The State of Politics in Australia

The State of Politics in Australia, by Paul Kelly, editor of The Australian, a NewsCorp paper.

Labor has won the recent battle of ideas in this country.

What is especially disconcerting for Liberals is that Labor’s victory has come during a period of Liberal government. It testifies to deep-seated power and cultural changes in Australia’s society and institutions as well as a superior Labor performance in the debased art of politics itself. …

The centre-right in Australia has remarkably little cultural power, far less than in the US and Britain. It is short of opinion-making allies and third-party apostles. Remove the role of News Corp Australia newspapers and the right is near friendless on the cultural power spectrum.

In Australia, progressive ideology has a grip on many of the formative institutions that shape the nation’s values: the university sector; the public education sector stretching into the school curriculum; the ABC as the most influential media outlet; the trade union movement with its deep pockets, campaigning armies and links to industry super funds; the public sector professionals and decision-makers; the extensive and media-savvy lobbies on the environment, climate change, welfare; the charitable and not-for-profit sector; and the creative arts, writing, film, stage. When in the past 20 years have you seen a creative event that did other than promote progressive values? …

Labor has a genius for concealing its weakness. It benefits enormously from the cultural climate and progressive infrastructure that, while not pledged to Labor as a party — indeed, it is often disillusioned with Labor — still favours Labor over the Liberals in the two-party contest. …

The Liberals have a problem with cultural power. John Howard overcame this problem with a unique blend of attributes exploiting the cultural pull of mateship, the Anzac ethos, the bush and appealing to the economic interests and social conservatism of the Howard battlers.

But the culture is far more progressive today than during the Howard era. Tony Abbott was destroyed partly through his own blunders but partly because the tide of progressive hostility was too great. …

The saga of Liberal mishaps since 2013 means they essentially have surrendered to the Rudd-Gillard nation-building Labor agenda. They accept the re-regulation of the industrial relations system under the Fair Work Act, probably the greatest Rudd-Gillard legacy — indeed, the Liberals do not even argue the case any more. They accept the Gonski framework, having resisted it for five years. They have embraced the National Disability Insurance Scheme from the start and now seek an increase in the Medicare levy (a Labor method to fund it). Having attacked the Rudd fiscal stimulus and philosophy of state intervention in response to the 2008-09 financial crisis, the Coalition in office has not been able to resurrect the credo of economic liberalism and belief in market forces. The size and scale of progressive resistance is too great. …

Labor has suffered only one shattering defeat — on asylum-seeker boats. It has been forced to embrace a ruthless border protection program. Bill Shorten and the frontbench majority recognise this as a pragmatic necessity yet it has never been accepted by Labor’s progressive heartland.