2012-02-26 On the political expediency of the notion of stability

Right now in Australia, the governing Labor party is embroiled in a leadership contest that 'is shaking the nation'. Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd face off for the Prime Minister of Australia tomorrow, Monday, by internal caucus vote. The media commentary is homogenous: Australians are tired, of all things, endless infighting in the Labor party. We are tired of 'faceless men' who decide party leadership. All 'we' want is 'stable government'.

Let us consider for a moment what is meant by this stability. By stable government, the media and politicians mean an orthodoxy, a government in power, delivering legislation 'on behalf of the Australian people', a government with a mandate, free to carry out an agenda, without contests in the media, in the open. What they mean by a stable government is what government in Australia has looked like for 20 years or so.

The line in voxpops on the evening news and opinion in the media is consistent: This 'leadership battle' has 'us' the Australian people as its 'casualties'. Us poor middle-class Australians.

Perhaps if we are strong Labor supporters, or slightly left of centre, we might despise this contest for what it is doing to opposition leader Tony Abbott, making him seem like a stable pair of hands, when he is likely to deliver a government to the right of even former Prime Minister Howard.

The ability of the media to provide an analysis that gives us what we think that we think is insidious. It's at the point where any reasonably intelligent person can read a major paper provided by Fairfax or News Limited and we have a list of ready stocked political positions that will be aired at middle class dinner tables across Australia. Is that really what you think or did you read it in the Herald?

What I am about to say will be obvious to many non-Australian readers familiar with the diplomatic cables, but if you are Australian, it might sound normative and politically opinionated: The stability in Australian politics is nothing but a view held by business and spread by the media to the enfranchised middle class. The middle class hold this opinion because they have little experience of instability, they take the notion of 'stability' as descriptive of 'Australian life'. Business holds the view that stability is better as a norm because political contest means speculative capital is subject to uncertainty. What is a contingent value to the business community becomes a descriptive reality to the middle class. Herein is one way political discourse functions.

Consider the last 20 years of Chinese government 'stability'. Stability in China has meant almost 10% growth year on year, the creation of jobs, the raising of standards of living, all with a strong consensus and widespread support from the Chinese middle classes for the government. This support has come because the factions in the ruling Communist Party have provided government that provides jobs, cars, houses, economic development and education for a new middle-class. But from the outside looking in, the problems in China are obvious, thanks to the media reporting these issues. The repression of Tibetan cultural life, the increasing poverty of peasant farmers still living under the communist system, the repression of Falun Dafa, the violence against demonstrators in Turkestan, efforts to undermine independent labour unions, lack of free speech imprisoning writers, etc. The differing notions of stability is obvious. Stability to the Chinese middle class is instability to many.

To Australians, I'd like you to consider that for each of us invested in the notion of our parliamentary democracy being stable and continuing to offer a large amount of people the chance at a house, a car, a job and continued economic growth, there is also a person in China wishing every bit as passionately for the future stability of their government as we do with ours. Of course, the Chinese middle class are by and large unaware or do not empathise with the victims of Chinese repression. This isn't to pass judgement on whether the oppression in China is better or worse than the oppression the Australian government is responsible for, merely to consider the world from a different point of view.

From the outside looking in, the last 20 years of Australian governance has meant nothing other than the grossest and most inhuman instability to the rest of the world and our poorest citizens.

Let's go 20 years back and start in 1990 to see 'stability' has meant: the first Gulf War, support for sanctions on Iraq that by UNICEF's statistics killed 500,000 children under the age of five and between 1 Jan 1997 and the start of 1999 saw 200,000 combat sorties flown over Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan that has no end in sight and has lasted over 10 years, and the war in Iraq, a domestic military intervention in the Northern Territory that saw the military deployed against our own citizens, the suspension of the racial discrimination act and the resulting queues for 'basics card' holder and 'normal welfare' recipients that amounts to a queue for blacks and a queue for whites in welfare offices all over the regions of the intervention in the Northern Territory. In the future, what does stability mean? Support for a US invasion of Iran, sanctions.

Are we suffering under a leadership contest, or perhap do we suffer more under what is called 'stability'? What this leadership contest means in parliament is nothing but political contest, something we need more of, not less. It's the similarities that are never talked about in Australia, much like political differences are never talked about in China. Political contest to business means uncertainty about what policies there will be, thus less chance to speculate or invest in the policies that are handed to them.

Seen this way, stability, an apparently neutral and universal value, is really only in the interests of a certain segment of society. In the context of geopolitics, it's as neutral as the word 'security'. When we talk of 'us' and 'our' need for stable government, this sort of stability is nothing but a politically expedient notion which we support in order to maintain the status quo. This 'leadership battle' with its 'casualties' isn't a real battle, and the casualties don't exist. Stability means real war, real casualties. We don't want stability, we want contest, we want change.

When the vote for Labor leader and Prime Minister takes place in Canberra on Monday, Australia will receive another 'stable pair of hands' that will enfranchise a dominant voice, restore business confidence, and continue business as usual. The opposition leader will say otherwise, but it's the similarities, not the differences, that are not talked about in Australian politics.

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