Poor George

Off with the mask. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

Whew! I’d just published my opus on the seat of Wentworth when I saw Laurie Oakes break the sensational story that a former senior Queensland Liberal Party official had signed a statutory declaration that Senator George Brandis – Howard’s top public defender on children overboard – had privately called Howard a “lying rodent” on the matter. And the unpopular hard right Liberal member for the volatile Brisbane blue ribbon seat of Ryan (it fell to Labor briefly in 2001 before Howard did Tampa) had backed the good character of Brandis’s accuser!

Has Howard’s luck run out?

He’d stymied the “honesty” problem, at least in relation to the marginal seats he’s trying to hold or win, by associating the word “trust” with Labor’s old record on interest rates. Then one of his own throws the dead cat back in the ring, and Brandis has to, as usual, carry the can. (When you’re thinking about this story, remember to separate the motivation behind the allegation and the question of whether or not it is true. And watch this space.)


On the same day, Latham releases his blueprint for the return of “honest politics” to Australia. Poor George. He’s Howard’s attack dog on the committee which will hear from children overboard whistleblower Mike Scrafton at 9am tomorrow.

Here is Latham’s statement, which exposes to wider public attention another Howard lie – his promise in 1996 during a television debate with Paul Keating to appoint an independent Speaker (referee) to conduct meetings of the People’s House, the House of Representatives. Latham’s nicked that broken promise, but would he break it too if we voted him in? The best defence is to get a written undertaking from your Labor candidate that he or she would cross the floor if necessary to ensure this promise was kept.

See Machinery of Government: The Labor Approach for the 53 page text of Latham’s blueprint for cleaning up our democracy. What a strange name for a policy to bring back truth, duty and accountibility to Australian politics! Still, at least Latham, unlike Howard in 1996, put it in writing.



Labor is today releasing a policy document called “Machinery of Government: The Labor Approach”. It is the most comprehensive statement ever released by an Australian Opposition party detailing how it will conduct itself in government. Labor is ready to govern, and we will do so with high standards of integrity and accountability as our guiding principles.

We will also provide more open government, involving the Australian people in the decision-making process.

The document covers areas including ministerial and parliamentary standards, the size and structure of the ministry, Cabinet functions, budget processes, and the role of ministerial staff.

We are determined to improve the poor ministerial standards of the Howard Government, particularly when it comes to truth and integrity.

The Howard Government has had major failings in ministerial accountability and responsibility. If you can’t provide honesty in government, you don’t deserve to lead the nation. Labor will restore truth and integrity to our national parliament and the system of government.

Our plan includes the following initiatives:

  • A cap on the superannuation benefits of senior office holders, building on our reforms of the parliamentary superannuation scheme.
  • Stricter standards of ministerial accountability.
  • A ban on ministers from taking employment, for a period of 12 months after leaving office, with any company with which they had official dealings as a Minister in their last 12 months in office.
  • The registration of lobbyists.
  • An independent Speaker for the House of Representatives and improved Standing Orders.
  • Holding regular Community Cabinet meetings and forums around Australia.
  • Reform of the Freedom of Information Act to make it more open and democratic.
  • An Independent Auditor of Parliamentary Allowances and Entitlements.
  • Strict guidelines on government advertising to prevent it being used as political propaganda.
  • Restoring the independence and effectiveness of the public service.

Labor’s Costello wedge keeps Wentworth on the move


Eye of the storm. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

I knew first hand that there was an election on when Tony Abbott – rubbing hands, big smile – strolled into the Sydney Morning Herald’s Canberra Bureau yesterday to ask anyone who cared to answer: “Now what can I do for you?”


The SMH is the preferred paper of Liberal voters in blue ribbon Liberal seats in Sydney’s North Shore and Eastern suburbs. These seats are also at the epicentre of ex Liberal Party President John Valder’s “Not Happy, John” campaign to unseat Howard in Bennelong.

So after the initial surprise of Abbott venturing into the den which led the way in exposing his deceit over his “honest politics trust”, it was no surprise that Abbott asked, “What do you think Peter King is going to do?”

I know what King – who is set to announce his candidacy as an independent Liberal in Wentworth late this week – HAS to do to give himself a chance to win the seat, and it’s not a pretty thought for the likes of Abbott.

I’ve had two types of Liberal Party polling spruiked to me recently. One is said to have polled Wentworth voters on who they’d vote for in a three horse race between the Liberal candidate Malcolm Turnbull, the current Liberal MP Peter King, and Labor’s David Patch. The result: Turnbull 35 percent, Patch 40 percent, King 25 percent.


In another poll, where the question was the big three, other and undecided, Patch was at 20 percent, and Turnbull and King level on 25 percent. That’s 30 percent of Wentworth voters who’ll give their first preference to the Greens or Democrats candidates, or who haven’t made up their minds.

What I take from this is that if King stands as an “in-house” loyal Liberal who just happens to be standing as an independent, he could deliver the seat to Patch or to Turnbull on King preferences.

I wrote about the state of play in the first issue of the new online magazine New Matilda:

The last thing Labor’s candidate for the blue ribbon inner Sydney seat of Wentworth wants is for the disendorsed Liberal Peter King to stand as the ‘Not happy, John!’ candidate. If he did, he might just take the seat from Malcolm Turnbull and cruel Labor’s ever-increasing chances of stealing the seat.

Labor polling shows the biggest swings against Howard’s regime are coming in some of its safest seats. It’s no accident that Turnbull recently told a community meeting that invading Iraq was ‘an unadulterated error’ just after King finally spoke out about Howard’s abandonment of two Australian citizens in Guantanamo Bay.

The Liberal heartland is at last in revolt. It’s in the heartland that the Government’s grotesque response to the call for truth in government by 43 retired senior public servants, diplomats and defence chiefs hurt most, as did the proof that Howard lied his way to power in 2001 over ‘children overboard’.

The people of Wentworth live in what’s close to being Australia’s richest seat, but lots of other people live there too, especially in Bondi. It’s a water-front based Eastern Suburbs seat. The people of Wentworth – who voted for a Republic, support reconciliation and their ABC, and think that invading Iraq was wrong-headed and that every Australian has fundamental rights as citizens – oppose Howard’s anti-democratic regime and did not like how Malcolm Turnbull beat King for pre-selection through an unprecedented branch-stack by his rich and powerful friends backed by paid radio advertising. It is a small “l” Liberal seat and small “l” Liberals have been progressively disenfranchised under John Howard. The fact that the only One Nation federal politician, Senator Len Harris, said this week that he hoped the Liberals won the election is a straw in that wind.

In my travels promoting my book “Not Happy John” I spoke to several Liberals in Wentworth, and several in the North Shore Liberal heartland too. Some were hostile to Howard and would prefer a Liberal Government without him, and all of these named Costello as the man they put their faith in to right the balance in the Party. The others had already decided to cast their vote against the Liberals. And on a recent Sunday program, a Sydney Liberal establishment figure involved with Australian refugee support groups, Renata Caldor, said of the choice between a Howard Liberal or Latham Labor Government at this election:

I would ideally like to have a Liberal government without John Howard as the leader. If you’re asking me the lesser of two evils, if I had my choice, I’ve got to say, after a lot of thought, I would prefer to have a Labor Party in power, at least for three years, and I think probably – perhaps – [that would] be enough. I think the damage perhaps that a Latham government would do to the country economically, to my mind, wouldn’t be quite as harmful as the damage to the social fabric that’s happened under the John Howard leadership.

The Iraq war and other so-called “elite” issues are hitting much harder in Liberal seats like Wentworth than in marginal Liberal seats. It is no accident that King recently protested against Howard’s abandonment of our citizens in Guantanamo Bay, quickly followed by Turnbull’s pronouncement at a community meeting at Bondi Beach that the war was “an unadulterated error”. The difference between the two is that Turnbull had to put out a statement denying his own statement, while King did not. King has since endorsed Tony Kevin’s book on SIEV-X as a thoughtful read raising questions the Government was obliged to answer (see Liberal voter rumblings mean second front for Howard).

Wentworth voters are suddenly and unexpectedly Australia’s equivalent of voters in the New Hampshire Primaries in the United States. They’re phoned constantly for their views and they’re accosted on street corners by the candidates. After living in a forever safe seat where politics was all but ignored during an election campaign, they’re now being asked – individually – to examine their values and make a very big decision about who they want to represent them in Canberra. And they’re being asked to make this decision in circumstances where they have a real choice – as Liberals.

I received this email from Webdiarist Jonathan Nolan in Bondi Beach yesterday:

I don’t want John Howard as PM, but apparently being in Wentworth I can still vote Liberal and not worry. A worker for Malcolm Turnbull (outside Bondi Beach Post Office last Saturday) told me that a vote for Turnbull is NOT a vote for Howard. I was amused and slightly baffled so they got Malcolm himself to speak to me. After confirming this point he added two more reasons to give him my anti-Howard vote: 1. Get the Liberals back in and you’ll only have Howard for two years, and 2. He was only one to go up against Howard on the war in Iraq. He added that the monarchists would be rubbing their hands in glee if he doesn’t get in. Now I know that definitely includes John Howard. (And yes, I am willing to take a lie detector test.)

This is where the Costello problem comes in. Many true Liberals blame John Howard personally for what’s gone wrong with the Government. They would like a Liberal Government led by Peter Costello. This means Labor has a wedge to insert. The swinging voters in marginal seats which Howard is trying to tie down don’t like Costello. That’s why Costello had to endure yet further humiliation from Howard yesterday by appearing with his tormentor to rule out challenging for the leadership at any time in the next term if Howard is re-elected.

The downside? This pledge removes the last remaining zone of comfort for disenfranchised small “l” Liberals. They cannot now pretend that a vote for the Liberal Party is OK because liberalism will be revived in the Liberal Party soon enough under a Costello leadership. Unless Howard pledges a handover at this election, he’ll be there until he gets his ideological soul mate Tony Abbott to take over the reins, perhaps after another term!

Coincidentally, voters in Wentworth have just received a letter from the Prime Minister telling them that if Peter King stands he will destroy the Liberal Party and Labor’s David Patch could win it. How desperate can he get here? It’s a last ditch stand to convince supporters of King and King himself to back down and thus deny Liberal voters in Wentworth a real choice. The truth is the opposite if King dares to stand as a “Not Happy, John” candidate, and that’s why Howard is scared stiff.

If King bites the bullet he’ll give himself a serious chance to win back the seat, and thus deny the bloke who knocked him off. But he would also be a serious national embarrassment to the Liberal Party’s election campaign. Like Hanson was in 1996, except from a totally different quarter.

Being a Not Happy, John! candidate means that King stands under John Valder’s Not Happy John banner as an independent true Liberal pledged to publicly stand up and argue for Liberalism. He would guarantee to support a minority Liberal government if required on condition that Howard resigned as leader – and to guarantee not to bring down the government by blocking supply. That has to be tempting to disaffected Liberals. It would be an extremely serious warning to Howard and the Party that they had to give voice to Liberalism, and obey its core principles, or they could have Labor’s “Greens” problem on their hands. It’s called making your vote count when it really matters to our nation’s future.

I’d like to keep a close eye on Wentworth during the campaign and to publish on-the-ground reports from voters in Wentworth.

This will be an election like no other. Every thinking voter knows the stakes are the highest they can be – the nature of Australia’s democracy and thus our very identity. So let’s settle in for a long and utterly fascinating campaign.

Trusting Howard

Savage man. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies.

Trust, eh? I haven’t heard anything so mind-boggling from a political leader since Treasurer Paul Keating, having helped win Labor the 1990 election by promising to avoid a recession, baldly announced that this was the recession we had to have.


That’s one way to wipe a slate clean. But it wasn’t clean, because in 1993 he told a bald-faced lie to get re-elected. L.A.W. tax cuts, no less; to prove that Australians really could have their cake and eat it through personal tax cuts without a GST. Upon winning on a disgraceful scare campaign, he then cancelled some of the L.A.W. cuts and raised a raft of indirect taxes, including on petrol. He was history from then on.

On the surface, Howard’s shock insistence that the election is about trust is ludicrous. After all, he’s running to an election to avoid scrutiny of the lies he told in the final week of the last election about children overboard. He’s even had the gall to let the Senate come back today and tomorrow, while not allowing the People’s House to question him on children overboard and revelations that contrary to his assertion that invading Iraq would make Australia safer, experts advised him the opposite was more likely.


Trust? Well, yes. Howard’s attempt to co-opt the issue that threatens to destroy him is just another aspect of the relationship with swinging voters in key seats he nurtured in 1996 and has been living off ever since. It’s the core promise thing, stupid.

Howard convinced many doubters in 1996 by promising to keep Medicare intact and increasing funding for the ABC, among other sops. Straight after, confronted with the budget black hole both sides knew was there before the election, he constructed the idea of the “core promise”. By this he meant hip pocket promises which had swung the key swingers in the key seats behind him. He kept faith with those people, while betraying the others. He’s been doing it ever since.

The “Trust” thing is a similar play. He’s talking over the heads of the chattering classes – and a political establishment now almost universally appalled by his bullying attacks on democratic norms – to tell swingerland that he’ll keep interest rates down to protect their mortgages and that Latham cannot be “trusted” to do so.

Don’t worry about the non-core lies, he’s saying, I’ll keep looking after your hip pockets. You KNOW you can trust me on that.

Values versus bribes. As the years have worn on, the objects of Howard’s “generosity” have been ever more narrowly focused on certain sectors in certain marginals, so that tax and concessions policy is now overtly unfair and non-merits based. He’s setting up a war of hip pocket winners and losers.

The risk, of course, is that his blue ribbon seats may squirm with distaste at his cooption of the trust theme despite running away from a Parliamentary test of his own trustworthiness. Howard has been forced to take his heartland for granted, yet again, at a time when they’re getting increasingly uncomfortable with him.

Let the games begin.

Alliances and the American election

Alliances have been a major cause of wars throughout modern history, removing inhibitions that might otherwise have caused Germany, France, and countless nations to reflect much more cautiously before embarking on death and destruction. The dissolution of all alliances is a crucial precondition of a world without wars.

The United States’ strength, to an important extent, has rested on its ability to convince other nations that it was to their vital interests to see America prevail in its global role. With the loss of that ability there will be a fundamental change in the international system whose implications and consequences may ultimately be as far-reaching as the dissolution of the Soviet bloc.

The scope of America’s world mission is now far more dangerous and ambitious than when Communism existed, but it was fear of the USSR that alone gave NATO its raison d’etre and provided Washington with the justification for its global pretensions. Enemies have disappeared and new ones – many once former allies and congenial states – have taken their places. The United States, to a degree to which it is itself uncertain, needs alliances. But even friendly nations are less likely than ever to be bound into uncritical “coalitions of the willing.”


Nothing in President Bush’s September 19, 2002 extraordinarily vague doctrine of fighting “preemptive” wars, unilaterally if necessary, was a fundamentally new departure. Regardless of whether the Republicans or Democrats were in office, since the 1890s the U.S. has intervened in countless ways in the Western Hemisphere — from sending Marines to supporting friendly tyrants — to determine the political destinies of innumerable southern nations. The Democratic Administration that established the United Nations explicitly regarded the hemisphere as the U.S.’ sphere-of-influence, and they created the IMF and World Bank to police the world economy.

It was the Democratic Party that created most of the pillars of postwar American foreign policy, from the Truman Doctrine in 1947 and NATO through the institutionalization of the arms race and the illusion that weapons and firepower are a solution to many of the world’s political problems. The Democrats share, in the name of a truly “bipartisan” consensus, equal responsibility for both the character and dilemmas of America’s foreign strategy at the present moment. President Jimmy Carter initiated the Afghanistan adventure in July 1979, hoping to bog down the Soviets there as the Americans had been in Vietnam. And it was Carter who first encouraged Saddam Hussein to confront Iranian fundamentalism, a policy President Reagan continued.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1993 to 1997, argues that the Clinton Administration intensified the “hegemonic legacy” in the world economy, and Bush is just continuing it. The 1990s was “A decade of unparalleled American influence over the global economy” that Democratic financiers and fiscal conservatives in key posts defined, “in which one economic crisis seemed to follow another.” The U.S. created trade barriers and gave large subsidies to its own agribusiness but countries in financial straits were advised and often compelled to cut spending and “adopt policies that were markedly different from those that we ourselves had adopted.” (1) The scale of domestic and global peculation by the Clinton and Bush administrations can be debated but they were enormous in both cases.

In foreign and military affairs, both the Clinton and Bush administrations have suffered from the same procurement fetish, believing that expensive weapons are superior to realistic political strategies. The same illusions produced the Vietnam War – and disaster. Elegant strategies promising technological routes to victory have been with us since the late 1940s, but they are essentially public relations exercises intended to encourage more orders for arms manufacturers and justifications for bigger budgets for the rival military services. During the Clinton years the Pentagon continued to concoct grandiose strategies and it demanded – and got – new weapons to implement them. There are many ways to measure defense expenditures over time but – minor annual fluctuations notwithstanding – the consensus between the two parties on the Pentagon’s budgets has persisted since 1945. In January 2000 Clinton added $115 billion to the Pentagon’s 5-year plan, far more than the Republicans were calling for. When Clinton left office the Pentagon had over a half trillion dollars in the major weapons procurement pipeline, not counting the ballistic missile defense systems — which is a pure boondoggle that cost over $71 billion by 1999. The dilemma, as both CIA and senior Clinton officials correctly warned, was that terrorists were more likely to strike the American homeland than some nation against whom the military could retaliate. This fundamental disparity between hardware and reality has always existed and September 11, 2001 showed how vulnerable and weak the US has become. (2)

The war in Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999 brought the future of NATO and the alliance, and especially Washington’s deepening anxiety regarding Germany’s possible independent role in Europe, to a head. Well before Bush took office, the Clinton Administration resolved never to allow its allies to inhibit or define its strategy again. Bush’s policies, notwithstanding the brutal way in which they have been expressed or implemented, follows logically from this crucial decision. NATO’s failure in Afghanistan, and its members’ refusal to contribute the soldiers and equipment essential to end warlordism and allow fair elections to be held (it sent five times as many troops to Kosovo in 1999), is the logic of America’s bipartisan disdain for the alliance.

But the world today is increasingly dangerous for the U. S. and Communism’s demise has called into fundamental question the core premises of the post-1945 alliance system. More nations have nuclear weapons and means of delivering them, destructive small arms (thanks to burgeoning American arms exports which grew from 32 percent of the world trade in 1987 to 43 percent in 1997) are much more abundant, there are more local and civil wars than ever, especially in regions like Eastern Europe which had not experienced any for nearly a half-century, and there is terrorism — the poor and weak man’s ultimate weapon — on a scale that has never existed. The political, economic, and cultural causes of instability and conflict are growing, and expensive weapons are irrelevant — save for the balance sheets of those who make them.

The problem is that at the beginning of the 21st century only the U.S. has the will to maintain a global foreign policy and to believe that every part of the world is potentially important to it. It maintains it has both the right and the obligation to be as active as it thinks necessary everywhere and it possesses a spectrum of strategies all premised on an activist role for itself. Ultimately, it is ready to regulate each and every continent’s fate. It believes it had the military resources to do so, that its economy can afford interventionism and that the American public will support whatever is necessary to set the affairs of some country or region on the political path it deems essential. This grandoise ambition is bipartisan and the two parties share a consensus on it, details notwithstanding.

So long as the future is to a large degree — to paraphrase Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — “unknowable,” it is not to the national interest of its traditional allies to perpetuate the relationships created from 1945 to 1990. The Bush Administration, through ineptness and a vague ideology of American power that acknowledges no limits on its global ambitions, and a preference for unilateralist initiatives and adventurism which discounts consultations with its friends much less the United Nations, has seriously eroded the alliance system upon which U. S. foreign policy from 1947 onwards was based. With the proliferation of all sorts of destructive weaponry and growing political instability, the world is becoming increasingly dangerous–and so is membership in alliances.

If Bush is reelected then the international order may be very different in 2008 than it is today, much less in 1999, but there is no reason to believe that objective assessments of the costs and consequences of its actions will significantly alter America’s foreign policy priorities over the next four years. If the Democrats win they will attempt in the name of “progressive internationalism” to reconstruct the alliance system as it existed before the Yugoslav war of 1999, when the Clinton Administration turned against the veto powers built into the NATO system. There is important bipartisan support for resurrecting the Atlanticism that Bush is in the process of smashing, and it was best reflected in the Council on Foreign Relations’ vague and banal March 2004 report on the “transatlantic alliance,” which Henry Kissinger helped direct and which both influential Republicans and Wall Street leaders endorsed. Traditional elites are desperate to see NATO and the Atlantic system restored to their old glory. Their vision, premised on the expansionist assumptions that have guided American foreign policy since 1945, was best articulated the same month in a new book by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Carter’s National Security adviser. Brzezinski is far more subtle, rejecting the Bush Administration’s counterproductive rhetoric that so alienates former and potential future allies. But he regards American power as central to peace in every part of world and his global vision no less ambitious than the Bush Administration’s. He is for the U.S. maintaining “a comprehensive technological edge over all potential rivals.” It is a call to “transform America’s prevailing power into a co-optive hegemony — one in which leadership is exercised more through shared conviction with enduring allies than by assertive domination.” And because it is much more saleable to past and potential allies, this traditional Democratic vision is far more dangerous than that of the inept, eccentric melange now guiding American foreign policy. (3)

But Vice-president Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the neoconservatives and eclectic hawks in Bush’s administration are oblivious to the consequences of their recommendations or the way they shock America’s overseas friends. Many of the President’s key advisers possess aggressive, essentially academic geopolitical visions that assume erroneously – overwhelming, decisive American military and economic power. But personalized interpretations of the Bible’s allegedly missionary appeals inspire yet others, including Bush himself, and most utilize an amorphous nationalist and Messianic rhetoric that makes it impossible to predict exactly how Bush will mediate between very diverse, often quirky influences. But although he has so far favored the advocates of the United States unilaterally employing its might virtually wantonly throughout the world, no one close to the President acknowledges the limits of its power – limits that are political and, as Korea and Vietnam proved, military also.

America’s traditional allies, of which Australia is one of the closest, have to decide if they are willing to give a carte blanche to what is – and will remain regardless of who wins next November’s election – an increasingly dangerous adventurism. We know a great deal of how American foreign and military policies are formulated, and they are less and less predictable and increasingly likely to alienate an ever-larger part of the world. Cynicism, unrealizable ambition, deliberate but also self-inflicted illusions are crucial to the byzantine way crucial decisions for war or peace are reached. (4) But to proclaim that the alliance with the U. S. is sacrosanct is to encourage an increasingly irresponsible American foreign policy. That, too, is an issue the Australian people must consider.

Kerry voted for many of Bush’s key foreign and domestic measures and he is, at best, a very indifferent candidate. His statements and interviews over the past months dealing with foreign affairs have mostly been both vague and incoherent, though he is explicitly and ardently pro-Israel and explicitly for regime-change in Venezuela. His policies on the Middle East are identical to Bush’s and this alone will prevent the alliance with Europe from being reconstructed. On Iraq, even as violence there escalated and Kerry finally had a crucial issue with which to win the election, his position has remained indistinguishable from the President’s. “Until” an Iraqi armed force can replace it, Kerry wrote in the April 13 Washington Post, the American military has to stay in Iraq – “preferably helped by NATO.” “No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission” to build a stable, pluralistic Iraq – which, I must add, has never existed and is unlikely to emerge in the foreseeable future. “It is a matter of national honor and trust.” He has promised to leave American troops in Iraq for his entire first term if necessary, but he is vague about their subsequent departure. Not even the scandal over the treatment of Iraqi prisoners evoked Kerry’s criticism despite the fact it has profoundly alienated a politically decisive segment of the American public.

His statements on domestic policy in favor of fiscal restraint and lower deficits, much less tax breaks for large corporations, utterly lack voter appeal. Kerry is packaging himself as an economic conservative who is also strong on defense spending – a Clinton clone – because that is precisely how he feels. His advisers are the same investment bankers who helped Clinton get the nomination in 1992 and then raised the funds to help him get elected and then defined his economic policy. The most important of them is Robert Rubin, who became Treasury secretary, and he and his cronies are running the Kerry campaign and will also dictate his economic agenda should he win. These are same men whom Stiglitz attacks as advocates of the rich and powerful.

Kerry is, to his core, an ambitious patrician educated in elite schools and anything but a populist. He is neither articulate nor impressive as a candidate or as someone who is able to formulate an alternative to Bush’s foreign and defense policies, which themselves still have far more in common with Clinton’s than they have differences. To be critical of Bush is scarcely justification for wishful thinking about Kerry, though every presidential election produces such illusions. Although the foreign and military policy goals of the Democrats and Republicans since 1947 have been essentially consensual, both in terms of objectives and varied means – from covert to overt warfare – of attaining them, there have been significant differences in the way they were expressed. This was far less the case with Republican presidents and presidential candidates for most of the twentieth century, and men like Taft, Hoover, Eisenhower, or Nixon were very sedate by comparison to Reagan or the present rulers in Washington. But style can be important and inadvertently the Bush Administration’s falsehoods, rudeness, and preemptory demands have begun to destroy an alliance system that for the world’s peace should have been abolished long ago.

In this context, it is far more likely that the nations allied with the U.S. in the past will be compelled to stress their own interests and go their own ways. The Democrats are far less likely to continue that exceedingly desirable process, a process ultimately much more conducive to peace in the world. They will perpetuate the same adventurism and opportunism that began generations ago and that Bush has merely built upon, the same dependence on military means to solve political crises, the same interference with every corner of the globe as if America has a Divinely ordained mission to muck around with all the world’s problems. The Democrats’ greater finesse in justifying these policies is therefore more dangerous because they will be made to seem more credible and keep alive alliances that only reinforce the U.S.’ refusal to acknowledge the limits of its power. In the longer run, Kerry’s pursuit of these aggressive goals will lead eventually to a renewal of the dissolution of alliances, but in the short-run he will attempt to rebuild them and European leaders will find it considerably more difficult to refuse his demands than if Bush stays in power – and that is to be deplored.

The Stakes for the World

Critics of American foreign policy will not rule Washington after this election regardless of who wins. As dangerous as he is, Bush’s reelection is much more likely to produce the continued destruction of the alliance system that is so crucial to American power in the long-run. Facts in no way imply moral judgments if we merely identify them. One does not have to believe that the worse the better but we have to consider candidly the foreign policy consequences of a renewal of Bush’s mandate, not the least because it is likely.

Bush’s policies have managed to alienate, to varying degrees, innumerable nations, and even its firmest allies — such as Britain, Australia, and Canada – are being required to ask if giving Washington a blank check is to their national interest or if it undermines the tenure of parties in power. Foreign affairs, as the terrorism in Madrid dramatically showed in March, are too important to uncritically endorse American policies. Politicians who support them have been highly vulnerable to criticism from the opposition and dissidents within their own ranks. But not only the parties in power can pay dearly for it, as in Spain, where the people were always overwhelmingly opposed to entering the war and the ruling party snatched defeat from the jaws of victory; more important are the innumerable victims among the people. The nations that have supported the Iraq war enthusiastically, particularly Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Australia, have made their populations especially vulnerable to terrorism. They now have the expensive responsibility of protecting them – if they can.

The Washington-based Pew Research Center report on public opinion released on March 16, 2004 showed that a rapidly increasing, large majority of the French, Germans, and even the British want an independent European foreign policy, reaching 75 percent in France in March 2004 compared to 60 percent two years earlier. The U.S. “favorability rating” plunged to 38 percent in France and Germany. Even in Britain it fell from 75 to 58 percent and the proportion of the population supporting the decision to go to war in Iraq dropped from 61 percent in May 2003 to 43 percent in March 2004. Blair’s domestic credibility, after the Labour Party placed third in the June 10 local and European elections, is at its nadir. (5)

Right after the political debacle in Spain the president of Poland, where a growing majority of the people has always been opposed to sending troops to Iraq or keeping them there, complained that Washington had “misled” him on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and hinted that Poland might withdraw its 2,400 troops from Iraq earlier than previously scheduled. In Italy, by last May 71 percent of the people favored withdrawing the 2,700 Italian troops in Iraq no later than June 30, and leaders of the main opposition have already declared they will withdraw them if they win the spring 2006 elections a promise they and other antiwar parties in Britain and Spain used in the mid-June European Parliament elections to increase significantly their power. The issue now is whether nations like Poland, Italy, or The Netherlands can afford to isolate themselves from the major European powers and their own public opinion to remain a part of the increasingly quixotic and unilateralist American-led “coalition of the willing. The political liabilities of remaining close to Washington are obvious, the advantages non-existent.

What has happened in Spain is a harbinger of the future, further isolating the American government in its adventures. Four more nations of the 30-some members of the “coalition of the willing” have already withdrawn their troops, and the Ukraine – with its 1,600 soldiers – will soon follow suit. The Bush Administration sought to unite nations behind the Iraq War with a gargantuan lie – that Hussein had WMD – and failed spectacularly. Meanwhile, terrorism is stronger than ever and its arguments have far more credibility in the Muslim world. The Iraq War energized Al Qaeda and extremism and has tied down America, dividing its alliances as never before. Conflict in Iraq may escalate, as it has since March, creating a protracted armed conflict with Shiites and Sunnis that could last many months, even years. Will the nations that have sent troops to Iraq keep them there indefinitely, as Washington is increasingly likely to ask them to do? Can political leaders in the “coalition of the willing” afford conceding to insatiable American demands?

Elsewhere, Washington opposes the major European nations on Iran, in part because the neoconservatives and realists within its own ranks are deeply divided, and the same is true of its relations with Japan, South Korea, and China on how to deal with North Korea. America’s effort to assert its moral and ideological superiority, crucial elements in its postwar hegemony, is failing – badly.

The way the war in Iraq was justified compelled France and Germany to become far more independent on foreign policy, far earlier, than they had intended or were prepared to do. NATO’s future role is now questioned in a way that was inconceivable two years ago. Europe’s future defense arrangements are today unresolved but there will be some sort of European military force independent of NATO and American control. Germany and France strongly oppose the Bush doctrine of preemption. Tony Blair, however much he intends acting as a proxy for the U.S. on military questions, must return Britain to the European project, and his willingness since late 2003 to emphasize his nation’s role in Europe reflects political necessities. To do otherwise is to alienate his increasingly powerful neighbors and risk losing elections.

Even more dangerous, the Bush Administration has managed to turn what was in the mid-1990s a blossoming cordial friendship with the former Soviet Union into an increasingly tense relationship. Despite a 1997 non-binding American pledge not to station substantial numbers of combat troops in the territories of new members, NATO last March incorporated seven East European nations and is now on Russia’s very borders and Washington is in the process of establishing an undetermined but significant number of bases in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia has stated repeatedly that the U.S. encircling it requires that it remain a military superpower and modernizing its delivery systems so that it will be more than a match for the increasingly expensive and ambitious missile defense system and space weapons the Pentagon is now building. It has 5,286 nuclear warheads and 2,922 intercontinental missiles. There is a dangerous and costly renewal of the arms race now occurring.

In February of this year Russia threatened to pull out of the crucial Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which has yet to enter into force, because it regards America’s ambitions in the former Soviet bloc as provocation. “I would like to remind the representatives of [NATO],” Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told a security conference in Munich last February, “that with its expansion they are beginning to operate in the zone of vitally important interests of our country.” And by increasingly acting unilaterally without United Nations authority, where Russia’s seat on the Security Council gives it a veto power that – in Ivanov’s words – is one of the “major factors for ensuring global stability,” the U.S. has made international relations “very dangerous.” (6) The question Washington’s allies will ask themselves is whether their traditional alliances have far more risks than benefits – and if they are now necessary.

In the case of China, Bush’s key advisers publicly assigned the highest priority to confronting its burgeoning military and geopolitical power the moment they came to office. But China’s military budget is growing rapidly — 12 percent this coming year — and the European Union wants to lift its 15-year old arms embargo and get a share of the enticingly large market. The Bush Administration, of course, is strongly resisting any relaxation of the export ban. Establishing bases on China’s western borders is the logic of its ambitions.

The United States is not so much engaged in “power projection” against an amorphously defined terrorism by installing bases in small or weak Eastern European and Central Asian nations as once more confronting Russia and China in an open-ended context which may have profoundly serious and protracted consequences neither America’s allies nor its own people have any interest or inclination to support. Even some Pentagon analysts have warned against this strategy because any American attempt to save failed states in the Caucasus or Central Asia, implicit in its new obligations, will risk exhausting what are ultimately its finite military resources. (7) The political crisis now wracking Uzbekistan makes this fear very real.

There is no way to predict what emergencies will arise or what these commitments entail, either for the U. S. or its allies, not the least because – as Iraq proved last year and Vietnam long before it – America’s intelligence on the capabilities and intentions of possible enemies against which it is ready to preempt is so completely faulty. Without accurate information a state can believe and do anything, and this is the predicament the Bush Administration’s allies are in. It is simply not to Australia’s national interest, much less to the political interests of those now in power or the security of its people, to pursue foreign policies based on a blind, uncritical acceptance of fictions or flamboyant adventurism premised on false premises and information. It is far too open-ended both in terms of potential time and political costs involved. If Bush is reelected, America’s allies and friends will have to confront such stark choices, a painful process that will redefine and probably shatter existing alliances. Many nations, including the larger, powerful ones, will embark on independent, realistic foreign policies, and the dramatic events in Spain have reinforced this likelihood.

But the United States will be more prudent, and the world will be far safer, only if it is constrained by a lack of allies and isolated. And while that is happening, Australia’s explicit rejection of its dangerous foreign policy premises would be immeasurably beneficial to both nations – and all humanity.


1. Joseph E. Stiglitz, The Roaring Nineties: A New History of the World’s Most Prosperous Decade, New York, 2003, passim.

2. Gabriel Kolko, Another Century of War?, New York, 2004, passim.

3. Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership, New York, 2004, passim.

4. Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neo-conservatives and the Global Order (New York, 2004), is an extremely well-informed and frightening account of how the Bush Administration conducts its foreign policy.

5. Pew Research Center, “A Year After the Iraq War,” March 16, 2004.

6. Wade Boese, “Russia, NATO at Loggerheads Over Military Bases,” Arms Control Today, March 2004; Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2004.

7. Dr. Stephen J. Blank, “Toward a New U.S. Strategy in Asia,” U.S. Army Strategic Studies Institute, February 24, 2004.

Gabriel Kolko is the Professor Emeritus at Toronto University, one of the world’s most distinguished war historians and author of ‘Another Century of War?’ (The New Press, New York 2002)

Liberal voter rumblings mean second front for Howard

Bitter Harvest. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

G’day. What a time to be moving to Canberra, becoming self-employed and being stuck on the road promoting a book! Webdiary will return on September 6, with an updated system which will make Webdiary easier for you and me to work with. I’m book promoting for the rest of this week and taking next week off.


I have one comment on the children overboard scandal. Howard has prejudged the new Senate inquiry on the basis that it is biased because he doesn’t have the numbers. What’s he really saying here? A leader, faced with such strong evidence that he lied to the Australian people as part of his campaign to win office in 2001, would, if innocent, call an independent inquiry. Or, if he needed protection, he would call a House of Representatives inquiry, in which his team had the numbers.

By not doing so, he is effectively admitting he lied to the Australian people. If there are no consequences, then he will succeeded in being unaccountable to the people house, and therefore to his employers, the Australian people. If his employer’s condone such behaviour by returning him to office, Australian politics will be transformed.


To relive the last few days of the 2001 election, read most of the transcripts now shown to be full of lies, and track the end of the last unthrown children inquiry, go to Webdiary’s children overboard archive.

But there are rumblings in the heartland, and not only from John Valder. In the blue ribbon Sydney seat Wentworth, the possibility is growing that Peter King will stand as a “Not Happy John” candidate agains Malcolm Turnbull, who defeated King in a controversial pre-selction battle.

King has made two significant moves towards offering the people of Wentworth the choice of an independent true Liberal opposed to Howard’s way. First he critiqued Howard’s abandonment of our citizens in Guantanamo Bay. And he recently wrote this letter of support for a Wentworth launch of Tony Kevin’s book on the SIEV-X scandal:

I am sorry that I can’t be with you tonight at the launch of Tony Kevin’s book: “A Certain Maritime Incident.” Tony’s book is extraordinarily well researched and well written. It provides a perceptive insight into one of the great maritime mysteries of modern times.

Sadly, the core of that mystery may never be fully known because the tragedy of the Siev X resulted in the deaths of 353 asylum seekers only three years ago and the events leading up to its sinking remain somewhat confused to many.

While on its voyage, and after it had left Indonesian waters, but not yet reached Australian waters the ship became progressively unseaworthy – a prelude to the disaster that saw its demise.

In recent years, the political controversy of asylum seekers entering Australia has been a definitive issue. It has been an issue that has divided many people.

Be that as it may, it needs to be recorded that in this debate there has been conflicting evidence about whether Australian or Indonesian officials knew of the Siev X voyage and how much did they know.

Using his high-level research skills, investigative abilities and access to an amazing number of official and unofficial sources, Tony has shed a searchlight on what he believes happened before and after the Siev X sank. His views are well-argued and the evidence he presents, well-selected and well-documented.

As a person who has specialised in maritime law, I must say that his book raises many interesting questions – especially questions about whether aid could have been rendered “for those in peril on the sea” – which is the undisputed first law of humanitarianism in relation to sea-going.

This book will be controversial. It deserves to be. This book will attract critics of its facts. That is part and parcel of recording and interpreting history. If you don’t believe me, ask Keith Windschuttle.

Writing a book is no easy task. Writing a book about a controversial episode involving many complex incidents is a lot harder. Even harder is writing a book about an episode and related events which has caused political division within Australia – its target audience. That Tony has done this daunting task is to his credit.

The book deserves reading, careful study and discussion. Its style meets all three needs. I wish Tony well with the book and I thank him for contributing to our historiography with this book.


For more on the unfolding of the SIEV-X story, see Webdiary’s SIEV-X archive.

Not Happy, John! Reflections of a Webdiarist

Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

I delivered this speech to the Sydney Institute last night

The day after Mark Latham was elected ALP leader by a whisker, I had a coffee with a Liberal MP stunned by his ladder-of-opportunity victory speech. “We’re in trouble,” he said. “Latham has updated Menzies’ ‘Forgotten People’.”

I think this is the Menzies quote which so resonated with Latham’s metaphor of the ladder of opportunity, and which has been so thoroughly corrupted by the neo-liberal political philosophy which now commodifies and degrades us all:

When the war is won, for every hundred boys and girls who now pass into higher schools and universities there must be a thousand. Lack of money must be no impediment to bright minds. The almost diabolical skill of men’s hands in the last forty years must be supplemented by a celestial skill of men’s minds and a generosity of men’s hearts if we are not to be destroyed by the machines of our creation. In common with other members of Parliament, I must increasingly realise that my constituents are not seventy thousand votes, but seventy thousand men and women for whose welfare and growth I have some responsibility. To develop every human being to his fullest capacity for thought, for action, for sacrifice and for endurance is our major task; and no prejudice, stupidity, selfishness or vested interest must stand in the way. (“The task of democracy”)


I then read all of Menzies’ 1942Forgotten People talks on 2GB radio in the depths of World War 2, where he set out the political philosophy upon which the Liberal Party was later formed. I was moved to tears by some of what I read, both by its old fashioned idealism and its extraordinary relevance to today’s world. He devoted several talks to democracy – its nature, its sickness, its achievements and its tasks. He explained what he believed the values were that we were sacrificing so much for, and sought to inspire Australians and their leaders to live by and honour those values when the war was won to make the oceans of blood spilt worth it, for all of us.

Menzies saw democracy in almost spiritual terms, and its custodians, our elected representatives, as charged with a sacred duty to preserve and enhance it. He was a builder for the long term – of a frank and fearless public service and of a world class university system open to all Australians with the capacity to make use of it.

Early Liberalism, devoted to wresting absolute power from kings and Queens, wholly distrusted the State, and saw the rule of law as the citizens’ protection against its excesses and maximisation of human freedom from State interference as its defining goal. Later Social Liberalism, which Menzies’ quote epitomises, married individual rights with the belief that part of the State’s role was to maximise equality of opportunity, and thus substantive individual freedom. As he said in “Has Capitalism failed”:

In envisaging the future world after the war, we should not seek to destroy this driving progressive element which really represents one of the deep-seated instincts of man, but should seek to control and direct it in the interests of the people as a whole- We shall do much better if we keep the good elements of the capitalist system, while at the same time imposing upon capital the most stringent obligations to discharge its social and industrial duty. The old conservative doctrine that the function of the State was merely to keep the ring for the combatants has gone forever.

He was wrong. We never learn, do we? (See Muddying the waters between guardians and traders.)

Extracts from Menzies’ Forgotten People talks became embedded in my book Not happy, John! Defending our democracy”, as I sought to prove that far from being the torch bearer of Menzian Liberalism, John Howard has destroyed it from within, and in so doing has plunged our democracy into a crisis which only the people of Australia, working together, can now salvage.

I thought – wrongly as it turned out – that I would be asked in interviews to justify my belief in Menzies’ Liberal vision in the light of what many see as the indelible stain on his credentials as a champion of Australian liberal democracy – banning the Communist Party in 1950. After all, Menzies, a devotee of John Stuart Mill, said in “Freedom of speech and expression”:

The whole essence of freedom is that it is freedom for others as well as for ourselves: freedom for people who disagree with us as well as for our supporters; freedom for minorities as well as for majorities. Here we have a conception which is not born with us but which we must painfully acquire.

Why is this freedom of real importance to humanity? … What appears to be today’s truth is frequently tomorrow’s error. There is nothing absolute about the truth. It is elusive- If truth is to emerge and in the long run be triumphant, the process of free debate – the untrammelled clash of opinion – must go on.

There are fascist tendencies in all countries – a sort of latent tyranny … Suppression of attack, which is based upon suppression of really free thought, is the instinctive weapon of the vested interest … great groups which feel their power are at once subject to tremendous temptations to use that power so as to limit the freedom of others.

The easily forgotten truth (is) that the despotism of a majority may be just as bad as the despotism of one man. Fascism and the Nazi movement … elevate the all-powerful State and makes the rights of the individual not matters of inherent dignity, but matters merely of concession by the State. Each says to the ordinary citizen, “Your rights are not those you were born with, but those which of our kindness we allow you.”

Power is apt to produce a kind of drunkenness, and it needs the cold douche of the critic to correct it … The temptation towards suppression of thought and speech is greatest of all in time of war because at such a time people say, “Let us have strength!” – all too frequently meaning, by “strength”, suppression; whereas the truth is that it requires more strength of character to sustain adverse or bitter criticism than to say, with a grand gesture, “Off with the critic’s head!

Hmmm. I had a chat with Queensland Senator George Brandis, one of the seven true to label MPs in the Federal Liberal Party. He produced some fascinating research about Menzies’ attitude to banning the Communist Party, which, far from proving Menzies a hypocrite, proved the depth of his principles, and the extraordinary circumstances which saw him forgo them in the case of the CPA.

On 24 May 1940, the Menzies Government imposed a ban on some CPA publications, and later declared it an illegal organisation under wartime powers. The decision was uncontroversial, as the Soviet’s non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany had precipitated the war.

Yet Menzies had tenaciously resisted the ban, twice rejecting recommendations to Cabinet before finally signing off. The War Cabinet initially decided “it was inadvisable to declare the party an illegal organisation”, rejecting a joint recommendation from all three defence services. (Paul Hasluck, “The Government and the People 1939-1941”, Canberra, Australian War Memorial, 1952, pp 582-94.) Instead, Menzies established a committee of the defence services, the police and the Department of Information to re-examine the question. That committee also recommended a ban, but Menzies again said no. The Cabinet submission records that Menzies’ reluctance “in view of the danger of infringement of the rights and privileges of innocent persons should approval be given to principles without regard to the details and methods of implementing them and the provision of safeguards to prevent their abuse”.

Menzies insisted that a ministerial sub-committee “consider the course of action to be followed” before finally agreeing to the ban.

In 1942, after the Soviet Union joined the Allies, the Labor Government withdrew the ban, again without controversy. (Leicester Webb, “Communism and Democracy in Australia: A Survey of the 1951 Referendum”, Melbourne, Cheshire, 1954, pp. 6-7.) At the 1943 election, only the Country Party, led by Arthur Fadden, campaigned for a ban on the CPA. (Ulrich Ellis, “A History of the Australian Country Party”, Melbourne University Press, 1963, p. 274.)

The first Federal Platform of the Liberal Party, founded by Menzies in 1944, did not seek to ban the CPA, and at the 1946 election, again only the Country Party campaigned to do so.

Menzies made his attitude clear in a Parliamentary speech on May 15, 1947 on a motion that the Chifley government hold an inquiry into the CPA:

One reason why I have repeatedly expressed the view that these people should be dealt with in the open is that I have complete confidence in the basic sanity of our own people. If we deal with these people openly we shall defeat them; but we cannot deal with them openly unless their operations are known, unless they themselves are known. (House of Representatives Hansard 15 May 1947 pp. 2460-1.)

In contrast, the Country Party’s John McEwen demanded that members of the Communist Party be dealt with “as traitors”.

Menzies’ turnaround was forced upon him by domestic political necessity coupled with profound world events, including war-like actions by the Soviet Union. Domestically, his Coalition partner’s strident campaign to ban the CPA was joined by an internal rival, Richard Casey, who sought to take over the Liberal leadership by citing Menzies’ refusal to ban the CPA as a sign of weakness.

Fast forward to the rise of One Nation and the Government’s attempts to deregister it in the Courts through secret funding from big business while refusing to openly debate the merits of its policies (see Unmasked Howard gets amnesia on Hanson).

And then to John Howard’s post-Tampa legislation, drafted in his office, which sought to exempt all Commonwealth officials from the jurisdiction of our courts in relation to the boat people, even for murder (see A legal minefield). Only WA Liberal Judi Moylan abstained, citing Howard’s failure to allow any time to consider its ramifications. When Beazley said no, he was cursed with Howard’s accusation of weakness throughout the 2001 election campaign for forcing the PM to amend his plans, and the false claim that some boat people were terrorists.

Fast forward to Howard’s post election response to September 11, to rush through Parliament draconian limitations on fundamental civil rights of liberal democracy through anti-terrorism laws which defined political and industrial protests as “terrorist acts”, and allowed the Attorney-General to unilaterally ban political organisations without reference to Parliament. And to his ASIO laws, which allowed unlimited, secret detention and interrogation of people not suspected of terrorism without access to lawyers or even notice to their families.

Only desperate brinkmanship from the true Liberal remnants – Brandis, Moylan, Marise Payne, Petro Georgio, Brett Mason, Christopher Pyne and Bruce Baird forced Howard to water down his terrorism and ASIO laws. The only power which gave them the clout to outstare Howard was that he did not have the numbers in the Senate, and that Labor, under siege from Howard for standing up for fundamental liberal values and proper checks and balances on untrammelled executive power – was bolstered by leaked threats from dissident Liberals that they could cross the floor in the Senate. (See Webdiary reports Coming soon: too many terroristsToo many terrorists: Part twoCome in, Big BrotherTake em on, BeazleyLiberalism fights back on terror lawsMomentum against Terror AustralisCrisis of conscienceThird Way terrorPayne and gain and ASIO: Right beats might, again!.)

Howard then proposed that the Senate’s power to veto legislation be abolished, which would have ended the only effective Parliamentary review of executive government decisions, and the last leverage of true Liberals in the “Liberal” Party. (See Howard’s Senate strip: All power to him.)

And he’s still at it – just last week in a Senate report Payne and Mason joined with Labor to condemn proposed consorting with terrorists’ laws as potentially criminalising legitimate social and religious festivals, the giving of legal advice, and investigative journalism. They said the government had not even proved the case for any need for the new laws!

Howard has presided over the collapse of consensus in the political class that civil and human rights are not to be tools for party political gain, or to be torn away from citizens through cheap and cynical scare campaigns putting unbearable political pressure on a responsible opposition. This shaming of the Menzian Liberal tradition has included a pre-fascist fetish to attack minorities and feed the community’s fear of difference.

In this regard, I’d like to quote the 1942 Menzies talk I found the most inimical to John Howard’s idea of leadership in times of war. In “Hatred as an instrument of war policy”, Menzies protested against Government advertising urging Australians to despise the Japanese:

It appears to proceed from a belief – that the cultivation of the spirit of hatred among our own people is a proper instrument of war policy.

The real question is whether we should glorify such a natural human reaction into something which ought to be cultivated and made a sort of chronic state of mind. – In a Great War like this, bitter moments are the portion of many thousands of people, and one must respect that bitterness and its cause. But if we are to view war problems from a national point of view and – what is even better – from a world point of view, then we must inevitably conclude that if this war with all its tragedy breeds into us a deep-seated and enduring spirit of hatred, then the peace when it comes will be merely the prelude to disaster and not an end of it.

… Is it thought that Australian civilians are so lacking in the true spirit of citizenship that they need to be filled artificially with a spirit of hatred before they will do their duty to themselves and to those who are fighting for them?

… Peace may be all sorts of things – a real end of war, a mere exhaustion, an armed interlude before the next struggle. But it will only be by a profound stirring in the hearts of men that we shall reach goodwill.

… It does not mean that in some dreamy or philosophic fashion we are to forget that the salvation of mankind requires that this generation of ours should be ready to go through hell to defeat its devils. But it does mean that we should refuse to take the honest and natural and passing passions of the human heart and degrade them into sinister and bitter policy. We shall, in other words, do well if we leave the dignity and essential nobility of our cause unstained and get on urgently with the business of so working, so fighting, and so sacrificing ourselves that the cause emerges triumphant and the healing benefits of its success become available as a blessing not merely for us but for all mankind.

When did Menzies’ wisdom lose its force in the Liberal Party? When did his spirit die? And how do we revive it, for the sake of all Australians?

In the 1997 Menzies memorial lecture in London, Howard said:

Menzies had a deep respect for the political freedoms and personal liberties, the parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, and a free press that were Britain’s great gift to Australia. It is no exaggeration to say that these principles constitute the foundations on which Australia’s strengths as a nation are built.

I seek to prove in my book that Howard has betrayed all of these foundational principles to such an extent that he could, if he wins again, destroy them through his belief that the ends always justify the means. While he mouths these empty phrases to justify opposing a bill of rights for Australians, more and more true Liberals are now calling for one as the only protection left for our civil rights and freedoms.

The current weakness of our democracy is clearly shown in its failure to hold Howard to account for his misleading and deceptive conduct in taking Australia to its first war of aggression in Iraq against the wishes of the Australian people. The British and American parliaments and media have comprehensively shown us up.

My belief in strong democratic institutions, the rule of law, the separation of powers, and ethical in government were forged by my experience as a Queenslander, a police state under the rule of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. I am a small l Liberal, greatly distrustful of State power and extremely mindful of the need for legal protection against its abuse. It is no coincidence that some of the strongest advocates against Howard’s pre-fascist policies come from Queenslanders, including Senators Brandis and Mason and Tony Fitzgerald QC, a traditional liberal destined for the High Court until he did his duty as Royal Commissioner into Queensland police corruption. At the Sydney launch of my book, Tony said:

In a speech last year, the author Norman Mailer described democracy as ‘a state of grace that is attained only by those countries which have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labour of maintaining it’.

Australians generally accept that democracy is the best system of government, the market is the most efficient mechanism for economic activity and fair laws are the most powerful instrument for creating and maintaining a society that is free, rational and just. However, we are also collectively conscious that democracy is fragile, the market is amoral and law is an inadequate measure of responsibility. As former Chief Justice Warren of the United States Supreme Court explained: “Law “.. presupposes the existence of a broad area of human conduct controlled only by ethical norms.

Similarly, democracy in our tradition assumes that a broad range of political activity is controlled only by conventions of proper conduct. Especially because individual rights are not constitutionally guaranteed in this country, justice, equality and other fundamental community values in Australia are constantly vulnerable to the disregard of those conventions.

Mainstream political parties routinely shirk their duty of maintaining democracy in Australia. This is nowhere more obvious than in what passes for political debate, in which it is regarded as not only legitimate but clever to mislead. Although effective democracy depends on the participation of informed citizens, modern political discourse is corrupted by pervasive deception. It is a measure of the deep cynicism in our party political system that many of the political class deride those who support the evolution of Australia as a fair, tolerant, compassionate society and a good world citizen as an un-Australian, “bleeding-heart” elite, and that the current government inaccurately describes itself as conservative and liberal. It is neither.

It exhibits a radical disdain for both liberal thought and fundamental institutions and conventions. No institution is beyond stacking and no convention restrains the blatant advancement of ideology. The tit-for-tat attitude each side adopts means that the position will probably change little when the opposition gains power at some future time. A decline in standards will continue if we permit it.

Without ethical leadership, those of us who are comfortably insulated from the harsh realities of violence, disability, poverty and discrimination seem to have experienced a collective failure of imagination. Relentless change and perceptions of external threat make conformity and order attractive and incremental erosions of freedom tolerable to those who benefit from the status quo and are apprehensive of others who are different and therefore easily misunderstood.

(Yet) we are a community, not merely a collection of self-interested individuals. Justice, integrity and trust in fundamental institutions are essential social assets and social capital is as important as economic prosperity.

In order to perform our democratic function, we need, and are entitled to, the truth. Nothing is more important to the functioning of democracy than informed discussion and debate. Yet a universal aim of the power-hungry is to stifle dissent. Most of us are easily silenced, through a sense of futility if not personal concern.

My book is an attempt to persuade Australians that there comes a time when political disagreements must be put aside to fight together for the one thing we all agree on – a vibrant liberal democracy in which politicians represent the public interest, not their own or those of their donors and benefactors, and in which every Australian, through the People’s House, can have a say in the determination of our future.


Since the 2001 election, Webdiarists of most political inclinations – left, liberal, conservative and nationalist – have discussed the grave and growing threat to our democracy posed by the Howard regime. The rise of refugee activism has brought voters of many colours together in a campaign which, while reviled by the majority, has grown and strengthened and become more determined over time. The release last weekend of the plea from 43 of our top retired defence, diplomatic and public service leaders – Australian elders – calling for truth in politics and for Australia to put its national interest before subservience to the USA, is further proof of this trend towards Australians coming together to defend our democracy.


Since the launch of my book, I met Liberal Party elder John Valder, who has adopted the book’s title to convene a “Not happy, John!” campaign to rid the people of John Howard in Bennelong. He is the first establishment Liberal I’ve got to know well, and to our surprise we both like each other and have more in common than not when it comes to our values. We have appeared together at a public meeting called to discuss how Australians can reclaim our democracy.

In Not happy, John: angry outsiders take on Howard Michelle Grattan wrote of the extraordinary stands being made by Brian Deegan, Andrew Wilkie and John Valder in the lead up to this election, the most important in my voting lifetime. She quoted Bob Montgomery, professor of psychology at the University of Canberra, on why the unlikely trio have done so: -“They have in common, Montgomery says, the phenomenon one sees through history, -of people willing to take a stand that may be costly for them but satisfies their need for integrity.”

Since the book’s release, I have received dinner invitations from people I would never otherwise have met, in walks of life I have never encountered. The topic: how to join forces to fight for the Australian values which make us special and which are close to being lost forever.

Now is the time to begin that fight, together, and many Australians who’ve never before been involved in politics are looking around to spot others with defiance in their eyes also prepared to take the time and bear the cost of doing what they can to remove the Howard regime, give the Liberal Party the chance to rediscover the traditions and values which made it great, and create a mass movement to insist that liberal values are brought back into the mainstream of Australia’s faltering democracy.

For all its faults, and there are many, I believe the election of a Labor Government and a strong Senate will give the people a breathing space to mobilise to make the health of our democracy a crucial issue during the term of the next government and at the next election.

I’d like to end with a quote from Menzies and a quote from my book:

Menzies, 1942:

What, then, must democracy do if it is to be a real force in the new world? – It must recapture the vision of the good of man as the purpose of government. And it must restore the authority and prestige of Parliament as the supreme organic expression of self-government.

… The truth is that ever since the wise men gathered about the village tree in the Anglo-Saxon village of early England, the notion of free self-government has run like a thread through our history. The struggle for freedom led an English Parliament to make war on its King and execute him at the seat of government, confined the kingship itself to a parliamentary domain, established the cabinet system and responsibility, set in place the twin foundation stones of the sovereignty of Parliament and the rule of law on which our whole civil edifice is built.

The sovereignty of Parliament. That is a great phrase and a vital truth. If only we could all understand it to the full, what a change we would make! Sovereignty is the quality of kingship, and democracy brings it to the poor man’s door.

Not happy, John! Defending our democracy, Chapter 2, “Yours not to reason why”:

I visited a friend after Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq, at a time when the lies, the spin and the psychological assaults inflicted by the Coalition of the Willing’s governments on any public servant who told the truth were becoming horribly clear.

My friend said, “Margo, we usually find out thirty years later that they lied to us to send us to war. What happens when we find out almost instantaneously? And what happens if nothing happens?”

I answered: “I guess it would mean that we don’t treasure our democracy any more, and that means it will die.”

Not Happy, Nicola

Sly Defensive. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

Polly Bush is the Webdiary columnist reporting the joint custody and gay marriage sagas for Webdiary.


With little hypocritical bibles under their wings the vultures descended on Canberra last week to meet with their fellow clansmen. Waving crucifixes, they brought with them fury and rage, with so much built up hate boiling in their blood over something so unspeakable, something so hideous and evil – the vultures came to divide and conquer love. Those, who in their mind did not deserve to uphold the “bedrock of society”, would be chastised with fire and brimstone. The vultures invited lawmakers to address their gaggle. Not surprisingly, Count Howard gladly agreed. Sadly and surprisingly, the Australian Lip-service Party sent their chief lawmaker along for the ride. The colourful parrots and lovebirds of the land shook their beaks with dismay. Confused about why Fickle-a Roxon would even greet such a fiendish flock they cried: Not Happy Nicola!

When the Federal Government last year announced an inquiry into child custody to examine a flawed plan of enshrining a presumption of 50/50 shared parenting for all divorced couples in family law, the Shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon appeared to be brave.


Roxon was brave enough to say the obvious.

She nailed the point of why the Government was holding such an Inquiry, describing it as “dog whistle politics to men’s groups aggrieved by the Family Court”.

Quite simply, the Howard Government’s announcement of the Inquiry wasn’t about “the best interests of the child” and it wasn’t about looking at constructive ways to improve the family law process in the event of divorce. It was about votes, and it was about the Howard Government chasing an angry clutter of votes.

The Inquiry recommendations rightly stopped short of enforcing equal shared parenting time in law.

Still, the process was about the message it was sending. It was about John Howard’s subtle attacks on single mothers by talking up the so-called importance of “male role models”. It was about the Government appearing like they were engaged and listening to fathers dissatisfied with the family court, the same court that had been at loggerheads with the Federal Government over the issue of asylum seeker children in detention.

The presumption of equal shared parenting in family law is classic One Nation party policy. Once again, with the collapse of One Nation’s voting base, John Howard picked up the ONP policy ideas ball and ran with it.

Dressed under the guise of caring for the nuclear family and describing marriage as “the bedrock of society”, the Howard Government is again after votes with his pursuit of banning gay marriage.

It also helps that Howard’s “conservative tolerance” of homosexuals means he’s partial to the odd gay bashing policy.

What is different with this issue is that it appears the Labor Party are now trying to do the same, running after the same votes.

Unfortunately, by doing so, both the Government and Opposition are condoning discrimination and homophobia. They’re condoning the hate filled bigots who, for some bizarre reason, feel that the allowance of gay marriage will somehow erode their rights and the “institution” itself. They’re condoning people who hate and fear loving relationships.

Somewhere in between the custody Inquiry and the gay marriage issue, Nicola Roxon has changed stripes. No longer is she brave enough to stand up and tell it like it is. No longer is Roxon prepared to say “This proposed legislation is unnecessarily enshrining discrimination in law. This legislation will only fuel homophobia and hate. This legislation is dog whistle politics to the angry loopy so-called “Christian” fundamentalist homophobes of society that John Howard appeals to so much.”

No. It seems Roxon now wants these people to vote for the Australian Labor Party.

Roxon’s appearance at the National Marriage Coalition conference last week was telling enough. Some members of the Marriage Coalition, are the same sad mad dad groups who pursued the failed 50/50 shared custody proposal.

Others included the likes of Margaret Court, tennis player, reverend and complete and utter homophobe (I don’t use the term lightly, and Court has proven herself on so many occasions that she is full of so much bile for homosexuals that it is disappointing she is still celebrated as an Australian sporting icon).

Why Nicola Roxon chose to attend and address such a forum is beyond comprehension. In the words of JOYFM newsreader Doug Pollard the event was like a convention for the “Christian Taliban”.

Whatever the reason, it was a curious way to announce to the gay and lesbian community that the ALP would support the Government’s marriage amendment without waiting for the Senate Committee’s report as promised.

When the ALP initially discussed the marriage legislation, some members passionately argued against supporting the Government’s bill. To ease the dissenters, the ALP agreed to pass the amendment in the House of Representatives, but the party would open up the issue to examination by a Senate Committee. That was what caucus agreed to.

But Roxon’s appearance at the forum, sent a strong message to the gay and lesbian community. As the Equal Rights Network’s Rodney Croome said to Webdiary, Roxon’s forum soiree and her resulting comments show the ALP “don’t particularly care about the gay vote – they care about the fundamentalist Christians”.

Croome said there was still no proper reason given for Roxon’s appearance: “Everyone seems to be mystified. No one’s been able to adequately explain why she was there.”

In making her comments at the forum, that the Labor party would now support the gay marriage ban without waiting for the Senate Committee’s report, Roxon broke the decision of caucus. Since then there have been rumblings of anger towards Roxon’s actions.

On Friday, Rodney Croome wrote:

Nicola Roxon is not popular. The colleagues of ALP Shadow Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, say they are mystified by her announcement that Labor will support the Government’s same sex marriage ban before the Senate Legal and Constitutional committee has had a chance to thoroughly investigate all the implications of that ban.

Some of them are genuinely bewildered. Others may be trying to divert blame away from conservative and/or ruthlessly pragmatic sections of the Party and towards an individual who is already unpopular with the LGBT community.

Whichever, it’s clear that what Nicola Roxon did is unpopular in the ALP. She defied caucus policy, broke a promise to a traditional constituency, and lent legitimacy to fringe anti-gay and anti-choice groups. It’s also certain that she will grow even more unpopular over the next few days as the depth of LGBT community anger reveals itself to Labor.

-With groups like Rainbow Labor slating the ALP, some Labor pollies now concede it will be next to impossible to re-engage with the LGBT community before the election. I’d add, after the election as well, especially if Nicola Roxon is made Attorney-General.

One member prepared to publicly vent her anger towards Roxon’s actions was Sydney’s Tanya Plibersek. Late last week Plibersek told the Sydney Star Observer:

I think it’s terrible. It doesn’t reflect the decision we made in the Labor Party caucus to send this legislation off to a committee. I’ve told Nicola in the strongest terms that I feel betrayed by what she said yesterday and I take very seriously the fact she’s not followed proper caucus procedure.

It’s been suggested that one of the reasons Roxon broke caucus ranks was due to submissions to the Senate Committee being overwhelmingly anti-gay. The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby’s co-convenors Somali Cerise and Rob McGrory said the ALP’s recent turnaround “was in response to 12,000 submissions by the fundamentalist Christian Right in support of Howard’s marriage ban”.

However, numbers of senate committee submissions don’t necessarily need to dictate policy – take for example submissions in response to Anthony Albanese’s private members bill in 2000, examining the issue of superannuation rights for same sex couples.

Despite only five submissions out of 1200 arguing against equal super rights for same sex couples, the Federal Government’s resulting report opposed the bill, you guessed it, on the basis equal rights for same sex couples in superannuation would lead to “the gradual devaluation of the traditional family structure in the eyes of the law and society in general”.

Still, the NSW G&L Lobby is urging people to counter these alleged anti-gay marriage numbers by emailing Nicola Roxon and Mark Latham their views. The Lobby wishes to reach a target of 13,000 emails by this Friday 13.

It’s just as abhorrent that three members of the Howard Government also addressed the forum, but sadly it’s not a surprise – after all, John Howard has made fear driven policies and attacks on people’s rights his Government’s stomping ground.

Labor’s Shadow Cabinet met yesterday, where the issue was discussed. According to today’sAustralian, Latham and Roxon were confronted with members of the left angry at Roxon’s appearance at the forum. Patricia Karvelas reported:

Mr Albanese and other frontbenchers argued Ms Roxon had gone too far in an attempt to impress a group of Christians, who were unlikely to vote Labor, at the expense of the gay and lesbian community, which had shown the party support.

Today, Labor’s caucus met and supported Roxon’s backflip last week. The ALP have however, promised to consider the outcomes of the Senate Inquiry, but should parliament debate the marriage amendment in the next few days, expect the ALP to vote this legislation through anyway. Very disappointing.

It was hoped, that today’s caucus meeting would flag some support for a registry for civil unions for same sex couples. Sadly, no such commitment has been made at this stage. If, by crazy chance, the ALP is brave enough to make such an announcement in support of civil unions in the lead up to this year’s election, it better be a strong statement.

According to Rodney Croome, unless the ALP “make a concrete commitment”, such a move won’t be believed by the gay and lesbian community, particularly given Roxon and the ALP’s latest turnaround. Croome said that for many in the gay and lesbian community this issue is not necessarily about gay and lesbians wanting to get married:

It’s about choice, it’s about not being seen to be second class citizens, and it’s about not giving in to an ideological crusade.

In short, it’s about equality.

Before this week’s parliamentary debate gets underway, it’s worth reading a couple of reports from last week’s conference. The first is from Rodney Croome’s website, the Webdiarist “Punter S Thompson” provides a frightening rundown of the speakers and content canvassed at last week’s meet.


Latham and Howard exchange vows at the alter of bigotry – Labor has betrayed the trust and hope of the LGBT community

by Rodney Croome

It was a soul destroying scene: Labor’s justice spokesperson, Nicola Roxon, enjoying a standing ovation from a crowd of hard-right fundamentalist Christians, being mobbed by an adoring phalanx of homophobes as she walked from the stage, shaking hands with and smiling to anti-gay activists.

Why all this unlikely adultation? Roxon had just committed the ALP to support the Government’s ban on same sex marriage within the fortnight. The incomplete Senate inquiry upon which the hopes of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people have been pinned, and which Labor had promised to support because of the gay marriage ban’s many legal, constitutional and social impacts, had effectively been scuttled.

I was witness to all this from the door of the Great Hall of Parliament. Only minutes before in front of a crowd of 700 that had assembled for the “National Marriage Forum”, the Prime Minister had declared he would re-introduce legislation banning same sex marriage. No surprise there.

What was a shock was Roxon’s complicity. She stated her agreement with the Prime Minister, John Howard, that heterosexual marriage is a bedrock institution. She stated her agreement with Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, that the number of people who actually want gay marriage is tiny, a minority within a minority.

Then she went on to announce Labor’s betrayal. According to Roxon, Labor will allow Howard’s legislation to sail through parliament in a few days time, two months before the Senate inquiry into this legislation was due to report.

Those LGBT people who made submissions to the inquiry in good faith have been snubbed. The same sex couples who have asked the Family Court to recognise their overseas same sex marriages have had their hopes dashed. The possibility of same sex marriage will be delayed by years. The principles of equality and justice have been sold out.

The comparison with the Free Trade Agreement is telling. Labor was willing to let the inquiry into that legislation run its course before it voted on the issue. Despite all its talk about the importance of marriage, Labor clearly doesn’t think marriage is important enough to allow a proper inquiry into all the implications of reforming the Marriage Act.

Worse still is that the Australian Family Association and the Australian Christian Lobby knew about Labor’s position before the LGBT community.

The day before her announcement I had a meeting with Nicola Roxon. Marriage and the Senate inquiry were discussed and never once did she give any indication of what she was about to do. No such reticence was shown to anti-gay groups.

As soon as Roxon alighted the Great Hall stage, Forum organisers urged the audience to welcome her with a standing ovation. Not what you’d expect for someone who those same organisers had been accusing of going soft on traditional marriage only days before.

Minutes later, as Roxon’s announcement approached, those same organisers suddenly descended on and crowded around me. They showed no surprise at her announcement when it came. They simply turned to me grinned and expressed their “sympathy”.

The Australian Family Association and the Australian Christian Lobby, and I assume the Howard Government, had been told of Labor’s decision well in advance.

The only people who didn’t know what was coming were those who will actually be disenfranchised by all these dirty deals – same sex couples and their children who will have their families demeaned, diminished and disadvantaged by the very legislators who fall over themselves to “support the family”.

But it’s not only same sex couples and their children who will suffer. This announcement spoke of the fact that Australia’s far right – once lost on the fringe of national politics – is now determining public policy across the political spectrum and across a range of issues. It also says that the influence of the social left as well as the nation’s LGBT community has shrunk to next-to-nothing.

Now I know why Roxon warned me not to go to the Marriage Forum as I left her office two days ago. She wanted as few witnesses as possible to her task of selling out Australia’s future as a society which embraces difference.

So, what on earth has prompted Labor to indulge in such vile behaviour?

Roxon cited the fact that an overwhelming majority of submissions to the Senate inquiry are against same sex marriage, that the people have spoken and the matter is therefore closed.

But when has weight of numbers been a reason to pre-empt the outcome of a parliamentary inquiry or cut it short?

Other Labor sources say it will benefit both Labor and the LGBT community if gay marriage is neutralised as an election issue. But where’s the proof that marriage was hurting either Labor or the LGBT community?

There has been no high profile public debate on the issue since the inquiry was announced. Consequently there has been no upsurge in discrimination or violence against LGBT people, no mass mobilisation of anti-gay prejudice – just a healthy, mature debate on the merits of marriage equality.

As for Labor, none of the hard right Christians represented at the National Marriage Forum will vote Labor in a pink fit. Middle ground voters are utterly indifferent. Plenty of LGBT people who will now vote Green and Democrat instead.

In short the LGBT community and the Labor Party have nothing to gain and everything to lose from what Labor has done.

The only possible explanation for Labor’s behaviour is that powerful ALP MPs share with their Coalition colleagues an ideological commitment to carving the second class status of same sex relationships into legislative stone, and that these MPs have the power to make Opposition policy.

I’ve witnessed many evil things in my career as a gay activist. I’ve seen angry crowds bay for gay blood, I’ve seen indoctrinated children spew hate. But I’ve never seen a Labor spokesperson play up to an anti-gay crowd, declare herself on their side and betray the trust and hope of LGBT people.

Confronted with hate-groups like the AFA and the ACL, state Labor leaders from Michael Field, through Wayne Goss and Jim McGinty to Jon Stanhope and Jim Bacon never once agreed to speak at the forums organised by such groups, let alone concede to their demands.

It is an indication of the unworthiness of the Federal ALP to govern that it would break ranks with its state counterparts, stoop to dealing with anti-gay hate groups, and exchange vows with the Coalition on the alter of bigotry.

If Labor cannot be trusted to see through to the end something as simple as a Senate inquiry on changes to the Marriage Act, how can it be expected to carry out its commitments to other gay law reforms like anti-discrimination legislation and de facto status for same sex couples?

If Labor cannot be trusted to deal honestly with the LGBT community, and to give hate-groups the cold shoulder they deserve, how can fair minded Australians ever hope to have their voices heard?

If Labor cannot be trusted to see the justice in a cause as straight forward as recognising the love and commitment in same sex relationships, how can it ever expect to be taken seriously as a party of social reform.


Punter S Thompson’s Marriage Matters Experience, 4/8/04

It was a cold and drizzling Wednesday morning on the drive to Canberra. As I stopped momentarily at the stop sign near the front lawn of Parliament House, there to the right, was Tony Abbott striding off to somewhere with a class of school kids and their teacher following behind. I shivered, with coldness. Perhaps it was the omen?

It was already 9.45am and the Marriage Forum had started. I was late. The huge crowd still waiting to find a seat meant that by the time I finally passed through the registration process and found a seat among the already seated 1000 plus Christians John Anderson was mid-address. I’d missed John Howard’s remarks along with the organisers of the Forum, Jim Wallace (ex-SAS) leader of theAustralian Christian Lobby, Warick Marsh of the Fatherhood Foundation and Senator Guy Barnett. I wasn’t too bothered. It was others whom I was more interested in, although I’m not dismissing the influence of ex-military men who have some how paid for this country’s freedom with their service, in often illegitimate wars, and who just happen to be in the Christian Right along with the many Cabinet members and other parliamentarians too.

There were war-analogies in several speeches. Comments like “we are fighting not just flesh and blood, but evil in dark places” stirred the foot soldiers. “Marriage is the line in the sand, and we are being called to fight back” had calls of ‘Amen’. “Marriage is between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others for life” was the striking missile that drew the audience to their feet with thunderous applause.

Apparently this was the impetus that the government needed to push through their defining marriage legislation. This was the show of force, like the North Koreans on military parade, to all others that the Christian Right can fill the Great Hall in Parliament House with only a few weeks notice.

My camouflage holding, specifically what drew me to attend were the two family-law professors, Parkinson and Altobelli. In this religious-political arena, particularly in this Forum which followed hotly on the heels of Howard’s announcement last week of more family law reforms in the form of 65 Family Relationship Centres and greater fathers’ rights, what further influence or network were these two men hoping for? What was their connection to the Fatherhood Foundation? After all, some of Howard’s announced reforms are authored by Professor Parkinson, a member of the Family Law Council, and adviser to the Federal Government.

Parkinson’s words found their target as he announced as a Christian he “is against gay and lesbian marriage”. There it was as if some street mortar had exploded on a street patrol of down town Bagdad and the insurgents were cheering. The fear and loathing was not reserved for the terrorist of Iraq rather, the gay and lesbians of Australia (and probably anywhere else for that matter). They’re not the only group.

Parkinson continued that “there is a creeping equation to extend to other domestic relationships the same benefits of marriage” while these other relationships leave children with an experience of instability. Apparently, marriage is a protective fence. It is the bedrock of family, of society, the foundation for a healthy nation. So marriage is a national interest. Parkinson is concerned with public policy – and what protection and support is there for heterosexual marriage and how that will exclude other relationships, yet protect the vulnerable.

I silently yelled questions. Don’t you want to clarify things here Professor? Don’t you mean healthy loving relationships? You know as a researcher, that there are many marriages that implode because for too long abuse and dysfunction devastated. We all know of harmful marriages, dishonest marriages. Who benefits? Marriage doesn’t protect against domestic violence and incest. You are aware of child abuse and the Family Court. Shouldn’t you be pointing out the need for integrity and ethics in relationships? What about R.E.S.P.E.C.T? And what would happen to that research your quoting if there was adequate support services for those vulnerable people? Questions were firing but this forum wasn’t inquisitorial.

Nicola Roxon took to the stage. She corrected any confusion or misinformation anyone in the audience may have had that the major parties differ on the position of marriage. They don’t. Labor like the Liberal-coalition will vote for the legislation – that marriage is between a man and woman at the exclusion of others. Within the next two weeks if Howard schedules it.

While that attracted cheers of approval, when it came to adoption, specifically for gay or lesbian couples and Labor’s deferment that this is a state matter, jeers of disapproval and condemnation erupted. There’s no spin these people are going to swallow, and it was also clear there was little electoral support for the ALP among this constituency. At that point I wondered how many of them lived in marginal seats.

The Reverend Dr Margaret Court (former tennis champion) spoke next. She described the spiritual and physical interactions between man and woman and how this is at the foundation of marriage benefits. That this spiritual and physical interaction is supposed to be why marriage only can be between a man and woman. Again, I couldn’t help question does this still only apply when the marriage is good, or what if the couple hold the different spiritual outlook and commitment? And when she gave the example of a boy’s distress at being teased because he had two mothers, she blamed the lesbian relationship rather than addressing peer bullying and teasing as being the destructive force.

Mary Louise Fowler focused on key elements of marriage – which could be applicable to any relationship where the parties valued and committed themselves to nurturing.

Professor Altobelli’s approach was one of values and where do values come from, even for law. Isn’t the point of any good loving relationship that we value one another and if we have children, them too? How could widening the definition of who can marry erode those values? There was no argument that addressed a lack of respect or dysfunction which erodes good relationships and is the mark of poor marriages. And isn’t that the point, poor marriages devalue marriage. Other types of relationship where people may actively seek not to marry but still has “protective measures” -even marriage benefits- doesn’t devalue marriage, or make a child’s life insecure unless there is dysfunction.

Speaker after speaker, including Altobelli seemed to focus on the event of divorce as the cause of social problems rather than the events that led to the process of divorce. There are greater social problems when a child living with married parents in a household with domestic violence, or where there’s mental illness, or even where substance abuse takes place than a child of a partnered couple who may not be formally married. Isn’t the bedrock of society, of family, a society that supports a parent or parents (whether married or not, straight or gay) who parent effectively and lovingly and whom nurture the children supporting the majority of their needs? Isn’t that how to grow a healthy society? Isn’t this really about the need to grow healthy relationships?

Altobelli also proud to declare his Christianity, suggested the lack of literature and calls by the gay and lesbian lobby is another reason to make exclusive marriage between a man and woman. An argument that’s odd as it seemed to ignore social trends and shifts in tolerance.

Angela Shanahan gave further insight into the fear and loathing behind accepting other relationships. Other than the bleeding obvious (as she so eloquently put it) is that any relationship that mimics marriage but is not marriage goes against the faith. It also requires a certain cultural acceptance of the “unacceptable”.

Further, Shanahan and then Bill Muehlenberg (Australian Family Association) argued that gay and lesbian relationships lack a proper role model for children of that relationship, which have to be obtained by artificial methods. (Let’s not remind her, just because she managed to pop out nine kids, that all married hetro couples can/want do the same- and do we condemn their use of IVF and/or adoption in order to be parents?) So what is the issue with role models? Now I’m no expert on gay or lesbian parenting – matter of fact my only knowledge in this area relates to a friend who is a lesbian parent, who is raising a happy child with her partner. Neither of them try to be “daddy” which Shanahan suggested happens and is part of the problem for the child. Most gay fathers wouldn’t try to be mummy either. However, I can testify that having had a lousy father and a friend who has a lousy mother, perhaps all this focus on biological or even parents being the role model is a tad misguided – just ask any DOCS or child protection worker, they have their work cut out for them more than any American soldier in Fallujah.

Yet this same emergent discourse about role models for children, and/or “fatherlessness” assertion that rears it’s ugly head especially when it comes to single mothering and occurs elsewhere (now Shanahan used such terms when referring to lesbian parenting). For instance Howard expressed his “worry” about growing “fatherlessness” and “boys’ needing male role models” as one of the impetuses for calling the Inquiry into Child Custody and Child Support in July 2003. So such a discourse also has implications in other areas of parenting and public policy. And which organisation was behind the promulgation of “fatherlessness” and boys’ needing male role models, specifically their biological father – yep the Fatherhood Foundation- used to push changes in the area of family law. And what were the problems there?

The fatherless claims published by the Fatherhood Foundation contained bogus statistics, with no factual basis yet became a powerful weapon in asserting their fathers’ rights political agendas. The significance of the disinformation about “fatherlessness” was that this claim disseminated as “fact” was further repeated by many conservative politicians, and by some journos, gaining a largely uncritical foothold. This political and media take-up strengthened political support for fatherless claims and is now influencing public policy formulation and almost considered fact by the ignorant. And now we have Marriage Matters publication with how much misinformation?

The political strategy of building an alarmist discourse about the problem “fatherlessness” aims to stem the perceived permissiveness of marriage breakdown by stigmatising single mother, and now lesbian families as “fatherless” while at the same time promoting marriage by comparing social outcomes between the traditional families and single mother families. A key contributor to the Fatherhood Foundation and now this Marriage Coalition, Meuhlenberg claims that “85 per cent of sole parent families are fatherless families” when in fact 85% of sole parent families in Australia are headed by a woman. Muehlenberg’s insults discount single mothers and lesbian mothers’ capabilities, ignores fathers who have regular residency but not primary residency, ignores those fathers who have no contact orders due to a past history of violence, and overlooks those fathers who abrogated contact with their children, makes silent those widowed families and totally ignores other role models for kids found in extended family, teachers, sporting coaches, etc etc.

Now if readers think the Marriage Coalition only have the support of the Christians, you’d be mistaken. They have endorsement by the Australian Muslim Public Affairs and are opening dialogue with other religious groups.

Perhaps more significantly was the “testimony” of Pastor Ron Brookman who after 30 years of being a closet gay man has for the past 12 years converted to be heterosexual through faith and counselling and yes marriage (and kids). His testimony skidded close to linking gay sexuality to child-youth predators, but for faith and God’s grace. Perhaps again, the reminder not all parents are good for kids as (heterosexual) incest testifies but in this audience such horrifying practices by “married” families is just too challenging. Apparently Pastor Ron’s one case is enough to “prove” that being gay or lesbian is a lifestyle choice, as I overheard, among the faithful when they recounted his “powerful testimony”. Well I’m just not going to touch this one.

Other speakers sought to blame everything from feminism to UN to judicial activism to lack of literature on same sex marriages, to insufficient Christians in federal parliament for the need to make distinct the definition of heterosexual marriage. At no point was there any discussion of bad marriages breaking up – may be good for some people, and that with a bit of support those people can move through the difficult and painful process and find peace and stability and so good for the nation.

If this Marriage Coalition want to make marriage benefits exclusive to all other relationship types, how is that necessarily going to make Australian society better, tolerant? How will that protect the vulnerable? And that’s where this forum and all the speakers bothered me. If they were so het up about social problems why not advocate for more social support measures? Instead other issues were only slightly hinted at, and with such an agenda such gatherings have real implications in other areas of public policy development. As the day finishes, I was only slightly pleased that there was some show of protest with six (probably staffers) holding signs as the Christians exited. What was really rammed home though is how effective one or two people can be, in their influence and energy in drumming up support, networking within parliament, even when they use disinformation. If they can achieve this, what can you do? As Margo Kingston’s book, Not Happy John, argues now is the time for democratic activism.


Punter S Thompson can be emailed on PunterSThompson@hotmail.com. Polly Bush can be emailed on pollybush@yahoo.com.au

Our military and diplomatic elders on truth in democracies and the downside of invading Iraq

Chugging right along. Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies



Sunday August 8, 2004

We believe that a reelected Howard Government or an elected Latham Government must give priority to truth in Government. This is fundamental to effective parliamentary democracy. Australians must be able to believe they are being told the truth by our leaders, especially in situations as grave as committing our forces to war.

We are concerned that Australia was committed to join the invasion of Iraq on the basis of false assumptions and the deception of the Australian people.

Saddam’s dictatorial administration has ended, but removing him was not the reason given to the Australian people for going to war. The Prime Minister said in March 2003 that our policy was “the disarmament of Iraq, not the removal of Saddam Hussein”. He added a few days before the invasion that if Saddam got rid of his weapons of mass destruction he could remain in power.

It is a matter for regret that the action to combat terrorism after 11 September 2001, launched in Afghanistan, and widely supported, was diverted to the widely opposed invasion of Iraq. The outcome has been destructive, especially for Iraq. The international system has been subjected to enormous stress that still continues.


It is of concern to us that the international prestige of the United States and its Presidency has fallen precipitously over the last two years. Because of our Government’s unquestioning support for the Bush Administration’s policy, Australia has also been adversely affected. Terrorist activity, instead of being contained, has increased. Australia has not become safer by invading and occupying Iraq and now has a higher profile as a terrorist target.

We do not wish to see Australia’s alliance with the United States endangered. We understand that it can never be an alliance of complete equals because of the disparity in power, but to suggest that an ally is not free to choose if or when it will go to war is to misread the ANZUS Treaty. Within that context, Australian governments should seek to ensure that it is a genuine partnership and not just a rubber stamp for policies decided in Washington. Australian leaders must produce more carefully balanced policies and present them in more sophisticated ways. These should apply to our alliance with the United States, our engagement with the neighbouring nations of Asia and the South West Pacific, and our role in multilateral diplomacy, especially at the United Nations.

Above all, it is wrong and dangerous for our elected representatives to mislead the Australian people. If we cannot trust the word of our Government, Australia cannot expect it to be trusted by others. Without that trust, the democratic structure of our society will be undermined and with it our standing and influence in the world.


Signed by:


Admiral Alan Beaumont AC, former Chief of Defence Force

General Peter Gration AC, former Chief of Defence Force

Admiral Mike Hudson AC, former Chief of the Navy Vice Admiral Sir Richard Peek, former Chief of the Navy

Air Marshal Ray Funnell AC, former Chief of the Airforce

Air Vice Marshal Brendan O’Loughlin AO, former head of Australian Defence Staff, Washington

Major General Alan Stretton AO, former Director General National Disaster Organisation


Departmental Heads and Diplomatic Representatives

Paul Barratt, AO, former Secretary Dept of Defence and Deputy Secretary Dept of Foeign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Dr John Burton, former Secretary of Dept of External Affairs and High Commissioner to Ceylon

Dr Stuart Harris AO, former Secretary of DFAT

John Menadue AO, former Secretary of the Prime Ministers Department and former Ambassador to Japan

Alan Renouf, former Secretary of DFAT, Ambassador to France, Ambassador to US

Richard Woolcott, AC, former Secretary of DFAT, Ambassador to the United Nations, Indonesia and The Philippines

Dennis Argall, former Ambassador to China

Robin Ashwin, former Ambassador to Egypt, the Soviet Union and Germany

Jeff Benson, former Ambassador to Denmark and Iceland

Geoff Bentley, former Ambassador to Russia and Consul General in Hong Kong

John Bowan, former Ambassador to Germany

Alison Broinowski, former Charge d’Affaires to Jordan

Richard Broinowski, former Ambassador to Mexico, Korea and Vietnam

John Brook, former Ambassador to Vietnam and Algiers

Ross Cottrill, Executive Director Australian Institute of International Affairs

Peter Curtis, former Ambassador to France, Consul General to New York and High Commmissioner in India

Rawdon Dalrymple, AO, former Ambassador to the United States, Japan, Indonesia and Israel

Malcolm Dan, former Ambassador to Argentina and Chile

Stephen Fitzgerald AO, former Ambassador to China

Geoff Forrester, former Deputy Secretary of DFAT

Robert Furlonger, former Director General of the Office of National Assessments (ONA) and Head of JIO and Ambassador to Indonesia

Ross Garnaut AO, former Ambassador to China

Ian Haig AM, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE. Robert Hamilton, former Ambassador to Mexico, El Salvador and Cuba

Cavan Hogue, former High Commissioner to Malaysia, Ambassador to Thailand, and United Nations (Security Council)

Roger Holdich, former Director General of Intelligence and Ambassador to Korea

Gordon Jockel, former Chairman of the National Intelligence Committee and Ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia

Tony Kevin, former Ambassador to Cambodia and Poland

Peter Lloyd AM, former Ambassador to Iraq

Alf Parsons AO former High Commissioner to United Kingdom, High Commissioner to Singapore, Malaysia

Ted Pocock AM, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ambassador to France and Morocco, the Soviet Union, Korea and the European Union

Peter Rogers, former Ambassador to Israel Rory Steele, former Ambassador to Iraq

H. Neil Truscott AM, former Ambassador to Iraq Ron Walker, former Special Disarmament Adviser, Ambassador to the UN, Geneva, Ambassador to Austria and Chairman of the Board of Governors IAEA

Garry Woodard, former High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador to China

The battle for Bennelong: Valder-v-Howard

Image by Webdiary artist Martin Davies

G’day. Webdiary has been discussing the death of Liberalism in the ‘Liberal’ Party for a while now, and the effect of this on the health of our democracy (see, for example, Why conservatives fear John HowardRekindling Liberalism: a beginning and Can liberalism fight back?). The need for Austalian citizens to set aside their political differences to fight for our democracy and to return liberalism to its central place in it is the theme of my book, “Not happy John!”.


Liberal Party elder and former ally of Howard John Valder first broke ranks with the PM when Valder wrote to Howard seeking answers on the fate of the Australian citizens detained in Guanatamo Bay and received a “non-reply” in response. He’s since become an anti-war and pro-refugee activist. After the publication of my book, Valder founded a Not Happy John! Campaign to bring together Bennelong voters from across the political spectrum to try to unseat the Prime Minister at the election.


Here is Valder’s manifesto, then a fantastic piece on the consequences of the death of the old right, “Rethinking Right and Left”, by Dr David McKnight of Sydney’s University of Technology. It was first published in the Australian Financial Review.



A wide range of men and women from right across the political spectrum are coming together to oppose the re-election of Prime Minister John Howard in his own electorate of Bennelong.

The plan is to mount a major campaign under the banner of “Not Happy, John”, the title of Margo Kingston’s new and highly successful (if critical) book about John Howard.

A former Liberal Party President, John Valder, has agreed to head the “Not Happy, John” organising committee.

This committee has attracted the immediate and enthusiastic support of a great many individuals and refugee support groups.

We are now compiling a long list of names of prominent men and women from a wide range of activities who have already indicated their support for our “Not Happy, John” project. Their names will be made public at one of our planned campaign events after the election date is finally announced.

We are now attracting both the financial and volunteer help vitally necessary for success in any campaign.

The campaign is being developed in response to widespread and growing community concern with a variety of John Howard’s policies and attitudes.

In particular has been his role in the aggressive invasion of Iraq which, for all of 16 months now, has been inflicting constant violence and awful suffering on the Iraqi people.

Combined with the Iraq issue has been widespread dismay at Howard’s unquestioned acceptance of virtually every U.S. decision, opinion or assurance given by President George Bush, not just on Iraq but on issues like the the continuing rough and gross injustice imposed on the Guantanamo Bay detainees.

All this has caused damage to our international reputation, especially in Asia and Europe, and at home to our own sense of self-respect, in contrast to the situation in New Zealand.

Then there has been his long-held harsh attitude towards asylum seekers which continues to be a cause of so much anger.

In addition there have been many other less specific but nevertheless significant issues disturbing the community’s mood and prompting the formation of the ” Not Happy , John” campaign. They include:

* Taking the Liberal party too far to the right and thereby challenging its own basic, traditional democratic values.

* His assumption of a too dominant personal control of cabinet and the parliamentary Liberal party, thus both stifling internal party debate and silencing diversity of opinion.

* Strongly discouraging objective public service advice.

* Usurping some of the roles of the Governor General.

* Spending on government advertising for political purposes. * Condoning breaches of his own ministerial code of conduct.

* Allowing his own honesty and integrity to come into question.

Many now believe that these and other factors are producing a growing fear of what happens when too much power falls into the hands of any one leader. Even without another term in office, John Howard is already show9ing the first ominous signs of being ready to use his growing power to start threatening our fundamental freedoms – freedoms that every one of us, no matter where we’ve been born, have always been able to take absoutely for granted. Never before have they been under such threat.

The ” Not Happy, John!” campaign does not intend to advocate support for any particular candidate opposing John Howard.

Despite our joint opposition to Howard himself, many of us, myself included, wish to see a Liberal Government returned but with a swing back to a much fairer, honest, decent and less divisive party based on true Liberal principles.

Many others of us are expected to support Andrew Wilkie (Greens), Nicole Campbell (ALP), or an independent candidate.

However, the one object we have in common is TO BRING THE HOWARD ERA TO AN END.

August 9 update: Since publication, Valder has slightly amended the text of his manifesto, replacing the second last paragraph. The altered paragraph originally read: “Many others of us are expected to support Andrew Wilkie or Nicole Campbell, the ALP candidate, or other independents.”


Rethinking Right and Left

by Dr David McKnight

This article is based on ‘Rethinking Right and Left’ a book to be published next year by Allen & Unwin. Dr McKnight is a senior lecturer in the faculty of Humanities at the University of Technology, Sydney.

While the death of socialism was the headline news in the 1990s, the death of the Old Right is no less dramatic.

The ideological revolution of the Right which began in the 1980s has transformed the political agenda in Australia, the UK and elsewhere. But the price of this has been the destruction of the Old Right.

This revolution on the Right represented the triumph of the subordinate strand of fundamentalist liberalism over classical conservatism and old style ‘social liberalism’. Hence today more people are referring to economic globalisation as the expression of “neo-liberalism”. In parties of the Right both liberal and conservative strands were historically intertwined and mutually supportive. Today we are seeing a disentangling of this whose consequence is that it no longer makes sense to talk monolithically about ‘the Right’ or about ‘the conservatives’. Judith Brett’s Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class and Marian Sawer’s The Ethical State? document this disentanglement.

The political Right no longer exists, but nor does ‘the Left’, as if that meant some kind of unified world view. The defining idea of the Left – socialism – is now not even part of the vision of one part of the modern Left, the cultural left based largely in the middle class. We can no longer capture the meaning of politics by a spectrum of Right and Left where the Right is defined as conservative and the Left as socialist.

In their place are many competing political philosophies. This is a good thing because it raises the possibility of new alliances and of new ways of grappling with old social problems which persist and with new challenges like the global economy, terrorism, the environment crisis and biotechnology.

From conservatism to neo-liberalism

To carry through a revolution, even on the Right, requires vision and daring, risk-taking and radicalism. The last element, radicalism, proved to be the unexpected quality of the free market revolution.

Once the socialists and the Left were the radicals wanting rapid social change, but now the visionaries who want to overturn the established order are the neo-liberals. Setting in place market mechanisms in almost every aspect of life leads to a society being constantly transformed.

The more far sighted conservatives are beginning to see that free markets corrode old values and the social fabric, as well as economic monopolies. The culture of the 24/7 economy, lean and mean, is based on a shrunken moral universe where competitiveness, and self interest rule. It is a society dominated by commercial values and, increasingly, only commercial values. It is in conflict not only with the Left but with the philosophical conservatives, who base themselves on a moral order that increasingly clashes with the New Capitalism.

Classical conservatism is quite different from the systematic ideologies of Marxism or of liberalism. It is much more a range of attitudes and values. Conservative philosophers like Roger Scruton (inThe Meaning Of Conservatism) talk about a “conservative attitude” and “an attachment to values which cannot be understood with the abstract clarity of utopian theory”. The British philosopher Michael Oakeshott talks about a conservative “disposition”. This is because conservatism is a pre-Enlightenment philosophy which arose organically from traditional society.

Central to its attitudes are notions of authority both within the family and within the clan or tribe as well as obligations of kinship. It is an outlook borne of a society frequently at war. Loyalty to the group is at a premium and loyalty is repaid through group protection of members. Both at the social and familial level the power of males is central along with heterosexuality. Ideas based on these practices were loosely codified as a political philosophy in response to liberalism 300 years ago.

Conservatism explicitly value traditions, institutions and the wisdom of the past. It is skeptical of novelty, experiments and utopian plans. Promises of progress and reform, especially those based on rationalist schemes, are greeted warily. A classic example of this is the recent work of former Thatcherite Professor John Gray and his attacks on the rationalist utopia of the globalisers in hisFalse Dawn.

While systematic ideologies appeal to reason and logic, conservative ideas are often powerful because they appeals to deep emotions, instincts, intuition and passion in humans’ psyche. In the glory days when conservatism dominated liberalism within the Right, this emotional-moral appeal (rather than its literal “policies”) was one of the secrets of its success.

Given all of this, conservatism has two sides. Its ugliest side can be a virulent nationalism and hatred of foreigners. Its war-like roots predispose it to militarism and the rule of the physically strong. But this is not the whole story.

Love of the nation and group loyalty can mean a belief in a common good. This is a belief that because we share something, we all have obligations to each other. It can also mean that it is possible to speak of a legitimate public interest. This was the basis on which classic conservatism and the ‘social liberalism’ of British Liberal governments began to support public health care, age pensions as of right and public education as well as other public goods.

But this conservative acceptance of a common good has been trampled by free market liberalism and individualism of the modern Right. While conservatism was rooted in the nation, the neo-liberals are militant globalisers.

Conservative values are part of matrix which gives rise to an ethic of care and protection which is antagonistic to free market economics. This is what the ‘Third Way’ sociologist Anthony Giddens was getting at when he noted -What might be called a “philosophical conservatism” – a philosophy of protection, conservation and solidarity – acquires a new relevance for political radicalism today.’

Valuing the family or the clan can mean valuing the deepest possible emotional ties that humans can have, and those which can give us the deepest personal satisfaction: love, as well as friendship and companionship. But family values are being destroyed by the New Capitalism’s demand for longer working hours, its denigration of altruism and its inability to recognise the unpaid care given by family members.

Remarkably the alarm bells about the attack on family are being rung by a new trend within feminism, typified by Nancy Folbre, (The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values), Arlie Russell Hochschild, (The Commercialization of Intimate Life) and Ann Crittenden (The Price of Motherhood).

The significance of all of this is that the values of classical conservatism have been cut adrift from the neo-liberal Right. They are now looking for a home in the world of politics. The vast number of instinctive conservatives know there is something wrong with the New Capitalism. Some of their desires connect with some of the values of the Left and this fact holds great significance for the direction of social change in a globalized, post-socialist world.

Green ideas and conservatism

The rapid rise of the green movement is an example of this, because it appeals to traditional conservative values.

First, Green politics have a significant component which involves the conservation of natural and heritage values, and indeed its origins lie in what was originally called the conservation movement. It aims to protect the natural world (and the heritage of the built world) from predatory forces which see the existing world as a mere raw material. Concepts such as the sustainability of the biosphere are conservative concepts.

Second, unlike the Left, green politics are not based on class and their analyses are not reducible to class. The enemy is not capitalism but relentless expansion of an industrial system aimed at generating products to satisfy a consumerism which, past a certain point, substitutes for other meaning and value in the peoples’ lives. Rather than abolishing markets, it arguably makes more sense to increase the market price of timber, of coal, of oil, and of fresh water in order to lower their destruction or wasteful use.

Third, Green ideas and conservatism have intersections at the deeper philosophical level. Consider the words of one of the classic conservative thinkers, the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott. The general characteristics of conservatism, he said, “centre on a propensity to use and enjoy what is available rather than to wish for or look for something else; to delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be”. He adds: “To be conservative then is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded , the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.”

To prefer the “sufficient to the superabundant” could well be the motto of a society which rejects consumerism and which does not seek fulfilment through ever-increasing material goods.

In conservative thought tradition is important because it represent the refinement of wisdom of that past. As well as the traditions of humans, tradition presents itself to us through the existence of the ecology of the planet. The inter-dependence of living organisms which has evolved though millions of years is a tradition indeed! Allied with tradition is the conservative notion of stewardship on behalf of our ancestors and for our children’s children, which fits perfectly with green philosophy. Such conservative notions are central to indigenous and first nation peoples whose societies are extremely conservative.

Linked to attitudes toward tradition and stewardship is a skepticism towards “progress” which has shared roots in environmental and conservative outlooks. By contrast, Enlightenment-based theories of liberalism and socialism share a notion of unending progress based on the accumulation of material goods.

Finally, another important contribution from conservatism is its notion of the common good. This is recognizable in forms of nationalism or in the uniformity demanded by conservative moralists in matters of sex and private life. But another side simply recognises that we are social animals who have always lived in communities and that the community has a legitimate reason to demand that members obey certain rules.

The death of ‘socialism’

On the Left the crisis of ideas is no less dramatic. The ideas of socialism and Marxism dominated conflict and debate in the West for most of the last 100 years. In the last 10 years the intellectual framework of socialism has collapsed.

For many this is not news, nor even of interest. The undoubted flaws in the socialist and Marxist frameworks have been identified for many decades. Many of today’s intellectual and cultural Left actually have no investment in a concept of socialism which is in itself revealing of the changes underway in the meaning of the Left-Right concept of politics.

The pivotal moment for the death of modern socialism was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberatory revolution which swept it and Eastern Europe. These momentous events crystallised quite unrelated problems of socialist ideology which had begun with the rise of social movements in the 1960s and 70s whose analysis and vision was not based on class.

The latter was hardly recognised and the collapse of the Left at the same time as the collapse of the Berlin Wall appeared paradoxical. Almost no-one on the Left held any illusions about the Soviet model of “socialism”. Except perhaps one: that under a genuine reformer like Gorbachev it might be possible to destroy the party dictatorship and introduce democracy, elements of an economic market and political liberties.

The dream ended when it became clear that forms of democracy and freedom could not be combined with the continuation of an entirely state owned economy. It also became clear that an extensive form of market economy was needed.

Thus if socialism needs markets, indeed if it needs a significant degree of private enterprise, then what is socialism? Certainly not a radical negation of capitalism – perhaps a significant modification.

Can socialism survive as set of ideas around existing ideas of the welfare state and equality? There are problems here too.

First, both social democratic and socialist views of the world see equality as primarily an economic notion, but is it? Economic equality has today much less power to explain the causes or solutions of a range of urgent problems. Increasingly today what appears as poverty (economic inequality) is generated by the crises at the level of the family, by substance abuse, mental illness, poor education or often by a combination of these things. I happen to support equality and also a welfare state but too often these involve an idea that enough money, shared by enough people, will solve most problems.

This is inadequate and misleading because it depends on a crude kind of rationalism. It assumes human needs can be expressed in almost exclusively in material terms – food, shelter, income level and so on – and can be satisfied in those terms. In a society of scarcity these are obviously vital. Unless they are satisfied it is difficult to see how other more subtle and more elaborate human needs can be met. It also fails to acknowledge that social order and mutual respect are needed. In some communities — black and white – these are lacking in spite of material support. This has been the brave and creative insight of people like Noel Pearson.

Notions of material scarcity still anchor the paradigm of politics held by the neo-liberals and the Old Left. Neo-liberals demands ever more material abundance and productivity based on the assumption that this will lead to human happiness. The Left, Clive Hamilton argues, shares a paradigm of material deprivation for which it prescribes greater economic growth but a fairer distribution of proceeds of this growth. These rationalist paradigms assume increased happiness and wellbeing are based on increasing material wealth.

But this rational-material approach to politics based on rising living standards has great difficulty in coping with the physical limits of the world in terms of energy, minerals and productive land. To generalise to all human beings the current living standards of countries like Australia, Britain and the USA is simply not possible, given the finite natural resources of the world.

Related to the assumptions about living standards is another assumption – that the most important side of life is the public world of parliaments and other institutions and not, for example, the private world of the family or of ethnic identity.

In the 1970s and 80s feminism adopted a rationalist philosophy under the influence of liberalism and socialism.

This meant a key strategic goal was to enter the public world of work and to do so on equal terms with men. Over many years all sorts of formal and informal barriers were broken down to allow this.

But one of the unforeseen consequences of this was the continuing devaluation of what is called caring work or emotional labour both within the family and beyond. One of the most obvious signs of this (though not the most important) is the “fertility crisis” in many advanced industrial countries. This reflects the refusal by many women to pay the financial and emotional penalty for bearing and raising children.

Another is the “work-life collision” described so well in a book of the same name by Barbara Pocock. Family life and caring is placed under enormous pressure through parents’ work requirements and in which the remaining family functions are being commodified and provided by the market. Originally this problem was thought to be solved by men/husbands undertaking caring work, but this has not occurred largely because the strategy for liberation left caring work is still devalued.

The rational public world of work undermines and swamps the needs of the non-rational caring world. Production swamps reproduction. Caring work must still be done and many mothers feel this far more keenly than their husbands. To give this care many mothers tend to orient their paid jobs around caring for small children (part time jobs during school hours). But according to the dominant liberal-rationalist current of feminism this falls short of equality. But rather than trying to make mothers fit this goal of equality, the goal itself needs to be reconsidered as part of a rethinking of a new vision.

Conclusion: the need for a moral vision

We need a new moral vision beyond right and left. The 300 year process of modernization has seen scientific and rational thinking combined with a tapping of self-interest result in the ability to produce an enormous level of material wealth. Despite the terrible cost of producing this wealth, this now benefits (Western) humanity enormously and may benefit the other 2.5 billion people.

But part of this process, which Max Weber called “rationalization” is progressively replacing all values with the commercial values of the market. We are reaching the point where the process of rationalization is conflicting with the deepest human needs. It is reducing ethical values to matters of economic calculation. It is commodifying all human relationships and perhaps most dangerous of all, it is bumping up against the physical limits of the planet.

A values-based political movement is then the key and can validly draw from the ideals of parts of liberal, conservative, socialist theories and from religious philosophies. These ideals involve a society meeting human needs which include but go beyond the material wherewithal of life. They include justice, fairness, equality, the valuing of human lives, in both the public rational world and in the private life world of emotion, and of caring and altruism.

At its deepest a renewal of these ideals involves an integration of rational and non-rational values. At a less philosophical level these must be expressed in a political vision that is grounded primarily in ethical and moral values.

Comments welcome: David.mcknight@uts.edu.au

FTA lessens our world power on trade: Brazil picks up our dropped ball

Webdiary’s trade expert Brain Bahnisch with the latest world trade news. His previous pieces include The U.S. Free Trade Agreement – always a silly idea, now a deadly trap for Australia andLatham’s conditions for FTA support: the facts behind the politics


News has just come through that Brazil has won a case against the EU in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which will prevent the EU from exporting 2 million tonnes of subsidised sugar, while Brazil gets a 10% increase in their sugar exports.

Australia and Thailand joined with Brazil in the action, but apparently only Brazil gets the spoils. This one is not all over. The EU will appeal and are likely to try to change their subsidy regime to make it WTO compliant.

Nevertheless, along with Brazil’s successful WTO case against the US on cotton a couple of months ago, this decision is important for the future of the multilateral trade regime. The EU are learning that in the long run their subsidy regimes will not endure. Largely through Brazil’s leadership in the Cancun WTO ministerial last September, most observers believe that there has been a significant change of rhetoric in the EU. Where the rhetoric goes reality tends to follow.


This raises the question as to whether we in Australia is applying our limited resources in our best long-term strategic interests.

Since January 2003, when president Lula came to power in Brazil, it has:

1. Created the G20 grouping with China, India and South Africa as leading members within the WTO. In Cancun they provided real opposition to the US/EU axis and appear to have forced a real longer-term change of attitude.

2. Now Brazil will be an automatic part of any “inner group” planning which is a standing feature of the WTO. The have effectively sidelined Australia and the Cairns group.

3. Brazil has stopped the US steam roller in the FTAA (free trade for the Americas) in Miami last October. Brazil now has joint chairmanship of the FTAA together with the US.

4. Brazil is working to revive Mercosur, an EU-type regional grouping of contiguous countries in South America

5. Brazil’s raised profile is part of a strategy to gain permanent membership of the UN Security Council in any rejigging of the UN.

No doubt they are also pursuing bilateral trade interests. They have shown that they can certainly walk and chew gum at the same time. They have a population of 184 million, a GDP of US$1.38 Trillion, ranking 10th in the world. Their per capita GDP is $7,600, still lowish but a clear 50% ahead of China.

In terms of Immanuel Wallerstein’s World Systems Theory Brazil is a semi-peripheral power, moving towards core power status in the broader capitalist system. We, on the other hand, are a semi-peripheral power, and by opening us up to increased domination by the US and its corporations through the FTA, Australia is moving further away from core power status.

Our latest initiative is to begin negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement with China, also, like Brazil, moving rapidly from the semi-periphery to the core. This too was our initiative, not theirs.

When will we ever learn?