The Aston by-election result was clear enough to get most of the media broadly on track about its significance.
First time in a century, Chinese votes, the curious characteristics of Victorian society – all got mentioned. Having looked only at The Sunday Age reporting and the ABC it seemed the ABC was pretty straight and The Sunday Age read as if most of it had been written early in the day and the subs had to frantically rewrite it before publication.
Not seeing any Murdoch media coverage who knows to what lengths they went to explain it all, but we can probably safely guess that it was another Labor failure. Although given Chinese voting patterns they might also start advocating for the re-introduction of the White Australia policy.
But perhaps the most significant thing about the by-election was the comment on the result by Peter Dutton – a comment which provides a profound insight into Liberal thinking and why the Liberal Party is in trouble.
Dutton explained away the result by saying the Victorian ‘market’ was difficult for the Liberal Party. The comment could be said to exemplify how The Liberal Party sees Australia and Australians.
Essentially it is an expression of the view that Australians are not citizens but rather consumers – consumers who will be motivated by the sorts of approaches soap companies pursue.
Australia, under this vision, is not a nation but simply a market-place. It assumes that economic and commercial matters are the defining issues in society. The vision is manifested by the Liberal campaign mode. If a promise is made it normally involves offering money for some personal or local benefit. Blatant pork barreling is common with spending targeted on marginal seats or rewarding safe ones.
If policies other than these narrow economic matters are considered, they are seen through the prism of how successfully they drive cultural division and dog whistle to far right wingers and religious fundamentalists. The fact that these dog whistles are out of step with the realities of a modern multi-cultural Australia are ignored. They may shore up the so-called ‘base’ but that base is more Sky after dark than mainstream Australia.
Dutton may have just wanted to seem hip, but it would take more than a word to make him that. Whoever advised him on the soundbite correctly thought Victoria was different to the rest of Australia but ignored the fact that every mainland State Government is Labor- governed.
As Niels Bohr, the Nobel laureate in Physics and father of the atomic model, said: “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”
But it’s possibly a safe prediction that their political hopes (absent some unforeseen cataclysm) won’t change until they make some fundamental changes in the party structures; the sort of people they attract as members; and spend some time taking a deep loook at contemporary and evolving Australian demographics.
Many of the Liberals have probably never heard of Neils Bohr given what we know about their attitude to science from their policies on climate and much else.
But if they aren’t much into wisdom from scientists perhaps they should heed the words of a very notable conservative – Edmund Burke who said: “You can never plan the future by the past.”