Them and Us

This is just great. Australia’s big business lobby now wants us to forget about competition policy WITHIN Australia so they can gobble up internal competitors to become Australian champions in the global market. And you know what that means, don’t you? Monopoly or oligopoly means super-profits leeched from OUR pockets. Imagine one huge Australian bank. Imagine our media wholly owned by Murdoch and Packer. Imagine Coles-Myer and Woolworths in total control of Australian retailing. That means higher prices and inferior services for us, bigger profits for them, and no chance at all for small business – all so they can offer cheaper prices to overseas consumers!


All that economists’ rhetoric about keeping the market honest through strong competition laws preventing mergers which would make a company dominant in an Australian market is now dead, apparently. Down with the Trade Practices Act. It’s old hat.


There’s some nice lines in today’s Australian Financial Review’s story on the latest big business power play. “There is a strong view within the business community that current merger laws prevent Australian companies from being big enough to compete successfully offshore. The argument against this view, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, is best shown by two 1980s mergers – the Coles-Myer deal and the News Corp-Herald and Weekly Times merger. Coles-Myer, despite controlling 25c of every retail dollar in Australia, is in some trouble, while News Corp’s increased domestic scale did not prevent it shifting its head office to the United States.”


And the latest grab for power without responsibility by big business doesn’t stop there. Sitting up in Coolum on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, the big business lobby group the Business Council of Australia wants to pay even LESS tax than it already does. Big Business got all its Christmases at once with the GST, because now NO wholesales sales taxes are paid on goods for export. Now, more, much more. At the moment, companies can not give money earned offshore to foreign shareholders without passing it through our tax collectors. Abolish please.


Crikey these guys are greedy. Don’t they realise the disgusting symbolism of making these pronouncements at the same time as the National Party met in Corowa to save itself from oblivion? Its a great irony, though, that the Nats now want competition policy rolled back too. But they want to save the SMALL businessperson, while big business wants to crush them. And wasn’t it One Nation who raised the hue and cry about Australia letting its great companies be sold to foreigners? Now big business is on board, raising the same alarm about us becoming a branch office economy. But big business doesn’t want to get out there on the world stage and compete the hard way, it wants to swallow competitors in Australia so it’s a more difficult target for overseas predators. AND it wants to pay less tax.


How can the losers be compensated with less tax to redistribute? Note that big business regularly denies it has any social obligations of its own, and has institutionalised unabashedly self-serving distributions of income within their own companies – with executives paying themselves buckets while squeezing the people who actually produce the goods and services that produce the profit they cream off for their back pockets. Cash incentives for them to perform, cash squeezes for those who DO perform. And when they stuff up a company? Big bucks to go quietly.


How on earth does big business expect to contribute to the stable political system it needs to prosper? Since it won’t, the government must, but without any big businesses contribution if big businesss can help it.


Us and them alright. Except the us is getting smaller and the them is getting bigger and angrier. Poor fellow, my country.


Today, contributors Susan Gormley in the United States and Murray Henman in the United Kingdom add their thoughts on the seat of Ryan to those of David Davis in Switzerland (Webdiary yesterday). Julian Evans suggests a way John Howard could deal with the One Nation preferences threat and Markus Zellner wonders why he left Switzerland to come home. Cathy Bannister and Jordan Serena engage with Don Arthur’s analysis of why the right is shredding itself (Webdiary yesterday). Hamish Alcorn and David Lochrin pick the eyes out of globalisation, and David Davis sees nothing new in “New Labor”.


SUSAN GORMLEY (nom de plume) on RYAN from the UNITED STATES



Firstly, thank you for this forum and for your honest and even-handed stewardship. It has kept me sane through my exile in the USA, and I thought it was about time I put in my two cents worth.


I spent 28 of my 34 years in RYAN, and there is one fundamental fact which seems to have been ignored in most of the commentary so far. This is the first time there’s really been a competition!


Ryan’s reputation as one of the safest Liberal seats in the country has resulted in understandable apathy from the Labor Party in their preselection of candidates to challenge John Moore. I suspect the prevailing opinion would have been that they never had a chance so why bother throwing much money or a decent candidate at it.


I hasten to add that I don’t believe John Moore personally can take too much credit for this. The socio-economic make-up of the seat was simply conservative through and through. Moore’s profile in the electorate has been minimal at best. Indeed there’s many a Liberal voter, myself included, who have long suspected that the interests of the people of Ryan have run a very poor second to Mr Moore’s interests in Canberra.


So for years its been either John Moore or no-one.


Now the picture is different. Bob Tucker is a strong candidate for the Liberals, but, unlike John Moore, whose incumbency offered him a 50 metre head start, Tucker is starting this race level with his opposition and the winds of change are in his face.


Ryan should be hard for Labor to win. The seat is overwhelmingly conservative. But Labor’s gradual shift to the centre (particularly in Queensland) has made the idea of a Labor member no longer so unpalatable to many Ryan voters. Whereas in the past they may have, teeth gritted in resentment, voted for John Moore because the alternative was unthinkable, it could well be different this time around.





I lived for ten years in various western suburbs of Brisbane which comprise Ryan before coming to the UK 2 years ago, and I still consider it home. Many of my friends still live there and I do try to keep in touch with what’s going on. I am a member of the Democrats.


Generally, I agree with the David Davis perception of the area.


While Ryan is a strong Liberal electorate, I think that many of the Liberals are the small ‘l’, old style liberals – those that were frozen out of the party in the 80s. (With reference to a previous correspondent, if the Liberals still need their softer side, what happened to people like Chris Puplick?)


I think that many of them are firm believers in traditional liberal ideas like personal initiative, free trade, competition, and small government, but they are also disturbed by the government’s tolerance of intolerance, and also (as Margo suspects) the effects that competition policy is having on small businesses


This is seen in the consistent strong vote for the Democrats in Ryan. For many years it was the Democrats’ best Queensland electorate, before a redistribution gave much of its hip inner-city areas to the seat of Brisbane. (the votes coming from a combination of the old liberals and young lefties)


It’s also worth noting that Ryan is a rather educated bunch, having the highest proportion of University degrees of any Queensland electorate.


Since it is a by-election, I suspect a number of regular Liberal voters will take an opportunity to kick John Howard in the pants (and let’s not forget that the Liberals had their own pre-selection bust ups in Ryan). Perhaps it will be enough to deliver it to Labor. I just can’t understand why Howard didn’t ask/make Moore stay there for another 6 months.





In all the fury in the debate over the causes of the election results in WA and Qld, the issue of preference swapping between the Nationals and One Nation has risen to the fore, and particularly how the Federal Coalition partners should respond to the issue.


The Hanson squeeze play, whereby sitting members must swap preferences with ON or be put last, naturally effects the Coalition more than the ALP as it has more members to lose, and more particularly holds the seats where the ON vote is likely to be the strongest. It is suggested that every preference vote gained by the Nationals from ON in the Bush would result in larger losses of deserting Liberal voters in the metropolitan areas, and thus a greater loss in the total numbers of seats.


However, there is a partial way out for Howard. He could simply state that the while the Nationals are free to choose to swap preferences with whomever they choose, any Nationals that choose to do so will not be part of a Howard or Costello government (including junior Ministries and Parliamentary Secretaries). Nor could they attend joint party room meetings (although they may attend their own party meetings).


National MPs that choose to do so would therefore represent their own electorates independently and provide a greater voice to their voters concerns, while still being members of the National Party. This would make the MPs concerned think twice before playing footsie with ON. It would also send a clear signal to the electorate that the Liberal Party actually meant it when it says it will not work with anyone using ON votes.


The other area that has been most overlooked is the effect in the Senate. How will ON decide on its preferences, and will the Coalition parties be able to agree on a Senate preference swap, if they can’t agree on preferences to ON? Leaking preference votes could produce some very strange outcomes in the last Senate position in all States.



MARGO: National Party leader John Anderson has announced that all his ministers and parliamentary secretaries will put One Nation last, leaving backbenchers free to do their own thing. But I still reckon that the Liberals won’t hold the line on One Nation preferences this time, and that Howard would love to organise a scenario where HIS backbenchers could also do their own thing.


Your point on the Senate is a vital one. At the 1998 federal election, all major parties were disciplined in putting One Nation last. This saw the election of only one One Nation Senator, in Queensland. One Nation Senate candidates outpolled their competitors for the last Senate seat in Western Australia, South Australia, and NSW, but none got up because of this strategy. Thus the Democrats’ Aden Ridgeway beat David Oldfield in NSW.


Back in Howard’s first term, before the shock 1998 Queensland election result, Howard told his partyroom he’d prefer working with One Nation Senators than Democrats. Will Pauline Hanson insist that the Coalition preference One Nation in the Senate as well as in individual lower house seats to gain her preferences? Queensland National Party Senator Ron Boswell was in tears yesterday, when he announced that after 19 years in politics (much of them spent fighting the far right) he couldn’t live with himself if his preferences won Pauline hanson a Queensland Senate spot. He’ll be putting One Nation last in the Senate. Will Hanson retaliate by not giving lower house preferences to the two National MPs who’ve announced they’ll preference One Nation in their seats?


The Democrats are caught in their own squeeze play over the GST, with their vote plummeting in the WA and Qld elections while the Greens vote surged. Five Greens members of the WA upper house now hold the balance of power, good insurance against any Labor attempt to water down its commitment to protect old growth forests.




Here follows my vain attempt to steer discussion away from One Notion and Pauline Loathsome.


Dell Horey writes (Web Diary, February 19):


“I am not a dairy farmer but I can imagine the indignation of being offered money to get out of farming when it isn’t enough to cover my costs, and more importantly fails to recognise how closely tied to identity being a dairy farmer is, and what it means in terms of my family’s lifestyle and expectations.”


I don’t fully comprehend where the “farmers are sacred” idea came from in Australia. I admit that without them the world wouldn’t eat, and recognise Australia’s past primary production focus. But farming is a business, like all other businesses, with large uncontrollable risk factors (weather, commodity prices). I once saw figures that described your average farm as requiring a minimum of $1 million dollars of equity for less than a three per cent return. Perhaps the small to medium business nature of farming in Australia has something to do with it.


People describe primary agricultural production as including lifestyle and identity. This argument seems to preclude any other profession, trade or occupation from having lifestyle and identity components. The many subsidies and rebates and schemes granted to primary producers (although dwindling) are coming from taxpayer dollars. It can be argued that the taxpayer

shouldn’t be footing the bill for the maintenance of someone else’s chosen lifestyle. I would note that Europe and America and Japan also support primary producers. The concept is not limited to Australia.


Jim Tsihlis writes (Web Diary, February 19):


“And what are we left with then… 2 major parties making Australia an easier place for people like me to fill up seats on flights to and from the US or UK. And screw the rest.”


I was one of the people on those flights.


My family and I have just returned from a two-year working trip overseas in Switzerland. We left pre GST, and returned post GST. We lived in a country with a 7.5% MWST (GST/VAT), and 30% marginal tax rates (but with a compensatory and compulsory three tier pension scheme). We returned to a country with a %10 GST and 48.5% marginal tax rates. Financially we were much better off in Switzerland.


Why did we return to Australia?


A very good question and one I don’t completely know the answer to.


We found Europe myopic, introspective, cramped, and bigoted. The Australia we left was better, but has been retreating during our absence. The Australian natural environment should not be underestimated as one of Australia’s major assets and drawcards. We are really defecating in our own nest by doing stupid things like logging old growth forest. We found the general level of competence and service lower in Europe. The cultural and industrial cringe that Australia can’t do things as well as or better than the rest of the world is just plain false. If it weren’t for Australians (and South Africans), most of the financial IT in places like London would grind

to a halt.



CATHY BANNISTER responds to DON ARTHUR’S analysis of the three strands of Conservatism at war (Webdiary yesterday)


Don Arthur’s deconstruction is interesting. Howard is economically free marketeer, socially conservative and populist whenever he looks like being able to score a cheap shot.


But I don’t believe that “for decades” all three elements have existed in the Liberal Party. Free marketeerism in it’s present form is a relatively recent invention. The Liberal Party itself was traditionally far more interventionist and, well, liberal (as evidenced by Malcolm Fraser’s performance in office). With hindsight, the difference between the old democratic socialism and old conservatism is more one of self-definition than substance.


Libertarianism appeared in the 80s and is present in the Labor Party as well. It is even less comfortable there.


The aetiology is more complicated than Don suggests. I disagree that free marketeers are without morals. Keith Thomas, in “Religion and the Decline of Magic” demonstrates links between protestantism and capitalism. During the Reformation, protestant propagandists ridiculed the rituals of the Catholic Church, where sins could be confessed and forgiven, and unabsolved sins would be punished in the afterlife. Protestants preached instead that sins would be punished by God directly during life itself. This in turn gave rise to an uncompromising lifestyle where every deed and thought had to be pure.


Moreover, fortune was taken to be proof of piety and conversely misfortune was proof of sin. Hence the evolution of the “protestant work ethic”, where hard work is pious and supposed to be rewarded in real time.


This protestantism then evolved into the libertarian free market philosophy, by direct substitution of the concept of God with the Market. The invisible hand of God rewarding pious acts and thought becomes the invisible hand of the Market, rewarding economically sound acts. The work ethic is maintained intact.


Hence, free marketeers are not amoral – they just have morals which would offend those of us raised with a sense of civic duty. They believe that the poor deserve to be poor, and if only they were not so lazy, they would have money. Welfare is “wrong” because it encourages this laziness. The “stockbrokers and fly-by-night entrepreneur” are not the most undeserving, but conversely the most deserving, simply by virtue of being able to make money.


Free marketeers are slippery fish. They have a tendency to self censor. Just before I left New Zealand, they were starting to come clean on their real beliefs, after figures emerged of the consequences of 10 years of extreme monetaristic policy and state asset sales. Don Birch (ex-Finance Minister under Jenny Shipley and Jim Bolger) stated that the rich-poor gap should widen because this motivates people to earn more. Gareth Morgan (fascist extraordinaire) commented that beggars are an “appropriate market signal”. These people are clearly mad, and their presence is a destructive force in any party.


It’s something both Liberals & Labor have to resolve for themselves.


I hope this makes sense. It’s 3.00am and I’ve only just got my three week old baby to sleep.





You seem to be bringing out the international contingent, with David Davis from Switzerland, Peter Gellatly from Canada, and now my two cents’ worth from Germany! I read with interest Don Arthur’s view on One Nation & Pauline Hanson, and suggest we change one word in his statement, which I think would better describe PHON.


Right now it’s about retribution. “They don’t expect to get their eye back but they do feel entitled to an eye in return” should perhaps read: “Right now it’s about retribution – they don’t expect to get their eye back but they do feel entitled to an ‘I’ in return.”


Isn’t this Hansonism in one sentence? The disgruntled right of Australian politics have been savaging their own – why? Surely not because the ALP or the Greens or Democrats can better serve their purposes? It is to ensure that a protest is heard. The more interesting question is WHY they feel disenchanted.


Both major parties are at the whim of One Nation, even though the left has reaped the benefits over the past three State elections. What is the only way to win government? Make your policies so similar to the other party that the option gets down to which leader is better suited to the job, or wait for the Government of the day to make sufficient mistakes through misunderstanding the electorate, a la Keating (with his perceived aloofness and desire to bring Australia into Asia) and Howard (petrol, airports, GST, etc…), to then get voted out.


The ALP should not think they are beyond the wrath of One Nation supporters. Hanson has made it clear that whoever is the sitting member will be targetted. Not one or the other party. It is the only effective strategy she has, as we do not have a proportional system to get her voice heard. In short, all States (even Queensland) will be moving towards a period of changing governments, maybe not over one term, but two.



HAMISH ALCORN in BRISBANE is my brother.


The GST was sold to us with three highly politicised justifications: It would be fairer, It would be simpler, It would stop rorting. On all three counts it has, predictably, done the opposite: It is a regressive tax with the offsetting taxcuts going to the middle/top, it is vastly more complicated for every business and for the bureaucracy, and it has – whilst forcing many small players to pay tax – also institutionalised the black economy.


The other justification, which was spoken about much less (at least outside the financial press) was the real one, which the new tax fulfilled admirably: to give Australia a better “investment climate”. I’ll get back to this concept.


Similarly “globalisation” has stated and real reasons. Like railways, the Green Revolution and World Bank loans were in other times, “globalisation” is going to make the world fairer, reduce poverty and give more of the world access to the benefits of civilisation. (I place globalisation in quotation marks as clearly we’re not talking about globalisation of human rights or environmental standards, but a specific and quite extremist form of market globalisation). The real reason, which again is occasionally stated but not by the PR experts, is to make the whole world a better “investment climate”.


Now “investment climate” is also a highly ideological term. It does not, of course, refer to a place where a worker can invest his or her savings and watch them grow – on the contrary. It is also not a place where someone can invest their nest egg of $50-100,000 grand in a business and see it prosper with a reasonable effort and competence. No – this person will likely go bust in the “good investment climate”.


It is quite simply a place where the very wealthy can get wealthier. It has no other meaning. We have a situation today where we have a “strong economy” whilst most people are getting poorer, which reminds us of Stalin telling the starving millions how many more bushels of grain they were producing.


The Stalinist analogy obviously can’t go far, but there is one other compelling similarity with the current situation. We are told that the current economic changes being inflicted on us from above are “inevitable”. The 20th century might have taught us to be very suspicious of the historically inevitable. It is ideology – no more – and it can rationalise all manner of evil.


The Pauline Hanson One Nation Party may well be a bunch of ignorant cretins. I share that opinion. But never let it be said that the current system CAN’T be COHERENTLY challenged in a radical and popular way. THAT would be burying our heads in the sand. And so long as the world is being systematically ripped off with the aid of ideologues like Howard, then the ferment behind such possibilities – Hansonesque or otherwise – remain with us.




The influence of Globalisation on local politics


I’m interested in the Hanson phenomenon, but more in terms of the bigger picture. Although John Howard attributes the One Nation vote (at least publicly) to specific issues like petrol prices and roads, I have little doubt that the underlying motivation is distrust in “globalisation” and where it’s taking us.


At some level ON supporters probably understand that their communities can expect little from “global business” because they do not offer attractive profit opportunities. Take the closure of bank branches. If there is no social responsibility to provide a service, why should a bank have a branch in some remote town when that particular branch runs at a loss, or if not, certainly doesn’t show the sort of return which could be delivered by the Money Market?


Unfortunately Government seems to be putting on the mantle of business. Indeed, some areas of the current Federal Government appear to regard themselves more as “business partners” than champions of the people they’re supposed to represent, and powerless to enforce social or environmental responsibilities onto the private sector.


Most people seem to be poor at differentiating and “compartmentalising” issues. So the real issue of globalisation becomes enmeshed with more primitive emotions about race, rough justice, and moral fundamentalism.


This same poorly-focussed distrust in globalisation probably motivates many other voters to some degree, including Greens, various independents, and even the National Party.



DAVID DAVIS on “New Labor”


I am not really convinced that Labor has found any secret recipe. Ignoring Queensland for a moment (Queensland is ALWAYS the maverick), the success of Labor elsewhere has more to do with the electoral cycle than anything else. Just like the economic cycle, every now and then there has to be a low point or a trough. The electorate gets sick of the same people being in power all the time so every now and then they change them, sometimes just for the sake of it. It’s time.


The same thing happened in the 80’s when Labor was in vogue and in every state. Then I recall they sent everywhere bankrupt and were voted out again. As usual Queensland ran kind of counter-cyclical.


Then again, there IS something a little bit different at the moment. In the three largest states, does the Liberal party (at state level) actually exist any more? What a joke they have become. Each case is a bit different (Vic, Qld and NSW) and I really struggle to find a common theme. The only common aspect is that the Liberal Party is virtually extinct.


Small “l” Labor is an interesting concept. I find Bob Carr reasonably agreeable. The best part about him is that he makes intelligent comments. I don’t see this from Federal Labor. It makes you think though. Perhaps a committed small “l” Liberal could be convinced to vote small “l” Labor. I didn’t vote in the last NSW election but I would have found it almost impossible to vote Liberal. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t vote!


I don’t think the small “l” Labor concept is new though. When the so called “Third Way” was “discovered” in the UK and the USA a few years ago, I remember having a bitter argument with a friend (over a coffee in the NSW South Coast town of Eden) who said that the concept wasn’t new at all. He said it was just old fashioned liberalism. Thinking back now, I think he was right, but it was a damn good argument anyway.


Bob Hawke should be given more credit than he gets. That first Hawke Keating government really modernised the whole concept of the Labor Party. They seemed to be pragmatic reformers who were less inclined to be bound by the ideology of traditional Labor. Then in the end it all went sour with Captain Wacky who went from merely a simple shift to the right to some other dimension most never quite understood.


It is a fine balance. Who remembers the last Federal election? In an effort to shift back to their traditional roots, Gareth Evans came up with that wonderful policy to especially tax people who drove four wheel drive vehicles. It was some kind of “punish the rich” class-driven throwback. Of course the idea that only class enemies drive these vehicles ended up being pretty funny.


All Labor has to do is package itself as a “kinder and gentler” version of the Howard government. The key thing they must remember is to study the Howard recipe. I think they should go after the “aspirational middle class” or the “Howard battlers”. Then they really would truly become small “l” Labor.


The only hitch is, if you go after these people (who I picture living in the big cities), how do you satisfy the angry regional folks? It really is quite a task. In the end it all gets back to the numbers.


I am glad you quote numbers from time to time Margo, because people so often fall into the trap of speaking of vague concepts rather than the numbers. Just quoting that Hanson got around 20% in seats where her party stood in Queensland said a lot. You can’t call her a joke and say 20% in the same sentence.


The reason John Howard is in real trouble is that he cannot withstand much of a swing at all. He holds too many seats by a wafer thin margin. It is almost inconceivable that he can get a swing to him and entirely conceivable that the swing against him in the marginals will be significant enough to give the ALP victory.


You will probably be happy, but I won’t be. To me the Liberals ooze competence. To you, I know, they ooze “mean spiritedness”. Who will be the media whipping boy once John Howard has the time to go to Hawkes Nest indefinitely?

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