Zombie politics – Australia style [Book Review]

People looking for an insight into modern Australian politics should look no further than Left Turn: Political Essays For The New Left edited by journalist and author Antony Loewenstein, and editor and author Jeff Sparrow. Left Turn gives a thorough grounding in the type of debates that are currently the cause of discussion in the Left (and by virtue of opposition, the Right), from climate change to multiculturalism, feminism to Palestine, marriage equality to refugees. The launching point for Loewenstein and Sparrow is the current state of political debate in Australia, which they describe as “zombie politics”. Beyond the fierce polarization between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, the “sound and the fury centre on minute points of differentiation between the parties” and “the more you zoom out from immediate talking points, the less seems at stake.” The recent debate on refugees is a good example of this, where Labor argued furiously to implement policies the Labor had damned under John Howard. Tony Abott’s Coalition in contrast argued furiously not to implement Howard-era policies, assumedly because it was Labor who was suggesting it. The only politician to contribute to Left Turn is Australian Greens Senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon, who cuts straight to the point when she writes “the history of many parliamentary parties is a stark reminder that progressive values and vision are often compromised or sidelined in the quest for votes, seats and power.” This is a history lesson for a Labor party who is losing its connection to working people in its pursuit of power and courting of vested interests. As Senator Rhiannon writes “If a progressive party weakens its Left policies, downgrades the role of members, or enters into an alliance that compromises its principles, this conservatising shift may make the party mainstream but will there be lasting benefits?” The contrast to the Greens is clear. In The Greens, it is the “members’ sense of involvement and ownership of the process and policies that lays the basis for success.” The Greens are also connected on a variety of levels to social movements such as environmentalism, animal welfare, civil liberties and collective labour. Academic Larissa Behrendt is also critical of the state of politics in Australia, particularly in relation the Northern Territory Intervention. She writes “The research in Australian and in Indigenous communities in North America consistently shows that the best way to reduce the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is to include Indigenous people in the development of policy, and in the design and delivery of programs in their communities.” Behrendt also points out the broader problem in relation to Indigenous Australians: “The pot is too small; no government will fix the problems if they are simply engaged in trying to redirect the scarce resources to one pressing need at the expense of others.” This idea cuts to a fundamental principal of the Left, which is that governments should invest in public services – such as health, education and transport – and also to address inequality and disadvantage for the long-term benefit of society as a whole. The seventeen essays that make up Left Turn are not a manifesto for change or a call to arms. Instead, they are an excellent grounding in modern Australian politics framed around debates within the Left. Anyone who wants to know more than what political spin doctors have drip-fed the mainstream media should pick up a copy of Left Turn today. You won’t agree with everything that’s written in it, but you’ll definitely be provoked to think and engage, and you might learn one or two things along the way. Ends. P.S. This review was written to be published in GreenVoice, the publicly distributed newspaper of The Greens NSW. I currently work as a Communications and Policy Adviser for Greens NSW MP David Shoebridge, though this was written separate to that role. I used to work for Lee Rhiannon. I also count Antony Loewenstein as a friend. I assume he thinks the same, but haven’t exactly asked him. I met Jeff Sparrow once – he was pretty nice. My heartfelt apologies to the other fantastic writers in ‘Left Turn’ who I just didn’t have space to mention/profile/review particularly Liz and Tad at The Left Flank who are both tops. MR

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