In his diatribe in the Sydney Morning Herald, the usually incompetent commentator, Tom Switzer starts off with what may turn out to be a fact, which is unusual for him. He states that Australia is entering a new political era. And so it is. It is entering a new phase where the failed trickle-down of neoliberal economics is jettisoned, where socially repressive attitudes will be thrown overboard, where religious privilege will sink beneath the waves, and where corruption will be made to walk the plank. The funny thing is that Switzer cannot help himself, he has to hang the oxymoronic epithet ‘shibboleth’ on these progressive values. It is an epithet that has connotations of being outdated; hence my use of ‘oxymoronic’ to describe his usage.
Switzer clearly admires Howard, and believes that during his prime ministership, conservatives were mainstream. Laughably, Switzer, then says that “Howard showed that controlled border protection benefits nobody more than the immigrants who came here fairly and legally. As a result, it helped damp down the fires of racism and xenophobia”1. This is perhaps the biggest load of codswallop I have ever seen from Switzer, and that is a big call, as he regularly reimagines reality. In truth, Howard was in an election losing position and went for the dog-whistle, as modern conservatives tend to do, especially when the racist demographic of voters had been siphoned off by Pauline Hanson. He confected the Tampa affair, by refusing to let the MV Tampa land the asylum-seekers it had rescued. He also lied that asylum-seekers had thrown their children overboard from a boat that had been intercepted. This played well with enough of the voting public, to allow Howard to win the 2001 election2,3. Ever since that time, conservatives have used the dog-whistle on a regular basis4,5.
Not only did Howard use the dog-whistle against asylum seekers, but he used it against aboriginals too. I clearly remember him holding up a map of Australia supposedly showing areas ‘vulnerable’ to Aboriginal land claim, suggesting that almost the entire nation was at risk of being taken over by Aboriginals, which was a lie. Land claims were about access, not ownership. In addition, Howard did not accept the conclusions of the Bringing Them Home report into the stolen generations of Aboriginals, and refused to apologise to those stolen generations, stating that he did not believe there had been a genocide of Aboriginals. This is the white blindfold view of Australian history, and is at odds with reality7,8. So, for Switzer to say that Howard damped down the fires of racism and xenophobia, is indeed laughable. Howard capitalised on racism and xenophobia, and in doing so, legitimised both for subsequent use by conservative dog-whistlers.
Even more bizarrely, Switzer maintains that fiscal rectitude occupied “the economic policy high ground”, and that Costello paid off debt and Peter Reith “stared down the last gasps of old-style union militancy”1. People who actually know what they are talking about (i.e. economists) largely agree that the middle class welfare efforts of the Howard government have left the nation with significant structural deficits9. In addition, the damage inflicted on unionism during the Howard years was the culmination of decades of propaganda against unions by business and conservative governments, and that seems to be one of the major causes of the years of minimal wage growth; the “crisis of low pay” according to the governor of the Reserve Bank. This problem of low pay is dragging on economic growth10. Again, Switzer is talking through his hat.
Switzer laments that the oldest 20% of the electorate in 2004 who largely voted for the Coalition, have been replaced today by the youngest 20% of voters who “lurch to the left”1. This may be because the wages of the low paid (often the young) have actually gone backwards, their penalty rates have been decreased, and their employment has been casualised even more. Yet, Switzer seems to blame this, at least in part on social media and twitter trolls. The only twitter trolls I have bumped into are right-wing nut jobs (RWNJs) who are often white supremacists or religious nutters, or both. Still, when I argue with them and have the temerity to use facts in support of my position, they probably regard me as a troll.
As if to further demonstrate Switzer’s idiocy, he states “climate action is back in vogue”1 as if it is an option. Like many RWNJs, Switzer believes that climate change is a religion11, despite it being underpinned by thousands of published scientific papers and despite the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) knowing for decades that it is a major threat, and the predictions made back in 1990 have largely come to pass12. Anyone who doesn’t believe climate change is already happening is either a moron or a charlatan. Either way, they are completely ignorant of how science works, as Switzer clearly is.
Switzer finally launches into the old RWNJ furphy ‘identity politics’, and considers the push to change the date of Australia Day from January 26th as being symptomatic of it. I will discuss this furphy elsewhere, where I will show it is simply a case of accusing your enemy of that of which you are guilty. Perhaps the most egregious lie spread by Switzer is that “Howard, Abbott, Dutton Morrison et al” have supported large-scale non-discriminatory immigration and that they have not connected jihadists to the Muslim community. That is another lie. They are constantly telling the Muslim community to do more despite the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation stating that the Muslim community is a major source of their intelligence on Islamic radicalisation13. It is, again, simple dog-whistling.
Switzer is completely out of his depth dealing with reality and he seems to believe if he spouts drivel about conservative governments often enough, people will come to believe it. I have seen enough stuff from Switzer to be surprised no longer at the rubbish he comes up with. What does surprise me is that the Sydney Morning Herald publishes it.
- Pritchard, B. & McManus, P. (eds), 2000. Land of Discontent: the dynamics of change in rural and regional Australia. UNSW Press