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Monday, 2 February 2015

The rightwing reaction to Queensland shows they want to rule, not govern | Jason Wilson

The rightwing reaction to Queensland shows they want to rule, not govern | Jason Wilson

The rightwing reaction to Queensland shows they want to rule, not govern

From Tony Abbott all the way down to pundits in the conservative
press, the verdict is clear: elections are illegitimate when it returns a
result they don’t like

coalition mps

Coalition members of parliament during question time, 2014. Photograph: AAP

Yesterday at the National Press Club, Guardian Australia political editor Lenore Taylor asked Tony Abbott a question
about the widely-perceived unfairness of his budget measures, and how
he planned to get them through the Senate. In answering it, Abbott gave
an important insight into the conservative mind.

He said that if the Senate refused to pass his planned cuts to social
security, education, health, the public service, and public
broadcasters, it would constitute “intergenerational theft”. Moreover,
Australia has been “self-indulgent as a nation”, and “it’s the mission
of this government to address that”.

elsewhere in his remarks he claimed the legitimacy of popular election
in the face of those colleagues who would replace him, we can see from
his response that for Abbott government is not strictly carried out by
or for the people. Its most important task is holding the undisciplined
appetites of the people in check.

If there is theft occurring, Abbott’s policy proposals show that he
believes the culprits are the poor, the sick, and the old. “Price
signals” in healthcare, arbitrary cut-offs for the withdrawal of
benefits, and increasing student debt are a means of restoring popular
discipline and guiding erratic or irrational citizens towards wise
choices. Governing on this view is tantamount to ruling. Above all it must inculcate responsibility in those whose misfortune only demonstrates the extent to which they lack it.

This is an article of faith for contemporary conservative leaders
around the world, though they have to try to avoid spelling it out. When
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was caught on tape in
2012 railing against those “who are dependent upon government, who
believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a
responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to
health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it”, he became a living
demonstration of the danger of making these beliefs too explicit.

This didn’t stop Joe Hockey, a slow learner, from dividing
us into “lifters and leaners” as he prepared for the 2014 budget. The
idea that the poor are parasitic on the rich is integral to the morality
of the contemporary right, and the source of all its antidemocratic

warriors in the media and conservative intellectuals can afford to be
more candid than politicians. After the weekend, in response to Queensland
tossing a first-term austerity government, the right’s hatred of
democracy revealed itself in a kind of generalised panic about the
future prospects of what the political establishment euphemises as
“reform”. A chorus of pundits sought to indict the voters for their
selfishness, cowardice and stupidity.

Business Council of Australia chairman Tony Shepherd told the
Australian Financial Review that “the philosophy of tax, spend and
borrow is being rewarded”, because “Australians only let governments
respond when we are close to catastrophe”. The Fin’s editorial writer
lamented the “complacency” of an electorate that treated “politics as
infotainment” in sending the country down a “Greece-lite path”.
Melbourne talkback titan Neil Mitchell tweeted that the election
rendered Australia “ungovernable. Nobody will be willing to make tough
decisions”. CQU vice-chancellor Scott Bowman wrote that the succession
of short-lived governments in recent years meant voters were “sabotaging
the integrity of our political system”. In the Sydney Morning Herald,
Paul Sheehan claimed that the high turnover of governments and leaders
showed that social media was “ giving society a collective attention
deficit disorder”.

The mood was even darker at The Australian. Political editor Dennis
Shanahan said that voters have rejected “governments attempting
austerity and debt reduction” because they are “in denial”. Greg
Sheridan wondered if “any kind of sensible fiscal reform is for the
moment beyond the Australian electorate”, and brooded over the “decline
of our political culture into an abyss of disastrous populism”. Paul
Kelly claimed that the Labor victory revealed the “dysfunctional crisis
plaguing Australia’s political system is deepening with the potential
cost to the nation only becoming more severe”. The paper’s snarky “Cut
and Paste” column was uncharacteristically bleak, reacting to an orderly
transition in representative government with the headline: “Nihilism
becomes the new normal in politics, and voters get pleasure from
inflicting pain”. Nick Cater suggested on Tuesday that a sheeplike
electorate had been misled by the “insidious” influence of
psychologically damaged Abbott critics who “run in a pack and tweet in

This apocalyptic, antidemocratic mood swept up many who would
otherwise be at pains to distance themselves from capital-C
conservatism. Arch-neoliberal Adam Creighton, who has made a habit of calling time on democracy opined that the voters’ stupidity had led them to give the wrong answer:

— Adam Creighton (@Adam_Creighton)
January 31, 2015

Whatever outcome in #qldvotes, scary harbinger of Australia's decline. Economic literacy dwindling at the time we need it most #ignorance.

Troy Bramston, ostensibly a Labor voice in the Australian’s editorial
pages, wrote that the victory of his own party demonstrated that
“oppositions and minor parties are being rewarded for running populist
campaigns and promulgating policies with little credibility”. Even Laura
Tingle, who some would like to claim for the liberal left, worried that
“voters have had enough of political rhetoric about reform and change,
and … both sides of politics back away from ambitious reform as a

This extraordinary outpouring of contempt for the voting public is
not simply a fit of rightwing pique. Rather, we can see that
conservatives and a broader swathe of the political elite revealing some
of their basic assumptions when put under pressure. To argue that
democracy fails when it resists the imposition of fiscal austerity is
simply to argue for our permanent subjection to the rule of property.

To equate the repeated rejection of ideological policy prescriptions
with nihilism, populist insurrection, sadism and stupidity, or to say,
as Tony Abbott did yesterday, that voters have elected new governments
in a state of “absent-mindedness” strongly suggests a view that popular
election is illegitimate when it returns the wrong result. In short, it
shows how they think that we, individually and collectively, are not
competent do determine our own interests, or the kind of community we
want to live in. And this necessarily calls into question our right to
make these decisions.

The howl of pundits and politicians who equate democracy with
disorder reveals how deeply estranged they are from the rest of us. The
indicator of crisis is not voters sacking first-term governments who
lied about their true intentions, but that these decisions are received
with incomprehension and contempt by those who are supposed to represent
us and safeguard our interests. In Queensland, Labor’s return indicates
that the public wants an economy that is fair, and for the government
to preserve the public things they have repeatedly said they want
retained. But to understand that would require a level of commitment to
democracy that many of our would-be rulers seem unable to make.