In an article in the latest edition of The Monthly, former Iemma staffer Mark Aarons says this of Labor Right backroom artists Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar:
Enter Arbib and Bitar and their focus groups. Their technique involves targeting the least politically committed voters in key marginal seats. Swing voters of this kind care most of all about themselves and are not loyal to any particular party or leader. The Arbib-Bitar theory is that these people determine who wins government, and that their views should therefore predominate in policy-setting. In a bizarre reversal of conventional political wisdom, leadership is redefined as following such people by pandering to them.
Arbib and Bitar are the inheritors of Graham Richardson’s ‘whatever it takes’ approach to the maintenance of power and were, of course, part of the shadow-team that rolled Rudd and installed Gillard. If Aarons is correct, the move against Rudd was in large part a response to the fidgety vacillations of 250000 self-interested, knuckle dragging (generic, non-racial sense), swinging voters as measured by Labor’s ‘internal polling’. The other macro factors at play in their decision to move on Rudd were the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and the Mining Super Profits Tax, both of which were vehemently and vociferously opposed by the mining industry in expensive, well-organised public relations campaigns. Clearly, Gillard has been promoted on condition that she delay action on climate change to some indeterminate time in the future and soften the mining tax. But we know all that.
The conjunction between the interests of the resources sector and those of swinging voters in marginal seats is food for thought.
The resources sector is largely controlled by global capital in the shape of multinational corporations from the USA, UK, China, Japan and some lesser players. In the same issue of The Monthly in which Aarons’ article appears, Paul Barry writes of the massive capital investment that flowed into Australia from China at the height of the GFC when the dollar was low. China was looking for places to invest its burgeoning cash reserves, reserves that were no longer providing adequate returns from struggling US Treasury bonds which, incidentally, had been used to finance the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in the stratospheric debt levels Obama inherited from The Shrub. At the same time, access to global capital was shrinking because of the stress on banks created by (or sometimes caused by) the GFC. Anyway, China has all this spare cash which it decides to invest in Australia almost willy-nilly, such is the rush to find a safe haven. Barrie claims that 26 of 40 major new mining projects in Australia are ‘Chinese-owned, Chinese-funded, have a Chinese joint-venture partner, or all three.’ You can understand, perhaps unsympathetically, why Australian magnetite magnates like Clive Palmer sucked up this money with alacrity and, consequently, why they spat the dummy when Rudd et al advanced the RSPT.
Pause for a moment to consider this: China is governed by a communist regime that is now, almost ironically, the world’s most successful exponent of capitalism. China has invested heavily in Australian resources in order to feed its own rapid development as a consumer society and to build its export industries, which sell consumer goods into lucrative foreign markets, like Australia. The principal measure of prosperity in Australian society, let’s face it, is socioeconomic or, put more crudely, the relative capacity to consume. Houses, cars, white goods, electronic goods, clothing and a plethora of products of questionable use value. If Aarons’ characterisation of swinging voters as self-interested is accepted, then their self-interest could likely be quantified by real and/or aspirational levels of consumption. A strange circle indeed.
Note here the propaganda deployed by both major parties in the first weeks of the election (and to which Mr Rabbit is sticking to like shit to the blanket), the often implied but sometimes explicit association chain of which goes something like this: boats-invasion-Asians-overcrowding-traffic-prices-jobs-Asians-unfair-stop the boats. A second chain goes something like this: climate change-maybe-tax-electricity prices-squeeze-no. Clearly, these messages are tailored to voters with an average Year 9 reading age, the sliver of the electorate to which Arbib, Bitar et al and their Coalition equivalents (in the style of Andrew Robb and formerly Lynton Crosby) strive to appeal, the sliver that deliver power. As a result of a quirk in a democracy not dissimilar to that which threw up Steve Fielding, we are reduced to rule by and for knuckle draggers. Gillard and Mr Rabbit are falling over each other in their attempts to dumb down their messages to appeal to this group while the 65% who consistently poll as being in favour of urgent action on climate change watch with mounting incredulity.
So, the interests of the SVs matter (cynically) to the political powerbrokers of both parties only insofar as they are the key to gaining and sustaining power. The interests of the resources sector matter, laying aside the substantial question of political patronage, because we need to sell our non-renewable natural assets to multinational and state capitalist entities so we can buy them back as consumer goods and various forms of industrial infrastructure. The major parties have no plan for what will happen when the digging is done, no credible plan for addressing the threat of climate change, no coherent plan for securing our food supply, no plan for abating hyper-consumption, no plan for anything other than pretty much more of the same forever and ever.
Finally, the mass media, including and sometimes especially the ABC, is entirely complicit in this political charade. Let’s leave aside as unworthy of comment the virulent anti-Labor campaign in the Australian and the tawdry analysis of Hartcher et al in the Fairfax papers, to focus on The Insiders which Sunday morning aired a pissy Barry Cassidy interview with Julia Gillard that was book-ended by breathless panellistic discussion of the way her campaign had been hijacked by Kevin Rudd and, latterly and with predictable menace, the perennially disgruntled Mark Latham. The Insiders panel conducted a kind of meta-commentary which simultaneously slagged the media for its obsession with the Labor shenanigans at the expense of serious policy debate, and wallowed itself in the same obsession. As was the case during the invasion of Iraq and at any time when issues of national interest are at stake, the ABC buckles under the weight of competition from their reductionist, populist competitors and delivers a soupy drivel. In particular, the question of which of the two leaders is most ‘real’ irritates me to distraction when, clearly, ‘they’ and the complex nexus of forces they ‘really’ represent are walking, breathing exemplars of Baudrillard’s notion of hyperreality, under the tyranny of which we are destined to struggle.