COVER STORY: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Howard and Rudd: the Xerox men
, September 15, 2007
Kevin Rudd has been so fearful of losing votes that he has turned Labor into a policy copycat party, at least until election day, writes Joseph Poprzeczny.With polls consistently showing Labor under Kevin Rudd leading the Coalition by 10 points, the election looks to have a landslide in store for us, like the 1975 and 1996 oustings of the Whitlam and Keating governments respectively.
But this time we're likely to see several other less obvious outcomes.
For instance, there's a good chance of its being the second ever election in which a prime minister loses his seat and government.
That first happened 78-years ago, in October 1929, when Nationalist leader, Stanley Bruce, as member for Flinders, was toppled by little-known union leader, Jack Holloway.
Polling in John Howard's now marginal seat of Bennelong, which he's held since 1974, indicates a tight contest with high-profile Labor candidate, former ABC television presenter, Maxine McKew.Trounced
Moreover, if the Coalition is trounced like the Whitlam and Keating governments, neither a Victorian nor a New South Welshman will be prime minister, something that hasn't happened since 1945, when wartime Labor leader, John Curtin, a Western Australian (even if Victorian-born) held that post.
Kevin Rudd, like Howard's Bennelong challenger, McKew, is a Queenslander.
A Coalition defeat would mean Rudd will become the fourth Queenslander to hold Australia's top political post and the first whose surname doesn't begin with the letter "f".
His three predecessors are: Andrew Fisher (1908-09, 1910-13 and 1914-15); Arthur Fadden (PM for 39 days in 1941), and Frank Forde (PM for a week in 1945, following Curtin's death).
A defeated Liberal Party without Howard would almost certainly prompt former Sydney corporate lawyer, banker, and now environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to make a bid for the party's leadership.
That is, of course, if he retains his seat of Wentworth, something that's far from certain since it, like Bennelong, is now categorised as marginal.
To compound his problems, Sydney millionaire business identity and one-time Howard adviser, Geoff Cousins, has launched a local newspaper, the Wentworth Courier
. This is part of an advertising campaign featuring names of local millionaire sportsmen, actors and businessmen to target Turnbull over the likely go-ahead for a $2 billion Tasmanian pulp mill.
If, however, Turnbull overcomes both threats and goes on to become Liberal leader, it would be the first time in Australian political history that both major parties were headed by multi-millionaires.
Australia would consequently move a step closer to emulating America where only multi-millionaires make bids for the White House.
The Rudd family's wealth is believed to be nudging $200 million, derived mainly from employment agencies.
Turnbull, often described by the media as Australia's richest politician, is estimated to be worth $170 million, according to Glenn Milne (The Australian
, September 3, 2007).
His fortune comes from boutique banking and a lucrative hi-tech venture and close links to influential Sydney Labor personalities.
Twenty years ago he established an investment bank, Whitlam Turnbull & Co Ltd, which included former NSW Labor premier, Neville Wran, and Nicholas Whitlam, son of former Labor prime minister, Gough Whitlam.
Turnbull sold his stake in OzEmail in 1999 to then telecommunications giant, MCI Worldcom, for nearly $60 million, and subsequently emerged as Liberal Party treasurer and a key fundraiser.
Turnbull, who many then believed could have become a Labor candidate, perhaps even Labor leader, has associated with several causes that Sydney Labor figures found appealing, including transforming Australia into a republic.
He consequently headed the Keating Labor Government's inquiry into how Australia could become a republic, and chaired the Australian Republican Movement.
He sat on the Sydney-dominated Ausflag board, an organisation that set out "to promote debate on Australia's national symbols, in particular the flag of Australia".
Other board members were business partner, Nicholas Whitlam, leftist ABC commentator, Phillip Adams, and Perth millionairess and long-time Labor favourite, Janet Holmes à Court.
Furthermore, Rudd and Turnbull have contrasting links to Catholicism - Rudd, although raised as a Catholic, is a practising Anglican, his wife's faith; while Turnbull converted to Catholicism, his wife's faith.
More importantly, however, are two other characteristics that will ensure the 2007 contest stands apart from its predecessors.
The first is that Rudd and his strategists have opted to emulate nearly all Howard policies to the maximum extent, something that's prompted Melbourne political commentator, Andrew Bolt, to dub the Labor leader "Xerox Rudd" since he's transformed Labor into a policy copycat party, as least until election day.
More importantly, though not as widely noted, is the fact that Howard is also a "Xerox man".
Howard, since 1996, has steadily transformed the Liberal Party into a centralist entity, like Labor, which embarked on that path in 1921 when Labor leftist, Maurice Blackburn, father of the party's socialisation clause, convinced it to dump federalist thinking, which Australia's founding fathers promoted to ensure a power-hungry central government couldn't emerge. (See "Liberals turning to Whitlam-style centralism", News Weekly
, July 22, 2006).States abolished
Blackburn's blueprint envisaged the six traditional or sovereign states being scrapped and displaced by 31 centrally-controlled provinces with the Senate, the states' house, consequently being abolished.
Rudd is copying Howard and his policies while Howard has embarked on what is essentially Gough Whitlam-style centralism that was ultimately inspired by Blackburn, so the election campaign has already become something of a policy and program merry-go-round.
Probably the best and most succinct way of describing this is to say that Australians, for the first time since the early 1920s, face only a competitive centralist offering.
Because Howard dislikes federalism, but has pangs of conscience about being seen and called a centralist, he deliberately refers to himself as a nationalist, an ominous choice of word since that's what Stanley Bruce was when he lost government and his seat, as the Nationalist Party's leader.
"I am, first and last, an Australian nationalist," Howard said during a 2004 address.
In the same address he belittled those federalists or states-righters, traditional Liberal Party stances.
"When I think about all this country is, and everything it can become, I have little time for state parochialism," he said during that 2004 address.
Since then, he's revealed that Howardism will mean cherry-picking areas towards which he'll direct Canberra spending, even if these traditionally have been state responsibilities.
For instance, last month, during his Sydney Millennium Forum address, he said: "We should be aspirational nationalists, and applying this spirit to the governance of the Federation will be my third goal of a next term.
"We should want and aspire to achieve the best possible outcomes for Australians wherever they might live and by whatever method of governance will best deliver those outcomes.
"Sometimes that will involve leaving things entirely to the states. Sometimes it will involve cooperative federalism.
"On other occasions, it will require the Commonwealth bypassing the states altogether and dealing directly with local communities."
That's precisely what the Whitlam Labor Government did during 1972-75, with Liberals Australia-wide objecting vociferously.
Finally, they backed their national leader, Malcolm Fraser, who took the unprecedented step of blocking Labor's 1975 budget in the Senate, thereby sparking Whitlam's sacking by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.
Because Rudd has adopted a "Xerox" strategy he's found himself leading Labor down a centralising path, even though he indicated, at his first media conference after becoming leader last December, that he'd be moving to promote federalism - the traditional Liberal approach to governance.
This has meant that Rudd - a Queenslander, so someone with federalist sympathies - came close to embarking upon a traditional Liberal governance path. But he has belatedly dumped these because he saw his "Xeroxing" approach as more likely to ensure he'll retain those 10 percentage points ahead of Howard until election day in November.
What this little-noticed "Xeroxing" duel has done so far is to transform the election campaign into one that's pushing rampant competitive centralism, with Rudd following Howard towards Labor's traditional centralist goal but which Howard insists isn't centralism but "nationalism".
Notwithstanding that, it seems appropriate to recall a comment made by last century's greatest and most insightful political commentator, George Orwell, who warned: "Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception."- Joseph Poprzeczny