From Times onLine
It could have been much worse. On Saturday John Howard and his Government were ejected with an enormous swing, but for the past two weeks the Australian Liberal Party had been facing electoral Armageddon.
Though in the end it was badly beaten, despite a campaign in which everything seemed to go wrong it was no 1997.
The closest thing to a Portillo moment was Howard’s defeat in his own seat of Bennelong, but given his majority that was hardly a surprise.
Over the course of the campaign, the Government had endured an interest-rate rise (the sixth in a row), the release of an official report that showed it had spent millions pork-barrelling its own seats, and the revelation that a senior member of the party had been caught delivering forged campaign literature designed to stir up hatred against Muslims.
The wonder is not that it lost, but that it held so many of its seats.
Why did Howard lose?
Part of the explanation is that the voters were sick of him. He had been a fixture in national life since 1977 when Malcolm Fraser made him Treasurer.
Over that time, as all politicians will, he shaded the truth on occasion. His particular skill was to make statements that appeared cast-iron but which on closer examination allowed considerable wriggle room should circumstances change.
For this reason Howard was very rarely caught telling lies, but as the years went by the impression increased that he was economical with the truth. The focus groups must have picked this up, because this year all Labor politicians have been repeating a line to deadly effect: “John Howard is a very clever politician.”
The 2004 Election
Looking back, the signs that Australians were beginning to weary of Howard were there before his last election victory in 2004. He won then with an increased majority by successfully painting the Labor leader, Mark Latham, as a flake, not fit to be trusted with the economy. The emphatic nature of that win led people to overlook that for much of the previous three years Labor had been ahead in the polls, suggesting that Howard’s appeal was fading, and that only at the last minute had voters decided that Latham was too risky.
As it turned out, Latham was a flake: within three months of the election he had cracked up and resigned from Parliament, forcing Labor to resurrect Kim Beazley.
Howard seemed invincible. He had a big majority courtesy of Latham. He had an Opposition leader he had beaten twice before and who he was sure he could beat again.
He even had control of the Senate, the first Prime Minister to do so for 25 years. In these circumstances, why would he retire to hand over to his unpopular deputy, Peter Costello? The back bench was not telling him to go, indeed most of its members were begging him to stay.
Howard's Position Built on Sand
Alas, Howard's position was built on sand: his big majority was not a reflection of his popularity, but Latham's unpopularity.
Labor soon realised that Beazley was a dud and replaced him with the fresh-faced former diplomat Kevin Rudd, who it was clear was no Latham. But it was Howard's control of the Senate more than anything else that was to prove his undoing.
For years he had longed to change Australia’s industrial relations system, watering down unfair dismissal laws and making it easier for bosses to move workers from collective agreements (negotiated by unions) on to individual contracts; but the Senate had made this impossible.
Now armed with a Senate majority Howard pushed through Work Choices – probably the most unpopular law in Australian history.
At a stroke the Liberal Party lost the working-class voters who had been the bedrock of its electoral success and on Saturday they sent it packing.
Labour's Message to Voters
If Labor is absent from the picture, it is because, by and large, Labor went out of its way to make the election about the Government.
Rudd’s message was simple: “If you want to get rid of that tricky old politician John Howard, then vote for me. If you want to get rid of Work Choices, vote for me.”
What Rudd really wants to do now he is in government is anyone‘s guess.
Oppositions don’t win elections, Governments lose them.
Where there was no obvious electoral advantage in disagreeing with him, Rudd was happy to lead a “me too” party. Labor was also very good at turning Howard’s gifts as a politician against him.
At every opportunity it praised his intelligence and cunning, so that voters began to see calculation whenever he opened his mouth.
SO LONG, JOHN
DING dong, the witch is dead. No more lies, cover-ups, stupid wars, trashing of our environment and brutalisation of refugees.
At least, I live in hope, as do the vast bulk of Australians who turned their back on John Howard after his 11 years in power.
I'm not sure which I'd rather be now, a fly on the wall at Kirribilli when Janette is forced to remove her clutches from the drapes, or over at the Liberals' post-mortem.
What a bloodbath that will be, full of recriminations and battles for supremacy. John Howard has, of course, endorsed Peter Costello as his successor -- the future of the Liberal Party, such as it is.
But Costello is not having any of that, which leaves the way for either Turnbull or Nelson to slug it out.
If he wants to seek job opportunities in the private sector, I'd recommend checking out the paper-shredding industry, which is surely set to boom.
Gosh, I'm feeling chirpy. I realise such blatant jubilation is possibly ungracious but really, can you imagine the triumphalism if Howard had got back in?
We'd never have heard the end of it. He'd have been lauded as a little Menzies and been utterly unbearable on his morning walkies, doing that silly slapping high-five thing he adopted over recent times to make himself look hip.
Frankly, I was disappointed that Kevin didn't rub his nose in it on election night. Which is why I'm doing it for him now.
Howard wouldn't have been so decent in victory. He'd have been gloating and sinking the boot into Labor like there's no tomorrow. As would his supporters.
Yes, I realise there are some people who are upset, like the silly newsreader on Channel 7 who said she cried when Howard conceded defeat. Stiff. He has only himself to blame.
When confronted with bad polls John Howard faced his worried Cabinet and asked with incredulity, is it me?
Yes, John it was you -- your pride, puffed-up ego, dirty tricks, profligate bribery and streak of cruelty.
When your colleagues wanted to oust you you refused, on Janette's advice, to step aside.
How fitting, then, that after hiding behind your wife's skirt another sheila has given you a hiding in Bennelong.
What a bravura performance by Ms McKew. And what a stunning faux pas by ABC bloodnut Kerry O'Brien when he called the swing to Max a swing to the ABC, rather than the ALP. That'll take some living down.
As will the behaviour of several others. Journalist Caroline Overington hardly covered herself in glory during the campaign, what with her emails to candidates ranging from raunchy to threatening, then slapping the Labor candidate's face in front of witnesses.
She says it was a push, not a slap. Either way, not a good look.
Nor was the Age's pathetic, long-winded fence-sitting editorial. So many words, so little respect for readers.
Who would have imagined that the Age, renowned for its soft-Left bent, would refuse to openly back Rudd, when even The Australian, Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail did so?
Some might say the campaign was as dull as the Age's grip on its readers' sentiments. Not me. There were plenty of highlights.
For a while it looked as if Kevin's proclivity for chewing ear wax and perving at topless barmaids would bring him undone.
Strangely enough, it only served to endear him to a public keen for change.
It was the behaviour of Kevin's opponents that proved most remarkable.
Bribes, threats, scare tactics -- it was vintage stuff.
Lest we forget, there was John Howard's rattled, worm-strangling debate performance; Alexander Downer hissing and spitting like an alley cat whenever Rudd's name was mentioned; Tony Abbott's uncharacteristic loss of control when the going got tough.
They were nothing compared with Jackie Kelly and Kevin Andrews, though.
Kelly's defence of her husband's bogus flyers linking Labor to terrorism was pure idiocy.
And Andrews' ripping down of an opponent's election posters at a polling booth was stunningly petulant.
What joy. Kevin, Julia et al -- congratulations. Just don't stuff it up. Please.
The Rudd to Nowhere
by Guy Rundle
(Guy Rundle is an Arena (Australia) Publications Editor, and author of The Opportunist: John Howard and the Triumph of Political Reaction, (Melbourne, Black Inc, 2001).
Eleven years after Australians comprehensively voted in John Howard, said by some to be the most conservative prime minister in our history, they have booted him out again, selecting Australian Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd with the sort of swing – six per cent – that passes for a landslide in contemporary electoral politics.
Paul Keating, the Labor prime minister deposed by Howard in 1996, summed up the mood for many when he said that his dominant emotion following Howard’s departure was not so much happiness, but rather a sense of relief. ‘Relief’ is a curious emotion to nominate as your first reaction to the success of your own party, denoting the absence of the negative – the worst hasn’t happened – rather than enthusiasm for any positive, transformative programme. But Keating is spot-on in his assessment of where the Australian people are at: both the Ruddslide itself and the reaction to it tell us much the country, and also about the predicament of Western electoral politics in general.
Australia, 9/11 and immigration
John Howard, and the Liberal/National Party coalition he led (the Liberal Party party is effectively a Conservative party; the National Party is exclusively a rural-based party) has dominated federal Australian politics for a decade, especially in the past five years. First elected in 1996, Howard had run overwhelmingly on a campaign against ‘political correctness’, targeting Labor prime minister Paul Keating’s growing obsession with addressing some dominant issues in Australian life – the country’s relationship to Britain, aboriginal/non-aboriginal relations, etc – because they had alienated a socially conservative section of the working class on which Labor’s vote had been based. Yet his support remained shaky, and he effectively lost the 1998 election, winning by the fluke of seat distribution.
What confirmed Howard in power was the almost simultaneous occurrence of the Tampa crisis, in August 2001, and the attack on the Twin Towers the following month. The Tampa was a Norwegian container ship that had taken on a large group of refugees from a sinking ship in the Indian Ocean. The captain was refused permission to dock in Australia, but when he attempted to dock anyway, the vessel was occupied by the Australian military. The bizarre events brought to a head the sharply polarised views on the government’s ‘mandatory detention’ policy – indefinitely imprisoning asylum seekers in desert prison camps – with a solid 70 per cent of Australians supporting the policy.
The era of the ‘war on terror’ confirmed Howard as the ‘natural’ leader of the country in dangerous times, a view reinforced by an adulatory conservative-dominated press. Yet the principal effect of these years was not hegemony but hubris; gaining control of the Senate (the upper house) in 2004, Howard introduced a series of laws – ‘Workchoices’ – designed to dissolve most of the remnants of Australia’s centralised wage-fixing system, and sharply restrict the ability of trade union organisers to enter workplaces. The result was an immediate, instant and decisive shift of support back to Labor, which had chosen a leader, Rudd, who was the first to be seen as dependable after a few Labor duds.
Simultaneously, the Iraq war – never popular with the electorate, aside from a few weeks at the time of the 2003 invasion – became immired. Howard’s slavish devotion to the American alliance (he had once said that Australia could play the role of ‘deputy’ to the US sheriff in the Pacific region) became a liability as the war on terror’s image changed to that of duplicitous farce. No longer serving as a national unifier, Iraq became a source of discredit, and it attached itself to other policy positions running contrary to the mass of Australian public opinion, such as the decision not to sign up to the Kyoto accord.
By the early part of 2007, Howard simply couldn’t take a trick, and his politics became desperately opportunistic – sending the military in to occupy Australian aboriginal communities one month (to ‘restore law and order’), promising a referendum on racial reconciliation the next – and so on. It was an attempt to find any front for a new social division, in which the primary social conflict between the ‘battlers’ and the ‘elites’ (cultural not financial) could be opened up.
The collapse of political difference
Howard’s instincts were right – his problem was that he was faced with a Labor leader who did not put forward a dramatically alternative programme, but instead offered, embarrassingly, to endorse many of Howard’s attitudes, leaving very little space between them on a range of issues.
The result was effectively a political vacuum for six months, during which time it became clear that the public had made up its mind, and little would change it either way. In this vacuum – a fully post-political space in a country more socially atomised than most – the findings of opinion polls came to occupy the centre of political commentary and reflection in the media. Yet this was not because the polls were moving; in fact they weren’t – they hovered around a 55-45 preference for Labor, with occasional fluctuations for most of the year.
The Labor party that fairly effortlessly replaced Howard in the subsequent campaign is thus a cautious centre-right administration, which has hedged its bets magnificently. Though it will, or claims it will, withdraw Australian combat troops from Iraq, it will remain in Afghanistan. Though it will remove much of the ‘Workchoices’ legislation, it will try to leave key restrictions on union organisation, wildcat strikes and so on in place. Its plans for education and healthcare reform (which it must conduct in line with the state governments, under Australia’s federal system) will be modest, and are unlikely to address the growing inequality in access in what was once a substantially fairer system. Much of its programme – and the base of its support – has simply been around undoing what the Howard government has done on many issues.
This is in part because, on the surface, Australia is doing well economically, with low unemployment, high incomes and increasing assets in increasingly many hands. Yet that has served not only to hide the shaky base of economic prosperity, but also to naturalise the remaining areas of urban and rural poverty and lack of opportunity as simply being beyond remedy.
Increasingly Australia has taken its self-image from outside – from the rapturous appreciation by British and Americans of a country where detached housing, good schools, stable work and good affordable basic medical care contrasts with a perceived torpor of the former and the substantial inequality of the latter in Britain and America themselves. Yet this hides what could be taken from this newfound prosperity, if the will was there. The cost of home ownership in a society which used to see owning your home as a right has gone from two-and-a-half times one’s income to an average of seven times, a process sold as inevitable by asking the (shrinking) band of homeowners to focus on the fabulous appreciating value of their bricks-and-mortar.
Consequently, the other side of the Australian boom has been underplayed until now – that it has been based on substantial underinvestment in infrastructure, high-end manufacturing and, above all, education and research, the government running heavy budget surpluses to return tax cuts. The result is an economy overly dependent on mining, and demand for its products in the Chinese economy, with a severe trade deficit.
Labor, currently in control of all state governments as well as the federal government in Canberra, now has an opportunity few administrations have had: to push forward substantial change without the fear of policies being derailed by state-level opposition, as has happened in the past. Unfortunately, it is an oppporunity that Rudd’s government looks very unlikely to seize.
The Liberals under Howard
For the Liberal/National opposition, prospects are dire. The National Party is disappearing, many of its former rural seats becoming regional suburban centres. Hitherto based on unabashed rural socialism and urban capitalism – subsidies for uneconomic farmers, master-and-servant law for workers, etc – it has no principled base from which to speak.
The same is true for the Liberal Party. This is a new development and one that owes much to John Howard’s determination that his politics would come not from an assertion of a positive set of values, as such, but as correctives or responses to the supposed dominance of Australian life by inner-city left-liberal ‘elites’. This move – on issues as broad as indigenous relations, migration policy and school curricula – exploited the fact that what had been a progressive alliance between such ‘minority’ groups and the broader working class in the Seventies had collapsed into mutual distrust in the Nineties, as Paul Keating’s harsh economic reconstruction hit manufacturing jobs, while he became increasingly elitist in his celebration of high art, promoting colonial history as guilt, and occasionally berating Australians for not being, well, Europeans.
The Liberals thus represented themselves as the party standing up for those victimised by anti-patriotic cosmopolitans. The ‘elites’ had imposed a ‘black armband’ view of history; they had made it impossible to talk openly about the ‘Muslim threat’; they had alienated our history and identity from us by turning the curriculum into a deconstructive mish-mash. The Liberals would stand up for Australian values – ‘mateship’, the ‘fair go’ – against these alien imports.
There was some truth to the Liberals’ charges. Much cultural-left politics was self-defeating and unreflectively elitist. Indigenous politics had become trapped in a politics of symbolism, in which notions of ‘reconciliation’ and a government apology for past eugenics policies meant making indigenous people, once again, subject to the will of whites – waiting to be granted their own subjectivity by white acts. Howard’s canny refusal to apologise, offering instead a statement of regret, endeared him to people tired of being blamed for massacres they didn’t commit. And Liberals were right that school curricula had been transformed by educationists keen on post-structuralist ideas – despite concerted opposition from a materialist left – in ways that delivered a less-than-rigorous education.
The corrosive effect of opposition
Yet by focusing on these relatively minor features of most people’s lives, well beyond the point at which they had seemed to be urgent issues, the Liberal party set itself up for an internal collapse. By the end of its decade in power, it was wholly defined by what it was not, and once Labor had begun to shadow it, there was no political player on the stage to define itself against. The Liberal party simply failed to understand where that distinctive Australian self-conception, or the mateship thing, came from: that is, from a solidaristic trade-union tradition. Thus it attempted to sell its changes to employment law in an American-style language of ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’, only realising when it was too late that the party would founder on that very notion of Australian solidarity that it had being playing to.
Since Federation in 1901, right-wing parties in Australia have always defined themselves against Labor. Until the 1980s, they could call on a sense of British national identity and loyalty to do this. Once this appeal collapsed, as large-scale immigration changed the composition of the country, they were forced into an explicit theft of Labor’s dominant traditions. Had they prudently avoided tinkering with the wage-arbitration system – a core of Australian life since 1907 – they might have gained an extra term. But sooner or later they would have faced the problem that they had not committed themselves to any positive statement of something to stand for. Howard’s 1996 comment that he wanted Australians to feel ‘comfortable and relaxed’ about themselves lacked, in the long term, any notion of a sense of collective aspiration and mission that might animate politics.
The Liberals now face the problem that all parties going into opposition face across the advanced world: there is no clear programme amongst the established mainstream parties that they might define themselves in opposition to. In Australia, the conservative collapse has already begun. With Howard likely to lose his seat, and retiring in any case, the heir apparent Peter Costello stunned many by announcing that he would not seek the leadership of the party, and instead would leave politics. He was followed by the leader of the National Party, Mark Vaile. Others will follow, an exodus beyond the usual changing of the guard. It is a response to the fact that official political opposition is now the very negation of life, a ghastly charade that no-one wants to be trapped in. Those who survive will be the party’s hard right – fundamentalist Christians on an explicitly US neoconservative model, so far outside of the Australian political tradition that they would render the party a permanent rump.
Meanwhile, many people who cheered – as I did – at Rudd’s victory, will soon find out what even a couple of years of New Labour in the UK taught Britons: that the coercive soft and hard power deployed by one-time social democratic parties, their shaping of a culture which invites people to consent to unfreedom in the name of community and safety, will have to be contested and challenged on an entirely different basis.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
From Times onLine
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Welcoming a different direction for a new Australia
(Sabam Siagian was senior editor and first chief editor of The Jakarta Post (1983-1991), and served as Indonesian ambassador to Australia from 1991 to 1995)
Read here in Jakarta Post
As expected, since various polls have predicted it throughout the year, the Labor Party convincingly emerged as the victor from Australia's general election last Saturday.
This political event means the end for Prime Minister John Howard's political career. As leader of a coalition of his own Liberal Party and the National Party, Howard has led Australia along a conservative policy avenue for more than 11 and a half years.
As if to underline the finality of the passing of an era, John Howard could even lose his own seat in the electorate of Bennelong, on Sydney's north shore.
He misinterpreted his election victory in March 1996, defeating then PM Paul Keating's Labor Party, as if it were a clear indication that the majority of the Australian electorate rejected Keating's outward looking foreign policy initiatives.
Keating's political style was perhaps too abrasive but his grand strategy was sound and correct, as its very purpose was to safeguard Australia's geopolitical future in the rapidly changing Asia-Pacific region.
As he stated so often, always using graphic language (I am paraphrasing here), Australia could not escape the vast strategic shifts taking place in the Asia-Pacific region by attaching an outboard motor to the country that could move Australia in the direction of North America.
What actually took place during the years of Howard, to borrow Keating's illustration, was that two "outboard motors" have been propelling Australia's historical movement.
Its economy was very much stimulated by impressive export figures of mining products to China in order to satisfy its insatiable demand caused by double-digit economic growth, a sort of "outboard motor" that could push the country incrementally within China's power radius.
However, Howard's all-out support for President George W. Bush Jr.'s brand of U.S. unilateral global policy (especially, welcoming the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, which turned out to be hastily planned and poorly implemented, probably caused by an arrogance of power only a mono-superpower such as the U.S. could afford to entertain) has acted as the other "outboard motor", nudging Australia to become a semi-puppet state of America.
The description of Australia as a "sheriff" in Asia protecting U.S. interests has been attributed to Howard, something he denies, but it does reflect indirectly the mentality of a semi-puppet state affected by an inflated sense of self-importance.
Howard simply cannot fathom how his meek kow-towing to Washington has significantly reduced the efficacy of Australia's foreign policy in Asia, despite his numerous visits to various Asian capitals (or, in the case of Indonesia, to the more pleasant alternative of Bali) and Canberra's various generous aid programs.
Australia's political body language sends off signals that are viewed as an extension of American arrogance and insensitivity.
Now Australia has a new prime minister, young (50 years old) and forward-looking. He has stated that he is the prime minister of all Australians and is only interested in Australia's future.
The fact that he speaks Mandarin with a correct accent does not only demonstrate his linguistic ability but, more importantly, reveals his empathy for the inner psyche of, arguably, the most important power in Asia for years to come.
I am convinced that Kevin Rudd will resurrect Paul Keating's grand policy of a broad engagement with a modernizing Asia, so abruptly halted with the rise of John Howard in 1996.
The new prime minister has stated that the strengthening of the Australian education system is high on his priority list. I assume that will also include the restoration of Asian Studies in various Australian universities, which became drastically unpopular during the Howard administration.
A pool of competent specialists on different aspects of Asian developments will provide a solid underpinning for the conduct of a rigorous Australian foreign policy. We, Australia's Asian neighbors, welcome such a foreign policy as a manifestation of a new Australia that will wholeheartedly cooperate toward the completion of a new geopolitical architecture in the Asia-Pacific region.
A technologically modern Australia with a robust economy that is ready and willing to share its advantages with the rest of Asia, poised for a quantum leap towards full modernization, will surely be welcomed with a genuine recognition that it is a part of us.
Towards the end of Paul Keating's remarkable book, Engagement: Australia Faces the Asia-Pacific (Sydney 2000), the author posed these probing questions:
"Is our country's future in Asia? Will hundreds of thousands of jobs continue to depend on Asian markets? Will our security still be shaped there? Do we want to play a role in Asia's political institutions? Is Asia really where our vital interests lie? If the answer is yes, we have no alternative to engagement with it." Further down that page (297), Keating displayed his sense of realism when he wrote: "... it is not necessary to romanticize Asia to see our engagement with it as one of the most exciting enterprises in which Australia can be involved."
Prime minister-elect Kevin Rudd and the Australian Labor Party will provide that sort of visionary leadership, inspired by the set of questions posed by his immediate Labor predecessor, and will shape a new Australia to become an indispensable cornerstone of the 21st century geopolitical architecture encompassing a stable and dynamic Asia-Pacific region.
Monday, November 26, 2007
From Sydney Morning Herald : Read Here original article
AUSTRALIA in 2007 is a paradox.
Most people believe the country is heading in the right direction. Economic times are good, the outgoing Government retained strong credentials on economic management and national security and was led by a prime minister who retained remarkably high ratings.
So why did the Coalition lose?
It was outflanked by a sophisticated campaign that drew on overseas techniques and the resources of a galvanised trade union movement. Recently, Stephen Denning, the author of The Secret Language Of Leadership, was in Sydney.
His thesis is that the art of successful leadership requires the ability to tell a story. The story is the vehicle for establishing a personal and emotional connection between the speaker and his audience. Rational argument will not win people over. The speaker must get their attention, stimulate the desire for change and then reinforce it with rational argument. His solutions must be plausible and involve a happy ending.
Kevin Rudd's campaign was successful in crafting such a narrative.
His mantra was that he had a plan to deal with these issues: sign Kyoto, an education revolution, roll out broadband and abolish Work Choices. He promised a petrol commissioner and an inquiry into grocery prices. He framed his responses in the language of the kitchen table. He established a personal connection with the electorate. No amount of facts and figures was going to overcome the empathy factor.
Essential Media in Melbourne was responsible for the campaign, which drew on the work of Democrat pollsters in the United States. The Democrats have become adept at exploiting the insecurities of working-class voters in the US.
These pollsters acknowledge the superior macro-economic credentials of the Republicans but frame the economic question differently: who is best able to manage the economy in the interest of working families?
Translated to Australia, this campaign became the basis for promoting more intervention in the labour market and for a relentless focus on the mantra of working families when explaining Labor policy. Rudd was able to proclaim himself an economic conservative at the macro level and pro-family at the micro level.
Did the voters stop listening to the Coalition?
There were suggestions that voters picked up on individual Coalition issues but it was too late. Barring a last-minute Labor hiccup, the voters had established a connection with Rudd that was hard to shake.
The challenge for the Coalition is twofold.
It does not mean junking Liberal values. The challenge is how we apply those values to meet the changing concerns of Australians.
From The Guardian (UK) -Leader
Australians do not know whether they have just committed a very bold act or a very small one.
By throwing out their conservative prime minister, John Howard, in Saturday's election they may have dramatically tipped their nation away from the insularity, fear and materialism that he had encouraged.
Many Australians hope so. But hope is not the same as substance, and even as the incoming Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, accepted victory he sought to reassure his country about the limits to change.
Kevin Rudd fought a campaign that defied electoral gravity, achieving a landslide victory against a still-popular leader at a time of record prosperity.
John Howard, thedefeated Liberal leader, appealed to the meaner side of the national character which was not generous: an Australia that defied the world on climate change, and sought refuge from its own history on race and the rights of its indigenous people.
At its worst the Howard government represented a distasteful reaction to modernity, and its repeated exploitation of this to achieve electoral success offered an unhealthy example to the political right around the world.
That is why Mr Howard's defeat has a significance that runs beyond Australia. The politics of progress beat the politics of retreat.
The immediate consequences will be felt more abroad than at home. Iraq featured little in the campaign, but Mr Rudd will move to pull out Australian troops, further isolating President Bush. He will attend next month's Bali summit on climate change, the first leader to represent his country at such talks, and ratify the Kyoto protocol, leaving the United States alone.
These are important shifts in international policy - but they may not be matched by domestic change after a campaign that saw Mr Rudd ape many of Mr Howard's policies.
Observers in Britain, who may expect a radical shift on the monarchy, or the rights of indigenous people, will be left disappointed. Change, when it comes, will be gradual - a cleansing of values rather than a revolution in policy.
This is what most Australians want and Mr Rudd knows that if he had proposed something more radical, he would have lost.
There is no doubting his ability or his intense hard work.
Now he has won he will be tested in office to show whether a restrained and stale campaign can nonetheless breed a prime minister able to escape caution and govern - as he claims to want to do - for a bigger purpose.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Australia: Prime Minister John Howard - The Last of the War-Mongering Triumvirate of Bush-Blair-Howard
Read here article by Bernard Lagan , "Decade of victories set to end in day of humiliation for lame duck" in Times Online (UK)
He is the world’s most enduring conservative leader, a man of steel, in the words of George W. Bush. Yet, after more than a decade in office and, now, overseeing an economic boom of a scale barely seen before in Australia, John Howard appears to be heading for oblivion when the country votes tomorrow.
It could not only be the end of the Liberal-National coalition Government that he has led since 1996 but also, ignominiously, the loss of the seat of Bennelong in suburban Sydney that Mr Howard has represented for 33 years in the Australian Parliament.
Were he to lose his seat – and the polls say that it is likely - Mr Howard will be only the second prime minister in Australian history to find himself voted out of Parliament.
Yesterday he was battling to contain a scandal after Liberal campaigners were exposed distributing pamphlets accusing the Opposition of sympathising with terrorists. Howard supporters were caught delivering leaflets attributed to a bogus Islamic organisation that urged voters to support the opposition Labor Party because it approved of forgiving terrorists involved in the deadly 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.
“I do not believe that the Australian Labor Party has ever had sympathy for the Bali bombings, and I thought it was an outrageous thing to say,” Mr Howard said. “It was tasteless and offensive.”
It is a remarkable comedown for the big-spending populist. He is the diminutive 69-year-old who, memorably, turned the country’s SAS forces on a bunch of impoverished, ragged asylum-seekers before winning the 2001 election.
He is the former solicitor who used his renowned capacity for fear-mongering to win the last election in 2004, when he mounted a scare campaign against the Labor Party’s ability to hold down interest rates.
He is the hard-of-hearing grandad who prides himself on being in touch with the aspirations of ordinary Australians.
There is no single answer for John Howard’s rapidly declining popularity. Undoubtedly he has suffered poor luck. He has, however, also been the victim of his own unfortunate timing and misread the true level of support he enjoys among his colleagues. And he has stayed too long.
Mr Howard’s poor luck came in the middle of the six-week election campaign when the central Reserve Bank of Australia decided to increase interest rates just as he was declaring that only his Government could be trusted to run the economy. The rate increase was the sixth since the 2004 election, in which Mr Howard crushed Mark Latham, then Labor leader, by claiming that he lacked the experience to manage the economy.
After the latest increase, Mr Howard protested that his Government was a victim of its own economic success, which is partly true because the mining-led boom has fuelled inflation. This hardly blunted a claim by Kevin Rudd, the Labor leader, that the Prime Minister could no longer be trusted.
This week Mr Howard had the opportunity to revive his reelection chances at his party’s official campaign launch in Brisbane. He relied on his favourite late-campaign formula: the big spend.
He offered another A$9.5 billion (£4 billion), taking the total value of his preelection promises to A$65 billion.
Only two hours before Mr Howard’s speech, the Reserve Bank had given warning that further large increases in government spending would put yet more upward pressure on interest rates.
The economic commentary was scathing of Mr Howard’s tactics. That was why Mr Rudd attracted wild applause at his campaign launch two days later when he rejected the idea of further big spending promises by the Labor Party.
Finally, it was Mr Howard’s misreading of the support that he enjoyed from his ministers that forced him in September to declare that he would stand aside as Prime Minister during his next term if he won tomorrow’s election. He nominated Peter Costello, 50, his ambitious deputy and Treasurer, as his successor.
The Prime Minister’s declaration has turned him into a lame duck.
It has allowed the Labor Party to argue that nothing Mr Howard promises for the future can be believed because he will not stay in the job. And attempts by Mr Howard and Mr Costello to portray a newfound sense of bonhomie during the campaign have appeared forced and unconvincing.
Mr Howard was still arguing yesterday that the Government could win the election, but with the coalition trailing heavily in the polls, he appeared a man going through the motions, without conviction.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
(Historian Ross McMullin's most recent book is Will Dyson: Australia's Radical Genius)
Read here full article in The Age (Australia)
VARIOUS commentators have highlighted similarities between the 1996 election campaign and the current one, especially concerning opposition tactics. But little recent attention has been paid to 1996 in the context of what happened after that election. This neglect suits John Howard.
In the lead-up to the 1996 election Howard delivered a series of vague "headland" speeches that were deliberately long on generalities and short on specifics.
What was specific was his guarantee during the campaign that an incoming Howard government would retain numerous social policy initiatives of the Keating government.
During the 1996 campaign Howard was asked whether this pledge was qualified in any way, whether he may have to modify it in response to unforeseen contingencies that he might encounter in office. Not at all, he insisted. The guarantee was absolute and unconditional.
Another feature of Howard's 1996 campaign, remarkable though this appears in hindsight, was his emphasis on restoring the electorate's trust in politicians.
Having won the 1996 election, Howard swiftly dismantled many of the previous government's initiatives that he had pledged to retain. While this breach of trust was most blatantly evident in higher education, labour market programs and the ABC, a range of other cuts in the 1996 horror budget also clearly contravened Howard's pre-election promises. Howard's justification has become part of Australian political folklore. These undertakings didn't really count, he explained, because they were non-core promises.
In the context of contested credibility in the 2007 campaign, some commentators have contrasted the failure to mention WorkChoices before the 2004 election with its subsequent introduction after the Howard Government's horizons expanded in response to its unexpected Senate majority.
However, it is the 1996 background, not 2004, that makes Howard's strident 2007 accusations about Labor's intentions most hypocritical.
Howard's own conduct in 1996 was the most flagrant display of precisely what he now desperately asserts is Labor's (alleged) reprehensible plan. He no doubt hopes that the current collective amnesia about 1996 persists.
Moreover, in view of Howard's record in government beyond 1996, he displays extraordinary effrontery in making accusations about trust and credibility at all.
This is not just a consequence of his predicament arising from his pledge on interest rates, which was the centrepiece of his 2004 election campaign and has left his economic credibility self-evidently in tatters.
There are all the other episodes since he announced the concept of the non-core promise — children overboard (another crucial election issue grounded in deceit), AWB bribes and the Iraq disaster.
For months Howard kept denying that he had decided to send Australian formations to Iraq when this was obviously false.
It has become apparent that the purported premise for our involvement, weapons of mass destruction, also was obviously false.
Following America into Iraq has not been in our national interest. Iraq has become, as many commentators predicted, a bloody quagmire, and the invasion that we joined has not only created more potential terrorists but made Australia more of a terrorist target.
Australians understand this, even though Howard and his ministers keep denying the obvious and coerce officials into toeing the Government line.
In view of Howard's record on Iraq, it would be hard for Australians to believe or trust him if he declared in the future that there were compelling reasons for Australia to follow America into some other conflict. Howard's credibility is as diminished on national security as it is on interest rates.
John Howard, the leader who said in opposition he would make a priority of restoring trust in politicians, has in office placed himself in a class of his own for deceitfulness in modern Australian politics. Since Federation, in fact, only Billy Hughes — who was prime minister from 1915 to 1923 — could be ranked with Howard for public untruthfulness (short-lived prime minister Billy McMahon was regarded as a notorious liar, but it seems this was more evident in private than in public).
Furthermore, it is not only Howard's repeated willingness to be cavalier with the truth that has undermined our political culture. The emergence of the concept of plausible deniability during his Government has debauched the bureaucracy.
The public service used to provide frank and free advice, and still should. Instead, public servants who should have been telling Howard and his ministers unpalatable things — children had not really been thrown overboard — realised that ministers didn't want to be told so they could keep pretending to the public that they didn't know. (In this context Kevin Rudd's announced intention to revert to more traditional public service conduct is welcome.)
With John Howard's record establishing him incontrovertibly as a serial deceiver, he has a nerve to point the finger about credibility.
Monday, November 05, 2007
"To the (ongoing) extent that AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which calls itself 'America's Pro-Israel Lobby' – is trying to legitimize a military showdown between the United States and Iran, it is advancing its own concerns at the expense of larger American interests. The people who are doing this are not from one ethnic group in the conventional sense but are mainly of one religion (Jewish)." "Someone in the audience asked if the Israeli government couldn't take action. 'Good question,' Levin said. 'Many many times we have urged in regard to American coverage – to really, really serious defamatory reports in the American media – we have urged the Israel government, whether it was the IDF or some other components of officialdom, to be involved. Times that we thought that legal actions could be taken.' But evidently that couldn't happen in Israel, where they have a 'very free press.'"
The Israel Lobby: "We have an 'unwritten contract' with the American Media"
" The American media is much, much more geared to understanding that there is an unwritten contract between them and us, and that is, that things should be factually accurate, and we get corrections all the time...."What is this "Unwritten Contract"?
I'll tell you what it is: it's an Agreement to censor anything and everything that offends the Lobby and its glorified, sanitized view of Israel.
Here, after all, is a country (Israel) that practices apartheid, imprisons children, and was founded on ethnic cleansing and bigoted religious obscurantism – and yet they present themselves to the world as a valiant little "democracy," a beleaguered outpost of "the West" in the midst of an Arab sea. It takes a lot of cosmetics to hide the true face of this dog, and that's what CAMERA is all about – prettifying an increasingly ugly reality.
The Lobby reserves the right to censor any material that presents Israel in a more realistic light, and anyone who opposes them in their mission on behalf of a foreign power is smeared as an "anti-Semite."
When National Public Radio (NPR) refused to kowtow to their demands for more favorable coverage of Israel, they mounted a vicious campaign of demonization that led to huge financial losses to the station.
NPR, which CAMERA called "National Palestine Radio" – a bit of racist snark that they feel powerful enough to get away with – soon mended its ways.
At a moment's notice, CAMERA can unleash its winged monkeys to bury an offending media outlet in an avalanche of phone calls, e-mails, and angry missives via snail mail taking the "anti-Semitic" offender to task.
Weiss recorded Levin's comments at an unusual event: a CAMERA conference on "Jewish defamers of Israel."
Among the speakers, aside from Levin, were Indiana University professor Alvin Rosenfeld, whose "study" [.pdf] of the "Jewish defamers" targets Jews who question the Lobby's motives and "unwritten contracts" with the American media.
Among the alleged "defamers": former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis and Henry Siegman, director of the U.S./Middle East Project at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Why single out Jews – a tactic that would get any other organization in a whole lot of trouble, at least from a public relations point of view? Because that's precisely what Israeli ultra-nationalists like CAMERA can't abide – someone they can't smear as an anti-Jewish bigot raising his or her voice against the Lobby and speaking truth to the gathering power of the Israeli state.
The "anti-Semite" canard doesn't work when applied to, say, Michael Lerner or Philip Weiss. And that's their only defense: these days, it's the only way they can prevent a real discussion about Israel's relations with the U.S. and the Lobby's distortion of American foreign policy.
So when that fails, they're essentially left without any arguments, except the sort of special pleading that any advocate of dual loyalties engages in – and that is no longer quite enough.
Not when the price we must pay for our "loyalty" to Israel is yet another Middle Eastern war, this time with a much more populous nation, and at a moment when our military has been exhausted almost beyond repair.
That's why the Lobby is getting desperate: what with the publication of John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's magisterial The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy and the increasingly vocal "Jewish defamers," WASPy types like James Fallows feel empowered enough to write the following:
That Fallows was discussing the power of ethnic lobbies in general, including the Cubans and the Armenians, did not spare him the slings and arrows of the real defamers:
"Today Gabriel Schoenfeld of Commentary Magazine quotes only the part about AIPAC – and then asks why I am singling out the Jews!?!?! 'Why is this game played only one way, with America's Jews the primary target?' … This makes me nostalgic for the comparative 'honesty' of the Chinese state media I've been dealing with recently."The Chinese state media has nothing on the Lobby's mouthpieces, which are much more vicious and single-note than anything put out by the ChiComs: the only difference is that they don't wield state power. Not that they aren't trying, as Weiss reports:
Here is the totalitarian mentality of fanatic nationalists like Levin exposed for all to see:
She and her fellow fifth columnists are lobbying a foreign government to interfere with freedom of the press in America, on behalf of foreign interests. It doesn't get much more disgusting than that, now does it?
Yeah, they have a "very free press" in Israel – much freer than our own, thanks to groups like CAMERA.
In Israel, of course, newspapers like Ha'aretz regularly report on matters that offend the Lobby – such as, for example, the existence and unmitigated power of the Lobby itself – and CAMERA can't do a damn thing about it because their influence there is minimal.
It's only in the U.S. – where they are bold enough to have called on the Israeli government to take legal action against American media – that they have the kind of power they need to close down debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Here we have the truth coming out of their own mouths – so now do you believe in the decisive power and influence of the Israel lobby?
"To the (ongoing) extent that AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which calls itself 'America's Pro-Israel Lobby' – is trying to legitimize a military showdown between the United States and Iran, it is advancing its own concerns at the expense of larger American interests.
The people who are doing this are not from one ethnic group in the conventional sense but are mainly of one religion (Jewish)."
"Someone in the audience asked if the Israeli government couldn't take action. 'Good question,' Levin said.
'Many many times we have urged in regard to American coverage – to really, really serious defamatory reports in the American media – we have urged the Israel government, whether it was the IDF or some other components of officialdom, to be involved. Times that we thought that legal actions could be taken.' But evidently that couldn't happen in Israel, where they have a 'very free press.'"
Read here full article in The Telegraph (UK)
According to its most famous housewife, Australia is not yet ready to be led by a man named Kevin. But for once, Dame Edna Everage seems to have got it wrong.
In less than three weeks, her fellow Australians are set to oust John Howard, their conservative-minded prime minister of 11½ years, and replace him with Kevin Rudd, the Labour leader.
Kevin Rudd is favourite to become Australia’s next prime minister.
A man of ferocious intellect, but with such boyish features and a fringe so feathery that satirists have nicknamed him Tintin, Mr Rudd seems to be almost home and dry, even though the general election campaign is barely at the halfway point.
Mr Howard's defeat would mean the departure from office of the last of US President George W Bush's original, staunch allies on Iraq, and the withdrawal of Australia's 550 combat troops stationed around Baghdad – both factors that are encouraging voters to desert him for Labour.
Even so, the 50-year-old Mr Rudd, a studious former diplomat, is surprising seasoned political observers with the warmth of the response that he is generating on the campaign trail. "Hi, I'm Kevin," is his customary opening gambit; "Good luck, mate!" the usual response.
As Mr Rudd canvassed for votes last week in the shopping malls of suburban constituencies around Brisbane, currently held by Mr Howard's Liberal party, there was little sign of the prime minister's supporters – despite his government's impressive record of economic stewardship and its smorgasbord of multi-billion-dollar election promises.
Nobody jeered the Labour leader. Not one heckler surfaced. Those who weren't fans simply carried on with their chores. Voters, however, streamed out of supermarkets, chemists and coffee shops, seizing Mr Rudd's hand and willing him to win the poll on November 24.
He cut a slightly stiff figure in his black suit, as he chatted to pensioners clad in the eccentric Queensland livery of shorts, long socks and sandals. His shoulders were somewhat hunched, his walk a little shambling. And when he forgot to paint on his luminous campaign smile, his face was a picture of toad-like intensity. But the punters seemed genuinely to like him, and he was never more comfortable than when outlining Labour's political pledges to those who posed questions.
Unlike Mr Howard, who has a bear hug for everyone, Mr Rudd seemed gawky, even uptight, amid the back-slapping informality of mortgage- belt Australia.
"What we are seeing is not the spontaneous Kevin Rudd. What we are seeing is a very controlled Kevin Rudd who knows that this is make or break," said one commentator who has followed Mr Rudd's career. "He is a much warmer and wittier person than we are seeing, but because there have been so many stuff-ups by Labour in the past he is being ruthlessly disciplined."
If keeping the campaign gaffe-free is a priority, then Mr Rudd must know that traipsing around shopping malls with a media pack in tow is perilous territory indeed. And there was one unscripted moment when it seemed his carefully crafted political persona might be spectacularly demolished.
Dropping on to bended knee to greet a pensioner on an electric scooter, Mr Rudd was confronted by an ample bosom that didn't so much heave as writhe.
As his eyes became saucers, Jean Goodwin, 72, reached into her blouse for a vigorous rummage. When, finally, she fished out a tiny possum – announcing that she ran a rescue centre for native animals – Mr Rudd guffawed with relief.
"I love Kevin to bits. He's the best thing that's ever happened to Australia," declared Miss Goodwin later.
"He was a little alarmed at the moving boob, but I think he got over it," she said. The most serious criticism to date of Mr Rudd and his party is that they have engaged in flagrant "me too-ism" in mimicking Mr Howard's election promises.
When the prime minister pledged tax cuts of A$34 billion (£15.2 billion), Mr Rudd announced a policy that was 90 per cent identical.
He has also matched promises in the areas of land for public housing, roads funding, defence spending and senior citizens' allowances.
But Mr Rudd told The Sunday Telegraph that there were several core areas of difference that proved Labour had distinct and ambitious plans for Australia's future: "On the economy Mr Howard says, effectively, that the mining boom will last for ever," he said, referring to the vast wealth being generated by mineral and energy sales to China and India.
"A realistic view of economic history in this country says it won't. Prudent economic policy lies in planning for the future."
There will be A$4.7 billion for high-speed broadband, and a proposed federal takeover of public hospitals from the states if A$2.5 billion of reforms fail. An "education revolution" is promised. And on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol will be ratified – something that Mr Howard, in line with his friend Mr Bush, has refused to contemplate – and strict renewable energy targets set.
Also central to Labour's campaign is the end of controversial industrial relations legislation, perceived as favouring the employer, that was introduced by the Howard government.
In suburban Brisbane, where hip-pocket issues are uppermost, this seemed to be a winner. Ryan Willcox, a 24-year-old plumber, strode up to Mr Rudd with an effusive message of thanks for helping "us workers".
"I think he's fair dinkum," said Mr Willcox, adopting the Australian idiom that roughly translates as "genuine". "I believe what he says. I don't believe a word that comes out of John Howard's mouth."
Under Labour, replacing the Queen with an Australian head of state would return to the agenda, though any referendum on a republic would be unlikely before 2010.
Mr Rudd, a committed Christian who speaks fluent Mandarin, and his wife, Therese Rein, have three children. She is a self-made millionaire who had the good grace to forgive her husband over a drunken visit to a New York strip club in 2003.
His visit and subsequent apology were met by voters as proof that the straight-laced politician is actually a normal, red-blooded bloke.