-- R.G. Menzies
LIBERTARIAN/CONSERVATIVE DIGEST AND COMMENTARY FROM AN ACADEMIC PSYCHOLOGIST in Brisbane, Australia. My academic publications are widely read
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Are the Left now toning down the hate?
I believe Joe Hildebrand is right below in saying that the current level of hate in Australian Federal politics is a historical departure.
Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's most storied conservative Prime Minister, ran Australia for most of the 50s and 60s and always had a good reply to his Leftist critics. And he kept them out of office over many elections.
In his retirement he wrote two autobiographies. I read both shortly after they came out. That is a long time ago so I remember now little of what I read then. The one thing in them that has stuck in my mind is his praise for his erstwhile opponents in the Labor party. He described them quite warmly -- as good and sincere men who honestly believed they were working for the good of the country.
So what Hildebrand says below of the Hawke era in fact goes back a long way. Politics in Australia were for a very long time marked by real interpersonal civility
I was talking to Bob Hawke’s widow Blanche d’Alpuget.
It was the first time we had spoken since Hawke’s death – which is hardly surprising since we hardly know each other – but like anyone with a passing relationship with the Labor Party, I somehow felt that they were part of my extended family.
At any rate, I certainly felt very close to her then and as we talked about Bob’s death it was clear that she was a woman blown apart. You could see right through to her shaken soul.
But when we talked about Bob’s legacy that soul turned to steel. Hawke was, above all else, a consensus builder – a peacemaker. He took not just his party with him on his and Keating’s grand economic project but often the opposition too.
As Blanche angrily lamented, even amid all the fire and fury of political and parliamentary life, politicians always used to work together behind the scenes to get things done. They would shake hands, do deals and share jokes behind the Speaker’s chair. They would work across the aisle – bridging the often artificial divide between left and right – in pursuit of what used to be known as the common good.
This was Australian politics’ dirty little secret: The people that pretended to hate each other actually quite liked each other.
And this was the culture that prevailed in Canberra under both Labor and the Coalition for a quarter of a century – so much so that when an escalating travel rorts war resulted in a senator attempting suicide both sides immediately agreed to a ceasefire.
But a decade ago that all changed. A nasty condition known as “the NSW disease” crept into Canberra, a culture in which leaders were brutally knifed at the first whisper of discontent and which swept through both the Labor Party and the Coalition, decimating them both.
It is no coincidence that all of this took place in the new age of social media – in which politicians, activists and any member of the public could slug it out directly without the niceties of standing orders or news cycles.
And it is no coincidence that it happened amid the online news revolution, in which both old and new media outlets became more tribal than ever in an effort to hold or attract their audience.
One man who was at the centre of it all was Craig Emerson, a softly-spoken economist and academic who was an adviser to Hawke before entering parliament and becoming a minister under the fractious Rudd and Gillard governments.
Emerson’s latest thankless task for Labor was to find out how it lost the unlosable election, which he and former premier Jay Weatherill dutifully performed. Their conclusion is neatly summarised in the report as follows:
“Labor should position itself as a party of economic growth and job creation. Labor should adopt the language of inclusion, recognising the contribution of small and large businesses to economic prosperity, and abandon derogatory references to ‘the big end of town’. Labor’s policy formulation should be guided by the national interest, avoiding any perception of capture by special interest groups.”
In short, the party needed to be inclusive, not divisive. And it was a philosophy Emerson took to heart when he bravely defended Barnaby Joyce in the unbecoming shitstorm that accompanied last week’s bushfire disaster.
Emerson observed that contrary to the outrage being generated by both social and mainstream media, Joyce had not been attacking two dead bushfire victims for being Greens supporters but clumsily trying to say that he wouldn’t – albeit for reasons known only to Barnaby himself.
For this attempt at nuance Emerson was naturally crucified on social media, leading him to write a thoughtful piece for the Australian Financial Review lamenting the blind ideological tribalism that had taken hold of politics.
And of course for this he was naturally crucified by blind ideological tribalists. He was condemned for breaking a cultural embargo in his effort to bridge the divide.
But he was not alone. In the small pond of Australian politics, Emerson’s piece received a tsunami of support – not from alt-right fascists, as his extreme left accusers tried to claim – but from the leading lights at the ABC. The Germans might have brought down the Berlin Wall but it was Annabel Crabb who brought down the AFR paywall when she tweeted a picture of the whole column as a vital read for her half a million followers.
And of course Emerson joins a growing number of leaders from the moderate left who are coming to realise the extreme left poses a greater threat to their cause than the moderate right does. No less a figure than Barack Obama this month condemned “woke” cancel culture and plenty of once-woke celebrities from Sarah Silverman to Michael Leunig have found out the hard way that the hard left only loves you until they come for you.
The champions of censorship like to claim that they are on the right side of history but it is just possible that future historians may remember this November as the time when cancel culture got cancelled.
Man, I hope I live to see that.
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