October 8th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: THE WAR ON TERROR: Identifying and tackling the causes of terrorism

EDITORIAL: Ethanol back on the national agenda

NATIONAL SECURITY: 800 potential terrorists in Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Can Labor ignore Latham's message?

QUARANTINE: Federal Court overturns pig meat import ban

EUROPE: France pays mothers to have more children

DIVORCE LAWS: Fathers turning against Howard

FAMILY: Parental duty of care fails adolescents

EDUCATION: University students struggling with English

SCHOOLS: Primary schools performing poorly

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Germany and the hazards of proportional representation / Minefield Childcare and its critics / Latham diaries fall-out / State-federal jousting

HIV/AIDS EPIDEMIC: Using common sense, not condom sense

OPINION: Why Latham's Labor lost

POPULATION: Communist China's abuse of pregnant women

Real face of Labor (letter)

Legal redress for paternity fraud (letter)

Elite media's hatred of Bush (letter)

BOOKS: THE COLLAPSE OF GLOBALISM: and the Reinvention of the World, by John Ralston Saul


Books promotion page

Germany and the hazards of proportional representation / Minefield Childcare and its critics / Latham diaries fall-out / State-federal jousting

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, October 8, 2005
Germany and the hazards of proportional representation

In the recent September 18 German election, that country's conservative Christian Democrats, plus the Free Democrats, have not been able to improve on the vote they received in the preceding two elections.

Germans are against drastic change, it would appear, and the opposition Christian Democrat Union (CDU) leader Angela Merkel was a weak candidate.

German conservatives face perhaps an insoluble dilemma, for if they move further right, advocating the rationalisation and the reduction of the present welfare system and trumpeting the necessity of Germans working longer and being paid less, they lose a sizeable number of their voters.

Many of these, who had recently abandoned Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, did so because he was pushing a moderate version of allowing the market to decide and of reducing the burden of welfare.

Previous temporary CDU supporters either returned to Schroeder or switched to the new party of the former communists.

But the changes advocated by Merkel and her CDU have been too moderate for the free-market advocates and cost-cutters in their ranks. They appear to have switched their support to the FDP.

Germany is stalemated and faces a period of weak coalition governments. The shortcomings of proportional representation have seldom been more apparent, and the Germans appear to have forgotten all the chaos and legislative paralysis of the later stages of the Weimar Republic.

The postwar Germans designed an electoral system, partly modelled on that of the Israelis, with its proportional representation system.

The results in Israel have been that, in recent years, no political party has been able to form a government in its own right. Each has had to proceed via coalitions which keep falling apart and which have made possible the rise and rise of religious, often extreme religious, parties. They have been able to blackmail the major parties, each in its turn, and to exact from them concessions, firstly on religious, but then on domestic and foreign policy matters, finally producing serious and apparently permanent divisions in what was a secular, united country.

The emergence of major corruption in this world of unstable coalitions was more or less inevitable, as has been the far greater potency of pressure groups. All of this has made consistent, transparent government almost impossible.


New Zealand is now going through this minefield, as have France and Italy. One thing that that first-past-the-post voting does establish is who is sovereign and who has ultimate authority.

This may not seem to be an important issue for some people when times are easy and the state secure; but we are no longer living in such a fortunate condition, nor are many societies.

And if one wanted to look at the governing structures of the European Union and the United Nations, we would know how difficult it is to produce practical outcomes, and know that such structures are a breeding ground for pressure groups, corruption, and invisible government.

So, the British system, based as it is on first-past-the-post voting, does produce two most important benefits: a normally stable government and a sovereign government.

To return to Germany and to its proportional representation and federal system, you start to see the difficulties the Germans are facing.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the recent German election was the extraordinary failure of their supposedly highly efficient polling organisations to get even near the final results.

Polls had given the CDU coalition something like 43 per cent, whereas Merkel reached only 35 per cent. How could the pollsters have got it so wrong, to the magnitude of eight percentage points?

This makes Gary Morgan seem like the Delphic oracle.

Childcare and its critics

Anne Manne, who used to have a column in The Weekend Australian, and whose contributions I always anticipated with expectant pleasure has, after 10 years' deliberations, produced a book, Motherhood: How should we care for our children? (Allen & Unwin).

It argues for the numerous superiorities of a baby, and then a young child, enjoying the close company and attention of its mother, as compared with systems of child care, in which the infant is brought up, so to speak, by comparative strangers in child-care centres where, all too often, the identity of the carers changes from week to week and there is one carer for five infants.

Anne Manne, knowing the financial and career obstacles which make it difficult for many mothers to spend the time and devote the attention to their progeny, which they would have liked, has many suggestions for remedying the situation.

But she does insist on deploying arguments and referring to surveys which strongly indicate that a child who has been able to bond closely with its mother - and hopefully its father - over its first vital years, has a better, perhaps far better, chance of becoming a stable, comparatively problem-free child and adult than do the products of institutionalised childcare.

No sooner had the book appeared than it, and she personally, came under strident attack - so much so that a colleague, Bettina Arndt, who writes and speaks so well on matters of the family, sexuality and children when given a chance, came to her rescue.

Bettina related how Anne's husband Robert had warned Anne of the abuse she would receive. And he was right!

Bettina told of the numerous family and child-care conferences which she and Anne Manne have attended. They were kept on the periphery and saw at close quarters the total imperviousness to any dissenting arguments or counter-factual evidence exhibited by the feminist hegemony which sets the agenda and controls the dialogues in these conferences and "learning" workshops.

So, the bile produced when Anne Manne's book appeared was, I suppose, par for the course; but read it for yourself.

The Federal Government, however, is starting to move on making life for stay-at-home mothers easier and, for many, even feasible. The measures contemplated by Canberra, however, still fall far short of the family-friendly policies of many European governments, especially the generous family financial assistance recently introduced in France.

Latham diaries fall-out

After flooding the newspapers for days with mainly abusive attacks on Mark Latham, on his book and, in one or two places, his publisher Louise Adler, the media are now trying to wish the whole thing away by stopping all further publicity or discussion.

But, even if they were to be successful, the genie has escaped from the bottle.

Louise Adler and the Melbourne University Press showed a lot of courage in publishing this obviously important book and have been rewarded with a major publishing triumph. The book has sold at the rate of Harry Potter and all the bookshops have exhausted their stocks. I had great difficulty getting a copy - only managing to get a last single copy from Borders in Carlton.

MUP are reprinting the book, so obviously a great many Australians were interested.

From my reading of the earlier part, and dipping into the rest, I recommend that readers try to get hold of a copy and then make their judgement.

They should ignore what most of the media have been saying, for that fraternity got quite a shellacking from Mark.

State-federal jousting

Our state governments are not exactly covering themselves with glory at the moment, in believing that they can win kudos in their home towns by opposing or stalling anything which the Commonwealth Government suggests.

This applies even in federal-state conferences, which the states have themselves suggested.

Queensland, whose Premier Peter Beattie and Labor Government are in dire trouble, is the worst offender, whereas Victoria's Labor premier Steve Bracks is turning out to be quite sensible and cooperative.

Considering the importance of some of these matters under discussion, e.g., anti-terrorism, education, protection at the Commonwealth Games, health - you name it - the populist antics of some of our provincial politicians are not producing the public appreciation that the stuntmen think they are producing.

Canberra will win this contest ... but it should not be occurring in the first place.

  • Max Teichmann

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