How the pandemic has re-shaped our politics

Once or twice a century nations experience cathartic events that shift the very foundations of the country and the general public decide that things must change.

2020 and 2021 will go down in history as a period where hundreds of thousands of Australians switched their vote to Labor Premiers who prioritised the health and welfare of their citizens over a survival of the fittest economic mentality.

The actions of Labor Premiers changed the trajectory of the pandemic and effectively routed 30 years of the neo-liberal trickle down economics burned into the DNA of the modern Liberal party.

The Murdoch media has unsuccessfully tried to airbrush from history the disgraceful and actually deadly white-anting and undermining of Premiers Palaszczuk , McGowan and Andrews.

It is conduct unbecoming a teenager, let alone a national leader, to run public health strategy on partisan lines, and yet this was Scott Morrison’s strategy last year.  Now an extended lockdown has become essential in a Liberal state, the inevitable backflip has arrived.

In the Prime Minister Morrison’s humiliating July 30 post National Cabinet press conference he endorsed earlier Victorian lock-downs as a model policy.  Surely this was an endorsement also of Labor’s primary belief the greater the success against the virus the greater the success in protecting jobs and the economy.

The unprecedented Queensland and Western Australian election results were an expression of belief from everyday people that by wearing masks, observing lockdowns and heeding the advice of medical experts the things we do together make us strong.

Yet the unfolding pandemic disaster in NSW still hasn’t silenced the “let it rip” brigade that has captured sizeable sections of the Liberal party in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

Labor stimulus vindicated

The Prime Minister’s verbal gymnastics on the evening of July 30 have, for the time being, camouflaged the grass roots conservative reaction to what they see as a repression of personal freedoms and budget irresponsibility.

There is seething resentment at a Liberal Prime Minister putting on lay-buy their surplus at any cost, and temporarily endorsing Labor’s Keynesian fiscal policy.

Recall that Australian Labor’s response to the GFC was denied, derided and trashed, then investigated by a Royal Commission, and then vilified again following the Liberal’s disastrous 2014 austerity budget.

No doubt the Liberal’s success in demonising government intervention as a virus, along with their subsequent success in 2019 scuttling Labor’s bulky but highly progressive offerings,  has made them victim to their own propaganda campaigns.

The classic social democratic response of our State Premiers to this health crisis is a reminder that modern Australia takes for granted the significant Labor policy platforms embedded in our political and economic life – think Medicare, think national superannuation, think fiscal stimulus.

Labor found out, much to our cost, at the last federal election that the Conservatives will never stop spreading misinformation to destroy and remove progressive platforms.

Why else over the last 8 months would the Trumpified Liberals, along with significant sections of big business, refuse to concede going early and going hard with lock-downs was the only way to protect the people and the economy?

Activist government has been demonised in Australia and around the developed world with increasing ferocity over the last 40 years. 

This pandemic, here and also in the United States, has seen the people temporarily put an end to that, but these campaigns will not stop.

Support for Labor Premiers has reinforced Labor’s traditional position that government should step in to reduce economic insecurity and inequality.

Next steps

In the next decade the pandemic and its aftermath, along with climate change, is going to completely reshape global, national and local politics.  Just as the conservatives internationally are in deep trouble on the pandemic they are as deeply in trouble on inequality and climate change.

The pandemic deniers and the climate deniers think they are having a traditional argument with Labor about government intervention, but they are really arguing with a more formidable and less sentimental foe – health science and the laws of physics.

The pandemic has given us the opportunity to this time win the argument that ordinary people understand these challenges and only politicians that don’t care about working people and their communities will deny them.

The right’s success in demonising the whole political class over the last 20-30 years has depleted the reservoir of voter trust. 

Progressive parties rely on voter trust to shape and win a mandate for change.  The leadership of Labor Premiers has gone some way to restoring that

In this world Federal Labor must start with a core set of saleable intelligent reforms that build political capital for the next tranche of reforms and the one after that.

Anthony Albanese understands Biden’s success in the US Presidential Campaign avoided the trap that his predecessor Hillary Clinton, and Labor’s unsuccessful 2019 campaign, fell into: offering too much too quickly.

Labor is ambitious for progressive reform from tax, health, superannuation, industrial relations and climate.  But if the 2019 election taught us anything it’s that we can’t do them all at once.

The truth is old fashioned scare campaigns work.

Lessons learnt

Labor’s election review concluded that Labor must have a strong message centred around growth and jobs.

A once in 100 year pandemic and net zero by 2050 surely suggests that our agenda will centre around health, job creation, industrial relations, re-industrialisation and emissions reductions.

All of these reform areas are challenging.  Leaving tax in the mix would simply take us back to 2019.

That election loss was narrow and deeply disturbing.  To win in 2022 Labor understands that our approach must be radically different.  We have a democratic obligation to build the broadest possible coalition to win and set the scene for a broader debate in the years ahead.

We know that when the going gets tough government really matters and we simply can’t fight on too many fronts.

There are many paths to a fairer and more sustainable society and as our Labor Premiers have demonstrated with unity the things we do together are the things that make us strong.

Australians are always at their best when times are tough.  They fight hard to look after each other and they want leaders prepared to take difficult decisions and be honest with them. 

That’s why Premiers Andrews, Palaszczuk and McGowan are highly regarded, and the Prime Minister is not.

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