Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's all just so 1990s

Just at the moment, I feel that I am living in something of a time warp. And, no, it's not a time warp directly associated with age or my own particular past. Rather, I feel that Australian politics and public life has returned in some way to the 1990s.

First, we had the reinstatement by the Australian Government of multiculturalism as an ism. I wrote two posts on this (here and here). One of my concerns was the likelihood that this would re-open a debate that actually has little to do with a modern pluralist Australia, more with fears and opposing ideologies, a debate that might have real negative effects.

That does seem to have happened. The most recent manifestation is the decision of Pauline Hanson to try for the NSW Upper House at the forthcoming elections. Ms Hanson's One Nation was the most successful of a number of attempts to form new populist parties in response to what was perceived as the hijacking of the national political agenda by those on the Australian left.

You would think that, after the passage of time, Ms Hanson would have no chance. Not only have her previous attempts to re-enter politics failed, but she is running as an independent in a proportional representation voting system structured against independents. Yet she might just do it, and for the same reasons that applied earlier.

The Australian electorate has polarised, all the main parties are attacking her by name, while the media is giving her lots of coverage. As a straw in the wind, NineMSN is running a poll asking people if they would vote for Pauline Hanson. As I write, the numbers are running  no 88, 153, yes 63,748. That's quite a big yes vote. If translated into actual votes on the day, Ms Hanson would be well on the way to election.

Then, yesterday, the Australian Government announced that it was introducing new rules to enforce "gender equality". 

MEDIUM and large businesses will be spot checked, forced to report on the number of women employed and face fines for non-compliance.

These measures will be employed under the Gillard government's tough new scheme to drive gender equality in the workplace.

Unions yesterday welcomed the government's pledge to force businesses to abandon any "hollow plans and promises" to address women's lagging pay and labour force participation.

But industry groups said the new measures would mire businesses in red tape.

This issue has split the coalition to some degree, with opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey saying that the coalition would, as a last resort, mandate a certain percentage of women on boards if business failed to act, while Bronwyn Bishop has attacked the Government's moves as authoritarian.

This is an area where I have both personal and professional views. For my own purposes and for later use I have listed at the end some of the posts I have written around the issues involved. I have yet to find the workforce analysis I did in, I think, 2006.

Returning to my point, at a professional level, I have written a fair bit on the growing feminisation of the work force. Demography is inexorable. Female dominance of the leader education streams will inevitably lead to growing female numbers at higher levels. This process is well underway. It just takes time for the full effects to wash through.

At a personal level, my experiences working mainly from home while fulfilling the primary child care role strongly colour my reactions. Here a piece by the ABC's Annabel Crabb - Behind every successful woman there's a wife - really riled me.

It's not so much that I disagreed with her fundamental points, rather I felt that she had no idea just what was involved. Paid parental leave may be a bit late for me! but, in any case, if she wants more "male wives" she had better address the problems associated with that role, problems that extend way beyond the issue of short term parental leave. This includes the discrimination imposed by women (including women bosses) on men who take the role.    

Overall, the Government's "gender equality" statement is very much a value or style issue. It's just so 1990s! The issue was running hot then. This was also the time when the problems for men associated with changing gender roles first became an issue. Ten years later, it's all back as though nothing had changed.

Gay marriage is another hot issue being pressed upon the Government. Just as I support a pluralist Australia, just as I believe in gender equality, I also have no in principle problems with the idea of gay marriage.

My problem lies in the way that a combination of views is being expressed by the same groups in language redolent of the 1990s. My problem also lies in the way that those views and that language is creating the same responses as in the 1990s. It really does feel like a time warp.

I have tried to understand just what is happening. I feel, in part, that we are seeing a reaction by those on the left or centre left who controlled debate in the early 1990s attempting to reassert their position in response to loss of influence during the Howard years. It may be, as Geoff Robinson seems to suggest in Labor's problem is not the Greens, that the left believes that it needs to unify. I quote:

There is an assumption on much of the political left from the palest centrists to the Marxists that there exists a natural left-wing economic majority. In this view cultural issues divide the left’s base.

If that's the case, then it would explain the way certain issues are being pushed.

Is the right any better? Not really. It, too, is fighting past battles.

As a liberal democrat coming from a minority Australian populist political stream, I do struggle with all this. Still, that should be a matter for another post.

Past Posts

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