Can the ‘mad monk’ win?

Labor cannot beat Abbott in a race to the right. Image: Cinephobia/Flickr

Liberal leader and extreme conservative Tony Abbott, who famously described climate change as “absolute crap”, is looking dangerously close to becoming prime minister on August 21. The prospect of a government headed by a Christian fundamentalist nicknamed “the mad monk” has struck dread into many progressive-minded people.

The August 7 Sydney Morning Herald reported that a Herald/Nielson poll showed the Liberal/National Coalition had increased its lead in the primary vote to 44% to Labor’s 36%. Coalition led Labor 51% to 49% on a two-party preferred basis.

On July 30, said polls put support for the Greens at 12%.

At the start of the campaign, Labor led the Coalition by 55-45 on a two-party preferred basis.

Who would have thought a year ago that the ALP would be in such a bad position?

Labor’s problems were precipitated by a series of blunders, which undermined the record high levels of support for former PM Kevin Rudd.

Worse, with the Coalition making some ground against Labor’s proposed emissions trading scheme, Labor panicked and dropped it in April. Regardless of the fact that the scheme was not capable of tackling climate change, this fed the sense that Labor stood for nothing but holding power.

This was followed by Rudd’s brutal sacking, orchestrated by factional headkickers, his replacement by his deputy Julia Gillard and the backtracking on the proposed tax on mining companies. This further fed the sense that the party’s only principle is power.

Labor’s problem is it offers no alternative to the brutal neoliberalism pushed by the Coalition. Labor has largely continued the same policies of the former Coalition government headed by John Howard.

In the election campaign, Gillard has followed the tried-and-failed Labor tactic of attempting to match the Coalition policies to avoid attack from the right. As usual, this has allowed the Coalition to shift even further right, dragging Labor with it.

The absence of serious policy differentiation on issues such as health, education, housing, public transport and climate change, allows the Coalition to dictate terms with a fear-mongering campaign about the need to “stop the boats” carrying refugees.

This plays both to racist sentiments that exist in Australia and serious worries among many ordinary people about access to public services and a potential further drop in living standards.

It is classic scapegoating — the tiny numbers of people who arrive in Australia in boats to seek refuge are no threat to access to services or living standards.

But in the absence of either major party offering any other solution to people’s concerns, it has had an impact.

Labor cannot win a “race to the right”. Gillard cannot beat Abbott by trying to be more like Abbott that the man himself.

A further problem with Labor failing to differentiate itself is it reduces the election to a personality contest.

And it is precisely this dull, apolitical, stage-managed charade that people are sick of.

The latest poll results are less about Abbott becoming more popular and more about the pathetic performance of Labor and Gillard. An anonymous Labor insider told on August 2 that the previous week had been the “lamest” in the history of modern election campaigns.

Gillard’s nauseating campaign has been full of robot-like repetition of meaningless slogans and endless spin.

With this alienating people, she declared on August 2 that she would reveal her “real” self to voters. This obvious piece of further public relations spin simply confirmed what everyone knew — Gillard’s performance up until then had been completely stage-managed.

Only the most naïve could possibly buy this latest spin.

Unfortunately for Gillard, the problem is too much of her real self is leaking out. Part of the reason for the fall in her fortunes is the leaking to the media of alleged statements she made behind-closed doors. Gillard was alleged to have opposed a small increase in the old-age pension on the grounds that “old people don’t vote Labor”.

Gillard denied she made the comments, but most people stop believing such politician denials long ago.

Most of what has passed for “debate” in the campaign has involved petty point-scoring. Major issues have gone almost unmentioned.

Action on climate change will be delayed under both parties. Queers will remain second-class citizens. Aboriginal rights are completely off the agenda.

All of this has further emboldened Abbott to keep playing the race card. reported that, on August 4, he went after Muslims, saying: “I find the burqa a particularly confronting form of attire and I would very much wish that fewer Australians would choose it.”

Others in the Coalition have called for burqas to be banned, citing the threat of “Islamisation”.

Despite attempts to spin Abbott in a way more attractive to female voters, the conservative Christian Abbott’s long-held desire to turn back the clock on the gains of the women’s liberation movement has slithered through his carefully crafted media image.

On August 3, Abbott trivialised anti-rape campaigns in ridiculing Gillard’s pleas for further public debates. “Are you suggesting to me that when it comes from Julia ‘No’ doesn't mean ‘No’”, Abbott said, repeating the comment numerous times.

The prospect of Abbott in the Lodge is disturbing, but both parties are dangerous to ordinary people and the planet. The increased support for the Greens, who could end up holding the balance of power in the Senate, is a promising sign of desire for progressive change.

A big vote for progressive candidates on August 21 will send a message people are sick of the anti-people policies of Labor and Liberal — and help the struggle to build a political force that genuinely represents the interests of working people.


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