FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ruddslide and Dull Alec

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Last Saturday, the drama of the Australian elections was played out. By the evening’s end, the result was clear: John Howard) had been steamrolled by Labor’s Kevin Rudd. The Howard era in Australian politics had come to an end. One government minister, Senator Minchin, ventured an idiosyncratic hypothesis: the Australians had shown their gratitude for Howard’s reforms by voting him out.

The last eleven or so years will be remembered as one of the more reactionary, consumer-driven periods in Australian history. Australians pride themselves on the ‘fair go’, an admirable sentiment that if more often intangible than not. Under Howard, ‘fairness’ usually meant more money for private schools, more mobility in the labor market by attacking unions and stripping award protections, and more restrictions on asylum seekers and a curtailing of civil liberties. It also meant the introduction of a Goods and Services Tax.

Howard contrived to play the blue collar voters against their traditional Labor base. Labor was aghast. Surely their traditional voters would remain loyal? They didn’t. Howard became a paternal figure, decent, and protective of Australia in times of world crises. The Australian ‘battler’ came into being.

At one end, Howard risked fanning the flames of agrarian populism. A free market threatened, amongst other things, local industries. Some voters punished him by voting for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Fortunately for Howard, the global economy had started to speed up, delivering growth, albeit unevenly, that even he could not have predicted. The hope was that keeping Australians wealthy would silence both Hanson and their conscience.

This worked, in part. When a Norwegian vessel came within sight of Christmas Island in August 2001, Howard’s response was to deploy the famed special forces to stop it. There were no terrorists on board, nor was there a security risk of any consequence. The reason: over four hundred asylum seekers had taken liberties by entering Australian waters. They had ‘jumped the queue’ of UN refugee camps in Southeast Asia, where decency demanded they stay. Good refugees needed papers and documents, a verifiable identity.

The term ‘asylum seeker’ was scratched from the human rights lexicon. These ‘queue jumpers’ were ‘un-Australian’ brutes who threw their children into the sea, sewed up their children’s mouths in detention centres, and followed the dictates of Islam. Far better keep them in a network of detention centres across the Pacific in places more known for their guano than human resource management ­ the blessed ‘Pacific’ solution.

The terrorist attacks in the U.S. that September added grist to Howard’s political mill, and suddenly, Osama bin Laden’s helpers were said to be taking rides on leaky boats towards Australia’s vulnerable shores. Without blinking, Australians, as they had in previous wars, followed an empire into battle in countries they could barely locate on the map.

Howard’s success, much like Thatcherism in Britain, was to narrow the field of political debate. The economy dictated the world view. Everything else was incidental. Opposition leader Kevin Rudd became an astute political copycat, and ‘me-tooism’ was born. What Howard did, Rudd could do, and do better. Both threatened to spend the government surpluses into oblivion should they win office, though Rudd assured voters that his spending spree would be modest in comparison.

Howard’s weakness lay in an area his government had staked their political lives on. Industrial relations proved to be the true vote turner. Work Choices was that bridge too far ­ even the blue collar voters started to twitch. Dismissing workers had never been easier. Suddenly, the prosperity readings were suffering a fall. An interest rate rise during an election campaign also sent the Coalition government into a nosedive.

Howard will pass into history as the second-longest serving Prime Minister after Gordon ‘Ming’ Menzies. Both periods prove similar. Where the making of money is coupled with that perennial fear of national security, governments rarely change and the opposition simply warms the benches. As the voting figures still come in, it looks like Howard might even lose his own seat, one he has held for over thirty years. There is only one precedent for this: Stanley Bruce in 1929. And, demonstrating why history lessons might be useful, that loss was due, in no small part, to industrial relations.

BINOY KAMPMARK is a Commonwealth Scholar from Selwyn College, Cambridge. He can be reached at bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
Charles R. Larson
Review: Han Kang’s “The Vegetarian”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail