But when you look at the result of the latest WA election, it seems we want more spiritually, too.
(well, not all of us of course. Pat Campbell's clever take on the kingmaker)
There's nothing like a trip to Sweden to make you thing there should be something more to life than just raking it in, as this Canberra Times column suggests . . .
Don't believe anyone who tells you the results of the Western Australia election are meaningless: they’re pregnant with significance. Firstly, there’s the tactical effect. Tony Abbott's personal authority amongst his colleagues has been weakened; they won't forget that the party’s vote went backwards in his first test as Prime Minister, down almost 5.5 percent. This gives credibility to polling insisting this is the only government missing out on a honeymoon with the voters since the ’70’s. We’re still a very long way from any discussions about leadership instability - although perhaps less distant than at the same time when Rudd first occupied the Lodge.
Not that Bill Shorten will be taking any comfort from these results, either. Sinking almost five percent after an already disastrous submersion at the last poll; achieving less than 22 percent of first preferences. No need to measure the curtains at Kirribilli. So if the Coalition dropped while Labor plunged to a crushingly low base, who won?
The Greens Scott Ludlum gained percent largely off the back of an impassioned speech to an empty Chamber. Voters want people they can believe in. They can separate the wheat from the chaff and recognise individual politicians who possess ability, even within the framework of mediocrity that surrounds them. Yet although elected (finally) in his own right, Ludlum’s not the winner.
No, this would be Clive Palmer, the man who holds veto power over the government’s entire agenda. The Coalition should be worried. Abbott’s demonstrated an inability to negotiate with anyone in the past. He’ll rapidly need to acquire the skill. Yet Palmer only exists because of voter alienation. If the traditional parties were properly serving the electorate, the country's future wouldn't be in the palm of the hand of someone better known as the owner of a failing dinosaur park. Palmer’s not tyrannosaurus rex but he is rex artifex – the king-maker.
This is the strategic effect of the WA election, and it’s a worrying one. Rarely has there been such an imperative for voters to endorse the major parties - and yet they abandoned them. Why did so many voters feel so little empathy for the politicians who have gone out of their way to pander obsequiously to their every whim? Why did they spurn those unctuous, sycophantic and fawning promises offered up to the electorate as part of a desperate attempt to win voters’ affections? It’s easy just to assume that voters are fools, and yet the answer may be exactly the opposite.
There’s always the chance that, before they voted, people took a look at what’s been happening in our country over the past decade and didn’t like what they saw. In the past six months every car-maker has announced they’ll be leaving the country. The only expanding business seems to be financial engineering. We’ve returned to the vassalage of knights and dames and Australia is bereft of any sort of vision for the future. This vote was, as much as anything, a referendum on what people think of our politicians. The verdict is, “not much”. It’s not hard to discern why.
As alert readers will be aware, I’ve spent the last week in Sweden. It’s hard to remain detached and analytic when walking on cobblestones in ancient squares; and travelling through the forests beside still-freezing lakes, but it doesn’t take long before you notice something about the country. It actually makes things - everything from A (Absolut Vodka) to W (WESC - a skateboard/snowboard clothing brand), with Ericsson (telecommunications), Husquvarna (power tools), IKEA (pieces of wood deliberately designed not to fit together), Kosta Boda, SAAB and Volvo (amongst others) in between. The point is that - despite the months of darkness and cold and the fact that it only has 9 million people (we’ve got 22 million) - the country manages to maintain a high standard of living, vibrant export economy and, like Australia, has a significant mining sector. In many ways it’s not that different to us . . . except in terms of the prescriptions it’s adopting to embrace the future.
The announcements that every Australian car-maker is about to close should serve as a lightning rod focusing our attention. Something’s going very wrong with our current approach. It’s evident the growth fetish has failed. All that striving to expand and become a big market won’t help unless the product you’re attempting to sell is better the competitors’ merchandise or protected to ensure its viability. Previously, government intervened in the market to make foreign goods more expensive with tariffs. Today it doesn’t, which is fine, but the problem is that government, inspired by free-market doctrine, has sought to exit the economy completely. While this is fine in theory it fails in practice, because the playing fields aren’t level. Taxes, wages, and government support are all adding their effects to the crippling burden of fighting off cheap imports.
If this government wants to remain wedded to our mining industry, it will be forced to tax it to support the rest of the country. This is the Scandinavian model. Tax the winners. The mining magnates’ desires and ambitions appear far more venal - abolishing the mining tax while reaching back to seize money from the Treasury retrospectively.
Palmer and his mate Gina Rinehart, the richest woman in the world, have proved themselves very good at exploiting our mineral wealth. Good on them. But you shouldn’t become rich and famous for simply digging something up and sending it abroad. That’s not creating something. Voters sense this, even if Labor isn’t capable of explaining it to them.