Sunday, 31 March 2019

The Greens, One Nation and the dynamics of reaction

People are getting incensed on Twitter about the idea the Liberals are advancing of One Nation being an obverse of the Greens, as though to do so were somehow illegitimate, but in fact they are 100-percent right although most of them would not know what the actual delineations of the process was that resulted in the emergence of One Nation in Queensland.

The origins of both parties lies in the post-WWII settlement and the dynamic that regulated their appearance is the usual one of action and reaction, a law that seems to apply equally well to both the physical world and the world of politics.

The war ended and with it ended a long period of economic stagnation. The causes of the war are complex but they mainly boil down to stupidities that were allowed to fester at the beginning of the century and that resulted in the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. Once that monster had been put back in its cage, world leaders set up a number of large organisations that were intended to prevent a repetition of the disaster. In Australia one of them was the Reserve Bank of Australia but there are plenty of them and they still operate globally.

At the same time, the economies of the western world started growing at a staggering rate and to service ours the Australian government set up a number of new universities that were designed to produce graduates with qualifications in such disciplines as engineering and accounting. Because of the way universities work, there were suddenly also a lot more humanities graduates and this changed the country in a number of ways.

Another thing that changed at the same time was the way immigration was handled, and this would have major repercussions further down the track. Because of the realities of post-war immigration the Liberal government in the 1960s started to take apart the White Australia Policy that had controlled immigration in the country since the start of the century. The process was accelerated by Labor in 1974 and when they got back in power in 1975 the Liberals kept the momentum up by embracing multiculturalism as official policy.

One of the ways the emergence of new universities changed the country was to provide a base for the Australian Greens, which was formed in 1992 as a result of the success of a particularly militant part of the union movement called the Builders Labourers Federation. The BLF had taken a lot of progressive ideas from the universities in the 1970s and had made them union policy, including Aboriginal land rights and feminism. They were also very strong on what was then called the ecology, but which we now refer to as the environment. They went down in flames because of their aggressive use of work bans (the so-called "Green Bans") and were stopped from operating by apparatchiks from interstate egged on by construction industry bosses.

Even if you don’t acknowledge the success of the BLF in the emergence of the Greens, it was matched by that of a Tasmanian anti-development movement that led in the 1970s to protests against plans to dam Lake Pedder. This was later galvanised by a plan to dam the Gordon River, which resulted in protests in the early 1980s. What both the NSW and Tasmanian movements had in common was the participation of educated, young, urban residents who were listening to the new language coming out of the universities. Words like “the greenhouse effect” and “climate change” began to appear more frequently in the 1980s and to modify public debate around things like the economy, and transportation and energy policy.

The 80s also saw the rise of xenophobia of a brand that Pauline Hanson made popular in 1996 when she was put on the federal Liberal ticket in Queensland. One of its first exponents was a conservative historian named Geoffrey Blainey who in 1984 voiced anti-Asian sentiments during an address at a Rotary conference in the Victorian city of Warrnambool. The same man was also vigorously exercised by the environmental movement. He couldn’t understand how so many young people could object to the rise of technology in the post-war era of cheap energy. How could you object to indoor toilets, private transport, domestic appliances, petrochemicals (a completely new industry, that didn’t exist before the war), pharmaceuticals, soaring highways, and high-rise living? He even wrote a book about this phenomenon, titled ‘The Great Seesaw’, which came out in 1988 and which attempts to establish the case for a theory where, at certain times in the course of a civilisation, anti-intellectual forces threaten the wellbeing of the community. He saw environmentalism as just this sort of force.

When anti-intellectualism did appear along with the Liberal preselection of Pauline Hanson for the federal seat of Oxley, he might have been surprised to see his own ideas reflected by words used in her campaign statements. Although I’m not sure. He might in fact have been unsurprised. He might indeed have been flattered. Some gun postgraduate student can go into the archives to find out what Blainey said when Hanson appeared. He must have said something. (It should be noted for the record that Blainey is still alive, and the conservative media still seeks out his input from time to time.)

So, Hanson wasn't the first to complain about Asian immigration but when she entered politics as an independent MP she galvanised parts of the community who had felt the influence of progressive ideas in the mainstream and who resented it. University graduates, naturally, supported the government’s immigration policies because they thought that they conformed to an ethos they believed in that was based on what were considered in the era of the post-war counter-culture to be universal human rights.

Hanson, like Trump, viscerally distrusts such ideas and so her emergence marks the appearance of the mirror-image of the Greens. She’s the supreme anti-intellectual, the face of white-bread, conservative, suburban Anglos in the same way that Greens leaders like Bob Brown are the face of educated, inner-city, progressive elites. If you offer people something that is objectively good for everyone some of them will naturally (though perversely) think that it is bad for them personally. And if you add the rise of neoliberalism, which cruelled the spread of new wealth that appeared in the wake of the war, an ideology which threatened to keep many people poor who might otherwise have aspired to belong to a growing middle class, then you give people even more of a motive to hate.

The Greens and One Nation are two sides of the same coin and it puzzles me why some people object to the comparison. Perhaps they think that 15 percent of Queenslanders are not racist dullards? (Note: I lived in regional Queensland for five-and-a-half years.)

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