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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
Libby Lunstrum - Patrick Bond
Militarizing Game Parks and Marketing Wildlife are Unsustainable Strategies
Andy Thayer
More Cops Will Worsen, Not Help, Chicago’s Violence Problem
Louis Yako
Can Westerners Help Refugees from War-torn Countries?
David Rosen
Rudy Giuliani & Trump’s Possible Cabinet
Joyce Nelson
TISA and the Privatization of Public Services
Pete Dolack
Global Warming Will Accelerate as Oceans Reach Limits of Remediation
Franklin Lamb
34 Years After the Sabra-Shatila Massacre
Cesar Chelala
How One Man Held off Nuclear War
Norman Pollack
Sovereign Immunity, War Crimes, and Compensation to 9/11 Families
Lamont Lilly
Standing Rock Stakes Claim for Sovereignty: Eyewitness Report From North Dakota
Barbara G. Ellis
A Sandernista Priority: Push Bernie’s Planks!
Hiroyuki Hamada
How Do We Dream the Dream of Peace Together?
Russell Mokhiber
From Rags and Robes to Speedos and Thongs: Why Trump is Crushing Clinton in WV
Julian Vigo
Living La Vida Loca
Aidan O'Brien
Where is Europe’s Duterte? 
Abel Cohen
Russia’s Improbable Role in Everything
Ron Jacobs
A Change Has Gotta’ Come
Uri Avnery
Shimon Peres and the Saga of Sisyphus
Graham Peebles
Ethiopian’s Crying out for Freedom and Justice
Robert Koehler
Stop the Killing
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: Of Dog Legs and “Debates”
Yves Engler
The Media’s Biased Perspective
Victor Grossman
Omens From Berlin
Christopher Brauchli
Wells Fargo as Metaphor for the Trump Campaign
Nyla Ali Khan
War of Words Between India and Pakistan at the United Nations
Tom Barnard
Block the Bunker! Historic Victory Against Police Boondoggle in Seattle
James Rothenberg
Bullshit Recognition as Survival Tactic
Ed Rampell
A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits
Kristine Mattis
Persnickety Publishing Pet-Peeves
Charles R. Larson
Review: Helen Dewitt’s “The Last Samurai”
David Yearsley
Torture Chamber Music
September 22, 2016
Dave Lindorff
Wells Fargo’s Stumpf Leads the Way
Stan Cox
If There’s a World War II-Style Climate Mobilization, It has to Go All the Way—and Then Some
Binoy Kampmark
Source Betrayed: the Washington Post and Edward Snowden
John W. Whitehead
Wards of the Nanny State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail