Australia's Tea Party

Submitted by martin on 20 August, 2011 - 8:23

Australia now has its "Tea Party", in the form of the Convoy of No Confidence of trucks and other vehicles heading for Canberra.

The first contingent started from Port Hedland in Western Australia on 16 August, and all the eleven contingents converge in Canberra on 22 August.

The main organisation sponsoring the convoy is the National Road Freighters' Association.

It is promoting a petition to demand a fresh federal election because the Government "has been compromised into wilfully and intentionally misleading the Australian people by introducing a Carbon Tax".

Other grievances in the convoy include:

  • "This Governments attitude to immigrants, whether legal or otherwise, is seriously flawed to the detriment of true Australians".
  • Government debt (actually very low for Australia compared to most other countries) and the Government's scheme for a National Broadband Network. "Here we are in the midst of a national calamity, which is the floods, and, so help me, they are going to borrow the money and put it on the credit card to build a telephone network when we already have a telephone network".
  • "The anti family movement" and "Marxist-loving 'Useful Idiots' at their [Sydney] Northern Beaches cocktail parties".
  • "Every week, legislation is amended, removing our rights or further intruding on our freedoms and our hip pocket..."
  • The NRFA complains about government regulations limiting drivers' hours on grounds of fatigue management: these regulation will "have no appreciable advantages for the owner drivers and small fleet owners".
  • Pattel adds: "the live export, the Murray Darling, the Wild Rivers, there are a million things..."

Both the right-wing opposition parties, Liberals and Nationals, have backed the convoy. The parliamentary politician most vocally aligned with the convoy is Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce, a right-wing rural populist and high-profile campaigner to ban abortion.

The convoy organiser, Mick Pattel, had been selected as the Liberal National Party candidate for Mount Isa (in western Queensland), but stood down for the convoy. He claims:

"It would shock you, the number of Labor people [joining the convoy].

"They believe that Labor is no longer Labor. They believe it has been hijacked by the Greens. It's gone to far to the left and they don't like it.

"They are good people. They might vote Labor, but they are good people".

Pattel says that the convoy does not plan to organise any blockades. "The last thing we need is confrontation... It is going to be peaceful, we have a good class of people coming down, mainly business people and people who are concerned about where our country is going, they're not a radical mob of ratbags that are pushing one agenda".

The Convoy has parallels with the Tea Party movement in the USA and the truckers' and farmers' blockade movement in the UK in September 2000. It also has some parallels with Pauline Hanson's right-wing populist movement, One Nation, which burgeoned briefly in 1997-8 but then collapsed through internal strife and being politically gazumped by the right-wing Howard government.

It looks unlikely to have as much autonomous impact as the Tea Party, because the relative weight of small-town and rural population in Australia is much smaller than in the USA, and the convoy has less autonomy from the incumbent leadership of the conservative parties than the Tea Party has from the Establishment, big-city, big-business Republicans.

Nevertheless, it is a signal of the way Australian politics is going. Labor has squandered the popular boost it got from the campaign against the Howard government's WorkChoices anti-union legislation, and the good luck it got after 2008 from the Chinese government's investment drive, and consequent high imports, maintaining Australia's minerals boom.

Even though Australia has suffered less from the world capitalist turmoil than other countries, discontent is widespread - and, in the absence of bold and sufficiently audible voices on the left, currently being hegemonised by the populist right.

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