I have spent the last few years flirting with various political parties. The Democrats, the ALP, the Liberals, the Greens once or twice, and on one particularly unfortunate night the Libertarian Party.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Democrats, a product of growing up in a left-of-centre household in the nineties I imagine. Amazingly I even agreed with most of their policies. At least until a couple of years ago when it seemed that they suddenly took a hard left turn and lost all semblance of sanity. I have since discovered that they shifted only slightly to the left (from where I fell in love with them at any rate), whilst I had leapt quite some way to the right of my starting point.
Traditionally I have ranged from solidly left to left-of-centre, but over the past five or so years I have slowly drifted to the right. At least it seems that way. A view strengthened by the attitudes of my friends and the fact that I am about as right-wing as most of them could tolerate. The drift has been especially noticeable over the last 18 months. A fact I contribute to my work towards my soul-consuming economics degree.
Where I started on the left puts me somewhere in the less-centrist aspects of the ALP, a position I always supported even though they have often left a bad taste in my mouth. My grandfather was a brickie. I grew up in the outer-Northern suburbs of Adelaide – mostly in Elizabeth and Salisbury. Until recently I have always lived in a very safe Labor seat for both federal and state electorates. My grandparents voted Labor. My parents voted Labor – except on those few occasions when they voted Democrats. My siblings and the vast majority of my friends tend to view the Liberal Party as evil, immoral, and heartless.
Yet, despite this strong history and family support and my (past) general agreement with most of the Labor party’s policies, there has always been something that held me back from joining. I could never quite get behind them. This confused me a little, but I put it down partly to their strong love of affirmative action and their hatred of all-things nuclear. Mostly, I marked it off as a dislike of the way they worked in federal opposition – after all if we were just looking at a state level I was quite happy to support Rann. Though I must confess to supporting Olsen in principal at least (it should be noted that I was not nearly as politically aware during the Olsen government as I have been in recent years).
More recently I have worked out why the ALP always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t stand the unions. This has become increasingly evident to me as I continue my studies and as I lock horns with various left-activists around the campus grounds. It’s not that I am against the underemployed, the poor, or the underpaid. I have a strong desire to help all of these groups. I’ve belonged to each of those groups at one time or another. The unions do not, in my mind, support the labour movement. They support the labour movement as it stood in the 1950s. I have my doubts about the WorkChoices legislation. It goes too far. But it is a superior system to what we have now, and a far superior system to what many unionists seem to crave. Is it any surprise that union membership is so low? I want to work part-time, I want to work flexi-time. I don’t want to work full-time. I’d rather work nights than days. I’d rather negotiate my own contracts without any award underpinning. I’d really rather not have my union stand up to the government and say they represent my moral views on abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage or any other moral position (*cough* SDA *cough*). I’d rather have a higher base wage than penalty rates. Unions have an important part to play in society. Workers have as much need and right to a special interest group as does any other subset of society. Collective bargaining is not an inherently evil thing.
No, my problem with the unions stems from three things. My first concern is their tendency to thuggish or militant actions – a methodology that seems ingrained into the culture of some unions. My second concern is that they do not represent the actual workers but instead represent their ideal view of their workers and try to mould industry into a shape that only supports this ideal 1950s view. My third concern is the same concern that I have of (nearly) all special interest groups. They are blind to the bigger picture. They do not care about the unemployed. They do not care about the corporations that employ their members. To my eyes they either do not care about the broader scope of society or the economy, or they have no understanding of the economy.
This is where I would normally explain the price-floor concept and talk about the damage done by excessive minimum wages. Then I’d talk about the fact that even working at minimum wage you are far, far better off than the long-term unemployed, the homeless, and the destitute. Would our efforts not be better focussed on the most disadvantaged aspects of our society rather than those who can already feed themselves?
These are questions and examinations for another time though. The purpose of this post is not to bash the unions I once thought were heroes.
My problem with the Labor party is the same as my problem with any other party that is strongly influenced or controlled by a single set of special interest groups. Special interest groups represent only their specific set of interests, I want my leaders to represent the interests of Australia as a nation. Not just the environment. Not just the religious. Not just the unions. I believe that special interest parties are nearly as bad as, and far more dangerous than, single-issue parties.
As I have come to realise over the past four or five years, I am not a Labor supporter. Nor do I support the Democrats. Family First and One Nation make me gag. The Greens have enjoyed (or suffered as the case may be) my support on only a few rare occasions, and normally they embody everything that I hate about the left. The Liberal party has always been taboo and anathema to me. Never would I consider joining their ranks. I may find myself supporting certain aspects of their policies, but surely this is merely a bizarre coincidence.
That is how I thought for quite some time. I was a closet-Liberal supporter. I wasn’t even willing to admit my support for the mainstay of their policies to myself. I certainly wasn’t about to do it in front of my friends. I have slowly slid to the right over the past five years and I have slowly come to stand in a more Liberal position than I ever would have thought possible. I still rile against some of their social policies. I am most strongly pro-choice, pro-euthanasia, pro-gay rights. Others of their policies are perhaps harsher than I would like to see, but I am not a strong supporter of affirmative action – it has its place and its uses, but it is over-utilised and over-loved by the left and by Australia today. The further I run down the Liberal party platform the more I find myself agreeing with and the more I start thinking about joining the Liberals. Though there is always a nagging concern that the Liberal party is merely a special-interest party of big-business, I have yet to see any compelling evidence of this fact (feel free to point me towards some).
I went to the South Australian Youth Parliament in July this year. It was a thoroughly exhilarating, exhausting and stressful week. Indeed, I have never had a more stressful week in my life. I have never had a more entertaining week in my life. At the start of the week a guest speaker (I think it may have been the YMCA director) spoke about how the program could be a life-changing one for the participants. I scoffed at this notion. I still don’t support it fully. It is an over-statement, but not an especially egregious one. My confidence has grown exponentially. It was, perhaps, the catalyst that has spurned a major shift in how I view myself and the world around me. I may not appear at all changed to those around me, but I feel different. The week was phenomenal and I met a large number of interesting people. Including some like-minded individuals (at least on the politics and policy front) who, it turned out, are members of the Liberal party. It was an eye-opening and thought-provoking week. I left convinced that I would be joining the Liberal party within the week.
After recovering from the sleep-deprivation that permeated the program I did some further research – including reading the party’s charter and latest platform. I was convinced. I may not support all of their positions, but I support most of them. Yes, the current federal leadership irritates me at times, and yes I would be a very wet Liberal. I thought (dreamt?) that maybe if I joined I could work my way into a leadership position and bring the Liberal party around on those few areas on which I disagree. I signed up for a membership kit that night.
Two things followed on from this decision. I had not expected either of them, though in retrospect I should have expected both. The first thing was that more than a few of my friends suddenly weren’t so friendly. It would seem that it is fine for me to argue a right-wing conservative position in our regular lunch-time debates, but that it is not even remotely acceptable to actually belong to a party which supports that position. I have never been quiet about my beliefs. I have never been shy to voice my opinion on any topic, regardless of the controversy, regardless of the political incorrectness of my view. So it was surprising when a collection of friends started treating me differently, started treating me like I was the enemy. My views hadn’t changed. My beliefs hadn’t changed. My opinions hadn’t changed. My desire and willingness to stand for what I believe in hadn’t changed. I was still the same person. I remain baffled as to their reaction.
The second thing was the federal government losing their minds in regards to the Haneef case. This flagrant civil rights violation had me sitting up and re-examining everything I had thought about the Liberal party. I cannot support the mainstay of the current federal leadership. The mainstay of Cabinet hold views I cannot support, views that I will not support. How can I join a party that I cannot publicly support on important issues?
I thought for quite some time about it. I still agree with the Liberals on a large number of issues. Indeed, I agree with them on far, far more than I disagree. They probably occupy a position closer to my views than any other political party in Australia today. If I join a political party I will be aiming for the important positions, probably even a state or federal seat in parliament and ultimately the parliamentary leadership. I cannot join a party if I cannot toe the party line. I cannot toe the Liberal line on any security or civil-liberties matters. They ban books. They detain innocents. They act against the judiciary. They blur the separation of powers. They ignore States-rights. They ignore Ministerial-responsibilities and accountability. I agree with them on much, but I am neither capable nor willing to toe a line that I do not believe in. Joining the Liberal party would merely set me up for failure.
This leaves me in the same conundrum I was in at this time last year. I have strong political views. I believe, fervently, that there is a social and civic duty, a responsibility to voice your opinions and beliefs. I believe that one is obliged to stand for what they believe in. I believe that one cannot sit by and blithely watch others mismanage their nation or their state. You have a social responsibility to watch for wrongs and evil. If you see them you have a moral obligation to voice criticism. If you see them you have a civic duty to act. For me this means standing in the public eye and presenting my argument. For me this means actively working within a political party to bring about the change that I see as necessary, to work to protect us from abuses of our civil liberties and freedom.
How can I do this if I can support no political party?
Note: In the above post I talk about being right-of-centre. Whilst this is not a grossly inaccurate statement it is not a simple truth. The Political Compass notes me as slightly left and slightly libertarian. My own examinations note me as slightly right on an economic scale and moderately libertarian. Defining a political position is a complex and likely impossible thing. I am pro-choice and pro-gay rights. Two strongly left positions. I am against affirmative action and dislike unions. Two strongly right positions. Overall, if you were to sum all of my positions on any given topic you would find me somewhat in the centre. I believe that no position is permanent. On any given topic what is wrong today may be right tomorrow. This is especially true on economic policies. Protectionism has its time and its place, though a free and competitive market is the aim and will bring the greatest good to most. Extreme positions – left, right or otherwise – are foolish and will ultimately fail. A considered, researched and integrated portfolio of solutions that are regularly, frequently and critically reviewed is the only responsible choice.