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September 2006
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Daily Media Quotation

Using Race Card A Failure Of Leadership

September 14, 2006

by Amanda Vanstone - The Age

The tenth anniversary of Pauline Hanson's maiden speech has seen predictable attempts to once again smear John Howard with the Hanson phenomenon. In 1996 Howard's critics called upon him to show leadership by repudiating her views. Now they claim they can detect elements of her agenda in policies that have been adopted by the Howard Government.

What the critics always overlooked in 1996 was the fact that it was Howard who had taken action that led to Pauline Hanson's disendorsement as a Liberal candidate in the 1996 election. What they somehow manage to ignore now is Kim Beazley's recent flirtation with xenophobia. If ever there was a sign that Beazley lacks what it takes to lead our nation it is this willingness to espouse views that are at odds with everything he has ever stood for in the past.

Just ask yourself what would happen if John Howard came out and questioned workers coming here from Bombay, Beijing and Beirut. The Howard haters would swarm like killer bees. Philip Adams would fall out of his secular pulpit.

If Pauline Hanson said it, all of us who are opposed to racism would take up the call to arms.

When Mr Beazley's immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, complained of workers coming from ‘Beijing, Beirut and Bombay', he enjoyed the full support of Mr Beazley. That's not a dog whistle, that's a foghorn.

Mr Beazley himself regularly calls temporary skilled migrants ‘foreign workers'. Foreign has become a pejorative for Labor. Some workers are more foreign than others.

Workers from Bombay, Beijing and Beirut are definitely foreign. Apparently those from Bristol, Blackpool and Birmingham are not. This is not code. This is plain text. And it's a fan to the racist fire.

Apologists no doubt feel sure Kim Beazley doesn't really mean what he says. The fact is, however, that this only makes his offence worse. For all her faults, no-one doubts that Pauline Hanson believed sincerely in everything she said.

Whether he believes it or not, Mr Beazley's words leave no room for misinterpretation. He tells Australian parents who, like all parents, are extremely protective of their children, that: “they are correct when they fear the humiliation of their children as they are dispensed with as apprentices, as foreigners are brought in to this country, prepared to work for virtually nothing.”

Yes, he is saying to Australia, ‘your children will be humiliated'. Yes he is saying ‘your children will be dispensed with'. He is saying ‘foreigners' will be responsible for this. And worst of all, not just any foreigners. But ‘those foreigners' who are prepared to work for ‘next to nothing'. He doesn't intend you to think of Bristol, Blackpool and Birmingham; he wants you to worry about people coming from Bombay, Beijing, and for that matter Bangladesh and every other country where there are ‘low wages'.

Kim Beazley and Tony Burke are not the only Labor politicians to rattle this can. Alan Carpenter drew a direct link between foreign workers and the riots in Cronulla. This is a classic case of “I'm not a racist but....” Catherine King, the Member of Ballarat and until recently a great supporter of multiculturalism, found that she could not talk about 457 visa holders without constantly referring to ‘Chinese workers' who, she claimed, have taken ‘Aussie' jobs. I thought Arthur Calwell's line that “two wongs don't make a white” went to the grave with him. Apparently not.

Mr Beazley's behaviour is not that of a national leader. The leader of a nation brings out the best in its people. A leader who brings out the worst in people is fit only to lead a lynch mob.

In 1988 in a speech on migration and the issue of race and in a fit of lofty condescension he asserted that: “The good people of this country ...will allow themselves to be contained on this issue when properly lead”. In plain English he believed Australians are racist but with his sort of leadership they will allow themselves to be lead away from their error.

Clearly, he doesn't understand the country he seeks to lead. Australians are not racist. Still, he was right about one thing. He said those same ‘good people' would “reject those who do not seek to provide them with that sort of leadership”.

How can he say that then and now talk about foreign workers humiliating your children?

Whether they agree with it or not, people know what John Howard stands for. Kim Beazley, on the other hand, always sounds like a politician ready to say what ever suits the occasion.

If you vote for John Howard you know what you're getting. Like all of us he can change his mind. When people say he reads the electorate well, what they really mean is that he listens to what the electorate is thinking. But his position on fundamentals doesn't change.

By contrast, nobody is really sure what Kim Beazley stands for. It's not just that, as a senior journalist put to me, “mentally he puts on his cardigan and waffles from person to person”.

The question is what does he really think? Does he really think that that xenophobia is his ticket to the lodge? Contrary to the strongly held beliefs of the latte left, the average Australian blue collar worker is not a racist. Beazley's resurrection of this spectre from Labor's past is a sign of desperation, not a plan. He knows he is facing the last roll of the political dice and he is trying to load them.

Polls move around with the issue of the day, but the leadership lag has been a constant. It was there in 1998, it was there in 2001, and it's still here today. His leadership deficit is not about the policy positions he ado pts as much as it's about himself.

Everyone knows, but especially people in politics, that a diet of constant criticism, like Delilah's blade, can sap your strength. You need courage of heart and strength of mind. Howard has both, Beazley has neither. That's his real problem.


Senator Amanda Vanstone is Immigration Minister.

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