This post is written on the assumption that the current Australian government is defunct. Every outward sign appears, on my reading, to be the tip an iceberg, moving rapidly across the rising electoral oceans, to sink the Liberal Party of Australia. Good.
First, a caveat: I am ignoring the Nationals today because they are already a gerrymandered rump, with less than 5 per cent of the national vote at the 2016 election and around 8.5 per cent for the Liberal National Party, which essentially means Queensland. There are many stories to be told, like the disproportionate influence wielded by charlatans like Barnaby Joyce; or the secret Coalition agreement that quite literally constitutes the government of the country (which the Turnbull government spent 87,000 public dollars to keep secret); or the extreme racism that is mobilised by ex-Liberal candidate Senator Pauline Hanson, ex-Nationals MP Bob Katter and former Hanson/current neonazi Senator Fraser Anning, and endorsed by the Liberal-Nationals Coalition.
But. Not today, Satan. Today I am predicting the annihilation of the Liberal Party at the federal election to be held in the coming months if not weeks; and why I do not care if the Party is wiped from the face of the Australian polity, and neither should anyone else, including Liberal Party members who have a working knowledge of free market ideology. My political predictions are usually wrong, but multiple flashpoints support this call: the exodus of Liberal Party women; the relentless, undeniable, heat of this Australian summer; a million dead fish in a river killed by colonial ecocide.
A second caveat: I have no personal animus toward the Liberal Party. I do not know anyone in the caucus, and would probably not recognise a Craig Kelly or a Steve Ciobo if he passed me in the street. Craig, you may recall, told the only Liberal MP who won a seat at the last election that she should not move to the cross bench but ‘roll with the punches’. Steve is quite the character too. He told ABC Lateline, of our first and only woman Prime Minister, that her colleagues would ‘be in a rush to slit her throat’.
I mention these examples because misogyny is constitutive of this government. When it came to power in 2013, then-leader Tony Abbott was lavished with praise by the parliamentary press gallery as ‘effective’ and successful. This is a hallmark of colonial and patriarchal societies. The vested dominant group admires and rewards kick-down strategies deployed by white males like Abbott. Vicious and dishonest aggression – aimed at women and children, at First Nations and Black people and People of Colour, at the rainbow (LGBTQIA+) community, at people with disabilities, the unemployed, single mums, the casualised working poor – is rewarded with governing power over other peoples’ lives. That power is then predictably abused, to cause harm to the targeted groups.
Five years later, the Liberal Party is on the brink of collapsing under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. Good.
The origins of liberalism and free market theory
Liberal, in ideological terms, means free. The most basic proposition of liberalism is that citizens are free and autonomous individuals who may think, speak, and act as they please unless a properly constituted sovereign government – in our case, the parliament – had passed a law which proscribes the thought, speech or action.
In the formative years (C18-19) of classical liberalism, only land-owning men, some of whom had property in human beings, were citizens. So the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy and English liberalism excluded Black people (who were slaves in this context), peasants/the working class (JS Mill referred to ‘labourers’, or specified ‘agricultural labourers’), women, children, and by association (because they were excluded from land ownership) disabled people and people of colour. Colonised peoples of all hues were made subject to the laws of the coloniser and simultaneously excluded from representative/participatory democracy in theory and in practice and from justice.
The general picture is of government by propertied white men, of propertied white men, for propertied white men. It is not unusual for liberalism to congratulate itself for the struggles against its structural norms, successful movements to dismantle its exclusivity like abolition of slavery, and ‘universal’ suffrage. Men of political organisations such as the whigs tout these shifts as their victories, but it was Black people – slaves and former slaves – it was women – feminists and suffragettes – who put their lives on the frontline, in the face of violent colonial and patriarchal resistance, to secure basic rights in a polity that touts ‘freedom, democracy and rule of law’ as its fundamental values.
There are nations where the relationship between government and military determines national standing; there are forms of social organisation where religion is the predominant factor in the trajectory of history. In the liberal democracies, because resources are distributed by way of what is weirdly and inaccurately called capitalism (given primogeniture, a constitutive feature of autocratic dynastic monarchy, is still the system by which wealth distribution is primarily determined), the central organising frame is political economy.
Liberal heroes like JS Mill opined that the magical market will correct an aberrant increase in the rise of food prices. The ‘logic (ideology) is that unaffordable food will cause poor people children to die of starvation, thereby inclining poor people to exercise ‘prudence’ and produce fewer children, which, wait for it, leads to a lower supply of workers and thus employers ‘competing’ for labour will drive up the ‘price’, which in the ‘labour market’ is wages. Here is an example of this paradigmatic worldview:
[Therefore] it is impossible that population should increase at its utmost rate without lowering wages. Nor will the fall be stopped at any point, short of its physical or moral operation… Either the whole number of births which nature admits of do not take place; or if they do, a large proportion of those who are born, die. The retardation of increase results from mortality or prudence; and one or the other of these must and does exist in all old societies. Wherever population is not kept down by the prudence either of individuals or of the state, it is kept down by starvation or disease… (JS Mill 1848, Principles of Political Economy, Ch 11, On Wages p. 345).
In an age of abstinence as the only reliable form of contraception, Mill is implicating working class male brutality and rape in the way that the #notallmen crowd desperately try to distance themselves from rapist murderer ‘monsters’ today; like how Aboriginal men are framed as sexual predators to ‘rationalise’ the Northern Territory Intervention (white men make rational decisions) which in fact was designed for John Howard to get ‘cut through’ (self-interest is rational) because the electorate had stopped listening to his evil banality and he wanted to win an election (he lost both government and his seat).
Thus the general picture of liberalism must be supplemented by specific policy settings based on what our freedom-loving liberals call ‘free market theory’, which in turn is based on a set of spectacularly false assumptions. An example is ‘perfect consumer knowledge’, where everyone in the used car market is assumed to be able to competently and confidently distinguish a lemon from a genuine low-mileage bargain. This is obviously not true.
Another assumption of classical free market theory is that there are ‘no barriers to entry’ into the market. This infers that I can start a media organisation (borrow money, secure land, buy plant and equipment, employ labour), and ‘compete’ against Fairfax or Murdoch using my hard work and entrepreneurial spirit and innovative talent. The ‘most efficient’ of the participants in the market place – out of me, Fairfax, and Murdoch, will ‘win’ the competition ie make the most money.
These are over-simplified examples of course, presented to illustrate the absurdity of the ideology – literally the logic of ideas, where logic encompasses values, because ethics are integral to logic in the ‘western’ (Athenian) tradition – informing political economy under Liberal Party governance. This is weltanschauung, the world view to which Liberal Party members purport to subscribe. All of which brings us back to the existential crisis being felt by emotional reactionaries – most intuitional power-holders in this context – in the Australian summer of 2018-2019.
Why I do not care if the Liberal Party implodes (and why the commentariat does)
The account above is set out to contextualise the announcement by our current federal Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, that she will not be re-contesting the seat of Higgins at the 2019 election. So what? You may ask. Who is Kelly O’Dwyer? Well, O’Dwyer is a relatively young woman (42) and married mother who the Liberal Party holds up as evidence that they are not a male-dominated chauvinist-ridden organisation awash with vicious bullies.
Except they are, and now they have one less piece of tactical armour – which is the objectified value O’Dwyer represented to the Party – to sustain their phoney claims. Her resignation announcement is the latest in a series of events exposing the fact that the Liberal Party is made up of unreconstructed misogynists and the organisation is collapsing under the weight of its own toxic ideology. Good.
The starkest indicator, partly lost in the noise of yet another party room-installed prime minister, was the 11 votes for then-deputy leader Julie Bishop. She is more popular, better-known, and least associated with institutionalised cruelty and budgetary incompetence than male contenders Morrison and Peter Dutton. At the time, former military Linda Reynolds put her name to eye-witness accounts of intimidation by party males towards women.
Next, the male who was pre-selected in Wentworth, after Turnbull quit and while Liberal Party sexism was squarely in the spotlight, lost the blue-ribbon seat to independent woman Dr Kerryn Phelps. He has been re-pre-selected.
Julia Banks went to the cross-benches.
Any wonder then that the electorate are ready to give this government a hiding to nothing. And make no mistake, the Liberal-Nationals Coalition can not win. Enter the journosplainers and other vested interests from hell, intent on telling voters that expressing good riddance to a woman whose party has done incalculable harm to women while she is Minister for Women is mean and horrible, we are haters, see, just ‘scoring political points’.
I am not sure how one disaggregates politics from an announcement that a politician is leaving politics, but according to the dominant narrative coming from politicians and political journalists, this is an objective that voters must in all conscience do, in our responses to the news.
[journalist] Shields for Fairfax wrote ‘don’t listen to the haters. Kelly O’Dwyer was a talent and the type of person the Liberal party desperately needs. This is a major blow.’
[journalist] Pat Karvelas at the ABC said ‘not surprisingly twitter is full of anti-Kelly O’Dwyer sentiment but mainstream political parties are at their best when they have strong women in leadership positions…’
[politician] Darren Chester Nationals MP posted Before rushing to score a political point about [Kelly O’Dwyer] decision to not recontest Higgins, just consider the long hours, separation from family & enormous workload for any young parent serving our community in Cabinet. Job well done Kelly. Good luck for the future.
[politician] Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote ‘No doubt good things ahead for [Kelly O’Dwyer] whatever she does next. But a huge loss for the Liberal Party, for women in politics and the country. Thanks for always being a friendly face in Canberra. Good luck for the future!
All of these people hyper-linked to Kelly O’Dwyer, thereby guaranteeing that any replies would be tagged to her account. This snitch-tagging by sycophants efficiently directs vitriolic twitter traffic straight to O’Dwyer’s door. The same politicians and political journalists then declare that the online dynamic they specifically enabled, with their high-follower counts and major media platforms, makes voters bad and social media bad.
The most rudimentary study of structural hierarchies perpetuated under patriarchy and capitalism, of kick down culture, would predict that legacy media has a vested interest in kicking down on social media; and politicians have a vested interest in kicking down on voters. High-follower twitter account holders with institutional and structural power seek to discredit and de-legitimise the response from punters on social media because they want their world view, their political analysis, their (very well-paid) ‘expertise’ to prevail.
The punters were having none of it. We do not have to respect a woman who, as minister for women, saw her government implementing policies that cause massive harm to single mums and their children while she collects a six-figure salary. Why should we? We do not care if the Liberal Party collapses under the weight of its own toxic misogyny. That has nothing to do with us. It is a fear held by people who benefit from the policies and practices of the Liberal Party. Why would people who are harmed by the policies of Liberal Party government care if it chokes on its own cruelty, greed, and incompetence?
The Bevans and the Pats, the Sarahs and Darrens, are frightened of the extent to which the current Liberal Party meltdown has exposed structural flaws in the system that pays their mortgages. If the poster woman for careerist motherhood-assistant treasurer-liberalism is going, what is next? OMFG what if ONLY women without children (Gillard, Bishop) can ‘compete’ at the highest levels of politics? And conservatives STILL reject the most popular and competent politician in the caucus (who is a woman) for a discombobulated clownshow (who is a man)? If an avowed anti-feminist like Bishop or a phony proponent for [financially secure white] women like O’Dwyer can not hack the pace, do we have to concede that meritocracy is mythology and patriarchy reigns supreme after all?
Yes, is the answer to that question. Yes, we do. But it is not all doom and gloom.
Never mind. Just think of how the Liberal Party treats women, or the car industry
The Liberal belief in free market theory extends to an abstract construction they call the marketplace of ideas. In this imagination, ideology ‘competes’ on a level playing field with all the other thoughts and ideas that humans construct and share with their friends or clan or political organisation or the electorate.
Should the demand for toxic misogyny dry up (or perhaps supply has saturated demand, there is a lot of toxic misogyny out there and value is scarcity after all), a true liberal will welcome this market signal that suppliers of toxic misogyny should and will be driven out of business. Real liberals will celebrate the potential demise of the Liberal Party as the triumph of free market ideology, and be delighted that a new, less sexist political organisation will emerge to meet the demand for less sexist ideological ‘product’.
On the other hand, a host of vested interests and privileged individuals and groups might insist that the survival of the Liberal Party is a matter of national interest. Oh we must have a robust centrist party/credible opposition, the argument will go, ignoring the fact that the Liberal Party is not ‘centrist’ but a cabal of racist misogynists, and is in government.
Anyone who says this is doing fine and can live with their conscience despite persecution of welfare recipients by Centrelink; rejection of First Peoples justice and rights as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart; unaffordable housing, stagnant and declining wages and increasing inequality and casualised, insecure work; torture of refugees and asylum seekers; ecocide; climate denial; and the ongoing transferral of public resources to people in need of nothing, absolutely nothing, whose every material need is met in spades.
I could go on. But this is where we are. Yes, I too was taught to not say anything if I can not say anything nice. So to anyone and everyone who thinks that people harmed by the Liberal Party should support the survival of the Liberal Party and therefore its capacity to harm us: I hope the door does not hit you on the way out.