Thursday, July 14, 2016

Pauline Hanson Is A Symbol Of Australian Democracy

The most offensive thing about Pauline Hanson has been the reaction her election has evoked from the Australian public.

The most offensive thing about Pauline Hanson isn't her unabashed xenophobia, her incorrigible disregard for cultural sensitivities, or her affront to the sensibilities of Western liberal political thought. No, truly the most offensive thing about Pauline Hanson has been the reaction her election has evoked from the Australian public.

Across all walks of political life, Hanson has been met with the same universal contempt; and unfortunately, that contempt has come to obscure the valuable role figures such as Hanson play in the development of political society.

Hanson's comeback is unmistakably a reflection of the populist phenomena sweeping the world; the same force which has given rise to Trump in the United States, Farage in the not-so-United Kingdom, and Le Pen in France (amongst many others). However, populism is not an exclusively right-wing phenomenon; Bernie Sanders, Syriza in Greece, and Podemos in Spain each attest to the success of populism on the other end of the spectrum.

While representatives from both populist strains are criticised for sitting at the fringe of their respective political wings, both have succeeded through their promise to represent the interests of the average citizen, their appeal to national (rather than international) values, and their successful critique of the state of establishment politics. Following this, while the substance of Pauline Hanson's policies may be unpalatable to many, the populist form of her political opposition is an important symbolic step in the direction of revitalising Australia's stagnant political culture.

First, populists are elected when voters realise how profoundly unrepresentative the modern democratic system has become. The emergence of a 'political class' far removed from the average constituent has produced a system which is democratic in name only. In reality, political participation tends to begin and end on election day, and local representatives are rarely more than a party mouthpiece.

The populist approach, in its appeal to the needs of the constituency as opposed to abstract conceptual discussion, has attempted to overcome the disingenuous nature of national politics. Instead of representing national interests at the local level, populists provide a voice for local interests at the national level. While Hanson's policies may be objectionable, her promulgation of this populist principle establishes an important precedent in the conduct of national politics.

Second, populists have been successful in identifying the breakdown of social cohesion as the scope of government expands. By failing to reconcile the increasingly internationalist outlook of government with the immediate domestic interests of citizens, the contemporary political system has overseen the failure of social integration. Political violence, terrorism, xenophobia, and the growing gap between rich and poor are all observable consequences of this.

The populist left and right have capitalised on the public perception of this widening political gulf and have oriented their policies towards bridging this divide. For the left, broadly isolationist tendencies and state-led economic policies are informed by the inequity of the class divide and consequences of austerity. For the right, harsh immigration policies and economic protectionism address emerging socio-political cleavages resulting from the real or imagined threat of immigrant crime and terrorism, and the relative decline of the national economy.

Finally, populists have expressed their dissatisfaction with the paralytically divisive nature of the political status-quo. The highly partisan nature of political debate has drawn attention away from relevant domestic issues and shifted it to the un-relatable issues of international trade, economic partnerships, the global fight against terrorism and the promulgation of democracy -- relatively universal concepts in the political mainstream.

The issue is not that domestically relevant political issues aren't being legislated on; it's that the debate surrounding them is so rife with obscurity, and so subject to manipulation by its political opposition, that the general public fail to engage with them. The way in which Obamacare was misconstrued by conservative media in the United States, or the way Turnbull's medicare policy was subject to an intentionally misleading, yet viciously effective, scare campaign by the Australian Labor Party, are examples of how schismatic the domestic political debate can be even on issues concerning the common good.

The rise of the populist parties on the left and right herald a positive shift in Australia's political culture; a move towards a system in which the political elite can be freely challenged in an arena formerly reserved for them alone. The views of Hanson may unequivocally violate the values of our inclusive and multicultural society; but her resurgence is undoubtably a reflection of the growing disillusionment and dissatisfaction segments of the Australian public feel towards the current state of national politics.

Australia's political leaders should not be so quick to dismiss Hanson's rise to political relevancy. Doing so may be a convenient way of reaffirming personal ideological commitments, but it doesn't address those fundamental motivating factors behind her election.

Whether the general public likes it or not, by providing representation to a substantial segment of the population who have until now been alienated from Australia's political system, Pauline Hanson is a symbol of Australian democracy. By mounting a successful challenge to the credibility of the nation's political class, Hanson's victory paves the way for a legitimate populist presence in Australia's political culture.


Federal election 2016: Rising minor parties leave Greens in shade

The Greens’ vote in the Senate has fallen in every state apart from Queensland, leaving the minor party facing the possible loss of three of its 10 senators once all ­ballot papers have been counted.

Nationally, the Greens have suffered a 0.9 per cent swing against them in the Senate as other minor parties have risen in popularity, led by One Nation (up 3.8 per cent), the Nick Xenophon Team (1.3 per cent) and Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party (1.8 per cent).

The party’s vote in the Senate peaked at 13.1 per cent in 2010 but has fallen to 8.3 per cent so far in this count.

The Greens have already lost a senator in South Australia, Robert Simms, who was second on the ticket behind Sarah Hanson-Young, after the NXT clinched three seats in the state.

Political analysts are now ­predicting the Greens could lose a Senate seat in Western Australia, where Rachel Siewert is trying to snatch the final spot, and another in Tasmania where former state leader Nick McKim is nervously awaiting his fate.

Those losses would mean the Greens’ 10 senators in the last parliament — its best representation in the Senate — would be cut to between seven and nine senators.

In Western Australia, the Greens’ vote has fallen 5.3 per cent from its strong showing in the 2014 Senate re-run election despite the Greens boasting of their biggest grassroots campaign ever organised in the state in the lead-up to the July 2 poll.

Senator Siewert will rely on preferences to secure the final Senate spot over the Nationals candidate Kado Muir.

Election analyst William Bowe told The Australian that based on an analysis he did yesterday of past Senate preference flows it ­appeared the contest between the Greens and the Nationals for the final seat in WA was a virtual dead heat.

“It is extremely close,” he said.

The battle between the Greens and Nationals comes as One ­Nation’s controversial candidate in Western Australia, Rod Culleton, appears to have secured the 11th spot in the Senate.

Mr Culleton has rejected ­suggestions that he will be ineligible to serve in the Senate due to a conviction for larceny in NSW.

It is understood the Greens are reasonably confident that Senator Siewert will win enough preferences from “progressive” parties, including the Australian Sex Party and Animal Justice Party, to outperform the Nationals’ Mr Muir.

Mr Muir stood for the Greens at the 2007 and 2010 elections. The antinuclear campaigner is aiming to become WA’s second indigenous senator after Pat Dodson.

Greens leader Richard di Natale declined to comment.

But sources in the party stressed they expected that the Greens’ performance would improve as the count progressed because absentee and below-the-line votes tended to favour the Greens.

The Greens’ vote in the Senate is down 0.8 per cent in NSW, 0.4 per cent in Victoria, 1.6 per cent in South Australia and 0.8 per cent in Tasmania, but is up 0.74 per cent so far in Queensland.


Election a disaster for small government

Simon Cowan

Whatever remains unclear about this election, one thing that is clear is that the electorate has rejected the vision of economically rational small government, at least in its current presentation.

Faced with a choice between Labor's nakedly 'tax and spend', big government offering and the Coalition's tax cut and business-led growth and jobs, scores of voters (both left and right) rejected the Coalition message.

Far from being scarred by minority government as a result of 2010, voters are actively courting populists and fringe parties, seemingly to tear up the orthodoxy; particularly economic orthodoxy.

Trump and Brexit are indications of a new alignment forming on the right -- socially conservative but leaning more towards economic nationalism than smaller government, with a healthy protest vote chucked in. Our election suggests this movement has significant backing here.

Despite the Coalition's problems, the election was hardly a stirring triumph for progressive politics either. The Greens primary vote is nearly 2% below its level in 2010 -- while Labor's primary vote sits just above 35%; 2% below the level Mark Latham achieved in 2004, in a defeat that handed both the House and the Senate to the Coalition.

Labor's success comes, at least in part, from being perceived as the least worst major party by the disaffected Left and Right. Labor's message of more spending now, with taxes on 'others' later, is much more compatible with the populists cause.

However, by defying election orthodoxy and admitting that deficits will continue to go backwards for the next four years, Labor did expose that the emperor of fiscal restraint has no clothes. Voters care more about what's in it for them than they do about fixing budget problems.

Given the instability in the lower house, not to mention the number of crossbenchers in the Senate holding brickbats for any cuts in entitlement spending, there is simply no way the government can deliver the tough budget necessary to restore fiscal balance in these circumstances.

For those who believe in small government it is time to return to the drawing board. We need to understand why two decades of economic success, driven by economically rational reforms of
Hawke, Keating, Howard and Costello, is increasingly rejected by voters in Australia and elsewhere.


Business confidence up

If you thought that financial market turmoil and political uncertainty would be enough to dent Australian business confidence, think again.

Despite everything that was thrown at them over the past few weeks — be it Brexit, the potential for a downgrade to Australia’s credit rating or the closeness of the federal election — confidence surged in June.

According to the latest National Australia Bank (NAB) business survey, the subindex measuring business confidence rose to +6 in June, some three points above the levels seen in May.

The NAB points out that the survey was undertaken at the height of recent financial market volatility, making the result even more remarkable.

“This suggests that firms are looking through external uncertainties, choosing to focus on the positives they see in their own business, at least for the time being,” said Alan Oster, chief economist at the NAB. “It is encouraging to see firm’s sentiment is holding up, particularly as we head into a period of political uncertainty”.

Adding to the bullish confidence reading, and perhaps underlining why it improved, firms indicated that operating conditions improved with the separate conditions subindex rising two points to +12, well above its long-run average of +5.
Source: NAB

“Firms continued to report very high business conditions, pointing to another strong quarter for the non-mining economy,” said Oster.

“The business conditions index rose from an already elevated level, hitting +12 index points in June, which is consistent with the post-GFC highs for the series.

“Encouragingly, the improvement was driven in large part by a lift in employment conditions, which are back above long-run average levels. Profitability also improved in June, while trading conditions were unchanged at very high levels,” he added.


The world just can't get enough of Australian iron ore

The world cannot get enough of Australian iron ore, particularly when it comes to China.  According to figures released by the Pilbara Ports Authority late Monday, total iron ore exports from world’s largest iron ore loading terminal, Port Hedland, surged to a record high in June.

Over the month iron ore exports totaled 41.808 million tonnes, easily blowing away the previous record high of 39.534 million tonnes shipped in March 2016. It was also 9% higher than the amount shipped one year earlier.

In cumulative terms, there was 454.2 million tonnes shipped over the past 12 months, the highest total on record and 3% above the levels recorded in the 2014/15 financial year.

“The increase in the port’s iron ore exports reflects the commissioning of the 55Mtpa [million tonne per annum] Roy Hill iron ore project,” said Vivek Dhar, a mining and energy commodities analyst from the Commonwealth Bank, following the release of the data.

China, as the largest end-destination for exports from the port, drove the record-breaking increase. Shipments to China jumped to 34.5 million tonnes in June, up 8.8% from May. It too was a monthly record, smashing the prior record of 33.9 million tonnes shipped three months earlier.

Exports from Port Hedland accounted for 58% of Australia’s total iron ore exports in 2015. Australia’s Department of Industry last week estimated that Australian iron ore exports would increase to 818Mt in 2016, up 6.7% on the levels of a year earlier.

It looks like there may be many more records to come, at least based on that assessment.


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