Federal Election 2019: Meet the Australian Country Party

Summary

Website: https://australiancountryparty.org.au/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/auscountryparty/
Previous names: The Australian Country Alliance
The Australian Country Party: Give it Back!
Slogans:
A Voice for All
People before Party, Policies before Politics
Themes: Centrist with slightly libertarian tendencies, big on independence, freedom, and self-reliance.  More infrastructure and resources for regional Australia.  Policies very unclear, as they want to consult everyone on Facebook, which seems like the sort of choice one regrets before long.  (Could be worse, could be Twitter.)
Electorate:
None.  This entire post was pointless, unless you like watching the evolution of small political parties.
Preferences: N/A
Previous reviews

Policies & Commentary

I reviewed the ACP back in November last year, and was therefore planning only a very brief update for the Federal Election, but I received a note from their new Chairman, Glenn O’Rourke, back in January, informing me that the party had undergone a complete reorganisation and was changing its policies, and politely requesting that I update my review ‘as while your overview here was correct at the time of publishing, it no longer reflects who or what the Party is Post the Victorian Election’.

I have to say, this response won significant points with me, since I had some pretty strong objections to the policies the ACP took to the Victorian State Election, and advised readers not to vote for them.  I’m pretty accustomed to members of the parties I review getting cross when they read what I’ve written about them, and coming into the comments to berate me, and I’m reasonably tolerant of an initial angry reply, because I *am* fairly sarcastic, even about groups I quite like, and nobody likes to feel insulted or misunderstood.  But I’m always impressed when someone manages to be polite, gracious, and factual from the start, especially in circumstances like this one.

(Incidentally, a note for members of small political parties who are feeling cross about what I have written about them – if you can Google your party and find my blog, so can potential voters.  So you might want to consider how they will read your comment and how it might make them feel about voting for you.)

Anyway.  Initial positive first impressions aside, let’s see what the ACP has for us.

Their front page starts by pointing us to a media release titled

Australian Country Party Announces its National Expansion as the First, Truly Democratic, Grass Roots Political Party in Australia

I think there are a few other political parties that might take issue with this statement, but let’s continue…

The Party is neither left nor right, nor do we segregate Australians into different groups, we all have equal value and we all have valuable voices. Our candidates and MP’s will be focused on engaging with, listening to and representing their individual electorates and contribute to broad policies, through local consultation, that firstly relate to their electorates and then the greater region, State or Territory and Country.

We then have the usual manifesto about how the major parties have failed Australia, after which the ACP tells us that they plan to be a ‘true third-party alternative’ and a ‘new, broadly inclusive option’.  They see themselves as and ‘alliance of Independent MPs… who are committed to representing the people of their electorate first and offer strong policies before politics’, and it’s notable that while there is still a strong emphasis on infrastructure in regional areas and affordable and accessible services for Australians regardless of where they live (and I think they are still leaning towards the country), they make a point of mentioning cities and towns.

This is a definite pivot, and I think it reflects a lot of things we are seeing in the politics of regional areas.  At the last couple of elections, the ACP has been very much positioning itself to take the place of the National Party, which is seen (with, I think, quite a bit of justification) as having failed regional Australia.  But in the last few elections, we’ve seen a rise in local, independent candidates doing well in rural and regional areas, and making alliances in Parliament.  The ACP has evidently decided to ride this wave, which I suspect is a politically savvy move.

Their ‘About’ page list things that they care about, including small businesses, children and education, seniors, accessible and affordable healthcare, farmers and food security, fair water entitlements, investment in infrastructure in rural areas, and generally a lack of support for people in rural and regional areas.  So they are kind of still trying to replace the Nationals, too, they are just taking a more modern strategy.

(This isn’t a complaint.  I don’t even know what the Nationals are for at this point, and there is a definite need for a political party that pays attention to the needs of people who don’t live in cities.  I’m just not yet sold on ACP as that party.)

Let’s have a look at their mission statement.

Australian Country Party is committed to the representation and preservation of the rights and interests of those who live in and work in Australia. We will not pander to economic and social agendas that have paralysed elements of Australia, its economic health, cost of living and ability to enjoy life.

We believe in equality of access to education, transportation, communication and health care for all communities;

We believe in “Australia’s Foundation Values”, common sense, fairness, equality and a fair go for all;

We support freedom of access to the public lands for the responsible pursuit of legitimate employment and recreational activities;

We believe that the land management policies must be guided by and funded to meet the needs of the communities that live adjacent to public land or who access it for their recreation or livelihood;

We respect our environment and believe in developing a sustainable manageable future, without sacrificing economic prosperity and our rights and freedoms in the process;

We believe in your best interests first, before that of multinational corporations or political parties.

Yeah, OK, unsurprisingly there is a bit of a mix here, and they are definitely speaking to people who live rather further to the right on the political spectrum than I do.  I’m a little worried about the ‘economic and social agendas that have paralysed Australia’, because they sound a bit like code for not being terribly fond of Green policies and LGBTQIA+ people, and there are a few lines there which sound a little dubious from an environmental perspective, but it’s hard to be sure.  On the other hand, the equality of access principle is important, and the whole bit about putting people ahead of corporations and political parties also gets a big tick from me.

The ACP has Core Values which are… a bit dubious on the subject of racism…

Our sustenance, our wealth and our future all reside in the land beneath our feet. This wealth belongs to the Australian people and should always be developed and used in the best interests of the Australian people.

It is the land we share that unites us as one people. Regardless of ethnic or racial origin or how long our ancestors have lived in this country, every person born in Australia is an equal indigenous citizen of this country, including First Australians, with equal rights to share in the opportunities, resources and responsibilities of our land.

I *think* they are aiming for ‘colour-blindness’ here, which is one of those well-intentioned failure modes of people trying not to be racist while not actually talking to people of different backgrounds, but I’m not sure.  They seem to be claiming indigeneity for all Australians, which is… not quite right.   I’m deeply uncomfortable with this, but can’t quite put my finger on why.

Their values also emphasise self-reliance and personal responsibility, on both a personal and a national level.  People ought to work if they can; Australia ought to be self-reliant and not go into debt or rely on imports for basic necessities.  It’s all very Protestant Work Ethic.  They are also against privatisation of utilities.

Also:

Without personal freedom and unfettered opportunity, we cannot have prosperity. Both are dependent on curtailing the size of Government, repealing bureaucratic regulation, destroying terrorism and fighting totalitarianism and globalisation which are the enemies of freedom and the people’s opportunity to succeed

I knew the red tape couldn’t be far away.  Also, can you actually have small government, public ownership of utilities and all that new public infrastructure for rural areas at the same time?

Their objectives again emphasise liberty, democracy and personal responsibility, but also want to improve quality of life for all Australians.  They are a little inconsistent on the environment, however:

Ensure the maintenance of an appropriate balance between economic development and a healthy and sustainable environment;

Ensure that policies involving environmental issues are based on verifiable facts, rigorous scientific inquiry and field visits to ascertain community views;

I wonder what happens when community views clash with verifiable facts and rigorous scientific enquiry?

Incidentally, I was going to say that this sounded like an improvement on their old environmental policies, but actually, it’s word for word identical to what they wrote last time.   The difference is that last time they followed it up with a lengthy policy that was deeply suspicious of all things environmental.

So what do their policies look like this time?

Well, that is an excellent question.

The Australian Country Party is committed to grassroots, local community engagement for the development of diverse Position Statements.

The grassroots communities in every State and Territory will have their own specific needs and ideas and will be reflected clearly and separately on our website and future State and Territory specific websites.

While we have had a range of Position Statements that have been developed over the years, they need to be updated and modernised with input by the people of Australia.

And to this end, they have created a Facebook discussion group, where people can discuss policy positions and hopefully find a consensus.  I applaud this idea – especially as they invite everyone reading to join and contribute, which is pretty charming and inclusive – but it doesn’t give me a lot to work with for this post.  Also, I had a look over there, and there is a lot of discussion at present about whether climate change is real and if we really do need to do anything about it, which is depressing, especially as the moderators seem to be on the side of thinking it’s all a bit exaggerated.

While there are no policy statements on the ACP’s website yet, there are a few themes that are repeated in various lists of commitments, bullet points, and goals.  It’s pretty clear that the ACP wants to improve rural and regional communities.  They are also fairly protectionist – they don’t want Australian lands and assets sold off, and they do want to protect manufacturing, agriculture, and similar.  They want better trade agreements and promotion of Australian grown / Australian made items.  They are  – repeatedly – worried about water, as we all are, I think.

They want to ‘Pursue balanced and fair immigration and refugee policy, to protect rights of both Australians and new Australians’, which is cheering,

And they are worried about the ability of all Australians to feel safe in their country.  This last one is something I’d really like to see them expand on.  Is this about African Gangs Threatening Our Suburbs, or is it about people spray-painting swastikas on Jewish aged care facilities, or threatening people who look Muslim or transgender with violence?  Because I do want all Australians to feel safe in their country, but that can mean very different things to different people.

Which now makes me wonder… is this actually about the right to bear arms?  It’s notable that the ACP, who had a *lot* to say about loosening the gun laws before the Victorian election, and who mention on their Facebook page that the ACP started as an offshoot of the Shooters and Fishers Party, say absolutely nothing about guns on their new website.  This could indicate a change of heart, or it could be a tactful (and tactical) withdrawal from the policy in the wake of Christchurch.  Or it could be something else again.

And here, I think, is the real issue with the ACP in its current form.  It’s trying to position itself as a centrist, inclusive party that represents the interests of regional Australia, which is a perfectly reasonable position to take, and one that I think our political spectrum could benefit from. And part of that inclusiveness is public consultation on policy, which I would argue has its pitfalls, but is still potentially a worthwhile endeavour when you are rebuilding from scratch.

The problem is, it leaves the voter with no real idea what they are going to get if they vote the ACP in at this point, and that, to me, is a problem, especially given the negative impression they left me with in their previous incarnation.  I suspect they’d be a bit too far too the right for my tastes anyway (and I’m very dubious about their environmental views), but I honestly don’t know what the ACP would support if they get in.  While they won’t be at the bottom of my ballot – there are too many other parties working too hard for that honour in this election – they are likely to wind up in the bottom third, just because I don’t like to vote for the unknown.  Lucky dip is a fun game, but not for the Senate.

Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively

I still don’t know what to make of the ACP, but a few things are clear.  They are in favour of things rural and regional, they are skeptical about the need to address environmental issues, they like traditional values, and they don’t like bureaucracy.

So here is a lovely Slovakian woman singing about being outside in the beautiful countryside, while being slowly wrapped up in green tape held by people dressed as trees.

Sounds about right, don’t you think?  (And even if not, it’s a fun song…)

5 thoughts on “Federal Election 2019: Meet the Australian Country Party

  1. A thing that makes me quite specifically uneasy about

    Regardless of ethnic or racial origin or how long our ancestors have lived in this country, every person born in Australia is an equal indigenous citizen of this country, including First Australians, with equal rights to share in the opportunities, resources and responsibilities of our land.

    is that it elides what is certainly a long and fraught history with “settlers” (or whatever you care to call them) from Europe taking land and resources away from the people who originally lived in Australia, with violence and a sustained effort to erase Aboriginal cultures. That history means that modern-day Australians are not starting on a level playing field.

    Affirming equal rights is a good start, but it’s also a potentially empty gesture if it’s not combined with ensuring equal opportunity. Which it looks like they are trying to affirm! But.

    Within the last two years or so, I read an interesting piece on “red-lining” and the post-WWII ability of Black and white USians to accumulate generational wealth. A Black family starting out with nothing but the benefits due a war veteran, and a white family starting out in the same place, have wildly different outcomes on average due to the racist laws, policies, and attitudes the Black family had to deal with. Never mind the generational trauma inflicted by enslaving some of the Black family’s ancestors.

    I haven’t studied what white people did in Australia, but the US was openly genocidal to the Native American nations. It trivializes that history when a USian person from a white cultural background, who has not suffered the indignity and oppression arrayed against the nations that tried to keep the old ways alive, claims there is no difference between them because one of their ancestors was from one of those nations. As much as I like Elizabeth Warren as a politician and policy person, that’s one thing she got wrong in a way that hurts the Native Americans still suffering from generational poverty and discrimination.

    This smacks of that same false equivalence.

    (Context: I am a white person who lives in the US. I started paying attention after LiveJournal fan culture had a #racefail meltdown in 2009-ish.)

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, so thank you for that. (And yes, we do have a similar history with regard to treatment of our indigenous Australians, sadly.)

    • Although… I would make one addition to what you’ve said, since I’m not sure the US had a ‘stolen generation’ as we did, which cut a lot of aboriginal and half or quarter aboriginal people off from their families and culture in a very damaging way. So… the single ancestor thing potentially carries a lot more disadvantage/trauma here than it might in Warren’s case (from what you have said).

  2. Catherine, to our everlasting shame, we had *several* stolen generations. For well over a hundred years, Native American children were forcibly removed from their tribes and families and put in boarding schools, where they were forcibly assimilated & not allowed to speak their native languages. Even today some children are being removed from their tribes and put into white foster homes. It’s a whole load of ongoing issues no one seems to be doing anything about. It’s a complex tangle, & not that many voters for a politician to stir things up over, & the 24-hour news cycle sweeps individual stories off the front pages in just a day or two anyway.

    • We have similar issues – while the policy has gone, there is a definite trend that indigenous children get removed from their families in situations where white children would not be. It’s not good.

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