All posts by Noel Hadjimichael

Labor’s identity crisis

Noel Hadjimichael is Webdiary’s conservative columnist.


Politics is often about opportunity, payback or principle, or at least a combination of all three on any given issue, electorate or policy. What is happening to the campaigning steamroller that was going to propel the new prophets of technocratic and meritocracy craving Labor into power?

Reality has hit home.

The political spectrum is not an easy left to right sliding scale. You used to pick your issues or confirmed a set of values,then found a spot on the menu and cast your vote.

The old Cold War comfort of hawks and doves does not apply to this very different world. There is no guarantee that voters will stick to their past loyalties or reward “favoured sons” with their support. Past political events are sometimes crowded out by the power of new sensational news stories or media-exposed crusades.

A progressive and socially liberal minority cheered when Prime Minister Howard dealt with the harsh policy difficulties of guns and East Timor. A rural and regional conservative voting bloc used Hansonism to get back onto the political agenda. Stay at home mums welcomed the Coalition’s family assistance package that makes their social decision to work at home and not in the market economy at least a modest financial benefit.


What we have at the moment is a lopped-sided political landscape.

True conservative voters have a home within the Coalition’s ranks. Old style Labor is losing to fresh faced technocrats in designer suits and branch stacking lefties.

True liberals (social and economic freedom fighters) have a chance to play a role in a Liberal government. Labor might talk liberal but go weak at the knees on a range of issues like same sex unions, freedom from trade union vendettas or people smuggling.

True progressives have a haven in the Greens and those Democrats that survive this election.

The terrible truth is that Labor has got into a horrid identity crisis. What does it believe in? What can it deliver?

One day we have a tax policy coming out and the next we have a new tax burden (sorry levy) that will fix things up just right. We have State Labor governments in panic mode over sloppy relationships with business interests whilst workers and battlers get slammed.

If it is not a freeway that is not freeway in Melbourne, it is ambiguity over valued forests in Tasmania.

This election is not a referendum on John Howard, George Bush, Mark Latham or the ALP’s leader in waiting (the bloke always on ‘Lateline’). This election is about a package deal: which team or set of representatives will deliver the goods.

Voters may wish to feel good about symbolic issues like indigenous affairs or the homeless, but the vast majority of voters will want to secure the economic and social circumstances of their families and communities.

We are at war against terror, policy timidity and tacky old-fashioned big business/big union deal-making. An empty Labor chest of last minute policies and concessions will do little to boost our society. Australians are taking stock of what is going on overseas. They don’t like what they see.

Conservatives have little to gain from a Mark Latham victory. Small “l” liberals do not seek a return to the mates rates ideology of cosy deals between multinationals, union bosses and favoured protected industries. True progressives need to shake up the inner city localities that have died under Head Office Labor cronyism and stifled development controls.

Can Australians take the risk? I think not. Should Australians leap into the hands of the bold challenger? I doubt it.

We may well see a repeat of the 1980 election: Labor trying to be too many different things to many people. Those big homes in the suburbs with big mortgages are no longer the preserve of Sydney. A tacky cardboard contract is great theatre but poor leadership on legitimate claims that interest rates would be jeopardised.

This is no 1972 “Its Time” campaign and we don’t have a powerful white knight coming to our rescue. We can’t afford any more Orange Grove disasters and we don’t have the luxury of allowing a “government in waiting” the chance to destroy or curtail the national economy, security arrangements or regional development.

This election is about the future. Clear and present danger makes for a very poor incentive to ditch either the policy settings or the successful team.

The phoney war is over

Noel Hadjimicahel is a conservative Liberal who lives and works in Western Sydney, a crucial election battleground. He is a Webdiary columnist.


The announcement of the October federal poll will bring both commentators and voters back to reality. The real battle war over Australia’s political direction will revolve around regional security rather than refugees. Demands of family, enterprise and community will crowd out today’s hot issues.

Truth in government, a rescue of Medicare (the Labor States doing a great job with hospitals) or the promotion of individual choice (social versus economic) will recede from the public debate. This reflects the phoney election campaign we have encountered ever since Mark Latham had two good weeks in a row in Parliament.

So many commentators have got so excited. So many will be scratching their heads when the blowtorch of campaigning hits Labor hard. The Liberals in the political mainstream and the Greens on the left will put Labor in the spotlight for the values-free stance they have on so many issues.


It takes more than a Senate Committee probe or an Alexander Downer press interview to weaken a government that has delivered the three priorities of mainstream voters: security, sound economics and sustainable social policy.

Labor has done all it can to present itself as the fresh face of modern Australia. However, if they are such great policy makers or administrative wizards, why are Labor State Governments in most states facing big problems with voters? If it is not crime in the streets of Melbourne or planning bloopers worthy of the Keystone Cops in Sydney, it is a forests policy in Tasmania that offends just about everyone in the debate.

There is a limit to how many times the same viewers of late night television will accept the Kevin Rudd version of moderate Labor pragmatism before the antics of the other Shadow Ministers make the idea of Labor on the Treasury benches uncomfortable.

John Howard is not going to make the one third of committed Labor or hard-line Green voters happy. However, the vital voting blocs of young marrieds, outer suburban families, the Sea Change retirees and the independent small business operators have much to worry about with Labor.

It is not just Sydney mortgage belts that would suffer if interest rates were to rise under a spend-to-please Labor administration. Seventeen percent was bad enough when loans were about $100,000. Now with many loans of more than $250,000 even a four percent rise in rates would rob households of at least $200 a week after tax.

The Mark Latham idea about insiders and outsiders is very persuasive. However, the outer suburban voters are looking for the steady as she goes stability of a Howard fourth term than an experiment with the crash through aggression of the “new Whitlam”.

Retirees and lifestyle commuters appear fed up with a Labor agenda that is long on slogans and short on detail. Plebiscites on a Republic and maybe a fresh campaign to change the flag will do little to address the social or economic needs of those over 55.

Federal Labor just doesn’t get it on labour market reform. Small business will not hire if new taxes are levied on the current Superannuation levy or the hiring or firing of staff is hampered by red tape. Ten jobs in a strong economy are far better than a single unionised job in the public sector or the big end of town.

On the whole, the themes of security, sound economics and sustainable communities should emerge as the cornerstone of a make or break election. Federal Labor went for the high-risk leadership contender, and they are in for a very interesting time.

Will the real Mark Latham please stand up…

Noel Hadjimichael is Webdiary’s conservative columnist.


The new Mark Latham, leader rather than larrikin policy pundit, has to make up his mind who he really is: the new Whitlam offering a plethora of programs to meet the needs of a tired electorate, the new Keating fixated on a culture war agenda, or a genuine voice from the suburbs.

A Whitlam-style ‘Its Time’ campaign would be shallow and lacking in concrete community support. The commentariat might be tired of John Howard and his boring small ‘c’ conservative ways but the electorate are not confined to the coffee houses of Annandale or Brunswick. The last eight years have seen a solid economic performance as we weathered dramatic foreign policy events such as East Timor and Iraq.

A return to the Keating-style of combat against the ‘Tories’ will play for only a small batch of ideological true believers. Denigrating the other side and undermining their legitimacy on all things symbolic (republic, reconciliation, the flag, parliamentary procedures) is an undergraduate ploy. It might get you through a couple of Lateline interviews you have no substantive argument for change beyond tinkering with the issues that excite the minority.

Mr Latham�s political career has been grounded in the battle of ideas and actions in suburban Australia. A former Mayor of a very large and high profile council, he should understand the dynamics of community politics. It is not the great schemes that excite the imagination, it is the pot holes in the road down the corner, the unsatisfactory wait at the hospital or the inadequate pay packet on Thursday.

Latham Labor must consider who the important voters are. They are not the inner city trendies with their preoccupation with the environment or human rights. They will vote for the broad left regardless.

The real targets must be the swinging voters of the outer suburbs and regions who have given John Howard such loyalty over the years. These are the people who do not feel guilty about choosing the low cost private school, who value the health fund rebate, who are reassured by our American Alliance and who want less tax taken from their pocket.

The aspirationals might be considered the successful sons and daughters of the battler class. Both groups generally like Australia the way it is.

They do not want expensive debates over constitutional change. They are suspicious of new programs to bleed tax from their pockets to pay for welfare handouts. They are facing tough decisions on education, healthcare, housing and jobs.

They trust their own instincts more than government’s. They have not got ahead because they scored an ‘easy’ job or obtained social housing.

It will be interesting to see which Mark Latham emerges: a clone of a Labor legend, a clone of Bill Clinton, or a real advocate for suburban values. If the loss of the trendy left is what it takes to make a fresh Labor product, then so be it.

Latham Labor cannot have it both ways: it will have to accept that it will lose the inner city voters to the Greens during any makeover. If it does not, then Labor will remain the party of limited convictions, deals and convenience.

Heh lefties, wind down the propaganda war!

Noel Hadjimichael is Webdiary’s conservative columnist.


After reading Media don’t get it on Latham and Iraq, I feel I must reply to the misinformation campaign peddled by those who cannot accept that the Iraq deployment had and has sound economic, social justice, humanitarian and strategic value to Australia�s national interests. Enough is enough!

Mainstream Australia rejects any guilt or shame over having powerful allies, doing the job in Iraq, continuing the humanitarian and security mission commenced or pursuing our national interests. To do otherwise would be foolish and wrong.

When extremists use free speech to peddle misinformation, others must respond. Let’s look at some of the claims floating around and offer some reality:

Claim 1: All the main players are missing the point of the ADF deployment in Iraq and are blinded by �boys toys� bravado. The ADF projects Australia�s national policies. We were part of the Coalition of the Willing and have a moral/strategic responsibility to bring Iraq under UN-approved democratic rule with a minimum level of public safety. It would be a gutless government that pulled out now, leaving our key allies, the US and the UK, isolated.

Claim 2: The Howard government has acted in an despicable manner in involving public servants in political combat. Shock horror, Government fights Opposition hard. Voters know that the media will pick up the slimmest hint of difference to berate any government over leaks, division or scandal. The heroes of the Left like FDR, John Kennedy, Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating all played politics hard. This is not kindergarten rules.

Claim 3: Dead people have been dragged around the streets of Iraq by people traumatised by the threat of the US stealing land, oil and sovereignty. War produces brutality and pain. It also produces ideological liars and distorted truths. Are the insurgents freedom fighters or disgruntled advocates of anti-Western terror? I don’t believe the US has stolen any land or oil (Iraq�s new government has that covered). I believe the US would dearly like to hand over control to a sustainable sovereign state. Iraq is not a colony; it was a victim of a tyrannical despot.

Claim 4: Iraq suffered genocide due to Western policies over 12 years. Iraq suffered from a dictatorship that made its people suffer whilst the ruling class lived in splendour. The genocidal killings of Kurds and marshland Arabs were not the West�s doing. The trade embargo was a necessary constraint.

Claim 5: Aussie troops protect diplomats whilst they negotiate blood soaked trade deals. Show me the blood on wheat, technology and services agreements that will feed, skill and enhance the Iraq economy and its people.

Claim 6: The closure of our diplomatic mission in Iraq led to refugees on our doorstep. Travelling from Iraq to Ashmore Reef via illegal transactions at high cost is a hell of a strategy to get to Australia. Nice try to make ordinary Australians feel guilty about people smugglin, but it will not wash.

Claim 7: We have helped to murder 1 million innocents. Take a thousand Australians and read them that statement and 990 of them will reject that ugly and dishonest statement. Ten will believe any lie to feel good about being white, middle class, wealthy and radical in a world of poverty, discord and uncertainty.

Sydney’s local elections: lessons for Labor

Noel Hadjimichael is Webdiary’s conservative columnist. See also Antony Green’s analysis of the Sydney local government election results results at


I was surprised by the local government elections. I always campaign for a candidate of my choice and spent the day at the polling station handing out. This time work and personal commitments made me a pre-poll person: all the routine without any of the excitement of finding my candidate�s poster and how to vote. But what a day!

What happened may indicate a shift that will re-shape Australian politics.

Two significant cities swung away from Labor: metropolitan Brisbane (to the Liberals) and the City of Sydney (to community progressive Clover Moore).

To say that inner city types have gone Green is not an exaggeration. However, the real pain is that Greens have made headway in places like Latham-heartland Campbelltown, where voters are saying to Labor they are no longer prepared to be preference fodder.

The Greens appear to be the voice of dissent and progressive opinion. They’re not likely to be the main player, but very likely to be what the Country Party was to the Menzies Liberals: a voice for other interests more opposed to the enemy than friendly to their partner.

This is where the Labor/Green dance comes to a halt.

Labor appears to desire Green help to get into federal government but no role for their junior partner in government. Is there going to be a Lib/Lab alliance such as there was for Blair and the Liberal Democrats? I doubt it. Australian Labor is too arrogant, too distrustful and too used to power to countenance any coalition effort.

If the Greens continue to punish Labor in its inner city heartland and pick up dissenters in the suburbs over the next electoral cycle, they will become the radical left party of protest, economic protection, social policy adventure and foreign policy independence. This is a result that Labor will hate. It will steal Labor�s mantle of �Aussie blokey support for the underdog.�

The end of the Cold War has made the old left/right spectrum redundant. We now have a multi-layer diversity of electoral choices. Some fashionable and others traditional. Hansonism and the virtual self-destruction of the Democrats has seen to that.

The new Liberals are the defenders of conservative (small c) suburban values that offer comfort to the battlers and the aspirationals.

The fresh Greens are the movement of dissent and social reform.

The old Labor �two for the price of one� deal (mostly dependable right wing social democrats seeking power and patronage tempered by some left-wing idealists) appears very tacky indeed. This product, once shown up for what it is, is not going to sell.

In Germany it took many barren years of the Greens being punished by their social democratic colleagues on the broad Left before the two left of centre parties respected each other. I don�t see this happening in Australia.

Labor�s amazing backflips on indigenous issues (we’ll say ‘sorry’ but get rid of ATSIC too) points to a troubled identity. Is Labor pitching for Howard�s battlers (no champions of ATSIC) or the Greens� preferences (trust us and we will say sorry when we win office)?

Grass-roots disappointment and opposition to �modern Labor� has seen two major cities and many Councillor positions swap allegiance.

If Labor is happy with not much more than one third of the primary vote in Mark Latham�s backyard on Saturday they must have very low expectations from both local government and their own voters.

Labor coast to coast? Bloody hell!

Noel Hadjimichael is Webdiary’s conservative columnist.


What would Australia be like if we elected a Latham Federal government next time round? We would have Labor domination across the three spheres of government.

The clear majority of Australians living in major municipalities or cities would have Labor Party selected Councillors. This breeding ground of hard-right or hard-left machine pollies destined for either parliamentary service or some cushy Ministerial employment opportunity.

All States and Territories have Labor administrations, right wing Labor governments unfazed by privatisation, commercialisation or contracting out. Bound to keep faith with union leaderships, these administrations offer a mix of tough crime rhetoric, social policy timidity and economic darwinism: survival of the biggest, ugliest or potentially more persuasive special interest group.

The concept of �mates� and the Labor tradition of close kinship between industrial and political wings is well documented.

A Federal Labor government would, on the face of it, run a liberal social policy agenda to keep the Greens and Democrats (that diminishing band of 1970s progressives) onside whilst relying on the Coalition to temper any difficulty for big business. This would be a pale shade of Labor government.

Voters who want to promote a paradigm shift towards more economically nationalistic, anti-global and environmentally sustainable outcomes would be best served to vote 1 Green and 2 Coalition.

To reward Labor for its policy timidity on some issues (where do they stand on the US alliance or fighting terror?), its backflips on border control and its paranoia over private delivery for education or health would be very strange indeed.

If Labor has found its new Gough Whitlam, great. I always wanted to re-live my teen years with a second round of bungling Ministers intent on doing something for the sake of interest groups. I wanted to see industries stressed by fresh economic ideas, like the �oops sorry� superannuation slip. I desired a government that would liberate me socially whether I wanted it or not, but also intent on liberating my pocket to pay for well-intentioned policy experiments.

The McHale’s Navy coastguard vessels, was it one or two machine guns to be fitted, and the 65 for 65 superannuation slogan have failed to ignite any passion for Labor.

Until such time as we have some mainstream and capable conservative governments running the boring bits of the country (like roads, local schools and hospitals), I don�t want to see an umbrella of Blairite out of touch deal-makers drawn from Labor�s bottomless pit of candidates from central casting straddling the national stage.

It would be a win for the unionised, the socially bitter, the welfare dependant and the radical Left. Not to forget the �mates.�

It would be a loss for the self-supporting, aspirational, battler or socially cautious segments of the voter spectrum. The forgotten people of Menzies who are now both deeply cynical about John Howard the politician but warm to John Howard the conviction protagonist.

Bob Brown and Howard apparently believe in things. I�m not sure about new Labor. Are they just managers with a social justice marketing pitch? Voters are aware that the propaganda war obscures what they really believe in.

My fear is that whilst the coalition and Greens stand for something, Labor and the Democrats are just floating about unsure of what they should think, say or do.

A change of government merely to import a policy vacuum is very scary at this time.

Appeasement or action: the lessons from Madrid

The horror and undeniable cruelty of the Madrid bombings are taking time to sink in. Is it because we have become immune since 9/11 to scenes of chaos associated with hate-driven political terrorism? I don’t want to know whether we are becoming immune to the television images.

What may be the lessons from the latest outrage?

Is it that governments and peoples should fear the wrath of so-called theocrats who would enslave women, stone gays and render ineffectual any semblance of liberal democracy? Should we shape our international policies, our defence stance or alter our values to take into account the hatred and unbridled violence of a few?

Spain is in mourning. Yet it is the very picture of a progressive liberal democratic society, re-fashioned after decades of fascist rule by anti-communist Franco and his cronies. No massive human rights problems, a successful war against separatist regional terrorists, a society that promotes the social values of the united Europe so many of the Left applaud.

Yet is was a target for hate.

A Socialist government is in the making.

What does modern socialism mean to those that recognise the sterility of the Stalin excesses and the abject failure of planned economies in this globalised world? It should mean a social democratic regime prepared to do what is needed to fight the medieval intolerance of those prepared to make everyday citizens pay for alleged crimes.

This is not, I hope and pray, a war based on a clash of civilisations or creeds or race. This should be a struggle between modern international liberalism, with its focus on human rights, and despotic fanaticism of the most extreme kind.

Playing a role in the war against terror is no different to merely being a liberal democratic society. The fanatics appear to hate us for who we are not what we do.

The real question for the Left is not how we destroy the Bush/Howard/Blair neo-cons. This is a convenient smokescreen for those seeking power or a change of policy. The more troubling and challenging question is how do we in the West, from left to right on the old spectrum, respond to a threat to our very existence?

Do we kowtow to terrorism from this source, fuelled by poorly structured religious arguments, or do we make a concerted effort to defeat a threat to liberalism. If the Left make common cause with the Right on this campaign, they will no doubt have ample opportunity of winning the peace afterwards.

Conservatives like myself, liberals, progressive environmentalists and old style social democrats have one thing in common: a belief in a secular liberal democratic state underpinned by emerging global human rights standards. This is too precious a modern achievement to be lost by infighting or appeasement of aggressors.

The war on Terror is just too important to lose whilst we debate the high moral ground.

Shifting frontlines

G’day. Webdiary has a new conservative columnist in 2004, long time Webdiarist Noel Hadjimichael. Noel is a suburban solicitor and a member of the Liberal Party in Sydney’s West, that territory Mark Latham is hell bent on winning back for Labor.

Shifting frontline

by Noel Hadjimichael

News that Liberal Party researchers and campaign pundits have identified the Federal Government as open to defeat is good news for coalition voters and bad news for Latham groupies.

Any potential backlash against the John Howard style, the Free Trade Agreement or WMDs by conservative voters will now evaporate when the thought of young Mark running the country or his Shadow Cabinet controlling the economic and policy levers seems possible.

In 1996, the demolition job done on Paul Keating�s government (otherwise known as the �true believers gone arrogant�) was fuelled by widespread disenchantment from Labor voters and outright anger from middle ground conservatives.

The next seven years saw the Coalition muscle up in East Timor, deliver the GST-induced economic recovery plan, court then condemn the Hanson crusade and generally oversee a new conservative game plan for the Australian nation. No more �sorry marches�, no more Asian adventures at the expense of other markets and no further pandering to special interest groups associated with a grievance industry.

This year we have seen the emergence of a powerful, articulate and hungry Opposition Leader hell bent on making history. We now have real competition on ideas, policies and programs.

The intelligentsia in the triangle of power (inner city metrosexual Sydney, inner city caf� latte Melbourne and Whitlam-era Canberra) cannot but hate the current Federal Government for its part in destroying all the good bits from the Hawke-Keating power trip.

You know, the rush to become a Republic, any republic. Pity about the details and that horrible colonial relic the Referendum process.

 The commitment to multiculturalism as long as the definition allowed lots of easy grants for fellow consultants and plenty of ambiguity over the Australian national identity. Pity about that Flag, with the annoying British bit in the corner.

A recognition that indigenous Australians are disadvantaged and over represented in the Courts, on welfare rolls and in social distress environments. Pity about any calls from grass-roots leaders to get employment, family structures and substance abuse corrected. Rights and self-determination will fix that up. We hope.

The uncomfortable aspects of the last Labor government are trivialised or treated as not important.

What a surprise that mainstream ordinary Australians, the very people that inhabit the suburbs and regional cities, remember the early 1990s recession we had to have. What a bore that interest rates should be so low now and that inflation is under check.

It is terrible that social programs have been restrained and defence spending boosted. Butter for the well connected is always better than guns.

The battleground for the 2004 contest, in the suburbs of marginal seat Australia, will revolve around a mix of domestic and international issues.

Border control is fixed: most of us want tight borders and decent intake programs. Few want the scramble for places via the big dollar smuggler networks.

 The war on terror demands a focus on security arrangements tied to alliances with like-minded and friendly powers. No government in training should get relaxed about the current situation.

Troubled health and education sectors need to be addressed. Not so much with more money but better policies to offer affordable choice, cost control and true innovation. Ten world-class universities are better than 38 cash-starved dinosaurs. More self provision is desired if the quality can be guaranteed in health provision.

For aspiring pollies, the shopping malls of Penrith, the quiet streets of Camden, the commuter trains of the NSW Central Coast and the low-fee private school playgrounds of outer suburban Melbourne will be the battleground. Visit these communities and you will see what John and Mark might be saying in the near future.