March 24th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Britain's foot and mouth outbreak - the global link

EDITORIAL: The challenge facing John Howard

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Can Howard "placate the crocodile"?

LAW: US rejects International Criminal Court

Straws in the Wind

FAMILY: Senators oppose Howard IVF amendment



COMMENT: Humane economy v. the bottom line

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: How closer Asian ties benefit Australia

EDUCATION: New assessment can mean almost anything

ECONOMICS: China's slow progress on WTO entry

HONG KONG: Has democracy a future in Hong Kong?

SCIENCE: Human cloning attempt roundly condemned

COMMENT: What would a right-wing Philippa Adams look like?

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by John Styles

News Weekly, March 24, 2001

With the news of the economic downturn in the last quarter of 2000, the Howard Government started to crank up the warning that Labor's economic management would be worse. It is a strategy that relies on voter memory (notoriously short) and presupposes that swinging voters fear a Labor victory as much as the Coalition does (unlikely).

In any event, the Canberra press gallery is likely to be spinning an altogether different tale about the Labor years, if a recent comment by The Sydney Morning Herald's political correspondent Michelle Grattan is anything to go by.

The Labor years were not that bad at all, she declared recently on ABC Radio National's breakfast program. "People do know that Kim Beazley was in government for a long time and for much of that period the Labor Government's economic record was good. Yes, there was the recession and yes, there were some misjudgments, but it was the Labor Government that deregulated the economy, a very tricky path to have to walk in the 80s, and that was done pretty well. So I think that the harking back to the Labor years is not really all that effective for the government."

So there you have it. Unemployment of 11.2 per cent? Mortgage rates of 17 per cent and overdraft rates over 20 per cent? Mere misjudgments apparently, according to Michelle Grattan.

Paul Keating dubbed his biggest misjudgment "the recession we had to have". The phrase was adopted and used with irony and enthusiasm ad infinitum by his Coalition opponents.

Irony in politics, however, can be a dangerous thing. I suspect that there are thousands of young first- or second-time voters who today probably accept that misleading phrase at face value.

Depending on the result for this quarter, they may go into the next election having to choose between the party that gave us "the recession we had to have" and those who, courtesy of the GST, gave us the one we didn't have to have. Whom do you think they would view more favourably?


The Age apparently detects an ideological soulmate in NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Christine Nixon and is pushing hard for her to succeed Victorian police Chief Commissioner Neil Comrie who retired about a week ago.

Ms Nixon is the "front runner" to replace Mr Comrie, according to a March 9 front page story by John Silvester.

"Victoria could be the first state in Australia to appoint a female police chief," Silvester wrote. He asserted that Ms Nixon had been "headhunted" by the Bracks Government and had been "asked to apply for the job". He quoted sources in the NSW force who described Ms Nixon as a candidate with "'civil libertarian' interests and a good track record in areas such as Aboriginal and gay rights".

The paper claimed the Bracks Government wants more females in senior positions within the police force; and Ms Nixon is "committed to promoting more women". So too are the two other short-listed candidates, senior Victorian policemen Assistant Commissioner Noel Ashby and Deputy Commissioner Peter Nancarrow, the newspaper reported.

Despite a somewhat more equivocal follow-up editorial on March 12 in which The Age acknowledged certain disadvantages that might be associated with Ms Nixon's appointment, the newspaper's editor Michael Gawenda left no doubt about the paper's preference and the reason for running the earlier glowing front page story.

When asked on ABC radio if the story was offered to The Age in order to boost Ms Nixon's profile, Michael Gawenda replied:

"I can't tell you exactly how the story came about ... but I think that clearly the Government is now heading towards appointing her and I think that our story this morning makes it more difficult for the Government not to appoint her."

Costello profile

As if things were not going badly enough for Peter Costello. On March 4, ABC Radio's Background Briefing ran a profile of the Federal Treasurer.

For the "balanced" package, BB's presenter Gerald Tooth interviewed three journalists, all Howard Government critics: Paul Kelly (The Australian), Margo Kingston (The Sydney Morning Herald) and Sean Carney (The Age).

Then there was leadership consultant Alistair Mant, leftish social commentator Hugh Mackay and ALP MHR Michael Danby. Rev Tim Costello, the Treasurer's brother, was canvassed and Peter Costello's friend, Michael Kroger, was also included.

BB also sought the view of Kevin Sheedy, coach of Essendon, the AFL club of which Peter Costello is the No.1 ticket holder.

Sheedy's advice was rather blunt:

"You'd probably want to learn from what happened to Jeff Kennett, and make sure if you're going to get it right, then make sure that the capital 'A' in arrogance can actually be eradicated and try and find out what the people are honestly about."

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