20 April 2016

Mummies and daddies

It's long been a cliche of US politics that Republicans are the daddy party while Democrats are the mommy party: Republicans believe (ostensibly) in punishment for wrongdoing and rewards for doing the right thing, while Democrats just want to make sure everyone's healthy and doing well at school. Australian politics seems to be moving along similar lines, with the major parties selecting candidates that reinforce those images in their very bodies.

We all want security in an uncertain world. Members of the Coalition believe the security they can offer Australians in government is with a sound economy, stable and dynamic at the same time, to ensure today's jobs and growth going forward. Increasingly, police and military and others involved in security are challenging the domination of businessmen. Government as security provider is a paternalistic view of government and its role. It resonated in 2013 amidst media narratives of Labor chaos, and their ridiculous overestimation of Tony Abbott's ability to provide stable and secure leadership.

The NSW Coalition has three women in the winnable positions on its Senate ticket: sitting Senators Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Fiona Nash, then Hollie Hughes. The Victorian Liberals had planned to do the same, the common wisdom elevating Jane Hume from number two on their ticket and choosing another female Liberal to fill that place, with Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie making up the three winnable spots (assuming a half-Senate election with six Senators to be elected). Senator Michael Ronaldson brought forward his retirement and spoiled that plan, with IPA office boy James Paterson taking Ronaldson's position atop the Liberal Senate ticket.

Since then every Liberal preselection has been won by a man. Departing female Liberal MPs Sharman Stone and Bronwyn Bishop have not been replaced by women, but by men. Apparently men are more credible in talking about the economy than women; we shall see how well that goes for them.

The Victorian Liberals used to produce formidable matriarchs like Dame Ivy Wedgwood, who never won (or sought) preselection but made sure women's issues achieved a prominence they would not otherwise have received from an all-male parliamentary party. Today, Louise Asher and Mary Wooldridge may already be past the peak of their influence. Inga Peulich, like Bronwyn Bishop in NSW, has no interest in advancing women candidates. Every other Liberal woman is flat out securing her own spot rather than building a base to help others. The opinionated Janet Albrechtsen is happy to be a consort rather than test the reach, validity, and influence of her theories.

Much was made of Georgina Downer running for Liberal preselection in Goldstein, and losing.

The Victorian Liberals used to be big on scions and breeding as a consideration for candidates; even Robert Menzies relied early in his career on being the son of an MLC. Downer's political inheritance was both a blessing and a curse. The IPA domination of the party's ways of looking at government and itself meant the prospect of a fourth-generation politician was to be resisted. The political DNA from her great-grandfather (a former Premier of South Australia), her grandfather (former Changi internee and Immigration Minister), and her father (former Party leader and Foreign Minister) seemed less important than the XX-chromosome.

When it became clear Downer was losing the Goldstein preselection to Tim Wilson, she allowed her supporters to play the homophobia card. I have no idea whether she descended to this herself and it's not one of the things that matter. At the risk of getting all intersectional here, it was important that Downer did not win on the basis of homophobia and hopefully she's learnt a hard lesson well; if she hasn't, stuff her. Sir Alec's granddaughter ought never have stooped to that.

Discuss: it's more important to have fewer homophobes in Parliament than more women - and as this is Australian politics, no it isn't big enough for both.

Labor have pretty much given up on the job security thing, happy for unions to wage the odd battle here or there for entitlements but accepting that the war for permanent, secure employment for all is pretty much a thing of the past. Look at that typical male worker profiled in the Harvester judgment in 1907, detailed down to his three kids and allowance for tobacco; he is as remote from workers today as those who built the Pyramids. Providing state-sponsored health and education seems to be their way of offering security in an insecure world. You could call it a maternalistic approach.

Not every Labor candidate endorsed for the current election are women, but many of them are; more than have been endorsed in the past. Health and education have been increasingly important The framing of this is interesting, and of course the Daily Telegraph is too dopey to question it. Note that:
  • it isn't the party leader, Bill Shorten, who is demanding more women candidates and being vindicated;
  • it isn't the party's deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek - a woman and from Labor's Left - who is calling for more women candidates and succeeding;
  • it isn't prominent Labor women like Penny Wong or Anastacia Palaszczuk who get the credit for years of activism to this end;
  • it isn't the party's rank-and-file, often invoked but rarely consulted, who rose as one to insist more women be given a go; but instead
  • the State Secretary gets the credit for delivering a full complement of viable, appealing female candidates.
The position of NSW Secretary of the ALP has been imbued with mystical powers of control over Australian politics, impressions cultivated by those who held the office like Graham Richardson and Mark Arbib, and burnished by no-hopers like Eric Roozendaal or Jamie Clements. The current occupant, Kalia Murnane, is using the legendary powers of her office to promote Labor women, and by doing so reinforce her own position. This manoeuvring meant that a woman Labor State Deputy Leader from the Left was replaced by a man from the Right, but hey:
Declaring the line-up as “unprecedented”, Labor’s new female boss Kaila Murnain said the party had more than met its 40 per cent quota.

“Many of these women are in winnable seats, which will mean our representation of women in parliament is set to increase,” she said.
Is it unprecedented, or just "unprecedented"? This is easily checkable and would have demonstrated a brain engaged with this subject matter, rather than just more transcription journalism. How many of those women are in winnable seats? Have women been put into safe Coalition seats for the sake of the quota? It isn't clear from that article and there is no list on the NSW Labor website at time of writing. Let's do the maths:
  • There are 21 women identified in that article;
  • There are seven women Labor MHRs from NSW, including Plibersek. Of those, all but Jill Hall will definitely nominate again, or have been preselected;
  • There are two women NSW Labor Senators, both likely to renominate;
  • According to the article, "Of the nine most winnable seats, five will be contested by female candidates"; this leaves us with
  • Eight Labor candidates (seven if Hall is re-endorsed in the face of the Conroy-Fitzgibbon stoush over Hunter) who are pretty much making up the numbers in safe Coalition seats.
Again, note the frequency in that article with which Murnane is referred to as "Labor boss". You might wheel in Shorten to lay on some verbal tinsel, but the point of this article is to underline Murnane's power and the purposes for which she is using it:
Mr Shorten said it was a major achievement for Labor to have so many women standing.

“We are streets ahead of the Liberal Party when it comes to increasing the number of women in parliament,” he said.
Labor is beating the Liberals in a fight they have abandoned. You may as well say Labor is streets ahead in selecting trade unionists.

Health and education are two sectors of the workforce definitely likely to grow into the foreseeable future; two areas of the workforce with high percentages of women at all levels of responsibility, two areas where (HSU shenanigans notwithstanding) union membership remains strong. Old-school Labor powerbrokers like Doug Cameron (from the Manufacturing Workers' Union) and other horny-handed sons of toil from male-dominated industries are less likely to retain their historic grip over Labor's future.

The concern here is that political coverage and debate degenerates even further where there is no common ground: he says more money for defence, she says more money for healthcare, no evaluation and off to the pub. With major parties cleaving in this way, the political emphasis turns to those outside the majors who will have to be able to discuss defence and healthcare, and allocate resources to both. It means the ballot every three or four years becomes a blunter instrument than it is already. It means the real stories lie far from the announceables.

At the very time Australian politics is becoming more interesting, the press gallery is gearing up for two months of cliche-milling, gathering mindlessly into formation like Orwell's cavalry horses. They will be unable to break out of he-said-she-said coverage, which will guarantee they miss the real stories: the information we need to make sound decisions over the government of the country, creating the value that might make traditional media's future more sound than it appears.

* Note: when I describe parties' offerings above, I am describing my understanding of those offerings, rather than propagandising for/against those parties. Label-slapping responses and tweets will have to be good to get published, let alone warrant a response.


  1. The maths are off a bit. First of all the Conroy-Fitzgibbon business is all over (Hall to retire, Conroy for Shortland, Fitzgibbon for Hunter). Secondly, the Tele is a bit misleading when they say "five of the nine winnable seats", because they're not including the three seats notionally transferred to Labor (Barton, Dobell and Paterson), all of which have female candidates, so there are only five "seat-warmers", if you will.

  2. I don't understand how Dame Ivy Wedgwood became a senator without being pre-selected.

  3. When you were a libertarian punk, were your there as a fashion thing (like Niall Ferguson) or was there a reasoning? I ask because I want to know if it's a tribal thing. I was bred Liberal from immigrant parents from the UK, but I rejected that along with soccer and beer and the monarchy. I work today with tribal Liberals - people who have the Liberals in their heart next to Arsenal or Sunderland, or next to Carlton. I also have colleagues who have their ALP-ness next to their FItzroy-ness. And the press gallery seems so often to have the same content as sport commentary - on form and strategy, and taking-for-granted stuff. I read history and economic history (especially paleo-economic history, stuff about the birth of credit) and the origin story of it all and how it arose seems so distant from the stuff bruited about in the budget/-reply. I came here as I often do to see what you might be saying, but you seem less interested in it all now the Mad Monk has gone.

  4. Andrew, its time to fix your next federal election clock