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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Straws in the Wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, March 24, 2001
When ignorant armies clash by night

We are moving into the silly season of our discontents. Malcolm Fraser's doppelganger, Don Chipp, had emerged from limbo to throw his support behind Natasha Stott-Despoja as the next leader of the Australian Democrats.

Putting aside the back stage ballet that so often structures these interventions (and this had all the marks of a carefully orchestrated outside production), Chipp's reasoning seems even more bizarre than usual. Viz, Labor is going to win by a mile, this will create a big vacuum in the Senate, especially if the Democrats poll poorly, and this will let in One Nation. They would hold the balance of power! So ... Natasha for leader.

The Herald Sun giant headline said it all: "Meg Lees must go to save her Party and save Australia". Don could double up as a WWI recruiting poster. Clearly, One Nation can be put to just about any use you nominate. It should start charging rent.

But if, as seems likely, some voters were to desert the Democrats, the most probable result would be for them to move to the Greens or to Labor - certainly not to One Nation. Nor would their preferences go to One Nation.

In fact the most likely outcomes at present would be for Labor to control the Senate in its own right, were its victory to be as large as pollsters are predicting, or that it would rule with the support of a much stronger Green contingent. This is how Germany is ruled at the moment.

A Green coalition partner is likely to be more demanding, less disciplined, than our house-trained Democrats - but there's nothing that a few taxpayer-funded trips to study rainforests around Rio or soil erosion around Las Vegas, won't fix. So what is the big worry?

I think the real worry for us is that there may not be a principled small party in the Senate, willing and able to help abort Labor using its newly-acquired overwhelming numbers to ram through measures which would be opposed by most Australians, had they been consulted, and which would have the effect of irreversibly altering the Australian political and social landscape - for the worse - and making the prospects of effective opposition and the future return to office by non-Labor forces, quite questionable.

That is, we may be facing a unique situation - Federal Labor controlling both chambers, Labor Governments in all the States, only held in check by the courts, which we have come to know only too well, and a foreign-oriented mass media whose evaluation of political democracy is quite different from that entertained by most Australians.

Indeed the media are part of the problem - which is, how are we going to be able to live in freedom, and the toleration of dissenting views, in the future? A Labor victory of the magnitude I have described could in fact be carrying within it the seeds of smiling tyranny for all but a privileged, and quite unworthy, group of Australians. And their overseas buddies.

In this respect a conservative victory of a similar comprehensiveness would not pose the same dangers, for conservatives' intention normally is to conserve things as they are, including the values and mainstream belief systems.

I say normally, for this conservative Government sinned, as it is just beginning to realise. By pursuing its free trade and globalisation strategies (the same as Labor did and shall do in the future), and privatisation for its own sake, from which Labor has belatedly resiled, it has been undermining the same values and mainstream social institutions, which Labor is intentionally trashing, by other means.

Our Tories refuse to see the connection between economic change and social change - thus, the dire effects of the Enclosure Movement and rapid industrialisation were lost on them, and still are.

But our contemporary conservatives have compounded their social offence by allowing, not only as members within its ranks but as policy-makers, people as happy to undermine our basic mores and folk ways, as are their Labor counterparts. They used to be called Wets, now the Beautiful People.

Basically, members of the same New Class to which Labor apostates belong, they advance with them in a covering cloud of Feel-Goodery and ersatz compassion, such that one cannot distinguish one party from another. Both sets of party voters have been marginalised.

But the conservatives, having short-changed their basic constituencies - small business, the aged, and regional Australia, in their chase after Big Business and globalism, and having neglected their basic emotional constituency, i.e., those who seek to preserve and live by conventional Australian attachments - family, patriotism, cultural continuity, and honest legal and commercial systems, decent education, and political and intellectual tolerance ... have sadly disillusioned those who supported them in 1996 and again in 1998.

All voters expect from Labor is what the inhabitants of Banana Republics expect everywhere - hand-outs until the social product is exhausted - then bail-outs from someone. Meantime, the real rulers loot the State and suppress all serious critics.

The Australian public would probably prefer things otherwise, but, as Pauline said, "The Government wouldn't listen and they're not listening now."

Between ourselves, I don't think they ever have. It is a measure of potency and status for the average contemporary upwardly mobile politician that he doesn't have to listen to boring voters and constituents. Hence the rigging of party structures and then the legislative/executive arms, so as to make it impossible for ordinary people to get through to anyone.

This is not by accident, but design. And it is not inevitable.

Having said that, our political masters do listen - to their masters - outside the formal system. And to their speechwriters.

Which brings us back to Chipp and Stott-Despoja. It is extraordinary that two such mediocre and uninteresting people should be made the focus of attention - especially by Murdoch's spruikers.

Student days

Stott-Despoja doesn't seem to have advanced from the original student activist word-salad of her political debut. In fact I was privileged to read an account, in The Jewish News, of a very early oral presentation by her at a Jewish women's club - Women Achievers of the Year, maybe? It was a collage of self-promotion, great emphasis on her youth and political precocity; and some of yesterday's clichŽs. Nothing has changed.

My spies at that meeting thought that she had a long way to go - but at least she was on side. Well ...

Groucho Marx once introduced a speaker to a gathering: "We all know him, and he's as familiar, and as interesting as ... an old sock."

Meg Lees had every right to protest at Chipp's populist drivel from the past, being inserted into private Democrats' business. The last decent speech I ever heard from Don was when he anointed the new statue to Raoul Wallenberg in Kew Gardens.

That was a good speech; and I'm still in speechless admiration of the person who wrote it.

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