Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Indi, Mirabella & the decline of the welfare state

Here down under, vote counting continues. In the Victorian seat of Indi, Liberal front bencher and right ideological warrior Sophie Mirabella is struggling to catch independent Cathy McGowan. If the latest comments on William Bowe's Indi post are correct, and he has some very well informed commenters, it would appear that Ms Mirabella still has a chance of catching up. It must be hot in the room, though, with various party scrutineers outnumbering those counting three to one!

Mr Abbott has apparently delayed the finalisation of his ministry until the results in Indi are known. However, even if Ms Mirabella is returned and joins the ministry, she is going to have to devote time to her seat and probably tone down her rhetoric. In a piece in The Age, Tony Wright commented:

The Liberals' Sophie Mirabella, having clean forgotten, or having never quite learnt, that country people tend to like their conservatives to be local and non-combustible rather than imported firebrands, now sits nervously, Indi just beyond her grasp.

There is some truth in that, but it also arguably misses a key point. Yes, on the ABC's Vote Compass, Indi does sit somewhat to the right on the political spectrum, although there are more right leaning seats in both city and country. However, on my measure Ms Mirabella is not a conservative in the old fashioned sense, but something of a hardline right radical. I suspect that both her views and the trenchant way she expresses sit somewhat uncomfortably with local perceptions.

On other election matters, in How much will the change of government change Australia? Winton Bates follows up on a post of mine, What can we expect of a new Coalition Government?. Winton is just back from a month in Britain and Ireland, lucky so and so, so missed the actual election campaign. Winton's main conclusion is summarised in this quote:

The main change the Abbott government seems likely to bring about is a return to more orderly government processes. In that respect, the contribution of the new government could be quite similar to that of the Fraser government in the 1970s, which brought to an end the chaos of the Whitlam years. In fact, the more I think about it the more I think that, with the exception of policies toward asylum seekers, the Abbott government could end up looking quite similar to the Fraser government. There will be plenty of talk about tough decisions, but I don’t think there is likely to be much action.

I have some sympathy with this view, although in governance terms I don't think that the Rudd-Gillard government was anywhere near the chaos of the Whitlam period in either a policy or day to day operational sense. The instability was in the Labor party itself. However, Winton also commented in passing:

Perhaps the government will move on tax reform in its second term of office. But the most likely outcome will be a higher rate of GST to raise more revenue. If we continue to drift toward a European style welfare state, we will need a European style tax system to fund it!

The underlying idea of the growth of the welfare state is quite popular. However, I think that it's also wrong. The welfare state as envisaged at the end of the Second World war died during the 1970s. We actually live in a post-welfare state world in which the fight is no longer over the concept of cradle to the grave security, that's dead, nor even over the idea of a proper safety net for the poorest; that's dead too.

In 2006, I explored some of these issues in a series of post on changing approaches to public administration since the Second World War. I didn't have time this morning to go back and check that earlier writing. I will do so later. I think that it's helpful to put some of these discussions in an historical context. Sophie Mirabella is actually a good example of the nature of the ideological changes that have taken place. 


The discovery of a packet of missing votes in Indi seems to have swung the battle there to Cathy McGowan. From my experience as a scrutineer,  the Australian counting process is absolutely meticulous, with an internal number checking process designed to prevent or reveal just this type of error. Lot of commentary and some surprise at the way some local Nationals appear to have supported Ms McGowan. It shouldn't surprise. Many Nationals still feel that the Libs stole this seat.

On the welfare state, I will try to bring this up Friday (I have another book chapter to try to complete before then), I should note my approach. The question of whether or not the welfare state died during the 1970s or, perhaps, simply changed its form is a factual one that stands independent of a second question, whether the changes are a good or bad thing. My focus is on the first, although the second comes in as well.


Evan said...

There are some candidates (Jaymes, Sophie, Peter Slipper and others) that give us a clear view on how much local and personal factors influence voting.

I have a friend in Indi - even those who wouldn't contemplate not voting for Sophie dislike her extremely as a person.

I'll be interested to hear what you make of your thoughts from 2006.

Anonymous said...

As the long running expo ad goes... we're heading for the future, and the future's in Seymour today. A happy hunting ground for fascists since the days of the supremely supercilious Fran Bailey

Jim Belshaw said...

Do you know, Anon, I had forgotten Fran Bailey. But why Seymour?

Perhaps tonight, Evan.

Winton Bates said...

I look forward to reading your views on the welfare state. It seems to me that Abbott's parental leave scheme has a European welfare state flavour about it. I am concerned about a drift toward universal benefits of various kinds, rather than provision of a safety net for those who need help.

Anonymous said...

Why Indi? I's home to Puckapunyal infantry training base, where fresh recruits go learn how to lick American combat boots

Jim Belshaw said...

I would agree that we have a real problem with the idea of universal benefits, Winton. I had a look at some of my material today, and I found some confusions in it, although some is, I think, very good. Will try to bring up the first tranche tonight.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi anon. Isn't Puckapunyal and indeed Seymour in McEwen, Fran Bailey's old seat?