16 December 2008

The end of big ideas Labor

People used to be frightened of the Labor Party because it they were all about Big Ideas. The Liberals were most successful when they whipped up fear of these monsters. Look at Whitlam, and how all those ideas stuffed into the bottom drawer over 23 years of opposition (even by deep thinkers like Lance Barnard or Freddie Daly) led to whole new departments and tax hikes.

Now it's clear that the era of Big Policy Labor is now over. Rudd and Rees and all those other four-letter words one might use to describe Labor leaders today show us that Labor has bonsai'd itself into irrelevance.

With the Emissions Trading Scheme, Rudd has produced a weak effort that is not backed up with any sort of social transformation: no new energy-generation industries (and associated jobs, comrades), no education on how you can cut back on your power bills (yes, it's petty but we all have a role to play - in other words, some national leadership would be nice), no incentives for existing renewable-energy technology - and worst of all, no moral leadership in addressing the environmental problems that affect our climate for the worse. Not a scrap of passion from that extinct volcano, Peter Garrett - no power either.

The same thing happened with the Aboriginal apology: yeah, Rudd got the headlines, but nobody is any clearer about what problem the Northern Territory Intervention is trying to solve, let alone how well it might be solving it. Once Labor would have been all about looking at and addressing the causes of Aboriginal injustice and disadvantage: now it's all off-message, look away, look away.

What about all those other Big Issues for which Labor is supposed to be the flame-guardians and standard-bearers? A republic? No. Universal healthcare? There is an idea that has stalled since the recession of the late 1980s, hardly going to get a run now. Immigration reform? Yeah, right. Promise me that the Cordelia Rau/Vivian Solon cases could never recur now, go on. Labour market reform? Arts funding? Substantial reform in education? 15% super? Anything at all?

We could, I suppose, blame all these foundered dreams upon the Global Financial Crisis, but that would be a crock. Whitlam too faced global economic crisis but either crashed through or (mostly) crashed, suggesting there was something of substance in either case. Nowhere is there any evidence that there are big plans to be put on hold. Nowhere is there any evidence that, if the economy bounced back, the Big Ideas would get a red-hot go.

The less said about Rees in NSW, the better. Working people are suffering more in hospital, less well served by schools and dithering about in unsuitable transport because of the Carr legacy (advised by Rees) of government by press release - a pose replicated in other states. Queensland, WA and SA cannot water themselves, Melbourne has Sydneylike transport problems and Brisbane is heading that way too. Tasmania and NSW have governments wholly owned by spivs, as happened in WA under Burke and Joh's Queensland. If Jack Lang could build the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the very teeth of the Great Depression, Rees has no excuse playing silly-buggers with light rail. SMH cartoonist Alan Moir is right to draw Rees with a garbage bin for a head.

All that remains now is for Labor to be shunted into Opposition and to wonder what it was all for, and to struggle for motivation to go on beyond one's own ego - just as is happening with the Federal Coalition.

Yeah, the Federal Coalition. The only power they have these days is the power ascribed to them by Labor for their own inaction - but even that is bogus.

09 December 2008

Sold down the river

There are basically two factions in the Nationals. In NSW they used to talk about a North of the State vs South of the State, or west of the Great Divide versus the North Coasters - but now the battle for the Nationals is joined and, appropriately, it is a national one.

One faction is the Coalitionists, the genteel duffers who have led the party to steady decline but have secured quiet backroom influence with Liberals when in government, when they are disposed to listen. From Doug Anthony through the de-clawed Ian Sinclair to that wombat-in-headlights Mark Vaile, the Coalitionists have been in the ascendancy through sheer weight of patronage ... when the Liberals can carry them into government, that is.

The other faction is the Barnaby faction, the bomb-throwers who think the best way to get loot for their constituencies is to distance themselves from the Liberals and cut the best deal going with whichever major party is most desperate for office.

Given the fact that the Liberal Party does not have the lock on power that it did in the thirty years or so following 1949, it is the latter who have the momentum with them. In South Australia Karlene Maywald has ensured that the country's driest state never goes thirsty again snagged herself a possie in Cabinet, the Labor government falls over itself to help her constituency. In WA, the Nats have ensured that the fruits of the minerals boom are put to good use at least secured a promise that the school might get a lick of paint or that a road from nowhere to nowhere else might become the sort of superhighway that people in the eastern states might visit on their holidays.

The Federal Nats have become as irrelevant to the Liberals as their own moderates are. The Coalitionists in their ranks just want to sit around and lose seats - possibly including that of their own leader, Warren Truss - to the ALP or the independents. On the other hand, Truss and the other Coalitionists would hope to position themselves in order to get back on the gravy train if when the next Coalition government comes around and ride it until that government loses office. The Barnabyites, on the other hand, want to be the brokers of government for the major parties - in the event of a tight race, the major party that concedes most to the Nats wins government of the country.

Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter are honorary Barnabyites (whether they know it or not) and loathe the Coalitionists. If Barnabyites take over the Nationals they may be enticed back, particularly if there is a tight race between Labor and the Libs.

Not that this is an issue at the moment. Even Blind Dennis can see the Libs are not an alternative government. This is mainly because they are policy-lazy, not offering an alternative and hiding such plans as they do have like a dowager vouchsafing her modesty. In a party where Tony Abbott is considered an intellectual and Nick Minchin a master tactician, sharp and fresh thinking on Australia today and the policies that might best serve it is too much to expect. Nonetheless, the Liberals will eventually get sick of losing and will toss some of the holdovers from Howard that are a little too precious at this stage, a little too raw this soon after defeat; they won't let Turnbull do that, not now, not yet, and if he pushes it they'll turn on him.

Labor will welcome a decoupled Nationals with open arms, particularly if they split the LNP and return Anna Bligh in Queensland (along with the poster boy for born-to-rule ALP apparatchiks, Andrew Fraser) as seems likely. NSW, Victoria and SA Labor are old hands at managing the Nationals, and if Chris Evans starts consulting some of Labor's experienced Nat-wranglers on Senate tactics, it will be Minchin who'll be a foregone conclusion. Rudd can do that boy-from-Eumundi stuff to build bridges with the Nats better than Turnbull ever could.

At the next election the Nationals will appear refreshed and vigorous by comparison with all those braying kill-the-Nats Liberals like Heffernan or Alby Schultz. Crusties like them aren't the future of anything, and won't win seats from a reinvigorated Nat-Labor alliance. However, they won't accept any blame - that will go to Turnbull, who is done for if he lets the Coalition fall apart. The Liberal Party held its breath when it shackled itself to that monstrous ego, but if he seeks to take the Liberals too far into unknown territory they will not go with him.

Malcolm Turnbull has to demonstrate that he can win seats in the bush, but not to the point where he threatens the Nationals. Turnbull has to paint the big picture on Australia's economic future, while including the rustics as a community-service obligation. Turnbull has to manifest an appeal that will win the Liberals a clear majority of seats in their own right, obviating an looming ALP-Nationals alliance, something that has happened only a few times in living memory and which looks highly unlikely for 2010.

The sole issue on which the Nationals, and the Coalition, will live or die is on water flow into the Darling River. Barnaby Joyce is of one mind with the large-scale irrigators of southern Queensland, and is happy to ignore those rural Australians down-river from St George. If Labor are too, the Nationals will deal with them - but any hope for the Murray-Darling basin will die, and on Rudd's watch, for the most despicably craven political reasons.

The Nationals' worst-case scenario is if they do a deal with Labor, only for them to tank and for Malcolm Turnbull to become the first Liberal Prime Minister since Joseph Cook who doesn't need or want a Coalition with the bushies.

08 December 2008

The big issues

If I was on my game I'd blog about the Mumbai massacre - but I have an article drafted on that, you have to fund your blog habit somehow.

If I was on my game I'd have posted about the historic and, frankly, welcome election of Barack Obama as President of the United States; and the concominant end of the failed Bush-Cheney regime.

If I was on my game I'd blog about Rudd pouring money into uneconomic activities in the name of boosting economic activity.

All in good time. I'm a bit busy with things I can not only observe, but act to improve in small ways. This too will change.