Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Image: AAP/Julian Smith)

That work began clearing the site of the Djab Wurrung sacred trees near Ararat on September 11, is presumably a coincidence. That it occurred two days after a large protest in Melbourne over the matter presumably isn’t.

The work is confined to branch- and ground-clearing at the moment, but it’s a clear example of throat-clearing: this operation is intended to go ahead, come what may. It’s an indication of where the Andrews government is coming from, and the contradictory and foreshadowing politics of this progressive “socialist Left” government.

That contradiction is something your correspondent has noted before: the Andrews government uses social progressivism — often marginal and symbolic — in order to cover a neoliberal agenda involving privatisation, anti-heritage moves, and a bias towards roads and cars. The Andrews government move is now a classic one-two: ban “gay conversion” therapy, for example, before announcing an increase in size and urban destruction of the North East Link.

The Djab Wurrung issue shows up the contradiction in all its true colours. Having announced with much fanfare that it had started a treaty process with multiple Aboriginal nations and groups in Victoria (and basked in the glory), the government’s flat announcement that the Western Highway duplication would go ahead as planned raises questions about how seriously the treaty process was intended.

The process’ fractured nature — group-by-group arrangements — simply embeds the government’s capacity to divide and rule. Now Victorian First Peoples have voted with their feet on that, by ignoring a questionable agreement made with the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation. The very fact that Victorian Aboriginal groups from all over have rejected the deal suggests they should reject separate treaties too — or any treaty with a state government, given that the latter has no constitutional capacity to transfer sovereignty.

But that’s just a particular example of the Andrews government’s strategy. The general process it applies is to make different progressive groups into political clients, and to use the fragmentation of progressivism, via identity politics, for political ends.

Thus, recent changes to the Victorian birth certificate laws — allowing for transgender people to change the sex on their birth certificate without undergoing surgery — was implemented at the behest of LGBTIQ groups. At least one womens’ group objected to the effects this would have on the autonomy of women’s spaces and services. The disregard of much of what some feminists fought for over decades was for one principal purpose: to outflank the Greens on LGBTIQ politics, where they have a strong base, and to keep sweet the born-again nanny-statist Fiona Patten.

Meanwhile across town, or across the corridor, vast sums are being poured into specific programs on violence against women (VAW) — most emphasising male behavioural change and long-term cultural re-engineering. To preserve the budget surplus, this money has to come from somewhere, and one source has been public and social housing funding, which is the lowest per capita of any state.

What is one of the root causes of sustained domestic violence? Feminised poverty and the absence of public housing, making it impossible for low-income women to leave violent men. But protest against this is fractured. Jess Hill’s recent book See What You Made Me Do explores the role of housing shortage in VAW, but then concludes of the Andrews government: “at last an Australian government is doing something about violence against women”. You almost have to admire this bait-and-switch.

It occurs with public transport too. This is shockingly under-served in Labor safe seats, such as those in Melbourne’s north; these places need double tracking, more trains, five-minute buses and relatively low-cost tram extensions. Instead the city gets Skyrail, which is oriented to car drivers, but is then celebrated as getting serious about public transport!

This dark genius is also present in heritage matters, where Boroondara council is penalised by Planning Minister Richard Wynne for being serious about protection of its Victorian and Edwardian neighbourhoods. Recently a bespoke amendment (C299) was imposed which allows 120-, 130-, 150-year-old houses to be demolished with a privately-issued demolition permit — a concrete-box apartment developers’ charter.

Meanwhile, as progressivism displaces leftism, and fragmentation of identity politics replaces solidarity, capital remains monolithic. Thus Victorian ALP state secretary Sam Rae is leaving the party to go to PWC. Who assessed Transurban’s bid for the West Gate Tunnel Project, for the Victorian governmentt? PWC. Who does Transurban’s independent audit? PWC!

Nothing illegal, nothing corrupt. Just the steady fusion of state and capital, with progressivism — and the once “left” wing of the party — providing coverage for the operation.

Interestingly, this division strategy is starting to have its own consequences –witness Sissy Austin’s piece in The Guardian, in which the potential destruction of the Djab Wurrung trees is framed as “emotional abuse”, in the language the government has prioritised regarding violence against women. Now it is being played back, legitimately, against them. Hopefully, activist groups have started to get wise to what this government really is: a bulldozer painted like a rainbow.

Peter Fray

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