It's called democracy


Not all NewMatildas are dismayed by the opening shots of Howard’s fourth term.

Roll back abortion law reforms. More funding to private health and private education at the expense of the working poor. A radical increase in the three Rs of a Coalition-controlled ABC – rural, religion and right-wingers. I don’t know why so many people are whinging about the unstated agenda about to be implemented by Prime Minister John Howard and the Coalition. Some of us prefer to see them as celebrating Australia’s democracy.

If Labor hadn’t preferenced Family First ahead of the Greens and Bob Brown controlled both the lower house and the Senate, I’d be expecting all those promises I read in the Murdoch Herald Sun: free drugs on demand, total ban on guns and woodchipping, mandatory tofu with every steak, and compulsory gay marriages for Catholic priests – or whatever it was Mr Murdoch said on Mr Howard’s behalf.

It’s called democracy. John Howard, with a lot of help from the Labor Party, has won a clear majority in the House of Representatives. The house where – students of Gough Whitlam will never forget – governments are made and unmade. Howard also has a wafer-thin majority in the Senate and that gives him as much right to railroad through the privatisation of the ABC or the Senate or the New South Wales Government as it would have given Bob Brown – had he the balance of power – to blackmail a government into signing the Kyoto protocol or end woodchipping old growth forests.

I heard one Labor shadow minister complaining that John Howard didn’t have a mandate to push through a new change in policy because he never mentioned it to the people. But Labor also went to the polls as a policy-free void. There was one confused policy about schools and an oxymoronic Gold élite policy for a universal health care system. Had Labor been elected, would these be the only two policies implemented in the following three years? I hate to think they might be, but Labor went to the polls with no policies. Had the ALP won both the House of Representatives and the Senate what would Labor Ministers claim as their mandate? Or would the argument suddenly turn to ‘The people trust us and gave us an open mandate.’ Because that’s precisely what Howard has.

The only party to roll out a complete platform was the Greens. As much as the establishment media attempted to hide or belittle the Greens policies (and hence corrode our democracy) it was the only significant party prepared to put its wares out for the electorate to examine.

So when two major parties go to the polls with only a handful of policies what are they allowed to do in government? Well, in Australia they can do anything they like. Our constitution is quite reasonably silent on what political parties may promise before an election. It was only with the advent of Whitlam and his 140 promises in 1972 that governments could claim to have mandate for a specific agenda. To my deepest regret, Howard won a mandate for his 1998 anti-environment GST and worse, for his 2001 drowning refugees election. And in 2004 he won a mandate to be John Howard.

Sorry, but that’s democracy.

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