JERRY ROBERTS. Termites and other animals.

Aug 11, 2018

When West Australian Opposition Leader Mike Nahan appeared on the news under fire for dual citizenship I hope everybody else shared my reaction. Not again, I moaned. Surely, we had enough of this nonsense in the federal Parliament. Do we have to go through it in the States?

Mike is a native of Michigan, not far from my native State of Iowa. Our teams played each other in a football competition known as The Big Ten, so if I had stayed longer in America we may well have met on the field.

Since he still speaks with his American accent it should not surprise that he retains American citizenship. I lost my deeper Mid-West accent within a couple of weeks of attending school in Australia, where foreign accents were seldom heard in the 1950s. The local kids gave me and my little brothers such sustained mockery that we soon lost the Oh? and the Gee!

Mike is an economist trained in America and Australia. He popped up on Perth media as an expert commentator on economic matters because he was Director of The Institute of Public Affairs. Since I have opposed the neoliberal policies promoted by such think tanks since their creation Mike was not one of my favourite commentators. He was elected to the WA State Parliament in 2008.

Nevertheless, I sympathise with his recent comments about “white ants” in the parliamentary Liberal Party. Because of the cold, snow-covered winter ground in America white ants are not a problem and houses are built of wood. It was one of the first differences I noticed on arrival in Australia. Houses were built of bricks. Wooden houses were rare.

In today’s political world, however, termites are a universal species. Indeed, today’s politics are just about entirely a matter of back-stabbing and trivial pursuits. This is the case because there is what Bob Katter calls “a cigarette paper’s width” of difference between the major parties on major policy and honourable members are left with nothing to do except assassinate one another’s character and look for trivial pursuits to engage the media, such as tampon taxes.

This will not change until political parties including Australian Labor, British Labour and American Democrats remember that they are supposed to be representing labour, not representing capital. There is no sign that this will happen any time soon.

Mike Nahan has a dignified presence on TV which I find refreshing and he has a right to feel hard done-by if he is being stabbed in the back. The Liberals were all but wiped out in last year’s State election and Mike was elected unopposed as Opposition Leader. He has just led the Liberals to such a resounding win over Labor in the State Legislative Assembly seat of Darling Range that one wonders what would have happened if the federal Liberals had stood a candidate for the seat of Perth in the Super Saturday by-elections.

In an earlier post (18 December 17) I identified three causes for the magnitude of the Liberal loss at last year’s State election. They were Colin Barnett’s prominence as a one-man band, the public disloyalty from some of his team approaching the election and then Treasurer Mike Nahan’s enthusiasm for privatisation after such policies had become electoral poison.

In another post (26 March) I predicted that the Establishment Liberal, David Honey, the newly elected Member for Cottesloe in the WA Parliament, would lead the Party in the next election but I very much doubt if David has anything to do with the white-anting of which Mike Nahan complains.

Since white ants have such voracious appetites Mike will probably have to call a leadership spill in the new year, if not before. The pattern of our politics is much the same throughout the neoliberal era. One Party gets its act together. The boys and girls learn their lines in what is called “the narrative.” In police work it is called “the alibi.” Their Party wins office and their opponents fall apart in an orgy of back-stabbing and reckless ego-tripping. A few years down the track the Opposition develops a narrative, sobers up and tightens discipline while the Government falls apart.

The Opposition and Government trade places. New names appear on Ministerial doors. New stationery is printed. Departments change their names. But everything stays the same.

Jerry Roberts reported from the Gallery of Parliament House in West Perth during more civilised times. He was not then but is now a member of the Australian Labor Party.

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