September 6th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: How to help democracy in Hong Kong

Australian Senate backs Hong Kong democrats against China

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Government stumbles over Manildra, Tuckey fiascos

STRAWS IN THE WIND: J'accuse / Shape of things to come

WATER: Murray River farmers face man-made 'permanent drought'

NATIONAL PARTY: Why John Anderson should stay

LETTERS: Sugar price

LETTERS: Rail the key to rural infrastructure

LETTERS: Amrozi death sentence

Ethanol, sugar and free trade

EDUCATION HISTORY: Social justice in education - self-interest disguised as altruism

FAMILY: Quick facts on marriage

BOOKS: GULAG : A HISTORY, by Anne Applebaum

BOOKS: The Maverick and his Machine: Thomas Watson Sr and the Making of IBM

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Why John Anderson should stay

by Victor Sirl

News Weekly, September 6, 2003
Victor Sirl was recently in Canberra and discovered that a number of National Party parliamentarians want John Anderson to stay at the helm.

It is no longer a secret that Deputy Prime Minister is thinking of quitting politics. According to media reports a number of his National Party colleagues are pressing him to make a decision soon so a new leader can be given time to establish himself in the job before the next election.

However, behind the scenes there is another story - the fact that a number of National Party parliamentarians want him to stay.

The front runner for the position of National Party parliamentary leader, and hence Deputy Prime Minister, would be the Trade Minister Mark Vaile. Vaile is regarded by many in the media and coalition as doing a good job of negotiating a free trade deal with the USA.


Vaile's image is one of a man who is serious and professional. Exactly what you would expect of a Minister for Trade. In the leader's job he could have the opportunity to be far more charismatic. Let's not forget Tim Fisher proved quite a surprise packet and was unknown to the Australian public when elected to the post but became a popular leader of the party.

Those close to him consider Mark Vaile hard working and affable. Given more time he might be able to display his personality more fully to the public and it would be fairer to him if, like Tim Fisher, he became leader with a long lag time between elections.

This idea makes even more sense when it is taken into consideration that negotiations on free trade agreements with the USA and China are incomplete and it would seem best that he remain in his current portfolio but without extra responsibility heaped upon him.

Another benefit of the Deputy Prime Minister staying in Parliament is the fact he is popular in Canberra. Anderson is generally liked by the press gallery and other media, having built up a lot of credibility with them over the years. But even more importantly, the Prime Minister likes him and views him, as he did Tim Fisher, a loyal and capable lieutenant. It has already been reported that the Prime Minister would like him to remain, particularly as John Howard has already lost a number of experienced cabinet ministers.

Critics of Anderson, especially in the rural sector, point to his credentials as a free trader, but a leadership change might actually make things worse for them.

In fact, Anderson has made some interventions on behalf of farmers opposed to deregulation - for instance, over deregulation of the rice industry - proving he has some pragmatism and is not a complete ideologue.

For those concerned with moral issues he has another appealing feature. Anderson is a devout Christian, willing to say so and stand solidly behind traditional moral values. The best example of this was during the debate over legislation introduced by the Prime Minister to allow access by scientists to "surplus" IVF embryos for scientific experimentation.

Anderson was the only party leader to oppose it. At a public meeting in Sydney attended by over 900 people he declared he at least must "try to be salt" and in making reference to Christ stated he had to defend the smallest of his creations.

John Howard, the most conservative of the other party leaders in Canberra, would never go this far; in fact the Prime Minister took a utilitarian line on the issue.

Just recently Anderson came out again to champion pro-life and family values when the High Court ruled a doctor had to pay the cost of rearing a child following a botched sterilisation procedure. No politician and few Church leaders spoke with the boldness and clarity of the Deputy Prime Minister, who declared that the ruling was "a further sign of the trend in our society towards regarding our children as consumer durable there for our pleasure".

He was appalled that Australia once again seemed to be treating human life as a commodity, "Do we no longer understand that when we devalue and cheapen one life, we devalue and cheapen all life - and with it, threaten our cherished freedoms"?

The incident also found the Deputy Prime Minister daring to remind Australians of their parental responsibilities. He said, "Our lives as parents do not always turn out the way we expect, and it is totally unreasonable to expect society or the medical profession to pay compensation for the normal disappointments and surprises of a full life".

Actually, it is Anderson's love of family life and desire to spend more time with his own that is driving his desire to leave politics at only 47 years of age.

Colleagues lobbying him to stay are correct in their estimation that he is still the best man for the job. Pro-life groups and those concerned with preserving family values should be writing in droves to encourage their most highly placed political champion to continue as a Member of Parliament.

As a middle aged man he has much more to give to public life. What better place of influence to give such service than in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia?

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