The recent election highlighted to me something as a nation we are not talking about. It is also something that our leaders on the left are not talking about, yet they should be.
This election, the right wing of politics supported by the media were successful in creating a divide. This divide is not just about rich versus poor, or big business versus the worker. This divide is about the underlying constructs of the very essence of everything that has underpinned us as a nation since Gough Whitlam broke 23 years of conservative rule – progressive reform achieved through the power of democratic socialism.
This divide is about how we are choosing to see ourselves as a society – or if we see ourselves instead as segments of individuals and not as a society at all. This divide is now markedly between Liberalism, Libertarianism and conservatism and right wing populism which is underpinned by the Individualism of the right versus the more collective Socialism, Environmentalism and Democratic Socialism of the left.
I say this is markedly because not only have the Liberals returned to power, but also we have seen the rise of more minor parties and Independents who espouse Individualism as their central tenet win more and more seats.
In addition, we have seen the media promote (including paid promotion) and encourage the voices of those who espouse Individualism and interrupt (up to more than 30 times in a half hour segment) to suppress those who espouse democratic socialism. The interest in individualism and breaking the two party system is also reflected as a central theme in comments across various social media platforms, including newspaper forums.
I see the rise of individualism in Australia in two distinct areas. The first is the decision-making process and democratic representation to develop and pass the legislation, which shapes us. The second is individualism as the central tenet of the ideology of the majority of seats in our current parliament.
Decision-making and democratic representation
With regards to parliamentary decision-making and democratic representation, we have seen a rise in discussions about breaking the two party system. An excitement and a peaking of interest in how it is better to see individual voices in parliament trade off for their vote with other individual voices and creating blocs of these voices to pass legislation; rather than the collective decision making process of a major party, based on their collective values and ideology.
The worrying theme about the rise in these discussions is voters who advocate this; do not seem to care what the individual or minor party stands for. As long as they are an Independent, or a minor/micro party, that is what matters. The fact that these people or parties are not a collective or a part of a major party appears to be the most appealing aspect for many voters.
There is a plethora of voices shouting loudly about how we need to destroy the two-party system, but there is only a modicum….no… a complete absence of any argument about why we need to destroy a system that has delivered us many successful reforms over many years. The focus is that the two-party system is a failure, whilst ignoring the successes.
As a supporter of Labor, I am not even going to talk about the extensive list of successful Labor Party reforms that have shaped our country under the two-party system. Instead, I am going to use as an example, the only progressive reform the Liberals have ever had in my lifetime – Gun Reform.
When pockets of the nation are excited about the fact that a person is an Independent, or a micro party, rather than how these people or parties may vote on an important issue such as freedom of gun ownership laws, it is a concern. These anti-two party system voters appear to have a care factor of zero about the values or ideology, which will underpin decision making on this matter.
Do we risk ice-fuelled junkies running through the streets playing real life Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in the name of individual freedom?
Is Individual freedom more important than the protection of the rest of society?
Is ideology that insignificant and major parties so abhorrent that we take this risk with a protest vote? A protest vote in which many participants cannot articulate what they are actually protesting about?
Within the two-party system, the major parties have a particular ideology and party platform that underpins them. This platform, informs voters about how their values align with many, many areas of policy. The challenge for major parties is to actively promote their central values – their ideology which underpins how as a collective they will make decisions.
To be fair, Labor did push this extensively during the campaign with their 100 positive policies, however, I feel this was significantly absent during the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years. The Liberals in my view failed spectacularly in this area with their 2013 pamphlet, which was upgraded to a plan for a plan in 2016.
Could this be attributed to Labor’s failure to win the election, but success in the number of seats won? Could this be attributed to the Liberal’s success in winning the election, but failure in number of seats lost?
Is ambiguity now so 2013? To restore true belief in the major parties’ platforms, the major parties must wear their values on their sleeves and promote their liberal/conservative agenda or their democratic socialist one, or in the case of the minor/major Greens party – get back to pushing environmental reform. The parties need to set their agenda to purely focus on attracting true believers to their causes.
There is a growing tide of people desiring the annihilation of the collective structures that underpin the decision making of a party platform and the two-party system. These people argue that bringing forth a sporadic cacophony of decision-makers is a more ‘democratic’ option. The people who advocate this appear to have no interest on how these individuals or parties will vote on issues, which are not a part of their single issue-focused or populist agenda.
Paul Keating is remembered and revered for his wit and quips. However, I truly believe he was able to be outstanding during his time, as both major parties were at true odds with each other in terms of ideology and Keating was able to harness this as a true battle of ideas between left and right.
I also believe that Shorten is definitely on the right path with his latest reforms more left of the spectrum than the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years and he is also wearing democratic socialism on his sleeve. Time will tell where he goes with this.
If Turnbull is threatened by the rise of the Independents and minor parties – he must do the same. However, this will mean he will need to admit what he actually does believe in. This will be his greatest challenge yet.
With a sparodic cacophony of decision-makers, confusion will continue to reign until values and ideology once again trump populism (no pun intended).
Individualism as a central tenet and the risk to progressive reform
Individualism permeating as a result of seats won, is also a testament to the rise of Individualism in Australia. Individualism is a central tenet of Liberalism, liberal-conservativism, libertarianism, neo-conservatism and right wing populism and even to an extent, the populist-centrists that are currently making up the majority of parliamentarians and senators as the result of the democratic vote that was cast at our recent election.
The successful reforms of the two party system, are all underpinned by collectivism/socialism and utilitarianism. That is where the greater needs of society, the protection and security of society, the moral good of society as the outcome, outweighs the desires or freedoms of the individual.
With the rise of individualism, there is a risk of all of our existing progressive reforms being weakened or even destroyed. The underpinning construct of individualism is that everyone is born equal and everyone has the same opportunities in life. Essentially, your life is what you make of it. Your individual rights are more important than the needs of society as a whole; even if this means to the detriment of large groups of people in society (ie no taxes to pay for another person’s health care, but rather a user pays system).
This is why the Liberal party see going without any Newstart payments for six months as an incentive and not a punishment. They see the individual as inherently lazy. They use this to stigmatise the individual, to cut payments even further, or to push an even more punitive agenda on the unemployed.
They do not see it that as a Government, they have failed to provide enough employment for everyone. They believe that the free market will just sort it out and everyone has the same opportunity to ‘make a go of it.’ We saw this with Turnbull’s push for everyone to aspire to be an innovative entrepreneur rather than a common worker. If you can’t get a job – just go and create an App you lazy bastard!
Individualists and free-marketeers such as Turnbull do not value the security, protection and harmony that collective or socialist welfare measures bring the nation as a whole. Instead, they see it as the dragging down of society, where the haves need to prop up the have-nots.
Individualism values the freedom of the individual over the harmony and security of a group as a whole. The danger of this ideology, is it has the power to destroy the very fabric of everything that has shaped our society over a long period of time and everything we are still yet trying to achieve.
Our awards and collective bargaining system, our superannuation system, our right to welfare (although needs huge improvements!) the NDIS, Gonski and even national infrastructure such as the NBN to name a few.
We saw individualism peak at its boldest during the Howard years. With its ugly head raised under Work Choices, workers had no choices. Funding for Universities were tied to the abolishment of collective agreements and Howard tried his hardest to use his authority to force Individual agreements on employees in this sector.
Individualism with its ugly head raised, allowed any worker to be sacked for any reason, with no recourse. Individualism with its ugly head raised allowed the more highly ranked workers adept and confident to bargain for a decent individual wage, with unskilled workers with low self-effacy in individual wage bargaining, left with the scraps and told to take it or leave it. Most employees had protection measures stripped, annual leave loading abolished, penalty rates removed and gazetted public holidays removed and some had every single protection measure removed.
For those who want to fight against a rise of Individualism and its ugly head being raised again, the question is “How do we as a collective create a more powerful message that individualism is damaging to our society, before many who are advocating the return of individualism learn the hard way how ugly it really is, along with a second bout for the rest of us?”
The agenda setting of the media makes pushing this narrative even harder. We should also note the power of the media, including the National Broadcaster, in setting an agenda to undermine our nation’s socialist based health care system. They used their innate power by reiterating and reinforcing the political terminology of the right “Mediscare.”
The right used Mediscare, to divert voters away from their intention to weaken and destroy Medicare as a classic Joh Bjelke Petersen “Don’t you worry about that” moment.
The power of the media in this instance was used to reinforce the notion of Individualism and that it is not important for us to stand together as a collective and fight to ensure that all Australians have access to healthcare. In fact, many respected and powerful journalists actually tittered and giggled when communicating to voters the word “Mediscare.” Because you know, socialist healthcare and people being more vulnerable to late diagnosis and death is a bit of a joke.
I hope if a young person does not have the money to access health care and is diagnosed with cervical cancer too late; these journalists will have the decency to wipe the smirk off their faces, when reporting on such stories that will occur now in our future.
Narrative shapes society and I am definitely not a fan of the narrative I see playing out, at this present point in time. When narrative is put to music, it turns into songs and lyrics. I see the election and the post election music as a mash-up of these two songs.
Lean on me, when you’re not strong (I’m an Individual)
And I’ll be your friend (You can’t fool me)
I’ll help you carry on (an Indi-bloody-vidual)
For it won’t be long (You can’t fool me)
‘Til I’m gonna need (A genuine original)
Somebody to lean on (You can’t fool me)
The question is, if both songs were on your playlist – which one would you turn up?