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Could the culture wars really be over?

October 16, 2021 - 12:58 -- Admin

It seems almost inconceivable that the culture wars that have dominated Australian public life for decades could end, and with victory for the progressive side on nearly every front.  And I have made premature predictions to this effect before. 

 But consider the following list of events over the last couple of years, many in the last few months.

*  After decades of quasi-legality in many states, abortion rights have been enshrined in law throughout Australia – attempts to mobilise public opposition went nowhere*  Voluntary assisted dying has now been legalised nearly everywhere (a bill in NSW looks very likely to be passed) – again the debate was low-key and generally civil

*  The Morrison government, backed by the Murdoch press, appears certain to adopt a 2050 net zero target, and a somewhat more ambitious 2030 target. While there will still be plenty of fights about the details, these will be in the realm of normal political dispute. Culture war denialism (even of the nod-and-wink variety) is now outside the Overton window. 

* Transgender rights are estabished in law, and attempts to whip up culture war on the issue (as with Safe Schools) haven’t been successful.

*  Despite the long and bitter battle over equal marriage, the issue disappeared almost as soon as the law was changed. No one on the right even mentions the idea that it might be reversed. Nor do we see any of the snarky talking points and bogus studies purporting to prove that the idea was disastrous.  Religious freedom laws, if they are ever passed, are likely to restrict rather than expand the existing exemption of religious employers from anti-discrimination laws (an exemption which is becoming harder to exercise in the absence of social license)

The big exception to all of this is the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. As elsewhere it’s been a potent issue for the culture war right and one on which they have generally been successful.  

What remains of the culture wars is a kind of free-floating identity politics in which well-off university-educated people denounce others with indistinguishable lifestyles as ‘inner city elites’ and appeal to ‘real Australians’, which roughly translates to ‘people with moderately bigoted views about others, who want a free pass for this’.