Leading article Australia

Hillary and us

21 June 2014

8:00 AM

21 June 2014

8:00 AM

So it was the quail what done ’er in. Asked to give an example of the ‘outrageous sexism’ that brought down Julia Gillard, all wannabe US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton could produce was the ‘small-breasted quail with large thighs and a big red box’.

That this unoriginal joke (derived from an old KFC gag) on a chef’s hoax menu at an obscure Queensland LNP fundraiser should be the enduring legacy of the sexist torment supposedly suffered by our first female prime minister is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Put aside the facts that the menu also made fun of Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan (albeit not in gender terms), that it never saw the light of day and was seized on by a desperate Gillard camp in the dying days of her failed term in office, it is illuminating that this is the best example Ms Clinton could come up with when pressed by the ABC’s formidable Sarah Ferguson.

From (gasp!) ‘ditch the witch’ placards to a man who had the temerity to look at his watch, the entire Gillard-victim-of-sexism meme is a scam, designed to elicit sympathy devoid of substance while providing the woman who was given every chance to succeed by her party and her country a catch-all excuse for her multiple failures.

The episode is a reminder that the American political class rarely follows our political debates closely. This is neither surprising nor really outrageous. In US calculations, Canberra ranks as an important strategic ally, but we are deluded if we think Australia is major player in Washington foreign-policy circles. Australians of a certain vintage will recall with embarrassment Jimmy Carter’s reference to ‘John’ at a press conference with J. Malcolm Fraser. When prime minister Gough Whitlam addressed the press club in Washington, he was introduced as ‘Mr Ego’ Whitlam. Harold Holt pledged Australia would go ‘all the way with LBJ’, but Lyndon Johnson, who visited here twice during his five-year presidency, said virtually nothing about the Liberal PM in his memoirs. In his book Lazarus, John Howard dedicates several pages of praise, including a chapter, to his good mate George W. Bush. Yet in his memoir Decision Points, the former president hardly mentions the ‘man of steel’. Nor did Bill Clinton write much about Paul Keating.

To say again: none of this is to criticise Australia but to recognise our nation’s proper ranking among the hierarchy of major actors on the global stage. So give Hillary some credit: for someone who only mentions Ms Gillard in one isolated reference in her book, at least she produced a response to Ms Ferguson’s question. Too bad it lacked any substance.

Farewell to a warrior

The dry subject of industrial relations often seems to devolve into complicated labour laws, which is one reason why we will miss Ray Evans, who died this week at the age of 74. The long-time senior executive with mining house Western Mining Corporation was an upbeat character who always put the study of freedom first and foremost, promoting individual workplace contracts where employees and their bosses, not unions, would determine how they would work and be paid.

Along with Peter Costello, Ray was a founding member of the HR Nicholls Society that led the campaign against the old Industrial Relations Club, with its legal protections of union monopolies, prescription of pay/working conditions by awards and interference by quasi-judicial tribunals. During the 1970s and 1980s, Australia’s high unemployment rate was the fault of our sclerotic and over-regulated labour markets. These days, we are the envy of the industrialised world, not least because policies to boost wealth creation through more individual initiative helped drag the nation’s union-controlled industries towards international best practice. With Australia bound by the labour reregulation of the Rudd-Gillard era, however, we could do with a dose of Ray’s free-market insights.

Ray was the kind of bloke you want with you in a foxhole. Nowhere was this more evident than in the debate over man-made global warming. Since the 1990s, along with former Labor finance minister Peter Walsh, he headed the climate realist Lavoisier Group that challenged alarmist predictions and questioned plans to decarbonise the economy via costly and ineffective carbon pricing policies. Ray’s wisdom on this subject informed these columns, though he sought no credit. Ray, according to Mr Costello, ‘was a superb polemicist, and brave, as one must be, to take on and turn unpopular causes.’

Vale to this passionate and stimulating bedfellow.

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