They Said It
Fresh Start For Bumbling Libs
Since Nick Greiner's demise a decade ago, the Liberal Party of NSW has rarely been described as being a hothouse of great ideas. While the NSW branch has performed well federally, its performance at a State level has ranged from woeful to pathetic.
The mindless promotion of Kerry Chikarovski 100 days out from the 1999 election, the promise to give everyone $1000 if they'd swallow electricity privatisation, the pre-selection of a string of ding-a-ling MPs during the 1990s who either ended up in jail or selling used cars in Melbourne – these are just a few of the party's clangers.
The federal Liberals, particularly Prime Minister John Howard, have implored the NSW branch over and over again to get its act together. Only the laughable Queensland branch is in worse shape.
But give credit where it is due: the elevation of John Brogden to the leadership was smart.
That's not to say Mr Brogden will defeat Premier Bob Carr next year, but at least he should win back enough seats to give the Liberals a hope of winning in 2007.
Mr Brogden, at just 33 years of age, is his party's youngest-ever leader in NSW.
This has been a brave move by the Liberals, and politicians hate to be described as "brave" because it normally means they've done something stupid.
But rather than stick with Ms Chikarovski and face the possibility of losing even more seats next year, the NSW Liberals have finally shown a bit of courage and decided to take the fight right up to Mr Carr.
The next 12 months will be an enormous learning experience for a man who has served in only junior portfolios in shadow cabinet.
Mr Brogden has experienced hard heads such as Chris Hartcher and Peter Collins to guide him.
But to truly succeed, Mr Brogden must prove that he is really in charge, that it is indeed he who now calls the shots. His priority must be to announce detailed policies which tell voters why they should switch from the Carr Government.
That sounds simple. But it is a fact that the people of NSW have been deprived of an effective, active and intelligent Opposition for the past seven years.
The Carr Government has generally earned a pass mark in recent years and, let's face it, life in NSW is pretty good. But there are still some areas where the Government has not passed the test: there is too much violence on the streets, public transport isn't keeping pace with a growing city, public hospitals are bursting at the seams, and community faith in police and public education is low.
Until now, the NSW Opposition has been in no shape to exploit the Government's weaknesses.
Now Mr Brogden has been given 12 months to show us what he's got.
- Editorial, Sunday Telegraph (Mar 31)
The Boy For The Bush
Howard has not simply turned back Australia's clock but ripped the hands from its face while gutting it of cogs. He's done more damage to this nation than rabbits, prickly pear, cane toads and half a dozen Cyclone Tracys. Claiming to be a conservative, this most relentless of radicals has vandalised our institutions, besmirched the reputations of some of our noblest citizens and detonated, across our wide brown land, a score or more of civil wars. Gun laws notwithstanding, Howard has blasted the kanga from our coat of arms and stuffed the emu. No Marxist, no Maoist, no Trotskyite could have done a better demolition job.
Now Howard's pundits and his legion of talkback terrorists must acknowledge the accumulation of his deceits. Yet they will continue, as do the opinion polls, to express support... The PM's apologists have to face the fact that, as a result of Howardism, our body politic looks like one of those medieval paintings of St Sebastian. It is porcupined with arrows, pocked with wounds. No one of them has proved mortal, yet our nation dies the death of a thousand cuts.
..Appropriating Hansonism, his populism was blatant, finding its apotheosis in the infamous "children overboard" claim. The night that story broke I discussed it with journalists and people involved in the asylum-seeker issue – and all of us knew, in an instant, that the allegation was nonsensical. Nonetheless, it helped him steal the election and, showing no shame for this grossest of misrepresentations, Howard's happily thrown overboard senior bureaucrats – and the bloke who described himself as "the capital D in defence".
Even before debauching the public service and the military service, Howard decided to wreak havoc on Yarralumla by hiring someone who could be relied upon not to be Bill Deane. Clearly Peter Hollingworth shares Howard's low opinion of his predecessor in that highest of office – he said as much to friends and associates. Thus he was happy to sew his lips together during the Tampa affair and the subsequent death of 350 asylum-seekers. Not a squeak out of him. In Hollingworth, Howard had the perfect G-G. Yet the appointment has proved to be too clever by half, as serious a lapse in judgment as Whitlam's anointment of Kerr. Clearly God is not mocked. Hollingworth and Howard deserve each other.
..Remember Howard's manipulation of all that One Nation paranoia. Remember his wrecking of the reconciliation movement. And his skilful sabotaging of the Republican debate. Consequently, Howardism turned the Centenary of Federation into a year-long anticlimax.
Howardism followed up the symbolism of the Olympics with the embolism of the Woomera Detention Centre, requiring dangerous bypass surgery involving Fiji, Nauru and PNG. And Howard's ruthless application of mandatory sentencing for refugees dovetailed nicely with his diagonal nod to mandatory sentencing for teenage Aborigines in Darwin.
For 20 years he's talked up tensions on Asian immigration, culminating in the Tampa panic. In an act of evil genius, the evil genie of White Australia was let out of the bottle, wherein it had been firmly corked by every PM since Menzies.
Yes, an impotent, incompetent Opposition was complicit in the catastrophe – by embracing the odd notion that leadership involved constant surrender and endless retreat. And this attitude was shared by Peter Costello...
Now, in his latest triumph, Howard has attached us to the buttocks of the Bush administration as enthusiastically as the abysmal Tony Blair. And, as I warned at the time, we will live – and many may die – to regret it. Coming to its senses in the aftermath of "the war against terrorism", the wider world is increasingly alarmed by the unilateralism and strategies of the Bush administration. The governments of Europe, even the colleagues of Blair, are increasingly reluctant to march to the thunder of Washington's drums. Yet Australia obligingly endorses every Bush strategy from the silly missile defence system to his administration's neo-nuclear plans. "How high?" we ask, even before Bush orders us to jump.
No chance of the tumbrels rolling here. People are too busy with their shopping trolleys.
- Phillip Adams, The Australian (Mar 30)
Crean Burnt In A Youthful Grilling
When political leaders need an image makeover, they often turn to young people to add that certain beguiling freshness, to look as if they care. Suddenly they are available for interviews on youth radio station Triple JJJ or by school children.
..Simon Crean, who is also trying to impress voters with a kinder, gentler image, this week faced school children as part of a program run by Triple JJJ, the National Museum of Australia and the parliament to promote involvement in the political process.
..But if Crean thought the event would result in some sympathetic photos, a few easy quotes and a more hip image, he could not have been more wrong. The school children put him through his paces far more effectively than many media interviews have, and ended up producing more than a few insights into the Labor leader's style and thoughts.
Crean got off to a shaky start when asked whether he supported his frontbencher Mark Latham's calls for corporal punishment to be reintroduced into public schools.
Crean replied: "I think he (Latham) was saying that there needed to be some discipline reintroduced to the schools. I think it was as straight as that."
However, asked whether there were better ways to instil discipline than corporal punishment, Crean agreed.
"I believe very much in interaction and engagement and I think if you do that genuinely and openly - also respect the fact that some people may not learn as quickly or understand as quickly the system has to accommodate that - but I don't think punishment is the way forward."
Finally, he said he disagreed with Latham's proposal to bring back the cane.
It did not end there, though.
The kids asked him if Latham should be outlawed from public schools, as the teachers' union had called for a ban on Governor-General Peter Hollingworth visiting schools because he was soft on child abuse within the Anglican Church when he was Archbishop of Brisbane.. Perhaps Crean has never seen the cane in action, but he didn't seem to agree with his questioners that it was violence against children and could be described as child abuse. "Well, I think that you would have to ask him (Latham) how far he saw the corporal punishment going, but I don't think he would be condoning child abuse."
Crean had previously run a million miles from commenting on the teachers' union decision to ban the Governor-General. But up against the intrepid interviewers at the National Museum, he let down his defences and admitted: "On the question of the Governor-General being banned from the schools, I don't see that as a sensible way forward."
..He was then put on the spot over Labor's position on support for a commitment of Australian troops to countries beyond Afghanistan in the war against terrorism. Asked whether he would be willing to back the commitment of troops to Somalia, Iraq or Yemen, Crean revealed Labor would not automatically support the government. This is quite a departure from Labor's staunchly pro-American position under Kim Beazley.
..The students really caught Crean out, though, when they asked him, as the No 1 ticket holder of the Kangaroos football team, for his views about former captain Wayne Carey's affair with the wife of his teammate Anthony Stevens. Commenting that Carey had lost his team and that it had lost a champion, Crean added: "You pay a big price if you breach that trust, and here you've got a person who had his mate, a groomsman at his wedding, and cheated on him."
"Not to mention his wife," was the acid reminder by one of the male student interviewers.
..All in all a very revealing portrait of the Labor leader in action. Those school-age novice interviewers deserve our thanks.
- Louise Dodson, The Age (Mar 29)
Economy Rises Above The Muck
The atmospherics apparently lead to the conclusion that the Howard Government is in a rolling crisis. But this belies the real state of politics. At the most senior levels of the Labor Party, the assessment is that John Howard is still comfortably ahead in the electorate, regardless of the children-overboard affair, the stumblings of the Governor-General and the storm over Michael Kirby.
The hardheads within the ALP know that none of these controversies amount to being vote-switching issues.
Sure, the Prime Minister's credibility has taken a battering. And the incidents have combined to give Simon Crean a decisive profile at the outset of his leadership – a time he otherwise could have reasonably expected to have had his nose rubbed in electoral defeat for at least several months.
But among the so-called aspirational voters who decided the outcome of the last election, such crises matter not a whit compared with the fundamentals of interest rates and jobs.
The plight of refugees doesn't resonate with these voters. And they expect politicians to dissemble and engage in deceit. But apparently they don't mind so long as their material prospects remain good.
And on this score Howard is cruising. The economy, with a spectacular growth rate of 4.1 per cent and unemployment on the way down, has defied world recessionary trends.
..What's more, some on Labor's frontbench believe that Howard may have even turned the Kirby affair into a positive with the silent white male majority. This theory relies on the notion of political dog-whistling – when a politician pitches a message at such a special frequency that only those who are attuned pick it up.
In the Kirby case, Bill Heffernan – political hard man and mate of the Prime Minister – effectively outed the High Court judge as gay. Kirby had revealed his sexuality quietly a few years before, but that fact was not broadly known in the general community.
Having blurred the distinction between homosexuality and pedophilia and trashed Kirby's reputation in the process, Heffernan was forced by Howard to quit as cabinet secretary. Heffernan's smear campaign was undone by the revelation that his central documentary piece of evidence was forged.
But Howard is refusing to move any further against Heffernan. He has described him as a friend whom he won't abandon "just because he made a mistake".
According to Labor's dog-whistling theory, Howard is making it clear he won't desert a mate. And in the eyes of Howard's blue-collar battlers, that mate – Heffernan – is most probably regarded as having done a public service by identifying Kirby as a "poofter".
Let's face it; among intolerant middle Australians, the idea of a gay judge sitting on the highest court would be pretty much anathema.
Bear in mind also, that in the Hanson constituency the High Court is a prime villain, one of the institutional architects of political correctness, the origin of the Mabo decision and the notion of native title.
..The children-overboard affair has also done nothing to harm Howard's electoral standing. Voters have shown a distinct inability to distinguish between Howard's policy on border protection and the deception that accompanied its selling to the public during the election campaign.
..Labor should be worried.
- Glenn Milne, The Australian (Mar 25)
Rising To New Depths
A lot of people at the big end of town knew last Friday, three days before the Prime Minister, that Wild Bill Heffernan's key evidence against Justice Michael Kirby was fake. At least a couple of Justice Kirby's fellow High Court judges were saying privately that the Comcar records were a fabrication.
While opponents of Kirby might counter, "They would say that", surely the word of a High Court judge is worthy of a Prime Ministerial inquiry?
But, no, we had to wait until late on Monday for Mr Howard to act on the evidence that at the time the document suggested he was in a Comcar travelling to Kensington, Laurie Brereton was, in fact, sunning himself on Hayman Island. And similarly, former National Party leader Ian Sinclair was probably up in New England, not swanning about the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
Perhaps Bill Heffernan could have checked with Sinkers first and saved us all of this heartache. They are, after all, on the same side. That this didn't happen is yet another example of the Howard Government's lack of guile – muscle, if you like – in searching out the truth.
We have had the children overboard controversy, Governor-General Peter Hollingworth's dilemmas with Anglican sex scandals, and now this. Forensic squad detectives they ain't.
It's also compelling evidence of the dangers in allowing politicians, driven by the indignant outrage of the high moral ground, access to parliamentary privilege. People like that could say anything, and Senator Heffernan did.
Now we have a tarnished judge, a ruined politician and mud all around. Some of it must stick on the once-ascendant Prime Minister.
His third term was to have been a waltz towards retirement and a leaving at his own choosing.
Now all it would take to shake the Government to its foundations is a leadership challenge against Howard by a disaffected Liberal.
I can't see who or where it will come from, but people are talking about it – and that would have been unthinkable just eight weeks ago. That is how far John Howard has slipped.
- Richard Zachariah, Sunday Telegraph (Mar 24)
Senator Owes A Final Gesture
Senator Bill Heffernan's apology to Justice Michael Kirby, the Prime Minister, the Senate and the Parliament was fine, as far as grovels go. Now he must apologise to the people of NSW with one simple gesture – resign from the Senate.
And John Howard, when he can tear his mind away from the democratic struggles of the people of Zimbabwe and returns to focus on the needs and future of the people of Australia, might care to declare an end to the merry-go-round of circus issues which have consumed his government since the last election.
We are entitled to expect the governments we elect to govern.
Ever since he bathed himself in glory by winning his third victory, John Howard has been on the back foot, with the business of government submerged by scandal and deceit.
While the PM should have been concentrating on his third-term agenda, he has been defending his policies of locking up asylum seekers for so long and with so little hope that they resorted to sewing their lips together.
He has been shown to have been either blind to the facts, or economical with the truth, about the children overboard affair which contributed mightily to his re-election.
He has had to defend his unwise appointment of Peter Hollingworth to the office of governor-general, and he has gone out on a limb to defend his old mate, Senator Heffernan, and then been left utterly exposed by the revelation that Senator Heffernan's accusations against Justice Kirby were baseless.
There is a common thread here – the PM's defence that he did not know.
..It can only be a matter of time before government MPs decide they have had enough circuses and demand some bread instead – under a new leader.
..Senator Heffernan, meanwhile, is a disgrace. While he sits in the Senate, he degrades us all.
..He has been sacked as Cabinet secretary – a role which saw him lurking around parliamentary corridors spruiking for the PM – and has quit as a member of the Senate committee investigating the children overboard affair.
Now he hopes to sit out the rest of his time until mid-2005 on the Senate backbench. He deserves no such lucrative luxury. There is only one option open to him to regain any shred of honour: to resign.
- Mark Day, Daily Telegraph (Mar 20)
No Winner At The End Of A Grubby Affair
Prime Minister John Howard can have experienced few more discomforting moments in a long political career.
When he cut loose his friend Bill Heffernan he further exposed himself to the charge that irresponsibly he had allowed poisonous allegations involving a High Court judge to run for much longer than was justified by the scant evidence available.
Howard's initial limp response to the Heffernan allegations made it appear that at the least the Prime Minister believed there were grounds for further investigations.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Howard, by his unwillingness to challenge Heffernan's grave allegations presented to the Senate last Tuesday, ran the risk of himself appearing complicit in smearing Michael Kirby.
If Howard has emerged from this putrid affair with his own reputation besmirched and his moral authority diminished, so too has Attorney-General Daryl Williams, who has suffered a significant setback in the eyes of his legal peers.
Williams's lukewarm endorsement of Kirby was almost worse than no endorsement at all. The Attorney-General may seek to argue that it was not his responsibility to come to the defence of a judge under assault on moral issues, but what he cannot escape is responsibility for his failure to uphold the rights of any citizen, let alone a justice of the High Court, not to have their reputation traduced in the court of public opinion via the misuse of parliamentary privilege.
What is left of this tawdry episode is the damage to Kirby's name, the effective end of Heffernan's political career, the sullying of a parliamentary institution, namely privilege, and a likely further erosion in public confidence in politicians.
Heffernan should waste no time in following Howard's instructions to make an unqualified apology to the Senate and, more to the point, to Kirby himself. Failure to do so should result in Heffernan being held in contempt.
- Tony Walker, Financial Review (Mar 19)
Kirby Accuser Enlists Some Powerful Allies
The ground is shifting dangerously under High Court judge Michael Kirby. When Bill Heffernan stood in the Senate on Tuesday night, the immediate assumption of all those who heard him was that the cabinet secretary was demanding a new police investigation into allegations against Kirby that had already been dealt with.
As this unprecedented episode gains sharper focus, it's clear that assumption was wrong.
The Prime Minister signalled the wind change on Friday when he began to broaden the definition of any improper behaviour on Kirby's part beyond the notion of criminality. In doing so, John Howard was reflecting exactly Heffernan's views.
Heffernan does not believe – and has never believed – that the issue at stake with Kirby is criminal behaviour... If Kirby has committed any offence, it involves misuse of commonwealth cars, and that is not a police matter. Heffernan's focus is different. What he wants to establish is that Kirby has acted improperly under the definition of "proved misbehaviour" – the constitutional ground whereby both houses of parliament can petition the governor-general in council to remove a High Court judge. Heffernan believes he has powerful allies who also think this is the case.
He has told colleagues that in March 1999 Police Commissioner Peter Ryan and Superintendent Mike Woodhouse, the West Yorkshire bobby brought in to oversee unfinished business arising out of the Wood royal commission, went to see Chief Justice Murray Gleeson. The reason for the visit, according to Heffernan – both men wanted to raise concerns about Kirby's behaviour. A spokesman for Ryan confirmed the two had met the chief justice to tell him the outcome of the police investigation.
Those who've been in contact with Heffernan say it was when the Cabinet Secretary told Howard about this meeting that Howard's view of Kirby began to harden.
Howard's comments on Friday, when he began to broaden the net that may catch Kirby, are public testament to that hardening of opinion.
Heffernan has been adamant in conversation with Liberal MPs that this is not a homosexual witch-hunt against a gay High Court justice: "This is not about homosexuality," he has told friends. "It's about improper behaviour. No judge should trawl for sex – homosexual or heterosexual." A reasonable point, if it's true.
Heffernan's opponents are using the same tactics they accuse him of. They say the senator is smearing Kirby because he's homosexual. They in turn are smearing Heffernan as a homophobe.
The fact remains that serious charges have been raised against a High Court judge. They ought to be seen through. Then let the cards rest where they lay. Either way, as Employment Minister Tony Abbott has observed, one of the two men will be finished.
- Glenn Milne, The Australian (Mar 18)
Time To Address The System's Thug Addiction
The former Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, has described the Howard Government as a gang of political thugs. They were not conservatives, he said, for conservatives are defenders of institutions and respect the values on which those institutions rest. The government, however, cared nothing for such notions, for in order to retain power it was evidently prepared to politicise, and thereby undermine the integrity of, some of Australia's most basic institutions such as the public service and the Defence Force.
Beazley was speaking soon after Australians had learnt that the children-overboard story, of which the government had made so much during the election campaign, was false. That particular discovery continues to have repercussions, and will no doubt have even more as the Senate inquiry into the affair gathers evidence. But, since Beazley spoke, other controversies have arisen that further vindicate his thesis and which are likely to accelerate the unravelling of public trust in our system of government.
John Howard's decision to stick with his choice as Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth, has, as I have previously argued, consequences that go beyond the inappropriateness of this particular appointment. In the chorus of calls for Hollingworth's dismissal, it has become apparent that many Australians instinctively think of the Governor-General as their representative, not the Queen's. To the conservative argument against constitutional change - "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" - it now suffices to reply that there is an evident cleavage between the kinds of popular representation countenanced in the constitution and the kinds of representation people expect to have. The forms of our democracy do not reflect its substance, and that, short of a breakdown in civil order, is about as broke as a system of government can get.
There is now a third element in the mix: the government's response to Senator Bill Heffernan's attack, under parliamentary privilege, on the High Court judge Michael Kirby. Leave aside the particular allegations Heffernan made against Kirby, and leave aside, too, the question of whether John Howard believes that Heffernan's speech was an abuse of privilege - the Prime Minister's shrewdly evasive comments, proclaiming both friendship for Heffernan and praise for Kirby's standing as a jurist, make that impossible to answer. Of deeper significance are the questions that Lionel Murphy's biographer, Jenny Hocking, raised in The Age on Friday: what does the government's response to Heffernan's speech reveal about its attitude to the independence of the judiciary, and are we about to see an attack on the separation of powers?
..In a Westminister system, the executive government is notionally responsible to parliament, but when party discipline is strong, as it is in Australia, checks on the abuse of executive power diminish because governments are formed from parliamentary majorities... Until now, I have believed that any Australian republic should have a popularly elected president but retain parliamentary government. I still incline to that view. But are the actions of this gang of political thugs, as Beazley has called them, peeling away the flimsy veil that cloaks our system of executive dominance? It is time to consider the merits of a full separation of powers, in which executive abuses .. would be kept in check by a formal division of the executive government from the legislature and the judiciary.
Ray Cassin, The Age (Mar 17)
Mr Politics And The Art Of Survival
For all of his political life, perhaps for all of his life, John Howard has been underestimated. The misjudgments have come not just from his opponents, most notably Paul Keating, but from within his own Liberal Party, which ditched him as leader in favour of a recycled Andrew Peacock in 1989.
During the next five years, Howard was passed over three times more by his party. At no stage did Howard give up on his quest to return to the leadership. Whenever John Hewson or Alexander Downer appeared to be seriously faltering, Howard was considering his options - talking, questioning, putting himself forward.
Howard has little of the usual politician's manner - stiff does not adequately describe his demeanour when working a room, and his public speaking style is discursive at best - and that is probably one explanation for the degree to which his acumen has been regularly underappreciated.
Howard is always "on". When meeting political friends in private, he is said to rarely indulge in small talk and generally wants to get straight to the point. "With John it's not 'How are you?' or anything like that, it's 'What's going on? What have you heard?' He is always on the lookout," a friend says.
Howard is, to use the jargon of the moment, a 24/7 politician. Nothing eludes his political filtering mechanism. And his will to survive is indomitable; no one else in modern politics comes even close to emulating it.
..He thrives when he is under siege, when his integrity is being savaged by the Labor Party, when he is being pressed by journalists to provide direct answers.
With apparently few substantial policy objectives for his third term beyond overseeing the economy, Howard's existence for the remainder of his time as prime minister - however long it is, and it's likely to be longer than most people expect - will be governed by political game-playing. And everything about the way he is conducting himself suggests he is very comfortable with that.
Howard's handling of the issues bedevilling his government reflects his finely honed political instincts. Those issues and scandals that might offer him some advantage are allowed to run. Those with no upside are shut down summarily.
An example of the latter is the way Howard dealt with the revelation that former health minister Michael Wooldridge had shifted $5 million from asthma and specialist-care programs to pay for a secretariat for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in Canberra, for whom Wooldridge is now a consultant.
..Contrast that with Howard's approach to the other controversy that arose this week, the accusations against High Court judge Michael Kirby made by Cabinet Secretary and close Howard friend Bill Heffernan.
The Prime Minister's response was classic Howard.. now the excoriation of a High Court judge has been conducted but none of it can be sheeted home to the Prime Minister.
..A similar mentality informs Howard's approach to the controversy surrounding the Governor-General.. The only area in which Howard finds himself on some patches of soft ground is the children-overboard scandal - but even there the Prime Minister appears to have himself covered.
..Howard's capacity to tough out an interview or press conference, to deflect or defuse difficult questions by seizing on and decrying the questioner's use of a single word, is the verbal manifestation of his political will and his considerable self-belief.
If there is one thing that drives Howard, it is the determination never to be humbled or defeated or caught out.
It does not make for pretty government, but it does define him as the most effective political operator around if sheer survival is the primary objective.
You can be certain that even if the scandals continue to pile up and his government takes some hits on the way, John Howard will make sure he is the one left standing.
- Shaun Carney, The Age (Mar 16)
Bigoted Legacy Of Hanson
Several recent events and decisions have started to raise serious doubts in my mind about how Australia is being remade..
We have been told, for example, that it's our Constitution, right or wrong. If it ain't broke, we don't need to fix it. Indeed, we'll go to any length to ensure it doesn't get changed and to ensure there is not a full and effective public debate about the need for change.
We are told that it's our Governor-General, right or wrong. Even though it was wrong to make a sectarian appointment in the first place, we must now accept him irrespective of his previous sins..
Similarly, we are told it's not really our stolen generation, right or wrong. It happened, but no apology is required..
We are told that it's their Kyoto Protocol, right or wrong.. we insist on being the deputy in the gang of now only two developed countries not willing to ratify the protocol.
..We, of course, acknowledge the boat people, but we're told they're wrong.
Although we are told that we have every right, as a sovereign nation, to determine who comes to our shores - we actually don't.
Our right is to determine who will live here. So let's send them off and make them someone else's problem. And let's mercilessly manipulate the issue, for short-term political gain.. The extent of the politicisation of the Public Service has now reached staggering proportions.
Yet, it's OK to attack anybody who disagrees with any of these positions. Indeed, we have been encouraged to believe there is a new sense of political correctness - anyone who disagrees with the Government is a chardonnay-sipping member of the academic elite.
It is also OK to attack fundamental elements of our democracy - most recently the High Court and its judges.
Political mateship outweighs what is proper and fundamental to our democratic process. The attack this week on Justice Michael Kirby, by any measure a great Australian, was simply outrageous.
..Xenophobia? Bigotry? Prejudice? Intolerance? The legacy of Pauline Hanson? "Yes", to all of these.
What is really happening to our so-called tolerant multicultural society that had reportedly become the envy of the rest of the world? Are we really all that relaxed and comfortable?
I can't help but recall the Government's vague, veiled and circumlocutory response to Pauline Hanson's maiden speech.
We were then told "one of the great changes that have come over Australia. is that people do feel able to speak a little more freely and a little more openly about what they feel. In a sense, the pall of censorship on certain issues has been lifted".
There was, of course, an important caveat, namely that freedom of speech carries with it a responsibility of all those who exercise that freedom to do so in a tolerant and moderate fashion and not to convert the newfound freedom, if I may put it that way, into a vehicle for using needlessly insensitive and intolerant language. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. For that read: we see some political milage in some of Hanson's ideas being run.
I don't want my daughter to inherit such an Australia.
- John Hewson, former Liberal Party leader, Financial Review (Mar 15)
Attack On Kirby Just A Tawdry Smear Campaign
Homosexuality, pedophilia and people in high places! It's on again. This time, Senator Bill Heffernan has launched an
assault on Michael Kirby, an openly gay High Court judge.
Kirby has long been a lightning rod for conservatives. From his early years he has been outspoken on the need for law
reform. Then he lifted the lid on the legal world's worst-kept secret by listing his partner of long standing in Who's Who - a
partner who is male.
While there is a perception that he is a radical judge, he is, in fact, an ardent monarchist. Lawyers who follow the High
Court say that he can be very conservative.
The attack by Heffernan, though, isn't about so-called "activist judges". It's about homosexuality. He says men who had
homosexual sex before it was decriminalised are disqualified to be judges. It is not said that any offence at all disqualifies a
person from being a judge. Not, for example, visiting a prostitute when that was a crime. Just victimless homosexual sex.
For centuries there has been a contradiction between the law and homosexuality. On the one hand, homosexual sex attracted
the heaviest penalties, usually death, while on the other hand there have been thousands of homosexual parliamentarians,
churchmen, kings and judges - men who have often discharged their office in exemplary fashion.
There has been this contradiction only because of the existence of a cruel and discriminatory law. And it is because the law
was cruel and discriminatory that parliaments around the Western world have seen fit to repeal it.
The senator's attack is also about resurrecting the furphy that homosexuals are pedophiles.. The senator complains about remarks by Kirby when hearing an application for special leave to appeal by a former priest convicted of child sex offences. He did not refer to the law that judicial remarks made in such hearings are not to be relied
upon because they are part of the debate between the bench and lawyers. Nor to the fact that, in ultimately allowing the
appeal, Kirby was but one of a majority of judges of the court.
..Heffernan also complained about a speech Kirby gave to "impressionable young men" at his old school, which mentioned
homophobia and laws about homosexual sex, among other things. It is a long time since it was seriously suggested that boys
might turn queer by hearing an honest account about homosexuality.
..The absence of substance to the senator's allegations and the selective quoting from the Wood Royal Commission report
suggest a hidden agenda. But the open agenda is disturbing enough. A politician is abusing parliamentary privilege to vent
his abiding dislike of homosexuals upon a citizen whom he knows cannot respond in kind.
In his attack on Kirby, the senator does the country a great disservice. Anyone with a remote acquaintance with the
Australian legal system knows how fortunate we are to have such a brilliant, dedicated and honest man as a judge in the
highest court of the land. The High Court has enough work to do without having to put up with tawdry smear campaigns by
- David Buchanan, Sydney Morning Herald (Mar 14)
Larrikin PM Went, Often, Into The Night
When John Gorton turned 90 last September and a bipartisan group of his old colleagues organised a celebration dinner at the Westin Hotel in the old Sydney GPO, what impressed most was not just that Gorton, after a life crammed with everything, was somehow still perpendicular. It was his speech, a good-humoured sense of occasion Gorton wrote himself and which he read to his dinner guests with lovely pace and without glasses or hint of a stumble.
Doug Anthony, his old Country (National) Party coalition ally, used the occasion to publicly slag a dead Billy McMahon, something, to my knowledge, Anthony courageously avoided doing while McMahon was alive. Gorton in his speech did no such thing with any one of his many protagonists over the years, political and press, even though he had far more reason to settle old scores.
This man, I thought, unquestionably Australia's most unconventional prime minister in recent memory, intended going gently into the night.
Not quite. Gorton's authorised biography is released next week. Its author, Ian Hancock, an academic with Canberra's ANU, had total access to Gorton's private papers and to the man himself.
.."By temperament and conviction, Gorton believed a prime minister should be able to lead a 'normal' life," Hancock writes in his book, John Gorton: He Did It His Way. "He should not be so married to the position he forgot how to live." ..Gorton would often quietly slip away at night, unseen, from the prime minister's official Canberra residence, in pursuit of a party or anything else that took his fancy. And clearly other "things" took his fancy. Gorton candidly admits to Hancock to "drinking too much and to having 'two or three' extramarital relationships, at least one of which was conducted during his prime ministership".
..These are just a toe in the water of the Gorton style and personality. He was a strong if larrikin figure in a divided Liberal Party that never understood him and which feared the political change he represented after the certainty of the Menzies era. And Gorton never compromised with those party dissidents forever working to tear him down almost from the very day he became prime minister after Harold Holt drowned, in December 1967.
..Gorton was no less forgiving of Malcolm Fraser who he felt "stabbed" him in the back in the events that ended Gorton's prime ministership in March, 1971 - exactly 31 years ago last Sunday. Hancock discloses that when Labor subsequently won the 1983 election that ended Fraser's political career, Gorton rang to congratulate Bob Hawke "for rolling that bastard".
Yet last September, after Liberal, National and Labor colleagues, along with some aging journalists, celebrated Gorton's 90th birthday, Ingrid Murphy, widow of former Whitlam Labor minister and High Court judge, Lionel Murphy, wrote to Gorton how good it had been that people had come to the dinner "from far and near just to recapture the good old days when people in politics were civilised and fun to be with".
The good old days remains as much a fantasy as civilised politics is an oxymoron.
- Alan Ramsey, Sydney Morning Herald (Mar 13)
What Wooldridge Has Done Wrong
Michael Wooldridge, former federal health minister and now part-time paid consultant to the Royal Australian College of
General Practitioners, has a problem. It is the public perception that arises inevitably as a result of his decision last
September, while still a minister, to offer a federal grant of $5 million for a new building for the college in Canberra. When
that is set against his subsequent acceptance of paid employment from the college, it looks bad. Both the college and Dr
Wooldridge say nothing improper was done. But since, in this case, it is perceptions that matter, that is rather beside the
It is important to separate wheat from chaff in this controversy. It is not about taking money from asthmatics and the rural
health system. The $5 million granted to the RACGP last year was made up of $1 million found unspent in the budget of an
asthma treatment plan and $4 million, also unspent, in a scheme to improve rural people's access to specialists. But neither
the asthma treatment plan nor the rural specialist-access scheme suffered as a result of the offer of $5 million to the college.
Indeed, the present controversy has ensured that the Howard Government will keep the funds for these two programs
What Dr Wooldridge has done wrong is to take paid employment with a body with which he not only had dealings as a
minister but a body which he favoured with a substantial grant of federal funding. It does not matter that the grant was
conditional. (The money was for a building intended to bring together in one location, in Canberra, the various bodies
representing general practitioners.) The fact that the RACGP's main rival, the Australian Medical Association, appears not
to want anything to do with any cohabitation proposal means the building probably will not proceed. The money, in that
case, will not be paid. That puts the assertion of the Prime Minister, John Howard, yesterday - that the $5 million funding
offer might be withdrawn - in some perspective.
In rejecting renewed calls for a cooling-off period before retired cabinet ministers can take work related to their portfolios,
the Government leader in the Senate, Robert Hill, says he sees no need. He is not convinced, he said yesterday, that any
former ministers have abused their positions. Again, that is not the point. It is not a matter of proving a former minister has
actually abused his or her position. It is to protect public confidence in the functions of government that retired ministers not
be placed in a position where the perception of possible impropriety is inevitable. The best way to do that is by a clear
cooling-off period, of a year or two, before retiring ministers can take paid employment with bodies they previously had
dealings with while in political power.
- Sydney Morning Herald, Editorial (Mar 12)
All Is Forgiven, Pauline
The departure of Pauline Hanson from politics was welcomed by both the legitimate Left and Right in Australia as a vindication and a blessing. That response may now have to be re-thought.
The kinds of political activists who are taking over within One Nation make Pauline look positively mainstream.
Senator Len Harris is One Nation's only federal parliamentary representative. In an Upper House where neither main party has the numbers in its own right, Harris's vote is important.. As yet, Harris has had limited impact in the Senate. He strikes you as naive and amiable. One senses he relies heavily on advice. Which raises the question, who is providing that advice?
Harris has recently appointed to his staff a Queenslander by the name of Susan Bryce. Harris's office confirmed the appointment in response to a call last Friday. She is described as "doing the senator's media".
Before joining Harris's staff, she was well known in Queensland as a contact point for Hanson, when Hanson still "controlled" her own party. A self-styled "investigative journalist", Bryce is a contributor to the New Age conspiracy magazine, New Dawn.
..Like other related groups, New Dawn believes in the "New World Order-One World Government" conspiracy, publishing details of their supposed meetings and describing the methods by which the New World Order exerts control, revealing how antenna towers (which are relay stations for cellular phones) actually emit low frequency waves designed to affect behavioural patterns.
..Like other far Right groups, New Dawn features Jews as the source behind the New World Order.. In her several articles for New Dawn, Bryce has promoted, among other ideas, conspiracy theories regarding the family of US President George W. Bush, and the "killing" of princess Diana.
She has also stated that the Libyans found guilty of the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing were actually innocent, and that Libya had nothing to do with it.
No wonder then, that when Hanson responded to the September 11 attacks on the US, it was to criticise the US declaration of war on global terror and Australia's decision to contribute troops. Hanson's press release at the time had Bryce's name on it. This "Lunar Right Meets Loony Left" position has, as its common denominator, the One World Order and the so-called Jewish global conspiracy. Since the Arab states are opposed to Israel and its prime sponsor, the US, then they must be supported, and the US and its supporters - including the Australian Government - must be condemned.
..Bryce herself has charming fellow travellers. She has addressed forums (What Have They Done to Our Food?), sharing a platform with other speakers on such topics as Port Arthur – Deceit and Terrorism; The Disruption of Patriotic Organisations; and the Decline and Fall of the White Race.
Get the picture?
At the same time, over in Western Australia, which has emerged as One Nation's new powerhouse state, Edward Joseph Wall, a lawyer who has represented two Holocaust deniers, has been elected the party's West Australian vice president.
..Come back, Pauline.
- Glenn Milne, The Australian (Mar 11)
Don't Be Snowed By The Politics Of Surrender
Were you, at 14, well-versed in the subtleties of political theory and constitution-making, and clearly on the way to an adulthood marked by active democratic citizenship? I can't say that I was, either. Most 14-year-olds live lives focused on their own immediate concerns, and so it should be. To that extent, the findings of a report released last week by the Australian Council of Education Research are neither surprising nor alarming. According to the international survey on which the report was based, about half of Australia's 14-year-olds have no grasp of the principles of democracy: they lack understanding of democratic institutions such as parliaments and constitutions, and don't see themselves as eventually participating in traditional forms of political involvement such as electioneering.
Frankly, I'm impressed that the study's findings appear to imply that half of Australia's 14-year-olds do have a grasp of what democracy is all about. A more interesting question is whether the kind of ignorance and indifference the study discovered survives the transition to adulthood. What attitudes do Australians in their mid-20s to mid-30s, who have had the opportunity of voting in several elections and perhaps witnessed changes of government, have towards politicial participation? And what conception have they formed of the public realm?
..If younger Australians appear to have less faith in the capacity of politics to make human life better, the line goes, it is not because they are ignorant or untaught, but because they, in fact, understand the nature of contemporary politics more clearly than their elders.
This alleged clarity of understanding rests on the fact that the ideological differences that once characterised politics in Australia and other comparable democracies have faded, or at least been pushed to the ends of the political spectrum. The mainstream political parties, the ones that have a real prospect of forming governments, essentially share one set of beliefs, known variously as neo-liberalism or, in Australia, economic rationalism. According to this doctrine, the role of government is to facilitate the operation of markets; and not to intervene in markets to promote aspects of the human good that market transactions cannot bring about, such as distributive justice. The spread of this doctrine, it is claimed, has made the choices to be made in voting booths sham choices, because the only social reality is now the individualised reality of buyers and sellers in the global market.
..The increasing tendency for voters to turn to minor parties and independents in the past decade-and-a half - roughly the time in which economic rationalism has been ascendant - suggests that disillusionment with the course of contemporary politics is not age based.
There is, however, a generational issue in the kind of politics we have now, and it is this: that the ideological convergence of the mainstream political parties is not something inevitable, despite the tendency of both free-market zealots and some of their critics on the left to portray it as such. The ideological straitjacket that prevents us from having what used to be thought of as politics is itself constructed from choices made by politicians, by their advisers in the parties and the bureaucracy, and by cheering acolytes in the media. And when we succumb to the temptation to believe that what has been so made cannot be undone, our sense that things could not be otherwise arises from choices that we have made, too. The claim that political action is pointless because we are in the grip of great impersonal forces becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, when some marketing guru tells us that this is how Gen-Xers think (or Generation Y, or whoever comes next), the question we should ask is not whether the generational snapshot is accurate. We should ask whose interest is being served by the propagation of this atrophied notion of human agency. It certainly doesn't do much for the prospects of the Gen-Xers.
- Ray Cassin, The Age (Mar 10)
A Landslide That Never Was
John Howard's third successive victory, secured with a 2 per cent swing to the government, was certainly remarkable but it has been overhyped. Basically, on November 10 last year, Labor's national vote fell back, after preferences, to 49per cent. This was the same proportion of the vote won by Howard in the 1998 election which, it will be recalled, was the occasion of his magnificent, against-the-odds victory.
In other words, when Howard gets 49 per cent of the vote and the votes happen to fall in just enough electorates to form a parliamentary majority, it is a glowing endorsement of the Coalition by the Australian people, but when Kim Beazley gets 49 per cent and the votes fall in too few seats, it is a comprehensive repudiation of everything the ALP stands for.
That's politics, of course, and a win is a win. But there are cautionary lessons for both sides in the 2001 result.
For one thing, the Coalition can't afford to get too carried away. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that many voters responded as they have throughout history when the nation is afflicted with a sense of crisis - they stuck with the politicians they knew.
A .. pattern was repeated in .. Victorian marginals already held by Labor. While the statewide swing to the Coalition was 1.3 per cent, in Chisholm, Labor's vote rose by 0.7 per cent. In McMillan, the ALP increased its hold by 1.9 per cent.
The same thing happened throughout the rest of the country, with the important exception of New South Wales. In the suburbs of Brisbane, Labor's Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd upped their vote by 1.7 per cent and 3.2 per cent respectively. In keeping with the pro-incumbent trend, in the neighbouring marginal seat of Petrie, sitting Liberal Teresa Gambaro increased her vote by 2.6 per cent.
..The other key determinant of the election result - and it is something that continues to influence the day-to-day running of politics - is the stunning success of the Liberals in NSW.
..In 2001, Howard went close to securing a landslide in that state, where the swing to the Liberals and Nationals was 3.7 per cent. By contrast, throughout the rest of the country, the pro-government swing was a little under 1.3per cent.
And in just three elections under Howard, the Liberals have taken two safe Labor seats in Sydney's outer suburbs - Hughes and Lindsay - and converted them into safe Liberal seats. Over the 1996, 1998 and 2001 elections, there has been a swing of 16.8 per cent to the Liberals in Hughes and 15.6 per cent in Lindsay.
Various Labor figures have come up with a series of excuses for their party's pathetic showing in NSW.. Sydney is seemingly crawling with the so-called aspirational voter who is driven to self-improvement through material gain.. The argument is barely plausible. The truth is that a lot of Sydney people like John Howard, and few of them thought much of Kim Beazley.
..It is Labor's feeble performance in NSW that allows the Coalition to kid itself that it won in a landslide last November, when in fact, in an externally imposed climate of fear and national apprehension that will always favourite the incumbent, it merely made modest electoral gains.
- Shaun Carney, The Age (Mar 9)
Trying To Find A Reason To Celebrate
Australian women should wear black today, International Women's Day, to draw attention to the fact that in the 21st century equality has still to be achieved.
Our collective quest for equality has stalled and it is time for honest reappraisal and new approaches.
While it is appropriate to celebrate the achievements of women on International Women's
Day, we should do so with our eyes open to the realities that include skyrocketing rates
of sexual harassment, paying more for goods and services, continuing discrimination, and
a fraction of average male weekly earnings.
..In 1972 women won the right for equal pay for equal work -
yet 30 years on we still haven't got it. Men earn on average
$271 a week more than women, yet women are the ones who pay
more at the hairdressers and the drycleaners and for other
goods and services.
Since the introduction of the Equal Opportunity Act in 1977
we have seen the achievement of major benefits for people
and the protection of their rights. For example, the barriers to women seeking work are
not as blatant today as they were 23 years ago, when Deborah Wardley successfully brought
the first case of sex discrimination in employment to the then newly established Equal
Opportunity Board of Victoria.
But while in some situations overt discrimination has been eradicated, more subtle
discriminatory attitudes and practices have not.
The gap between male and female full-time average weekly earnings has widened since 1994,
when women earned 92 percent of the male wage. In 2001 women earned 84.5 percent of the
Women work in a restricted range of industries, predominantly retail (18 percent of
female workers) and health and community services (17 percent).
Women work in a narrow range of occupations: 27 percent of all working women are employed
as clerical and sales workers, and 18per cent are in professional positions.
Australia is one of only three Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
countries that have not legislated for paid maternity leave. The US is another, while the
third, New Zealand, plans to introduce it from April 1.
In the past decade the Equal Opportunity Commission has seen a staggering seven-fold
increase in the number of sexual harassment complaints. Obviously the message is still
not getting through - sexual harassment is against the law and it must stop. It results
in serious harm to women.
..Since 1977 employers have been required by law to prevent discrimination in the
workplace, but most appear not to take this obligation seriously. Up to 60 percent do not
have policies and practices in place to prevent discrimination and harassment, or
procedures to resolve issues and provide redress when they do occur.
..I urge women to remember these issues as they celebrate our achievements so far.
..I ask women today not to lose sight of the fact that our quest for equality is only
partially achieved - and gains made can be lost.
- Diane Sisely, Chief Executive, Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission, The Age (Mar 8)
A Bad Deal From Our US Ally
A president with an 80 per cent approval rating has been unable to withstand political pressure from an old-fashioned, in some parts
rust-bucket, United States steel industry. If George Bush cannot withstand that pressure, the chances of Australia getting a free trade
deal with the US which includes farm products are virtually non-existent. He made commitments during his election campaign, he
has paid back the power industry, he has now paid back the steel industry. It is a classic demonstration of American administrations
responding to selfish domestic pressures.
The US proposes free trade where America herself excels in high technology, in telecommunications. Beyond these areas, American
governments have protected America's own.
When President Reagan was first in office, 8 per cent of US imports were under quota or voluntary restraint arrangements. In eight
years he tripled that to 24 per cent. When he announced new levels of protection, he would generally say "Thank God for the United
States and for free trade."
Australia has been at the forefront of arguing for freer trade across the board and until fairly recently we have argued that multilateral
progress is more likely to be successful than a bilateral negotiation.
There is a simple reason for this. In a bilateral negotiation, Australia carries a negotiating strength from a market of 20 million people.
If you can put together a group of like-minded nations, they have much more clout and effect.
The hypocrisy in the US attitude to trade goes way beyond protection for the US steel industry. It is long-standing and a constant
thread in US policy so far as agriculture and raw materials are concerned.. It has always resisted free trade in agriculture, where Australian farmers would be able to do much more than compete with their
..The power of US farming interests in Congress is much greater than that of the steel industry over Congress or over the President.
Is it conceivable that a President who has just slapped punitive quotas on the importing of steel would risk the wrath of US farming
interests in many major states which will be important to his re-election when the time comes?
The US farm lobby has control of Congress over such matters. Those who speak glibly as though an honest free trade deal may be
possible show little understanding of the history and dynamics of the US's internal political processes - one of the prices we pay for
losing a professional and apolitical Public Service.
We have for a long time been a close strategic friend and ally of the US. At the moment we are doing more to support US policies
than almost any other state. There are many who believe we have cuddled up so close that it is almost indecent. The US has also
always insisted that economic and strategic matters should be kept separate. Of course it would; it gets the best on both sides of the
The US today is a unilateral superpower. It makes its decisions in its own way, with little regard for the opinions of friends or allies.
On trade matters, hypocrisy has reigned supreme. Bush has told us it looks set to continue indefinitely.
- Malcolm Fraser, SMH (Mar 7)
Collateral Damage Of G-G Crisis Mounts
In any consideration of his future as Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth is now bound to consider the hurt the campaign against him is causing to sexual-abuse victims.
There is little doubt that most people baying for vice-regal blood are unaware or unconcerned about the damage their campaign is doing to victims, though the campaign is presented as support for those victims.
The point has been reached where a former assistant of Dr Hollingworth said yesterday that the Prime Minister, the Governor-General and the media must seriously weigh the consequences of the continuing public focus on sexual abuse.
Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn George Browning says the endless debate over the former archbishop's handling of sexual-abuse complaints is causing its own cost. "The people paying are those least able to pay - those already abused," he says. He would not enter the debate on whether Dr Hollingworth should resign, but said, "This must be something the Prime Minister and others, including the media, must seriously weigh. It clearly is an issue to do with the office of the Governor-General."
..It must surely also be known by Hollingworth from his study of, and practice in, social work. But that knowledge does not necessarily help one to make perfect decisions when aware of abuse. A chain of consequences, some of which cannot be easily predicted, can follow decisions taken at the time in good conscience and with the best of intentions.
..Despite his frequent criticism of government, which in 1990 earned him a rebuke from then Prime Minister Bob Hawke as "bloody un-Christian", Hollingworth was the 1992 Australian of the Year. In October 1990 Hollingworth declared the then Government's monetary policy was a very blunt instrument, causing suffering for many poor families. Hawke responded by saying Hollingworth was talking nonsense and did not understand government policies. He should stick to religious affairs and social issues.
In late 1989, Hollingworth was elected Archbishop of Brisbane, saying later his big challenge would be to continue to assist people in poverty. He later criticised then Treasurer Paul Keating for having spoken to captains of industry but not with welfare experts or the unemployed.
..In Brisbane he was seen as part of the establishment, despite his previous good works. But it seems those works and his training had not equipped him to deal with the responsibility of a diocese with about 160 parishes and about 26 schools. With such a workload, a person with the best training could be expected to make mistakes.
The unanswered question now is why, with his social-work qualifications and clergy training, has he dealt so clumsily in his response to social and moral issues? In both fields it is well known that people must not abuse positions of authority.
That is not to suggest, as some have, that Hollingworth has in any way condoned abuse. But the position now is that unless those calling for his removal as Governor-General get their way or give up, victims of abuse will have daily reminders of that abuse. So he must balance the relative value of his position and the value of others.
- Graham Downie, Canberra Times (Mar 6)
Govt Must Resist Abuse Hysteria
The campaign to remove Peter Hollingworth from office has reached the point of hysteria, which seemingly will not end until the Governor-General resigns. We have argued before that Dr Hollingworth should have done this already. The public has lost confidence in his ability to perform the job after hearing his faltering explanations and apologies for his handling of sex abuse cases when Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane. However, certain zealous individuals and institutions, not least sections of the media, have what is bordering on a counterproductive obsession with the terrible crime of sexual abuse.
The visceral reaction to claims Dr Hollingworth covered up sexual abuse has illustrated the high degree of community anxiety about the vulnerability of the young to sexual predators. Yet there is a whiff of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, as the witchhunt proceeds. Organisations of which the Governor-General is patron are clamouring to distance themselves from the controversy. Groups such as Barnardos and the Royal Australian College of Psychiatrists have their own past to deal with. Barnardos was embroiled in an abuse scandal not so long ago. A succession of psychiatrists has been struck off in recent years for abusing patients. However, these are not the kind of stories their representatives have highlighted when they have moved to remove Dr Hollingworth as their patron.
Of course perpetrators must be sought out and prosecuted for their crimes. Any individual or institution that deals with children must be alert for warning signs of abuse. They need to report their suspicions to authorities. Rigorous and transparent procedures are essential for dealing with accusations. In the current fever pitch, however, facts count for little. All power rests with the accuser. The mob is in the mood for a lynching and it has got its public victim in the form of the Governor-General.
At first glance then, John Howard's willingness to consider a royal commission into sexual abuse seems like a good idea. It would need to have clear terms of reference. But where would the inquiry begin, and where would it end? With the restatement for the umpteenth time that sexual abuse occurs in Australia, and that it is a flesh-creeping practice whose perpetrators must be found, and prosecuted? And it can't just be a royal commission into the Anglican Church's Brisbane diocese. Churches, schools, charities, government departments and the Scouts have all had their problems with failing to screen out or dob in child abusers. This seems so broad as to be unworkable. Royal commissions have a habit of dragging on for months or years, costing millions of dollars in lawyers' fees, and to what end? It could become theatre, starring campaigners such as the Prime Minister's cabinet secretary, Bill Heffernan, and child sexual abuse activist Hetty Johnston. In this environment a royal commission would simply feed into the hysteria. It could turn into a show trial.
Although Dr Hollingworth appears not to have grasped the nature of sexual abuse and the laws against it, he can't be held responsible for the actions of every cleric, doctor, teacher, boarding master or child protection worker who has ever betrayed the trust of a child through abuse. It is shocking when those individuals and organisations charged with shielding the weak and vulnerable from abuse turn attacker. Still, public anger is unlikely to be tempered through the mechanism of a royal commission. There is much else that can be done. The law could be more stringently enforced. Child protection agencies could be properly resourced. Community awareness campaigns could be promoted much more.
In the meantime, however, Dr Hollingworth should now go for his own sake. How many abject apologies must he make before he resigns?
- The Australian, Editorial (Mar 5)
Pseudo Republicans And The Kylie Cringe
Last [week I predicted] that monarchists and those I called pseudo-republicans, i.e. advocates of a republic with an appointed president, would desperately try to resist any suggestion that the furore over the present Governor-General might have implications for the republic debate. Specifically, they would gag at the thought that one of the merits of electing a head of state is that the background and character of candidates for the office would come under intense scrutiny, thereby perhaps preventing the kind of mess we have now. This notion generated a lot of responses, and so have similar arguments that have appeared elsewhere. John Howard, Tony Abbott and anyone else who likes to pretend that the 1999 referendum result settled anything, please note. Whatever else the Hollingworth affair might have shown, it is certainly showing that Australians do not feel secure in their present constitutional arrangements.
..The evidence of opinion polls about the present Governor-General is that most Australians already think that whoever serves in the head-of-state role should be someone who represents them. They believe that a person who notionally represents only an absentee monarch, and who in fact is answerable only to the politician who appointed him, should really be answerable to them. That is implicit in the calls for Dr Peter Hollingworth's resignation or dismissal.
People are not impressed by the fiction that public officeholders, even holders of the non-elective office of governor-general, are somehow "above" politics. A job that is in the gift of one or more politicians is a politicised job..
Australia, as we were reminded many times during the centenary year of Federation, is one of the world's democracies. So it is, but the robustly democratic spirit that bounced the sham republic we were offered in 1999 oddly coexists here with attitudes that are contemptuous of democracy. Consider the argument most frequently used against direct election of a head of state. It is not the so-called double-mandate problem, which has largely been argued about by constitutional theorists. In the public arena, it is more common to hear that the right kind of candidate, that is, someone with appropriate "dignity", would never submit themselves to anything as demeaning as an election campaign. This argument is sometimes made more vivid by citing the names of supposedly undignified people who might get the job if, God forbid, the people were ever allowed to choose who should represent them: Kylie Minogue, perhaps.
Well, if such were the people's choice then so be it. To baulk at that conclusion is to baulk at democracy.. But some Australians, even some who call themselves republicans, seem to think that the office of head of state ought to be different, so that whatever else it symbolises it must not symbolise the sovereignty of the people.
- Ray Cassin, The Age (Mar 3)
Whither Australia Fair?
Over and over again, the argument has been put in recent weeks that Peter Hollingworth should resign to prevent any further damage to the office of governor-general. But, really, what is there to damage?
The role of the governor-general of Australia - not just this one but all of them - is so irrelevant to the day-to-day life of this nation that it hardly warrants all this hand-wringing. Any governor-general is, by definition, a seat-warmer, a sort of harmless old duffer who is expected to turn up to public functions and make speeches full of platitudes; their wisdom may get heads nodding, but no pulses racing.
..This is not to suggest the issues that flow from the controversy surrounding Hollingworth are not important. Of course they are. Indeed, they are deeply disturbing. But the notion that the diminished, marginal vice-regal position now occupied by Hollingworth is being undermined by his continued tenure seems fanciful. It is Hollingworth and the Anglican Church that have been damaged by this furore, not his office.
The governor-general's role in Australian society has been, at best, precarious, and at worst, endangered, since Sir John Kerr sacked the Whitlam government in 1975. In over-reaching the reasonable application of his powers, Kerr triggered the process that led to the 1999 referendum on the republic, which was the first - and definitely not the last - word on a move away from the constitutional monarchy.
Whitlam's appointment of Kerr highlighted in its starkest form the fatal flaw in the procedure by which former judges, politicians and now a churchman, found themselves living in Yarralumla. All it takes to become governor-general is to be plucked from the ruck by a prime minister.
..In any event, the idea that an individual, chosen by another individual for heaven know's what reasons - remember that Bob Hawke gave the job to Bill Hayden in 1988 to help salve his conscience over knocking Hayden out of the Labor leadership - could embody the aspirations and values of an entire nation is weird and dangerous.
Those who cheered on Deane should perhaps look at some of the key issues he advanced. Does anybody really believe Australia has made any real headway on reconciliation? Or on eradicating poverty?
More than anything, what the Hollingworth affair has shown is that Australia's constitutional arrangements are very weak indeed .. Opinion polls suggest something like 70 per cent of Australians are in favour, in principle, of a move to a republic. The type of republic Australia should have - with a directly-elected president or some form of appointment - continues to be the bone of contention.
Although Howard and the constitutional monarchists would wish the republic question to go away, it can't. Why? Because, as a number of people across both sides of politics observed during the referendum campaign, Australia's constitutional symbols are broken. The Queen's present tour is a case in point.
..The Hollingworth affair is a sideshow to the real constitutional question posed in 1999 but left unresolved, which is: what constitutional changes are we going to make?
The weakness in the 'no' case in 1999 was that it was directed more at frustrating the republican movement than in compounding and confirming public support for the existing system. It was a win-at-all-costs strategy, which included various senior members of the Howard Government, most notably Tony Abbott, running the successful line that politicians could not be trusted to produce and oversee a decent republic. A little over two years on, it is clear politicians aren't that good at overseeing a smoothly-functioning constitutional monarchy either.
John Howard did republicans no favours in the lead-up to the referendum, but he did them a huge one when he appointed Peter Hollingworth.
- Shaun Carney, The Age (Mar 2)
Hyperbole And Hacks Dog Hollingworth
It's just about a fortnight since the last meaningful allegation was levelled against the Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth. That was in this newspaper on Saturday, February 16, under the front-page headline "G-G spared sex-abuse bishop". Greg Roberts reported that Hollingworth, as Archbishop of Brisbane, took no action against an Anglican bishop who years earlier had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old schoolgirl in his care.
The allegations to emerge against the Governor-General since then have been febrile and thin. In fact, there is now a quality of the witch-hunt about the whole enterprise, or possibly something more appropriate to a viceroy, a fox hunt. What really sunk Hollingworth's credibility and standing was his response to that front-page Herald story.
I think there was a headline over the weekend in The Sydney Morning Herald that said, 'G-G spares sex-abuse bishop'. Now, that's a headline grabber, isn't it?
..It was after the appearance on Australian Story that the loyal Opposition withdrew its support for the Governor-General, and so his office was no longer beyond politics. To paraphrase one of Noel Pearson's memorable lines about Pauline Hanson, the Governor-General was being dragged down because he was caught in "a redneck celebrity vortex" - although on this occasion it was a purple vest vortex.
Since Australian Story it's been a case of blunderbusses firing hither and yon. Yet nothing has done Hollingworth anything like the damage he inflicted upon himself. The moral vacuity of trying to put a gloss on an older man taking advantage of a 14-year-old girl in his care just about takes the cake.
Two days after the ABC appearance some Murdoch papers ran a screamer about a settlement of a sexual abuse case. "Hush money - Hollingworth buys victim's silence - exclusive", said The Daily Telegraph. It was exclusive because no-one else could have beaten this up into such a state of flummery. In fact, it was a settlement of civil proceedings where both sides reached agreement on a payout. Like countless other settlements there was a confidentiality clause. To suggest that Hollingworth pays hush money is a fabulous piece of hyperbole.
..The shrillest noises have been coming from Queensland. The Courier-Mail, that organ of old misconceived campaigns, and the Premier, Peter Beattie, both have been carrying on like pork chops about Hollingworth. Beattie seems livid that Hollingworth's lapses might somehow distract attention from the CHOGM meeting in his glorious state.
There may be truth in the notion that in some quarters Hollingworth was a juicier media target because he was Howard's appointment. One wonders if any sense of national indignation would flow, for instance, if someone had started to pick away at some of "saintly" Bill Deane's tax advice, purveyed when he was one of the leading tax silks in Sydney. Although, unlike archbishops, lawyers aren't expected to show moral authority.
- Richard Ackland, SMH (Mar 1)