March 06, 2006 | Graham

Has Howard made us more left-wing?

University of Sydney researchers Gabrielle Meagher and Shaun Wilson have found that as a society Australia has become more left-wing. Comment seems to assume that this has happened despite Howard, but could it be because of him?
My thesis isn’t that this is a reaction to Howard’s positions on issues, but rather that by making it possible to be less “politically correct” Howard has created the conditions where people are more ready to move from entrenched positions.
Proof that we are a less politically correct society is easy to find. Take Peter Costello’s recent statement that Muslim immigrants should accept Australian values, and if they won’t and they have dual citizenship, they should be repatriated to the “alter pater” (latinists might like to help me with this phrase). A public figure would not have gotten away with this 10 years ago, and remember the furore over Howard’s much more moderate comments about Asian immigration back in the ’80s.
When Pauline Hanson was at her height of popularity there were many who said “I don’t agree with everything she says, but good on her for having the guts to get up and say it.” In effect, many supported her because they thought she was standing up to intellectual and cultural bullying. Presumably their own views were affected by the same forces.
Take the perception of bullying away, and it makes it easier for people to actually change their mind, particularly if logic favours the bully’s position.
John Howard seems to embody that principle at work himself. After 10 years in power he’s prepared to admit to mistakes. When you look at his track record, he’s combined contradictory positions. For example his government has given financial support for women to stay home at the same time that he has increased childcare payments to allow them to go to work. And he allowed a conscience vote on the RU486 issue.
True, there are some totemic issues that Howard stands very conservative on, such as gay marriage and refugees, but his stands on these issues allow for very liberal policies underneath – for example a very liberal immigration policy.
Ironic that a conservative government may have done more to advance a left-wing agenda than those that espouse it. There is a message for the left here.

Posted by Graham at 6:43 am | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I tend to think that the longer a government is in power, the stronger the opposition grows by default as a result of normal day-to-day attrition.
    It may be partly explicable as part of the age old “grass is greener on the other side” aspect of the human condition. When you’ve had a lot of something it’s only natural to start wanting something a little different down the track.

    Comment by Guy — March 6, 2006 @ 8:41 am

  2. So, you’re saying that Australia’s becoming more racist and extremist is a left-wing indicator?? Are you out of your mind? It is pure right-wing behaviour to be racist, extremist and non-accepting of other cultures. I think Australia has become more extremely right-wing than anything, and would question the results of any “research” that has shown otherwise. Perhaps they were just getting their left and right mixed up. We were much more accepting (ie left-wing) in the 80s than we ever have been under John Howard.

    Comment by Disgruntled — March 6, 2006 @ 8:53 am

  3. Disgruntled, I think you should read the report of the Meagher/Wilson piece. I’m not saying that Australia has got more racist, or extremist, and I’m not aware of any research that would support that.

    Comment by Graham Young — March 6, 2006 @ 9:11 am

  4. Well, whatever the research says, I am of the opinion that Australia *appears* to be expressing greater freedom of speech (particularly with regard to racial matters), *not* because we are getting more left-wing (and therefore more inclined to freedom of speech and less inclined to curb others’ freedoms), but because the right-wing has the “mandate” to be more outspoken in its extremist views as a result of the long-term right-wing government (who are even coming out themselves and making extremist comments). This government is FAR from being conservative in its racial views, as it has demonstrated throughout its pitiful and dishonest term in office, and this is allowing those Australians with similar views to express them more publicly. Signed – Ashamed to be an Australian.

    Comment by Disgruntled — March 6, 2006 @ 11:04 am

  5. How can people like George Gregan, Guy Sebastian and Cathy Freeman be so popular, if we are as racist as Disgruntled suggests?

    Comment by Jennifer — March 6, 2006 @ 3:59 pm

  6. That’s like saying that because Michael Jordan is (or maybe was, nowadays) hugely popular in the USA that there isn’t a problem with racism in the US. Your argument doesn’t hold water sorry.

    Comment by Disgruntled — March 7, 2006 @ 9:14 am

  7. When you see a story like this one,5936,18374377%255E952,00.html you have to wonder how colour blind our society is. Well-dressed Aboriginal woman left for dead for five hours at a busy Brisbane bus-stop until a group of Japanese students rescues her.
    How often are European people left in this situation, and for how long? Would it make news if it was a European? What is the racial mix of people using that bus stop – were the Japanese students the only group of non-European people?
    Which doesn’t mean that I agree with your basic argument “Disgruntled”, just that there is a lot of complexity in these issues.

    Comment by Graham Young — March 7, 2006 @ 10:29 am

  8. Guy, your comment has some general validity, but in practise the ALP seems to be doing everything it can to keep Howard in power. It started going off the rails when Keating challenged Hawke, and now doesnt even know where the rails are. See Rodney Cavalier’s piece in The Australian March 8.

    Comment by Faustno — March 8, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

  9. I find the whole “left” vs “right” argument rather perplexing. Isn’t this just a case of the government expressing a radical social reform agenda (classed as “right” wing here) and the public expressing its natural conservatism (classed here as “left” wing). A cautionary note: one should not confuse “right” with “conservative”.

    Comment by Glen Ryman — March 11, 2006 @ 9:30 pm

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