James Allan

Silencing opposition

You don’t have to accentuate the positive

In politics, as an Opposition leader, it’s not at all clear to me that your job is to accentuate the positive when it comes to government policies. In fact, it seems to me to be the exact obverse of that. Your job is overwhelmingly to be negative and point out government weaknesses and failings.

I bring that up because of the rather relentless government and media campaign to paint Mr. Abbott as too negative. It’s almost as though they thought the job of an Opposition was to kick in and support government policies when and as they arose. Now that may be what Oppositions do in Iran and Zimbabwe, but I’m not sure that’s what they do, or should do, in well-established western democracies.

Remember, the point of going into politics at all (if we exclude nepotism and self-interest) is to implement what you see as an overarching and philosophically coherent program that aims to improve things for most people. Not everyone, of course, because there will always be some losers as the result of any policy changes. And no doubt, too, compromises will have to be made in order to get one’s plans and program onto the statute book. After all, you compromise the moment you join any political party, as no party will be a perfect 1:1 mesh with your own judgments and values (at least not unless you’re a Mr. Mugabe).

But conceding all that changes my point about the role of Opposition parties not one whit. Or at least I think that’s the case outside of World War II type national unity government situations.

Ask yourself this. Which Labor-Green government (feel free here to broaden the government to include ‘two rural socialist independents’) policies ought Mr. Abbott suddenly now to support? Should it be spending $40 billion on a broadband network that may not be finished being built before it’s out-dated and overtaken by technology?

Should it be the Building the Education Revolution? Or Keynesian-style spend till you drop big government spending initiatives? Or maybe the sovereign risk risking super mining tax? Do any of those fall into the ‘Abbott should be supporting these’ basket?

Or is the point really that Mr. Abbott ruined things for the metropolitan elites who want to genuflect before some sort of scheme related to appearing to ameliorate manmade global warming? You know, the schemes that will have no discernible effect at all (in any way) on the world’s temperature – whatever man’s effect on the climate actually turns out to be these schemes will do nothing, diddly squat, noticeably to lower our pumping out carbon dioxide.

Yes, I think that’s it. The gist of the negativity gravamen is that Mr. Abbott has yelled out that the Emperor has no clothes; that what Australia does is irrelevant; that the US and China are not watching us to see what we do so that they can promptly mimic our actions; that even the EU with its comparatively tiny reductions in carbon dioxide output has accomplished this by sending manufacturing to China – so that the reductions match more or less perfectly the increased imports from Asia. That is to be welcomed, perhaps, on free trade grounds but it hardly seems like a recipe to save the world.

Of course many of these metropolitan elites who demand action can afford higher energy prices. They can spend a bit extra on buying a tree or two here and there when purchasing their airline tickets, if only to assuage their consciences as they jet off to ski at Whistler in Canada or go to explore ancient Buddhist ruins in Cambodia. They know they will pay none of the costs of their bumper sticker moralizing.

So they don’t like it at all when top politicians give voice to the concerns of everyday people, people they consider to be ill-informed, stupid and lacking the moral perspicacity they so clearly think they have. (Sound familiar Mr. Brown, Mr. Hockey, Mr. Turnbull, Ms. Gillard, and Mr. Swan?)

Voicing that sort of cost-of-living concern, that sort of anti-poseur moralizing, that sort of puncturing of windbags and gaseous platitudes, is just not done old boy. It’s too negative. You need to get with the program and be positive, even if being positive won’t accomplish what you say needs to be accomplished. You still have to pretend. You can’t say the Emperor is naked.

That’s too negative.

Of course all those in the media who parrot this line about too great negativity could always move to Malaysia. Up there the governing party always wins, at least thus far since independence. And the Opposition never wins. It seems to have grasped what is expected of it in the bizarre Orwellian world where being ‘negative’ is thought a bad thing when you’re an Opposition leader.

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