The Liberals have undermined democracy and decency — do we care?

Nov 22, 2021
Scott Morrison and Angus Taylor leave House of Representatives
As another year comes to a close, there's not a lot to like about the current Coalition government. (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Despite the Liberal Party’s embrace of corrosive neoliberalism, the party continues to win elections. Australians get the governments they deserve.

“In general, there is still overwhelming support for representative democracy but with a focus on making the representative system of government more representative of the people they serve, and accountable and responsive to their constituents underpinned by integrity politics which are ‘cleaner’, ‘collaborative’ and ‘evidence-based’”. Mark Evans, director, Democracy 2025

Terrifying, really. If those qualities are important to us, why do we accept less from our governments? We like to comfort ourselves with tales of how bad Tony Abbott was, and then how “adult” Malcolm Turnbull was, and then, as if to excuse ourselves for voting for him, how awful and deceptive Scott Morrison is. But we need to lose that version of history, because, notwithstanding how many of our fellow citizens voted for, or used to vote for, the Liberal Party, the Liberals continue to win elections despite their insoluble problems.

The first hurdle is their pack mentality when it comes to belief systems. If you want to belong, you must believe in neoliberalism. There is no longer any room for dissent in Robert Menzies’ party. You believe fully, no reservations, or you are out. No problem, although the neolibs’ policies are anti-democratic, bloody-minded, inhumane and innately illogical. One can only wonder how they can form a government while believing in the diminishing the role of government.

Neoliberalism is an odd system which was resurrected after World War II, and it is essentially a quest to return to dog-eat-dog capitalism. Worse, it wishes to return to the economics of the 17th and 18th centuries and is a fevered response to the values of social democracy and the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes. So it is reactionary, in the worst way.

They also call it market capitalism, because it hides the regressive nature of the system, but they cannot hide the central tenet that economic performance is measured by the performance of the market, hence Donald Trump’s fatuous bragging when the Dow Jones was flying even as hundreds of thousands of Americans died or lost their jobs during the Covid pandemic. Forget measuring economic or governmental performance on human happiness, or levels of education, or even self-determination. They stress the importance of individual freedom, which under neoliberalism presumably includes the right to die from hunger or neglect.

The Liberals’ second “disability” is to be shackled to the National Party. Now we all understand the wonders of modern Australian agriculture, but the National Party is no longer representative of farmers; it seems to have hitched its wagon to miners. It is, however, crucial to the Liberals gaining, and holding onto, power. Without the Nationals the Liberals are a small, urban, middle-class party with delusions of grandeur. Having lost the collective conscience of their “soft” or “wet” members, they have coalesced around a rump of born-again Christians and economic fundamentalists.

The Labor Party has traditionally been the party of the working class, and the party of reform. Extended periods in the political wilderness have de-fanged the Labor Party, which now has a political philosophy of presenting a “small target”. Sadly, being a small target projects a message that the party stands for nothing.

The reason for this is that it relies on factions to elect its leaders. These factional leaders are just that — leaders of splinter groups, unsuited to the macro levels of leadership required by actual governments. As the case of Bill Shorten illustrates, good policies must be sensible, defensible and saleable. Morrison tore apart Labor’s policies in 2019 as economy-wrecking and frightening. Shorten lacked the wit to counter Morrison’s energy and sloganeering. Since Kevin Rudd, the party has not had an effective salesman type representing it, and so it has been outmanoeuvred and outsold.

Morrison has always been a marketing man, and he is blessed with an ability to live so “in the moment” that he is able to present himself differently according to the moment and the need. In the bush he will appear in immaculate moleskins and a hi-vis vest, and in the city electorates as a “plain aspirational man with worthy values”.

He sees no contradictions in his “dressing up” efforts, and the electorate will tire of it before he will. He is essentially a one-man government because he has so commanded and diminished his Cabinet that there is no-one who stands out. He has no challengers. They are all less energetic than he is, and so they owe him everything. He campaigns for them all, and he stands to gain all should the voters remain apathetic.

Although we seem to want representative, accountable, fair government, we wouldn’t know it if we fell over it. Like all electorates, we get the governments we deserve because we are too lazy to listen and too disengaged to take note of what is said, and because the essential elements of our institutions continue to be eaten away by the corrosive nature of neoliberalism.

Who would knowingly vote for a government that promotes wanton cruelty to welfare recipients, continues to sell our public service functions to multinational contractors, picks fights with emerging superpowers, treats our money as their own, refuses to regulate the behaviour of our representatives, embarrasses us on international obligations and is prepared to let the planet burn for the sake of political preferment? With their Trumpian idea of limiting the vote, they are putting lead in the Labor Party’s saddle bags. So who in their right mind would vote for a repressive, authoritarian government which has failed for more than eight years?

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