Was there ever an election where we so clearly needed more than one leader’s debate? John Howard said on announcing the election date: “The uncertainty over the security outlook and the global economic downturn are the most significant challenges that an Australian Government has faced in nearly a generation.”
War, world recession, boat people, two Australias, political fragmentation, fundamental rethinking of free market theory and the role of government – there’s so much for leaders to debate in this election.
Two debates – one on international events, boat people and the vision thing, the other on domestics – would have been great. But no, says big John, leader.
And make it early too, our leader insists. As Ray Martin told me today, “They’re really launching their campaigns with the debate – this time the debate is kickstarting the election, rather than being the final full stop.”
The problem with that is the leaders debate before their official campaign launches or the big policy platform announcements. Howard, standing on leadership, is taking no risk that his might taint. Too bad for democracy.
Ray agreed to give an email address for reader’s suggestions on questions, stressing that they should be issues-based. You can send them direct to email@example.com or you can send them to me and I’ll publish them tomorrow night and send a copy to Ray. I’ll be on a Network Ten panel at 9.30 Sunday night to analyse the debate, along with Peter Reith, Bob McMullan and The Courier-Mail’s Peter Charlton.
The rules of engagement thrashed out by the two parties were finalised late today and are just about the same as for the last election. Here they are.
TERMS AND CONDITIONS
1. The debate to be opened with a two-minute opening address by both leaders.
2. From there, the moderator will conduct a free-flowing discussion, allowing both Leaders to pursue the major issues of the election campaign.
3. The moderator will ensure both Leaders are given equal treatment and time.
4. The moderator will ask questions alternately of the Leaders, but be able to follow up the responses of the Leaders. He will also allow each Leader to respond to the points made by the other, if they wish to do so.
5. There will be no strict time limits, but both leaders are asked to restrict their answers to less than two minutes. (The moderator will ensure both Leaders have equal time.)
6. The moderator will intervene to prevent either person from talking over the top of the other.
7. The debate will finish with the moderator asking a general question to both Leaders in order to sum up.
8. A coin will be tossed to determine who will make the first opening statement. Whichever Leader makes the first opening statement will be the first to be asked the wrap-up question.
9. The Leaders will use standing lecterns.
10. A clean feed of the debate will be made available to all broadcasters, with no station identification on the set.
11. The broadcast should be commercial free.
12. There will be no “worm” or broadcasting of audience responses.
13. The debate must be broadcast live.
Sixty Minutes will have an audience of 80 uncommitted swinging voters in Sydney in a studio driving the worm during the debate. After it ends, the worm’s key movements will be shown, and the audience will pick a winner.
Michel Dignand’s complaint yesterday that “the Webdiary seems to have been taken over by Media People, Leading Academics and other well-known and very verbose commentators – am I the only one who is tiring of this, and longing for simpler, shorter and more straightforward opinions?” has attracted a strong sympathy vote.
This is an ongoing issue for Webdiary – for new readers, the last big debate on the mix (and on a redesign) is in the archive, beginning with Cut and Paste and Not too Wanky.
For a start, I can only run what you write, so if you want short, punchy items, go for it. Second, I’ve chosen not to run such items when they repeat views already expressed – I got complaints recently that the Webdiary was getting repetitive.
New reader Richard Goodwin wants to know the Webdiary’s rules of engagement: “Can anyone have a rave about anything at any time? Do past topics still get updated if someone adds a rave? If so, does anyone read them? Can someone re-start a topic? Who chooses the topic for the day?”
Unlike our leaders, I’m into freewheeling debates. You can write anything you like about anything you like any time you like. I run what I like when I like, and reserve the right to edit. So it’s a trust thing. I try to run everyone with something interesting to say that is not vilification – I don’t censor ideas. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with contributions, as with the Tampa, and have to pick and chose. On the Tampa, I ran up to five editions a day and some people complained it was all too much. It was too much for me too, and I want to run one edition a day at no more than 5,000 words. You will find the charter of Webdiary in the archive in an entry called What’s the point?
On updating topics, a planned redesign to make the webdiary easier for you to navigate and which would bring together discussion on topics was underway when budget cuts hit us in June. Dump time. I hope a modified redesign will go ahead after the election.
Election issue five, Thursday, October 11
1. Frank Fredrick, Labor left, on why his party had to throw away boat people.
2. Jeffrey Allen on why the polls are wrong.
3. Cathy Bannister on how the Howard leadership ad is too damn good.
4. David Stanford on how to cope with a Labor loss and Jock Webb, Rosemary Bedford and Pippa Tandy on why they can’t.
5. David Eastwood finds John Anderson wanting.
6. Mary Travers on arts on the edge.
7. Simon Thomsen’s marginal seat report on Richmond.
8.. Sean Richardson’s War and Politics column
Helping out: Australian unions, through its humanitarian arm Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA), need donations to help fleeing Afghan refugees. Donations will go to Handicap International to help refugees near Quetta in Pakistan, concentrating on the very old and those suffering from disabilities, and to Merlin, a British-based health organisation providing medical assistance to Afghan refugees living in neighbouring Tajikistan. Donations tax deductible. Phone: 1800.888.674 (business hours), Fax: (02) 9261.1118, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The rail industry and the Democrats became friends during negotiations on the GST deal. The relationship has stayed sweet. Today, the Rail Association hailed “the Australian Democrats’ announcement of a $507 million dollar commitment the future of Australia’s rail network”
“For the cost of half of one major urban road, Australia’s national rail network could be brought up to international standards, making it more efficient, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save lives of motorists by making rail a more attractive option for freight haulage…A transfer of unnecessary road freight to rail means safer roads, lives saved, reduced pollution and major savings in road maintenance.”
1. MEANS AND ENDS
Frank Fedrick, member of the Labor left
Howard’s ads, I’m afraid, will fall on fertile ground, as some people are really spooked. Howard is doing what Menzies did with Communism. But then you have other people who don’t want to know about it and turn CNN off – Afghanistan is just to far away to worry about and they are more concerned with domestic issues.
I know it was pragmatic, but I agree with the compromise we struck over the refugees. Kim Beazley had no choice. We can’t help our people in opposition, it’s as simple as that.
Before Tampa we had an election winning lead, because Howard’s policies on the GST, job security, education, health, child care and aged care are hurting our people. Sometimes you have to forgo your most treasured principles for the greater good.
2. THE POLLS LIE, SURELY
Jeffrey Allen in Sydney
No matter how hard I try and how often I’m told polling is a science, I cannot comprehend the recent Newspoll figures – my only conclusion is that their respondents are lying (or not totally telling the truth )
During the 98 election, One Nation garnered more actual votes than polling had indicated in the lead up to the election. One theory was that One Nation voters felt stigmatised and a good percentage gave false responses to the pollsters when asked who they would vote for – only in the privacy of the polling booth did they show their true intentions.
My desperate theory for this election is that the reverse is happening regarding John Howard – many respondents feel it would be `disloyal’ or `traitorous’ to acknowledge they would be voting against the Prime Minister at a time of perceived national crisis, in effect rallying behind the office rather than the man.
Come November 10th, behind closed doors, the result should be a lot closer than polls now predict.
3. AD FOR THE TIMES
I think you were wrong about the Liberal black ad on Late Night Live this week. . It beautifully encapsulates every fear and paranoia floating around at the moment. It will work, dammit. At the very least it won’t hurt the Liberals one iota.
Your comparison with the 1993 Hewson shotgun ad was interesting, but I think you’re kidding yourself that the new ad will fail for the same reason. That shotgun ad was way too melodramatic for 1993. In that context it was silly.
This new one, however, seems entirely appropriate in the circumstances. I must admit (albeit begrudgingly) that I admire the ability of the Howard PR camp to identify social paranoias and create symbols that resonate. Sure, Daniel Maurice in News Overload is correct that both Keating and Beazley have wielded the wedge, but no other imbues it with quite the verisimilitude as Howard.
Beazley is spectacularly bad at it; whenever he tries, he ends up looking disingenuous. You could just tell his heart just wasn’t in trashing the GST. He just hasn’t bothered since, hence the long silence.
I’m just hoping the polls are as spectacularly wrong as they have been before every other major electoral test this year.
4. COPING WITH LOSS
There seems to be a climate of fear amongst many of your correspondents that the conservatives are about to have a decisive victory on November 10. They have clearly been expecting a Labor victory for a long time, encouraged by the Canberra Press Gallery to expect the Howard Government’s slaughter at the polls. They’re not happy, and judging from the last few days are escalating the level of vitriol in the Webdiary.
Many of these people must really loath aspects of our democracy. In their minds legitimate governments don’t have the right to carry out mandates given at the polls. Even though they have minority views on many of the big issues, they are certain that their views are paramount and everyone else’s viewpoint is beneath contempt.Such views are echoed in the columns of Mike Carlton or Mark Day or on air by Phillip Adams to name a few.
No-one has ownership of the high moral ground in a truly free democracy, and it is imperative that we listen to each others views and select what we believe is right at election time.
I know many extremely intelligent and successful people around Australia with a broad range of views and opinions from Aboriginal reconciliation and the Republic to immigration policy. I am often amazed therefore that a viewpoint prevails that there is only one credible way of looking at most issues. This is insulting and essentially anti-democratic as well as lacking empathy with other Australians, not all of whom are as stupid as some would have you believe.
People who continually talk about the shame in being Australian and feeling diminished in the world eyes show a classic sign of insecurity that is almost childish. Australia is a strong, mainly tolerant and ardent democracy that is considered so by the world and the many boat people who try to come here.
To all your correspondents experiencing fear and loathing and seeing conspiracies everywhere, bad luck. Get over it and rejoice in strong democracy.
I come from Narromine west of Dubbo, population just under half Nauru’s. Feeling bitter and shamed by the events of recent weeks I asked a National Party campaign bloke in Dubbo if they were reconsidering the refugee issues in view of the beginning of the attack on Afghanistan. “No!” His office person interjected that “they are of a different religion to us and should go to a country with the same religion – I mean, we’re Christians”.
“Would you recommend on that basis that Jews not come to Australia?” I asked. They could not see the parallel.
I find everything despairing at the moment. Though I come from the bush and off a farm I was raised to keep an open and thoughtful mind about race and culture. Grandad was conservative in deed but a Tory hater. Everything that I felt was decent about Australia seems to have sunk in the last 5 years and I cannot find a head to kick.
Rosemary Bedford in Balmain, Sydney
David Davis said yesterday that Labor was not yet ready for Government. When will it be? We could wait around for that till Doomsday. My feeling is that, in our current climate, anything has to be better than a Howard Government.
I warned Kim Beazley by email that he would lose my vote forever if he went with the Government on the Border Protection Bill, but I might have to renege on my vow if the country is polarising towards the major parties.
Yet I cannot bear to be part of a country that is so mean-spirited, so lacking in compassion to turn away from desperate people in need. I spent 6 weeks in Afghanistan in the 1970s when the Shah was still in his palace on the Kabul road, and everywhere we went, including to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, we were treated with a dignified courtesy and generosity by a people who didn’t have much materially and who must have been puzzled by us women walking around in jeans and hippie tops displaying a freedom that wasn’t extended to their own women. Mind you, we were there long enough to realize that you would insult or cross these people at your own peril – they aren’t known as proud, fierce, unassailable fighters for nothing.
The last straw for me came last night when I heard Peter Reith talk about the RAN Adelaide firing shots in the air followed by a round of automatic fire near the asylum seekers’ boat, and then heard Howard state that he wouldn’t want people who `throw their children in the water’ to enter his country.
Are the Australian people going to swallow that? Surely what is taught in schools now – the acceptance of diversity, the power of conflict resolution through free exchange of ideas and active listening, is reaching the adult population? And surely adults understand the difference between `tough’ and `bullying?’
Thank you for providing a forum for our views – I feel myself boiling over with despair not long after I awake each morning, and it’s good to have an outlet.
Pippa Tandy in East Perth
In today’s edition of our tawdry daily The West Australian there is an article about a man jailed for `people smuggling’ and on the back pages, an obituary for Emilie Schindler, the widow of and collaborator with Oskar Schindler.
Abdul Hussein Kadem is reported to have paid $17,000 to get himself and his apparently stateless family to Australia. He is said to have collaborated with people smugglers by acting as a translator and go-between. A squalid arrangement perhaps, like the squalid arrangements of the Schindlers, but none so base as those made by our Prime Minister and his generals Reith and Ruddock at the expense of asylum seekers in order to ensure his re-election.
Even lower are the actions of Kim Beazley and the Labor Party. I have been voting Labor for over thirty years but not this time. We have been bullied into a ludicrous supine submission on the one hand and on the other we are complicit in the most cynical cruelty.
Both Liberal and Labor have made thugs of all Australians, and many of us do not seem capable of making the connection that what our leaders are doing to asylum seekers they will do to us next.
5. VOTING FOR DILLS
David Eastwood in Sydney
Margo, was listening to John Anderson on the radio this morning urging Australians to vote for “stable government” – presumably the Coalition, rather than casting the major parties aside to register protest votes for Greens, Democrats, One Nation et al. Naturally this is particularly pertinent in his case, facing a real independent threat.
How many times over the decades and in many nations have governments of “national emergency” been formed comprising all parties, with a view to developing a united non-partisan response to a threat? Heaps. We could argue that this form of “unstable government” is actually a better solution to dealing with our current economic, geopolitical and military uncertainty than either of the main alternatives.
I find it hard to take this election seriously when politicians indulge in this type of disingenuous rhetoric to suit their own personal needs.
So who can one vote for? Why?
6. OUT OF FASHION
Mary Travers in Potts Point, Sydney
The piece you ran yesterday about polling by Graham Turner yesterday prompted me to fish out an extract from my study of reporting government and the arts.
“The low news status of government and the arts can be seen in the reporting of the most recent federal election, in 1998. The day after the Liberal-National Coalition Parties announced their arts policy, the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, reported the policy release, quoted the predictable negative response by the Labor Party spokesman, but did not report one item of the policy. A few scraps of information appeared later the next week.
None of the arts policy of the Australian Labor Party was reported by the Daily Telegraph, which devoted a full page to the launch. Instead it ran a story on the former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, describing the current Prime Minister as the cartoon character Mr Magoo, and a second story about famous artists and senior Labor figures meeting at a hotel after the event.
The Herald did produce a short report of each party policy announcement, but no media gave an adequate outline for the public to judge.
Coverage of the arts before the 1996 federal election was quite different. In the six weeks of the campaign the arts pages of The Australian and the Herald reported some aspect of arts policy every week.
The drop in media interest in 1998 can be directly linked to Prime Minister Howard’s lack of interest in the arts. When Prime Minister Keating and Opposition Leader Howard launched their arts policies, even the political journalists attended the events. As a rule they rarely cover the arts beyond the occasional ministerial statement. And when they do the over-riding influence appears not to be the content of an arts news event but the status of the persons involved in it.”
On this basis I guess 2001 will be even worse than 1998.
7. MARGINAL SEATS REPORT
By Simon Thomsen
Editor, The Northern Rivers Echo
In 1990, the NSW north coast’s political landscape changed dramatically thanks to a grassroots nuclear disarmament campaigner and a National Party leader with a philately obsession. Politics has been much more interesting ever since.
Helen Caldicott went up into the lush hills around Byron Bay, in the federal seat of Richmond, where three members of the Anthony dynasty have sat as members. Normally, the only time the hippies heard a knock on their door, it was the drug squad. Caldicott convinced them to tune in to the electoral roll while they dropped out.
In doing so, an independent almost ended the National Party’s 89 year reign in Richmond. But the incumbent, Charles Blunt was already in deep trouble, having spent $250,000 on postage during the campaign.
Labor won Richmond and the adjacent seat of Page, based around river towns of Lismore and Grafton, plus the hippie haven of Nimbin. Suddenly, years of National Party neglect were over.
Voters stuck by Labor for a second term before the reverting to the Nationals when Howard came to power. In his second attempt, Larry Anthony followed in the footsteps of his father Doug, and his grandfather Larry snr.
Former Greiner government minister Ian Causley won Page from Harry Woods, who promptly won Causley’s state seat of Clarence. After coming within a whisker of winning in 1998, Labor’s former federal member, the insipid Neville Newell, followed Harry Woods’ example by winning another formerly safe Nationals state seat of Tweed in 1999.
We like to hedge our bets.
The far north coast is a strange blend of traditional and emerging farming, new age and Seachange lifestylers. The average weekly income is $452 – two thirds of the national average. Unemployment rarely falls below double digits, and consistently hovers around the mid-teens. There is a high proportion of single parent families, group households, retirees – pensioners and self-funded – and Aboriginal people.
Real estate prices are skyrocketing on the coast. Only 30 minutes drive inland, places like Lismore, Casino and Grafton in Page worry about their future.
The traditional farmers have sugar cane, tropical fruits, beef and dairy. Local lawyers and doctors in search of a tax break plant tea tree, macadamias and coffee.
Dairy dominated the region for a century, and the ghosts of the butter factories remain scattered across the landscape as pubs and cottage industries. The once proud dairy cooperative Norco almost disappeared last year under a mountain of debt, surviving after asset sales. We don’t make white milk locally any more – Norco has pinned its hopes on being an ice cream manufacturer. This week it received a $1.1 million federal grant to upgrade its plant. One third of dairy farms have gone, along with 1000 jobs.
Richmond has the nation’s highest proportion of caravan park residents. That’s why Community Services Minister Larry Anthony looks so terrified every time Labor hammers the issue of the GST on caravan parks.
Byron has been screamingly green tinge and is not much fun for the Nats. The fought to keep big corporations and fast food chains out of the town, but amidst congratulating themselves, fret that their paradise is too popular.
The coastal town of Ballina, 20 minutes south, delivers strong support for the Nationals, but it shifted to the Page electorate, to the dismay of Larry Anthony, during the last redistribution of electoral boundaries
Nimbin is Nimbin. It has a serious drug problem, despite the finest aspirations of its residents. Backpackers bussed over from Byron for the day to try the local weed support the smack habits of junkies.
Lismore is a university town and the regional centre emerging from its rural depression and the withdrawal of government jobs and services. The city is pinning its hopes on innovation and a belief that herbal medicine could drive the rural economy. Like the rest of the tertiary sector, Southern Cross University has struggled to attract funding. It’s strong on nursing, environmental science and MBAs. It’s about to build a new residential college for international students.
Casino has an abattoir, Grafton’s survives on government intervention and tax concessions. Forestry is big, but despite the certainty the Regional Forest Agreements were supposed to provide, the Greens came away from the process feeling duded, and the bickering and protests continue.
While Larry frets that if voters don’t like the government his 0.8% margin means his ministry is first on the chopping block, things are not all smooth sailing for Jenny McCallister, 28, a union organiser imposed on local branches over a popular grassroots candidate. John Della Bosca has been fingered as having his prints on the move, and a bitter stoush between party stalwarts has been waged publicly in the letters pages of the local paper.
One prominent ALP office holder, Julie Nathan, has resigned to run as a `Labour independent’.
One Nation polled 10.2% in 98, and this time has a 60-year-old female taxi driver, Dell Rolfe, from the Tweed. Anthony is snookered by a agreement that ministers will not do deals with ON.
Byron Bay Greens candidate Jan Barham is a local councillor, proving she already has a strong electoral base. You can bet a meditation or basket weaving party will join the fray. Byron activist Fast Buck$ is keen to create havoc once again.
While John Howard is following in the footsteps of his mentor Menzies’ reds-under-the-bed campaigns to whip up fear, Richmond is probably the rural seat least likely to buy it.
8. WAR AND POLITICS
This week the always straight talking Malaysian PM said: “Conventional war cannot overcome terrorism and defeat terrorists; it can only result in innocent people becoming victims.”
Hmmm. Depends what he means by “conventional war.” If he means forming the redcoats in line and firing muskets by platoon volley, he’d be right. On the other hand, the good Doctor may have noticed that he does not reside in a communist country. This is because the British and Australian armies successfully destroyed a well organised (communist) terrorist network between 1948 and 1960. It was called “The Malayan Emergency”. Perhaps Dr Mahatir was overseas at the time.
Lionel Hutz Still at Large
There has been much reportage in the last 24 hours on the words of al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaimon Abu Gheith. Of course, you should never take people seriously when they’re named after a Neil Diamond song, but here’s what he said: “There are thousands of young people who look forward to death like Americans look forward to life.”
Oh, Sulaimon (Sulai-sulai-sulai-mon), if you’re right, then it is proven that western civilisation is superior to your brand of “theocratic fascism” (to use Chris Hitchens’ accurate description). We too have young folk who look forward to death, but we call it “youth suicide”, consider it a tragedy and try to discourage it.
Here’s another quote, from Peter Baker and Susan Glasson reporting from Afghanistan: “The supply route fell to the rebels after 40 Taliban officers and their men defected in northern Afghanistan and agreed to cut off the regime’s main north-south route.” In days of yore, when information was hard to come by, we commoners were protected from most of the propaganda of our countries’ enemies. These days, it seems, every post-adolescent enemy cry of “I’m hard, me, HARD!” makes the front page.
Nevertheless, just because they say they’re the toughest bunch of death-loving supermen ever to change sides on a whim, that don’t make it so. Unless America does something very stupid indeed, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are going to lose.
Domestic Affairs – Burn Your Draft Card
Australians have never, ever, not even once, been conscripted to serve overseas. I mention this because others still seem worried by the prospect, including a letter writer to the Herald today. Apparently she didn’t hear John Howard’s reply to the question “Will you be introducing conscription?” It was a non-prolix “No.”
“That young whipper-snapper’s forgetting Nam!” cry the old hippies. No I’m not. I know many Aussie baby-boomers confuse their actual lives with memories of The Big Chill, but National Serviceman had to volunteer for the Regular Army before serving outside Australia and her territories and protectorates. This was also the case in World War II.