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Quotes From The 2001 Federal Election

This page provides a collection of extended quotations gathered during the 2001 Federal Election campaign.

The quotes cover the campaign period and the election’s aftermath.


How A Single-Issue Party Held Onto Power

We shall never know for certain that the Tampa would have been, by itself, sufficient to ensure the Howard Government a third term or whether it was the combination of the Tampa “crisis” and September 11 that the Howard Government required. What we do know, however, is that when the now retired Defence Minister, Peter Reith, suggested that al-Qaeda terrorists might be found among the Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers on the leaky vessels travelling to Australia, a politically decisive connection between border control and the terrorist threat to Australia was conjured in the public’s mind.

The border control issue now dominated Coalition re-election strategy, as the propaganda weapon of first and last resort. At the beginning of the campaign three Government ministers solemnly informed the people, as we now know quite falsely, that Iraqi asylum seekers had callously thrown their children into the ocean in order to blackmail their way to Australia. To prove the point photographs (of a later incident) were released. At the Liberal Party launch Howard’s pledge to repel all asylum seekers received the most rapturous applause. In the final week these words and renewed hints about border control and terrorism were reproduced, time and time again.

The Howard Government’s obsession with border control achieved two main political objectives. Ever since 1998 the Government had been looking for a way of overcoming the influence of the One Nation party. With border control chauvinism, this objective was magnificently achieved.

Robert Manne – SMH (Nov 12)

Video A Subliminal Success

The video footage issued yesterday appears to prove nothing, except that one of those asylum-seekers should immediately be put on our Olympic long-jump team. His running leap into the water looked as if it broke a number of national and international records.

But that’s not the point. Instead, look at the strategic brilliance of issuing the video in these final moments of the campaign. Just at the point when the electronic advertising cuts out, the television bulletins are dominated with a key Liberal message; the insecurity of our borders.

This is really what the campaign has been all about.

Suddenly, instead of being well ahead, Labor begins to flounder the minute the asylum-seekers start getting talked about. And that’s why the Government has suddenly made public the video from the rescue.

Much of the Coalition advertising emphasised that only John Howard could possibly be trusted to keep Australia’s borders secure.

It’s a message that strikes a chord in all of us because no one likes a queue jumper and no-one wants Australia to be flooded with illegal immigrants.

We are told only John Howard has identified this threat, and all Labor can do is dig a bigger and bigger hole for itself.

The Coalition has even turned Labor’s proposal for a coastguard into a negative …

The media have attempted to focus on whether or not children were thrown from the boat. Yet this issue is irrelevant …

A conspiracy theorist would love to know who was behind the decision to broadcast this video.

Naturally, the Government says the broadcast demonstrates it is not trying to hide anything. Which is exactly the point.

In the background, the dog whistle is blowing hard.

Everyone is making their own judgments about where they will put their 1 on the ballot paper. Reminding them why they should vote Liberal won’t hurt the Government one bit.

Nick Stuart – Canberra Times (Nov 9)

Labor Pains Produced The Enduring Growth

Let’s check the Government’s economic performance. Growth is at a 10-year low. Productivity has fallen sharply from the 3 per cent a year bequeathed to the Liberals by Labor. The dollar? You almost need a pair of binoculars to find it. In February 1996 the exchange rate was over US75¢. Today it is US50¢. And the 50¢ dollar, like other measures of Howard’s mediocrity, is now a standard feature of the economic landscape.

Howard and Costello might think they are fooling Australians but they haven’t fooled the international markets, which have marked us down to a banana republic exchange rate. Research and development spending has tanked. The growth in full-time jobs has been paltry and unemployment is rising. Relations with the countries of the region around us have never been worse. Our national aspirations have been lowered and we have been left as an international backwater.

At Saturday’s election, people should remember which party gave them a modern economy, doubled the economy’s capacity to grow, broke the back of inflation, pushed over the tariff wall and set up occupational superannuation. Which party floated the exchange rate and gave Australia a modern and open financial market? It certainly wasn’t Howard and Costello. It was, as is the case with all the important changes in this country, the Australian Labor Party.

Paul Keating – SMH (Nov 8)

Yes, No, Maybe… Even The Pollsters Are Topsy-Turvy

… Of South Australia’s 12 federal seats, nine held by the Liberals to Labor’s three, it is [David] Cox’s hold on Kingston that is now the most precarious. The Liberals have three marginal SA seats, all in the Adelaide metropolitan area. Just three months ago Labor was confident it could win at least at two if not all three. Now the general feeling is that if any seat in Adelaide is to fall it will first be Labor’s Kingston where Cox’s margin of safety is just half of one per cent.

Local opinion polls in recent weeks suggest that in the seat of Adelaide, one of the Government’s three marginals, the Coalition is now pulling in excess of 50 per cent in primary votes, a result matched in Alexander Downer’s seat of Mayo, adjoining Kingston south of the city, where last election a big Democrat vote frightened the life out of Downer before he won on preferences after an 11.4 per cent anti-Liberal swing.

Labor’s apprehensions about Kingston have been increasing throughout the campaign, despite mixed results of national opinion polls. The latest Bulletin Morgan poll, published today, has Labor leading the Government by nine percentage points on a two-party-preferred basis. That is landslide territory. Labor dearly wants to believe it.

Few others do.

Alan Ramsey – SMH (Nov 7)

Sad Demise Of The Moral Dimension

When the history of our time is written, what will most amaze posterity is that John Howard’s debasement of political debate (for “the integrity of our national borders” read “drown, if need be, the foreign scum”) was not cursed roundly from every editorial. That no-one said the obvious, that the ordinary Australian’s fear of intruders, like the fear of burglars, can be easily understood, but John Howard’s playing on it was morally contemptible.

Posterity will also note a few things about the reporting of Kim Beazley, who will be known by then as a great Prime Minister. One is that in the 18 years he was in high office no writer apart from Peter Fitzsimons and the director of Australian Story got anywhere near portraying him accurately. Why should they? They had the ever-available caricature of overweight, flip-flopping babbler of “prolix” obscurities to fall back on, and that saved effort, that saved thought. If a journalist doesn’t have to think, that’s good. Thinking might upset his bosses.

I worked for Beazley for eight months and saw a bit of him, and his performance in the debate, the best such performance in television history, didn’t surprise me.

I had always known him to be alert, wide-ranging, stupendously informed and mentally organised, radiant with conviction, politically hard-nosed and scrupulously polite. But this amazed a lot of journalists who had been printing the Billy-Bunter-plus-Bill-Collins caricature for so long they had come to believe it.

What annoys most journalists about Beazley is that he is smarter than they are. Dealing with Beazley is like playing three-dimensional chess with George Patton.

For Beazley is both very unpredictable and very simple, and they can’t hack that. He’s a very good man and a very ambitious man and the combination baffles them.

Bob Ellis – Canberra Times (Nov 5)

So Much Chaff – Take It With A Grain Of Salt

The Herald’s best count, as at midday yesterday, was that the overall cost of Labor implementing its various “plans” over a four-year cycle – that’s right, they go beyond even the next scheduled election – is a neat $4.9 billion after allowing for various undetailed “savings”. Only $422 million of the total would be spent in the current financial year. By comparison, additional spending of the Government’s grab bag of promised goodies – this time over a ludicrous five-year spending span – comes in at $3.52 billion, of which only $62.2 million is proposed this financial year.

And these figures mean, what?

That the politicians, by and large, are having a huge lend of voters.

Howard and Costello have been lampooning Labor for its promises on the never-never, but their own proposals are no less absurd in that $1.3 billion of Coalition promises would not be delivered until after the next scheduled election at the end of 2004. They are, in truth, wholly expendable promises. Labor’s gaggle of such promises total $940 million, some $360 million less “never-never” than the Government’s own fantasy figures.

And that really is what they are.

Pure humbug. Who’s to say what will be happening in four years’ time, either with the Budget, the Australian economy, or the grim international scene? Certainly not Howard and Beazley in an election campaign as polarising as this one.

Now, prepare for the Labor excuses that blame Tampa for its imminent defeat rather than three years of abject policy and strategic laziness by Beazley’s closest staff and party advisers.

Alan Ramsey – Sydney Morning Herald (Nov 3)

Howard Taps Latent Racism

It has been said that a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

If John Howard wins the election – and from two of the three major recent polls he may be expected to do so, and with an increased majority – it will be a victory of prejudice over policy…

While the events of September 11 and our military response have clearly served to consolidate Howard’s position, it was the Tampa crisis, and in particular his handling of it, that has been fundamental to the sea change in support for the Coalition.

Some have said that Howard consciously played the race card with the Tampa. They recall, in equally difficult circumstances, his anti-Asian immigration campaign of the mid-1980s, when his leadership was similarly under question and threat. Maybe he did play that card, again. At the very least, he undoubtedly tapped what is a latent racial prejudice in significant sections of the Australian community including, importantly, much of the migrant community…

Whatever the reason, Howard’s stance on the Tampa resonated with a substantial section of the Australian community. Disturbingly, it doesn’t seem to have mattered that he was immediately inconsistent in his treatment of the next boatload of asylum seekers. In the case of the Tampa, he was determined to make sure that none of those on board ever set foot on Australian soil. Yet the next boatload was taken to Christmas Island.

It also doesn’t seem to matter that Howard has flip-flopped on dozens of issues since 1996. Nor does it seem to matter just how ludicrous was his final solution – paying small Pacific Island nations and New Zealand to take these asylum seekers is little short of ridiculous. Sure, he was seen to deliver “a solution” and thereby to validate his hard-line stand. But, it’s hardly a medium- to long-term solution…

The electorate may not like Howard much, but they like his stand on the boat people … Ironically, Howard, despite being carefully crafted, has never had a genuine passion for policy. He has, however, successfully manipulated prejudice to his personal political advantage. I guess, to many, that is what makes him a good politician.

John Hewson – Financial Review (Nov 2)

Knowing Who Will Win, Now That Is Boring

What is tedious in this election campaign, as in so many others, is the continual game of “Gotcha!” played by the claques of the media as they try desperately to entrap politicians into saying something that can be treated as an indiscretion, as a departure from the leader’s policy, as a confession of some evil scheme for the future, or as an admission that not all policies being advanced are perfect or complete, and by the politicians themselves as they equally seize upon supposed errors by their opponents.

It is doubtful whether the mass of the electorate in any case pays much attention to the sound and fury of the hustings. The mass rallies of a hundred years ago are unimaginable today … and how many people actually read the day-to-day coverage in the newspapers?

The fact is that for the most part election campaigns consist of the political class talking to itself, with the electorate occasionally listening in and making its decisions at the last moment on a basis that has little to do with the campaign as such.

P.P. McGuinness – SMH (Nov 1)

Kernot And Costello, A Pair Of Blundering Liabilities

Peter Costello’s woes have two things in common with Kernot’s: they are partly self-inflicted, yet they also point to an issue that cannot be solved by politics as we play it.

Costello has made impressive efforts to tone down the smirking cleverness and venom that made him look like he had never grown out of being a student politician. In the republic debate he was easily the best on ground, and on economic issues he increasingly conveys authority. Yet in this campaign he has reverted to his old self, and it may be to his long-term cost.

His statement two weeks ago that Australia now ranked after only the US and Britain as a terrorist target was one of those things that, even were it true, makes absolutely no sense to say. Last Wednesday he was lucky to escape with a draw in his debate with his tagger Simon Crean, in which he blasted Labor for offering loans to expand nursing homes, when he himself is running loan schemes for tertiary students, Ansett workers, business RD, the ABC and now a Queensland magnesium smelter. It was so transparent it smelt of desperation.

Then on Friday he chose to focus attention on the government’s unpopular plan to sell the rest of Telstra in three stages from 2003-04. Just a week earlier, Costello had been talking “on message” about the Telstra sale; maybe the Coalition would do it, but only if the problems of country areas were fixed up first. Now, aiming to score a political point, he presented it as something definite, locked into budget forecasts. Ouch.

Tim Colebatch – The Age (Oct 31)

Liberal Ideology Transformed To Catch Swinging Voters

Under John Howard, the Liberal Party has undergone an ideological transformation like never before.

After years of internecine warfare, when it came to power in 1996 his party finally represented the “broad church”. There were Catholics and Protestants, Anglos and “Wogs”, people privately educated and those who’d been to state schools – and, most importantly, ideologues and pragmatists.

Today, the pragmatists have ruthlessly swept away any opposition as they target the swinging voters in the marginal seats.

To fully understand the meaning of this term of Howard Government, it’s necessary to examine the decade the Liberals spent in the wilderness after Fraser. It was in those years that Mr Howard began abandoning abstract ideology in the desire to win. It’s not that he doesn’t have principles – he does, and he does implement them in government.

However, that is quite obviously not what his policy speech was meant to be about. The weekend’s policy launch was all about winning, and the strategic thought is no longer about a “vision” for government, but rather about keeping all the little groupings that make up our society on side. Or, at least, about keeping enough of the people living in marginal electorates on side.

Nick Stuart – Canberra Times (Oct 30)

Politically Smart But Lacks Vision

John Howard might not get high marks for vision or presentation, but in a politically smart – some might say cynical – campaign launch yesterday he refocused attention on the Coalition’s domestic agenda.

In the process, he found a way to cobble together international and domestic security concerns which steered clear of the sort of sabre-rattling claptrap that has characterised some earlier pronouncements.

But in terms of defining a third-term “vision” or agenda, the Howard performance was deficient. The grab-bag of measures announced had less to do with the future than it did with saving John Howard and the Coalition’s hide.

There was much too little emphasis on the new economy, innovation and ways in which business might be encouraged to lift what is a miserable level of investment in new plant, equipment and technology.

That said, this was both a relatively subtle political exercise given budgetary constraints, and a fairly blatant attempt to push hot-button community concerns: refugees, drugs, security.

Tony Walker – Financial Review (Oct 29)

Howard Riding High

Underlying all that Mr Howard said yesterday in defence of his record in government and his promises for the future, however, was his claim to superior leadership qualities. Even as he emphasised his Government’s sound economic record, it was to link it to the threat now posed in a more dangerous world. The election he said, is being fought against the background of “two overriding issues”: “national security” and “economic management”.

That is true, to a very large extent. But in his enthusiasm for this theme, Mr Howard sometimes goes too far. He did this when he chose to link two other themes: defence and immigration. “We will defend our border and we’ll decide who comes to this country,” he said. Taken singly, no-one would disagree with these sentiments. But to conflate them in the present circumstances is nakedly opportunistic. The times are difficult. But the times also call for a careful shading in the delineation of both the national commitment to the “war on terrorism” and on the treatment of boat people. Mr Howard, riding high, showed scant sign yesterday of caring for any fine distinctions, especially in policies where fear and other emotions can be brought strongly into play.

Sydney Morning Herald – Editorial (Oct 29)

Way Out West (Where The People Are Of Independent Mind)

The National Party is on the nose in a number of their traditional feifdoms. Their representatives in Canberra are seen as uncaring, not standing up for rural Australia…

Why, in a time of higher wool prices, and good returns for beef, sheep and wheat is there such disenchantment with the National Party, and indeed all the major political parties? Mostly it’s about declining services in provision of infrastructure, banking, transport, health and education.

In Calare, the mayor of Orange tells me about the present conjunction of “good seasons and good prices”. Unemployment is well below the national average.

But when I ask people about the issues, the things that crop up are aged-care provision in small towns, hospitals, fuel prices, education and the complexity of the GST.

Traditional Labor and National Party voters seem to share the same view on the privatisation, or “sell-off” as they call it, of government assets.

John Button – The Age (Oct 28)

Be Afraid Of Those Who Go For War Too Easily

Be afraid of politicians who send us too easily to war.

Be afraid of those who, turning their backs on the entire history of our species, persist in the belief that killing each other solves anything.

Be afraid of those whose rhetoric is carefully designed to make it sound as if war is a noble thing and death in battle is glorious. The truth is very different: history says war is devastating for all concerned, and the suffering of those who are killed or maimed, on both sides, is just like any other suffering. Their blood is like your blood; the mud and rubble and excrement in which they writhe are as filthy as any other; their families grieve with the same intensity as any other bereaved family.

Be afraid of those who present a complex truth as if it is simple. Be afraid of a propaganda war against bin Laden and the Taliban untempered by any acknowledgment that the US had encouraged and empowered the Taliban in Afghanistan when Russia was the enemy. Be afraid of those who refuse, on the grounds of “patriotism”, to examine possible reasons for hostility to the US in certain parts of the world.

Be afraid of politicians prepared to exploit our baser instincts for political gain. Be afraid of the motives of a federal minister recklessly announcing Australia ranks third in the world as a terrorism target, as if our fears needed refuelling … and as if some terrorist had mailed him a hit-list.

Hugh Mackay – The Age (Oct 27)

PM Gets Back In The Game

John Howard is fighting back. He’s dropping the presidential air, the aloofness of a wartime leader, and taking his gloves off.

He has to. The Coalition’s real electoral position — a threadbare majority of just a few seats held by even thinner margins — has not changed since the election began.

Labor has to do very little to win the election despite the yawning gap in the published opinion polls at the start of the campaign in the Coalition’s favour.

And Labor has started to do what it has to do: peg back the Coalition’s lead. Kim Beazley is also cutting into Howard’s overwhelming lead on the question of leadership.

Now Howard is doing what he has to do and swinging the focus back on to domestic issues, economic management and being negative about Labor.

Dennis Shanahan – The Australian (Oct 26)

A Shift To The Far Right

There are indeed dangers in the post-September 11 world. But an earnest leader would comprehend those threats in the context of reassurance. But not Howard. And definitely not Peter Costello, who wilfully and brazenly sought to frighten Australians by telling them we were equal third on the list for terrorist reprisals, with Canada after the US and Britain.

This reckless assertion is not even factual. There is no such list. And the judgment that led Costello to this sort of loose and dangerous talk is cynical in the extreme. Yet Costello is supposed to be the enlightened face of the Liberal Party.

This government, in pursuit of electoral gain, will play fast and loose with the country’s conventions and its moral substance. It will frighten people in election campaigns … Nothing is out of bounds. When it suits it, it will play to the country’s darkest fears …

Should Howard be re-elected, the country will pay an enormous price. Those in the region around us who, up until now, have regarded Howard’s two victories as an aberration will sullenly bed down for the long term in their dealings with Australia. Our marginalisation, now advanced, will accelerate.

Paul Keating – The Age (Oct 25)

Edgy PM Trips Over War Footing

THE trend towards Labor last week raises the intriguing question of whether Kim Beazley is outcampaigning John Howard and whether Labor’s policy strategy of marginal as distinct from core differences from the Coalition might work.

The campaign is poised ambiguously, with Beazley having generated a hefty momentum off a low base. This ALP recovery had to happen, because Howard’s earlier two-party preferred lead (11 points in Newspoll and 10 points in the ACNeilson poll) was unsustainable. Labor’s recovery is strong and morale has lifted.

Labor has kept its nerve as Howard’s stocks from the war and boat people reached a dizzy peak. ALP hopes have rested upon the announcement impact of its domestic agenda and Beazley’s own performance. The leaders debate was vital. Remember that Newspoll found Beazley won 55-35 per cent, a result that sent Labor ecstatic.

Howard began this campaign in fine form. He was strong and focused, yet over the past fortnight he has been flat, looks tired on television and appears on edge.

Paul Kelly – The Australian (Oct 24)

Leaders Sniping Drowns Out The Tragedy

Where was the boat when it sunk? Did we or Indonesia know it was there, or in trouble? Was there a May day call?

Three hundred and fifty seven people dead. Drowned. Desperate people, victims of an evil, corrupt trade, people paying the price of life itself in a fruitless quest for hope in our country.

And what do our ‘leaders do’? Start a nasty, name-calling debate that’s all about scoring a vote out of the sorry mess that is our boat people ‘policy’. Not even a day can pass to feel the loss, get the facts.

Can you smell the panic on both sides of this immoral, corrupted debate on who’s tougher and who’ll do best at keeping the blighters in Indonesia?

John Howard’s serious look and total reliance on fear-based adver-tising on the war has run out of steam. Kim Beazley’s jumped out of the blocks in the debate showcasing his credentials to fight the war, and from today’s polls it looks like voters are buying the fact that either party would handle the terrorism crisis competently.

Margo Kingston – Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 23)

The Legacy Of Real Leadership

Two weeks into the federal election campaign, neither side of politics has yet offered a comprehensive, coherent vision for the first decade of the new century, although in fairness it should be acknowledged that the Labor Party is outlining some key elements of its platform. The Howard Government is, rather worryingly, refusing to do much more than warn of militarily insecure and economically uncertain times, and to pledge that if re-elected it would continue to occupy office. Of course, there are still three weeks to go and voters can continue to live in hope that the election will become a contest between two far-reaching and inspiring conceptions of what Australia could be. But that would appear unlikely. The truth is that the iron law of contemporary Australian politics – selective massaging and manipulation of communal subsets within various marginal electorates – is being applied in this election just as it has been in the past few elections.

The Age – Editorial (Oct 20)

Howard Is Forging A Fortress Australia

John Howard’s election campaign is about appeasing One Nation sympathisers in marginal seats in regional Queensland, Western Australia and the west of Sydney.

How far Howard is prepared to go in his quest for those votes was made abundantly clear this week when the Prime Minister announced that Australia would not increase its refugee intake to deal with the millions of war-displaced Afghans and others.

Leaving aside the sheer inhumanity of this approach and the fact that it is in stark contrast to the attitude taken by former Liberal PMs Malcolm Fraser and Robert Menzies towards refugees from World War II to Vietnam, the message to the racists and xenophobes out there is clear: vote for the Coalition and you won’t have to worry about thousands of people from the Middle East and Central Asia moving into your neighbourhood.

How different the rhetoric and appeal might be if it were white Zimbabwean farmers who were knocking on Australia’s door.

Greg Barns – Financial Review (Oct 19)

To Join A World Cause We Must Rise Above Provincialism

Yesterday we committed 1,550 defence personnel to “the operation”. What is it? Unlike America and Britain, our leader has not addressed the nation to tell us. Yesterday John Howard talked of us fighting for “certain values”. What are they? What do they have in common with those of Pakistan, China and Russia? How will we know when the war is over? How will the world have changed when that day comes?

The enemy is stateless. Just as global capital is stateless. Just as the world’s ever growing hordes of refugees are stateless. The enemy uses the mechanisms of a globalised world to wreak its havoc, and plays the global capital market to finance its evil. Revenge is pointless – the enemy wants to die to destroy us.

The challenges are so big it’s tempting to retire to the country and grow vegetables. Our troops can’t do that. They’re off to the 21st century’s version of war – no front line, no nation as enemy, no etiquette of war – leaving us to face whatever the terrorists want to inflict on us at home.

Paul Keating has spoken of the need to reform our global architecture. The United Nations needs a major overhaul, economic trade treaties must address the crazy gap between rich and poor. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be resurrected and given teeth as the touchstone of global core moral values. It’s time for impossible dreams again.

I keep returning to Tony Blair’s incredible speech on October 4, and hope an isolationist Australia under a dangerously provincial prime minister can once again punch above its weight on the global stage, in our own interests. Australia does not need John Howard’s politics of fear. We need Tony Blair’s politics of hope.

Margo Kingston – Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 18)

Come Off It, Prime Minister, One Round Isn’t Good Enough

Campaigning – nationally focused on party leaders since Bob Hawke brought his quasi-presidential charisma to the scene in 1983 – has become kinetic performance with substance avoidance. And camouflage, camouflage, camouflage.

Last week, Howard concealed himself behind pretty Loreto schoolgirls, agleam in their white and blue uniforms. We saw Beazley immersed in decency and duty among nurses. Florence Nightingale was a chimeric presence.

You can, occasionally, detect lacunae in the smooth surfaces. But it takes patience.

Howard’s frequent portrayal of Harry Truman, out for a morning’s power walking, shows him at his most reassuringly energetic. Last week, though, a bodyguard came into frame several times, a younger man gliding effortlessly in the PM’s wake, breathing lightly if at all.

The week’s television also provided rare, if not unique, pictures, shot from behind, of Beazley getting into a very small aircraft. It was reminiscent of somebody standing on his head to don too-tight undies. Or something like that. The vision possibly escapes the reach of analogy.

Frank Devine – The Australian (Oct 15)

PM Ahead Via Easy Decision

If Labor loses, it can make all the excuses it wants about the war, about refugees, but it will remain a fact of Australian political history that Kim Beazley and his team lost by being dithering oppositionists who were good at criticising Howard but did not provide a clear alternative.

John Howard knows that a lot of voters do not yet see Kim Beazley as a viable alternative, but have not ruled out voting for him if something happens that lets them change their minds.

As such, he is determined to play the pint-sized Churchill for all its worth, making virtue of the modesty of his promises, and badgering Big Kim as the big, waffly windbag so many people clearly think he is.

This explains Mr Howard’s deeply undemocratic insistence on one debate, uselessly scheduled for this Sunday, barely a week after the election has been called and 27 days before it will actually happen.

David Penberthy – Daily Telegraph (Oct 12)

PM Scores Points With A Popgun

There is a little remarked but profoundly revealing contrast that needs to be drawn. The Howard Government committed a substantially bigger military force to persecuting innocent Afghan refugees in the Indian Ocean than it has committed or, rather, made available for future commitment to the war against terror.

To meet the shocking military threat of unarmed civilian refugees, many of them women and children, the Howard Government sent a guided missile destroyer, two Anzac frigates, a supply ship, a transport ship, an unknown number of patrol boats, four PC-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and a detachment of Special Air Service soldiers.

To the war against terrorism we have promised, should the Americans want them, two Orion aircraft, 150 SAS troopers, an Anzac frigate, possibly a naval command ship and two Boeing 707 air-to-air refuelling aircraft.

God help the Americans if their military effort relies on our 30-year-old 707s. They’re not exactly state-of-the-art. They double as VIP planes and one of them broke down with Paul Keating in it, the other with John Howard aboard (twice).

The truth is our military commitment to the war against terrorism is pure tokenism.

Greg Sheridan – The Australian (Oct 11)

Howard Goes Headlong Through Age Gap

Apparently aware of the oddity of pitching the First Home Owners Scheme to a captive audience of elderly Liberals, the Prime Minister’s minders took Mr Howard and the media to a new housing estate to meet two young couples who (surprise! surprise!) just happened to be Liberal supporters and who just happened to be building their first homes with assistance from the First Home Owners Scheme.

One of the young chaps sported a spiked punk hair-do and his wife’s hair was a rich shade of punk crimson.

Clutching their infant son, they chatted with the Prime Minister, who pronounced the estate “a beautiful part of the world” – beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

They all posed for happy pictures with freshman Aston MP Chris Pearce who, oozing charm from every pore, oiled his way around the building site without a hair of his carefully sculpted and lacquered pompadour out of place.

Geoffrey Barker – Australian Financial Review (Oct 10)

All Parties Could Learn From Curtin

If anyone was ever the political father of Australia’s security ties with Washington .. it was, without question, Labor’s John Curtin.

I thought of this melancholy of circumstance after John Howard took his Monday 1am phone call from Washington then went back to bed without letting Kim Beazley know what had happened. Later that day the Prime Minister would burble on about the time and the hair-splitting that, technically, until Parliament was prorogued that very day, there’d been no obligations under the conventions of the caretaker process during an election for him to have informed Beazley of anything at all.

Maybe not. But last week, when Howard announced, with prime time political gravitas, the military “assets” his Government had decided Australia was “making available”, if needed, in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden, he solemnly undertook to keep Beazley “fully informed” of developments. “I want to pay all the courtesies that are due the Opposition Leader,” Howard said. It was, obviously, one of his non-core undertakings.

It wouldn’t have hurt Howard in the slightest to have phoned Beazley at the time of the Washington call, no matter what the ungodly hour. To the contrary, most of us would have regarded it a thoughtful gesture, a simple courtesy, to a political opponent in circumstances of some moment that shouldn’t have aroused political antagonism of any sort. It wasn’t to be.

Howard can be a thoroughly ungenerous twirp when he puts his mind to it, and clearly he sees the election campaign in terms of giving Beazley no quarter, no matter what the circumstance. Paul Keating used to treat Howard like a piece of political rubbish when it suited and Howard has not forgotten or forgiven. You wonder why they think it has to be so bloody-minded all the time.

John Curtin never was, so the books say.

Alan Ramsey – Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 10)

Cold Hand Of History Writes A Tougher Tale

The Howard Government’s support for George Bush’s coalition against international terrorism enjoys the support of Kim Beazley and the Labor Opposition. Properly so. Gone are the days, after the Labor split of the mid-1950s, when significant sections of the ALP flaunted a crude anti-Americanism.

Yet, on any analysis, this is a modest commitment. Even if it is consistent with the Prime Minister’s commitment to back the US to the extent of our capability. It is possible that, when deployed, the 150-strong Australian special forces contingent could be involved in actual conflict. However, such a fate is unlikely to befall Australia’s naval and air force personnel. The Australian Navy will continue to assist the US in interdicting shipping bound for Iraq – a role which it has successfully undertaken for a decade. And the Air Force will be involved in refuelling operations.

… Certainly there are risks for Australia. But not of a kind which would in any sense match those emanating from the conflict between the US and the Soviet Union over Cuba four decades ago. Nor, indeed, the dangers experienced by Australians during the conflicts of the 20th century. Quite a few of which coincided with election campaigns.

… Like all incumbent democratically elected leaders, Howard intends to obtain maximum political benefits from his handling of an international crisis. So did Malcolm Fraser and Menzies before him. And Labor’s John Curtin before them. It goes with the (political) territory.

… Certainly the world has changed since September 11. But it would be unwise to assume that Armageddon is around the corner especially during the excitement of an election campaign. If Armageddon were here, Australia would surely be contributing more than 150 front-line troops to engage the enemy. That’s the (non-hyperbolic) truth.

Gerard Henderson – Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 9)

‘Don’t Tampa With Me’ Hurts Beazley

To win, Beazley will need a campaign strategy that replaces the one he has pursued to date. By trying to emulate Howard’s 1996 low-profile campaign he made at least two cardinal errors. He assumed that Howard would become as unpopular as Paul Keating and that nothing unexpected would derail his campaign.

Beazley’s campaign objective must be to convince people of what he failed to do over the past five years – that is, he wants to be prime minister and that he is the best choice on offer.

To achieve that, the ALP has to dominate in setting the campaign agenda. This is a difficult but not impossible task, due to the poor performance of the Government and the flaws in its re-election strategy waiting to be exploited as the campaign develops.

The US-led alliance is making it clear that the war against terrorism will be a slow, grinding process. This may allow breathing space for the campaign to regain its focus on domestic issues.

Bob Hogg – Financial Review (Oct 8)

The Class War We Ought To Have

The private schools are not morally and ideologically neutral institutions. They are a vital part of the class system. Headmasters may blather on about how the parents of their students work six jobs and scrape and save and go without in order to buy the best education for their children, with scarcely enough left over for two German cars and a shack at Portsea. But the fact of the matter is that the private school system is now, and always has been, the bulwark against the democratic socialist ideal of an education system that is free, compulsory and secular, “a means by which all children, regardless of their background, are given an opportunity to explore their potential”, as The Age editorial puts it.

The headmasters of the posh schools are entitled to defend their privileges, even if there is something deliciously hypocritical about the anti-socialist upper crust going to bat for their richly state-funded school system. You would think, given their ideological position, that they would be morally repelled by the very idea of state funding for their schools, as they are by the notion of state funding for hospitals or public transport or whatever. But they easily rationalise the ideological paradox and live with the duplicity.

The entire education system needs to be investigated and reformed, not by picking off a handful of posh schools, but by examining the whole sorry mess of educational apartheid and tackling it on a grand scale.

Terry Lane – The Age (Oct 7)

Look Back In Anger

Look, I hate to be critical of the country that gave us jazz, Singin’ in the Rain and FDR, but the ineptitude of US foreign policy and the Keystone Kops absurdities of ventures such as Panama, the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam attest to the stupidities of successive presidents, Pentagon chiefs-of-staff and secretaries of state. Not to mention the blithering incompetence of agencies of spooks such as the FBI and the CIA.

Now Bush demands justice. Not UN justice, only US justice. We’re either with or we’re against them. And John Howard, like Tony Blair, has signed a blank cheque … for a US President who, as well as denouncing international agreements on global warming, biological weapons and torture, has refused to sign up for an international court to try war criminals. Why? Do they fear that Kissinger will join Slobodan Milosevic in the dock?

If Australia is to be a true friend of the American people, we must try to rein them in, not urge them on. The US has to learn that its worst enemy is the US.

Phillip Adams – The Australian (Oct 6)

Leaders Reveal Their Finer Side

It is difficult to calculate the domestic electoral value of John Howard’s presence in the US during this tragedy, but it is likely that many Australians were taken by the standing ovation Mr Howard received when he visited Congress.

Or the words of the American ambassador to Australia, Tom Schieffer, when he told a memorial service at Federal Parliament’s Great Hall how he was embraced by Mr Howard when they met in Washington just days after the attack.

“At that moment the anguish on his face, the pain in his voice told me this was more than a Prime Minister greeting an ambassador,” he said. “It was Australia embracing America.”

Cynics can dismiss all this as gushing, overblown American-style melodrama, but they are probably in a small minority.

The former defence minister [Kim Beazley] — nicknamed Bomber Beazley by colleagues — is the kind of bloke who, if prime minister, would probably shine in a crisis similar to that which the world now confronts.

The story persists that even John Howard has remarked privately that, if assembling a Cabinet of War, Mr Beazley would be his first choice from the Labor side.

Other issues will also decide the federal election, but between the positive images the nation has already seen of Howard, and the tendency in times of uncertainty to stick with what you know, a Howard War Cabinet could be Mr Beazley’s best chance of getting back on the frontbench in government.

David Penberthy – The Australian (Oct 5)

Asking Why Is Not To Excuse The Terrorists’ Actions

No-one should argue that al-Qaeda seriously represents the aspirations of Palestinians or Iraqis. But this should not dissuade us from a serious examination of US behaviour towards Palestine, the Gulf States, Afghanistan and other countries in the region. Anyone who thinks that the US is, at most, only guilty of “mistakes” (William Shawcross), “peccadilloes” (Greg Sheridan) or the occasional “unintended tragedy” (Michael Scammell) is wilfully ignorant of Western state terrorism.

Disparaging the efforts to understand these horrific events is myopic and undemocratic. Responding to them “extra-judicially” with a military strike implies that US casualties, unlike, say, Palestinian or British deaths, are worthy of a more serious response. Refusing to understand why the US is so hated and feared in the Middle East and Central Asia is also a profoundly immoral stance because it increases the likelihood that these crimes will be repeated.

Scott Burchill – Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4)

Don’t Discount Labor Just Yet

The paradox of Beazley’s position is that on the eve of Howard’s bid for a third term, Labor has such a narrow range of policies on which to fight him. The ALP would reject this judgment outright, yet it seems to be an entrenched community perception. How did this arise?

Howard is loathed and detested by the ALP’s true believers; he is branded everything from an administrative incompetent to a manipulator of race politics. He is equally damned by Australia’s intellectual class and has been the subject of a bitter attack for nearly five years by the quality media. Yet after a second term in which his fortunes often seem doomed, the arresting feature of Howard’s position today is the sheer narrowness of the political front on which he is challenged and the lack of any publicly perceived alternative vision.

Beazley’s attack is focused upon a degree of GST rollback and a greater commitment to health, education and welfare within an overarching fairness framework. This is a well-researched but modest policy assault. From keeping the budget surplus to confronting the boatpeople, Labor agrees with Howard. Beazley’s approach was long driven by two calculations – that Labor held a winning position and that a more ambitious policy program would give Howard too much scope for a counterattack against the ALP. The question for Labor is whether its policy caution has been outflanked by Howard’s political audacity and luck.

Paul Kelly – The Australian (Oct 3)

Johnny’s Not Home And Hosed Just Yet

But if Labor has a chance, it will come if and when voters look at recent events and question whether they have anything to do with John Howard and the Coalition. Right now, the best guess is they probably won’t because that would be like asking the Titanic survivors how the cruise was until things went wrong.

When Ronald Reagan ran against incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980, he clobbered Jimmy throughout the campaign with this simple question to voters: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? If Beazley were to ask that question, it could resonate with voters here. The responses might range from “Not really”, to “My back’s been acting up”, to “Nothing’s been the same since Sinatra died”, but not many people are going to say they are better off.

That’s always been Howard’s problem. He doesn’t make people better off. He tries to keep them from getting worse off. And we’ve already got the police and fire departments and our accountants trying to do that.

Peter Ruehl – Financial Review (Oct 2)

Our Moral Authority Lost Forever

But the crisis does provide a stark perspective on the bizarre and disgraceful approach by John Howard and his Government to the Afghan asylum-seekers on the Tampa and subsequently the frail vessels from Indonesia. Mr Howard could have saved up to $100 million from a fruitless, cynical, political exercise which tied up a large part of the Australian Navy, developed a financial relationship with highly suspect Nauruan authorities and saw the passage through the Australian Parliament of highly objectionable legislation. Had the asylum-seekers been processed in the normal way, the wasted millions would have been available for the UNHCR instead of the niggardly $14 million the Government gave a week ago. Not only would it have made a difference in the immense effort now being mounted, it would have given Australia a voice of reason and moderation in the international community dealing with the problem. As it is, Australia has lost all semblance of moral authority on the issue.

Canberra Times – Editorial (Oct 1)

Time For PM To Make A Call

Whatever happens over the next few weeks, security issues will hang heavily over the election campaign. There is nothing wrong with that because the terrorist strikes and the arrival of asylum seekers have underlined that some of the post-Cold War verities of the past decade had unsound foundations. This poll may well prove to turn on its head the Australian electoral conventional wisdom that domestic issues decide polls and become the first election since the mid-1960s in which the voters have been more focused on guns than butter.

But there are important domestic issues at stake at this election, even though that has not always appeared to be the case as the two main parties backed away from embracing much vision for the future in the tussle for short-term opinion poll supremacy in the middle part of this year. Just to identify a few. How to make taxation more internationally competitive while also improving the efficiency of government service delivery. How to best reap the benefits that integration with the global economy can bring. How to avoid the industrial and regulatory rigidities that helped bring down Ansett.

It would be unfortunate if hysteria about an imminent war was to drown out a proper election campaign debate about these sorts of issues. This is particularly the case as expectations about a conventional war seem to have been exaggerated since the attacks on the US. Any serious campaign against terrorism will have to be more drawn out and will still be in operation when the next Australian election is called.

Australian Financial Review – Editorial (Sep 29)

Banking On The Suckers Come Election Time

P.T. Barnum once observed that no-one ever went broke underestimating the average intelligence of the general public. It seems that John Howard and the Liberal Party have realised that no-one ever lost an election by doing the same.

The slobbering stupidity shown by people in their readiness to jettison Labor’s plans for science, research and education in favour of Howard’s macho posturing is sickening in the extreme.

Do people not realise that Howard’s cuts to national defence and the customs service have jeopardised the security of this country more than any boatload of pathetic refugees ever could? While the pathetic remnants of our Navy are sent to the Gulf and in hot pursuit of the Tampa, who is keeping an eye on the dozens of drug-runners landing on our unprotected shores? How can we forge any co-operation links with our northern neighbours while consistently refusing to speak to them in their languages?

Ryszard Linkiewicz (SMH Letters to the Editor, Sep 29)

Freedom Cannot Be Negotiable

To hold unusual ideas and values, to think even subversive thoughts does not make a person a criminal. Currently, a legitimate fear of terrorism is attaching to Australia’s historical fear of ‘foreigners’. Unfamiliar habits are being interpreted as threats. Refugees are being confused with terrorists. The culture of tolerance that Australians have also historically embraced is at risk of turning against itself.

In the centenary of Australia’s Constitution, we should not forget that under great pressure and much fear, in the midst of the Cold War, Australians resisted the invitation to restrict the liberties they believed to define their country. In the weeks to come we should remember this history when we are invited to do likewise.”

Helen Irving (The Australian, Sep 29)

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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