TWEEDLEDUM AND TWEEDLEDEE – THE CONTINUING STORY
As Election 2004 unfolds, what is becoming increasingly apparent is that the choice between Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Mark Latham signifies that our democracy is seriously impoverished, writes Davydd Williams.
Eight years is a long time to be the Prime Minister of Australia. Few have managed to endure for so long, but if there is one thing that even the ALP will say about John Howard it is that he has endurance. Mind you, that isn’t necessarily a virtue in the eyes of the vast mass of citizens looking for someone with vision and competence to take charge at the helm of the good ship Australia.
Despite the Prime Minister’s visionary posturing with the release of the Government’s ten-year policy overviews, he is likely to be remembered for two things; firstly as the Treasurer (in the Fraser Government) who cashed in on bracket creep so that about 30% of wage earners were paying the top marginal tax rate of 60cents in the dollar; and secondly, as the Prime Minister who introduced the GST. This is hardly the stuff of heroic legend.
For all that, there is something reassuring to the electorate in the measured response the PM gives to the crisis situations that have occurred during his tenure. While they might yearn for a bit more panache, even perhaps a touch of charisma, citizens feel confident in knowing that a fair bit of thought goes in to the broad policy framework put forward by the Government.
It is this, as much as anything, that distinguishes him from his opponent in the forthcoming election, Opposition Leader Mark Latham. Finding himself leader of the once great Australian Labor Party, it now emerges that he has very little in common with the New Class apparatchiks, ideologues and careerists who now dominate the party’s machinery. As a result, Latham has resorted to making political gestures, such as reading to children, banning the advertising of junk food, “bringing home the troops by Christmas”, and recruiting ageing rocker and environmental lefty Peter Garrett. This is described as proclaiming values, but is really just grabbing headlines and keeping the Government where it always seems to be responding to Latham “initiatives”.
On closer examination though, this approach probably derives from the Opposition Leader’s inability to carry his party with him on a number of issues. Rumblings from the party room were heard all round Australia when Latham extracted a decision to support the Government’s proposed increases to fees under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which have been languishing unpassed in the Senate since 2002.
Similarly, the softening of opposition to the Free Trade Agreement signals an important change in the ALP’s thinking on the subject. There is much disquiet on the Opposition benches about the likely impact of the FTA on significant areas of Australia’s economy, including the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the sugar industry. Moreover, the FTA is viewed by some in the ALP as a further cementing of economic and political relations with the dreaded USA. They are probably right, but Latham’s anti-American rhetoric and stance on a number of issues have painted him into a corner. If he opposes the FTA it will inevitably be seen as further evidence of his underlying hatred of all things American. On the other hand, by endorsing it, he is facilitating the passage of a trade deal that is probably not in the best interests of Australia and most Australians. At best, the FTA will bring marginal economic benefits to some and, at worst, it will further entrench the economic, political and cultural domination of Australia by the USA.
But the most difficult issue for Latham is Iraq. Having again painted himself into a corner by shooting from the lip, the Opposition Leader now finds himself at odds with his Foreign Affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, as well as the UN, the independent Iraqi Government and the US. Moreover, the commentariat has shifted ground significantly as the UN endorses the need for a continuing international force for Iraq. So too, has the citizenry, with polls indicating rising support for a continuing military role for Australia in Iraq.
The danger for Latham is that posed by Islamofascist terrorists. Latham’s truculence over Iraq has opened a gap which, it can be expected, the terrorists will seek to exploit. Drawing on the experience of Spain, the terrorist networks will be readily drawing the conclusion that they can have an important influence on the Australian election outcome. There can be no doubt that, even now, planning is under way for a major attack to coincide with the announcement of an election date. It would be foolish to think otherwise.
Australians today are used to the soft life. It is difficult to see them standing up to the pressure caused by bloodshed, uncertainty and insecurity. A bloody incident with loss of life would be likely to lead to a change of government and widespread support for withdrawing troops from Iraq. But what follows would be even worse – ongoing appeasement of terrorist groups under the threat of further acts of violence against citizens. To date, Australians have only read about these things happening in countries overseas. It will be a great shame if we now have to experience it for ourselves, as it seems, inevitably, that we will. And if we do, it will be the fruit of that policy for which no Australian government has ever received a mandate from the people – multiculturalism.
Unfortunately, Australians are unlikely to find any candidate for any Parliament who will truly represent them. Canberra’s House of Representatives is filled with those who represent, not their constituents, but a narrow political party ruled by New Class apparatchiks whose vital interests are not those of the ordinary Australian. That this is so is a scandal and a tragedy and has earned politicians the position they justly deserve on the community’s scale of admiration and respect – right at the bottom.