There Is a Choice


Whoever wins tomorrow’s election, the 2007 campaign has already delivered a classic political image — Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating holding hands at Kevin Rudd’s official ALP launch last week — an image that would have been impossible for the last few Labor campaigns to contemplate, let alone organise.

Is this a sign of over-confidence, or what that jolly japester Caroline Overington prefers to call the ALP’s ‘arrogance’? Is it a matter of slick image manipulation, as suggested by Tracee Hutchison? Or is it the moment in this election when Labor finally decided to trust the intelligence of the electorate, show some heart and humanity, and admit that there had been plenty of Labor history to be proud of before the advent of Kevin Rudd?

Whatever its deeper meaning, that image of a troika of Labor Leaders holding hands coincided with the publication this week of a couple of opinion pieces by Hawke and Keating in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald respectively. It’s unlikely either of these op-ed pieces would be included in a collection of the former PMs’ greatest works — the rhetoric’s too self-serving and the arguments too biased — but they were still a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stuffy climate of caution and me-too-ism.

Hawke’s piece, entitled ‘The PM Continues to Misrepresent the Truth. He Must Go’, sets out to demolish Howard’s ‘three arguments why you should not vote Labor’ and succeeds. It is classic Hawkean plain-speak: unadorned, rational, methodical. That it also serves to show what an excellent Prime Minister and all-round great guy Hawkie was, of course, is just an added extra.

Keating’s ‘A Chance to Rebuild, After a Decade of Moral Erosion’ is also fairly representative of PJK’s style; a pyrotechnical mixture of ethical gravitas, intellectual bullying and old-fashioned sweet-talking. That the resuscitation of Keating’s worldview and ego was a fundamental motive behind the article is clear from the start and, frankly, irrelevant. More important is the way Keating nails the issue that is central to this election:

The principal reason the public should take the opportunity to kill off the Howard Government has less to do with broken promises on interest rates or even its draconian WorkChoices industrial laws, and everything to do with restoring a moral basis to our public life. Without this, the nation has no standard to rely upon, no claim that can be believed, not even when the grave step of going to war is being considered. When truth is up for grabs, everything is up for grabs.

Keating is usually labelled a visionary and, relative to the ideas-free crowd that followed him, that’s a fair description. But more often than not, when he was talking about vision and principles, and all that other hifallutin’ stuff, Keating was just being practical. He just knew that without a secure ethical core, politics becomes cynical opportunism, at best, and utterly corrupt, at worst.

Today, the day before we vote, some of Australia’s major newspapers have endorsed a Labor win. If they and the past 11 months of opinion polls are correct, then we will wake up on Sunday with a new Prime Minister, a new administration and, it is devoutly to be wished, a new way of thinking at government level.

Let us hope that the outward similarities between the two choices on offer, actually mask profound and wide-ranging differences in the inner workings of the two contenders. But if Rudd Labor wins, we should expect that they are there to do a job, not just to keep the front bench warm and boost their super.

We should expect that this election is not about replaying ‘It’s Time’, reliving old glories, resuscitating reputations, or exacting revenge. It should be about ‘restoring a moral basis to our public life’. We deserve nothing less.

José Borghino

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