Sam Roggeveen of the Lowy Institute has written about the potential of an ‘Australian Brexit’ due to a global political transformation (ideology and strategy) towards radical white nativist ideas, isolationism and putting pressure on mainstream parties to comply, while being presented as organic or the ‘people’s will’.
There has been gross over simplification of Brexit to supposedly avoid bureaucracy, the EU, Europe and increasing antipathy towards immigration by ageing electorates through populist politicians.
However, many would suggest Australia had a form of Brexit upon colonisation via the First Fleet 1888 by the British, then after Federation in 1901 the bi-partisan ‘White Australia Policy’ inspired by British eugenics movement (and finally ended after mostly through opposition by NGOs, churches etc.).
Fast forward to the supposed crisis of Tampa when then Australian Prime Ministers helped start the demonisation of refugees with able support from mainstream media including Murdoch’s NewsCorp, then carried further by society in creating antipathy towards non-Europeans; a new proxy white Australia policy.
Further, there are clear links between ideology, political and media tactics of white nativism or white nationalism inspired by eugenics, which has been mainstreamed in the US and UK; with further links onto the fringes of Europe.
White nationalism, white nativism or eugenics all share a clear architecture including astro turfing, manipulation of media, fake news etc., that can also be linked to radical right libertarians or elements of neo-liberalism by global corporates, via think tanks, to deflect attention away from tax avoidance, interference in domestic policies, cast doubt on climate change etc.
Brexit for Australia?
November 5, 2019 — 12.00am
It is Canberra’s new conventional wisdom: the government’s unexpected election victory gives Prime Minister Scott Morrison stature and stability that his recent predecessors all lacked. The last decade of political dysfunction is behind us. The trouble is, this view is based solely on very recent events in one country alone. What if we took a global perspective over a longer period?
A political transformation has been under way in Western democracies for decades now, quietly and in the background for most of that time, though in recent years it has broken cover. In the US it produced Donald Trump, in the UK Brexit, and in Europe the rise of new right-wing populist movements.
Western democracy has hollowed out. It has happened in two stages. First, the public has drifted away from major political parties, the institutions that once connected them to the political process. In every Western nation, mainstream centre-right and centre-left parties are in decline. In the early to mid-20th century, party affiliation was a question of class, religion and family inheritance – you voted a certain way because your parents and peers did too. But for decades now membership of the big parties has fallen and the share of the vote they can rely on has decreased.
In response (and this is stage two), the big parties have found new ways to survive. They have evolved from amateur mass-membership organisations to small, professionalised outfits financially reliant on big donors and, increasingly, the state. Other than at election time, the big parties don’t really need the public.
So, voters withdrew from political parties, and the parties responded with a withdrawal of their own. The result is that the public square is left empty and politics is hollow.
In Europe, right-wing populist parties have done well because the minority of voters who are attracted to those ideas have slipped from the grip of the big parties. But as France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Greens show, the big parties are not bleeding votes only to the right, they are losing them in the centre and on the left too.
In America, the weakening of parties helped mavericks like Trump and Bernie Sanders, who tied themselves to the big parties out of self-interest rather than conviction.
In the UK and Australia, the decline of the big parties has produced a different kind of instability. In both countries the voting system makes it hard for small parties to win seats even though their vote share has increased. Yet as the big parties have become less popular, they have also become less stable and more vulnerable to shocks from outsiders and ambitious MPs. That’s what caused Brexit, essentially an internal Tory Party dispute stirred up by Eurosceptic backbenchers and Nigel Farage’s UKIP.
It is also what has produced the leadership churn in Australian politics over the last decade, a succession of tight election results, and two periods of minority government. Australians are abandoning the major parties at record rates. At the same time, these shrinking and insular parties are increasingly cut off from a bored and unengaged Australian public.
Lacking genuine connections to a deep social base, major-party MPs look to their peer groups in politics and the media for inspiration, which is where they got the idea that changes of leadership might fix their problems and why, for instance, Morrison borrows Trumpian language on “negative globalism”.
The 2019 election resolved none of these underlying problems. True, the Liberal and Labor parties have now changed their rules so that leadership coups are harder to mount, but this is much more than just a leadership issue.
Again, if we broaden our view beyond Australian shores, we can see why. Angela Merkel has been German chancellor for 14 years, yet in that period, German politics has been completely transformed – Alternative fur Deutschland, a populist party that didn’t even exist when Merkel took office, is now the official opposition in the Bundestag.
It would be foolish to assume that Australian politics, still dominated by two parties the public cares little for, is suddenly immune to upheaval on that scale.
Sam Roggeveen is director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute and author of Our Very Own Brexit: Australia’s Hollow Politics and Where It Could Lead Us.’