27 February 2008

Polly filler

John Roskam doesn't understand the sovereign role of the majority of voters in setting the direction of government in this country, apparently.

Keating had dragged reform of economic policy along at a cracking pace. Issues such as Mabo, the Redfern speech and the republic threatened to do so with social policy. The whole idea of John Howard was to ease the pace of social reform and see which elements really were unsustainable, and which were just victims of Keating's sharp tongue.

Howard showed that the republic was not an issue that burned in the national soul, and that Australia wasn't so desperate to be shot of the monarchy as the old Fenians in the NSW ALP Right. Howard thought that 1950s paternalism was an idea not properly tried in Aboriginal policy. He thought that unions could be legislated out of the employer-employee relationship. He thought that processing a refugee application required the refugee him/herself to be "processed". He thought that if the Americans went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Australia should send a deployment that was big enough to attract political attention from Washington yet small enough to minimise monetary and casualty cost.

Howard has now outlived his usefulness. He was wrong not to apologise to the Stolen Generation, those who were removed from Aboriginal families for no reason other than they were Aborigines. He was wrong about refugees, the incarceration of people within a legal void is a poor preparation for life in Australia or anywhere else. He was wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan has developed to a point where Australian forces are no longer required.
Good policy doesn't turn into bad policy overnight.

No, but an idea that upset a majority of the population was never sustainable. The Rudd Government's policies on the matters Roskam identifies as the core policies of the Howard government surprise only those who dismissed the very prospect of a Rudd Government until it actually came about.
If key policies can be ditched so quickly after what, in the end, proved to be a relatively narrow election loss, voters will inevitably ask whether Liberal MPs ever believed in those policies in the first place.

Those policies were imposed on Liberal MPs, who did not question them closely. They accepted Howard's assurances that they were both good policy and that they would lead to electoral success, and are now bearing the consequences of his failure of judgment. Roskam feels that they should bear this and other failures of judgment in perpetuity, like the rock of Sisyphus.
There's also the problem of what replaces the old policies.

This is a pressing problem for the government, which promised to replace them but was less than precise about what; they are responsible for governing, and responsible also to their Labor base. They have to replace WorkChoices with legislation that is acceptable to the Labor base but which is also sustainable across a diverse national workforce in a growing, changing economy. Good luck!

The Liberals have been excused the pressing responsibilities of government. They have to come up with a policy before the next election, and can learn from the mistakes that Labor are making. They needn't be hurried as John Roskam would wish, and indeed Roskam does himself no favours by urging them to do so. This lot are busy exercising the freedom to think for themselves, a precious quality that must be nurtured over time.
None of this is to say that policies cannot ever be changed. When circumstances alter, policies should be altered.

This assumes that WorkChoices adequately addressed the challenges facing Australia in 2005, much less in 2007-8. It didn't, and doesn't. It was a policy for 1985, when the ACTU and the H R Nicholls Society were at the peak of their influence.
What's notable about each of the Liberals' recent policy changes is that each was done in a hurry and each was done in reaction to something that Labor did.

Sounds like the Liberals are getting used to Opposition, John.
The Liberals can't afford to be put into such a position again.

This is why they shouldn't have frittered government away, and should act as an incentive for them to get it back again.
But at the moment there's every chance that the Liberals will respond to Labor's moves on the republic in the same way as they responded to Labor's initiatives on the apology and the Pacific Solution.

This is true, they run the danger of following Kim Beazley into reactive, crumbling opposition. It took Beazley ten years to get to that point, not ten weeks.
Many Liberals would say that the very last thing they need is a divisive internal debate about the republic. But if you can't have a divisive internal debate when the party is in opposition, federally and in every state and territory, then it's legitimate to ask when would be a better time.

Well said. Some debates cannot be fobbed off an it is poor political management even to try.

The best thing for the Liberal Party would be if the decision on the republic were taken out of their hands: if the voters decided on a republic, Liberals would have to decide whether they really wanted to be part of a governmental process from which the Crown was absent. Some Liberals feel they should take an active role in shaping the republic, but it would be extraordinary - too much to expect, really - for any Liberal leader to do that and keep a united party at the same time.
It will probably take three years for the Liberals to arrive at some sort of position on the republic. The advantage of starting the debate now is that they'll have the time to engage in analysis and reflection.

This assumes an environment tolerant of differing opinions, and the Liberal Party is the opposite of that. Moderates found this out in the late 1980s when they started losing preselections, political death being the ultimate form of censorship. Roskam has no excuse not to know better.
It's something the party hasn't done enough of since November 24.

Nor for the decade-and-a-half before that. There's the flaw in your argument John. For some time yet, debate within the Liberal Party will lumber and lurch like awkward teenagers learning to dance (the presence of cretins like Sophie Mirabella won't help). Clapping your hands in annoyance and insisting they all bounce and glide like Nureyev might make you feel better, but any sensible person knows it will be a slow process - until the next Leader comes along, with a gang of enforcers compelling everyone to shut up.

Roskam's despair of the political process is echoed by his colleague Chris Berg, and reflects a tendency of denigrating democracy itself - not just the odd dodgy decision, but the very idea of having government policy responsible to and reversible by the popular vote. Insofar as the Eye Pee Yay warrants concern, this is a worry and deserves close attention.


  1. Re: 'He thought that processing a refugee application required the refugee him/herself to be "processed".'

    John Howard and his government are obviously answerable for the policies they administered while in office. The fact remains, though, that Australia's mandatory detention system for unauthorised immigrants (most, but certainly not all, of whom are subsequently determined to be 'refugees' within the meaning of the UN Convention) was first implemented by the Keating Government in 1992. It was also under Keating, in 1994, that the time limits on detention were removed.

    These policies have had bipartisan support under the Keating, Howard and now Rudd Governments since their introduction.

    The 'Pacific solution' and the exclusion of certain offshore islands from Australia's immigration zone are particular aspects of the policy that were implemented by the Howard Government; but the overall policy did not originate with John Howard, and has not ceased with his departure.

  2. I usually don't publish anonymous posts, especially poorly written bureaucratese like that.

    The fact remains, though, that John Howard undid much of the Keating legacy, and should have left that ugly little gobbet of policy to besmirch the ALP rather than allowing them to hang on Howard acts of commission as well as omitting to develop some sort of solution that was both durable and humane.

    Shows you that being bipartisan is no defence against crap policy.