May 18th 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Green energy policies freeze out the poor

EDITORIAL Religious freedom will be suffocated if ALP elected

FEDERAL ELECTION Majors fling barrels of pork in the way of disillusioned voters

CANBERRA OBSERVED If independents rule in House, stability is a goner

SOCIETY 'Ladies Wanted' flyers lure women into porn

CULTURE AND SOCIETY The last of his tribe

ECONOMICS Trading in the toxic legacy of neoliberalism

TECHNOLOGY The wheels come off Tesla's electric dream

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki Part 1

STATE POLITICS Notes from the hustings

A TRIBUTE TO LES MURRAY A man of the Word: the poet and the Logos

MUSIC Workhorse themes: Sonic sub-rhythms

CINEMA Avengers: Endgame: Marvellous final chapter

BOOK REVIEW The left has our schools in bondage

BOOK REVIEW Philosopher hits all the right notes

OBITUARY Bob Hawke: astute politician; flawed policies

THE CARDINAL PELL FILE

EDITORIAL How Scott Morrison routed Labor, the Greens, GetUp and the left media

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STATE POLITICS
Notes from the hustings


by Paul Collits

News Weekly, May 18, 2019

In 1965, legendary American conservative publisher, author and television personality William F. Buckley Jr surprised the world by running for the mayoralty of New York City.

It was described as a “quixotic” campaign and drew forth a curious response from Buckley when he was asked: “What is the first thing you will do if you win the election?” He replied: “Demand a recount!”

Mercifully, my attempt to win the New South Wales state seat of Lismore at the March election did not require me to “demand a recount”. I came last!

Lismore is a broad sweep of an electorate. The main towns are Lismore (of course), Murwillumbah, Kyogle and Tenterfield. And, yes, Nimbin.

Geographically, the wisdom of those who oversee electoral distributions is not obvious. There is very little community of interest between Lismore near the coast and Tenterfield, two hours’ drive away and up on the Northern Tablelands.

Lismore itself is a university town and a centre for administration. Its biggest employer is the health and social services sector. Agriculture is also important. It is a stone’s throw from some of the largest concentrations of new-age hippyism in the country. The broader region also suffers from a lack of investment, at least partly driven by having five of the six local councils wedded to environmentalism.

Lismore was also the state’s most marginal electorate, and therefore an interesting case study in politics done locally.

When discussing whether or not to run as a candidate in Lismore a mere three weeks before the election, the concerns I expressed to the powers that be in Sydney were threefold. One, I am new in Lismore (and newly returned to Australia from nearly four years’ living abroad). Hence no one here knows me. Two, it is very late in the day to be fielding a candidate. And three, Lismore, while the most marginal electorate in the state, is also one of the most left wing! So, not fertile ground for a conservative.

The Party wished to achieve three things: to give conservatives living in Lismore electorate someone to vote for; to grow the Australian Conservatives brand; and to use a local ground game based on a lower-house candidate to help elect an upper-house candidate. All worthwhile reasons to stand, despite my initial concerns.

What did I learn as a candidate in the campaign? Some things – such as the impact of letterbox drops, putting big pictures of the candidate on trees and telegraph poles and populating polling places with supporters to hand out how-to-vote cards – are no clearer to me now than they were at the start of the campaign. Many voters seem positively to resent having HTVs thrust at them as they innocently approach the polling station.

(In New Zealand, not necessarily a beacon of good democratic practice, they at least don’t have any spruiking for votes at polling stations. You just walk into the polling place and cast your vote. You just don’t necessarily get the government that the majority – or even a leading minority – voted for)!

Another imponderable is how best to access voters who vote pre-poll, iVote or postal. The fact that all parties still door-knock and letterbox-drop suggests there is benefit to it. But, really, who knows?

Then there is the now ubiquitous social media activity. There are ways to get your online messages to voters but I am nowhere near being across these. And I question the ultimate impact that short-term social media campaigns have. Finally, there is the predisposition of the young, green-inculcated voter to tack left. How as a traditionalist to engage the youthful leftie in the context of a state (even perhaps a national) election is a question for the ages.

So much for the imponderables.

Other things in the campaign became very clear, and are in their own ways not reassuring for the democratic process. The observations below relate to the role of the local media, the level of public inte­rest in elections, the transformation of the Nationals, the reduction of principles and ideas in politics to a mere bidding war for votes over service delivery, and the place of minor parties and principled independents.

First, the quality of election coverage in the media at the local level is scattergun, underdone and superficial, perhaps unsurprisingly. It is abysmal. I participated in one “minor candidates” session on the local ABC radio. There were three of us and it went for 10 minutes. That was it.

The local paper seemed almost completely uninterested in a campaign in the most marginal seat in the state in what was billed as a “knife-edge” state election. The paper would occasionally ring us candidates for our views on topical events of local interest. Luckily, one of these related to the school children’s climate march. This provided me with one of the few opportunities I had to make a splash, knowing as I did that all the other candidates would either support the march or merely bow before the climate demi-god.

My claim that climate change is the biggest scam in human history got a headline! No one else dared go there.

Second, whither the Nationals, the erstwhile party of the bush? I had a brief but arresting meeting with the local Nationals candidate. I simply asked him if he was a conservative. He replied that he was a “progressive conservative”.

Setting aside matters of logical incoherence and meaning, such a response brings to mind the emerging self-des­cription by certain federal Liberals (Tim Wilson, Dave Sharma) as “Modern Liberals”.

The Nats candidate also revealed himself to be in favour of fluid gender marriage and pro-choice on abortion, matters that are clearly now not priority concerns for Nationals pre-selectors or, it would seem, party members.

All this prompts the question: what is the point of the Nationals these days? It used to be that the old Country Party had two reasons for its existence. One was to “get stuff” for the bush, both for farmers and for the regional communities that originally existed to provide service functions for the farmers and allied industries. The second (I thought) was to reflect the old-style socially conservative values of the country areas: namely, family, flag, nation and faith, principles that were largely (back in the day) but never universally accepted across the Liberal Party or its predecessors.

The Nats were, in effect, partly a party of geographical and producer interests but also a brake on tendencies in the Liberal Party towards social liberalism. There were, in some cases, even kingmakers for the Liberals in their efforts to steer policy in favoured directions. As per John McEwen and Billy McMahon in the 1960s. Not any more.

Third, it is clear that the major parties at state level in Australia no longer battle it out over principles, or ideologies, or vision, but are simply engaged in a battle over who can provide the most goodies to state electorates. Their aims seem largely to be to win government and to enjoy the spoils of office and the power that ministerial leather brings. It is pure pork barrelling with not even the pretence to be a battle of ideas or of visions of the good life.

This is partly to be expected at state level, and it has been forever thus, given the roles of the states as service providers in health, education, infrastructure and the like.

Yet it is disappointing nevertheless, even disturbing, that state government has become the plaything of factional fiefdoms that wield power largely through bribes and what amounts to electoral bingo.

There does seem to be pushback on this turbo-charged pork barrelling. Des­pite the relentless auctioning of votes, the minor parties, not having direct access to government, simply do not have bribe cards to play, keep eating into the major parties’ support base. The case of the Nats in Lismore is an example of this.

Despite every single press release over the past year by the retiring Nationals member being about goodies, and the efforts of the new Nats candidate to associate himself with this local spend, he lost!

More and more people seem to see through the competition for votes, yet the parties persist in running campaigns along two main lines: scare the punters about what the other side will do; and, promise more goodies than they do. Changing the culture of electioneering is a major task for our polity, it would seem.

Fourth, what chance is there that the minor parties might make a difference, either to election outcomes (by electing lower-house members) or to the limitation of government power and the shaping of what gets done in government through electing members to the upper house?

The disparate origins and beliefs and support bases of the ragtag of minor parties, especially those that might be seen as right wing, suggest that there may not ever be a cohesive wall of resistance to government overreach in upper houses, but rather simply a new style of log-rolling – I will support you on this if you support me on that – that gets the polity nowhere. Such an outcome would merely be one more nail in the coffin of good governance.

The minor parties are not all of a piece. Some reflect sectional, vested interests (the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers). Others develop as a result of single-issue concerns (Keep Sydney Open and the Animal Justice Party). Then there is a range of what might be considered more broadly defined “principles” parties, which includes One Nation, the Christian Democrats, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Australian Conservatives. Of these, the Christian Democrats and the Australian Conservatives – both unsuccessful in their attempts to elect new upper-house members – are most closely aligned to voters who prioritise social and cultural issues and who largely hold to traditional values.

The Greens are another case again. They are immensely well resourced in certain geographic areas – the inner cities and particular, mainly coastal, regions that have attracted lifestyle immigrants and/or those of a new left/social-justice warrior worldview. This resourcing is reflected both in financial terms and in terms of the ability to call up huge on-the-ground volunteers.

Greens candidates, unlike the anti- green parties made up often of ageing conservatives, can get their people out and campaigning. They are, of course, also resourced from shadowy organisations like GetUp, which have as their principal aim the destruction of conser­vative values, candidates and resources, in service of a particular worldview. Such organisations are single minded, canny and focused in ways that their right-of-centre equivalents are not.

What of “country independents”? Pork barrellers like Cathy McGowan, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who simply play the “get stuff for my electorate” game in order to make a name for themselves, may now be giving way to candidates who are more interested in batting against the Nationals (mainly) over the abandonment of conservative values.

Lismore certainly had one of these, in Greg Bennett, a local councillor who has in the past been associated with the Nationals and the Shooters Party. His stances on political correctness, creating a place for Christian values in the public square, the failures of the Coalition in protecting landowners’ rights and the like made him an ally of mine (I gave my second preferences to him) and also a thorn in the side of the Nationals.

He also provided a focus in the absence this time of a Christian Democrats lower-house candidate.

Many expected the Greens candidate to win Lismore, and in so doing perhaps to help shape the new government. Many observers took seriously the likelihood of a minority Labor government supported by the Greens. It was not to be. The Greens candidate missed out very narrowly to Labor in Lismore, and the Coalition was duly returned.

So, what did it all mean? Lismore didn’t decide the state election as many thought it would. The Australian Conservatives still have much work to do. There is a place for minority parties but more cohesion and collaboration are needed, including on the ground. Despite the pervasiveness of social media, we don’t really know what it means for electioneering. And we have four more years of a government that by and large builds Sydney infrastructure and sings to the tunes of left-wing “moderates” in the stacked branches of the Liberal Party.

But I did my bit. Thanks (mostly) to the independent who scored over 5 per cent of the primary vote, and me with my 1.2 per cent, we did affect the result in one seat. Perhaps I made a difference. Now there is food for thought …

Paul Collits is a writer, university lecturer, independent researcher, policy adviser and business mentor. He has worked in regional economic development analysis, research, training, policy and practice for over 25 years.




























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