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Building Open and Safe Societies for All

160920mw1997LOWCountering Right-wing Populism 

The right-wing populists that promote xenophobia, fundamentalism and violent radicalization seem to be on the rise and winning the debate in Europe, USA and South East Asia.

Political and economic marginalization aggravated by the financial crises in different continents since the 90’s have contributed to undermine established political leaders and stirred popular discontent. Many voters responded by electing maverick politicians who promised to target corruption, establish fresh agendas and radically solve all problems. In many cases, populist leaders based their appeal on the frustrations and aspirations of groups excluded from political power or afraid of the current socio-economic challenges.

There are several reasons why they seem to be winning: they are well organised and they seem to care what people think. But the latter does not necessarily relate to facts, on the contrary it rather relates to perceptions and emotions. There is a need to consolidate the consensus in our societies around tolerance, fundamental rights and pluralism. As our societies become more diverse and immigration reaches more communities, more people ought to become less prejudiced and more supportive.

We need to rebuild public support by tackling issues that lie at the root of public anger. Inequality and social injustice are fuelling the frustration of traditional left-wing voters, especially when they see elites benefiting from privileges, tax evasion and misuse of public funds. By strengthening tools to combat corruption and tax evasion and by establishing remedies against discrimination and exclusion, progressives can show that institutions serve more than the interests of economic elites. By speaking truth to power that be, reaching out to our traditional base of support from the ordinary people, and continuing to pose concrete but strategic solutions, progressives can remain alternatives to short-term, divisive and often hollow populist calls.

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SOCDEM Asia’s Exclusive Interview with Trudy Jackson, ALP International Officer

logo.laborbanner1. For the past decade, beginning in the late-2000s, the major Australian parties seem to be racked by internal feuds and, in the case of labor, successive coups by rival leaders. What explains this seemingly strange phenomenon? What are the factors that have contributed to what seems like personality politics overtaking ideological coherence and party discipline?

If you look at Australia’s 116-year old federal parliament there are many examples of similar past leadership changes. However modern media and communications has provided unprecedented access and real-time coverage for such leadership challenges which have often been conveyed only in terms of personalities. This has obviously lifted the level of accountability on political parties and in 2013 Labor introduced significant reforms to its leadership election process to ensure future stability and this has paid dividends for Labor with an unprecedented unity and stability since 2013. The Liberal-National government continues to suffer from internal leadership dissent.

2. Australian politics have been unusually volatile even by Western standards. This seems ironic, given how the country has done much better than most of its peers vis-à-vis the Global Financial Crisis.  What is going on here? Are we witnessing the “Americanization” of Australian politics? Is there deep-seated ideological polarization in the country?

The Labor Government of 2007-2013 provided Australia with strong economic leadership which protected hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs and saved the Australian economy from the fate that befell many of its trading partners in the region and across the globe. However many working Australians still feel the same disenchantment that has caused the surge of populism for anti-establishment candidates in other advanced democracies around the world.  However, one of the effects of compulsory voting has been that Australian politics  is less susceptible to the sort of extremist rhetoric that has recently been seen in the US and Europe. Australian Labor has always been the party of fairness and egalitarianism. We continue to develop  policies that respond to the desire for more fairness and accountability amongst voters. At the recent election our focus was on fair access to healthcare, education, job opportunities and tax reform – policy initiatives that would mitigate the effects of globalization and inequality which are hurt working people around the world.

3. A bout of right-wing populism and anti-immigrant sentiment has bedeviled both America and Western Europe in recent years. What about Australia, given its stringent measures against illegal migration? What about the response to the recent terror-related events, with ISIS-affiliate individuals engaging in violence against civilians? Should we be worried about the rise of Le Pen-like, if not Trump-like, figures in the country? Or Australian politics is expected to remain ‘boring’ and ‘stale’ in relative terms?

Australian Labor is proud of our multicultural society and the anti-discrimination and anti-hate protections federal and state Labor governments have put into law. We will fight to keep those protections in place despite support for their reform within the current government and amongst some right-wing fringe groups.  Despite the success of Australian multi-culturalism, Australia is not completely immune to anti-immigrant sentiment, but it is important to note these views do not have widespread support in the Australian community. Labor strongly opposes the types of anti-immigrant sentiment espoused by Trump-like leaders around the world.

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Political Management Training 2

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