This post is based heavily on the book Dark Money by Jane Mayer. An investigative reporter for the New Yorker. The intention of this blog post is to draw the comparison between the US system and the Aussie Conservatives in a two part post. The first describes how US Democracy has been corrupted and this part joins the dots on the Australian end of this fellowship and the damage it has caused the Liberal party to this point in time.
Now how does the decline in the Republican party in the US fit in to the Liberal experience in Australia?
The good old hands across the sea idea.
The thinking behind this co-operation is quite solid. The win for the Liberal Party was to see how different tactics employed in election campaigns went over with the Voters without risking their own reputation to find out the stuff that doesn’t work. Fresh ideas probably helps as well and what’s not to like if you are a youngster starting out in politics and you get an invite to America? It’s a handy way to get more youth into your party with a draw card like that. The Labor party use the concept too.
But there is a downside and it’s a huge one as it turns out.
The comparison between the US system and Australia’s has some very important differences.
- The US system is awash with corporate money
- The control of those monies allowed to promote candidates is now rendered useless in the US.
- Americans get to vote for the actual person to lead their Party and hence the President
- their system is heavily laden with Lawyers
- The Republican party has been heavily influenced by the Religious Right
- The Republicans want to impress Tea Party Voters
None of these “benefits” apply in the Aussie environment.
Firstly the problem of an endless stream of money and no control over how much can be spent by Corporations on their favorite pollies. This has meant the party can ignore ordinary voters as far as needing to raise funds is concerned. Not only do they not need their money, if they side with Voters against corporations, it costs them big bucks.
Remember Barnaby Joyce saying he would stand with Farmers and not allow prospectors to walk onto their property and stake out a mining claim? That lasted all of two days from memory. As soon as the Minerals Council threatened to withdraw “donations” he backed right down.
Secondly, the differences in how leaders are chosen must be distracting too. Poor Tony Abbott must have been carried away after his enthusiastic reception by the Republicans. Back in Oz he was running around trying to protect his leadership by proclaiming “only the Voters can change the Leader”. That is not the case at all and never has been. When you send a pollie to the US with a limited attention span, they can end up confused when they return to Oz and forget how our local system works. A lot of Tony’s complaints stem from being unaware of how our Democracy works.
Thirdly, a system that is laden with Lawyers tends to lose track of society and focus on the spelling and sub clauses. It ends up forgetting real folk are on the receiving of the laws they draft. That isolation means very bad news when rule changes take money away from low income families. You may be able to get away with that in the US, but in Australia we have been through class wars before and most folk can recognise one when they see it.
Fourthly, when chaps like Bernadi head off to the Republicans, they find themselves in an environment with a large number of the Religious Right who have way more influence in building a nanny state than he is ever likely to see in Australia. Unfortunately it pumps him up and he thinks he can win on the religious card back home. This is far from the case and in all probability it costs votes. Aussies are much more inclined to make decisions based on their own values rather than have them legislated by a group who are seriously short of ethical values. Most Aussies value not having a government meddling in their daily affairs and it has never been any different.
And lastly, the Tea Party Voters do not exist to any large extent in Oz, so thinking that snake oil style salesmanship is going to cut it here is wildly optimistic. Granted folk have fallen for smooth talking pollies before now, but Tony Abbott taught us that a bright smile and wild promises count for naught when a pollie doesn’t respect the Voters, which neatly ties in with the first point.
The current Liberal party has a real problem now after the influence of the Republican party has seeped in to a lot of their parliamentary team. Somehow the Voters have fallen out of their view while they focus on those prepared to give them inducements, sorry, I mean donations. It has become so bad they can’t even see the loss of focus any more.
Negative Gearing is widely recognised as being a rort by property investors even by sections of the Liberal Party itself, but someone has convinced the party that they can hide behind spin. It’s travelling very badly. Not only do they not recognise it’s hurting them, they are still trying to find someone to spin the story so they are effectively fanning the flames that are burning them.
At no point in time have they given any indication that they need to compromise and at least offer some small consideration that show they take Voters concerns seriously.
Economic responsibility seems to have disappeared as well. Promising tax cuts for the Wealthy while they are still driving up debt levels makes no sense at all and the spin of trickle down benefits is looking ridiculous with growth projections of a mere 1/2 a percentage point in 20 years time. With the official interest rate of only 1 and 1/2 percent at the moment, and an expected further cut before the election in July, 20 years is far too far away to benefit the Aussie Economy.
Astonishingly, there seems to be no recognition of how poorly they are managing the Economy from within the party ranks. Steady as she goes as you barrel down on the reef of reality is not going to end well.
How far have ethical vales slipped? Recently we heard Tony state that when he was offered a cheque for $5,000 he had to ring Bill Heffernan to discuss if that was acceptable? Apparently it wasn’t obvious to Tony.
Meanwhile one of Tony’s strong supporters in Sophie Mirrabella, was in another part of the country claiming the Liberal party punished the Voters in her electorate of Indi, by withdrawing millions of dollars from planned hospital renovations when she lost her seat. More worryingly, when you view that clip you see it was a planned attack by her support team who clapped eagerly at her pronouncement. She didn’t even realise she was promoting corruption by her implied inducement to vote for her. That is so far away from what Democracy is supposed to be about and yet it was lost of Sophie.
The Nats have the same problem. Barnaby proudly announced he didn’t stand up for farmers in a particular area when a Liberal won the seat ahead of his party. He doesn’t believe in encouraging Votes by performing well, he prefers Voters offering him inducements first. That shows a deeply flawed understanding of Democracy.
This mercenary approach to politics stinks of the Republican attitude over in the States and it appears to now be deeply ingrained in Liberal party politics. It simply comes down to “What’s in it for me”, and the softer side of the party seems to have all but disappeared.
The current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, seems to understand how the Government should be operating, but sadly he has had to surrender his ethics and intellect to the Hard Right faction of the party so the damage continues to be done to brand Liberal. Already the party has opted for probably the most bland rebadging of a party I have ever seen, presumably in an effort to distance themselves from the memory of Tony standing in front of the previous vibrant logo. But it is hardly likely to be enough when folk see the same policies hurting their pay packets the same way if they manage to squeeze past the Voters for another win.
Are the Liberals going to follow the Republican lead and fail in the next Election?
Currently the Republican party seem doomed in the US after selecting a Presidential candidate who has insulted just about everybody who isn’t a white American male. Unless he runs the mother of all smear campaigns, he is highly unlikely to get the gig.
Meanwhile in Oz, Malcolm is setting new records in how fast you can plunge your popularity in the polls. After riding the wave of popularity simply for “not being Tony”, he is now locked in reverse as he follows the same policies of his predecessor. In a normal short election campaign that would have been sustainable, but going for the long campaign is really hurting his party. We are still short of the halfway mark and already some polls favor Labor. Barring some disaster befalling Labor, there is plenty of time for him to suffer defeat and even a substantial one.
Should that happen, it will then need his Party to decide what went wrong and they could well blame Malcolm instead of Tony’s policies. Then they will follow the tragedy of the US Republicans who are only now beginning to realise you have to think about your Voters, not just your owners.