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Fredman, NJ 2009, 'Nation, class and the Australian left, 2003-2007', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright NJ Fredman 2009


This thesis is concerned with how nationalism and national identity interact with sectional differences, particularly those of class, in political life in Australia. The period focused on is the recent past and the main political subject of analysis is the left—seen as predominately the Labor Party and the Greens but also encompassing trade unions, campaigning organisations and socialist groups. The four research questions cover: the inevitability of national feeling in current political life; the continued existence of identified streams of thought on the nation; the inevitability of negotiation between the politics of the national and the politics of sectional division; and the general disadvantage of social democratic forces compared to conservative forces with respect to national feeling. The methodological approach is a ‘triangulated’ one, with some qualitative and some quantitative aspects, including: a historical outline of the posited streams of national thought; an overview of structural and attitudinal change and political developments during the Howard period; and an examination of several key issues in the period 2003–2007. The data used includes: transcripts of focus group discussions undertaken with branches of the ALP and the Greens; samples of newspaper texts; and time series of ABS figures and academic survey and commercial poll results. The first major finding is that virtually all political forces express themselves in terms of national interests, values and/or culture, often in ‘commonsense’ or unconscious ways, and that the mobilisation of national feeling has been salient in a number of issues during the Howard period. Secondly, that virtually all material examined can be understood in terms of the posited streams of national thought, with ALP sources showing particularly strong connections between party/movement tradition and a sense of authentic Australianess. While discourse emanating from the Greens is mainly framed by elements of traditional internationalism and left nationalism (posing some contradictions), as well as multiculturalism, there were aspects of an “environmentalist-world citizen” identity somewhat different from traditional class-based internationalism. Thirdly, a relative advantage to conservatism was evident depending upon the type of issue and the response of other forces. The Howard governments gained considerable strength from the mobilisation of national feeling when threats or opportunities (via economic competition) were seen as external, and when Labor echoed much of its message. Howard’s team however had little success building national unity around domestic economic issues, and fatally lost support over WorkChoices.