Thursday, November 29, 2007

Changing Times in Australia

I am not sure that I can put what I want to say in sensible, structured, terms. Consider this a little like a painting, abstract, impressionist.

To begin by picking up two points I have made in recent posts.

Point one. Because of the accidents of life, I now longer have access to the range of views across Australia that I used too. This means, simply, that I am not able to cross-check the views of one group against another.

Point two. I have made the point a number of times that on all the evidence I have Australia has come to another change point in social attitudes. I have also cautioned that at a time of change no group should assume that their views, however self-evidently right, will be the accepted view in ten year's time.

The current cusp point in politics is an example of the change process at work.

Compare Mr Rudd and Dr Nelson, the new leader of the Liberal Party.

Had the Liberals voted for Mr Turnbull, they would to my mind have clearly voted for someone in the mainstream of metro Australia. Someone like Mr Rudd in fact who, while less conservative than Mr Rudd on social issues, would fight him on the same ground. Instead, they went for Dr Nelson.

Now Dr Nelson is, I think, to the left of Mr Rudd and even Mr Turnbull on social issues. He is certainly to the left of Mr Turnbull and Mr Rudd on many economic issues, especially those related to the distribution of economic gains. Of itself, this is strange.

But then, on certain issues, Dr Nelson is to the right of both Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull. Dr Nelson's very careful articulation of the position on "sorry" is an example. Yes, he is trying to unify the party, but the differences are more than than that.

As I read him, Dr Nelson simply does not accept certain conventional views. While passionate about Aboriginal disadvantage, he speaks of the importance of symbolism and appears to strongly reject certain view sets.

Now factor in the Greens and the Nats.

As I suggested a while ago, the Greens have probably peaked. Their core environmental views are now mainstream, leaving them as a left of centre party on other issues. Here they appeal to a limited spectrum of voters in certain areas. However, they will remain important in preference terms.

Because of demographic change, the Nats will have to move to the left.

I am sure that they will remain conservative on certain social issues because the regional vote is so split. Beyond that, I think that there will be major changes.

The Nats real enemy in their territory used to be the Liberal party. Now the major threats are independents on one side, Labor on the other. If the Nats can hold the line against these two, then they can beat the Libs.

So how will all this play out? The short answer is I do not know. I just know that it will be different.

To illustrate, take the Nats and the Greens. I would not be surprised if, ten years out, these two parties come to see themselves as natural allies!

Whichever way all this goes, I am going to watch with fascination.


I have been fascinated by the media responses to Dr Nelson. Some present him as a leader gaining position because he represents the old guard. Others have focused on his previous labor Party affiliations. Still others just seem confused.

I think that the point about Mr Turnbull, Management Man, is that with him you knew what you were going to get. Dr Nelson introduces a nice degree of uncertainty.

I have met Dr Nelson. I did not expect him to be elected. Now that he has been, I am going to watch with great interest.

Postcript 2

Having now watched Dr Nelson at a number of press conferences, I reserve the right to change my assessment of him!

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