There's one thing that's more wrong than our politicians: our political scientists' complete misdiagnosis of what's happening in the formation of Katter's Australian Party, and what it might mean for our politics.
What the intelligentsia doesn't get is that the hard left of politics will find a lot of common ground with our Bob. The left, and Greens supporters, should vote for the Australian Party at the next elections.
Apparently, the right-wing Mr Katter is going to split the conservative vote. But has anyone even read the policies on the party's website?
Apparently, Mr Katter represents the latest version of Hansonism. But one of the party's main platform policies is this:
Governments must ensure that every Australian is, and in particular employees, farmers and franchisees are able to bargain collectively to protect and promote their economic interests and that all, wherever practicable, have access to compulsory arbitration.And as for the far right, some commentators have even compared the Australian Party swell of support to the rise of the US Tea Party. Umm... really? The Tea Party is a radical, extremist, free-market and small-government party - almost the complete opposite of the Australian Party.
The left should support Katter's Australian Party. It's got a hard-line position on coal seam gas. It's against economic rationalism. It's deeply concerned about the state of our hospitals. It's opposed to further privatisation.
Currently, the Australian Party is seeking to contest upcoming Australian elections. It is opposed to the Tea Party on most economic matters. It also differs from the One Nation Party in that it has an active economic agenda (conservative, anti-free market policies; and support for collective bargaining).
The Australian Party is also a non-racist party, and it actively supports egalitarian policies for Indigenous Australians. The party (mostly) does not actively pursue socially conservative policies. Have a look on the website and you'll see most of the issues aren't social ones, they're economic. Although social conservatism is usually associated with issues such as abortion, the party doesn't have a position on this (or most solely social policy issues): that's a matter of social conscience for individual party members.
An important phenomenon in the Australian ideological debate is that few everyday left-wing people in our country ever focus on economic issues: they almost exclusively are interested in social issues. A very intelligent left-wing friend of mine was actively engaged when we were watching Lateline one night, but when Lateline Business came on his eyes glazed over, and we had a good conversation about why.
When I was studying economics in university, I was almost always the only 'annoying' left-wing student in the tutorials. I remember always being the odd person out, in classes full of mostly business-minded, centrist and free-market-liberal-minded students. Left-wing people tend more often to study history, nursing, education, sociology, and other such subjects. Basically, the left does not engage in the economic policy debate in any meaningful way. The left vacates the debate, and leaves it up to the economic liberals to decide our country's economic policies and the future.
This leaves social democrats with a background in economics looking for other alliances, including with conservatives. On social policy, policies where most members of the public can understand the basics, social democrats like the Greens and social conservatives like Hansonites are worlds apart. But on economic policies, social democrats and economic conservatives have a very similar mindset. They are natural allies who must combine their forces and cooperate in the political debate between the community and economic rationalists.
It is doubtful that a Tea Party agenda would be politically influential in the Australian context. But the question remains: might the Australian Party be the type of conservative party that could be successful in Australia? Consider, firstly, that one of the main weaknesses of the existing right-of-centre parties in Australia is industrial relations or 'work choices' policies - which the Australian Party is opposed to. Trade unions form a significant portion of the Australian Party's supporters.
So here's the rub. True Conservatives aren't liberals. Conservatives never were liberals, until the "New Right" Thatcherism and Reaganism changed things. But true conservatives aren't liberals. Just like the far left, or the left faction of the Labor Party, true conservatives support government intervention in the mixed economy, and they oppose rich, powerful business interests that exploit the little guys - like farmers or workers. The Australian Party also supports proper care for disadvantaged people in genuine need, and the elderly.
In fact, there are centuries of conservative or Christian thought that believe in workers' rights; and support the institution of the family against exploitation from business interests. Conservatives also support proper care for the ill, weak and needy. They believe in the importance of financial security and stability - rather than economically liberal policies, which have done so much to undermine job security for workers and income security for farmers.
Too often the left focuses just on social issues, but ignores economic policies. Ask yourself this: are the Greens winning the debate on economic issues against the free-market radicals who want to privatise everything and who still insist on so-called labour market flexibility (which just means lower wages for employees). Honestly, do the Greens have expertise in economic issues, or is it more just a passing interest? Of course, the Greens focus on environmental and social policies, which is fair enough - but who is left to challenge the major parties on economic issues?
Okay, okay... but what about gay marriage? Well, you've got me there. I'm sorry, the Australian Party doesn't support gay marriage. But except for left voters who are of the view that gay marriage is the single most important issue, the only issue out of the thousand issues you could consider when determining your vote, most of the left will find they have lots in common with the true conservatives in the Australian Party. But remember, Labor and Liberal both oppose gay marriage, too. And remember, gay marriage is a federal issue, not relevant to state elections.
Okay, okay... One Nation was a bit of a fail. But ask yourself whether Katter's Australian Party is exactly like One Nation, or whether it's actually really different. Both Katter's and One Nation are very different to the radical free-market Tea Party.
Let's look at something even more fundamental, too: a strong belief in parliamentary democracy. The Australian Party strongly opposes the current two-party system where Labor and Liberal MPs are forced to vote along party lines in all matters - even where it can be demonstrated that it is directly against the interests of an individual MP's electorate. Labor actually enshrines this in its constitution. It's plain wrong: MPs should always vote in the interests of their electorate, not according to what factional bosses or Treasury officials dictate.
So, if you're truly left, and you're still keen on sticking with the Greens, please do. But make sure you give your preferences to the right party. Preference the party that agrees with the left on biofuels, coal seam gas, empowerment for our First Australians, policies to support an equitable distribution of income, collective bargaining, bank lending that favours families and small business, more money for public hospitals, and public ownership rather than more privatisation.
There are parties worse than the Australian Party: namely, Labor and Liberal. On social issues, the left and conservatives are worlds apart. But conservatives and the left do share something in common: a common view on economic policies.
So are the left and mad-hatter Bob Katter strange bedfellows? Only for political commentators who don't know what they're talking about.
Jade Connor is a former postgraduate student of UQ's School of Political Science and International Studies; currently studying a Master of Arts in writing; a left-wing, vegan social democrat; and a member of Katter's Australian Party.
Subscribe in a reader