Who’s Extremist?

[I sent this to The Canberra Times Sunday (24th).  Still waiting for a response, though it’s highly apposite to the local Senate race, with Zed Seselja having ousted Gary Humphries from number one on the Liberal Senate ticket, and Simon Sheikh being a vigorous Greens candidate with at least an outside chance.]

“Left wing” and the “most extreme government in Australia”, is how Jeremy Hanson chose to label the ACT’s Labor-Green Government upon winning the local Liberal leadership recently.  Clearly he was singing from the current Liberal Party song sheet, which seeks to label the Greens “extremists” at every slight opportunity.

Now that local Liberal Zed Seselja is gunning for the national stage in the Senate, we should put these claims in a little perspective, and examine who is extreme and who reflects “good common-sense values”, to quote Hanson again.

Does Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi reflect good, common-sense values?  Bernardi is aggressively anti-muslim, a global warming denier, and he infamously linked gay marriage with bestiality in Parliament.

Here is how Bernardi described Halal meat: “I, for one, don’t want to eat meat butchered in the name of an ideology that is mired in sixth century brutality and is anathema to my own values.”  Halal meat is butchered in a way similar to Kosher meat, and similar to how animals were routinely butchered in Australia and everywhere until relatively recently.

Is Bernardi’s the language of moderation, or is it calculated to divide, inflame and drive to extremes?

Bernardi was demoted for his bestiality remarks.  However he not only remains in the Liberal Party, he is the endorsed lead candidate on the South Australian Liberal Party Senate ticket.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has pursued an unabashedly negative campaign against the current minority Labor government.  He and Deputy Leader Julie Bishop took this to new lows recently by pursuing to extraordinary and destructive lengths a beat up of alleged misbehaviour by Prime Minister Julia Gillard twenty years ago.

Abbott and Bishop are clearly following the lead of the Tea Party in the US, which will happily damage their country along with the incumbent President in their lust for power at any cost.  Such behaviour hardly reflects good, common-sense values.

The claim that the Greens and Labor are left wing requires a slightly longer perspective.  Until 1983 Labor could reasonably be called a centre-left party.  That changed when Bob Hawke and Paul Keating took over and set about implementing the economic-rationalist program of their opponents.  They were less brutal about the transformation than the Coalition might have been, but Hawke was not called “Australia’s best conservative Prime Minister” for nothing.  Labor became centre-right.

With their ground stolen from under them, the Liberals floundered until John Howard took over the reactionary-right agenda of Pauline Hanson, and amplified it with draconian laws that jettisoned centuries-old legal protections under the guise of combating terrorism.

Howard made Australia’s borders almost comically elastic, as each new refugee boat made landfall on Australian territory.  Elastic law is no law at all.  Howard also manipulated the democratic process and encouraged media attack-dogs in their pursuit of anyone who dared question the direction in which the country was drifting.  A new and vicious political correctness took hold.

Thus the Liberal Party moved steadily further to the right.  Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser resigned from the party in 2010, upon Abbott’s accession to the leadership, having long been disgusted by Howard’s co-opting of Pauline Hanson’s racist and xenophobic agenda.

Economically, meanwhile, market-fundamentalist policies world-wide precipitated the Global Financial Crisis.  Australia was only saved from the worst of this by the Rudd Government explicitly abandoning market fundamentalism and implementing a good old Keynesian spending stimulus, school halls, pink batts and all.

The GFC should have totally discredited market fundamentalism, but right-wing tycoons and media keep baying for ever weaker restraints on their excesses.  Europe is still on that path, and its peripheral countries are now deep in depression, with unemployment in Spain over 25%.

The employment insecurity and social disruption created deliberately through so-called “labour market flexibility” and inadvertently by the GFC has swelled the ranks of the fearful, whose concerns often manifest as growing intolerance, xenophobia and racism.  This reactionary segment reinforces the rightward political drift.

It seems clear that the grand old hero of the Liberal Party, founder Sir Robert Menzies, would be no more welcome in the modern party than is Malcolm Fraser.  Menzies presided over a great deal of government intervention in the economy, including public ownership of a bank, two airlines, and telecommunications, he spent a lot of public money on universities and the Snowy Mountains Scheme, and he had a habit of stealing popular policies from Labor.

Modern Labor, having abandoned its ground, has allowed itself to be wedged steadily further to the right, trying merely to be Liberal Lite.  The situation now is that Labor is well to the right of Menzies.  The Liberals are further right than Labor, and can fairly be called extremist.  Neither represents the levels of decency, tolerance and fair go that Australians had achieved by around 1980.

Ironically, if you look you can still find a party that espouses decency, economic pragmatism and “good common-sense values”, though you have to see past the hysterical name-calling of politicians like Jeremy Hanson and Seselja.  That would be the Greens, who might now be the closest heirs of the Menzies tradition.

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