04/09/2007 - 22:00

What a way to run a country

04/09/2007 - 22:00


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One of State Scene’s sharpest political contacts insists that spades always be called spades, never digging utensils. He won’t blindly fall into line by referring to things the way political spin doctors – of whom we have plenty – want them described and

One of State Scene’s sharpest political contacts insists that spades always be called spades, never digging utensils. He won’t blindly fall into line by referring to things the way political spin doctors – of whom we have plenty – want them described and perceived.

For example, when failed Western Australian Liberal leader, Matt Birney, and failed WA ex-Labor minister, John D’Orazio, teamed-up last year to alter our time by an hour over summer months, it was peddled as daylight saving with so-called ‘lifestyle’ benefits.

But not for State Scene’s sceptical political contact.

He promptly dubbed it ‘daylight sweating’, since he saw no good reason for politicians to dabble with time over summer months just to make big business and some vocal promoters of “lifestyle” happy at the expense of year-long regularity in our lives.

He regards that statewide Birney-D’Orazio encumbrance as unnecessary and silly.

Not only were there no good reasons for such a change at the height of WA’s very hot summers, it was blatantly anti-democratic, since Western Australians had rejected the summer time change at the 1975, 1984, and 1992 referendums

Anyone vehemently disagreeing with the summer status quo could easily make their own arrangements by going to, or getting out of, bed earlier or later.

Or, if they wanted recreation, they could have it without inconveniencing others the Birney-D’Orazio clock-tampering way.

Why should so many Western Australians be inconvenienced because a handful of politicians buckled to Messrs Birney’s and D’Orazio’s obsession?

Rectifying phrases is a practice worth undertaking since it helps to cut through political spin and deceit.

With that in mind, State Scene has decided to no longer regard federal elections – with all their big-spending promises and more power shifted to Canberra – as that, elections, but rather as blatant grabs for power by those at the top of major political parties.

Their interests come first and foremost, with taxpayers forever footing ever-growing bills.

Once you shake out political jargon and phrases, turn them on their heads and more closely inspect what they actually mean, things become much clearer.

Consider, for instance, Prime Minister John Howard’s recent adoption of the tricky phrase, “aspirational nationalism”.

Aspirational, aspirations, to aspire to; all convey something desirable.

Nationalism; love of country, one’s own country, especially Australia in this case, is also seen as admirable, right and proper.

But what’s he really driving at?

Clearly a spin doctor came up with this phrase so it could be used as a substitute for the word ‘centralism’, which correctly describes the PM’s constant intrusions into, and power grabs from, the states.

And it’s precisely that realisation and thought he doesn’t want our minds to recognise.

Now, there’s nothing new in this ploy of calling a spade a digging utensil, the finding of another word or term to describe what voters may baulk at.

It is, in fact, an old, a very old, trick.

The man who said it, if not first, then most certainly best, was George Orwell, author of two of the 20th century’s greatest novels – Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell was also one of last century’s greatest essayists, and it’s these that are too often ignored.

And arguably the greatest of his essays, published in 1946, is titled, Politics and the English Language, which is worth reading and regularly re-reading.

This masterpiece in analysis is something for which mankind owes Orwell a huge debt.

Not coincidentally, State Scene’s sceptical political contact is a longtime Orwell admirer.

But, back to that newly coined Howard phrase “aspirational nationalism”, which surfaced last month during his address to something called The Millennium Forum.

It first appeared in that address within a heading to a section – “A sense of aspirational nationalism in the federation”.

Since the word federation means diverse and decentralised governance, the mind that devised this heading must be judged as quite ingenious and sinister since what they’re saying is ‘A sense of centralism in decentralism’.

That’s an oxymoron; it’s akin to saying the whiteness in the blackness or the other way around, the blackness in whiteness.

Whichever, it’s a silly statement, one an Australian prime minister shouldn’t be uttering.

But Australian politics, Howard-style, has come to that – black is now called white, and white black.

But read on.

“We should be aspirational nationalists, and applying this spirit to the governance of the federation will be my third goal of a next term,” Mr Howard said.

“We should want and aspire to achieve the best possible outcomes for Australians wherever they might live and by whatever method of governance will best deliver those outcomes.

“Sometimes that will involve leaving things entirely to the states.

“Sometimes it will involve cooperative federalism.

“On other occasions, it will require the Commonwealth bypassing the states altogether and dealing directly with local communities.”

After cutting through these self-contradictory statements, what Mr Howard’s saying is that he favours a system of governance that leaves the final word to Canberra.

That last one sounds very much like what the centralist Whitlam government was doing that prompted so much Liberal opposition over 1973-75. How things change.

Put differently, Mr Howard wants the rules to be such that all Canberra governments make them up as they go along.

Imagine playing a cricket match that way. Someone is caught in slips and the batting side’s captain announces slips catches don’t apply when his side is batting.

That’s crazy, but sadly that’s Howardism, and it’s to be one of the goals of his “next term”, if he gets it.

So what’s to happen is that we’re to be without precisely defined areas of state and national responsibilities.

The latter, so flush with taxpayer funds – a $17 billion surplus has just rolled in – decides what the spending rules will or won’t be.

As issues arise, Canberra decides whether or not it wants to get involved.

If there’s an election – grab for power time – coming and it’s deemed there are votes in it, the Canberra government will get involved.

If there’s no election – say, straight after a grab for power was held – Canberra may not become involved.

The Howard Millennium address, then, identifies six spending programs where it has become involved.

They were: Job Network, Family Relationship Centres, Chaplaincy Program, Australian Technical Colleges, National Heritage Trust and Community Water Grants.

“Most recently, the Commonwealth has indicated a willingness to support the Mersey Hospital in Tasmania under a new model of community involvement,” the PM added.

Surprise surprise, Mersey Hospital just happens to be in the seat of Franklin which is, yes, you guessed it, marginal, currently held by expelled Labor MP Harry Quick, who won’t be contesting it, so it’s possible Liberals may win it at 2007’s grab for power.

Of the six programs, State Scene recalls the birth of the Australian Technical Colleges program most vividly because it, not coincidentally, surfaced just before the 2004 federal election.

Ignore the fact that states already have fully operational Technical and Further Education (Tafe) sectors.

The 2004 grab for power was on the horizon and Kim Beazley-led Labor was highlighting what was called the ‘skills shortage’.

Howard-controlled Canberra concluded votes could be lost, so, click, bang, time to become an “aspirational nationalist” by earmarking some $400 million to duplicate already functioning state-based Tafe sectors.

So Australia now has two taxpayer-funded technical education sectors.

What a way to run a country. Duplication, more duplication, and ever more costly duplication, all motivated by a grab for power, not “aspirational nationalism” as some would have you believe.

Little wonder thoughtful and empirical columnist George Megalogenis of The Australian began a recent column thus: “Peter Costello clearly has too many taxpayer dollars, otherwise he wouldn’t be seeking new ways to return them to voters with spending on state public services such as health and education.

“The states, meanwhile, are borrowing to retool the public infrastructure they neglected over the past decade.

“Notice the mismatch here?

“Canberra collects more revenue than it needs from wage slaves, companies and super-funds, while the states are planning to spend more money than they earn.

“Australia’s federation is bordering on farce.”

Yes, real taxpayer interests come last because of the Canberra grab for power, with the rules for which Mr Howard has codified under his slogan “aspirational nationalism” now all that apply.

What a way to run a country.


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