The century-long static two-party system governing Australia seems under challenge with one of the two majors different from even 20 years ago and the other facing a hopeless breakup into pieces, rather than changing outward form, which had been the norm.
The stability of the parties, the Australian Labor Party, a former working class party allied with (and once only half-controlled by) organised labour against the Liberal party, a private enterprise, right-leaning party, backing business, supposedly conservative, or “classic liberal”, yet staunchly anti-communist, often anti-labour, which seemed unshakeable – until a few decades ago. It is how these parties adapted to changing demographics which has led to the fascinating experience today, where formerly safe seats of various kinds have been won by parties, something which would have been seen as impossible even a few years earlier.
Rise of the Greens and the Labor Party reaction.
The Australian Labor Party was the first to feel the effects of Green political policies. It had captured some environmental sentiment through the Franklin Dam dispute in 1982/3 and tried to keep a lock on that vote even though challenged by the Green party itself. An increasing number of Australians, particularly those of wealth and supposed “status”, started to support them at the ballot box. In fact the Green-targeted areas were inner city seats, where the Labor Party had had a virtual lock on the voters. However, as gentrification forced out the old working class core of those inner suburbs, to be replaced with the new Yuppies, supposed elites and so on, they became the residents who could afford to look after the environment. They didn’t work in any of the industries at risk, they had power and water at the flick of a switch or a turn of a tap and any personal cost increase was nothing to them.
The ALP saw the benefit of unofficially joining with the Greens in preference deals. Such deals became the norm and many times (up until today) some ALP seats were won only through Greens preferences much as the old anti-communist, Democrat Labor Party had kept the Liberals in government through the 1950’s into the 1970’s. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union when the so-called ”tree-hugging” Greens were joined by the Red/Greens – remnants of the old Stalinist era communists up to the supposed “dead” communist movement of the early 1990’s – the infiltration of the hard left, ideological greens into what was the “environmental” greens led to a direct attack on some of the old ALP industrial base, especially organised labour if not the working class itself. Those ideological shifts saw the ALP moving left to compete for the ideological green vote but it also saw the ALP hierarchy start to lose contact with their remaining working class base in the outer suburbs. It seemed as if to compete with the Greens they had to go against the direct interests – and fears – of the old working class base in the outer suburb heartland. Added to this, an influx of Muslims who were advocating policy changes to classic ALP policy on the Middle East into former safe ALP seats in the inner-west of Sydney (and the new found need to cater for them) further isolated the ALP from certain outer seats.
More and more, the ALP seemed desperate to hold onto these formerly safe, but demographically-changed seats and subsequently became more radical-left, going TO the left to match the Greens on identify politics, and the usual Social Justice Warrior concerns to the exclusion of the old working class base issues, which seemed more and ore at odd wit the new thinking. Apart from politicians such as Tony Abbott, the former PM, nobody in the Liberal Party before or since seemed capable of creating policies and appeals directly to the now-neglected ALP constituency in the outer suburbs. Once he got overthrown most of the seats reverted to the ALP and the Liberals have not seemed to show any interest in that demographic ever since. A major reason why this is so is looked at below.
Liberals changed by Greens also
It’s early days yet, but even if the Liberal Party implodes, there can be no doubt that it is facing identical challenges to those faced by the Labor Party. Its once-strongest seats are also changed by demographics favouring the Greens, especially in Melbourne, but increasingly in Sydney, even if with Sydney – in the strangest of ironies – the push to go green isn’t from official Greens, but green infiltrators into the party. Associated with a new, solid left faction in the supposed centre-right party, especially strong in the state of NSW, it is ideally placed to reap rewards of such changes.
Of course there is nothing like the self-interest involved in avoiding personal losses to get them going, and the wailing and flailing by Liberal MPs after the recent Victorian election debacle is typical of the challenge they face as well as the tunnel vision-like response to it. That is, to fight for that constituency which they might have nearly lost to the Greens. Leaving aside the obvious planned response to the savage loss of the Victorian election on 24 November, part of the reason is the bewilderment at the loss of or danger to their old safe seats (and formerly-safe constituencies) . Looking at the shrill response from various MPs, especially those who now demand that the whole party go more green, self-interest gets a good go yet again.
In the most recent federal election, 2016, the state of Victoria had a higher Green vote than in NSW (13.13% to 8.95%) and, in the seats of the rich citizens which had provided the safest Liberal seats in Melbourne, we see many reasons why the incumbents are so hysterical about green issues now. Higgins (O’Dwyer) 25.3% green, Goldstein (Wilson) 15.9% green and Kooyong (Frydenberg) 19% green.
While these major parties are struggling to compete with the Greens for these areas, there is a whole swathe of the country seemingly being ignored by the major parties. Neither of the major parties seems particularly interested in targeting their political or life needs. The arrogant political media and political class rant and attack so-called “fringe” parties such as One Nation or the Australian Conservatives, independents, supposed “populists” ( always labelling them, Alinsky-fashion ,as Hard Right, Alt Right or Far Right). Whilst they all attract hangers on of various types, the branding of the whole of these groups is usually wrong.
Fighting for the (apparently already lost) constituency seems futile. Others will fill the vacuum left in the unrepresented areas.Follow