November 17th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Widespread support for Development Bank

Editorial: Election 2001 - The issues which must be addressed

TESTIMONIAL: News Weekly: more than a magazine

BIOETHICS: Church leaders reject all human cloning

DEFENCE: Navy League endorses Coastwatch, rejects coast guard

Straws in the Wind: The great wombat race / Inch by inch / Escobar lives!

ECONOMICS: Development Bank - a boost for regional enterprise

COMMENT: Exposing the anti-American Left

Letter: Development Bank

Letter: Pakistan next?

Letter: Knowledge nation

Letter: What jobs?

Afghanistan: War on terror - the scorecard so far

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Baby bonus signals sea-change in family policy

HEALTH: Are too many Australian children over-medicated?

EUTHANASIA: Belgium threatens to go down the Dutch road

ECONOMY: Where competition policy fails

LITERATURE: Nobel winner celebrates life and civilisation

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Editorial: Election 2001 - The issues which must be addressed

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, November 17, 2001

Due to printing deadlines, this comment had to be written before the Federal Election was held; however, it will reach you a few days after the election, when the outcome will be known to all.

This means that a detailed examination of the result will have to wait until the next issue.

At the time of writing, opinion polls were predicting the return of the Howard Government, in part due to voters’ strong preference for John Howard over Kim Beazley, despite Mr Beazley’s attempts to ensure that there are no perceived differences between the Coalition and Labor on the two hottest issues of the day: boat people attempting to enter Australian waters from Indonesia, and America’s war on terrorism.

There are deep differences of opinion in the Australian community on these issues, and some are expressed most strongly by Labor supporters. Paradoxically, Mr Beazley’s attempt to present an identical position to that of the Coalition on these issues - no doubt on the advice of his "minders" - actually confirms the perception of indecisiveness that Kim Beazley is trying to shake off.

As for the opinion polls themselves, there were too many uncertainties about this election to give them much credibility.

The relatively small samples used gave no good indication of the fact that issues for city and rural voters are quite different. Or that security issues, national competition policy and services for people living in country areas are far stronger issues for people living in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia, than for people in the south-eastern states.

Additionally, there was a strong presence of Independent candidates in some electorates, which could possibly give them the balance of power in the Lower House.

Other factors include the fact that in 1998, the preferences of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party went against the Coalition - undoubtedly delivering seats to the ALP. This time, in some marginal electorates, her supporters’ preferences could put some Liberals in.

An additional complication - not reflected in the opinion polls - is that the Australian Democrats have given the ALP preferences in some 15 marginal Lower House seats, in exchange for preferences in the Senate. If voters follow the party card, this could switch seats to the ALP.

The result of the election is certain to reflect the working out of all of these issues.

The election campaign has shown that there are many important issues which currently are not on the agenda of either party.

Their silence over Australia’s mounting foreign debt, now $317 billion and rising, can only be understood in the light of their unwillingness to do anything about it.

The Coalition has tried to fudge the issue by talking about how they have reduced public debt since 1996 by some $60 billion - without mentioning that public debt has simply been replaced by private debt, which has accelerated over the past ten years, causing the collapse in the value of the Australian dollar to around US50 cents.

Associated with this has been the decline in Australian manufacturing industry to near the bottom of the OECD, measured as a proportion of GDP, the replacement of full-time jobs with part-time (largely female) jobs, declining job security, and the consequent need for two or more incomes to keep the family afloat.

As Lucy Sullivan wrote in her recent book, Taxing the Family, "Only in the last two decades, and largely because of the abandonment of policies protective of family income, have mothers entered the workforce in substantial numbers, thereby providing a second source of needed family income."

While John Howard’s policy of a first-child tax refund implies a recognition that most families suffer a major loss of income (and hence standard of living) when mothers leaves the workforce to raise children, the tax refund does little to address this problem, and is unlikely to have much effect on Australia’s plummeting birthrate.

On another front, the major parties’ reluctance to embrace a new Commonwealth-sponsored Development Bank, put forward by former ANZ CEO, Will Bailey, shows their unwillingness to "think big" to address Australia’s problems.

A new bank to provide long-term loans, at favourable rates of interest, for small business and agriculture, as Germany’s Reconstruction (KfW) Bank has done for the past 50 years, is the first key component of what is needed to secure Australia’s future. Also needed is a bold strategic plan designed to rebuild Australia’s declining manufacturing base, based on vigorous support for Australian industry through preferential access to government contracts (including defence), and a primage on imports.

Such a plan, with strong support for Australia’s large but struggling primary industries, would be part of a new vision for Australia, which would offer young families today what their parents enjoyed thirty years ago: job security, and the opportunity to raise a family on a single average income.

Is all this impossible? Only if we say it is.

  • Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council

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