About their forthcoming book, Enough is Enough, Kate Thwaites and Jenny Macklin state: “… the underlying problem of men’s attitudes towards women, of men believing it is their right to assault or harass women, remains. For this to change, men will have to give up some of the harmful ways in which they use power – in the parliament and in our community.” They are right! In the federal parliament this means more women in more powerful positions arguing for major reforms that are now needed as never before.
The return of Barnaby Joyce to the deputy prime ministership has focused a glaring spotlight on the pathological masculinism of Australia’s political culture. His oafish populism, cunning ambition, rank hypocrisy, and anti-science dogmatism go hand in hand with his blatant misogyny. His backing of big fossil fuel and mining interests are the antithesis of what this country needs right now, especially as our major trading partners and allies are turning to post-coal and gas economies.
Meanwhile, Scott Morrison ranks with Billy McMahon as the most deplorable prime minister Australia has had to endure. His shouty defensiveness, his dissembling and blame-shifting, and his habitual prevaricating when it comes to telling the truth, have brought the governance of Australia to a very low state indeed.
Whether it’s climate change, Indigenous deaths in custody, women’s rights, the mis-managed COVID vaccination and bungled quarantine programs, our decrepit federalism, the government’s dishonesty about the NDIS, the cruelty of asylum seekers policies, the death by a thousand cuts to Medicare, mis-managing the economy, or the failed NBN, or just about any other issue, Morrison will blather on until the cows come home but resolve absolutely nothing. He has no vision for the country. He is in-authenticity writ large.
Neither of these entirely estimable men can provide the leadership that Australia now desperately needs. This is especially problematic given the immediate challenges threatening Australia’s security and prosperity. Together all they can offer is a mix of blather and waffle, when what is needed is a comprehensive program of social, political, and economic reform such that the country has rarely experienced, except for the period of post-war reconstruction during the time of the Chifley government.
First in this new reconstruction program must be Australia’s understanding of itself in the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. America’s decline which predates Trump (but was hastened by him) will continue inexorably. There is little the Biden administration can do to arrest the decline. This means the ANZUS treaty needs urgent critical interrogation as the prelude to Australia becoming a fully independent country, for precisely the reasons Malcolm Fraser explained in his book Dangerous Allies.
It means negotiating a deeper understanding of China and how we are going to manage that relationship well into the future. (See, for example, the excellent new book by David Brophy, China Panic: Australia’s Alternative to Paranoia and Pandering.) It is time to end the China-hysteria that most politicians are currently espousing, mindlessly and counterproductively – aping their master-puppeteers in the Murdoch media.
It means ridding, once and for all, the country’s global status as a laggard country on climate change, for both diplomatic and practical reasons (consider the recent droughts, bushfires, and floods). And it means joining a range of multilateral alliances and institutions as an active and far-sighted participant. Australia needs to become a global citizen, not the marginalised, frighted, reactionary replica of South Africa in the apartheid years that it has become.
Domestically the challenges facing contemporary Australia include comprehensively rebuilding the economy, to recover not only from the budgetary consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also from the deep and dismal failures structured into it by the neoliberal programs of the past four decades. The economy needs a strategically focused range of public sector institutions to compete with similar private sector institutions (e.g., a national bank, a national health system, a national legal service, a national real estate agency).
The insolence of neoliberalism knows no bounds as far as the alarming growth of the country’s growing socio-economic inequalities are concerned, as far as the vandalising of the country’s manufacturing sector is concerned (a policy which the Coalition are now bent on repeating with the higher education sector), and as far as the country’s ramshackle taxation system is concerned.
Visionary policies are also urgently needed to address the relentless marginalisation of Indigenous Australians (there must be a constitutionally entrenched Indigenous voice to the parliament), female inequality (not only in terms of pay rates, but also policies to end the epidemic of domestic violence which is devastating large swathes of society), asylum seekers, childcare, aged care, and education.
A glaring inadequacy in contemporary politics is the failure of successive federal governments to establish a fiercely independent anti-corruption commission, to end the rorting, stealing, and concealing of corruption that hangs like a murdered albatross around the neck of all federal politicians. It’s time to see the worst perpetrators of political corruption sent to jail.
The men currently running the country continually demonstrate that they are incapable of addressing the reform policies that Australia desperately needs today. Fortunately, there are some impressively feisty, imaginative, and articulate women in politics. When they achieve the leadership positions that they obviously merit, they will build a vision for reforming Australian politics and get this country’s stalled economy and bitterly divided society moving again.
Sadly, in the Coalition parties, such women are as rare as hens’ teeth. Those currently in the Morrison cabinet are stolid in their defence of the sickly masculinist status quo that is destroying Australia’s democracy. There is certainly no potential female prime minister in their ranks. Hopefully a new generation of Liberal and National party women is in the wings, ready to replace the likes of Michael McCormack, Barnaby Joyce, Angus Taylor, Peter Dutton, George Christenson, and most of their dead-in-the-water colleagues.
The situation in the ALP is better, but only just. There are several women in its ranks who could be outstanding prime ministers. However, it is no longer plausible to claim that “nearly” half of the MPs and Senators in the parliament are women. This is only a partial solution to the very serious problem of lack of real female representation. The party now needs to have women in real leadership positions – being seen to be real leaders.
There is no question that if Scott Morrison were to face a woman as opposition leader across the dispatch box, he would descend into confusion and blustering abuse. His fundamentalist misogyny would be there for all to see. In the House of Representatives, Labor has some women MPs who are absolutely outstanding. They include Clare O’Neil (an exceptionally promising leader), Ann Aly, Catherine King, Linda Burney, Michelle Rowland, and Anika Wells. Tanya Plibersek is an obvious leadership candidate, although her record as Minister for Health in the Rudd/Gillard governments and as shadow Minister for Education is rather lacklustre. Nor does she seem to really want the job.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Labor has Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher, the three most articulate and effective politicians in the entire parliament. They stand head and shoulders above all their parliamentary colleagues. No other MP in the parliament can match the intellectual capacities and the moral and emotional intelligence of these remarkable women. Penny Wong’s cool intelligence and forensic interrogating skills are of the highest order, however she has made it abundantly clear that she will not leave the Senate and that she does not want the leadership. If only seats could be found in the House for Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher.
It would be an act of highest honour if Anthony Albanese would stand aside to allow a female leader take centre stage as the country stumbles towards an election. That kind of dramatic paradigm shift in the country’s politics is exactly what is now required. The grim fact is that, despite all the nastiness, lying, corruption and incompetence marking the Morrison government, the current ALP leader will not lead Labor to victory at the next election. The COVID crisis with all its repercussions has put an end to Albo’s dreams of being the next prime minister.
Labor will only cut through the suffocating fog of contemporary Australian politics if it is led by an outstanding female advocating a program of “reconstruction” of the Australian economy and society, like that which set Australia on a course for economic growth and social development during the great years of the Chifley government. Nothing less.