Opinion: Identity politics agenda is economically fraught
LET me tell you a story about Norm and Norma.
This married couple don’t actually exist. At least not in the sense we usually mean. But there are numerous Norms and Normas on the fringes of Australia’s capital cities and in our nation’s regions.
Norm and Norma met in high school in a mid-sized country town. Eager to marry, they left school early and secured make-do jobs.
Their incomes were modest but they were happy, even when the bills piled up with extra mouths to feed. After eight years, Norma was laid off after the local supermarket was bought by a recent migrant. Soon after, Norm saw another migrant – a younger, university-educated woman who dressed “funny” – promoted to the front office while Norm remained on the loading dock.
The years passed and their children grew up. Norm and Norma talked with friends about how “bad” Australia had become when Aussie kids couldn’t get good local jobs. They hated the way their new neighbours spoke foreign languages and who didn’t dress “Australian”.
Norm and Norma were soon enamoured with a new political party headed by an articulate, telegenic young man who promised to make Australia great again by putting Australians first. The party struggled at first and won only a handful of Senate seats. But Australia’s major parties began to unravel as each became consumed with internal squabbles, especially after a major recession gutted Australia’s economy and pushed voters into a new world of fear.
Despite a few false starts the Great Australia Party, in just over a decade, managed to assume government with majorities in both houses.
Norm and Norma were ecstatic that, as promised, high tariffs would again bring well-paid jobs to everyone – even those with limited education – and Australia would again become a land of milk and honey where, at least in public, only English language and western dress is permitted.
Norm and Norma kept their electoral faith with the Great Australia Party, even when those well-paid jobs didn’t appear.
At first they cheered the government’s “Excess Migrant Removal” program, but when the young migrant bloke at the end of their street was deported – a single dad who volunteered with the local fire brigade and with whom Norm had shared many a beer and described as a “good bloke” – Norm and Norma grieved.
The seemingly endless recession deepened and, in the name of a national emergency, the GAP government suspended the forthcoming election to “fix” Australia’s problems.
But the policy agenda soon veered away from economics and even more toward identity.
The prime minister, who by now had largely abandoned cabinet government and who’d not allowed parliament to convene for a year, boasted he could ignore the High Court and the Constitution because he spoke directly to – and for – the people.
Those media outlets who criticised the GAP were branded “fake news” and later shut down, by GAP emergency fiat, for being “un-Australian”.
Norm and Norma, by now in their 50s, were unemployed and living on an ever-shrinking dole payment.
Worse, while sky-high import tariffs produced a few thousand low-paid jobs, the few products they created became unaffordable for most families.
Norm and Norma felt life couldn’t possibly get worse. But then a letter arrived by a now intermittent postal service.
The letter said the DNA test Norm had submitted to the previous year – part of the GAP’s requirements to ensure only the “right” people could collect welfare – had found Norm had more than the permissible 25 per cent of non-Anglo genes.
In short, Norm was “too foreign” and, while he wouldn’t be deported – where would he go? – he would no longer be eligible for government assistance.
We don’t know what became of Norm, Norma, their kids or the countless thousands like them.
But German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, imprisoned by the Nazis despite his earlier ambivalence, would have a good idea, as his famous poem suggests:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. / Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist. / Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. / Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Dr Paul Williams is a senior lecturer at Griffith University’s School of Humanities, Languages and Social Scienc