Skip to content

The decline of Australian progressivism

Australian state Queensland had an election yesterday, and the result went from a Labor government to a virtual elimination of Labor in the state parliament. This follows, and exceeds, similar defeats in New South Wales last year, and Victoria the year before. Each year, the defeats increase. Victoria went from a 13 seat majority for Labor to a 13 seat majority for the conservative coalition on a nearly 6% swing. New South Wales was, at the time, the biggest swing in Australian history, with the coalition gaining 69 seats in a landslide on a 16.48% swing, with Labor reduced from 52 to 20 seats. Last night, Queensland had seen around a 14.5% swing, and Labor is reduced from 51 to 7 seats.

The usual wisdom here is that Labor is tired, or that it has sold off public assets, or broken promises, but I think the real problem is that lately Labor in Australia has played politics for the sole purpose of holding power and giving cronies plum positions. The party is closely tied to the union movement, and most politicians in the party rose through the ranks of union representatives or functionaries. In the past when cronyism has been seen openly in politics, Australians will vote against it, as Queensland showed in the 1980s.

The trouble is that the opposite side, the conservatives, are no better, so the choice seems to be between those whose cronies are big unions, or those whose cronies are big business. The problem Australia faces is that this has been normalised, largely through the influence of the Murdoch media, so that a common refrain by pundits is that a vote for parties like the Greens are considered a “wasted vote”, which is literally false given Australia’s system of preferential voting.

There are alternatives on the political scene: the Greens are one, although I would say that there is not one but two Green parties, one that is largely progressive in its social policy, and one that seeks to paternalistically control social morés and is driven by an antipathy to any science that happens to contradict their favoured dogmas. There is the unfortunately named “Sex Party” that promotes a properly liberal, in the sense of John Stuart Mill, social agenda. I suggested to the leader that their slogan should be “governance for grownups”. Unfortunately, although it is the fourth most voted party federally, legal restrictions in New South Wales mean they cannot register as a political party there, and so they do not show up on the political reporting radar (and so they are not mentioned).

So long as the media insist Australia is a two party state, there will be strong pressure for each party to converge in behaviour and policies, and the only choice is whether one supports a corrupt labor movement or a corrupt capitalist class. Democracy is effectively stage managed and so merely the acting of free choice on a stage decorated by those with power already.

Issues like gay marriage and personal freedom from police action where no crime has been shown, and so forth are regarded as side issues by this economically obsessed media and political class. But such issues are what makes democracy worthwhile. Any society can run an oligarchy; the issue is whether social attitudes drive or are driven by oligarchs.

I urge my Australian readers to vote Anything But The Two Parties in all subsequent elections. Use your preferences to decide which of the two Oligarchy Parties is least offensive, but if enough Australians vote for a truly progressive candidate or party, things will change, and change rapidly, a rather than waiting another two generations for the current Gilded Age to subside.


  1. Marco Marco

    Showing up at the voting booth is equal parts frustrating and disheartening. Sure we can vote, and the system of preference is great. But the option of parties, candidates and views are a huge let-down. Time to set up the Australian science party.

  2. Kel Kel

    The odd thing I find about voting in Australia is that there’s no excuse not to vote for the minor parties. We have the ability to direct preferences, the question is why more people aren’t doing that already?

  3. I would love to be able to vote for another alternative in the U.S. elections. The way it is set up now, the Democrats can campaign on “We aren’t Republicans” and those of us who are liberal are left thinking “Yes, we know and we don’t want the extremism so we kind of have to vote for the Democrats.” We know that the Democrats will take us for granted. If we had a preferential voting system, I could vote my desires rather than against my fears.

  4. Neil Levy Neil Levy

    I don’t think Labor cronyism can be the explanation, for the reason you mention – that it would not explain voting conservative rather than Labor. Clearly distrust of Labor is a big part of it: Labor has suffered when (as in Queensland, with state assets, and federally, with Rudd’s backdown on the carbon tax) it has gone back on positions it was seen to stand for. But there is no good explanation of which I aware of why voters are willing to vote conservative. The media may play a role, with Murdoch press openly, and Fairfax more covertly, campaigning against Labor. Whether that explains it, I don’t know. Conventional wisdom is that in good economics times, which characterizes Australia (especially in relative terms) the electorate stays with the government. Why Labor’s economic success has not bought it votes I don’t know.

    As I think you know, I don’t agree with your “anyone but” strategy. But we don’t need to resolve this issue in practice, since we have preferential voting. The Greens should be your first preference (despite their problems). In most electorates, it would be fine to put Labor second last, so long as the coalition are last. While I think that Labor does not deserve to win, no one deserves Tony Abbott.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      The cronyism is usually called “factionalism” and it plays a large role in dissatisfaction with Labor. But fundamentally, the problem is that Labor became an economic rationalist (free market ideology) party under Keating, and once it lost its social progressivist outlook (Internet censorship, anti-gay marriage, pro-war, terrorism paranoia, and refugee detainment), there was nothing to differentiate it from the conservatives.

      The Anything But strategy is based on preferential voting, but allows alternative parties to become viable.

      • Neil Levy Neil Levy

        It’s just not true that there is nothing to differentiate Labor from coalition. Carbon tax, ending offshore processing, the mining tax – all of these are a long way short of what is actually achievable (never mind of perfect) but they are major differences between what we have now and what the coalition promises (never mind what it’ll deliver). Labor is a kinder gentler kind of awful, but the kinder gentler qualification is worth taking very seriously – it translates into less suffering. Over here where I am currently, many people said that there was no difference between Labour and the Tories prior to the last election. They’re not saying that now (and the parallel is likely to be direct: the coalition will probably drag Australia into recession just as the Tories are ensuring that the recession deepens here).

        Again, Labor don’t deserve to win, but no one deserves what we’ll get if (when) they lose.

        • Neil Levy: “Over here where I am currently, many people said that there was no difference between Labour and the Tories prior to the last election. They’re not saying that now …”

          Not sure if you’re talking about the UK here, Neil, but if so, then many people ARE indeed still saying there’s no difference between (New) Labour and the Conservatives, for the simple reason that both are indeed equally corrupt and in hock to vested interests, only the emphasis and gloss is different in each case.

          In fact only yesterday (30th Mar) I heard George Galloway, of the mis-named “Respect” Party say exactly this after he won a landslide victory against a moribund Labour machine in the former Labour heartland of Bradford.

          The dominant parties have forfeited all credibility in the UK.

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          Although they are equally corrupt (that is, both sides are equally statist and corporatist) it doesn’t follow that both sides are equally malign at a given moment. In fact at times conservatives seem to be less malignant than the progressives – right now it is clearly the other way.

          But this is a choice between the flu and diarrhea. I’d rather something more healthy.

        • You’re lucky to have a choice in Oz then, John. Here in the UK we have no choice worth the name.

  5. John Harshman John Harshman

    So what are these legal restrictions in NSW, of which you speak?

  6. John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

    NSW law prevented the ASP from registering as a party in the 2010 election for bureaucratic reasons, and this meant its candidates would not be identified on the ballot papers. They may have resolved this. Even so they were the fourth biggest vote (not reported by the media).

    • John Harshman John Harshman

      Not to belabor the point — OK, yes, to belabor the point — what bureaucratic reasons?

    • B B

      I’m confused. I’ve voted for the Sex Party (usually for the Senate; the Greens get my rep vote) in NSW several times, state and federal.

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        You can vote for SP candidates, but they couldn’t get named on the ballots as “Sex Party” in that election. I guess it’s now resolved, since they are not making anything of it on their present website.

        I still dislike their name. They ought to call it the “Adult Party”.

  7. Andrew Hobbs Andrew Hobbs

    John Harshman:
    Not to belabor the point — OK, yes, to belabor the point — what bureaucratic reasons?

    A party needs at least 750 registered members and an acceptable name. I suspect it is the latter that is causing problems. It must not be obscene or offensive. I suspect that someone has decided that ‘Sex’ in the name is offensive.



  8. Raving Raving

    Everything Australian seems to swirl around the cultural identity of being ex-convicts.

    Have no idea to how you can sustain cultural identity and yet move away from the dipole attractor:

    cons versus screws

  9. It was indeed a sad day in Australia’s political history. We showed ourselves to be politically ignorant, incredibly selfish, and thoroughly apathetic about the problems of the world. If one national issue affected the outcome it was the dreaded carbon tax, which the conservatives beat up into the equivalent of unleashing hordes of brain-eating zombies upon the populace, and simply because Labour enjoys the sight of blood. This, of course, was the biggest feat of misdirection since Keating was painted as a rich snob out to get your cash and give it to his rich mates.
    I didn’t vote for Labour, but then I don’t live in a vaguely marginal seat, but that’s entirely beside the point.

    Issues and the various merits of the candidates had less to do with the outcome this time around than possibly they ever did. Here in Queensland we don’t care who the local candidate is, in fact I’d bet more than 50% didn’t know the guy/girl’s name before polling day. We usually vote (indirectly) for the State or National Leader, or the Party we feels best embodies our… oh ok, the Party Dad liked.

    But not this time.
    This time we voted for the mob who WASN’T in power for the last few years, despite the fact that the shite which has made us all so miserable started before we voted these clowns in, and despite the fact that the clowns we voted in were the ones on whose watch these problems happened. We were pissed off with the world and took it out on the government. Sure, it don’t make much difference, one set of clowns for another, but it will likely go National (certainly on the numbers out today), and worse, International. See, the only election that makes a lot of difference is the U.S. one in which, for some idiotic reason, no one gets a say except a bunch of Americans. Think about it, Fred and Ethel, the horribly obese SUV driving morons from Arkansas are all that stands between us and a Mormon fascist Ruler of the Free World, and worse, the exact same criminals who screwed the pooch in the first place, the very men who spent Trillions on wars of agression, and gave whatever was left to their buddies on Wall Street who will be handing out the Chairmanships and board seats when their time ravaging the world is done. How the hell are these guys walking the streets? What the hell is wrong with Americans? Are they that dumb? Or do they just enjoy being bent over and fist-fu@ked?

    Would we have done any better? probably not. I guess we must like the smell of the lube (hope they still use it!)

Comments are closed.