December 1st 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Afghanistan: After the fall of the Taliban - the tasks ahead

Editorial: Policies for John Howard’s agenda

Canberra Observed: Election outcome - reality and dreamland

Irian Jaya: Was Jakarta involved in West Papuan leader’s murder?

Queensland: Boswell beats Hanson, but what now?

Interview: Will Bailey answers development bank critics

LAW: International Criminal Court leads to legal uncertainty

Straws in the Wind

MEDIA: ABC electioneering

Letter: A bad mix

Letter: New patrol boats

Letter: Queue jumping

Interview with Bjorn Lomborg: Science versus name-calling

ECONOMY: The trade news from Doha

WA family debate hots up

DRUGS: Community drug prevention

Books: 'Meaninglessness: The Solutions of Nietzsche, Freud and Rorty', by Michael Casey

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Queensland: Boswell beats Hanson, but what now?

by Victor Sirl

News Weekly, December 1, 2001

"He’s not pretty but he’s pretty effective", so the billboards and television ads were telling us. The Prime Minister, while delivering his victory speech, seemed rather pleased that he had effectively stopped Pauline Hanson returning to the Federal Parliament, concurring, "Ron, I do think you’re pretty effective".

Senator Ron Boswell sent the National Party Senate vote above the level achieved by the failed 1998 campaign of Bill O’Chee. However, even with about 10 per cent of the vote, he still did not achieve a quota in his own right. In fact, at the close of counting Hanson polled 20,000 more primary votes. Preferences will see Boswell returned for another six years, but a significant number of voters have not returned to the fold.

Senator Boswell captured crucial preferences from the Christian Democrats, no doubt influenced by his endorsement from Right to Life. He has never parted from a pro-life position on issues of abortion and euthanasia. In contrast, Hanson’s public attack on Right to Life during an interview on Andrew Carroll’s ABC radio program may have cost her a seat in the Senate.

Boswell’s pro-life stance also helped him obtain valuable booth workers, a key factor in defeating the disorganised One Nation effort. Certainly, many individuals from pro-life and pro-family organisations chose to staff booths for him because of this stance.

Yet despite his victory, the Queensland Nationals have lost the seat of Kennedy to Bob Katter. National Party MP Paul Neville trails in Hinkler, but is gaining as counting continues, and may once more win a tight finish.

In New South Wales, the Nationals could lose Tim Fischer’s old seat of Farrer to the Liberals, though preference flows still put them in with a chance. New England is lost to Independent (and former State MP) Tony Windsor.

This means that in an election where the Government was returned with an increased majority, the Nationals have lost seats, and perhaps a ministerial post. Viewed in this light, John Anderson’s political leadership has not delivered electoral success to the Party, but no-one else on the front bench would offer a genuine alternative.

This only makes Boswell’s victory of greater importance for the future of the Party.

As for how Senator Boswell views his role in rebuilding the Nationals, there is little doubt. He has set himself the goal of keeping Hanson out of the Federal Parliament and, having achieved it, he hopes this victory of his will end her days as a major political player.

Secondly, he has vowed to champion small businesses such as pharmacies, newsagents and taxi-drivers, and to keep them safe from the ravages of National Competition Policy.

Therefore, he will be an important player in any efforts to turn around the economic rationalist agenda set by the Canberra bureaucracy and underpinning National Competition Policy.

But what the National Party must realise is that small business, while vital to employment and the building of prosperous communities, cannot reverse the decline in the party’s electoral fortunes.

You can build a large part of your internal infrastructure with small business support; but you can’t thereby build a wide electoral base, because there simply aren’t enough small business owners for that. The National Party must recapture much of its old base in rural and regional Australia, and it will not do this by overall approval for National Competition Policy.

The economic rationalist ideology that beset government policy direction for manufacturing, and which now is being foisted on agriculture, will inevitably move onto small business if it is not halted. Can you logically concede that the ideological argument of trade liberalisation, creating competition, greater efficiency and new industries, holds true for the other two sectors but not for small business?

An ideology that fails economically to account for unequal market power between small and larger players is one which is all too likely to conclude that big business, even transnational corporations, should be allowed to move into the small business sector. We are already seeing this process with medical clinics.

Furthermore, with Government and Opposition enthusiasm for the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), who knows what economic environment our small business community may be left to operate in?

To keep his commitment to the small business community, Senator Boswell will not be able to rest on his laurels.

Some of his critics harshly alleged that he was only seeking re-election to obtain a ministry this term, but he has already ruled out a move to the front bench. This is an indication that he wants the latitude which a Senate post provides to roam widely and speak freely.

Time will tell if Senator Boswell can continue to protect the interests of small business, while operating as a Government team player. He has done much in the past, including obtaining recent wins for the fishing and pineapple industries, so let’s hope for more in the future.

  • Victor Sirl

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