I had always wondered what happened to the loony left after the bodily remains of “don’t you worry about that” Joh Bjelke-Petersen had been interred or cremated or whatever, but it seems they still flourish like mushrooms after an autumn rain. Who would have thought that the reds under the bed would have multiplied so plentifully in little old Tasmania so long after the disintegration of the mother of all beds of loony lefties in 1989.

I’m not talking about a cool place to store the odd carton of Tassy pinot noir, but a place of mindlessness and fantasy for political gain, a place of political cynicism, lies and social division. A bit like the old, old story of William Bligh being dragged from under his bed by officers of the NSW Corps during the Rum Rebellion. Not that I’m trying to equate Bligh with Joh’s ubiquitous communist threat from within.

But these new “ loony lefties” are a strange breed indeed. They are “insular socialists”, which is a new term in the Tasmanian political vernacular as far as I know. Does that mean that they are a throwback to the original old ALP socialist platform which required “socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange” as a policy goal in some way or another for much of the 20th century?

I’m decidedly unsure who these “insular socialist” associates of the editor of TT are (goodness, that nearly rhymes!), but I doubt they’re still enamoured of the ALP, if they ever were. Then again, maybe it’s the “loony left” who voted for Rudd in ’07, thinking that he was serious about “social democracy”, but then changed their minds in ’10 and voted Green. That would explain some of the 6% swing away from Labor in the federal election, but obviously not all of it, because “loony lefties” would be unlikely be among those 2-3% who swung in favour of Abbott. But who knows? Maybe there’s a sub-group of “loony lefties” who have seen the right-wing light and have deserted the ranks.

A kind of Keith Windshuttle shuffle, as it were.

On another diversionary thought (is that a symptom of the “loony left”, or a hard policy position?) when was the socialist objective removed from the ALP platform? It was amended in 1921, toned down to accommodate private ownership more easily. But is it still there in its 1921 form, or has it been neutred further or retired out to pasture completely? As an old “loony lefty” I must admit I’ve completely forgotten. Have to google it some time. Write it in the diary so I don’t forget (PS look up socialist objective, amendments etc some time).

But I’m getting off the point. And the point is, the description of the loony left as Hansonites must be news indeed to all and every person who has a rudimentary understanding of the meaning of left-right in a political context. Hanson was a right-wing populist, akin to Joh actually, appealing to the base instincts of fear and prejudice on the basis of race, to win political support. Her political tutelage was in right-wing conservative politics, in the Liberal Party, before she was rejected as even too right wing for the Howard Liberals, one of the most right-wing administrations in the history of Australian federalism.

Except for Joh’s.

As for “vigilante environmentalists”, the phrase suggests activists in forestry protection, such as Still Wild Still Threatened, for vigilantes are those who seek to achieve their goals by direct action. I’m sure there are still a few old “loony lefties” with a penchant for direct action, getting arrested and so on. Peter Cundall comes to mind ( ABC Online: Cundall faces court on protest charge ). He used to be a card-carrying communist, or so he’s said, and now he’s deliberately getting arrested! Says it all. Perhaps we should have a sub-sub group of “loony lefties”. Those who get arrested and those who don’t. Any takers?

So there you have it (or is it we?). The old pejoratives and prejudices of the political Right are to be raised again in new clothes. The “green extemists” of David Llewellyn, the “eco-terrorists” of Scott McLean, the “extreme left greenies” of the ALP and the Liberal Party, have been recast as the “loony left” for voicing independent voices at variance with the status quo of some ENGO caucus direction or another.

But “loony lefties” is just a label of profound and utter ignorance, as all such labels are. It rates with “feral”, a label calculated as a slur, as is so clearly demonstrated by associating right-wing racism with the lie.
The use in Australian political history of the term “left” as a label of abuse has a long history, but its resonance as a dog-whistle to fears and prejudice has been gradually receding. It still has widespread popularity as a lazy descriptive term to identify generalised political positions, usually by the mainstream media, and often in a meaningless way.

The way this term is now being revived as a derogatory label is indicative of a banality at the heart of political discourse in Tasmania. Adopting the whole framework of methodology, culture and tools of a political orthodoxy in decline is not only nonsensical, anti-intellectual and completely false, but it is totally irrelevant, and must be rejected out of hand.

By the way, I don’t mind being called a “loony lefty associate” of Lindsay Tuffin, however absurdly ridiculous and meaningless such a label is. He and I both share a fundamental abhorrence of Hansonism, for we have discussed together the work of Julian Burnside, and share his views.

Peter Henning