11/09/2007 - 22:00

Liberals must face the music

11/09/2007 - 22:00


Save articles for future reference.

Since about April, when Liberal strategists began realising they were unlikely to shake-off Kevin Rudd as easily as initially anticipated, they’ve resorted to using a new phrase.

Since about April, when Liberal strategists began realising they were unlikely to shake-off Kevin Rudd as easily as initially anticipated, they’ve resorted to using a new phrase.

Chat with in-the-know Liberals and they’ll eventually use the phrase, “wall-to-wall”, referring to the possibility of Labor simultaneously governing all states, territories and nationally.

Since that’s unprecedented for Labor governments, the Liberals understandably highlight the phrase to help convince voters to stay by them, otherwise Australia will be Labor all over.

“Just imagine, wall-to-wall Labor governments,” is how it’s said.

So State Scene has done precisely that – imagined a “wall-to-wall” Labor era.

The first thing to say is that, unlike during the Cold War years, when Labor’s parliamentary and other ranks included pro-Soviet proto-communists and fellow travellers, wall-to-wall Labor today isn’t scary.

The main reason is that Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, is marginally less dangerous to Australia’s remnant federal arrangements – as devised by the founding fathers in the 1890s – than arch-centralists John Howard and Peter Costello, with their “aspirational nationalism” catch-cry coined to sanctify their rush to centralise everything.

A Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard team is likely to be marginally less inclined to further destroy Australia’s federal arrangements.

Put differently, Australia will probably emerge from three Rudd years marginally healthier institutionally than from, say, another 18 months of Mr Howard, followed by 18 months of Mr Costello or Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister.

Also worth noting is that a Rudd government will include Wayne Swan as treasurer.

In other words, Labor’s two most senior members will be Queenslanders, men whose sensibilities, although not as federally inclined as those of State Scene, are nevertheless well ahead of Sydneysider and Melbournean respectively, Messrs Howard and Costello.

Voters are thus confronted with two rival groups – Liberals and Labor – who are involved in a competitive centralising tussle, with Labor today less inclined to centralise.

Unfortunately there’s another equally graver downside.

It’s Sydney-to-a-brick that once the Rudd-Swan team emerges, Labor leftists, of whom Ms Gillard is a key member, will demand a range of undesirable policy shifts and changes.

First cab off the rank will almost certainly be withdrawal of Australia’s commitment to the American-led alliance now fighting in Iraq.

In other words, expect a steady downgrading of the American alliance, something Australia can ill-afford but which is a favourite goal of Labor’s left, the Greens and some Democrats.

Irrespective of Mr Rudd’s possible desires, Labor’s left is likely to regularly seek a range of outcomes it and its activist branch stacking pals have bottled-up since 1996.

Labor isn’t like the Liberal Party, where national leaders basically have carte blanche over policy direction.

How else does one explain Howard-led Liberals swallowing hook, line and sinker, Whitlam-style centralism?

With Labor, it’s caucus and the national conference where all sorts of deals are struck.

So far, big business lobbyists have considered this because it’s been fixated on emphasising what former union chiefs-turned-MPs within a Rudd government will do by moving to re-unionise the workforce.

Mr Rudd will thus likely be a puppet of factional chiefs and their many ideologically motivated deals, some of which he’ll win and others on which he’ll buckle.

That, in a nutshell, will be the over-arching feature of Australia’s first encounter with “wall-to-wall” Labor.

In summary, the federation will undoubtedly be safer and thus potentially healthier without the Howard-Costello duo in charge, while the American alliance, irrespective of what the all-Queenslander Rudd-Swan duo may wish, is likely to be steadily weakened.

Because of the left we can expect Rudd-led Australia to become more like leftist Helen Clark-led New Zealand than France under President Nicolas Sarkozy and his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, a founder of Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), both of whom fully appreciate the dangers facing budding Middle Eastern democracy.

Dr Kouchner, who visited Baghdad last month to boost Iraqi morale, had helped thousands of Kurdish refugees fleeing Saddam Hussein’s genocidal tyranny.

For those who favour federalism and Australia’s continuation as a loyal, rather than cut and run partner within the American alliance, the choice on election day will be an unhappy one.

That said, the next big question if Rudd-Gillard prevail is what will happen to the defeated Liberals, who’ll be without a single premier, chief minister or PM.

That’s a harder question to answer.

Because the Howard-Costello team so wilfully set about remoulding their party into a centralist Gough Whitlam-style agency, a convincing argument can be made that the time has finally arrived for the Robert Menzies-founded entity to be wound-up and a new right-of-centre force created.

Although no-one has suggested this yet, it’s probably the best option left now that the Howard-Costello duo has so de-authorised the party.

Remember, this happened in the mid-1940s when then Mr Menzies, a United Australia Party member, created the far more broadly based Liberal Party.

In doing so he re-infused into Australian politics modern strands of political thinking – limited government, federalism, fostering self-help, lower taxation, and, crucially, enhancement, by treaty, of the John Curtin-created American foreign policy orientation.

Since only the last of these was implemented by the Howard-Costello duo and their parliamentary and other backers, after their expected electoral defeat later this year they should all seriously consider leaving politics.

And sooner rather than later, thereby clearing the decks across right-of-centre political circles for the remnants of a thoroughly defeated Liberal Party to begin afresh by creating a new party.

As soon as possible after a Rudd-led government emerges, the party should announce it’s to be wound-up and over the course of say, one year, by late 2008, a new entity that’s in tune with modern ideas and needs is being created.

The aim would be to formalise a brand new right-of-centre party, one far removed from the dead wood that currently dominates the intellectually bankrupt and collapsing Liberal Party.

Doors should be opened to the Nationals, Christian Democrats, Family First, Democrats, reformed Greens and anyone in the Labor Party who may eventually find its leftism unbearable.

Such a new centre-right entity, under whatever name, should be structured as a thoroughly democratic organisation, unlike the present party, with Liberal Party assets fully transferred to it.

State and national candidates would be chosen at open primaries, not by cosy factional machine men and hacks, who specialise in branch stacking and conference manipulation.

At state level, at least, it should adopt the Swiss-style citizen initiated referendums so voters can become direct citizen lawmakers by being able to initiate and block legislation politicians may seek to impose.

Such a path wouldn’t simply thwart Labor’s leftist desires, but would help ensure the emergence of an alternative government.

One may even quickly see the prompt emergence of wall-to-wall right-of-centre governments.

The main thing likely to block such an outcome is if the decrepit remnants of the Howard years re-emerge and continue leading the failed Liberal Party.

State Scene’s guess is that, unfortunately, the failed seat warmers will re-emerge and what’s likely to happen is precisely what has been happening at all state levels – constant defeats of unimaginative Liberal oppositions.

That will, of course, ensure wall-to-wall Labor governments remain for years to come, perhaps decades.

The sooner imaginative fundamental thinking is applied, the sooner wall-to-wall non-Labor governments would be able to emerge.


Subscription Options