Clearing the Decks


The Prime Minister has obviously decided that his recent tactics were creating too many heroes for the other side, too many martyrs.

It’s going to be a tougher election next year than people expected. The ACTU/Labor Party campaign exposing Howard’s IR laws as draconian is biting; petrol prices are rising and people are realising it might have something to do with the destabilisation of the Middle East created by our ‘liberation’ of Iraq; interest rates are on the move and it’s obvious this has something to do with the Government’s profligate tax cuts.

The last thing the Coalition needs is all these hard economic issues coalescing in the minds of too many voters and then being reinforced by ‘softer’ social issues like the treatment of asylum-seekers, the squashing of civil liberties and (yes) the definition of what constitutes human life. God forbid that the pointy-headed number boffins in Martin Place (who can usually tell one end of a balance sheet from the other) should ever start getting cosy again with those latté-sipping pseudo-intellectuals and their fellow travellers, the ‘concerned’ doctors wives.

Last time the suits and the pseuds got together, we had Hawke and Keating running the joint for 13 years!

Howard’s response? Pull the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill; talk-up the possibility of David Hicks’s returning to Australia before the end of the year; give us $2000 and get us to burn some of the LPG we were going to sell to China; and allow a conscience vote on stem-cell research.

This is a clearing of the decks. A focussing of the minds (ours and the Coalition’s).

And there’ll be plenty more re-focussing over the next few months. And plenty more largesse around the time of the next (all-singing, all-dancing, all-spending) Budget. We do have a gargantuan surplus, remember?

And don’t be surprised if the spending outlined in that Budget is not on more tax cuts (after all, that would only put more pressure on interest rates, wouldn’t it Mr Costello?). No, the spending will be on bright ideas in areas like health, education, training, infrastructure, alternative fuels, real broadband, subsidies for research and development. Hell! — even the ABC might get a taste of honey.

That’s right, all those things that the long-suffering pseuds (you know who you are) thought they’d never see until the next generation of Labor leaders knifed the current lot.

And you never know, now that our flimsy defences are paper thin up north, and the Indonesians are pissed off with us and won’t be patrolling quite so hard, and our land is again girt by sea and not by an exclusion zone, a boat may appear on the horizon, bringing with it desperate people who can’t speak our lingo, who don’t look squeaky clean or decorative in a ‘touristique’ sort of way, who don’t have all the right papers or connections, and who have a history of high-risk behaviour.

Thanks to Sean Leahy.

If this happens, Howard will ask us all to re-focus (yet again) on what’s most important.

It will be interesting to see whether we will have learnt anything over the past decade, whether we renew the Faustian bargain with Howard in the face of his myriad gifts and the backflips mentioned above; or if we finally say, ‘Enough is enough! Anyone with a calculator and thousands of commerce graduates at their beck and call can run an economy. There are other things that are just as important. And it’s not acceptable that you’ve only just woken up to them, because you think you’re vulnerable and we’re paying more at the bowser and the bank.’

The ALP probably quakes at the prospect, but I’m an optimist.

Am I Robinson Crusoe?

* * *

Meanwhile, the consultation stage of New Matilda‘s Human Rights Act Campaign culminated on Sunday, 13 August, with the re-launch of our Bill of Rights in Melbourne at the Malthouse Theatre. The Bill was refined in light of community feedback and your written submissions.

The 300-strong audience at the Melbourne launch had the pleasure of listening to speakers including Waleed Aly, who spoke about the need for a Bill of Rights to define ‘Australian values’; Julian Burnside QC, who delivered a powerful speech about the fine line between heightened security legislation and human rights abuses; Professor Larissa Behrendt, who spoke of the pressing need to provide protection for Australia’s Indigenous people; Brian Walters SC, who critiscised Australia’s neglect of our international human rights obligations; Sharan Burrow, who explored how a Bill of Rights would protect Australian workers; Max Gillies who said a Bill of Rights was needed to ensure the wellbeing of Australian society; Spencer Zifcak, who spoke on the rights protected by the Bill; and Hilary McPhee AO, the chair of the event who spoke eloquently of the need to have adequate rights protections for everybody in Australia.

We now begin the advocacy stage of the campaign in which New Matilda will seek to have the Human Rights Act introduced into Federal Parliament as a private member’s Bill by the end of the year. The task ahead is to communicate the broad-based public support for a Human Rights Act in Australia to our elected representatives helping them understand that it is a logical and necessary progression for a democratic society.

Watch this space.

New Matilda would like to thank Strategy Shop for generously sponsoring this event.

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.