The more things change the more they remain the same.
It is imperative that the Morrison government not be returned at the forthcoming election. It is devoid of ideas for the future. It denies climate change. It is corrupt. It is self serving. It is racist. It has no moral compass.
For these and for a range of unaddressed social justice and environmental issues, including mining, the Barrier Reef and refugees the Labor Party must be elected. But the election of a Labor government will not bring the type of fundamental change that is so overdue.
Both major parties conduct their politics within the same framework. One exists on the Right the other on the Centre Right. There is no Left in Australian politics. In light of the Murray Darling Basin debacle and climate change the Labor Party is not proposing to nationalise water resources, they haven’t even committed to a Royal Commission and Tony Burke has been attempting to defend his flawed MD Plan from his time as Minister for the Environment. The framework is defined by a lack of moral courage within people designated or who see themselves as leaders.
The Labor Party is not proposing a Banking and Financial Services Act to regulate greed and protect customers, it is not proposing to nationalise the energy industry and it supports a distortion in funding to religious schools. It has not proposed taxing religious organisations. It has not proposed regulating the fees charged by medical specialists nor has it proposed fundamental reform of Medicare and private health insurers. Other than vague references to a Republic it has no firm plan to ditch allegiance to the British Crown.
It has no policy toward a national housing scheme for the homeless, or the empowerment of Aboriginal people. It has no policy toward refugees other than deterrence. It has no plans for managing climate change, no announcements of a ministry to co-ordinate responses to significant natural disasters in Australia and the region and no plans to conduct training exercises between the ADF, SES, fire authorities, ambulance services, and hospitals.
It has no plans to scrap the ludicrous plans to build new submarines that will be obsolete before the first of the proposed twelve are launched.
By its very nature climate change will require increased government intervention to deliver and maintain essential services including the production and distribution of food. Governments will increasingly be required to take and carry the risks associated with climate change.
In my opinion Australia adopted its present restrictive and right leaning political framework when it decided to go to war on the side of Britain in 1914. It was a looser framework then than it is now. Until Australia embarked on what was to become a major national disaster it was set on a path of putting together a very progressive state. It had undertaken extensive infrastructure reform with railway construction, roads, bridges, harbours, hospitals and schools. In 1902 the Commonwealth Franchise Act gave women the right to vote and sit in the federal parliament. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1904 established the basis for industrial relations until the 1990’s.The 1907 Harvester Case established the terms for a ‘fair and reasonable wage’ for the average working man.
The union movement was strong and progressive and gave birth to the ALP. This should be central to who we are as a nation not the Boys Own story of WW1.
WW1 drained the nation of manpower, money and self confidence. It wasn’t just the dead and injured, which numbered some 200,000, it was the fact that many men who had served on the front line returned to Australia with shell shock now known as PTSD. The effect on the nation through friends and families has largely gone undocumented. The waste and futility, carried by the soldiers, has largely gone undocumented the associated guilt swamped with jingoism. However there was enough fight and decency left in the nation to oppose and defeat the introduction of conscription for the war proposed in the form of a referendum by Prime Minister Hughes in 1916 and 1917.
Optimism, innovation and creativity were dealt a further blow by the Great Depression and WW11, the ending of which saw the social blight of WW1 repeated and reinforced by large numbers of refugees and migrants from war torn Europe. Of course it was not all gloom and doom, but it was dull and conservative as people sought to rebuild their lives. And conservative Prime Minister Menzies took full advantage of a cautious electorate to tighten the restrictive framework of the state.
Menzies defeated Labor Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, in 1949 after he tried to nationalise the banks. Events played into Menzies hands. The Cold War gripped the major powers, communism was the scourge of the West and Menzies used the fear associated with it to further cower and corral the little Aussie battlers. Labor had no narrative particularly after it split in 1955 leading to the formation of the breakaway right wing Democratic Labor Party which had close ties to the Catholic Church. Menzies also rode the wave of sustained economic growth fuelled by wool, wheat and mining.
Menzies committed the country to war in Vietnam in 1965 without telling the country and introduced conscription without telling the people that the conscripts would fight in that war. The Labor Party did little to oppose the war and conscription until public opinion moved substantially against both by mid 1969. It proved to be a vote winning issue for Labor leader Gough Whitlam at the 1972 elections.
Gough tried to dismantle the framework. He moved fast, far too fast in the face of a deteriorating economy. He was sacked by the Governor General in November 1975. That act, which had been engineered by Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser and endorsed by the Queen, saw the framework back in place. Bob Hawke defeated Fraser in 1983. He saw his chances of being elected dependent on maintaining the status quo, which meant the framework and his successor, Paul Keating, did likewise pushing the envelope to the right with a program of privatisation and detention of refugees.
John Howard came to power in 1996 and within four years had taken the country back to the Menzies era, including a sham love of cricket, the sport which roundly rejected his attempt to become world president. The Howard regime was racist, royalist, misogynist, militaristic, jingoistic and elitist. Anzac Day and Australia Day were turned into pseudo iconic national events. Refugees and Aboriginals were demonised and no government that has followed his defeat in 2007 has changed that, including the Labor governments of Rudd and Gillard.
Howard sowed the seeds of intolerance and vilification toward Muslims which found ready disciples in Abbott, Morrison and Dutton and which some are saying, and I agree, reaped a vile harvest in the ghastly Mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March, when an Australian right wing devotee shot dead 50 worshipers and wounded another 39.
Abbott in 2013 was a shrill and nastier version of Howard’s government, Turnbull in 2015 was a failure to himself and the nation and Morrison in 2018 a caricature of all that went before him. All maintained the framework; perhaps believing it was a structure that fostered stability. It has not. Howard like Menzies before him secretly took the country to war in Iraq.
For me the framework is defined by how an Australian government approaches questions of race, distribution of income, the fairness of the tax and education systems, jingoism and how greed is being managed, in other words what the fairness graph is reading. To move out of the framework, the fostering of innovation would need to take place together with nurturing the aged, the disabled, disadvantaged the environment.
Shorten is shuffling. He will win the election because Morrison and his moronic muppets will lose it. He shows no interest in challenging or even trying to bend the framework, from refugees to water, banking to defence. He will see off a corrupt, stupid and morally bankrupt government, but he will not oversee creative, constructive and long overdue change. Sadly he is comfortable in our constraining and constricting framework forged as a result of the failure of war.
He condemns us to the turnaround of the hour glass.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former diplomat.