It is often said that the Whitlam government was in office but not in power. Can the same be said, at least in some respects, of the Liberal governments in Canberra over the last eight years?
This question arises despite the fact that Labor has won a majority of seats at only one election – in 2007 – since 1993. And it is a question that arises even if the Liberals win the next federal election scheduled for May 2022. That will not be an easy election for them, given that the government will be seeking a fourth term and the polls are showing essentially a 50/50 split in the two-party preferred vote. It might also be noted that the numbers on the two sides in the House of Representatives are almost evenly divided so there is no margin for error when it comes to the loss of government seats.
But even if the Liberals do retain government for a fourth term, there are a number of reasons why they find it difficult to translate election victories into the implementation of government policies. The first is obviously the make-up of the Senate. The Liberals have never had a majority in the Senate over the last eight years and it can be assumed that Labor and the Greens will vote against any significant legislation put forward by the government. In those circumstances it has had to negotiate with a small group of fractious and erratic members of the upper house who control the balance of power there. This has resulted in many of the government’s legislative proposals being defeated or passed but watered down from their original form. If Labor were in government, it would find it much easier to implement its programs because it could normally rely upon the support of the Greens.
The government’s unsuccessful attempt to repeal section 18C of the Federal Racial Discrimination Act in 2017 was an important symbol of its inability to impose its will on the Senate. This provision is a significant limitation on freedom of speech because it makes unlawful publications that are merely offensive to some groups in the community. It is an issue that is important to some members of the government but they were unable to bring about a change that went to the heart of one of the principles underlying Western civilisation.
In addition to the Senate, the Whitlam government faced considerable obstruction from Liberal premiers in the major states. We have seen a mirror image of this over the last year and a half as Labor premiers in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia have constantly criticised the attempts of the Morrison government to deal with the Covid-19 emergency and it might be expected that these tactics will only gain in volume in the lead-up to the next federal election.
A less formal but substantial constraint on the Liberals’ ability to explain and implement their policies is the fact that a wide range of public and private sector bodies have fallen under the control of a politically correct class who are generally hostile to the Liberals. This is true of the following institutions: most departments and faculties in universities; bodies formulating curriculums for schools; many media organisations; community welfare groups; most legal professional societies; literary festivals and writers’ awards and the boards of many government and large private sector corporations.
This means that these institutions reflect the views of the politically correct class who subscribe to a long list of doctrines, some of the most prominent being the depiction of Australian society as essentially racist; being in favour of open borders and so against any restrictions on illegal immigration; hostility to all forms of Christian religion but especially the Catholic church; supporting the idea of a bill of rights that would transfer power from parliaments to the courts; a suspicion of the activities of the police and other law enforcement bodies; an obsessive and unrealistic approach to the problem of climate change and a preference for rule by international bodies – such as the UN – over national governments, including the Australian government
It is true that most of these views are not widely shared by the general community but are disproportionately strong in those bodies that exercise cultural power in Australian society, not least in their domination of university teaching and school curriculums. And, even if most members of the community do not share these views, long-term exposure to them through media controlled by or accessible to the politically correct class obviously has the potential to affect voting trends in the future and the way in which proposals by a Liberal government are regarded by the community generally.
At one time the business sector provided some kind of countervailing force to these groups by its provision of financial and moral support to the Liberals. There is still some degree of financial assistance but much less in the way of strong advocacy. As already noted, the boards of many large corporations have subscribed to political correctness and the various bodies representing business interests are wary of being thought too partisan. This is not a problem for the union movement, of course, which delivers full-blooded public support for Labor as well as millions in financial donations.
All of this means that Labor and the Greens do not necessarily need to hold office in Canberra to see much of their agendas advanced. Of course, they would prefer to be in government and hope that they will be after the next election. But, even if that does not occur, the Liberals will struggle to put a philosophical imprint on Australian society when they have lost control of so many of its important institutions.
It is something of an irony that the obstruction that they mounted so successfully against the Whitlam government is now employed against them by cultural forces that have emerged and become increasingly powerful since that time.
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