Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The False Promise of Conformism

by

Stop the War Against the Poor
Sydney resident’s placard, May 18, 2014

The Australian voter, as a political species, remains alien to ideology. There is a certain cavalier ruthlessness with which governments can be dispatched at the ballot box. Being one of the most electioneered, if not over-electioneered countries on the planet, there is much room for such removals ‘down under’. These are not necessarily done on the basis of cerebral revelations or snappy policies. The chat here is always structural and mechanical – budget cuts, and more budget cuts; the fantasy of a “bottom line”; commodities markets; interest rates; mortgage payments; the US-Australian alliance.

Street protests are generally dismissed as angry voices in a sea of conformist calm. It is a recipe that Australian politicians thrive on, hoping that each election brings with it its automatic bounty (Australia, being a country where voting is not a right but a duty). Major parties know that most voters will park their choices in an ancestral manner – predictably, unquestioningly. It falls to “swing” voters in a few seats to alter the balance, a truly unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The growing anger against the Australian government, run by an ideologically drugged leader, suggests that assumptions of happy conformity may be misplaced. The March in May protests in major cities on Sunday attempted to replicate the steam of March in March – catchy calls for protesters to vent some steam. They don’t necessarily have any unifying theme other than wishing the Abbott government would go away in an act of glorious self-liquidation. They just might get their wish.

On Sunday, there was a sting in the tail. Much of it was in evidence outside the Victorian State Library in Melbourne. The statue which dominates the front space of the neoclassical building is the girth-like wonder of Sir Redmond Barry, one of the state’s foremost colonial judges, liberal, erudite, something of a rarity in nineteenth century Australia. His head sports spikes to ward off defecating pigeons, and his manner simulates that of the imperious, if overly weighty, patriarch.

In some ways, he is an odd presence before the protesters. He insisted that the cultural quotient of Victoria be increased, sponsored book and museum collections, and pronounced the death sentence of Australia’s favourite horse thief and cop killer, Ned Kelly, in 1880. Frontier battles were being waged by judge against outlaw, and Barry was in no mood to heed the thousands of petitioners who wished Kelly to be spared. Some of the protesters would no doubt agree with the judge’s first achievements; many would have lynched Barry for the last. History, in that sense, has treated Kelly better than Barry, though Barry was spared the future celluloid transgressions that would be inflicted on his opposite number.

The air proved indignant with placards sporting such statements as “Liar, Liar, budgie smugglers on fire”. (For those unfamiliar with Australian beach lingo, the budgie smuggler remains a famous aesthetic atrocity worn by such men as Prime Minister Abbott.) One poster was striking – “Bust the Budget; Follow the Money”, featuring Australia as a bin reserve moving money into the US-Australian alliance in the name of untried military assets. That is the lot of any decent satrap.

Others were directed at the inarticulate treasurer, Joe Hockey, possibly Australia’s least financially literate member for the job in a generation. “Joe Hockey suck my cocky.” Then came Shaun Murray of Friends of the Earth Australia with “so Tony Abbott and his Congo line of assholes.” Some speakers and protesters preferred to focus on the effects of proposed budgets rather than personal vitriol. “The burden will fall on Australia’s first peoples.” Another speaker noted that, “This budget is a poisonous recipe for homelessness for Australia’s young people.” The national broadcaster, seen as conservatism’s sworn enemy, is also set for a sharp pruning.

The Greens House of Representatives member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, made a popular suggestion at the rally. “If Labor and [Clive] Palmer join us, we can have a new prime minister by Christmas.” Whether one of Australia’s richest men, whose Palmer United Party won seats on the back of the mining magnate’s huge war chest, should actually determine who remains in power is troubling, but the hatred of Abbott at gathering is entrenched and unequivocal.

There is, in short, nothing cerebral here. This is the politics of the tribe and the pocket, but it is heartfelt. The Abbott government is doing its level best to squander its already slimming margins of popularity, invigorating an otherwise conformist electorate. The failings of the previous Labor government lay in its inability to articulate an ideology; the failing of Abbott’s conservative coalition lie in making ideology too evident, a nasty construct indifferent to dissent. The market is sacred and divine – forget everything else and bow before it. Common to both parties is the assumption that the Australian voter will essentially swallow any gruel on offer.

There are voices at the rally promising the ram the budget cuts back down the throat of the Coalition. Special fury is being directed at welfare cuts and co-payments for visits to doctors. Over $12.4 billion dollars is on the table, and opposition leader Bill Shorten is promising to remain firm in the Senate with the backing of minor parties. But in the main, there is unlikely to be any genuine change to the status quo. As veteran journalist Paul Sheehan explained, “Moral outrage is used to hide moral cowardice, with the assumption that voters are too ignorant or self-interested to notice” (Sydney Morning Herald, May 19). Beware, and be wary, of the Australian voter.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]