Scott Morrison
(Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

The slow bicycle race that is Australian politics has had an early breakout with Scott Morrison’s Lowy Institute speech announcing his opposition to “negative globalism” and expanding the notion of a “promise of Australia” aired during the election.

The speech has raised the question as to whether this represents Morrison going in a Trumpian direction. It does of course, but only insofar as Trump is going in a general direction of the right in a very particular manner. Looking for “country X’s Trump” is a category error; Trump is, in part, a product of the unique nature of the American presidency, an elected God-emperor. As Boris Johnson’s fraught few weeks show, you can’t be even a bit like that in the Westminster system. One can see a certain idea of “the right” shining through Morrison’s speech, but what is happening is part of a deeper global process.

Morrison’s Lowy speech has a dual character. Even the least fair-minded person would have to acknowledge that it is reasonable in a way quite different to one of Tony Abbott’s deranged on-stage rummages inside his own head. It sets out a balance between the individualist (as represented by global rights liberalism) and communalist (the nation, the collective), coming down more on the side of the latter than the former. That is best expressed by saying that the right’s double-headed designation is now on the conservative side of liberal-conservative, rather than equally balanced.

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That is partial of course. Stuff about “negative globalism” is used by the right in the same way they screech about “multiculturalism” — as a way of masking their continued support for very-high volume immigration, with no regard for the effects such immigration has on the particular local communities.

There’s also little objection to the real process of globalism, the global market, which has an anti-democratic power that puts the fiddly-widdly UN to shame. Once again, objecting to, say, a UN ruling that electronic cable ends should have no heteronormative gender designations is a good way of diverting attention from the failure to stop, say, the drift in agricultural ownership, in which increasing amounts of our produce is directly supplied overseas as part of extended supply chains of vertically integrated corporations, cutting out local workers and generally making people feel like strangers in their own land.

One could supply numerous other examples. For the right, “positive globalism” is letting your country be drawn so far into the global market that its capacity for self-sufficiency is radically undermined. Thank God it has the UN as something to blame.

The third part of it is foreign policy, of course. As China and other powers become varying degrees of competitor to a weak, divided and badly-led US, a system of global control is slipping away — confirmed this week by the pitiful sight of Turkey’s Erdoğan more or less dictating terms to Trump.

As their global power weakens, the US and the UK will be increasingly disposed to unilateral action and Australia will be there. The shout-out also reaffirms our support for Israel in the UN — we are the only non-drowning island who will line up to support its disregard of UN resolutions.

The fourth part of Morrison’s new schema is genuine, religiously-directed and something of a departure from Howard-Costello secular liberal conservatism. This is the Morrison government lining up with the “right international”: Russia and eastern Europe/western Asian countries keen to retain strong anti-LGBTIQ laws; Indian chauvinism in Kashmir; homicidal anti-abortion laws in Latin America; Saudi misogyny, and so on.

Ultimately he wants to join their number: roll back LGBTIQ rights, extend the most repressive “free speech/whistleblower” regime in the Anglosphere, and reject any criticism of such as “globalist rights talk”.

There is no reason to suppose the religious dimension of this is purely strategic. Morrison is a campaigning Pentecostal before he is anything else. Multiple times he’s taking the opportunity supplied by a PM’s duties and power to proselytise.

And the fifth part, the local? Well that is directed to the challenge of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation of course, and the ongoing collapse of Coalition electoral hegemony, as independents eat into their vote in some places and the PHONies do elsewhere. Regional Australia is in permanent social decline, and only a trillion-dollar, decades-long policy would reverse capital-regional imbalance, and that ain’t happening.

Where there’s a grassroots movement — e.g. Indi — actual democracy flourishes. Where it’s absent, conspiracy theories cloud the horizon. If you think mutterings about the UN, George Soros and gender fluidity ain’t good for votes in some places, you need to spend more time in country pubs.

Morrison set the course for that in the Lowy speech, while also elaborating the “promise of Australia” image and connecting it to that right nationalism/communalism, which I think resonated greatly in the election and which Labor’s geniuses (with their killing slogans of… [404 file not found]) sneered at.

Morrison and his team have crafted a global vision for local people, and in so doing renewed centre-right politics with a new mediation between populism and establishment liberal-conservatism which is right on the money. The only tiny problem is that it’s all a national pseudo-consensus based on our hugely leveraged and highly-sectionalised prosperity, which demands relentless growth.

The whole thing will come apart very quickly if there’s any sort of serious faltering, and “the promise to/of Australia” will be a broken one. I’d take some political hope from that, if Labor weren’t tucking into the slipstream behind the Coalition hoping to glide to a narrow victory, and thus be even less likely to see the bump in the unquestioned “road ahead”, or the gap where it falls away entirely.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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