Saturday, August 28, 2010

Government proving automatic for the people

Despite the fact a week has passed after the Australian election and there is no government, the sky has not yet fallen in. The two major parties are more or less the same strength in parliament though the Aus Tories could still win 76-74 with the bush bloc (a gang of four not three). But as the bushies are realising, there is no good reason to sack the government. The rest of us are also finding out it does not matter yet who has the key to the Lodge.

Raymond Williams once said there were no masses just ways of seeing people as masses. But masses are useful constructs and they are the ways in which we govern our lives. The laws are still generally obeyed, the courts do their duty unimpeded and the health system is showing no more signs of collapse than usual. No one has stopped coming to work or school and very few protest in the streets. The media has kept publishing, though they and the markets were the only ones in any way agitated with the political outcome. People at home consume their media in the same detached way they consume their burger.

Despite the mcdonaldisation of the media, political stasis won’t last forever. For now it is re-assuring to see how unimportant politics is in everyday life. What the hung parliament is telling us is the choices we make to elect a government are small compared to our choices we make every minute of our lives in our jobs, in our relationships and in the haphazard of game of chance we encounter whenever something happens. We create our own politics to deal with all these realities of identity.

British writer Frank Furedi called this out in his visit to Australia before the election. Furedi said he was struck by the depoliticised character of the election with no one with strong views on any of the so-called top issues except for hardened party activists. “Yet people were far from complacent, and they clearly wanted to improve their lives,” Furedi wrote. “What really seemed to preoccupy them was their economic security: jobs, high prices, their children’s future.”

Yet even Furedi had to concede it was an interesting election in the end. If we are no longer sure what parties stand for any more, we remain interested in the health of the broader polity. Julia Gillard is still officially the Prime Minister but the Prime Minister’s site acknowledges the caretaker period has not ended. The transcript of the PM’s media conference today on the Labor site shows a steely Gillard is still very much in the hot seat.

Rob Oakeshott is one of the independents she must deal with and he has proposed a unity cabinet. This is exactly what Australia needs for the next ten years if it is serious about tackling climate change, a topic close to Oakeshott's heart. "It is a cheeky option, and it's not for me to pick cabinets, [but] Malcolm Turnbull in a Julia Gillard government or Kevin Rudd as foreign minister in a Tony Abbott government?" he said. "Here is a moment when we can explore the edges and explore outside the box." He was soon put back in his box. As politicians and the media reminded him, power is not for sharing in this country.

Yet maybe the paradigm of adversarial politics is changing after all. In the vacuum of ideas Labor and Liberal have more in common that what divides them. The Independents have been a refreshing shot in the arm. For Gillard, the bush bloc may even be easier to deal with than the so-called "faceless men" of Labor politics. It might just be the “Real Julia” can face a minority government future with more confidence than if she was handed the poisoned chalice of outright victory.

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