Two different landscapes ahead


Dear Gill,

So you want to know what these past five weeks amount to?

But I need to go back earlier than that. There are two different landscapes ahead of us and it is not possible, this time around, to say ‘they’re all the same, what difference does it make?’ (although some still will).

It’s the past three years that have done it. They’ve shown us an Australia that a lot of us no longer recognise. Where has that open, joyful, confident country of the 2000 Olympics gone?

It is not enough to blame the September 11 terrorists.
I think I wrote to you ages ago about how different things may have been if John Howard had not been in the US at the time of those attacks. Perhaps it’s fanciful but I can’t shake the image of this ordinary, unimaginative man who has never been exposed to war or danger of any kind, suddenly witnessing something so extreme, being surrounded by a sea of panicked, traumatised Americans. Feeling implicated because he was there. I think it was probably the most profound event of his life.

And everything he has said since about terrorism, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US alliance, stems from that seminal moment back in September 2001. We have been paying the price of Howard’s epiphany.

The lies and distortions that have become endemic in his regime go way beyond the war and security issues, of course. And they have not just been vote-grabbing exercises, like the 2001 ‘children overboard’ lie.
The government’s baser actions, such as using people’s fears about Muslims and terrorism to corral public opinion into their corner, was a tactic. One weapon in a vast artillery of manipulation and shadow boxing.

The bigger agenda has been about changing the nature of Australian society. It’s been about persuading Australians that the health, education, economic and industrial relations arrangements that benefit the well-off will benefit us all.

The Liberals’ constant harping on the economy is just a symptom of their world-view. What matters? Shouldn’t that be the question addressed by an election campaign?
The billions of dollars ‘promised’ in this campaign may or may not get spent as promised, but there are certain things we can rely on.

The Coalition will continue to favour private schooling over public. They will continue to encourage private medical coverage at the expense of Medicare. Their policies towards asylum seekers and refugees remain unchanged – the 80 children in detention on the mainland and in the offshore centres could remain there for years; the handful of stateless people could be incarcerated for life. And if Philip Ruddock remains Attorney-General the border protection regime is set to harden further.

This country, which was seen as one of the most friendly on earth back in 2000, is now seen in the international community as uncaring and ungenerous. Aboriginal reconciliation has fallen off the agenda under the Howard government; indigenous Australians are once again the forgotten people.

So the landscape I see under a continuing Coalition government is not a hopeful one: more fear, more inequality, a further erosion of the political process “ and that’s just for starters.

After a six-week campaign, Latham is no longer the unknown quantity. Many Australians like what they see. And there are promising signs. The landscape he paints is one we recognise from years ago, from the time before every human value seemed to be over-ridden by ‘the economy’. Opportunity for all, care for the aged, security in our region – it is almost Whitlamesque.

But I believe that if they win government then Labor are likely to backslide on both environmental and social issues. That’s why we need the Greens. It’s time they were given a substantial role to play. Certainly Bob Brown is the only leader that inspires genuine respect.

This election is likely to see the end of the Democrats as a substantial force. It is a pity because there are some good people in the Democrats. But even they couldn’t keep the bastards honest.

Will phone you Saturday night.


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.