Monday, October 8, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Can Labor restore faith in democracy?
Shorten has a tough battle ahead

Image of Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek


Labor leader Bill Shorten said something very important at his headland speech in Western Sydney yesterday – which was effectively an early campaign launch – and it could boil down to a simple question: who is actually running the joint? Faith in politics is so low that it’s an open question. Is it still the government, accountable to the parliament and therefore to the people? Or are our politicians, in fact, ultimately accountable to their donors, and, through them, to shareholders? For all the talk of sovereign risk, the real threat to our sovereignty is the relentless degradation of the public, and the relentless corporate takeover of everything from the sails of the Opera House to our response to dangerous global warming.

First, here’s what Shorten said (with italics added for emphasis):

In recent times, I’ve have had a fair few number of people come up to me and say something like: ‘Oh you must be feeling confident now, because the other mob have been so hopeless.’ As if somehow that takes the pressure off us. Let me declare today, it’s the exact opposite for me … I actually think that the shambles and selfishness, the narcissistic self-obsession we’ve seen from the Liberals and the Nationals creates a bigger challenge for us on the Labor side. Let me explain, because I think the challenge we face – all of us in the labour movement – is to restore the faith of Australians in Australian democracy itself. The challenge we face is to demonstrate that politics can still deliver meaningful improvement in people’s lives, that individuals can influence the direction of communities and of nations. That politicians can put the national interest ahead of their own.

Now, a cynic may say that this is priceless coming from Shorten, given his role in the dumping of Kevin Rudd in 2010, which kicked off the cycle of political assassinations that has turned Australia into the coup capital of the South Pacific. A cynic may also say that, if anything, the Liberals and the Nationals are acting out behaviour learnt from Labor.

Hopefully, that’s precisely Shorten’s point: each time these undemocratic convulsions happen, each time the parliament proves itself completely self-obsessed and oblivious to the needs of the people that put them there, political power recedes, the stakes get lower and people tune out. Change gets harder. And that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The world doesn’t stand still. Because if politics can’t deliver meaningful improvement in people’s lives, they will look elsewhere.

For every retreat of the government over the last 30 years, the power of corporations has increased. It’s why the Opera House finds itself bullied by a representative of media and gambling interests, to turn its sails into an ad and, more importantly, why the NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian caves in to the same bullying and does what she’s told. It’s why Australia’s perfectly well-functioning carbon price was abolished and our response to climate change is in the hands of the mining and energy industries, and the government’s ministerial offices are flush with their representatives. It’s why a federal anti-corruption body is perhaps Labor’s most important policy plank of all.

The establishment of a federal ICAC – a policy pinched from the Greens – was not in the five-point “Fair Go Action Plan” that Shorten released yesterday. The plan aims to: fix schools and hospitals; ease living costs; stand up for working people; end the climate wars; and build a strong economy that “works in the interest of all Australians, not just the lucky few”.

There are tough battles ahead for Shorten. As The Guardian reported yesterday, Labor’s Left faction is beginning to raise its voice about the plight of children on Nauru, and there is continuing anger about the party’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was all sloganeering in his response [$] to Shorten yesterday: “I’ll tell you what Bill Shorten’s five-point plan is: more tax, more tax, more tax, more tax, more tax.”

Precisely the kind of empty politicking we need less of.

since this morning

“Coal must go to save Great Barrier Reef”, the ABC reports, as the IPCC issues a dire warning that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut to zero by about 2050 in order to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

in case you missed it

Fairfax Media reports that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet recorded a sharp increase in spending on consultancy contracts last year, as scrutiny of the government’s spending on external advice grows.

The Australian reports [$] that ahead of an IPCC report due to be handed down today Scott Morrison has defended Australia’s remaining a signatory to the Paris climate change agreement, arguing it has no impact on electricity prices.

In a 14-minute monologue this morning, broadcaster Alan Jones defended his interview with Opera House chief executive Louise Herron on Friday, during which Herron said she would not project horse names and branding on the Opera House sails. Scott Morrison backed the advertising plan, telling [$] Jones that critics should “have a bit of a lie down”. High-profile businesswoman Diane Smith-Gander has accused Jones of bullying Herron, saying that men bullying women is “worse than any other sort of bullying”.

The AFR reports [$] that Tim Wilson, chair of federal parliament’s Standing Committee on Economics, has lashed out at the conduct of the major banks. His comments come as the chief executives of the big four banks prepare to face their first public grillings over misconduct and potential breaches of legislation detailed in the royal commission’s interim report.

In The Australian, Mark Day writes [$] that Danny Gilbert, Kim Williams, John Hartigan and Peter Tonagh are all being frequently mentioned as the government prepares to appoint a new chair of the ABC.

by Benjamin Law
A golden age of popular Indigenous storytelling
How Australian screens and stages became less of a whitewash

by Mungo MacCallum
Morrison looks the other way
Mental health is taken seriously in Australia, but not for those incarcerated on Nauru

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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