They Said It
And The New S-Word Is ... Surrender
Remember socialism? The system of public ownership that some countries actually had, in the days of the Soviet empire? And the more benign form that some political parties in countries such as Australia aspired to introduce?
..In its constitution, the ALP continues to declare, as it has for more than 80 years, that its objective is "the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields".
With the significant exception of the Chifley government's failed attempt to nationalise the banks, this objective has not shaped Labor's policymaking, and only rarely has it coloured Labor's electoral rhetoric. The typical stance of Labor governments has been that evoked by the title of Bede Nairn's classic history of the colonial labour movement, Civilising Capitalism. When socialism has got a mention at all, the word has usually been uttered by Labor's opponents in the hope of scaring voters. Peter Costello resorted to this tactic again in parliament last week.
No one took any notice. The Treasurer was, after all, speaking about a party that had presided over the deregulation of the financial system, the abolition of centralised wage-fixing, the withdrawal of protection for Australian industry and the reintroduction of tertiary education fees. The conventional wisdom is that socialism is a relic of Labor's past that the party will eventually abandon in principle, as it has evidently already done in fact.
The conventional wisdom ignores, however, that dropping the s-word from the party's objectives has been tried before, without success. Each time the issue comes up at a party conference, the usual result is that the list of objectives is increased, so that the commitment to socialism is qualified in various ways. This happened when the objective was first adopted in 1921, with the insertion of the words "to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features" in its phrasing. Some would say that the extended list of objectives, which, among other things, now includes recognition of the right to own private property, has so qualified the original objective as to render it incoherent.
The Labor frontbencher Kevin Rudd is the latest to argue that the s-word has has passed its use-by date. In a submission to the review of the ALP being undertaken by Bob Hawke and Neville Wran, Rudd calls for the party to abolish the socialist objective and restate its traditional values in contemporary language. He has attempted such a translation, and here is part of it: "Labor believes in a creative, competitive and prosperous Australia - prosperity made possible by both private initiative and by public goods, a prosperity that is the prosperity of the many, not the few."
..Socialism, understood in however qualified a form, held out an ethical vision of a better world in which the worth of human lives would no longer be measured by the exchange values of the market. Labor's traditions were nurtured and unified by that vision, however dimly it was reflected in the practice of Labor governments. Socialism was something people could devote their lives to building, and might even be prepared to die for. Would anyone put their life on the line for "a creative, competitive and prosperous Australia"?
..Rudd derides the desire to retain the s-word as nostalgia, but what he offers as an alternative is pollie waffle. It is not that Rudd is unaware of the difficulty of revising the language that evokes a tradition without thereby undermining the tradition itself. "With the collapse of organised religion and traditional forms of social engagement," he writes, "there is a growing (community) appetite for constant values that resonate with the demands of the changing world in which we live."
The comparison with organised religion is instructive. For more than two centuries the churches have intermittently engaged in attempts to restate the tenets of Christianity in ways that "resonate with the demands of the changing world". They have had varying degrees of success, but the risk in the project of translation has always been that what is being translated may disappear in the process. Those who seek to renew the social-democratic tradition face a similar challenge. Will they choose language that implicitly endorses Labor's capture by an individualist ideology inimical to its very reason for existence? Or will they choose language that proclaims that markets, far from being allowed to usurp the prerogatives of democratic governments, should themselves be subject to democratic control?
- Ray Cassin, The Age (Jun 30)
Latham Not About To Cop A Bum Rap
John and Janette Howard fly out of Sydney tomorrow for Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Athens, Crete, Brussels, Rome and the Pope. Simon and Carole Crean leave late the same night for London, Brussels, Geneva, Washington and Seattle.. Ministerial "talks", "study" trips, "fact-finding" missions, "promotional" discussions, "investment" meetings, "parliamentary" delegations, whatever. Federally, upwards of 40 MPs, plus hangers-on, will be abroad, at public expense, sometime in the next two months. Thank you, taxpayers.
..This is no longer a PM careful about how deep he gets his snout in the trough. Once, maybe. But after six years the Howards have become progressively more expansive about their official lifestyle. Two days ago, the first of the Government's new fleet of five VIP jets was unveiled to the public. Cost: $31 million a year to lease (for 13 years) and $11 million a year to maintain. Total $550 million. Thank you indeed, taxpayers.
..Which brings us to Mark Latham. Latham isn't going anywhere this recess. He is back in Campbelltown, in Sydney's west, head down, bum up, among his constituents, most of them good, earthy Labor voters.
Nine days ago, in Parliament, Latham made a speech no-one took notice of. In it he dismissed the Liberals' Tony Abbott, a minister of thick hide and loud mouth, as "more British than Australian in his values and attitudes, basically hanging out of the backside of the British monarch whenever he can". In the same speech, he described Howard as "a Prime Minister just back from the US with a brown nose [and] a lot of skin off his knees ... who has grovelled [and] proved himself more American than Australian".
That was Thursday, June 20, 11am. No ministers got into an outraged lather. No radio shock jocks or pundits got all sanctimonious. Nobody insisted Latham apologise. Nobody even reported what he said. Four hours later, during Question Time, John Anderson, the Nationals' leader and Deputy Prime Minister, got hugely upset when, in speaking on US beef quotas, Latham gestured by holding up one hand and rubbing his fingers against his thumb. Anderson exploded. "Mr Speaker," he cried, "there is an outrageous claim being made over there by the Member for Werriwa that I am somehow seeking to personally benefit [from the issue]. I ask him to withdraw!"
It got sillier. When the speaker, Neil Andrew (Lib, SA), said he'd not heard Latham say anything, Labor's Gavan O'Connor called Anderson a "precious sook". And when an agitated Anderson complained Latham's "imputation" of "gesturing with his fingers" was "highly offensive" and "I ask that it be withdrawn", Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon interjected: "It's pretty hard to expunge a finger." Andrew agreed. It wasn't "reasonable", Andrew said, "for me to expect gestures to be withdrawn". At which point, with Andrew ruling against Anderson, Latham, who'd repeated the finger-rubbing gesture, very deliberately gave Anderson "the finger".
As in, up yours! And what happened?
Nothing. Whatever was seen - or not seen - by Anderson or anyone else on Howard's front bench, nobody, remarkably, said or did anything. But Latham's finger of contempt was seen clearly from the press gallery. And certainly by at least one Government backbencher, Chris Pyne (Lib, SA), who jumped to his feet after Question Time and asked Andrew to review video "of the offensive incident". Andrew declined. He was at a loss because he'd seen nothing. But Andrew warned - rather lamely, given what had happened - that "no-one should ever feel tempted to exercise gestures". Well, Latham did, with great delight, and got away with it. Yet, as with his earlier speech, the media ignored the incident.
All of which puts into perspective Latham's "arse-licker" interview with Maxine McKew in this week's issue of The Bulletin magazine. The one that got all the confected outrage from Abbott in the house on Wednesday afternoon in defence of Howard and "high parliamentary standards". The media had gone into instant frenzy with The Bulletin's publication that morning. Latham never faltered, conceding nothing. He did three aggressive, wholly unapologetic interviews with radio in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth by midday.
..Latham: "I think the terminology is a great Australian phrase. It's a phrase used throughout the nation every day. It's a phrase that's always been used in the suburbs in which I've lived in outer Sydney. It's a great Australian phrase and a great and accurate description of the Prime Minister's behaviour in Washington."
..Latham: "Oh, I think it's language Australians are very comfortable with. We're not a crusty, upper-class English show. This is Australia. Australians speak in Australian slang, get to the point, call a spade a spade, and use language people can understand. Now, for all your good judgements today, one of the very strong criticisms of politicians is they don't share the emotions and language of their electorates. Well, I was having a good lunch in Campbelltown with Maxine and she asked me a question and I shared the emotion and language of my electorate in describing the Prime Minister as an arse-licker ...
"I'm flattered by the attention you're giving it, and The Bulletin published it; they didn't think it too rude. And you've responded to it. What you need to understand is that working-class Australians are very comfortable with direct talking. That's what they want from politicians, to actually say what they believe in and how they feel. And we shouldn't lose Australian slang, our language, and replace it with some pretence we're a prim and proper outfit that never say what we think."
There was more, but you get the point. Latham knew exactly what he was doing and was apologising to no-one. And why should he? Abbott tried to take the high road in Parliament and looked a fool. The Government hoped it could intimidate Latham. It can't. Howard and Abbott don't understand what is happening inside the Labor Party. Or maybe they do, and fear what it might mean. Crean understands. Latham is much more than just a mouth. Other of Crean's colleagues understand, too. Watch out, Howard. Watch out, Costello. Watch out, Crean. Watch out, Australia. Here comes Mark Latham, ready or not.
- Alan Ramsey, Sydney Morning Herald (Jun 29)
The Amazing Labor Party
The Labor Party never ceases to amaze me. It is a mixture, to use a cliche, of the good, the bad and the ugly. It is a party of opposites.
My sources are of two kinds at the moment. My reading is divided between Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, speech writer Don Watson's best-selling account of his years with Paul Keating as prime minister between 1992 and 1996, and NSW Premier Bob Carr's collected writings, Thoughtlines: Reflections of a Public Man. In their different ways these two books show Labor at its aspirational best.
At the same time contemporary politics, in the form of the usual shambles of Labor's internal politics, shows the party at its worst. The factional politics is as amazing as always. A successful Labor government in Victoria is being undermined by factional ructions involving the party's national president, Greg Sword. Party officials close to the Premier, Steve Bracks, are losing their jobs as a consequence at a time when a state election is looming.
But it is the reaction by state Labor conferences to the efforts of the federal Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, to reduce the ratio of trade-union representation to general membership representation from 60:40 to 50:50 that has most appalled me. The sight of Queensland Labor conference delegates booing and jeering Crean and waving placards is sickening. At the Western Australian conference the ill-mannered treatment was repeated, though less outrageously. In what sort of party do senior members set out to humiliate their party leader in this way?
Are these people really in the one party? The only way to appreciate what's going on is to recognise that Labor has two faces.
Labor is a party of both thuggery and the highest aspirations. Watson quotes Henry Adams, of the American political family, to the effect that "Politics, as a practice, whatever its pretensions, had always been the systematic organisation of hatreds." That applies to Labor's internal politics. At the same time Watson's account of life in the party at the highest level convincingly shows that in Labor there is plenty of vision as well as personal self-sacrifice in pursuit of a goal. The party attracts the support of talented people who want to improve society, whether they are bleeding hearts or "pointy heads".
..Labor is at the same time a closed and an open party.
On the one hand it is run by a limited number of factional activists.. On the other hand, to its credit, Labor is open in that it conducts more of its operations in public than do its major opponents.
Labor is also a party of traditional religious social conservatives and of modern secularists. Its membership combines the greatest proportion of church-attenders of any party with the greatest proportion of non-attenders. It is the party of the God-fearing and the unbelieving. Not surprisingly it tears itself apart over social issues like stem-cell research, euthanasia and in vitro fertilisation for single women.
After this description of the party's problems it must be remembered that it is also the party of eight successful state and territory governments and one unsuccessful federal Opposition. They are, in fact, the same party.. The party's structural limitations can't be that life-threatening.
Labor's internal limitations and problems are serious, but like the Liberals between 1983 and 1996, the situation is nowhere near as bleak as it is being painted. Labor has lost three successive federal elections, but it polled 49 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote last October. And it dominates state and territory politics.
These state and territory parties are supported by exactly the same party organisation as federal Labor. With all its flaws and tensions the state of the party has not prevented success. Union advocates are right about that one thing: the link between Labor and the unions was not the party's major problem at the last federal election. And it will not prevent Crean from winning the next federal election, although that is not to predict that he will. In the depths of any party's despair the media commentary always exaggerates the connection between internal politics and electoral success.
- John Warhurst, Canberra Times (Jun 28)
Latham Is Right - We've Been Subservient To The US
There has been a lot of mostly mock outrage sparked by Mark Latham's robust comments concerning John Howard's recent trip to the US. Whatever the merits of the Labor frontbencher's language, there can be no denying that the Prime Minister's fawning speeches in the US capital were reminiscent of a bygone age that many had hoped was gone for good.
It was reminiscent of that insecure Anglo-Australian society that held tight to Britain for half a century before switching great and powerful friends during the Cold War. Australia then followed in America's footsteps, a move that took us into the Korean War, then into the quagmire that was Vietnam.
During the 20th century, about 100,000 Australians were killed and many more wounded in various conflicts around the globe. In at least some of those conflicts, such as World War I and perhaps the Korean War, a more measured response by the Australian government of the day would have been more appropriate.
In others, such as the Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion and the Vietnam War, it would have served Australia much better to have been out of them altogether. But Australian governments gave little consideration to whether such involvements were in the national interest.
Although few people would quibble with our involvement in World War II, the manner of our joining that war set back our growing sense of independence within the British empire. Prime minister Robert Menzies announced that Australia was at war after hearing on the BBC that Britain had declared war against Germany.
Menzies joined the war without reference to the Australian parliament or his cabinet. In his view, as soon as Britain was at war, Australia was at war. By contrast, other British dominions – Canada, South Africa and Ireland – referred it to their parliaments for decision, with Ireland deciding to remain neutral in Britain's war against Germany despite the proximity of that conflict to its shores.
Shift forward 63 years. There are sufficient suggestions by Howard and Robert Hill to indicate that the Government is determined, as soon as Washington gives the green light, to announce an Australian commitment to an invasion of Iraq. Whither the US goes, so go we.
That might be fine if the reverse were also true. But the history of Australia has been one of enthusiastic participation in the conflicts of our great power protectors, only to find that their support has not been reciprocated when it was most needed.
Australia had 60,000 troops killed for Britain's sake in World War I, only to find that Britain did a secret deal with Japan to ignore Australia's claim to the German colonies in the Pacific and give them instead to Tokyo. As prime minister Billy Hughes had feared, those islands then became springboards for Japanese attacks against Australia in World War II.
Similarly, Australia's generous commitment of troops, aircrew and warships to the European war in 1939 counted for nothing just three years later when Australia was threatened with invasion. The Singapore naval base was left relatively undefended and the long-promised British fleet never arrived.
..Australia's enthusiastic support for the US in Vietnam, and later in the Gulf War, did not prevent the Americans from refusing recently to stand alongside Australian troops in East Timor. Instead, for fear of offending Jakarta, they made their role in East Timor as unobtrusive as possible.
Apart from these considerations of narrow self-interest, it is not in our broader interest, the wider international interest or indeed even the US interest to simply cheer on as Washington girds itself for a war that will inevitably have a tragic outcome for the Iraqi people and perhaps for the Middle East generally. The political problems of that region will not be solved in the war room of the Pentagon. And the mark of a true friend can sometimes be to restrain rather than always to urge on or to follow obediently in their wake. Despite the US experience so far in Afghanistan, even great powers can get their noses bloodied.
Although Australia might not be able to divert Washington from its crusade against Baghdad, let's at least not traipse gaily off into another war and spend decades regretting it later. Rather than going off to war on the say-so of George W. Bush, let's for once assert our national sovereignty in a positive way and allow our parliament to debate the issue before any of our forces are committed.
- David Day, The Australian (Jun 27)
Media's Darling Is Yet To Hit A Winner
Anna Kournikova did at Wimbledon two nights ago what she so often does as a professional tennis player. She lost. In the first round. Natasha Stott Despoja did in Canberra yesterday what she mostly does as the leader of a political party. She made a spectacle of herself. Neither instance, in isolation, will likely have any immediate effect. Kournikova and Stott Despoja are who they are. Only the cumulative effect, over time, will undo them both.
Each is a beguiling clothes horse with minimum talent in what they do for a living. Kournikova can't play tennis. Stott Despoja is a complete political and parliamentary dunce. That is not to say they're not smart. Of course they are. What each does, and superbly, is captivate the media. The media, in turn, titillate sponsors and/or public opinion. Kournikova has not ever had to be a winner to be a huge financial and celebrity success. Stott Despoja does not have to be remotely politically savvy to fool either the sheep or the mediocre, of which there is always an abundance in her party and the community generally.
Stott Despoja displaced the incumbent Meg Lees to become the Democrats' federal leader in April last year. Seven months later, when the Democrats suffered their second-worst vote in the party's 24 years of national elections, Stott Despoja tried to blame the leader she'd replaced. Her gullible supporters still pretend the Democrat vote would have been so much worse had Lees not been removed.
And, naturally, those responsible for ousting the leader twice-elected to replace the turncoat Cheryl Kernot, after Kernot fled the Democrats for the Labor Party in October 1997, have not come forward to publicly admit their culpability in dumping Lees, mid-term, for someone since exposed as little more than a media-created political misfit.
..In July last year, in Melbourne's Aston by-election - held three months after Stott Despoja became leader - the Democrats, in a turnout of 82,500 voters, increased their vote by a risible 300, or two-tenths of one percentage point. This outcome was greeted by Stott Despoja, who trilled to reporters: "I'm very happy, relieved and proud."
Four months later, in the November general election, the Democrats ran candidates in all 150 seats for the House of Representatives. So did the Greens. Neither party got anyone elected. But the Greens almost doubled their national vote - from 290,709 (2.6 per cent) to 569,000 (5 per cent). And the Democrats? Their vote increased nationally by 50,000, or three-tenths of a percentage point, almost a replica of the party's minuscule gain in the Aston by-election.
But it was the Senate where the Democrats were truly humbled. Although the party's House vote gained marginally, the Democrat Senate vote, the key to its existence as a political entity, slumped 105,000 nationally - from 8.5 per cent (947,900 in 1998, under the Lees leadership) to 7.25 per cent (842,924). It cost the Democrats one of their senators: NSW's Vicki Bourne.
The Greens' Senate vote, by contrast, went from 305,000 (2.7 per cent) to 574,489 (4.9 per cent), duplicating its lower house vote. Thus voters supporting the Greens voted similarly for both House and Senate. The result: the Greens won the Senate seat the Democrats lost in NSW. But 100,000 voters from three years earlier abandoned the Democrats in the Senate, the party's lifeblood, although supporting them in the House, where the Democrat vote has never mattered, across a quarter of a century, except as preferences.
The new Democrat leadership of Stott Despoja and her deputy, Aden Ridgeway, who gets noticed only by being invisible, campaigned last November on the slogan "Change Politics". They were utterly ignored. Yet somehow the election result is supposed to represent "ensuring" the Democrats "a strong future". Curious.
No wonder Lees remains bitter.
- Alan Ramsey, Sydney Morning Herald (Jun 26)
It's Time For ALP To Awake From Slumber
Labor's federal stocks have sunk even lower as John Howard cements his rule in Canberra. The Opposition is ending the budget session in the same poor public standing as when it lost the election in November. And new leader Simon Crean shows no signs of making up his yawning disadvantage in the polls compared with the Prime Minister.
Labor is in the unprecedented position of being in charge of all state and territory governments. But this belies the party's sorry state shown by its failure to learn the lessons of three consecutive federal election defeats. Mr Crean has faced internal attacks at successive ALP state conferences as part of his bid to reduce the trade unions' control of 60 per cent of delegates to state conferences.
Last week, from the unlikely vantage point of provincial France, Barry Jones summed it all up. The former Hawke minister and national president said his party had lost its way and was doomed without internal reform. Mr Jones first made the comments in his written submission to the Hawke-Wran review of the ALP, as reported by The Australian. "Excessive factionalism has the potential to weaken the capacity of federal and state MPs," he wrote.
Mr Jones also opined that recent Labor additions to the Senate were nearly all trade union officials, party office-holders, staff, factional organisers or those with strong family and factional ties. The party that needs to attract 5 million voters to win office federal was controlled by a handful or two of "factional warlords" exercising "democratic centralism".
The ALP national president who took over from Mr Jones, Greg Sword, is involved in the bitterest of battles with state secretary David Feeney for control of Victoria's Labor Unity faction. Yesterday, Victorian Premier Steve Bracks was humiliated by the factional warfare, conceding that the deal between Mr Sword and the party's Left faction would claim the head of Mr Feeney, the Premier's ally. Ethnic branch-stacking is still rife in Victoria and NSW. And, as The Weekend Australian reported, genuine party membership is perilously low. Mr Crean said at the weekend that the ALP was realising the importance of reform from within.
But it is now eight months since the federal election, and his powerbase – the Victorian ALP – is tearing itself apart. Yet Labor's current crisis is the inevitable result of past failures to reform the party by reducing the grip of the unions and the factional warlords and opening up its democratic processes. This should have occurred immediately after its devastating federal defeat in 1996. Instead, the Kim Beazley-led Labor Party thought it could surf back into office on the back of the GST. Now, the question is how deep Labor's crisis will have to go before it is forced into genuine reform.
Reducing union control only marginally to the 50-50 position mooted by Queensland Premier Peter Beattie would make little difference to the culture of a party that is beholden to a clutch of small-minded union leaders, many of them bent on snatching safe parliamentary seats as a reward for their loyalty.
Labor must do so much more to pursue principles and develop fresh policies, as Mr Jones argued. It is up to Mr Crean to take the hard decisions. He must become more than a split-the-difference ex-union official. He must demand that the party reforms itself or find another leader. Labor's reform is not necessary only to get it into a position where it could win government.
Australian democracy is weakened when the Opposition party fields weak candidates, and is so emasculated that it can't challenge a third-term federal government that must be held to account. Bob Hawke and Neville Wran have a lot resting on their shoulders as they prepare to take their reform recommendations to Labor's national executive next month.
- Editorial, The Australian (Jun 25)
Eyes On The Whys, Guys
Mark Textor, in his role as pollster for the federal Liberal Party, has helped John Howard to three election victories.. What Textor has detected in the mood shifts and swings of the electorate accords broadly with the central message conveyed to his ex-comrades last week by former ALP national president Barry Jones. "Unfortunately," said Jones in his leaked submission to Labor's post-election review, "the word values was never used in the campaign. We conveyed little sense of vision or courage." Of Howard, Jones noted: "One of his strongest attributes is when he says: 'You mightn't like what I am doing but you know where I stand.'"
As depressing as it might be for poor old Barry, it appears he's on a unity ticket with Textor. The central theme of Textor's weekend address was the question of character and its role in shaping politics. For character, insert Jones's reference to values.
Textor, who describes himself as "the thinking man's Hugh Mackay", began his speech by referring to a New York Times article about recent conference where a group of academics not normally aligned with the Republican Party analysed the legacy of Ronald Reagan. Observing that the Times generally regarded Reagan in much the same way as The Sydney Morning Herald now regards Howard, Textor said it must have galled the paper to have to report that the academics concluded the former president was "a man of ideas after all".
Their consensus: that whereas Reagan's campaigns against communism and in favour of the family and capitalism were seen at the time as old-fashioned and unoriginal, his presidency had to be viewed against the context of the small-l liberal 1960s. Considered that way, Reagan stood as an important reaffirmation of enduring principles at a critical time and conducted a "struggle for ideas".
Textor argues that, in Australian history, the parallel of the US swinging '60s was the '70s Whitlam era. And in Textor's eyes, in the late '90s, guess who's Australia's Reagan?
Textor teased out further familiar strands. At the 1984 US election, the Democrats' Walter Mondale held almost total cachet with the US media elite, he promoted (in US terms at least) liberal social values, and Reagan's tax policy – big personal tax cuts as the driver of economic activity – was panned by opinion leaders.
Textor didn't need to ask the question about Australia's Reagan again. But he was also making a bigger point about Howard than simply his historic resonance with Reagan. Like Reagan, Textor said, Howard's career "spells out a wider story about commitment". Like Jones, he proffered the GST and the further sale of Telstra as examples of unpopular ideas that nevertheless help define Howard as a politician.
The rules of political selling, said Textor, have been turned on their head. The first principles every marketing student was taught were: Where have you been? Where do you want to go? How do you get there? According to Textor, the question voters ask of politicians is not how but why: Why do you want to get there? Why are you at my door? Why are you on my television?
This, in Textor's view, is why Kim Beazley went nowhere at the 2001 election. No one doubted Howard's conviction on refugees, even if they didn't like the values that conviction represented. "We will decide who comes to our country and under what circumstances they come," said Howard, and meant it.
Beazley said he stood for jobs, education and health. But he never explained himself. By why, Textor does not mean the Labor Party mantra of social justice. Rather, voters want a personal explanation: "I was in a school the other day and I saw a 12-year-old boy who couldn't read and write. And I thought: I've had a gutful of this." To which voters say: "OK. Now I understand why."
Textor points to the Liberals' increasing use of grassroots, idiosyncratic candidates in marginal seats – candidates such as Jackie Kelly, Warren Entsch and Pat Farmer. "If you're honest," said Textor, "it's amazing how much voters will forgive you."
The voter value attached to commitment and conviction has also played into the changed psychology of the electorate post September 11. Even before that, Textor noted, voters were being unnerved by events such as the Asian economic crisis, the uncertainty over East Timor and the arrival of the Tampa.
Such incidents underlined the sense of a loss of personal control. The demand within the electorate for more personal sovereignty translated into a recommitment to the family and a requirement that governments act to control crime.
Against this big-picture canvas, voters are apparently turned off by small-minded, negative, carping politics. Which brings us to a new group Textor identifies as the "switch voters of temporary constituencies". As Textor's description implies, they're a fickle bunch among whom negative politics can rebound.
Textor uses the old Holden-Ford analogy. The bloke who has been driving a Ford all his life decides he'll convert to a Holden. But if he goes down to the Holden dealer and gets a mouthful about what's wrong with Fords, with the underlying message he has been a fool all his life, he's just as likely to switch back. In other words, parties cannot afford, post September 11, to completely demonise their opponents. That's a lesson, it seems, that neither side of politics has yet learned.
- Glenn Milne, The Australian (Jun 24)
A Sovereignty More Notional Than National
There are concepts that remain potent in politics long after they have ceased to have precise meaning, or have acquired several meanings that are not easily reconciled with each other. Such a notion is sovereignty, which has been invoked many times during the debate on whether Australia should ratify the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. The opponents of the court within the Coalition ranks, silenced at least for the present by the Prime Minister's support for ratification, have loudly assured us that our national sovereignty will be undermined by acceptance of the court's jurisdiction. They have not bothered to tell us just what the threatened sovereign prerogatives of the nation are.
They have instead preferred to concoct highly implausible scenarios of proceedings in the new court. Thus we have been asked to consider the awful prospect of John Howard being hauled before this tribunal run by fiendish foreigners, who would have the temerity to hold him to account for the genocide of indigenous Australians. It is a prospect that fades rapidly when one remembers that the court's jurisdiction will not be retrospective.
..We have been asked to worry about Australian soldiers being prosecuted for war crimes committed in Afghanistan. It is not a worry that appears to be shared by the Defence Force chiefs, who support ratification. But I suspect that the chiefs might resent the implicit suggestion in this scenario that the conduct of our soldiers would be less than exemplary.
None of these scares achieved anything much except to make the notion of sovereignty seem even murkier. And in political debate, if not in actual legal proceedings, the role of sovereignty has pretty much come to be that of a murky but weighty notion that can be wheeled out to create fear.
The Prime Minister, for example, has relied on appeals to the notion of sovereignty to bury calls for a treaty with Australia's indigenous peoples. Treaties, he says, are negotiated between sovereign states, so, if Australia were to negotiate a treaty with its indigenous people this would imply that it was not one sovereign nation but two. He has not bothered to explain how comparable settler societies, such as the United States, Canada and New Zealand, have managed to negotiate such treaties without forfeiting their sovereign status.
Consistency has usually been the first casualty in the verbal battles about sovereignty.. What is called national sovereignty is really a conflation of two notions, which it suits politicians not to disentangle. One is the notion that nation states are entities that can be subject to no constraint other than their physical capacity to resist the will of the governments of other states. This is a relatively modern idea, which gained acceptance during the heyday of Europe's absolute monarchies, in the 17th and 18th centuries. It has been in retreat since the two world wars of the past century demonstrated just what horrors may be unleashed by the notion that national governments are laws unto themselves.
The rapid growth of an accepted body of international law, appealing to conceptions of human rights, has since 1945 seen the revival of an older idea that animated mediaeval conceptions of government. Under this conception, rulers as well as those they ruled were regarded as standing under a higher law, whose sanction was derived from the idea of justice and not from assertions of political will. Opponents of the International Criminal Court are right to see this revival as opposed to the 17th-century idea of sovereignty. They have not, however, demonstrated why the idea of an international community regulated by law instead of force is a bad thing.
But there is also another notion of sovereignty that does not purport to describe the relations between nation states but to identify the source of legitimate public authority within them. In modern democracies this is assumed to be the people, and some nation states have constitutional arrangements explicitly founded on this assumption. Australia is not one of them. Our political culture partly derives from the democratic revolutions of America and France, but our institutions still reflect the British notion that sovereignty lies with parliament, not with the people.
Perhaps this hybrid heritage explains why our politicians sometimes appear more willing to defend discredited notions of state sovereignty than to take seriously the notion of popular sovereignty.
- Ray Cassin, The Age (Jun 23)
No Illusions In Dissolution
Five prime ministers have called just six double dissolution elections in 101 years of Federation. The first was the Liberals' Joseph Cook way back in 1914. The last was Labor's Bob Hawke in 1987. In between we had Bob Menzies (1951), Gough Whitlam (1974), and Malcolm Fraser (1975 and 1983). Two of the five, Cook and Fraser, miscalculated grievously. Cook's defeat in 1914 cost him government. Fraser tried it twice. The first time, in 1975, was the election that overwhelmingly endorsed his coalition after the tumultuous events involving the treachery of John Kerr's sacking, without warning, of the Whitlam government. Fraser's second double dissolution, in 1983, was a disaster. His thumping defeat by Hawke cost him government, the prime ministership and his political career.
..Only two of the six double dissolutions failed. Yet on each of those two occasions it cost the prime minister his job. Maybe John Howard, a cautious man with one eye always on history, was thinking of this at his press conference two days ago.
Q: "Simon Crean says to bring on a double dissolution election with the border protection [issue]. Is this migration zone legislation [designed] for a double dissolution?"
Howard dismissed Crean's bravado as "the utterances of a poor man's Clint Eastwood". "Look," he insisted, "everybody ought to just calm down about a double dissolution election. We've just had an election.. I just think we should, sort of, lower the temperature about early elections. I don't think anybody wants that. Look, it is silly talk."
..While the Prime Minister urges "everybody" to have a Bex and a good lie-down, the "traditional Australian remedy", as he puts it, don't be disarmed by his playing with words. And do not think the "constitutional option" of calling a double dissolution - that is, an election of the entire parliament of all 76 senators as well as the 150 members of the House of Representatives - is one the Government would only tuck away for possible use next year.
I mean, think about it. If Labor, the Democrats and the Greens, as they assert they will, use their combined Senate majority over the next few months to twice block the Government's border migration zone legislation, having already thrown out administrative regulations to achieve the same result, and if the political climate for Labor remains as chaotic as it has been lately, do not imagine the Government will not seriously think of calling a double dissolution before Christmas.. The Government couldn't hope for more favourable circumstances to thrash Labor. And I do mean thrash.
There is a bunch of "ifs" involved, of course, over and above the two already mentioned. If Labor doesn't go to water (no pun intended). If Natasha and her unmerry little band - whittled down by one from July 1, when NSW's Vicki Bourne leaves the Senate after her election defeat last November - maintain their hard line. If Crean's leadership doesn't somehow get up off its knees and get some electoral traction. If the instability (and the headlines) on the worsening infighting among Labor's factions and their union heavies, particularly in Victoria, is not brought to heel, preferably by the perceived intervention of Crean's authority.
Yet you understand what federal Labor, now into its seventh year of opposition after three defeats, has begun to look and shrilly sound like, don't you? Yes, the rag-bag Coalition opposition of the 1980s and the first four years of the '90s.
..You can bet Crean's front and back bench alike think less about the two years before the next election falls due than they do about the five years of further opposition if Labor can't win that election. And there you have the bottom line from the perspective of every federal Labor MP: the all-too-dreadful possibility of 12 years (at least) in the wilderness if they can't win with Crean next time. It is an appalling burden for any political leader.
So you don't have to look too hard to work out how appalling a double dissolution outcome could be for Labor and Crean's leadership, and manna from heaven for the Coalition. If .. all the "ifs" were to move into alignment, the Government could never hope for a better chance to seize every prime minister's holiest of holies: control of the Senate. And that is what any double dissolution election would really be about.
Not the border migration zone legislation. Nor the several major Budget bills, with their multimillion-dollar cost this year, that the combined Senate opposition allies are proposing to throw out, too. No, the real prize of any successful double dissolution is a government Senate majority. That is what Howard's hero sought and achieved in 1951. That is what would most tempt this political son of Menzies half a century later.
- Alan Ramsey, Sydney Morning Herald (Jun 22)
So, What Is Howard Really Up To?
When Prime Minister John Howard advises questioners about an early double-dissolution election to take an "Australian remedy" - in other words, calm down - wise monkeys in the politics business should read the fine print of whatever Howard says - and studiously ignore his advice.
If politics, like war, is partly the art of taking one's opponents by surprise, then what we are seeing in this post-Budget period is a lot of strategic manoeuvring by the protagonists, some of it not unconnected with personal ambition - Howard's own, in particular.
..So what is Howard, the political streetfighter, up to? ..Anyone who believes that Howard will desist from relentless politicking until he is lowered into the ground has an imperfect grasp of recent political history.
As cunning politically as a bagful of monkeys and basking in the testimonials of colleagues who have elevated him to a pantheon of Australian political geniuses, the PM has entered his salad days - and may just be starting to believe his own propaganda (very risky!).
..Labor may dream of nemesis for Howard, but in the ebb and flow of politics - mostly ebbing for Labor these days - it is difficult to sketch in circumstances in which the ALP might regain the political advantage, or even the political middle ground, let alone the high ground.
These are extraordinarily difficult times for Opposition Leader Simon Crean. He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't on border protection, and is caught in the swirling currents of a tricky process of internal party reform.
..Labor is floundering, adrift in unfriendly waters, having lost its bearings and now paying a price for years of complacency, born of the hubris of the latter years of Keating.
Crean is doing his best. He should be given credit for his efforts to drag his party kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but there is a real risk for him that he will fail in the end because he is perceived to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.
So what is the worm's eye view of what Howard is up to? Is it what might be called classic Howard guerilla tactics? Or wedge politics? And where might this all be leading?
..The prospect of a double dissolution might serve a cunning Howard's purposes in managing Treasurer Peter Costello's ambitions. A double-dissolution election late this year, say in November, a year after the last poll, would give Howard a political stay of execution beyond his 64th birthday next year - and give him the opportunity of a fourth election victory, equalling Bob Hawke's achievement.
Focusing attention on border protection in the context of a threatened double-dissolution poll helps to reinforce a vote-switching and vote-retaining issue in the public mind and holds out the prospect of creating a "motif" that would help carry the conservatives through the next five years or so, neutering Labor in the process.
Howard is not constrained in assembling a suite of bills which might form the basis of a double dissolution. The new border protection legislation would provide the trigger, but other bills that might be included as part of a double-dissolution package are the budgetary measures, unfair dismissal laws and possibly further privatisation of Telstra.
..What, then, are the chances of John Howard actually following through on a double-dissolution strategy? Probably less than 50/50, but there is also no doubt that it is a live issue with the Prime Minister, never mind his advice to the national media to have a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down.
An observer of all this, and a far from disinterested one, will be Costello, who may be wondering if all this might end in him being a victim of a three-card trick.
As one of Labor's smarter strategists observed: "Costello is not stupid ... if the double dissolution became the pretext for Howard to prolong his prime ministership, you would have huge internal discontent."
He is right.
- Tony Walker, Financial Review (Jun 21)
Doing It The Right Way
Throughout the world, Centre-Left parties are in retreat, losing in nation after nation in a global sweep. Five years ago, 13 of the 15 European Union member nations had Left-leaning governments.
Since then, seven of them have switched to governments dominated by the Right (Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Portugal, Austria, the Netherlands and France). In France, the Left didn't even make the second round of the presidential election. Germany might switch next. In the US, George W. Bush has replaced Bill Clinton. And in Australia John Howard, who last week was appointed chairman of the conservative International Democrat Union, has won another term in office.
Why is the Right ascendant?
Leftist parties have always based their appeal on economics in general and the implicit promise of income redistribution in particular. "Share the wealth" has been the underlying theme of Left-liberal parties during the 20th century. Class based and attached to an equalitarian ideology, the parties of the Left have tried to stand against the rich and for the poor.
But as national economies have yielded their sovereignty to globalism and international bankers replace nation-state prime ministers as the key movers and shakers in the markets, voters are coming to see the futility of the Left's agenda. They are realising that it is investors, market makers and international bureaucrats, not elected officials, who determine the winners and losers in the global economy.
..Candidates who predicate their political appeal on job creation, economic recovery and wealth redistribution might as well be talking about changing the weather in the opinion of most voters.
The Right has never bothered much about economics. It knows, implicitly, that its favoured clients – the rich – won't win much public sympathy. Burying their implicit message of income redistribution – upward – the Right has long based its political appeal in social issues such as crime, immigration, morals and societal standards. These issues remain potent even in a global economy.
Howard's focus on border protection and the refugee issue shows how skilfully the Centre-Right has always used social issues as the basis of its campaigns.
The Left is talking economics and the Right is talking values. That's why the Right is winning. But the Left can come back. Just look at Clinton in the US and Tony Blair in Britain.
..In his 1996 race for re-election, Clinton briefly claimed credit for turning the economy around but focused heavily on social issues. Signing Republican-sponsored legislation to wean welfare recipients from lifelong dependence on the dole, Clinton featured his efforts to improve education, ban guns, hire extra police, cut the budget deficit, extend family leave for new mothers, support abortion rights and battle to keep drugs and tobacco away from children.
Across the ocean, Blair was also using social issues as the key to his campaigns. Rather than adhere to the traditional Labour agenda of helping to put more pay in the envelopes of the working man and woman, Blair promised to reduce waiting times at health clinics, raise educational quality, reduce crime, battle public corruption and improve the environment. Economic issues received short shrift amid Britain's Tory-induced prosperity as Blair surged to victory on social issues.
The enterprising social democrat will find a plethora of values positions on which to run in place of the traditional bread-and-butter issues. Global warming, pollution, education standards and healthcare reform, for example, are great issues for any Left-liberal candidate.
But here the Left needs to copy a bit from the Right. And for Simon Crean and the ALP the message is clear: triangulate. That is, solve the problems that normally concern the Coalition. When Howard promotes education reform and welfare-to-work initiatives, he steals the message of the Left and co-opts it just as surely as Clinton did when he signed welfare reform legislation.
When the Left invades the territory of the Right and solves problems that normally reside on the other side of the fence – crime, immigration, drugs and moral values – it can be a hard force to stop. But when the Left campaigns on economics, it's a pushover.
- Dick Morris, former adviser to Bill Clinton, The Australian (Jun 20)
When Reactionaries Rule
WHEN the race was on to reach the North Pole in the 19th century, the Danish Lutheran Church joined the fray, urging parishioners that to make an attempt at the pole was an exemplary spiritual activity.
The elderly and frail among the devout objected to this discrimination in favour of the young and fit, and soon a compromise was reached – anyone not able to make a journey to the North Pole but who travelled on a ship in a northerly direction (the Stockholm ferry, for example) would be deemed to have made a polar voyage.
Our own process of mucking about with boats has reached a similar pitch of absurdity. With the exclusion of outlying islands – including the entire domain of the Torres Strait Islands – from the migration zone, the Howard Government is making a mockery of the notion of honouring our obligations to international treaties. It is also making a mockery of the notion of commonwealth and Federation.
The exclusion of territories and islands looks like nothing more than a comic piece of shonkiness, but in fact it's another attack on basic liberal political principles – in this case legal universality and a minimum of capriciousness.
So the ALP is right to reject it, just as it was right to reject the back-of-the-beer-coaster Border Protection Bill before the last election – a law that, in its initial version, would have given officials immunity from the Crimes Act in the pursuit of border protection. Once again, the ALP is in the invidious position of defending the most basic principles of a liberal society from the most breathtakingly cynical political use of the Australian legal, military and police apparatus that we have seen for many decades.
Yet such is the state of the debate surrounding immigration, asylum and defence that the Government will most likely have some success in painting the ALP as soft on border protection. It can say truthfully that the heart of the ALP has never been in mandatory detention, even if its past leader did believe in it. It can point to the image of the Coalition and its predecessors as the party that is strong on defence and national security, even if the reality of its long history shows that it wasn't up to the job of leadership in World War II, and that it is actively distorting defence priorities by its political use of the armed forces and destroying morale by obliging sailors to send people out to sea to drown.
It can do all this because there is something immutable in what one might call the personality of the two parties, and the capacity of the conservative parties to delve into the reserve of bitterness and distrust that is at the core of reactionary thinking. Tories can always channel deeply pessimistic currents in attitudes and focus them on a single other – whether it be indigenous people, refugees or dole-cruisers. Social democratic parties have a harder time of it in cultures that increasingly foster resentment, envy and distrust among those left off the globalisation gravy train.
Such parties live by a universal ethic of fairness to others no matter who they are and they aren't nearly as good at scapegoating, even supposing they wanted to be. Once older racist beliefs such as sustained the White Australia Policy were overturned, the ALP had no choice but to embrace the universal ethic, and it prospers when it can convince people to take up the optimistic belief in human community that that entails, whether that be mediated through a slogan such as "It's Time" or through consensus.
And any hope the ALP might have retained in joining the cantata of dog-whistle politics is dashed given the Coalition's present helmsman. It should be obvious that no one will win a scapegoat race with John Howard. The man is reactionary resentment incarnate, the hobgoblin who squats on the shoulder of the person in the street and whispers the worst things they have thought themselves about the others.
Howard simply can't be competed against on this score. Despite his pious homilies to nation, freedom and so on, he has done more than any prime minister to damage the mechanisms we have to preserve such liberal freedoms as still exist, most notably with the anti-terrorism legislation, and to muddy debates and dialogue about the role of the state and the law in a modern society.
With the most recent border protection initiative, he has ramrodded the process until it has become a politics of absurdity – an open dare to the ALP to further corrupt itself by following him into the mire or face the purported wrath of the silent majorities if it refuses.
Whether he will go too far remains to be seen. The plethora of refugee activist groups that have formed across the political spectrum would appear to be the largest rainbow coalition since the Vietnam War. Now it has not merely the Left and the old centre-right liberals such as Malcolm Fraser but also old bruisers such as John Singleton ranged against him, and the threat that Australians for Just Refugee Programs (the latter's group) will run cashed-up campaigns for protest candidates in marginal Coalition seats.
By advocating a more or less effective end to mandatory detention and a rational approach to the problems of global mobility from the Third World to the First World, the ALP could put itself in line with its core morality and the energy of the campaigns that have become the de facto opposition. Otherwise it will never find its way out of the migrant-bashing zone in which it is being repeatedly buffeted.
- Guy Rundle, The Australian (Jun 19)
Why Cairns Fails As A Labor Hero
Until recently, former deputy prime minister Jim Cairns has been the source of one of Melbourne's more remarkable sights. For nearly two decades Cairns was a regular presence at several of Melbourne's popular markets, where one could find him seated at a card table bearing the simple sign "Jim Cairns books", hawking his latest self-published work. Those days have now passed. Age has caught up with Cairns, who turns 88 in October. Frail and no longer licensed to drive, he has stopped his market visits.
But even before Cairns' disappearance from the markets he had effectively faded from public consciousness. Those old enough to recall when Cairns was at the peak of his public career in the 1960s and 1970s have long tended to regard him as a kind of eccentric relic of an earlier age of idealism. Among younger generations he is virtually unknown. One encounters blank faces upon mentioning his name in undergraduate Australian politics and Australian history classes.
The obscurity into which Cairns has fallen is so complete as to be difficult to reconcile with the man who, during his leadership of the anti-Vietnam War movement, was probably Australia's most loved - and reviled - politician. His eclipse is rendered even more striking when contrasted with the continuing celebrity status enjoyed by his one-time great political and ideological rival, Gough Whitlam. Whereas in the decade from the mid-1960s Cairns was second only to Whitlam in profile and influence in the ALP, today he is all but a non-person by comparison with the reverence accorded to his former leader.
Why has Cairns been so forgotten and his reputation so marginalised since 1975? Why was he never elevated to the pantheon of Labor heroes, but instead largely disowned by his former party?
Conventional wisdom would have it that Cairns was a political shooting star, shining only briefly before crashing dramatically in the final year of the Whitlam government after becoming embroiled in the "Morosi" and "loans" affairs. Nor did his post-1975 involvement with the alternative-lifestyle movement help, with that foray and his market appearances interpreted by many of his former admirers as proof that Cairns had "lost the plot".
..Ultimately, though, because Cairns' predominant role in public life was as a voice of dissent, his influence was hard to measure and easy to underestimate. Former Monash University political scientist Max Teichmann alluded to this when he once observed that Cairns' achievements could not be measured in "dams, bridges and foundation stones - his contribution was different and superior". It's a point that seems particularly apposite in the contemporary context in which the scope for meaningful alternative views within, and between, the major political parties is so limited.
Modern Labor's ambivalence towards Cairns is not that difficult to understand.. More than any other Labor politician of his time, Cairns exemplified the party's radical-oppositional tendency, which placed a premium on principle and long-term valuative change, and was wary of power and its temptations. It undoubtedly was, and always has been a minority position in the ALP, but it had an important historic function by providing a counterweight to those in the party of moderate and pragmatic persuasion. As painfully illustrated by the last federal election, it is a tendency that has little currency in the modern ALP.
There is a final reason why Cairns and what he represented is alien to the contemporary ALP. Cairns stood squarely in the tradition of a now moribund stream of the Labor Party that was deeply suspicious of the marketplace and believed in significant interference in the capitalist system. Whereas today's ALP concerns itself with the aspirational class, Cairns spoke of the dangers of acquisitiveness and its corrosive social effects. Whereas today's ALP has increasingly accommodated itself to the management of a social system organised primarily around the principles of competition and individualism, Cairns has remained fixed on the dream of a cooperative and ethical social order.
To some extent strange bedfellows always, Jim Cairns and contemporary Labor inhabit a different ideological and moral universe.
- Paul Strangio, author Keeper of the Faith: A Biography of Jim Cairns, The Age (Jun 18)
The Trouble With Being America's Good Friend
Everything is connected to everything else. On the very day that John Howard addressed the US Congress to tell the world that Australia was all the way with the USA, the Bush administration formally withdrew the US from the 30-year-old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.
..The agreement was imposed on Russia. The doctrine of massive retaliation, which maintained stability though the Cold War, has been replaced with a nuclear war fighting strategy in which the US military will target nations perceived as capable of developing weapons of mass destruction with the threat of a pre-emptive nuclear first strike..
Howard has signed Australia on to an adventure far more terrifying and far more likely to bring violence to our shores than Harold Holt's commitment to go "all the way with LBJ" in the war in Vietnam in 1966. Holt was signing up to an extension of the Cold War of deterrence and containment. He was not signing up as a junior partner in a nuclear war fighting alliance.
Bush said in a speech to cadets at the West Point Military Academy this month: "The war on terrorism won't be won on the defensive . . . if we wait for threats to fully materialise we have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy . . . to confront the worst threats before they emerge."
This is a dangerous doctrine. It takes the world into unexplored territory.. Fire first and ask questions later is fine for the movies, but it could be the end of civilisation as we know it if it becomes entrenched as strategic doctrine for the world's most powerful nation whose present government is apparently incapable of seeing the world from any perspective except short-term domestic political advantage.
Howard's understandable emotion at being asked to address Congress does not excuse his failure to represent Australian interests in Washington.
Australia is part of Asia. One of its closest neighbours is the largest Islamic country in the world. According to The Australian Financial Review, in 2001 trade with the Middle East grew by 38 per cent to $7.9 billion, compared with $7.6 billion with China and just $278 million with Israel. Why should Australia's long-standing policy of strict neutrality in relation to the Palestinian conflict be undermined by Howard's determination to have his tummy tickled by Bush?
And did Howard raise a bat-squeak of protest about the US's imprisonment in Cuba - without trial and without charge - of two Australian alleged terrorists?
The hypocrisy of Howard's claims to reservations about signing on to the International Criminal Court on the ground that it might impinge on Australian sovereignty, and the government's lack of concern about the blatant infringement of the rights of these two Australians, is breathtaking - even by the standards of Australian politics.
The US refuses to deal with the causes of terrorism except through the threat of massive retaliation, which ignores the sense of political grievance that distinguishes acts of terrorism from criminal acts. This magnifies the grievance and creates a cycle of greater violence.
..According to the OECD, in 2000, rich countries subsidised their farmers to the extent of $A890 billion, equal to five times the value of aid flows, and more than the total income of the 1.2 billion of the world population living below the poverty line.
How can millions of Third World farmers on less than $800 a year compete against American farmers who get close to $40,000 a year in subsidies?
There is no shortage of issues eating away in the Third World - which could be fixed by a modicum of First World sacrifice and US leadership - that will provide the fertile breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists and terrorism. And don't forget, in another generation science will have invented even more potent instruments of mass destruction than are available now.
- Kenneth Davidson, The Age (Jun 17)
Aiming For The Best Of Both For The Best Of All Possible Worlds
The respectable argument for equality is the democratic one. Simply, women should make up half the parliament because they make up half the population. The more idealistic argument is that having greater numbers of women in parliament and other power structures would lead to a less aggressive and more civil and humane society.
This latter argument is frequently put. For example, Senator Amanda Vanstone, at this week's celebration of the centenary of women's suffrage, lamenting the fact that after 100 years women still make up only a quarter of the federal parliament, said she believed that parliament would be a better place when there were equal numbers of men and women.
Will it? The argument is seductive, but risky. There is evidence, anecdotally and from studies, that women are less prone to violence, do not generally find battleships and missile defence shields very sexy, are less likely to support military interventions and are more likely to vote on issues affecting human welfare. Countries in which there are something approaching equal numbers of women in parliament - mainly the Scandinavian countries - tend to spend more on social welfare and education than they do on defence, and have the most generous overseas aid allocations.
Yet it is risky because any claim that women would make a better fist of running the world is inevitably countered by the "Margaret Thatcher" objection. Many female leaders have acted no differently, and sometimes worse, than male leaders. Besides, the "women are nicer people" argument can also be used to keep us out (too nice for politics).
This week, several hundred women from around Australia have been meeting at the Women's Constitutional Convention in Canberra to discuss ways of changing the legal and political structures of society in order to increase women's participation in them. They have been talking about what needs to be changed in the constitution, how to make a republic an issue for women, and ways to support women to stand for parliament. At one quarter, they are halfway to equal. I don't believe it will take another 100 years to get the second quarter there.
But the truth is, we cannot know whether women would make a better job of running the world because they never have. Nor have they been represented equally in the power structures of any known society.
The reason they should be is that it is unfair and undemocratic that men should make most of the decisions that affect women: whether women have paid maternity leave, whether they are legally entitled to the morning-after pill (RU486), how workplaces should be structured (at present they are set up to suit men with wives at home). Or even issues that affect both men and women, such as whether Australia should sign treaties to deal with global warming, or to set up an international criminal court; or whether we should join America in bombing Iraq.
It could be that women would do it differently. More likely, it is the collective and complementary wisdom of both men and women that will bring about the best of all possible worlds.
- Pamela Bone, The Age (Jun 16)
The Line In The Sand That Won't Stay Still
We all know by now that the Howard Government is committed to something that it calls "practical reconciliation" - raising the living standards of its indigenous peoples to somewhere near those of the average Australian by boosting such areas as health, education and housing.
..So forget all that talk about land rights, apologies, treaties and the like: this Government is just not into symbolism. But even given this hardheaded approach, excising the Torres Strait Islands in their entirety from the country's migration zone, seems a remarkably insensitive way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Mabo decision, in which a group of Islanders finally confirmed that they could retain title to their lands in spite of the colonial doctrine of terra nullius.
It is all very well to assure Australia's most northerly inhabitants that this really makes no difference to their standing as citizens or the affection (or lack of it) in which Howard and his ministers hold them; that it is simply a legal device to get around the spirit of the various agreements we have signed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to which we are once again giving the finger. But for many of the people whose ancestors were highly efficient head- hunters, excision means excision. If the men from the Government tell them trust us, it's really quite OK, they will inevitably suspect the worst.
At present the main reaction seems to be one of confusion; some Islanders even hope (vainly) that excision is a sign that they will receive a greater degree of independence and control over their lands. However, in other quarters there is a growing conviction that once again Australia is signalling that they are not really part of the nation; that when the crunch comes - or even if it doesn't - they are expendable.
..When Australia performed its first excision of Christmas and Cocos islands, it was seen simply as an exercise in moving the goalposts; mean and tricky perhaps, but effective in deterring the demoniacal people smugglers. But of course it was more than that; it was a tactical retreat: an admission that we could not protect our territorial boundaries even against a few leaky fishing boats, let alone against any serious invader. The decision by Howard and his fellow diminishers Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock to star in their own version of "Honey, I Shrunk the Borders" should have been seen not as a clever political ploy, but as a serious defensive weakness.
And now, with the move to cut out every island to the north and west of the continent because of a report that a single extra boat containing perhaps three dozen Vietnamese is on its way, the initial retreat has become an undisguised rout.. And apparently the panic is not going to stop there. When I first heard the news of the latest excisions I suggested, tongue firmly in cheek, that the next step would be the removal of any land north of the Tropic of Capricorn; then, if the outlook still appeared dire, we could continue the headlong flight south until Tasmania finally got its revenge by being designated the only true, fully accredited Australian mainland; the big island across Bass Strait would have to be rechristened Not-Really-Australia.
Next morning to my astonishment I read that even this fantasy was insufficiently defeatist for generalissimo Ruddock; he was seriously considering giving Tasmania the chop and was seeking advice on whether he could slice up the mainland as well. Truly there are times when this Government defies parody. At least we can be certain that one last redoubt will be saved; when all else is lost, Janette Howard will insist on defending Kirribilli House and its grounds to the last man (her husband).
..Of course, there is no threat at all. Howard is just playing domestic politics and trying to wedge the opposition parties in the process. But the episode has at least demonstrated how lightly the Howard Government really treats the integrity of its borders, even when the pseudo-crisis involved is entirely of its own making.
And if the Torres Strait Islanders have reason to be miffed, where does that leave our client state of Nauru? ..President Rene Harris says that when he was first promised several suitcases full of small, unmarked notes if he would host a detention camp or two for the Tampa's reluctant tourists, he was assured that they would all be out by the end of May - no ifs, no buts.
It is not clear whether this was a verbal agreement (the kind Sam Goldwyn said was not worth the paper it was written on) or a formal document (the sort Hitler dismissed as only a scrap of paper), but in either case Downer scoffs at the mere suggestion we should honour it.. This is the new, tough Downer - the Foreign Minister who last week echoed his leader's pre-election jingoism with a big pay for the United Nations: "Whatever the rights and wrongs of these issues we will decide them for ourselves, not have the bureaucrats in Geneva decide them for us," and, he might have added, to hell with any treaties we might have signed to the contrary. But then, almost in the next breath, Downer urges his colleagues to support the ratification of the International Criminal Court to make sure countries adhere to the international rule of law.
It's as hypocritical, indeed as mad, as Ruddock continuing to wear his Amnesty International badge. But apparently neither of them can see it, and apparently their leader finds nothing untoward in the situation either.
Whatever else you can say about this Government, you must admit it has a decent sort of hide.
- Mungo MacCaullum, Sydney Morning Herald (Jun 15)
The Supine Leading The Blind
John Howard's previous visit to Washington included September 11, the day of the terrorist attacks. Those outrages, sadly, provided him with a political windfall that he seized to help him win what looked like a loseable federal election. This week's visit to Washington has been played as a triumphal return, the completion of the visit interrupted by the terrorists.
This spin must be broken down because Howard's enthusiasm for President George W. Bush and his policies appears to exceed all past instances of Australian subservience to what Robert Menzies dubbed our "great and powerful friend".
First, he committed Australia to unqualified participation in the US war on terrorism. The practical questions his stance raises include whether we endorse the new US policy of pre-emptive strike against anyone it chooses and the possible first use of nuclear weapons, and whether we will send our armed forces to take part in the coming US strike against Iraq.
Second, in his address to the US Congress, Howard stated that the US had no better friend than Australia. This was the softener for the "candid" concerns he later expressed in the speech about the administration's decision to provide enormous subsidies to US farmers, thus sinking Australian agriculture exports.
Third, he sought a high-level briefing on why the administration refuses to join the statute on an international criminal court. The US alone is holding out against this. In the 1996 election campaign, Alexander Downer stated that a policy objective of a Coalition government would be to bring this court into existence. But, following his Washington briefing, Howard indicated that he had bought the US line on the court.
..On all the way with the USA, diggers in Iraq and first use of nuclear weapons, Howard's officials won't say what any of this will mean in practice.
On our agricultural interests, what would any self-respecting congressperson say about Howard's remarks? I suggest this: "He loves us to death, he had to enter the ritual complaint (for the folks back home), he will go like a pussycat when we say no (for our folks back home). Clearly, Howard's gushing about our status as the best friend of the US sold out Australian farmers."
Then the International Criminal Court. Yet how can the US purport to defend human rights everywhere, fight the war on terrorism, but then refuse to join an overwhelmingly accepted means of making international justice available?
On rules of law and international co-operation, note that while Howard was trotting in Washington, Philip Ruddock was building a yet higher wall around Australia, excising some of our islands from our map.
..Howard's stance this week has been what one would expect of a leader who had been briefed privately and authoritatively, including by the secret intelligence wonks, that Australia faced a great danger and that it could be rescued only by the US, but they had a fairly heavy agenda, so we would need to get their attention, and their preferred attitude from such suitors is obeisance, lap-doggery. This week Howard delivered in spades. He should explain exactly how such an attitude is in Australia's national interest.
His reward in Washington was a bauble – chairmanship of the International Democratic Union, which has no power and authority. It is a consultative mechanism, a luncheon club. Among other reasons given for Howard's appointment were that he is the longest serving leader from the group (six years!) and he knows how to win elections. Both claims are factual and both amazingly dubious distinctions considering the competition from within IDU and the means by which he won our last election, not least by suggesting that the refugees in leaky boats might be terrorists.
Howard has become the great manipulator of Australian politics. This has involved, crucially, his refusal to take up the utterly central and hardest task in a democracy – to lead. He has chosen, instead, to serve as a mirror, to reflect back to the people what his polls tell him they think they want. It is a terrible failure of leadership in a democracy to refuse to say to the people: "I know what you want and feel – for example, on refugees – but there is a higher ground. It's harder, but let's aim for it. If we do, we will be a better people."
Howard has walked away from this challenge. It is sad for Australia that even the Australian Labor Party – state and federal – is also failing to take the risk of leadership. In the face of what Howard did in Washington this week, Labor should find the guts to inspire Australians to something better than fear and dependency.
- Richard Butler, former Australian ambassador to the United Nations, The Australian (Jun 14)
Insulated Against Ideologies, The Young Have Been Captured By Cynicism
It's not surprising someone with a simple message uses simplistic reasoning to justify it. However, it is surprising a politician as smart as the Prime Minister, John Howard, would fall into the trap. How else can his claim of a new conservative wave sweeping the under-25s - made at the International Democratic Union dinner in Washington - be explained?
Recent federal election voting patterns do show an increasing vote for the Coalition among young people. However, it's too early for Howard to proclaim he has young people in his palm. Indeed, the support the Coalition enjoys has little to do with Howard's personality or his traditional social views.
There are several explanations for young people's conservatism. Just as strong support for the ALP by the group now aged 35-55 was, in part, a reaction against the Menzies legacy, young people tend to react against parents and figures of authority, in this case, the Hawke and Keating governments.
The second reason is insecurity. While a degree guaranteed a career 20 years ago, it is often not enough for an interview in the 21st century.. These days university students are more likely to study business than arts, juggle jobs with study and are desperate for their career of choice or, increasingly, any career. Meanwhile, the unskilled workforce - Labor's voting core - has shrunk and trade union membership with it.
Given Labor's continuing confusion about what it is and who it stands for, it is not surprising it has struggled to match support from under-25s with the bloated levels of support boomers and Gen Xers have provided it. This should not disguise the cynicism young people hold about politics.
Up to 25 per cent of those under 21 are still not enrolled to vote, and less than 1 per cent join political parties. If that is the case, the Coalition should take cold comfort from any lead it has among young people in opinion polls.
Young people haven't supported the Coalition through long-term ideological commitment and can take back their support as quickly as they gave it.
Interest in politics is now more specialised and focused on groups who deliver specific outcomes, rather than parties that actively deceive or simply fail to live up to promises. This is why Amnesty International, Greenpeace and other professional single-issue campaigns continue to grow.
All political parties and civic life are ultimately losers if this cynicism is not reversed. Why are young people cynical about politics? First, it's natural to be suspicious of something you don't understand. And it's hard for most people to understand when there is no comprehensive civics education program in schools.
From that base, our world of sound bites and blurred lines encourages young people to switch off or give up.
In an era of instant gratification, where is the incentive to stick with one party? ..Whether you accept Howard's argument or not, the long-term issue isn't the message he is sending. The issue is the message young people have been sending to all politicians through their non-participation. If you don't care or aren't even aware of politics when you're 20, you're much less likely to when you're 50.
Without civics education, a commitment by politicians to long-term policy planning and a consideration of issues beyond the scope of self-interest, young people have plenty of other choices. And a healthy liberal democracy won't be one of them.
- Ryan Heath, communications student, Sydney Morning Herald (Jun 13)
Build Upon A Flawed Past
Today is the centenary of the first Commonwealth Franchise Act. One hundred years ago, when no other women in the world had the right to both vote and stand for a national parliament, adult suffrage was adopted for the commonwealth. All persons 21 and over, "whether male or female", were enfranchised on equal terms. Australians, long admired for their progressive social and political experiments, had created a national parliament in 1901.
One year later, the new commonwealth parliament continued their proud record. This world first was the culmination of two decades of agitation by female suffragists and their male supporters. It also represented a deal struck by the framers of our Constitution and announced in the first commonwealth government's program in May 1901.
..But, as with all historical achievements, there is another side to the story. Although women gained the vote in 1902, others were disqualified. Apart from the standard exclusions (the mentally "unsound", criminals and traitors), the Franchise Act provided that "no aboriginal native of Australia Asia Africa or the Islands of the Pacific except New Zealand" was entitled to have their name placed on an electoral roll "unless so entitled under section 41 of the Constitution". This provision is often misunderstood.
The act affirmed the constitutional guarantee that those enfranchised before 1901 would not be excluded from the commonwealth vote.
Aboriginal men in four states, including all men and women in South Australia, were, at least on one reading of the act, eligible to vote for the commonwealth. But the provision reflected a belief in white superiority and indeed many womanhood suffragists campaigned before 1902 by pointing out that "inferior" black men already had the vote where educated white women did not.
Unsurprisingly, the act's provision quickly came to be interpreted, then enforced, as a simple disqualification. It remained on the books until 1962, when all Aborigines gained the commonwealth vote. The racist origins of today's centenary should certainly be acknowledged. But the 60-year struggle to turn the white women's victory into a victory for equality goes much further than this. It is a powerful illustration of the nature of democracy.
Democracy means much more than voting. Having the vote is an essential precondition for democratic participation, but no one today could credibly claim that women or Aborigines have achieved equality because they are enfranchised. No one could realistically maintain that the right to vote gives every Australian an equal voice in decision-making.
Most Australians understand this, yet they tend to think of democracy almost exclusively in terms of voting. They overlook the value of our parliaments and the role of the institutions of civil society – pressure groups, unions, political parties and others – as crucial forums in which democratic behaviour is learned and from which messages are sent to government. They ignore the importance of checks and balances between levels of government. They forget the historical lesson that democracy is fragile and needs constant maintenance and development.
This complacency is not surprising. Australia's democratic institutions are in danger of serious erosion. In recent times, the Australian Government has shown an extraordinary disregard for the basic principles upon which the commonwealth was founded: responsible government; the separation of powers; accountability. Those who struggled to establish and extend our democracy would turn over in their graves to hear ministers shifting the blame for mistakes on to their public servants, criticising the judiciary, deriding the work of parliamentary committees, attacking the media and claiming a simple mandate for their actions because they won an election.
Australians need to appreciate just what the pioneers of our democracy achieved 100 years ago. They should see that it was both magnificent and flawed. But they also need to understand, more than ever, that this cannot be the end of the story and that active participation, robust criticism and debate, as well as insistence on accountability, are critical in the present if the achievements of the past are genuinely to be honoured.
- Helen Irving, The Australian (Jun 12)
The Wrong Signals On The Republic
The head of the Australian Republican Movement, Greg Barns, says the ARM's new push to have state governors elected rather than appointed does not mean it has given up on the "minimalist" republic model presented to voters at the 1999 referendum. The proponents of the no vote at that referendum will seize upon it as exactly that, and they can hardly be blamed. Indeed, the ARM has admitted that a change in the selection procedures for state governors could become a trial for any future move to an Australian republic. This is a curious departure from the ARM's traditional - and correct - support for the so-called minimalist model, whereby an Australian head of state would be chosen by a two-thirds majority of Federal Parliament, from a list of nominees drawn up through public consultations.
This model was sabotaged at the 1999 referendum by a coalition of monarchists and direct electionists. However, it is a myth, though one that has been propagated fairly successfully by the proponents of the no vote, that the proposal was comprehensively defeated. More than 45 per cent of voters voted yes - a far from insignificant proportion of the electorate. It would be a grave mistake on the part of the ARM to assume that people who voted for the minimalist model would, at a new referendum, vote for a model under which a head of state would be directly elected. Many would not, and they would be right not to, because this would have the potential to fundamentally change the way we are governed. However superficially appealing the involvement of all voters in the selection of a head of state may be, direct election would make partisan a part of our system of government that should not involve politics.
Despite the defeat of the 1999 referendum there remains strong support for a republic. It is important that the republic debate should be reignited. However, by pushing the states to have elected governors, the ARM is sending the wrong signal to proponents of the direct election of a president. What's more, there is no reason for any change to the way state governors are appointed; what the ARM should be about is a change to a republic that allows our current system of government to remain in place. Our present system works well. Under the minimalist model, this form of government is least disturbed, while the process of appointing an Australian head of state is a vast improvement on the current secretive system of vice-regal appointment.
The issue of how state governors are appointed is a sideshow. Indeed, had the republic referendum succeeded, it is doubtful that state governors would have survived at all. All that is needed for Australia to become a republic is for the British monarch to be replaced by an Australian president, whose function remains largely ceremonial. The ARM should not be distracted by sideshows.
- Editorial, The Age (Jun 11)
Better Sold Than Broken
If you thought Telstra was about to stand by, politically neutral, in the debate over whether it remains in government hands, think again. Thus it was several weeks ago that Australia's biggest telco, the 14th largest in the world, set about conducting some private polling. Telstra was interested to find out voter reaction to the issue of so-called structural separation.
This concept involves defining Telstra as its core telephone network only, separating its other businesses – mobile phones, internet connections and the like – under different ownership. It also happens to be the proposal that Opposition communications spokesman Lindsay Tanner has put forward for discussion with a view to its ultimate adoption as Labor policy to take to the next election.
Under Tanner's blueprint, selling off Telstra's non-core assets would provide the funds for Labor to buy back the 49.9 per cent of the telco in private hands. In the ALP's eyes, this will not only meet its commitment not to further privatise Telstra but also bankroll its effective re-nationalisation. That is, if you accept the idea that selling off Telstra's high growth, high technology affiliates doesn't amount to privatisation under another guise.
So, what did Telstra's polling show? The type of survey it conducted was based on focus groups. This involves taking small groups of individuals, statistically and geographically weighted, and putting them under the control of a moderator.
What Telstra found was that any proposal to break up Telstra emerged as being of greater concern.. than privatisation. In other words, confronted with the choice, they preferred privatisaton to any sell-off of Telstra's associated businesses.. The focus group findings underline one of the key arguments the Coalition is now pushing – that the debate about Telstra, post T2, is no longer about privatisation but about structure – albeit not the kind Tanner might envisage.
In all commercial recognition surveys conducted over the years, Telstra has always registered as one of the most valued brands in Australia. Although people may moan about its service, they still recognise that one of the good things about the company is that it is big; that from a customer point of view, the fact it can handle everything from your mobile to your web connection is an advantage.
Nobody wants to have to deal with a plethora of service providers if they can deal with one. And that, the Government and Telstra think, is the political Achilles heel in Tanner's plan for structural separation.
..But even if the Liberals are able to sweep Labor out of the way on Telstra, they still have one remaining problem: the National Party. When it comes to Telstra, the Liberals are increasingly heard to say, the Nationals are selling an out-of-date message, suited to 1997 when they convinced their Coalition partners to defer any further sale of the telco until services to the bush had been improved.
Communications Minister Richard Alston believes that job is almost complete; that those who are still communications disadvantaged are now very few.. When the Government's mobile bush upgrade is complete – and it almost is – every town with more than 350 people will have a mobile phone tower.
So the Liberals believe the Nationals are overstating their constituents' objections to the further sale of Telstra.
Senior Liberals acknowledge that Telstra is probably the only significant issue on which John Howard is not presently completely on song with the overwhelming majority of mainstream Australia. But they're now resting easier with the knowledge that Labor's alternative is likely to be seen by voters as even less palatable.
- Glenn Milne, The Australian (Jun 10)
Is The Royal Fig Leaf Making Her Own Autumn?
Tomorrow, in case anyone has forgotten the pretext for the long weekend, is the Queen's Birthday. At least, it is for those of us who live in the colony named after her great-grandmother Victoria. Her subjects in Britain observe the conventional custom of commemorating her birth on its anniversary, in April. But it's not a public holiday there; only we colonials observe the inexplicable custom of stopping work to mark the fact that the head of state has acquired another wrinkle or two.
But Her Majesty's British subjects have, of course, been holidaying on her behalf this year. Tens of thousands of them turned up at Buckingham Palace last weekend, to watch an ageing queen celebrate the golden jubilee of her accession in the company of some ageing British rock stars and an ageing transvestite satirist from this very colony. Apparently it was all deeply moving: that inveterate blatherer Ben Elton even gushed that the jubilee party was a "great moment of national unity".
..The kind of language that once would have been used in crises like the Blitz is now being used to describe an overblown backyard party.. But is it likely that the majority of Elton's compatriots believe that the Queen, by virtue of being what she is, somehow makes them what they are?
..People feel that they know Elizabeth Windsor, and perhaps also feel sentimental affection for her because she has been a relatively benign part of the background of their lives for as long as they can remember. But having such feelings is not the same thing as actually believing that their communal identity is somehow constituted by the fact that she is their queen, or by the fact that they have a queen.
..She is supposed to be a symbol of national unity because, as a hereditary head of state, she does not derive her authority from the vulgar bickering of partisan elections.. The traditional theory comes down to saying that the dignified bits are fig leaves for the efficient bits, and it is not surprising that, when the Westminster system is transported to places like Australia, the fig leaves are readily seen to be such, and thereby lose the lustre that, according to the theory, gives them a point. Those who carry out the Queen's duties as non-executive head of state, the governor-general and state governors, may refrain from interference in the day-to-day processes of government, but people cannot really see them as being "above politics" because their jobs are in the gift of politicians.
That is why any appointment model for choosing the head of state of this nation in which the majority declare themselves to be republican is bound to fail, as the 1999 model did.
..The dignified bits retain their lustre because they are remote from the lives and tastes of common folk; that is how they continue to be credible fig leaves. Once the chief fig leaf starts mixing it with the likes of Ben Elton and Edna Everage, though, what is the chance that Elton's audience, if not Elton himself, won't notice that she is a fig leaf?
- Ray Cassin, The Age (Jun 9)
John Howard, Cultural Warrior
A lot of Australia's public discourse, like a good deal of our domestic consumption, is imported. Political correctness, a critique developed at the end of the 1980s to describe outrageous discrimination and bogus logic on American campuses, landed on these shores in the mid-1990s as an all-encompassing description of the political language of Paul Keating and the ideas he promoted.
Six years and three election wins by the Liberal-National Coalition later, a large number of public commentators continue to condemn the scourge of political correctness. This despite the fact that John Howard, not Keating, has been dictating the terms of national debate for a long time now.
And Howard, famously self-described as the most conservative leader in the history of the Liberal Party, has managed to score some pretty hefty wins on the social policy front.
On reconciliation, for example, Howard has stood firm and has substantially reshaped the direction and substance of the debate.. Howard now rarely attracts criticism over this issue. What was viewed as his intransigence has come to be seen by many, but not all, as a genuine, principled position.. The longer Howard's position remains the status quo, the more attached people on his side of politics feel to it; Howard's stance is now Liberal orthodoxy.
..The Howard brand of conservatism is also making some inroads in other fields, leading to debates about families, parental responsibility, child care and the role of the state in education.
It's too early to say whether these debates will develop into another import - the culture wars that raged in America throughout the 1990s. But there are some early signs that they could.
Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson this week seemed fixated, for example, with the prospect of scoring some points over the opposition after the Queensland Education Department's decision to recommend a book written by Mark "Chopper" Read for senior school students.
What this has to do with the Labor Party is unclear, but Nelson whipped himself into high dudgeon about Labor's disgraceful empathy with Australia's best-known and most celebrated former criminal.
The message is that the soft-hearted social liberals in the ALP are a threat to our children.
There is also the recent decision by Attorney-General Daryl Williams to ask the national censor to review its R rating of the film Baise-Moi, which led to its ban. This was not a political decision, but it was certainly a neat fit with the government's increasing activism on social issues.
..The onslaught against the ABC by the highest-ranking members of the government can be expected to go on for as long as it takes.
..Pru Goward, who contributed to a friendly biography of Howard, is causing some heartburn for the government in her role as the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. Shockingly, Goward is pursuing an independent line.. According to Goward, a "frown comes across" the faces of government members when paid maternity leave is discussed.. It is increasingly portrayed as a pernicious influence on today's children, who, it is said, will be rendered intellectually and socially inferior by being placed in care.
Apparently, the fact that they will be able to grow up with greater economic security because two incomes are coming into the house is of little or no importance.
The parallels with the American experience of the culture wars are inexact, of course.
But the dismissal of anyone who does not faithfully adhere to the government's prevailing views as, variously, out of touch, bleeding hearts, elitist, or left-wing, has plenty of precedents in the United States.
If a fully fledged culture war does develop, it's one import that won't show up in the national trade figures. But we'll see it everywhere else.
- Shaun Carney, The Age (Jun 8)
Woodchucks Wait In Line For PM Costello
Two weeks ago on the Neil Mitchell program on Melbourne radio station 3AW, Treasurer Peter Costello was asked the following: "Do you agree with Michael Kroger, the ABC is biased?"
..It gives a flavour of a discussion that focused on the issue of the moment: namely the campaign by Melbourne Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger to open up the selection process for a new ABC managing director beyond a short list drawn up by its chairman, Donald McDonald.
In the event, Kroger failed in his efforts to persuade fellow board members to look further than acting head Russell Balding. But an interesting sidelight to the process is what it might reveal about a future relationship between Kroger himself and Costello.
..The episode raises the question, indeed heralds a cautionary tale, of just how effectively Costello might manage his relationship with Kroger, and indeed relationships with a whole raft of others with expectations, when and if he succeeds to the prime ministership.
Aside from Kroger, these are - to borrow a Paul Keating phrase to describe political wannabes - so-called junior woodchucks - a North American beaver-like creature that burrows in the ground and hibernates in the winter - who would probably view a Costello ascendancy as something akin to a second coming and their own role as disciples with a seat at the (ministerial) table.
For it is as plain as day that whether Costello has given people reason to believe their fortunes would be improved by his assumption of the Liberal leadership, hopes and expectations burn like a fire in a peat bog.
How Costello manages those expectations will be one of his very earliest tests since, if he accommodated everyone with expectations, the Liberal front bench would extend from the House of Representatives chamber out into King's Hall and back again.
..Which brings us back to the matter of Michael Norman Kroger, who celebrated his 45th birthday last week (Costello, 44, is just 10 weeks younger).
To say that Costello and Kroger are personally close would be an understatement. If we use a Chinese expression, we might say they are "as close as lips and teeth".
They are soul brothers, they are warriors-in-arms in a kind of Melbourne Liberal shogunate and they believe in a take-no-prisoners approach to politics. Politics is combat. The point is that Kroger is not simply a Costello cobber with whom a young Peter might have played in the sandpit as a child in suburban Melbourne - Costello tends to use the word "cobber", possibly because "mate", or "m-a-a-a-a-t-e", became a politically devalued word during the Labor period - but he is a full-blown player in his own right, and therein lies a potential problem.
Kroger is a wealthy businessman with a national profile (and clients). He is an indefatigable networker whose contacts run wide and deep across the Liberal spectrum - he is relatively close to Howard and to Malcolm Fraser, for that matter - and he is absolutely committed to ensuring that his friend Costello makes it to the top.
But in the process of banging heads together politically, cutting deals as principal of JTCampbell, a Melbourne boutique investment bank, fighting battles over a perceived ABC bias and a host of other activities, it would be surprising if Kroger had not made enemies - and attracted his share of unfavourable publicity.
He took grave exception to a lengthy article [in] 1999 that suggested he sought to use his party affiliations to advance his business interests. He was said to have been particularly outraged by implications that he was seeking to profit from his relationship with Costello.
Which perhaps makes an interesting point in itself. Just as Costello faces difficulties managing perceptions of his relationship with Kroger, so Kroger faces a similar challenge.
But in Canberra at least, Costello supporters have no doubt that Kroger is an asset. "He's a very engaging personality; he's a very good schmoozer of people," said one. "He's prepared to spend a lot more time with people than Peter. One of Michael's roles is to mend fractured egos."
In that respect, at least, Kroger may not be short of a role if and when the man most likely actually succeeds - or doesn't, as the case may be.
- Tony Walker, Financial Review (Jun 7)
Age-Old Dangers In Anti-Terror Laws
Those of you who watched the TV news reports of the London street celebrations of the Queen's jubilee on Tuesday evening may have caught the image of a leather-clad and facially pierced skinhead carrying a reasonable facsimile of a mediaeval executioner's axe who claimed the whole royal family was far too expensive and should have their heads chopped off. Was he a terrorist or just a very passionate republican?
One of the first great steps in the civilising process called the Enlightenment which began in the 18th century was the idea of civil citizenship in which individuals began to acquire freedom of thought, religion and speech and understand the concept of even-handed justice.
It was no longer seen as civilised to punish people for what they believed. It was what they did that mattered.. How can we forget our Enlightenment values? Robert Menzies forgot in 1951 when he tried to ban the Communist Party. Had he succeeded he would now be reviled as an antipodean McCarthyite.
Menzies was saved from political ignominy, first by the High Court which found the Communist Dissolution Bill unconstitutional in 1951, and then by the leader of the Labor Party, H. V. Evatt, who successfully opposed the referendum to allow the government to ban the Communist Party.
The question is, who will save John Howard as he seeks passage of the anti-terrorism laws prompted by the events of September 11, 2001?
Not the Simon Crean-led Labor Opposition, it seems.
..Even though Attorney-General Daryl Williams announced on Tuesday that he had finalised his amendment to the legislation, he refused to supply copies of the amendment to Democrats who hold the enlightened view that these proposals are unnecessary and potentially dangerous to civil liberties.
The first problem with anti-terrorism legislation is definitional.. "One side views terrorism as a form of asymmetric warfare in which one participant to a conflict simply avoids the conventional military strengths of the other and focuses on its civilian weaknesses. The other side views it as a crime, distinguishable perhaps by its seriousness, motivation or intention."
..Passage of this legislation would be likely to provide comfort and self justification for those whom the parliament decides is on the lawful side of the particular war against terrorism, and magnify the anger of those who see the injustice which is being resisted by the group defined as terrorists.
Anti-terrorism legislation may get in the way of dealing with terrorism, as well as magnifying differences within society.. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this anti-terrorism legislation is "feel good" legislation designed to show the politicians are as outraged by acts of terrorism as the community, but which will undermine serious efforts to deal with international terrorism, and undermine ethnic harmony in Australia.
- Kenneth Davidson, The Age (Jun 6)
Whitlam Shows Hughes The Futility Of Maintaining The Rage
Tom Hughes has become hugely wealthy from a lifetime of dismantling people in front of others. Five days ago his charmless, graceless eloquence in memory of John Gorton, his political mentor and friend of thirtysomething years, was served up to Malcolm Fraser for free. How bitter the words for stewing all those years.
And how ironic that Hughes, a Catholic, should use a Protestant pulpit so grossly in defence of his dead friend to humiliate their once Liberal colleague before a church full of people. So courageous, too.
Yet there was one remarkable instant of redemption.
In the congregation of St Andrew's Cathedral for Gorton's memorial service were three former prime ministers, not just one. Fraser and his wife, Tamie, were flanked by Margaret and Gough Whitlam and Blanche and Bob Hawke. And at some point after Hughes had finished his "eulogy", Gough Whitlam reached an arm around Tamie Fraser and, tapping her husband on the shoulder, was heard to say, gently but distinctly: "Let not your heart be troubled, comrade."
That it was a line borrowed from earlier in the service is beside the point. Whitlam's compassion for an old political foe - and one who'd done him in so spectacularly - was class of the highest order. So, too, Fraser's dignity in sitting there, Hughes's captive listener, the congregation's several hundred eyes boring into him, as Hughes intoned: "I realise what I'm about to say is said in the distinguished presence of a former parliamentary colleague. [But] I have to speak the truth, and I will."
And he did, as Hughes saw it.
Yet why he felt the "truth" about his old friend was not enough, but should include, too, the necessity for the "truth" about a man he posed as one of Gorton's "political assassins" 31 years after the event, only Hughes would know. Funeral rites are supposedly about resolution. Hughes ensured this one included revenge. There is no more enduring bitterness than political bitterness.
Hughes, like Ainsley Gotto and Jim Killen, has been a loyal keeper of the Gorton flame for 33 years.. When Gorton's prime ministership ended in the turbulent events of March 1971, Hughes's ministerial career ended, too, not because he wasn't any good but because he was politically dispensable as a Gorton ally.
..Thus all these years later you can understand if curmudgeonly people like me were to suggest that when Hughes stood at last Friday's memorial service and felt it incumbent to publicly square the ledger by dumping on one of the purported "assassins" of Gorton's prime ministership, he also squared the ledger for the "assassination" of his own political career, too.
Was Fraser disloyal to Gorton?
It was a very long time ago and most people these days know little of what happened and care even less. But if you take the time to read the public record, in detail, of Gorton's last months as prime minister and of the bizarre events of March 1971 that brought him down, any fair assessment would judge Gorton as having acted at least as disloyally to Fraser as Hughes and others assert Fraser was to Gorton.
Whatever, consider Whitlam's magnanimity last Friday rather than Hughes's bitterness. It is far more rewarding of the human spirit.
- Alan Ramsey Sydney Morning Herald (Jun 5)
Loosen Up, Comrades
There used to be a time when Labor history was read by union officials. Not anymore. Judging by the feigned outrage and carry-ons from some union officials at the NSW and Queensland Labor state conferences in the past week, the ALP has never before debated its links to the union movement.
Of course, nothing is further from the truth. After all, Labor has seriously discussed reducing union influence on three occasions – in 1979, 1990 and 1994.
..With shades of Back to the Future, today the likes of NSW Labor Council secretary John Robertson would give greater preselection power to union members who have "neither the time nor the inclination to immerse themselves in local branch politics". Robertson is playing himself in a union version of The Truman Show.
Nor is 50-50 something new that has only emerged from Simon Crean or from the ALP reviews led by Neville Wran and Bob Hawke. Former ALP national secretary Bob Hogg recommended in 1990 that union influence at party conferences be reduced to 50 per cent.
What was Hogg's reasoning? That the decline in union coverage in the work force and the number of unions affiliated to the ALP has serious implications for the party's organisational and power structures. Since Hogg's observations, union membership has fallen further and Labor has lost three consecutive elections. The bell rang in 1990 but no one was at home.
If Labor is to modernise Australia, it must first modernise itself. This means revitalising the party and opening it up. This is the guiding principle of Information Age politics: more debate, more participation, more democracy. Insiders are now out and outsiders need in.
Incredibly, some trade union leaders still want to impose their Stalinist model of remote control on the ALP. Worse still, so much of their critique is disingenuous and duplicitous. The same unionists who want to maintain control of the ALP are reluctant to impose their affiliation on their members. Union officials simply don't advance the Labor cause to their members.
..In practice, trade unionists have given up on Labor. Union secretaries now take the power that comes from ALP affiliation and use it through the comfort of bloc voting at ALP conferences. It is lazy and undemocratic politics.
Although the unions did not lose the last election, they are becoming a barrier to winning the next one. It is a measure of the unpopularity of the unions that John Howard and Tony Abbott have not acted to sever the ALP-union links. The federal Government could easily pass a bill in the Senate requiring a majority vote of union members before unions could affiliate with political parties.
..Howard and Abbott have not acted because they do not want to lose one of their strongest electoral advantages. Howard has made an art of defining himself by his critics. Union leaders such as Robertson just haven't got it. If they did, they wouldn't be campaigning to end the mandatory detention of asylum-seekers even when their own research proves that a large majority of union members clearly support this policy. Never let democratic will get in the way of your fiefdom.
The face of modern union leadership isn't ugly, as Howard and Abbott would have it. It is just undemocratic and lazy. The story is one of defying the wishes of members, presiding over an extensive decline in union coverage, yet demanding more centralised control of the Labor Party.
This is the best advertisement yet for why Crean must win his battle to modernise Labor.
- Alex Sanchez (NSW ALP Member) The Australian (Jun 4)
Let's Give Thanks For Decision That's Part Of The Landscape
Today the nation has just cause to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Mabo decision which recognised native title for the first time in Australia. This ground-breaking decision, which changed the fundamental law of the land by discarding the 200-year-old terra nullius mindset, was the cause of much public debate a decade ago. Now it is simply accepted as part of the nation's legal landscape.
The decision has withstood the test of time because it is in accordance with contemporary Australian values. Universal respect for property and the principle of non-discrimination might even be thought to be the "vibe" of the Constitution, to quote the defining movie of contemporary cultural norms, The Castle.
At first, the mining industry, led by Hugh Morgan, was very concerned that the combined effect of the judgement and the Racial Discrimination Act could be a huge slowdown in mining and exploration. Others, such as the federal Coalition's Ian McLachlan, argued that it would result in a "feast for lawyers".
By Christmas 1993, the prime minister, Paul Keating, cut a deal with the key Aboriginal leaders and the Senate, having failed to do so with the Coalition or state governments. Keating appreciated four significant effects of the Mabo decision:
- It posed no threat to sovereignty nor to Treasury coffers. It was a judicious realignment of the common law developed by judges to match the historical reality with the historic land grievance which, for the first time, had come before the highest court in the land.
- It was an honest acknowledgement that most Aborigines had been long dispossessed of their lands and any restitution or compensation was a matter for parliaments rather than the courts.
- It provided a historic opportunity to put right those wrongs of the past which could be put right and to acknowledge those wrongs which forever stained the nation's identity. This could be done without any threat to any other person's land rights or legitimate economic interests.
- It provided a unique opportunity, given the make-up of the Senate, for a settlement of the nation's long-standing land rights question with Aborigines at the negotiating table in the cabinet room and holding some of their trump cards.
The Parliament set up a land fund to buy lands on the open market for the benefit of those Aborigines who had lost their traditional lands. By 2004, that fund will be self-perpetuating, allowing purchases of $45 million each year. There is now a National Native Title Tribunal with almost 600 applications in the pipeline, half of which are going through mediation.
..The dust has settled. The decision is not seen as a revolution but as a commonsense piece of legal reasoning.. Native title is here to stay, helping to put right what Justices Deane and Gaudron described as our "national legacy of unutterable shame".
The High Court still has its work cut out interpreting the fine print of the excessively amended Native Title Act and filling in the detail of common law native title, no doubt providing some feasting for lawyers. Indigenous communities still have their problems and we still have a national problem with reconciling ourselves. But the denial of land rights and the failure to accord equal protection and respect under the law are no longer part of the solution.
That is a better starting point than the terra nullius mindset which preceded Mabo.
- Father Frank Brennan SJ, Sydney Morning Herald (Jun 3)
A Good Deal Too Much To Lose On Principle
Senator Bob Brown has set the cat amongst the political pigeons with his offer to do a deal on the sale of Telstra.. Fortunately the senator's party, the Greens, has saved him from making a bad deal - at least bad in principle.
An unrepresentative upper house should not have the power to frustrate the program of the government. As long as John Winston Howard is Prime Minister I am hypocritically delighted that there is an obstructionist upper house, but I felt differently when the Great Gough was PM. I must grit my teeth and vote for consistency. Howard has as much right to govern as Whitlam did. It is time to abolish all upper houses. It does not appear that New Zealand would be better governed if it had a second chamber. They restrain government hubris with their elaborate system of proportional representation. We should emulate them - one house, fairly elected.
The usual arguments for a house of review are tosh - they read as though we don't trust ourselves to vote for a government to get on with the job of running the nation for the next three years. We apparently need to be protected from our own democratic folly.
Anyway, we do have an upper house with an unrepresentative franchise. And we do have a tendency to vote one way in the House and another in the Senate, to make sure that the democratic chickens never come home to roost. And the Tories in the Senate always vote for whatever the Tories vote for in the House and the Pseudo-Socialists also always vote at their party's call - the idea that there should be a break in ranks in order to protect the interests of the senators' states is unthinkable, even though that is the constitutional justification for the existence of the upper house.
And in the past few decades it has usually been the case that a small number of minor party senators can settle the argument one way or the other. This puts extraordinary power into the hands of people like Brian Harradine or Mal Colston or, in the present case, Bob Brown.
..The principle is representative government. The Prime Minister had a handsome electoral victory and he is entitled to proceed with his legislative program, of which selling Telstra is a regrettable part.
If we supported the Brown deal then we could have no objection to an obscurantist Roman Catholic making his vote conditional on banning contraception, divorce, abortion, stem-cell research and euthanasia. We are conceding that one senator (or in the case of the Greens, two from July) has the right to exercise an accidental power to achieve a particular end of which the majority might not approve.
To put the matter bluntly, Senator Brown's ends are admirable, but his means are insupportable. He may argue for the forests in the Senate with all the eloquence at his disposal, and he may equally argue for the public ownership of Telstra, but in the end he should not conflate the two and sell his vote. In any case, in dealing with this particular kettle of Tories, he was bound to be dudded.
- Terry Lane, The Age (Jun 2)
PM Ends It All In Brown Green Deal
The intrigue is over. John Howard will announce his resignation by the Franklin River in the second half of next year and officially step down at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in early 2004.
We know this following the Prime Minister's announcement that he's prepared to negotiate with Greens senator Bob Brown over the sale of Telstra. Howard, of course, entered politics as arguably the greatest nerd to present himself to the people. He plans to exit as not only a Liberal legend but a reformed greenie and gay icon.
Picture it now. Dawn is breaking over the Huon Valley in southern Tasmania as Bob and John greet the first rays of sunlight, linking arms while standing around a 3000-year-old pine tree. In all probability, they are both nude.
The PM hears an annoying buzz in the air and thinks it's his dodgy ear playing up again. In fact, it is the sound of Brown meditating. Initially bamboozled, Howard searches for inner peace and joins in. Ommmmmmmmm.
Janette is back at the tent preparing a breakfast of mung bean and lentil patties over an open fire. In all probability, she is not nude but wearing a cheesecloth blouse over a tie-dye sarong. The men return to eat and Janette, who is considering changing her name to Rainbow, hands John his morning cuppa. The PM takes a sip and grimaces. It has taken a while, but he's slowly getting used to the taste of carob with soy milk. Bob and John, who is thinking of changing his name to Log, sit down, cross their legs and begin negotiating.
Brown wants to ban old-growth logging, driving, Alan Jones, Big Macs, New Idea, chewing gum, disposable nappies, full-strength beer, daytime soapies, photocopying, rugby league, deodorant and bad karma. In exchange, he'll sell Telstra to the wolves. Howard agrees to everything, but in the fine print adds a sneaky clause giving the ultimate say to Wilson Tuckey. Within five years Uluru is a car park and the Barrier Reef is pumping more oil than the Middle East.
Overjoyed with the agreement, Bob, John and Janette embrace in a group hug. Both Howards break into a violent sneezing fit. Brown explains that his aromatherapeutic body oil mix – a compound of clay, patchouli and saliva – isn't to everyone's liking.
Eventually Janette reminds her husband it might be a good idea to ring John Anderson to inform him of the Telstra deal. Howard gets straight on the blower with the cordless, satellite, taxpayer-funded mobile provided to everyone living outside the capitals under the sweetener negotiated by the National Party. Unfortunately, he can't get a dial tone.
Howard the greenie is hailed with ticker tape of recycled toilet paper at a Nimbin parade and invited on stage in a corroboree with Midnight Oil. Brown and his homosexual partner become frequent guests at the Lodge, and the four are spotted clubbing after a Pet Shop Boys concert.
- Matt Price, The Australian (Jun 1)