Letter to an expatriate friend


Dear Gill,

We are one week into the six-week election campaign and there’s been a lot of talk about ‘trust’ and ‘truth’. It’s been a big readjustment, trying to get one’s head around ‘truth’, after a decade or more of postmodernists telling us there is no such thing. ‘Truth’ is suddenly popular again. And some people are really struggling. Many have forgotten what it is and don’t think it matters. Looks like the postmodernists might have won after all.

Now one can say that black is white and white is black and people accept it. Like on the economy. We’re told it has never been bigger or stronger. But for three years in a row we’ve imported more than we’ve exported. And household debt is at record levels – $700 billion. Most economists seem to agree that we are living beyond our means, spending money we haven’t got. But still the government says the economy is booming, that we’ve got ‘a great set of numbers’. And people accept it.

Why is it, if Australia is doing so well, that we’ve all been told we should stay in the workforce longer? It’s almost as if the Libs expect us to think ‘Wow! Who would want to retire when you can be part of such a great economy!’ They’ve gone a bit quiet on the retirement age since the election was called. I suspect most of the electorate has already switched off, if they were ever ‘on’. The pundits say that a lot of people don’t even begin to think about the election, or decide who they are going to vote for, until the last week.

In the meantime the players go through the rituals of feint and counterfeint, set pieces and gala moments. I’m reminded of a ballroom scene from Jane Austen “ pompous figures following a strict sequence of moves, holding themselves rigid, while constantly preening and flirting, aware of being watched. Maybe that’s just because Pride and Prejudice has been on the telly again.

Now this one you will really be amazed by: Remember how you and I went through university for nothing? Part of the first generation to enjoy free tertiary education. Well now there is talk of degrees costing $100,000! I wonder whether the Coalition would have been elected in 1975 if John Howard had pushed that one when he was part of Fraser’s team back then. Yes, he’s been in Parliament that long.

The Libs and Labor both seem to be tiptoeing around the national security issue. No one is really running on it. It’s a bit difficult for Howard because national security leads to terrorism leads to war on terror leads to Iraq. And Howard has apparently lost a lot of women voters because of Iraq. Ruddock had a go at suggesting a future Labor government would increase the risk of terrorism in Australia. He linked Labor policy to the Chechen rebels who took the kids and parents hostage – nothing that man says or does would surprise me any more. (Have you caught up with the fact that Ruddock is now the minister in charge of the legal system, to give him a break from being the minister for locking kids up?)

The American Alliance – I think we should always give it capitals – is another of those issues that is sort of hanging there in the background. Latham managed to score a couple of wins with the Free Trade Agreement, just before the election was announced. I think a lot of people took his point that he was being pro-Australian, not anti-American. And when the Americans started throwing their weight around, that really pissed people off.

But people are scared of the Americans. In a vox pop in one of the papers the other day a young guy of 23 was saying he quite liked Latham, but he thought we had to hang in in Iraq with the Americans, ‘because you wouldn’t want to be on the opposite side from them’. It’s as if he took George Bush’s threat ‘you’re either with us or agin us’ absolutely to heart. The Coalition has played a lot on that these past three years.

Latham hasn’t exactly come out boxing. Looking at him these days it’s hard to credit that he was ever considered a head-kicker. He’s all calm and reasonableness. He’s gone dull and getting duller by the day. Gone is the promise to meet with the grassroots at community forums “ the only ‘public’ he seems interested in meeting with is the under-12s. Apparently he’s spending most of his time in hotel rooms or radio studios. He’ll have to do better than that if he wants my vote.

I’m off to northern NSW this week “ a break away from the chilly Highlands “ to check out the electorate of Richmond, where John Howard was recently seen hugging a tree. Will report more next week.

Till then . . .


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