Sociology of Class and Australian Politics

I’ve been reflecting on some of Australia’s political uproars from last year. This one comes to mind because it makes explicit Australia’s enduring class struggle for power. The Palmer United Party became embroiled in a derogatory exchange about Australian voters who are supposedly “bogans.” An email was leaked where Dr Alex Douglas (former MD), a Queensland MP in the Palmer United Party, calls Australian voters “bogans” who live “empty lives” and survive on a “diet of grease.” He also says of bogans: this is a “world we see daily and quietly hope will disappear.” These words exemplify class derision. Bogan is a colloquial term used on working class and rural Australians who are seen to be uncouth or poorly educated.

After the media backlash to the email, Douglas and Palmer, both wealthy Queenslanders, have attempted to paint themselves as “bogans” – as average Australians. Palmer says of Douglas: “He’s a bogan for voting for Campbell Newman.“ Douglas says:

There’s a little bit [of bogan] in all of us… If we all realised there was a little bit of bogan in us and we weren’t so derogatory about them, we’d probably all just have a better life… [Referencing his love for the film The Castle] You like those people because they have a humanity, they’re real, they’re not fake.

Clive Palmer, a mining magnate and “self-proclaimed billionaire” also says he’s “spent most of [his] life as a bogan.” He says he loves eating chips, and that he used to eat McDonalds. Plus he wears ugg boots and goes four-wheel driving. That’s the most striking evidence of bogan credentials you’ll ever see right there.

Palmer also evokes his party’s alliance with the Motoring Enthusiasts Party (MEP) as further proof of his bogan kudos. He even jokes about the MEP’s infamous video where he throws kangarro poo. He says: “what’s so insulting about that? It’s a lot of fun.” What a larrikin! Palmer just like Real People who Fling Faeces for Fun!

Palmer was elected as the member for Fairfax after a drawn out voting count. He has run into ongoing criticism for his lack of knowledge of Australian policies and his seeming disinterest in political processes. He sent a staff member instead of showing up to his first Parliament House induction briefing.

Australia is uncomfortable with class discussions. Everyone thinks they belong to the middle class, but there is still a cultural soft sport for the “Aussie battler;” a working-class ideal of the hard-working, struggling farmer or struggling family who just wants a “fair go.” Palmer has evoked these ideas by appealing to the “bogan” persona.

Australian sociologists are also uncomfortable with diverging from neo-Marxist analyses of the economy. We collectively prefer to largely critique economic rationalism, but we give little empirical attention to the ways in which markets are a “cultural creation.”

Palmer’s party runs on a platform of redistribution of wealth that appealed to working class Australians in rural regions. In fact, his party opposes carbon tax that would impact on the mining industry in which he is personally invested.

Source of quotes: The Age.