Malcolm Turnbull’s floundering leadership aside, Australian politics faces a single irresistible issue.
Will a Trump/Brexit-style revolution, a rebellion of the outsiders, torpedo the stability of the two-party system?
I think it will.
I think the age of political disruption is upon us.
One’s Nation’s resurgence and the extraordinary result in November’s Orange by-election point to the possibilities of electoral realignment.
Unless they promptly transform themselves, the Labor, Liberal and National Parties face further structural decline in their support base.
In too many areas, the old oligopoly – the arrogant, self-entitled manipulators of machine politics – have formed a policy consensus that runs counter to outsider interests and beliefs.
I call it COLAGIN: the Coalition-Labor-Green-Insider agreement to support a national platform of high immigration, high personal taxation, big government, heavy business regulation, social engineering programs and divisive identity politics, while also lining their pockets with a parliamentary entitlements system brazenly open to abuse.
Through their petty squabbling in the media, Coalition, Labor and Green MPs try to pretend they are debating big policy differences.
But in reality, they are all locked into a system of cross-party compromise, practicing a timid, suffocating brand of political correctness.
When the NSW National Party is willing to do the work of the Greens in trying to ban greyhound racing, traditional notions of ideology have gone out the window.
The Left/Right spectrum has been replaced by a new Insiders/Outsiders divide.
With good reason, the public has grown to despise party politics.
Large parts of the electorate are looking for someone to turn the system upside down, to create a new social movement that puts the quaint but powerful notion of public interest back into our democracy.
It’s a battle between entrenched power and the will of the people.
It’s a struggle between unpopular insiders like Turnbull and Bill Shorten and the near-certain emergence of electoral insurgents.
In its policy substance, what might this movement look like?
What ideas does it need to champion to bust the Canberra Club wipe open?
Here’s my best effort at a 10-point Outsiders’ Manifesto for Australia’s future:
- Big cuts to the Federal Government’s annual 200,000-plus immigration and refugee program, ending the major-party consensus for a Big Australia. Slower population growth would take the pressure off local employment, urban congestion, housing prices and environmental sustainability – a massive win-win-win-win in public policy.
- An end to social engineering programs, with the abolition of Safe Schools, Respectful Relationships, university safe spaces, Section 18C and man-bashing government agencies such as Our Watch and ANROWS.
- Democratising the ABC, making it a clearinghouse for citizen-based broadcasting. Any Australian should be able to post their blogged, podcast or webcast material on its platforms. The most popular contributors would then be promoted to appear on the ABC’s radio and television programs – breaking the longstanding Leftist monopoly.
- Reforming the Human Rights Commission so that it serves the public, not political correctness. The Commission’s charter should be recast to promote community building, Australian values and the virtues of Western civilisation. It has an important role to play in pushing back against the spread of radical Islam – the greatest human rights threat to our society.
- Ending the era of big government. To reboot economic growth and international competitiveness, Australia’s top marginal tax rate should be cut from 49 percent to 35, with other income brackets also receiving tax relief. To increase the disposable earnings of hard-working Australians, the Federal Government needs to make us a low-tax regime.
- Big cuts to wasteful Federal spending, especially in transport, higher education, energy subsidies, corporate welfare, Canberra’s defence and foreign policy establishment, arts funding, public broadcasting and mental health rorts. Entire departments and agencies need to be abolished, bringing the size of government back to pre-2000 levels. The profligacy of the past 17 years has given Australia the worst of both worlds: bloated bureaucracies and stagnant economic growth.
- Slashing regulation on business, especially when it holds back the development of new industries. For instance, Australia should be a global energy superpower with a dynamic mix of coal, renewable, CSG and nuclear energy. But the dead hand of government has knocked out the latter two. With the recent weakening of the economy, we can no longer afford to turn away new sources of jobs and investment.
- Urgent school education reform, fundamentally changing the face of Australian teaching. On the international league table of academic achievement, we have fallen behind Kazakhstan – a national embarrassment. The top performer, Singapore, has based its success on a highly selective process for teacher recruitment. We need to do the same, increasing salaries for high-quality teachers and weeding out under-performers.
- A new war on poverty, creating economic opportunity for all Australians. Non-viable Indigenous settlements and public housing estates need to be closed down, with residents moving to areas where they can access jobs and services. The intergenerational poverty cycle also needs to be broken through improved teaching and learning programs in disadvantaged schools.
- Genuine reform of parliamentary entitlements to make rorting impossible. The Turnbull Government’s recent proposals are no more than window-dressing. Entitlement amounts should be bundled together and capped, with travel funding released only after MPs have demonstrated the primacy of parliamentary work in their itineraries. An Anti-Corruption Commission is also needed to guard against the corrosive influence of machine politics and paid lobbyists.
Outsider politics aims not only to shake up the old-party system at the ballot box. It also has serious policy intent, ending the COLAGIN consensus in favour of outer-suburban and regional interests.
The electorate is willing. The time is right.
We have every reason to expect the tumultuous march of the outsiders to continue in 2017.