As the dust settles from the federal election, it is time to take stock and think about this changing political landscape. The continued decline of the primary vote of the major parties, highlights both their failings in connecting to voters and the challenge of governing a diverse population. A population with competing priorities.
Much optimism has entered the political dialogue in this time – and it is hard not to get carried away for various reasons.
We have a real opportunity for Australia to produce decent energy and climate change policies. The extraordinary support for the impressive independents and the Greens combined with the failure of both One Nation and Clive Palmer’s United Party means action is possible.
Anthony Albanese has promised reform, not revolution. He positioned himself as an architect and mediator. He aims to bring the union movement, business groups and environmental reformists together. Combined with a commitment to prioritise an independent corruption commission, the Uluru Statement of the Heart, and a promise to reform the toxic work culture in Canberra.
Given the disarray the new opposition find themselves in, there is a sense that Labor has at least two terms to implement their agenda. Time, however, is not on the new government’s side.
A lesson from America: the great reversal
Australia is not the USA but there are always lessons to learn. In the USA the story of optimism and a progressive re-set proved illusory. Within twelve months of Biden’s 2020 election victory and almost universal support for Black Lives Matter, there has been a reactionary backlash.
Nowhere is this more evident than the moral panic that has emerged around critical whiteness studies.
How did an obscure legal theoretical framework become such a topic of controversy and a rallying cry for a new frontline on of cultural wars?
There are three reasons. First, the economic life of the average American has not improved under Joe Biden. Through a combination of the lingering impacts of Covid, supply chain pressures, inflation and hollowed out industries, big parts of America continue to struggle. These sections of the population feel forgotten.
The second related reason is the sense of the lived experience between Washington and the parts of the country that feel left behind. For those people that have seen their livelihoods disappear, or live in a state of precariousness, there is a sense that the Democrats are more interested in reforms of second order issues that do nothing to improve their lives. The Democrats are seen to be pursuing their own culture wars.
The third reason is resentment around political correctness. It is hard to capture just how deep this runs in parts of America but is reflected by a Cato research paper that found 62 percent of Americans do not feel free to openly speak.
In my own research, I spoke to several former Democrats that turned their back on the party. Why? Because they felt judged not on their politics but on their lack of political correctness. This sense of being sneered at was recently captured by Tish Harrison Warren’s New York Times as America’s ‘scorn problem.’
The language used to describe this experience was around a sense of shame. Such an emotion quickly turns to anger and provides insights as to what has fuelled America’s great cultural reversal.
Australia cultural fault lines
Australia’s election result has highlighted our own economic and cultural fault lines. The inner urban, suburban, peri-urban, and rural lines that have emerged are not simply about distance from the CBD, but about the cultural expectations and economic lived realities.
The Teal Wave and the make-up of the new House represents potential for important reforms, the challenge is that there is little connection with the working class and immigrant communities across the suburban and peri-urban regions. These communities want to see the new government prioritise cost of living, wages, economy vulnerability and aspirations.
Further, other cultural issues play a role: from the deep role that religion plays in these communities to the mistrust of government, the gap between the make-up of the parliament and significant sections will be tested.
With economic uncertainty heading our way driven by inflation, supply chains, the war in Europe and ongoing tensions with China, the new government has little time to waste.
The problem is, however, like America the reform agenda outlined by the government is considered by many to be focused on second order issues.
It is why Peter Dutton, in his first speech as opposition leader, reached out to the ‘forgotten people.’
Throw in players such as Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer who benefit from divisive politics, be prepared for Australia to experience our own great reversal.
Professor James Arvanitakis is an Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University, the Patron of Diversity Arts Australia, and the founder of Respectful Disagreement: a brave spaces project.