Has Rudd joined the Liberal Party?

Eleven days into the Australian federal election campaign and I’m thoroughly sick of the non-debate so far. It seems the two major parties, Labor and the Liberal/National Coalition, agree on almost everything important. It’s no wonder the Greens have chosen the election slogan “standing up for what matters”.

The list of Liberal-like policies adopted by Labor Prime Minister Rudd grows every week. He’s “terminated the carbon tax” (sort of), has decided to send all asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea, and has today announced a “special economic zone” in northern Australia. Rudd has repudiated just about everything he campaigned on in 2007. Perhaps next he will retract his apology to the stolen generations!

The similarities go beyond specific policies; even the ideology of the major parties is similar. There is bipartisan agreement on the primacy of short-term economic growth and competitiveness; on promoting fossil fuel mining and exports (despite some grandstanding from the Nationals on coal seam gas); on 20 years of inaction on climate change; on a meaningless greenhouse gas emissions target to be met at the lowest possible cost to polluting companies; on a need to get the budget in surplus ASAP; on a need for deregulation and other neoliberal “economic reforms” including cutting “green tape”; on a need to reduce the cost of living; on a need to stop refugees seeking asylum in Australia; and on a privileged advisory role for business lobbyists.

All in all, the second Rudd government is now somewhere to the right of the Howard Liberal government. When Rudd defeated John Howard in 2007, I never imagined he would turn out to be more Howard than Howard. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but maybe we should demand to see Rudd’s Labor membership card – has he secretly joined the Liberal Party?

The major parties are making every effort to shut the Greens out of the election. Greens leader Christine Milne was not allowed into Sunday’s leaders’ debate, resulting in an extremely bland “debate” between two parties who agree on most important things, and disagree mainly on how to achieve their agreed goals and how far to move in their agreed direction.

The Liberal Party has been instructed by its leader Tony Abbott to preference the Greens last in every seat because they are such dangerous extremists. This is in an election contest which also includes such mainstream options as the right-wing Christian “Rise Up Australia Party”, which denies human-caused climate change, claims extreme weather events are God’s revenge for pro-abortion and anti-Israel policies, aims to convert gay people to heterosexuality, opposes atheists in political positions, is led by a man who claims to have resurrected three dead people, and was launched by a man who believes climate change science is a conspiracy to create a world government. Abbott apparently believes Rise Up Australia are less extreme than the Greens!

Abbott says he is preferencing the Greens last because: “There is a world of difference between the Greens and, as far as I’m aware, just about everyone else who is contesting this election campaign.” I agree, but personally I think it’s a positive difference. The Greens are the only party who aim to protect our future by preventing dangerous global warming. But apparently that’s too radical for the major parties.

Both Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd have ruled out doing deals with crossbenchers to form a minority government. Abbott claims minority government is a “failed experiment” (never mind that if you count the Liberals and Nationals as separate parties, they are always in minority governments), and claims Australians do not want another minority government. Well, I’m at least one Australian who wants a hung parliament!

The major parties’ attitude is getting ridiculous. They seem to believe they are entitled to run the country, regardless of how the people vote. In doing so they deny a voice to the roughly 20% of Australians who vote for a minor party or independent, a number which is likely to continue to grow as the environmental crisis becomes more apparent and the major parties give us more reasons to be dissatisfied with them.

I’m starting to wonder if history is going to repeat itself. In the first decade after Federation in 1901, Australian politics was dominated by the classical liberal Free Trade Party (renamed the Anti-Socialist Party in 1906) and the social liberal Protectionist Party. However, these two establishment parties were increasingly threatened by the rise of the Labor Party, which governed in minority governments with the Protectionist Party and eventually in its own right. In 1909, the Anti-Socialist and Protectionist parties merged to form the “Fusion” or Commonwealth Liberal Party, an early forerunner of today’s Liberal Party. (The National Party was founded in 1920 as the Country Party, and formed a Coalition with the Liberals in 1922.)

The Tasmanian Greens used to call the state Labor and Liberal parties “the Laborials”, and the label seems increasingly applicable to their federal equivalents too. About the only thing stopping the Labor and Liberal parties from merging is that Tony Abbott would never agree to it.

As voters, we should not blindly vote as Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd tell us to. We should not elect them just because they insist they should be the only candidates. Australia is not a dictatorship; we may vote for whoever we choose. Most of us are frustrated with the present state of Australian politics, and nothing will change if we keep voting for the same old parties. It’s time to stop voting for the major parties, and instead vote Greens.

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