• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The False Promise of Conformism

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

More articles by:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail