December 1st 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Afghanistan: After the fall of the Taliban - the tasks ahead

Editorial: Policies for John Howard’s agenda

Canberra Observed: Election outcome - reality and dreamland

Irian Jaya: Was Jakarta involved in West Papuan leader’s murder?

Queensland: Boswell beats Hanson, but what now?

Interview: Will Bailey answers development bank critics

LAW: International Criminal Court leads to legal uncertainty

Straws in the Wind

MEDIA: ABC electioneering

Letter: A bad mix

Letter: New patrol boats

Letter: Queue jumping

Interview with Bjorn Lomborg: Science versus name-calling

ECONOMY: The trade news from Doha

WA family debate hots up

DRUGS: Community drug prevention

Books: 'Meaninglessness: The Solutions of Nietzsche, Freud and Rorty', by Michael Casey

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Straws in the Wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, December 1, 2001

So much has already been said, written and spluttered about the election, that the only things left unsaid are the true bits. A great deal of what has been coming out of the various media and party gabbleboxes have been exercises in saving face, whitewashing the dogmatic stupidities which contributed so much to Labor’s defeat, and present crisis; and tantrumming about the rejection of Labor - despite its having been supported by an awesome amount of money, and a rigged media.

So childish and so patronisingly offensive have some of the attacks on our parties and the majority of Australians become, that leading articles are starting to appear, reminding the tantrummers that we live in a democracy and take our decisions and make our choices within that framework.

The Herald Sun (November 19, 2001) had to remind Malcolm Fraser, after he described the parties as "appealing to the worst in our natures", that this is a democracy. Australia is not Zimbabwe, and Howard and Beazley are not like Robert Mugabe, whose erstwhile supporters have ranged from Colonel Gaddafi to Malcolm Fraser.

Seeing that Mr Fraser is publicly regarded as having been closely acquainted with the birth and development of Zimbabwe as a multi-racial democracy, should he not be campaigning for the defence of, and a return to, democracy in Zimbabwe, and a quarantining of Mugabe from all international recognition? And seeing that, along with hosts of others, Mr Fraser was a critic of South African apartheid, should he not be lending his voice to denouncing the ethnic cleansing going on in Zimbabwe?

The appearance of Steve Bracks at the CARE bunfight makes one wonder whether he had even suspected Mr Fraser was going to use the occasion to slag the ALP - along with everyone else. I hope not. Obsessed as his minders are with photo opportunities and sound bites, it is nevertheless incumbent upon them to draw up a list of loose cannons and steer Mr Bracks away, as Steve never looks as if he is listening to the speeches.

Back to election tactics: Beazley’s decision not to release major policies and their costings until near the election, misfired badly. It enabled the Liberals to repeat Billy McMahon’s tactic of emptying the kitty before the election. Gough, faced with a choice of backing down on his big-spending reforms or going ahead on hot air and debt, chose the latter and we know the result. Kim didn’t want to repeat that error, but crashed by not being able to rollback - something promised for three years. Hopeless.

Furthermore, it seemed smart politics for Beazley and Stott Despoja to force the Government to sacrifice revenue for cheaper beer and cheaper petrol, but the predictable effect was to reduce the money available for election promises, e.g., rolling back the GST. It only required Howard and Costello to polish off the rest of the surplus for Labor to be stymied.

So intent on "getting the Government" was our crassly opportunistic press that they didn’t see it coming. I wonder if they have learnt anything from all this?

Simon Crean inherits an increasingly out-of-control union movement, which could bring great discredit to Federal Labor, as it is bringing to Steve Bracks. The refusal of major building unions, along with some of their corporate collaborators, to give proper evidence to a Royal Commission established by law, creates a major crisis for the rule of law in this country. If people or organisations under investigation can defy the Commission and abort the inquiry - i.e., meet law with force - then of course the whole system of law, in this case industrial, but it could be any other part of the law, is in jeopardy. What are Crean and Labor going to do about this?

Mark Phillips of the Herald Sun reported that just before the Federal Election, Victorian Trades Hall secretary, Leigh Hubbard, "confided that if the Howard Government won we could expect an increase in industrial disputes" (November 20, 2001).

As Phillips points out, a week after the election, Victoria is experiencing one of the most firmly entrenched disputes over employee entitlements. The Feltex carpet making company is being made the battleground of ideological war being waged by the union against employer groups generally. Finding that it cannot be protected by industrial tribunals against pickets and blockades which are endangering its financial viability, the firm is seeking compensation through civil action from the union and its striking/blockading members. As is its right under civil law.

The response of the union is to threaten to involve other unions and other industries so as to cause economic loss to businesses and employees unconnected with the dispute. Viz. to engage in economic blackmail. And, to marshal mobs to further blockade the factory concerned and to engage in street demonstrations.

This might be called the rent-a-lout strategy, now a regular feature of Victorian politics, evoked to serve just about any cause and for any reason. It is a form of social breakdown, and a direct responsibility of the State Government concerned. If this mode of political behaviour continues to be condoned and further entrenches itself, two major consequences will most likely follow. As Phillips says, "the most damaged could be Victoria’s reputation as a place in which to invest". I think our reputation there is already back to the condition before Kennett took over.

The second result is that the Bracks Government could find itself a one-term administration if it continues to let these matters drift.

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