The opinion pages of major Australian newspapers seek to enrich our
knowledge of current affairs with the thoughts of many prominent and
intellectual figures. On any major issue of the day, we can find an
embellishment from Emeritus Professor who’s-it or Think-Tank Director what’s-his-name.
A rebuttal may come a day or two later from various political and media
personalities, many of whom profess to speak for the common man, - but when
did you last see a talk-back jock driving a beaten-up Kingswood?
What of the opinion of the average worker? If you work hard, you don’t
have time to indulge in follies such as ripping off a letter to the editor
or hitting the dog and bone to Alan Jones. The working man is essentially
voiceless and impotent in public, other than on Election Day. Well, maybe
not even then, unless he lives in a marginal electorate. How can we know
what these working-class heroes really think?
In every industrial workshop around mid-morning, tea is poured,
sandwiches unwrapped, papers are opened and discussion begins. The smoko
room is a hotbed of political opinion and social commentary, often sparked
by the reading aloud of a newspaper headline within a few minutes of sitting
down to eat. The twelve truck mechanics I work with have political and
cultural differences that are representative of a cross section of
Australian society. Some of the more vocal culprits include:*
- Taff, the stereotypical pommy shop steward;
- The Snowman, a devoutly religious ex-soldier and resident practical
- Elvis, the wizened old rock-&-roller;
- Sanjeev, the hardworking migrant;
- Saltbush Bill, the workshop’s own Justice of the Peace; and
- Penguin, the angry Kiwi who constantly reminds us that we reside in
New Zealand’s "West Island".
These smoko-room conversations have one common central theme –
marginalisation. The Dirty Dozen know who Don Chipp’s ‘bastards"
are – politicians, of any creed. Their political persuasion doesn’t
matter, as the policy differences are so few that the major parties are
almost indistinguishable from each other. Every day there is something in
the media that only adds to the many degrees of separation between Canberra
and working class suburbia. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation gave them some
brief hope when it was perceived as an anti-political movement, but the
meteoric fall of Hansonism left them feeling disenfranchised. As a result,
an increasing number of the guys are refusing to participate in the
political process, preferring to go fishing on polling day.
It is not just the politicians in the firing line. Business and the media
also come in for a spray. Every business collapse, with its revelations of
the excesses paid to corporate cowboys like Jodee Rich and Ray Williams,
serves to grind the working man down further. There is a lot of anger at the
government’s perceived failure to effectively regulate and tax business.
There is an assumption that business is allowed to run riot at the expense
of the ordinary taxpayer. The media are blamed for encouraging our
politicians, and failing to adequately bring them to heel.
It could be argued that the opinion of the average working Joe hardly
matters in the scheme of things. The industrial worker is a dying breed,
largely locked up in safe Labor electorates. To dismiss these people as
irrelevant is to fail to recognize the lessons of Hansonism. The
dissatisfaction that gave rise to One Nation is still out there, and could
be far more dangerous with a more organized and articulate leader. Think of
the Bavarian Worker’s Party in 1930’s Germany giving rise to Adolf
So what have the Dirty Dozen been discussing lately?
The revelation of the affair between Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans
caused a collective shudder in the smoko room, almost as if everyone had
just found out their parents were still having sex. Laurie Oakes was roundly
condemned for bringing this affair to their attention, as our elected
representatives are assumed to be strangely asexual. Incidentally, the same
assumption was also made of Laurie. Ignorance is bliss! According to Bob
Ellis (Canberra Times,
July 10) "His (Oakes) view is that sexual acts, when they impact on
policy or leadership, are fair game." That’s not the opinion of the
Dirty Dozen. They believe such information should be "on a need to know
basis. Quite frankly, we didn’t need, or want, to know". As The
Snowman said: "If Feral and Biggles were bumping uglies, I don’t want
to know. Way to much information." Unlike Ray Cassim (The
Age, July 7), our working-class heroes have no difficulty in
discerning the boundary between the private and public lives of a
Simon Crean is about as popular as nappy rash, particularly with our more
committed unionists, who frequently vent their anger at his proposed
reforms. His name is uttered with four-letter adjectives usually reserved
for the likes of Tony Abbott, Peter Costello and John Howard. According to
Taff: "Crean is a traitor. The unions put him where he is, and he turns
around and stabs them in the back". The Dirty Dozen are assuming that
the next election will be fought by Peter Costello and Simon Crean, who they
see as mirror images of each other. Some of those who would normally vote
Labor have talked in all seriousness about voting Green at the next election
if Crean remains leader. There is strong support for the return of Kim
Beazley, particularly if Howard stands aside for Costello. Elvis reckons
that "Beazley is a bloody good bloke, he just gave up too easily".
Mark Latham has proved to be popular as well, though the lads were a
little disappointed in the restraint he showed in calling Howard an ‘arselicker’.
It might be best for all if I don’t repeat the adjectives suggested by the
Dirty Dozen. Greg Sheridan (The Age, Jul 4) said, "Mark Latham
was foolish to describe John Howard as an "arselicker" for being
too pro-American. If Latham thinks he'll capture the aspirational voter by
the use of childish four-letter words, he is not as smart as we've been led
to believe." Latham’s comments did capture the attention of the Dirty
Dozen, but only as a source of amusement. Labor has to work a lot harder to
recapture these working class votes. Interestingly the factions of the
Democrats have not even been mentioned. Have the self-appointed guardians of
parliamentary honesty been reduced to irrelevancy?
The harshest language is being reserved for the once-popular Queensland
Premier, Peter Beattie. The dirty dozen are appalled at his handling of the
pay disputes with the nurses and police, particularly while the
multi-million dollar Lang Park development is occurring. They are quite
vocal on this. Taff calls Beattie "An insult to the labour
movement" and the "best Tory premier since Joh". The Snowman
says "he wastes a fortune on Lang Park, gives himself a huge pay rise,
but is too stingy to look after the battlers". Penguin calls him a
"class traitor!" and says "Beattie proves that all
politicians are bastards". I think you get the drift. Beattie’s only
salvation is that the opposition parties are, as Saltbush Bill says
"all over the place like a mad woman’s breakfast". The weakness
of the Queensland National and Liberal parties, whose leaders the Dirty
Dozen are flat out putting a name to, only adds to their feeling of
political impotence. They lament the failure of Hansonism, as the brief rise
of One Nation at least gave them the opportunity to express their
dissatisfaction with Australia’s political duopoly. Look forward to the
continued presence of Independents in Parliament.
There’s the bell. Smoko’s over, so I must get back to work. See you
*Names have been change to protect the indifferent.