BY MERRILL WITT
Political pundits are predicting that candidates from One Nation, the Christian Democratic Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Australian Conservatives or the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party could possibly hold the balance of power in both houses after the NSW state election.
While the prospect of a far-right agenda dominating the next parliament is alarming, the contradictory nature of their policies was evident at an election forum for the minor parties’ leading candidates held last week at the Rose Bay RSL.
Moderator Rowan Dean, presenter of Outsiders on Sky News’ After Dark program, opened the forum hosted by the conservative Australian Jewish Association, by asking “How many people here think climate change is a hoax?” Two-thirds of the 75 plus audience members raised their hands.
A controversial figure
Reverend Fred Nile, the 84-year-old leader of the Christian Democrats and a member of the Legislative Council since 1981, is a climate change denier, as well a very controversial figure for his calls to limit Muslim immigration.
But you may be surprised to learn that he has a long record of support for Aboriginal land rights. He mentioned that in 1983 he voted for a bill to recognise the right of Aboriginal people to reclaim Crown land “despite flak from farmers worried about losing their land”.
In the current parliament, Nile has typically provided the government with crucial votes needed for the privatisation of government assets. Yet he claims his support is always contingent on a condition that the “current workforce is guaranteed job security for at least five years”.
Many of the positions advocated by One Nation’s Mark Latham, who in a previous life was the leader of the federal Labor Party, were provocative. Most controversially, he said that One Nation wants “DNA testing of Aboriginals to stop welfare rorters”.
Latham’s inflammatory proposal didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows with the audience, perhaps because it was broadly in keeping with the comments of the Liberal Democrats’ David Leyonhjelm and others about the dangers of identity politics.
Ostensibly framed by Leyonhjelm as “an assault on parental rights,” the Safe Schools program was highlighted as one of the worst examples of identity politics. An education initiative designed to make schools more inclusive for LGBTI students, staff and families, Latham said its real purpose was to push the “gender fluidity agenda of the left-wing activists who have taken over our institutions”.
On more relevant state issues, like development and transport, the candidates’ opinions were more varied. Latham, for example, was scathing about overdevelopment in Sydney, and believes “building a city the size of Adelaide around the new Badgerys Creek airport makes absolutely no sense”.
One Nation’s answer to Sydney’s skyrocketing population is to slash the annual immigration target by 50 per cent, a position that the Premier has also recently adopted. In comparison, Leyonhjelm, a fierce libertarian, wants to alleviate population pressures in Sydney “by moving people on social security benefits into the regions”.
Surprisingly, consensus was almost unanimous on the need for more public transport solutions, although the Australian Conservatives’ Greg Walsh curiously claimed that “technological innovation would eventually solve traffic congestion.” He highlighted an Elon Musk pilot initiative to build high speed, cost-effective tunnels in cities.
The logic behind these seemingly contradictory policies is difficult to comprehend. The Australian Conservatives are happy to embrace Musk’s futuristic tunnels but pooh-pooh his already successful forays into battery storage for renewable energy.
Leyonhjelm and others insist that governments keep their hands off private enterprise and stay out of our private lives. Yet they endorse government intervention to bring down power prices, advocate “encoding Judeo-Christian values into the Australian constitution”, and see moving poor people out of Sydney as a way to ease the city’s population pressures.
Unpredictable, contradictory policies
While it is tempting to dismiss such views as anachronistic at best and deeply abhorrent at worst, they have already infected current government policies. The Safe Schools program was abandoned by the NSW Government in 2017 after successful lobbying by conservatives. National MP Barnaby Joyce’s recent threat to spill the leadership of his party over his demand for a new government-subsidised coal-fired power station in central Queensland is undoubtedly a move designed to appeal to One Nation voters.
But could the unpredictability and inherent contradictions of these minor parties’ policy positions offer opportunities to negotiate better outcomes? Experience suggests that minor parties, in general, thrive on being relevant and that means getting noticed. Nile, for example, has proven himself to be a canny politician who at times hasn’t been afraid to cast a vote against the conservatives when their views don’t align with his “own conscience” but, more importantly, wider public opinion.
We could find ourselves with strange bedfellows indeed!