GREG BAILEY. Problematic Trends Emerging from the 2019 Federal Election.

Irrespective of who finally wins Saturday’s election-and it looks like the ultra-conservative forces–, certain deeply disturbing observations can be made about the state of the Australian polity and the electorate. These evoke cultural and regional fissures long existing in Australia and an apparent shift away from any kind of critical thinking in making political and other judgements affecting the future of the country.

Saturday’s election seems to have been won for the LNP, and their conservative backers, in Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. But the absence of any significant swings against them in the other states is a clear indication of an underlying support for them across the nation. This is disturbing given that they virtually offered no new policies and refused to countenance serious action on climate change mitigation and increasing economic inequality. Nor did the mainstream media–even The Age–really call the Prime Minister’s lack of policy espousal to account, never asking why his one man campaign only served to strengthen the prejudices instilled so strongly in the minds of many elderly voters.

What was highly characteristic of the election campaign was the extent of distraction from what might be considered real issues. This was most noticeable in the saturation advertising of Clive Palmer, presenting broad principles with very little accompanying details. Whilst for Palmer the money expended is an investment which will now no doubt pay off handsomely, it captured the attention of the public–who either loved or hated him–as to why somebody would spend so much money with minimal possibility of winning. But it was also present in the media hyperbole concerning the number of candidates disendorsed from various parties on the basis of injudicious comments made on social media. These became personal interest stories–grist for the mill for many journalists–but contributing nothing to a recognition of the crucial issues facing the country.

A very considerable regional disparity has emerged with Queensland and Western Australia putting the LNP back into power with consistent swings towards them. This may perhaps be accounted for by the particular inferiority complex that affects some people in those states who believe they should not be subject to the will of those living in the large cities to the South and East respectively. This feeling has long existed. But it is also a reflection of the narrowness of the economic base of those two states and the incapacity of state or federal governments to improve educational standards–especially in non-urban areas–and to promote enterprises not based on the extractive or agricultural industries. These regional differences have always been there but have become much stronger over the past ten years, and reflect the influence of politicians who give simple sloganistic responses to complex problems. It is epitomized above all by North Queensland, but the potential for such disparity exists in other rural areas and has been exploited by the far right, but also very effectively by the National Party.

Finally, the apparent collapse of critical thinking as a factor in voter choice seems especially prominent in this election. Social media-especially FaceBook–makes everybody a potential expert. Almost no social media messages are refereed for factual consistency and most show no concern for critical analysis applied to evidenced-based material. The abiding effect of this is to place beliefs above critical thinking as a mode of testing assertions, that is, assuming uncritical belief allows assertions to be tested at all. This can be seen especially in commercial television where belief and opinion dominate all reporting in a very partisan manner. Again, this ties very effectively into the kinds of distractions seen in this campaign. It also reflects an increasing gap, both here and in other first world countries, between the so-called intelligentsia and the rest of the population, epitomised above all by Donald Trump’s support base accepting his chronic lying.

Two examples of this dominance of belief over critical thought can easily be cited. Firstly, the long-standing prejudice that the LNP are better economic managers than the ALP, a prejudice sustained in the light of so much evidence and analysis that the contrary is the truth. Secondly, is the apparent refusal in this election to take climate change mitigation seriously, even in the face of all the evidence of a changing climate impacting us more rapidly and destructively than originally predicted. The ALP, at least, put up some measures to deal with this, but the vote against them suggests these were not considered at all. That this is so may reflect a head-in-the-sand attitude, but it also reflects a belief that to do anything is impossible, given that Australia is (wrongly) held to be a small contributor to carbon warming.

All of this has been accompanied by a refusal of so many of the baby-boomers to countenance the possibility of intergenerational responsibility. Their concern to lead a retirement in gentle comfort and to manifest a belief that the problems of climate change, housing affordability and economic inequity can be put off to the next generation has above all shaped their vote for the short-term, unhindered by any selfless concern for the distant future. The LNP have exploited this vigorously with their reprisal of the axiom that the ALP is a high taxing government destined to take away the lifestyle of hard-working retirees. It seems to have worked brilliantly.


Greg Bailey is Honorary Research Fellow in Asian Studies, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University.

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4 Responses to GREG BAILEY. Problematic Trends Emerging from the 2019 Federal Election.

  1. Avatar Charles Lowe says:

    I admire your article as an excellent example of the ‘handwringing’ that any defensible intellectual would wish to engage in.

    Politics is just not only about policy.

    Politics is also about philosophies, perspectives, platforms, positions, personnel and personalities. It is just as much about the medium as the message. And the medium was ruthlessly (as it would be) exploited in terms of the lesser popularity of Shorten v. ScoMo by the Coalition. Brilliantly. Sufficiently.

  2. Avatar James Wright says:

    Labor tried to get people to vote for a man who has NO personal charisma or even person “presence” … let me add that in my electorate (Melbourne) there was no Labor candidate … I am not a ScoMo fan in ANY shape or form but my sense is that he read the electorate really well and saw how Trump’s baseball cap toting, “I’m going to make America great again”, simple one-liner etc. etc. … well, and here is ScoMo’s thought bubble, “WTF, it worked for Trump, I reckon it will work for me” and, WTF, it DID!
    Minimal policy talk, NO long term vision, appealing to the “battlers”, (who of course are NEVER LNP’s ideological roots), pensioners, … you know the list … anyway, FEAR … NO long term policy, no concerns about environment, an ADANI in every state, open slather on fracking … it’s all on now, thanks to FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) ..
    But one has to wonder at the party machine that kept Shorten on as a future PM candidate when it was obvious to everyone that the man was unable to project ANY sense of a real person, or even one who blustered along, pretending to be one, like the happy clappy, miracle toting, ScoMo! Phew, that’s my more than two cents worth.
    However, the big end of town, the media moguls etc. must be popping bottles of $300 champers … Yee Ha! We fooled the people AGAIN! They believe what we tell them to believe. Thanks for great website John M.

  3. Avatar Ann Scott says:

    The medium for the message

    Over 50 years ago Marshall McLuhan introduced the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ in his book Understanding Media: The Extension of Man, in which he suggested that the nature of a medium (the channel through which a message is transmitted) is more important than the meaning or content of the message. ‘The content of the medium is a message that can be easily grasped. And the character of the medium is another message which can be easily overlooked’. McLuhan says “Indeed, it is only too typical that the ‘content’ of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.”

    One of Donald Trump’s first acts after being elected President of the United States was to invited the masters of the new electronic media to meet him. Since then, it has become obvious that campaigning through algorithms has proved highly effective in targeting voters who spend more time on their mobile phones or other devices than reading hard copy newspapers.

    ‘Today in the United States we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every individual … So we model the personality of every adult across the United States, some 230 million people.
    — Alexander Nix, chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, October 2016.

    Cambridge Analytica may have disappeared from view since the scandals surrounding its activities, but its techniques surely have not. In Australia we have just witnessed a campaign by one party which is reported to have spent $60m on advertising. Even though this was not the party that won government, it is hard not to believe that it was not modelled on the techniques used by the Trump team. Certainly there were intrusions into my own mobile phone and computer which made it clear that my privacy had been severely breached. The medium I purchase for family communications now acts more like an unwelcome political megaphone transmitting calls and texts from numbers which are impossible to block.

    In our local electorate of Ryan the ALP candidate did the heroic foot-slogging of door-knocking, sometimes to friendly responses and sometimes to appalling abuse. How much easier, if the $$$ were available, it would have been not to have to face that, but to indulge in a campaign in which these new media were used to convey short grabs of negative slogans.

    Handwringing about what went wrong for the ALP should acknowledge this new method of thought control. It was policy free and profoundly manipulative.

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