WATCHING the dismal activities of the Legislative Assembly has had me thinking (as opposed to the Commonwealth Parliament which terrifies me).
It wasn’t so long ago that there was some ideology, some meaning, to the major parties. Now the Liberals just howl that they’d be better managers, based on no particular available evidence they’ve got any management capabilities at all outside of Jeremy Hanson’s stint in the army.
Party memberships have hollowed out though. Twenty five years ago given a choice of watching “Kingswood Country” on the TV or going down to the club, getting a feed, a beer and having a good-natured political debate it’s easy to see party membership as the preferable alternative.
Now the internet brings the sum total of human entertainment to our fingertips and who has time to finish “Orange is the New Black”, before the next season of “Game of Thrones” starts, while racking up the levels in “Destiny”, listening to Frank Turner and stalking their exes on Facebook?
Intriguingly, from the same era a major change reshaped the political landscape in the country in ways very few people have remarked on.
Faced with sharply declining union memberships Paul Keating created compulsory superannuation.
Suddenly nine per cent of the income of all the nation was flowing into super funds and the union movement controlled about half of them via the industry funds (remember there was no choice of funds back then). The Labor movement suddenly became the party of finance with $165 billion under management.
To be fair, they give their members a far better deal than most of the rest of the sector, but in terms of letting the financial markets garnishee the wages of the entire country in fees to the benefit of the union movement, it was a masterstroke.
Meanwhile, the Liberals have been undergoing a transformation from the membership-based party of the middle classes it was founded as.
Pastoralists and the mining lease holders, once we called them landed gentry now we call them “primary producers”, never ceased their need for political representation commensurate with their wealth, so they chipped away at Menzies’ party and, with the collapse in membership, their time has come.
We end up with the ancient battle between the Tories and the Whigs on Australian shores!
The Liberals are now a party for the gentry on their landholdings, and Labor a party of industry and finance. The hopes, needs and wants of the wider electorate are mostly unimportant to them because there’s not much a red-hot ad campaign and some security theatre can’t achieve when the media thunders in harness.
Whigs and Tories are reborn more than a century after letting women and the poor vote wiped them out. All they had to do was kill off mainstream political engagement under a weight of well-earned cynicism.
Aside from the obvious problem of being governed by parties with minimal interest in the wellbeing of the wider population there’s a bigger issue to worry about.
You might have noticed that the future is bearing down on us like a runaway truck.
Industries are being torn apart by disruptive technologies and jobs are about to start haemorrhaging.
We’re going to need a political system ready to change the established order very quickly or we could all end up roadkill.
The new crop of Whigs and Tories show little sign of being up to the challenges of 1850, let alone 2020.
We might be facing the grisly reality that to save our world, our countries, and our lives, we’re going to need to get down to the club for a sub-branch meeting, eat a schnitzel, drink some beer, and engage in a political debate.
It seems like a small price to pay.