Thursday, 31 March 2016
The Saturday Newspaper, 26 March 2016:
The Australian right survives because it is supported by hothouse institutions: the loss-making parts of News Corp, oxymoronically named "think tanks", which take anonymous corporate money to lobby for their industries and then claim tax-deductible charitable status, and the cocooned political process that pipes wacko right-wing fantasists up from student politics through these think tanks and into the senate without encountering democracy at any point.
Such right politics thrives on fear, uncertainty and nostalgia. With a quarter-century of growth, we have very little of that, at least in the all-encompassing sense. The population has become not only more prosperous, but more progressive – values that were once the preserve of the smaller culture or knowledge-producer class are now general. Support for same-sex marriage and multi-ethnic life, alongside suspicion of Western military adventures and pro-choice abortion politics, are now spread among 70 per cent of the population. The conservative right has struggled to accept this. It believed that residual conservative values – for harsh immigration policies, for Anzac – suggested a silent conservative majority out there. They believed that Tony Abbott, rising to power on a promise of running Labor's programs while being not Labor, could then become a powerful author of the conservative rollback.
But Abbott failed because the conservative faultline runs through the man himself. Abbott is no Ted Cruz, a man forged in the heat of a great and confident national political tradition. He's a searching neurotic product of a convert Catholic family, deeply conflicted about the role ordained to him – "Tony will be pope or PM," parents and family said – expressing his European reactionary mindset, pre-1789, in the manner laid out by B. A. Santamaria in his last decades, as a politics of pessimism and noble failure. There was little attempt to create a coherent 21st-century right, as David Cameron has in Britain, and in its absence self-indulgence took over, as marked by the soap opera hysteria at the heart of it, recounted by Niki Savva. It may or may not be embellished in the telling, but who doubts its substance? People leading serious political revolutions don't get caught up in some mash-up of House of Cards and Gossip Girl. People for whom politics has ceased to provide a meaningful vocation do.
There was an emotional decadence at the heart of the Abbott government, a result of its attempt to project its right-wing fantasies onto a country that no longer felt defined by them. What's happening now is simply the endgame of the Abbott push, and the right-wing culture politics attached to it.