Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter

Advertisement

Journalism

Aug 23, 2011

What motivates the Parl house rallies?

Do the right-wing rallies that have proliferated here this year have anything to do with protest movements elsewhere? Well, one in particular...

User login status :

Share

Quite a bit of effort is being devoted to explaining why, from the Arab Spring to the London riots, from suddenly Eurosceptic Europeans to the Tea Party, governments everywhere are under siege.

Thomas Friedman, he of the most laughable piece on the Arab Spring in the entire Western commentariat, tried recently to manufacture a “theory of everything” to argue it was all about — sitting down? — globalisation and communications technology. The year 2000 called and wants its copy of The Lexus and the Olive Tree back, Tom.

More usefully, Reuters’s Felix Salmon has talked of a massive collapse in consent and trust in governments. Nouriel Roubini, warning of the possibility of a depression, said “recent popular demonstrations, from the Middle East to Israel to the UK, and rising popular anger in China — and soon enough in other advanced economies and emerging markets — are all driven by the same issues and tensions: growing inequality, poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness.”

It’s rather a long bow, but at some point someone may make the effort to link up the Convoy of No Confidence, the anti-carbon tax protests and efforts such as last week’s anti-gay marriage rally with this wave of worldwide discontent. There is a connection, of course, but it’s only with the Tea Party in the US, in the apeing of tactics, the cultivation and manipulation of a grassroots movement by media figures and wealthy conservatives (whether the Koch brothers or Gina Rinehart) and shared platforms of climate denialism .

But similar demographics also keep recurring with these groups, and it’s interesting to think about why. The Tea Party is characterised by middle-aged or older, conservative, white, middle- or higher-income people, more often male than female. That’s exactly the demographic for climate denialists in Australia and, judging by those who have turned up to the no-carbon tax rallies, similar to that group as well.

There’s some overlap with the demographics that characterised One Nation voters — who tended to be middle-aged (but not, despite the stereotype, old) middle-income and religious. But One Nation members tended to be poorly educated (Tea Party members are better educated than most Americans) and were primarily regional.

That’s why there’s no link with what’s happening elsewhere. It’s isn’t comfortably-off middle-aged white men breaking into Foot Locker in London.

Why the shared demographics between here and the US? What’s interesting about the Tea Party and the various rally movements that have emerged in Australia is that both have only done so since Barack Obama became president and Julia Gillard became Prime Minister. Moreover, they’ve emerged despite Australia and the US being almost polar opposites in terms of economic performance.

While the Tea Party (particularly where it overlaps with the birther movement) contains racist elements and there’s a strain of misogyny in the attacks on Gillard, I suggest these groups aren’t driven by overt racism or sexism. The participants in such groups are unlikely to be any more racist or sexist than the rest of us.

Instead, the motivating force behind these groups appears to be more about expressing resentment about social and economic change in recent decades, and particularly because such changes have delivered nothing but difficulties for the demographics we’re talking about: social change has undermined the once-dominant status of older white heteros-xual people and males in particular, and, in the Australian context, economic changes have squeezed them, along with everyone else, into a far more competitive, market-based economy that no longer delivers the sort of certainty they grew up with and that Generation X, in particular, never had.

For such people, Gillard’s gender (and unmarried status) or  Obama’s race are not so much a problem as a high-profile, indeed inescapable, symbol of how much the world has changed and changed in ways that deliver nothing but pain for such people. That’s why they elicit such fury, not because of innate s-xism or racism.

This resentment of change and sense of persecution at the hands of broader socio-economic forces perhaps explains another commonality of such groups,  here and in the US: a conviction that they are being repressed and censored. There’s plenty to be concerned about when it comes to the state of free speech in Australia. But when right-wing rallies receive massive media coverage out of all proportion to the number of attendees, the claim rings hollow.

And sure, it’s a staple of the Left that the mainstream media is biased and right-wing, and conservatives always think the media’s full of trendy left-wing journalists. But in the case of the recent rallies, it has a peculiarly personal flavour of persecution to it. And it had its most absurd expression yesterday in the sight of Alan Jones, a rich, old, white, conservative male and thus the perfect — OK, near-perfect — rally spokesman (though alas, Alan, you were only following in the tyre tracks of the truckies’ mate, John Laws), inventing a wholly fictitious claim that the AFP had stopped trucks outside the ACT. That is, the miserable numbers at the rally weren’t because people disagreed or weren’t interested, but because the federal authorities had stopped them.

This claim about “censorship” is now a regular argument of right-wing groups or commentators, and often expressed along the lines that any criticism or even inconvenient factual reporting of its claims is an abrogation of free speech — that is, the “right to free speech” is now supposed to encompass a right to be heard without any counter-argument or undesirable coverage.

Sophie Mirabella attempted this pre-emptively ahead of the rally yesterday, using News Ltd’s opinion platform to accuse “freedom of  speech-loving journalists” of trying to “find an offensive placard, to photograph someone looking unhinged” as a way to deter free expression — even of politicians themselves (who as we know lack their own platform to say whatever they like and get national coverage). Mirabella herself made the comparison with the Tea Party, claiming “the same uneasiness was revealed in the way the US media reacted to the Tea Party movement. Protest, it seems, is the preserve of the left.”

Evidently Mirabella doesn’t read too much US political coverage. The coverage of the Tea Party by the US mainstream media has been a publicist’s dream, and a critical part of its success in swaying the Republican Party’s political tactics — exhibit 1, the “Democrats are just a recalcitrant as Republicans” tone of the debt ceiling debacle.

Sometimes the demands for free speech are a cover or precursor for attacks on critics. In July, the Australian Christian Lobby withdrew from a debate on same-s-x marriage in Tasmania, insisting that one of its members had been “slurred” by the “gay rights lobby”. “For many these concepts are precious, even sacred, and people with those views should be free in this society to raise them in the public square without intimidation,” said Jim Wallace.

Last week’s anti-same-sex marriage rally at Parliament House, convened by the “National Marriage Coalition”, of which the ACL is a founding member, then featured US speaker Rebecca Hagelin who compared same-sex marriage to polygamy and “marriages” between paedophiles and children (imagine the stir if a visiting progressive had compared heteros-xual marriage to rape). And what better example than Alan Jones, angered by a straightforward and appropriate question about fees from journalist Jacqueline Maley yesterday, gallantly trying to incite the gathering against her? Perhaps Maley, being, you know, a woman, and deemed a “leftist” by one participant, was the nearest they could get to Gillard.

The trick is, these groups aren’t motivated by any particular issues, however angry they may be about a carbon price or taxes. The issues are mere tokens. It’s more about them and their resentment that the world has changed on them in ways they don’t like and don’t feel comfortable with. It’s the sense of persecution that comes from no longer occupying a privileged position in society but instead having to cope with life just like everyone else.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

Get a free trial to post comments
More from Bernard Keane

Advertisement

We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola

125 comments

Leave a comment

125 thoughts on “What motivates the Parl house rallies?

  1. C@tmomma

    I called them the ‘Convoy of Grey ‘No’mads’ because that’s what I saw, wealthy self-funded retirees in their very expensive to buy and run, Winnebagos and Ovation Camper Vans, with more money than sense, it seems, and time to burn, both at home in front of their computers, where they read the daily Yellow journalism e-mail and get riled up, and out on the road, where they don’t seem to have the wit or the imagination to do any more than drive around and around Australia, ‘Spending the Kid’s Inheritance’, and listening to Alan Jones on their radios. Then they stop and bitch and carp with all the other time wasters in God’s Waiting Room on the road. I imagine them to be already Scrapbooking yesterday’s event as though it was some sort of meaningful experience in their lives and in the life of the nation, when all it really was was an old Queen(which fact they conveniently ignore because it doesn’t suit their narrow worldview, pretty much like they ignore the facts of Climate Change), proselytising to his Ray Stevens-loving(I was horrified to find he has sold his soul to the Conservatives in order to keep the flickering embers of his career alive), ‘Kings of the Road’. Absolutely pathetic spectacle, all in all. However, opportunistic Opposition Leader bereft of a soul himself(maybe that’s why God orchestrated his casting out of the Seminary?), Tony Abbott is along for the ride with the bulging, ageing baby Boomer demographic, whose votes he positively salivates over. My goodness, who said that smoking pot didn’t give you permanent brain damage? I think this lot of easily-led sheep proves conclusively that it does.

  2. Peter Ormonde

    Interesting article Bernard…

    Not sure about the “theory of everything” or the direct comparisons between the Tea Party and the local tea baggers however.

    Worth bearing in mind that comparisons between a relatively uneducated Australian and a well-educated American are rather tendentious… there are so darn few of them.

    Certainly the organisations and individuals throwing their “weight” behind the Convoy of Inconsequence seem to draw their inspiration from the Tea Party. But the US mob actually purport to be reclaiming the US constitution and small “l” libertarian free enterprise. The tea baggers are far more a coalition of the really really annoyed. This was particularly evident when tea baggers were asked what they wanted … they all had a shopping list of complaints but – in the end – all they could come up with was the “abolition” of the Upper and Lower House and a new election.

    Observers of the political fringes may be interested in this piece from a WA commentator:
    http://exiledonline.com/teabagger-dundee-america-exports-libertarian-revolution-to-australia/comment-page-1/#comment-36066

    While there is a Ma and Pa Kettle element to all this, there are however some nasty characters lurking about in the shadows … one is Canadian “civil libertarian” “feminist” turned professional climate campaigner Jo Nova. Very interesting background that lady.

    Personally I find it most comforting that despite all their efforts – and even the presence of the great motivator himself Alan Jones – the show was a fizzer. I take it as evidence of the deep underlying commonsense of the Australian electorate. We know these problems are serious, are real and they won’t just go away by us all going for a drive.

  3. kraken

    Abbott and his conga line of media cronies are continuing the thinly camouflaged campaign to win government by trashing the Government’s record and its attempt to put a price on carbon. The science on climate change is routinely questioned and vilified by skilled dog whistlers and commentators compromised by their links to vested interests opposed to carbon pricing. A largely ill-informed electorate swallow the sound bites and media grabs of this shoddy bunch and are conned into believing their life-styles are under threat.

    Abbott pretends to care about the little people while doing the bidding of the mining and power companies. He is a fear monger-er of the worst sort. We have seen his type of politician down through the ages. They set up straw men to knock down and claim the credit for ‘saving’ the people from some imaginary onslaught. He pitches a different message to different audiences, depending on their relative levels of literacy – in the case of the recent rally outside Parliament three word slogans were more than enough. Demagogues always operate like this – it is in their DNA to tailor the message to suit the crowd and they are gifted at pressing the right fear buttons with confected outrage and anger.

    Another plank of the strategy is to demonize the Labor leadership, much in the way the Tea Party is demonizing Obama’s leadership in America. They paint a picture of disunity, betrayal of the body politic, a ‘stab in the back’ for decent citizens by a government beholden to ‘special interests’ and unspecified ‘elites’. More coded dog whistling to convince the electorate that their government is weak and incapable of protecting the country from outside threats and the export of jobs. Our PM is branded a liar, wooden, childless and weak. A nasty legend has been woven by misogynistic spin meisters who want their boy in power, and they will do anything (within the law presumably) to achieve it.

    The Coalition has gained rich pickings from fear-mongering, as evidenced by the Queensland vote at the last general election. The ‘tea party’ rump of the One Nation party has drifted back to the LNP, in thrall to simple minded messages on debt & deficit, the carbon & mining taxes and good ole migrant & refugee bashing.

    In much of the media and shock-jock land narrow sectional interests get a helpful leg up in most areas of debate on public policy. We get a diet of reactionary, simple minded drivel on issues such as immigration & asylum seekers and important areas of public policy are ‘spun’ through the lens of media celebrities who survive on a dumbed-down strategy of sound-bites, ‘gotcha’ moments and limpid sensationalism. Political analysis has been reduced to talk-show patter and infotainment for a presumed audience with the concentration span of a distracted gnat.

    Misinformation and outright disinformation have become the currency of many mainstream commentators. The template for this was set up with the formation of a minority government. Many in the print, radio and television media did not like this result. They did not anticipate it, they have no control over it, and they want it gone. A political shock-jock like Abbott thrives in this landscape.

    He has replaced the biking lycra with reflective lime industrial tops & roams bloke dominated small businesses and mining enterprises, filleting fish, carrying cartons of stuff, digging up stuff, butchering meat, rolling in oats and wheat, etc etc etc, pretending to care about working people and announcing the end of civilization as we know it. A true ‘man of the people’ with an eye to the big end of town (nudge, wink) …Howard battlers should be checking their back pockets because they’re being conned again.

  4. DF

    I’ll go out on a limb and say the anger is motivated by people feeling they have lost control of their destiny and have no say in how the world is any more. My evidence is pretty subjective but I reckon I’m close to the mark:

    – growing inequality and uncertainty in a threatened economy;
    – the feeling our lives are being manipulated by corporate power;
    – recognition that politicians have been bought out by the need for election funding and are more responsive to the market and corporate world rather than the needs of the community they allegedly serve;
    – the feeling of financial insecurity in the wake of the GFC and superannuation funds being hollowed out;
    – the lack of certainty, people feel overwhelmed by the complexity of opinions, constantly changing and often contradictory findings from scientific and other research;
    – the feeling of being ripped off all the time (see the response to the Productivity Commission’s airport charges report, read the blogs about retail vs internet sales);
    – the feeling that the things which we shared ownership of and made us a community (utilities, infrastructure, Qantas etc) have all been sold off and are now ripping us off (like having your house compulsorily sold, having to rent it back and being overcharged for it);
    – a sense of loss of control over our destiny and that no-one is listening.

    The anger manifests itself against the things that are demonstrably and easily identifiable as being different from before eg Asian and African migrants, female PM, black President, gay rights, etc but the underlying reason is a sense of impotence in a time of rising inequality and economic threat.

    Abbott gets it and exploits it. He is not the solution – he and his party are part of the problem but rationality and reason will never win the fight over gut feeling and emotion. People want change (Obama’s mantra in 2008) and they will follow anyone who offers it.

  5. Karen

    I like your article Bernard.

    I’ve literally just stepped off the plane from an overseas holiday in Eastern Europe. The news in Europe is very depressing. For example, Italy’s debt levels are now 150% of GDP and Italy is staring at possible default. Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal are truly fstuffed – Spain’s unemployment rate, to take an example, is currently reported as running at 23%.

    Meanwhile, Australia has been reported in Eastern Europe as one of three of the best performing economies in the developed world with debt representing only 6% of GDP. Other countries are striving to match Australia’s debt levels – its the holy grail, so it has been reported. But do we hear about that here? No, all we get is fascist crap from whinging right-wing tw*ts lying about how the economy has been mismanaged. No recession , unemployment at 4.9%, debt at 6% of GDP -and this is reported as mismanagement in Australian media? Jesus Christ!

    Why the hatred and the lies from these anti-carbon tax protesters, you posit, Bernard? – Answer: (in my view) because their team is not in office and their peculiar brand of vicious right-wing politics that sees as much money shovelled in the pockets of the uber wealthy is not in place. Can’t bear any kind of slug against the corporate sector that will see a bit of redisbribution occur at the margins – too much to cope with.

    This mob at the same time argues about a left-wing class war? Yeah, I’ve read this sh*t in the MSM blogs. Well, Warren Buffet said recently, there is a class war and its been wielded by the rich who are winning it hands down. Can’t see no US TEA Party over there fighting for the little people and the need to alleviate their tax burden. No, no, no, its only the rich who matter and the transfer of their burden to the little guy. Well, if the uber rich in the US, constituting 1% of the population and owning 40% of the wealth, took a modest hair cut, they might go some way towards fixing up their economy, which is being deprived of billions because they refuse to pay their fair share!

    I can’t believe I’ve come back to this country to read about this spectacle of so called mainly middle class white males led by Jones, no less, running around holding their ars*es because of the prospect of a carbon tax and mining tax that is going to make, at best, a modest dent against the bottom lines of wealthy corporates. And, no, right-w(h)ingers, don’t say its going to hit the little man who is going to be compensated and pay less than Howard’s bloody GST! You know its not about that.

  6. Karen

    @ Jimmy – I agree that if the Libs were in office and had adopted the ETS model under Turnbull or, alternatively, the carbon tax under Abbott (who supported it initially, simply, because he could use it as his fig leaf to obstruct and oppose the ETS), the MSN would have gotten behind it, provided there was ample compensation to industry. The so-called ‘swinging voters’ (whose political default position, broadly speaking, tends to be Liberal) would, generally, have followed suit.

    The irony, I suspect, is that industry and ‘families’ would have been generously compensated by the Libs at the expense of the remaining public under its own carbon pricing mechanisms (remember, this is a party who did not give tax cuts favouring the lower middle classes (unless they had children) whilst in power and who, true to form, screamed at Labor for giving up to $900 stimulus funding to the middle classes).

    @Ian – its hard to generalise about all of Eastern Europe but, in Bulgaria which is the poorest country in the EU (and where I stayed), I was informed by a relative who works in the banking sector, that the banks were not exposed to the fraudulent mortgage junk bond racket that produced the financial crisis in the West. Accordingly, the local banks did not rack up debt from bad home loans, which were then transferred to public debt, as has occurred in the West. That said, the GFC spared no-one and I was informed that property prices had plummeted by up to 40% in some areas of the country. From general reading, I know the stock markets in Eastern Europe have also been severely rattled by the GFC and there continues to be serious volatility there as well.

    Eastern Europe has its own unique set of problems, of course; the economies are more market-based now and small (and larger) businesses are beginning to flourish, which are a good thing, however, there is a lot of mafia interference and corruption at the highest levels of government. The general public is still relatively poor and the infrastructure and health care systems do not compare to what we have here, however, things are continuing to improve over there, notwithstanding the global recession. European luxury cars are not an uncommon sight now (with no old Trebants in sight). The wealthy (who are wealthy by western standards) constitute 1-2% of the population I’m told, however, many of these people constitute Mafia or ‘banditos’, as they often called. Bulgaria is an interesting, cheap and fun place to visit actually, especially on the Black Sea coast during the summer. The Balkan diets are tasty and much healthier (salads are commonly eaten as a first course); there isn’t the obesity epidemic we have here and there are lots of attractive, slim people to show for it. Word of warning (or not) – they like their vodka and rakia – its as common as beer and drunk neat in 50ml or 100ml amounts. I’m beginning to digress, now. Apologies. I’m still partially jet-lagged and not quite over my holiday…

  7. Karen

    @ Jimmy – I agree that if the Libs were in office and had adopted the ETS model under Turnbull or, alternatively, the carbon tax under Abbott (who supported it initially, simply, because he could use it as his fig leaf to obstruct and oppose the ETS), the MSN would have gotten behind it, provided there was ample compensation to industry. The so-called ‘swinging voters’ (whose political default position, broadly speaking, tends to be Liberal) would, generally, have followed suit.

    The irony, I suspect, is that industry and ‘families’ would have been generously compensated by the Libs at the expense of the remaining public under its own carbon pricing mechanisms (remember, this is a party who did not give tax cuts favouring the lower middle classes (unless they had children) whilst in power and who, true to form, screamed at Labor for giving up to $900 stimulus funding to the middle classes).

    @Ian – its hard to generalise about all of Eastern Europe but, in Bulgaria which is the poorest country in the EU (and where I stayed), I was informed by a relative who works in the banking sector, that the banks were not as exposed (if at all) to, in my view, the mortgage junk bond racket that produced the financial crisis in the West. Accordingly, the local banks did not rack up debt from bad home loans, which were then transferred to public debt, as has occurred in the West. That said, the GFC spared no-one and I was informed that property prices had plummeted by up to 40% in some areas of the country. From general reading, I know the stock markets in Eastern Europe have also been severely rattled by the GFC and there continues to be serious volatility.

    Eastern Europe has its own unique set of problems, of course; the economies tend to follow market-based systems now and small (and larger) businesses are beginning to flourish, which are a good thing, however, it is alleged by people I have spoken to that there is also mafia interference. To what extent this may impact on the workings of government or the broader economy is unknown to me. The general public is still relatively poor and the infrastructure and health care systems do not compare to what we have here (eg. one is put on a waiting list to receive chemotherapy), however, things are continuing to improve over there (I was last there in 2008 just before the GFC), notwithstanding the global recession. European luxury cars are not an uncommon sight now (with no old Trebants in sight). The wealthy (who are wealthy by western standards) constitute 1-2% of the population I’m told, however, it is alleged that many of these people constitute Mafia or ‘banditos’, as they often called. Bulgaria is an interesting, cheap and fun place to visit actually, especially on the Black Sea coast during the summer. The Balkan diets are tasty and much healthier (salads are commonly eaten as a first course); there isn’t the obesity epidemic we have here and there are a lot of attractive, slim people to show for it. Word of warning (or not) – they like their vodka and rakia – its as common as beer and drunk neat in 50ml or 100ml amounts. Beer, I should add is also very popular. I’m beginning to digress, now. Apologies. I’m still partially jet-lagged and not quite over my holiday…

  8. coggancreek

    Bernard, if there is a link you are looking for it in the wrong direction. It must be at the government level or higher, in the academies of the world. The link with your “grassroots” level is there. That is, if there is a link.

    The Tea Party is in America, Bernard, not here.

    Just as in Indonesia in the late 1990s, the Arab uprisings were triggered by food scarcity. They must have been building anyway, but high food prices was the trigger.

    Grassroots? Do you know where grassroots are? From Canberra they are invisible.

    Climate denialism? Bernard, the first thing driving my scepticism was the huge gap between what the scientists said and what the politicians and journalists said. And the lies! e.g. #1. Weather and climate are two completely different things.

    Weather and climate are the same thing Bernard, viewed in different time frames. If you assemble weather data on a daily basis, when you have collected 365 consecutive days’ data you have the beginnings of a climate record. Denial of this promotes confusion.

    But the lies are so many. They demand so much research that we must depend on people like you to do the research for us. So tell us, Bernard, what does the satellite record show in recent years on temperature levels and sea levels? What do the Argo buoys tell us about sea temperatures? I have read that they refute the IPCC computer models. In my view this makes sense. The IPCC models never even pretended to meet the rules of science. But even those computer models did not tell the lies that the politicians do.

    The demographics? Older, conservative, middle or higher income people are by nature the best informed people in the community. They have seen it all. They have a better understanding of long run economics.

    And, Bernard, the issues driving the convoy are not tokens. The prime movers in that rally have had their incomes halved by the ban on livestock exports. That means many of them are technically insolvent as a result of government action. Their only hope for survival is that the government may be held accountable for its exceedingly irresponsible action.

    It seems that you didn’t understand that.

Leave a comment