It has been a chaotic week in the Liberal Party, and unsurprisingly a loud week in activist circles on the left. The conversation has awkwardly pivoted between “Dutton is the worst” to “well, Turnbull is also the worst” back to “Dutton is the worst” and now “Morrison is the worst”. I don’t think it takes an Anarcho- Communist to draw the conclusion that, perhaps, the underlying message could in fact be “the LNP is the worst”.
These repetitive sentiments do however suggest that the Left discursively relies on a kind of anti-hero worship. While having a common, clear enemy is very powerful in the short term, in the long term it has created confusion in terms of overall political aims, and overlooks the source of the policy positions we are all so strongly opposed toward.
Take, for instance, immigration. It is absolutely true that the LNP’s record has been incredibly cruel, heartless, and unjustifiable. What is also clear is that, if history is any indication, the ALP would not do much better in this respect. Both Rudd and Gillard largely maintained Howard’s crusade against refugees seeking asylum in this country. Bill Shorten clearly recognises this: in his attacks on Dutton he has steered well clear of anything to do with Dutton’s time as Minister for Immigration, as criticism of this nature would be the worst kind of hypocrisy.
Another object of condemnation that has been mentioned frequently this week is Dutton’s boycott of Kevin Rudd’s “Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples”. Again, this is inexcusable, and it is clear that racism is endemic to the Liberal-National Coalition. However, the ALP is hardly in a position to claim a moral high ground with regard to racism enacted against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Remember that, for example, though the Northern Territory Intervention was a Howard government policy, it was supported and maintained by both Rudd and Gillard governments, and the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act was continued through to 2010. The legacy of the intervention is still being felt in that state. Twenty-one years after the Bringing Them Home report, the rate of Indigenous child removals is actually increasing. Twenty- seven years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, the vast majority of the commission’s recommendations have either been ignored or only partially implemented. The ALP is as culpable for these abuses as the coalition.
In the field of labour reform, much has been said of the Liberal party’s track record of work choices and the erosion of worker’s rights, particularly by union officials attempting to tie this event to “Change the Rules”, which many have seen as an early Labor election campaign by the ACTU. Of course, the rules that need changing were legislated under the Rudd government, after promising to fix the policies of Howard. Though it may seem cynical to doubt the Labor party’s willingness to support the labour movement, history would suggest otherwise, as would the ACTU ‘s pivot has made away from the Right to Strike campaign in the lead up to an ever-approaching election.
Given that this is Disabled Honi, it would be disingenuous not to mention the NDIS, which has been consistently disastrous since its inception, despite its supposedly radical origins, and the steaming pile of shit it attempts to replace. The privatisation by stealth approach that the NDIS, and various ‘public’ insurance schemes around the world, take to healthcare is one with roots dating back decades, through multiple governments on either side of the very narrow Australian political divide. Narratives of “choice”, so often catch cries of neoliberalism around the world, and which were and are so critical in the promotion of the NDIS , were espoused as much by Keating as by any LNP government in the past twenty years. Real systemic improvements to the infrastructure around
Centrelink, to the healthcare and hospital systems, and to the Disability Support Pension have been largely absent from the platforms of Australian politicians. If anything we have gone backward: a crackdown that started under the Gillard government has resulted in the rate of people accessing the DSP being slashed by nearly half, driving disabled people either into poverty or onto the poverty-level Newstart. At the moment around a quarter of Newstart recipients have some form of disability.
Negative activist campaigns can be very seductive. They can generate strong messages and large numbers. These are temporary. They obscure fights against institutional problems that exist within policies and legislation all across the Australian political spectrum. Whilst fights against villainous individuals can be powerful in the short term, they are not substitutes for a collective campaign towards the creation of a better society with stronger principles. These fights won’t be positioned around any individual, but around the collective fight and shared solidarity of thousands, or hopefully (and, in my humble, commie opinion, likely) millions.
This article appeared in the autonomous Disabilities edition, Disabled Honi 2018.