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Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

Well, my God, it has actually happened.

For years, it’s been clear that the collapse of institutions in Australia has turned us from Scotland of the south into an Anglo banana republic.

What was once a relatively robust politics has now been so hollowed out under the pretext of an emergency that we have a pseudo democracy.

We have an ex-military governor-general appointed by a prime minister who has advised him to suspend parliament until August, as this crisis reaches its height.

We have cabinet government displaced by a rolling COAG mashup. Now we have another “cabinet” of good ol’ boys, a bunch of CEOs, with Greg Combet along as a sort of willing hostage. 

Using the general public’s widespread disenchantment with politics, and relying on a supine mainstream media and parliamentary press corps, the Morrison government has de facto abolished processes of scrutiny, review and contestation. Guatemala down under.

Labor has made a huge error — strategic and moral-political — in not raising hell about all this. Yeah, I know they voted against the closing of parliament. But only in parliament.

We need the leader of the opposition raising this every time a TV camera is put in front of his face. The fact of an actual and vigorous opposition is now all that is standing between us and a functional soft junta. The absence of such, as Labor grandee Barry Jones noted two days ago (tweeted out by Philip Adams) ensures that such occurs.

Look, I get Labor’s strategic dilemma. Australia is such an atomised, anti-political country, and the political caste is so separated from everyday Australians, that it’s easy to suspend parliament and make that look like an in-touch response to an emergency, as if politics is something you only have when nothing’s at stake.

Labor played the bipartisan thing from the start, and has confined itself to criticising on specific issues, and playing the therapy card, wittering on about anxiety, etc.

There’s two reasons for Labor to change its approach.

The first is because it’s right. Yes, it’s hard yards to sell our dog of a parliament — the Australian House of Reps is the worst Westminster chamber in the world — as actual democracy. But it’s got to be done. The material effect of a de facto abolition of the legislature, by an executive within that legislature, makes the opposition the embodiment of such democracy as we have at the moment.

We have a hopelessly ad hoc spread-prevention process (letting, of all things, a death boat through, and only introducing airport temperature screening this week) a misdirected, business-directed economic rescue package (with a bit of scripture thrown in), and hundreds of thousands of people up in arms about it.

Meanwhile, the one person who could get big media time to say this is playing Baldrick to Scomo’s Blackadder. If you can’t imagine Morrison as Blackadder, yeah, that’s how bad it is.

But the second reason to throw away the focus group findings and just act is that Labor will soon find itself snapped between a rapidly radicalising population and a strategically superior Coalition ready to jump left at any moment. Labor’s now calling for official rent and mortgage suspension. At the start of this week it was making a plea for landlords to be kind to tenants.

The rent strike movement (which this publication was the first media outlet to call for) got beyond Labor, the Greens and even the radical left so fast that they had to play catch up.

Good god, Solomon Lew is now on rent strike. When Just Jeans has gone to the left of you, check your politics (thoough Just Jeans would be a great name for a 17th century pamphleteer. Justice Jeans “Light Shining in Brunswick”).

Having been left at the centre by radical social processes — and its worth considering that Australia’s early hoarding was a measure of radical action, albeit in an atomised, individualised form — Labor could now get body-slammed by Coalition economic nationalism.

What if, in two weeks, Scomo announces a huge further stimulus package and the nationalisation of Qantas? Without Labor having proposed a distinctly left program for the next stage of the crisis? Then it’s over for Labor. The Coalition will have become the whole of politics.

Labor needs to remind itself that, in mainstream terms, it has always been the democratising force in Australian life, against perpetually, imminently anti-democratic, anti-Labor forces. And always the nation-building force, against representatives of capital eager to keep us permanently underdeveloped, and subject to UK/US dominance.

Now is the time to stand for what’s left of our democracy, and our social solidarity, and bloody represent! History, to the defeated, is not going to ask what the focus group thinks.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

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