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Australia; we need to have a conversation

July 15, 2016 - 09:35 -- Admin

There are three types of people in this world, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Mary Kay Ash

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, died in 2001, so it is extremely doubtful if she knew of Pauline Hanson. However, Ash’s motivational quotation above could go someway to explaining the election of Pauline Hanson, Jacquie Lambie and Derryn Hinch to the Australian Senate in 2016.

Over the last 50 years, western society has changed remarkably. A lot of us now walk around with devices in our pockets that can access the majority of information freely available in the world; we can travel across the world within a day and the rate of change is only increasing. For the past 50 years, we have had governments that generally have attempted to ensure that Australia can compete in a global economy (to greater or lesser degrees) and welcome increased investment in Australia by foreign nationals either through purchase of Australian assets or immigration.

It is also fair to say that, to an extent, the perceived need for these changes has not been well explained to Australians. Normally the conversation stops with a report that the Minister responsible has allowed or declined the purchase of some Australian company or asset by a foreign company. With rare exceptions, the need for immigration since World War 2 has been presented to Australians as a done deal. Neither of the two major parties have been better than the other one (when in government) at explaining the need for foreign influences in Australia.

It’s not a problem solely in Australia. Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican (conservative) Party nominee for the US Presidency; the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (better known as UKIP) and the success of the Brexit campaign in the UK, as well as the election of Hanson, Lambie and Hinch all point to the same problem.

Popularist politicians are popular for a reason. They say what a proportion of the population can easily believe because, while they understand their world is changing, they can’t work out how they will cope in the ‘brave new world’. When Abbott promoted the wipeout of Whyalla and the $100 lamb roast prior to the the 2013 election, he convinced enough people to vote for the Coalition to gain power. Some of those people would have voted for Abbott’s Coalition because he was just promising to return to their status quo. In a similar way, Shorten’s claim that the Coalition would privatise Medicare at the 2016 election had the reverse effect and got Shorten’s ALP a lot closer to an election victory than was generally considered possible. (Shorten’s campaign did have somewhat more truth than Abbott’s attempt as the Coalition was in the process of discontinuing some Medicare payments and freezing the rebate for a GP visit — causing a co-payment by stealth).

Mark Kenny (writing for Fairfax) suggests when Hawke became Prime Minister in 1983;

"...he did so on a slogan of "bringing Australia together. His first priority was to hold an economic summit involving all the key players: employers, academics and policy heads, public service departments, unions, state and local governments, welfare, not-for-profit sectors.

"Hawke, and the treasurer Paul Keating, believed the economy and the polity needed healing. An us-and-them division meant smarter solutions up the middle on national and distributional problems had been ignored in the adversarial mindset and architecture of the system itself.

"The immediate economic challenge was to curb wages growth to lift productivity and restart investment in jobs. The opposite problem — flat to negative wages growth — bedevils the economy and budget in 2016.

"For all its rancour, election 2016 revealed two leaders with genuine brains, and the capacity to unite people. Turnbull won, but a near dead-heat 50-50 vote means he has no partisan mandate.

"Nonetheless, he is still broadly popular, and retains the Hawke-like capacity to reach across the political aisle."

In short, Turnbull has to be the one that makes things happen for the good of our society. There needs to be a conversation that stretches across the country so that those that have been disaffected by the popularist politicians such as Abbott and Rudd see there is a need for a different future; even though they may struggle initially because they have been retrenched, or just don’t understand why Australia can’t go back to the protectionist country it was 40 years ago when we all seemed to get along okay.

The people that vote for those that claim to be ‘anti-politicians’ such as Hanson, Lambie and Hinch have genuine concerns that their way of life is in danger — and the politicians don’t care. They aren’t making things happen; they are watching things happen and wishing they didn’t; in essence they are wondering what happened. John Harrison (writing for Fairfax media) points out :

"Much of the commentary has been about the threat to social cohesion represented by the resurgence of Hansonism.

"But there is an economic threat also, and those most likely to be damaged by a poorer national economic performance are precisely the disaffected who voted for Hanson.

"From their rhetoric this week, both major parties recognise this. As did Standard and Poors."

Harrison then goes on to recount the safety concerns of Asian students in spite of international students being a $20 billion industry for Australia as well as the additional income from tourists from Asia. For example, it is estimated that Chinese tourists alone spent $6.2 billion in Queensland during 2015. According to its Lord Mayor, Brisbane has 75,000 international students studying in the city at the moment. Those that voted for Hanson et al to keep Australian jobs and stop immigration are effectively voting against their own self interests as there are a lot of jobs involved in the services required for that number of people.

The problem is that neither of the two major political parties have been able to demonstrate to the people that vote for Hanson et al, that for every negative there are positives. Australia competes internationally in a number of industries apart from filling ships up with minerals and sending them across the world. Here are two quick examples.

While generally low paid and low skilled jobs such as vehicle manufacturing may no longer be performed here, Nissan produces and exports advanced aluminium castings for a number of their worldwide vehicle range in Australia Ford has a Design Centre in Victoria that is one of the few places in the world of Ford where the company can design, build a prototype and test vehicles that are sold in over a hundred countries around the globe.

It is probable that the rise of Hanson, Lambie and Hinch in the the 2016 election is a combination of two factors: a general dissatisfaction with politicians generally (caused by popularist politicians not delivering as promised); and the failure to have a conversation with all parts of the Australian population that each country is no longer an individual economy that will potter along just fine if we ignore the rest of the world, isn’t helping. In short, those that ‘wonder what happened’ to their way of life need an explanation. Turnbull and Shorten (as well as their forebears) haven’t done this — and are now paying the cost.

What do you think?

Let us know in comments below.

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