A Chardonnay socialist
is the middle-class
equivalent of a champagne socialist
or limousine liberal
. The distinction is significant - they are comfortable rather than rich, more likely to watch TV
than be on it, and are much, much more numerous.
Chardonnay socialists are characterised by having wonderfully admirable left-wing ideals...which they never act on. It's about feeling good, not doing good. Causes are often comfortably remote - it's easier to sit around with a glass of Church Road talking about how awful the oppression is in East Timor than it is to help your own underprivileged ten minutes down the road.
Despite being about as useful as tits on a bull, at first look they seem basically harmless. But like anyone who chooses a credo for their own self-interest and entertainment, a chardonnay socialist's true value system may well be anything but what it appears. They are quite likely to have a case of the not-in-my-backyards: "Oh, isn't it wonderful we've accepted all those poor refugees into the country! (Just as long as they don't move into our neighbourhood)". If you're the sort of person who cares about actually getting something useful done, the idea of these people starts to look quite sinister.
An accusation of Chardonnay socialism is often a cheap shot fired by right-wingers at anyone they disagree with whose views are remotely to the left of their own. This can be moronic knee-jerk-reactionism or a more calculated move designed to play on the belief of a surprisingly large proportion of the population that anyone with an apparent concern for other people's well-being must have something in it for themselves somewhere. Either way such accusations often have no substance, although if there weren't so many Chardonnay socialists about, the people genuinely interested in doing something good would be far less likely to be tarred with the same brush of hypocrisy.
The term is widespread in New Zealand as well as Australia, but a quick Google search for chardonnay socialism seems to indicate the term is restricted to these two countries. The British would probably say trendy leftie.
There is a particularly high concentration of Chardonnay socialists in the suburb of Grey Lynn in Auckland, New Zealand.