to match the large public funding available to the established parties, not to mention Clive Palmer’s bizarre self-promotion with the UAP. Climate200 provided significant ‘topping up’ money, but, in total, barely 12 per cent of Palmer’s spending. Most support was raised locally and there were more volunteers and contributors than the established parties could match.
Political parties are centrally run, discourage mass community participation, are secretive and faction driven, run candidates for the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, and are essentially traders when recommending preferences. With the ‘teal’ candidates there were no recommendations for the Senate, let alone a ticket.
A common complaint was that the ‘teal’ candidates were only contesting strong Liberal seats, so they must be part of an ALP front. Wrong. The seats in question, Wentworth, Warringah, Mackellar, Kooyong, Goldstein, Curtin (and Higgins, which Labor won) all had in common that locals identified climate change as the most important issue in the election, followed by integrity and gender equality. In less economically secure electorates anxieties about cost of living were far more significant.
Rachel and I went to Zoe Daniel’s campaign launch for Goldstein on 10 April at Sandringham Oval. More than 1500 were there. The atmosphere was electrifying. I lost count of the numbers of people – most unknown to me – wearing teal jerseys who said: ‘For the first time in x years, my vote will count.’
The Federal election on 21 May 2022 turned out to be a referendum on Scott Morrison, and the ALP’s ‘small target’ strategy, which worried me, turned out to be well-judged. I was delighted to be proved wrong. In 2019 when Morrison won, unexpectedly, voters barely knew him. By 2022 they knew him all too well.
On the afternoon of polling day, my estimate, emailed to colleagues, was ALP 78 seats, ‘teal’ 4, Greens 2, Others 4, Coalition 63.
The actual result was ALP 77, ‘teal’ 6, Greens 4, Others 6, Coalition 58.
I underestimated the ‘teal’ result. I thought that Josh Frydenberg, backed by a $4.50 million war chest and the view of despairing Liberals that he would be a better Leader than Morrison or Dutton, would defeat Monique Ryan narrowly. I was wrong – and Dr Ryan has already proved to be an outstanding MP.