The centre can be radical. Look what happened at the recent Australian election

THE POLITICALLY COMMITTED often decry the “centre” as wishy-washy, and as cosying up to the other side. But, being less ideological, the centre can be more radical.

Just one piece of evidence is the recent electoral success of “community independents”, whose pronounced liberalism produced policies more radical than either main party, left or right.

Liberalism? Corporate capitalism has rewritten our political language (chronicled in Meals Matter), and that necessitates being more open to rethinking liberalism.

The liberalism of its often-acknowledged founder, John Locke, tends to live on with so-called “small-l” or “left-” or “social-” liberals, who have multiplied over recent decades.

They eschew extremes, and yet have become such a threat that the right’s “culture warriors” have ridiculed them variously as “chardonnay socialists”, “latte liberals”, “smoked salmon socialists”, “gauche caviar”, “Toskana-Fraktion”,  “Salonsozialist”, “yuppies”, “politically correct”, “chattering classes”, “bobos”, “educated classes”, “liberal elite”, “inner-city greenies”, “mad left”, and on and on.

These liberals are committed to everyday, kitchen-table reality, which is perceived through practical experiences and face-to-face conversations, and informed by learning, with a consequent embrace of equality, tolerance, and democracy. Combined with the rejection of high authority and ideology and other extremes, these liberals are definitively radical in the sense of getting back to material basics.

The recent rise of so-called “teal” independents has been explained as “professional women” rejecting “merely” climate inaction, political corruption, and mistreatment of women.

They are better identified as genuine liberals, unimpressed by the Coalition’s obfuscations on global warming and women. Disturbed by political corruption and capture, they are determinedly “community” candidates, and I have already described their “kitchen table conversations” – grassroots exercises in interpersonal respect and participatory democracy.

Community independents belong to a centre that’s definitely not a weak compromise, not at least in terms of climate action, political integrity and gender equality.

Their policies are reliant on facts and expertise, not ideology, suggesting radicalism that’s not extreme, but literally getting to the root of the matter (deriving from Latin radix radicis).

Max Chandler-Mather

Likewise, the Greens would appear to have somewhat furled their wilderness and class war wings, and boosted their liberal radicalism. “People have lost faith in a political system that puts the interests of a few big corporations ahead of the rest of us,” according to Max Chandler-Mather. So, he ran “the biggest grassroots campaign in Greens’ history”, and won the Brisbane seat of Griffith.

Unusually for an Australian campaign, they established themselves as community carers by, for example, building a community garden on Defence land being disposed of to a developer. Their volunteer teams used some of the garden’s produce when helping out during covid lockdowns and after floods.

Historically, the major Australian parties – Labor and Liberal – represented the interests of the working class and bosses, respectively, although both always contained liberal elements.

Labor outgrew the class war with the Whitlam revolution of 1972, although its liberal leadership then fell in with neoliberalism. Labor’s agenda remains hypnotised by “jobs, jobs, jobs”, which is sunny way to support corporate capitalism.

We might be lucky, and the new Labor government might get behind the common-wealth of health, social justice, infrastructure, environment, education, research and the arts. But that means standing up to capitalist rule by profit.

Perhaps Labor needs to become the Labourer/Worker/Housekeeper/Carer/Professional/ Artisan/Farmer/Small businessperson/LGBTIQA+/Immigrant/Aged/Disabled/Indigenous/Abused/Student/Etc Party. A new name is not easy to come up with… Perhaps “Commonwealth Party”?

The “Liberal” name is already taken by the occasionally liberal party of Robert Menzies, but whose main demand is “freedom” for money, and which now has to choose between becoming a “broad church” or a reality-inventing, fact-denying, cynical rump.

Likewise, the National Party has to decide between being a Country Party, concerned with increasingly perilous bread-and-butter rural issues, or Trumpian authoritarians.

Perhaps the party system is doomed, anyway, as a relic of hierarchies with “party discipline” under the Leader, announcing policy, allocating ministries, and making “captain’s picks”.

Rather than rely on backroom deals, sloganised messaging and last-minute hi-vis pageantry, Members and Senators might deliberate on the floor of parliament. Now that’s an idea.

The community independents have shown the way. And let’s not forget that a thriving democracy in a complex society requires a highly informed citizenry, and therefore strong public education, responsible media, and a committed and open public service.

With determination, it’s possible that a new centre might hold, and a radical centre at that.

To repeat, by “centre”, I do not speak of midway between two extremes, but caring, honest, informed and pragmatic “liberalism”.

Australian Republican Movement, listen! We’re the “head of state”

THE AUSTRALIAN REPUBLICAN Movement has proposed a two-step model for appointing a “head of state” to replace Queen Elizabeth (or King Charles, Andrew, Harry or whomever). Of all people, republicans shouldn’t cling like this to the monarchical archetype.

The simple fact is that the head of state is (or should be) the people. We are in charge. Our appointment merely requires simple assertion: Australia belongs to the people! The #AusRepublic proposal betrays nostalgia for hierarchical rule by our betters – “something higher than the politicians”, when it is actually us.

According to the ARM model, the head of state would be little more than “ceremonial”, that is, perform as pseudo-royalty. In terms of power, this official could merely ask members of the House of Representatives who has their “confidence” to form a government. If that’s no-one, the HOS calls an election. Parliament could do that by itself.

So far, Australia has largely got away with a mediocre Constitution, no Bill of Rights, and little by way of a popular or even elite understanding of civics, liberal theory, political philosophy, jurisprudence, republicanism, or however you want to approach the requisite knowledge.

A republic is not achieved by merely replacing a powerful, foreign “figurehead’ with a powerless one. However, getting an Australian republic even half right would require massive research, contemplation, education, inspiration and debate.

The inadequate comprehension around these parts showed up, as Marion Maddox pointed out, when the 1998 Constitutional Convention opted for recognition in the Preamble of some supreme “generic God”. Come on, the supreme national authority is the people, with only the natural economy/ecosystem more formidable.

Since at least the 1930s, when William Cooper petitioned for enfranchisement, direct representation in parliament, and land rights, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander campaigners have sought serious constitutional recognition, with Treaty pressures escalating from the 1970s.

That might sound gradual. Discussion has scarcely even emerged on the constitutional status of corporations. As I show in Meals Matter: A radical economics through gastronomy, corporate apologists have got away with claiming the human right of “liberty” for businesses, while denigrating government by the people. No republic is wanted, when money runs things.

A republic would require renewed investigation of familiar topics – the role of the judiciary, States’ rights, taxation, border security, health, education, etc. – but often in unfamiliar ways. A proper democracy requires a real commitment to education, research and the arts, and not just training, tech and the leisure industries, for example.

But we’re a long way from a fundamental understanding when even political philosophers fail to recognise that John Locke argued his liberal case in basic economic terms, i.e., the human need to eat and to cooperate on that within nature. My next book will cover more of that.

PS: Governors’ residences could be put to good use as retreats for Australians of the Year, poets laureate, writers, playwrights, thinkers … generating more discussions like Grace Tame’s than the present Governor General’s. Yarralumla’s State Dining Room could experiment with banquets, given that’s what political economies are centred on (again, see Meals Matter).