Australian Notes

Australian notes

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

7 February 2015

9:00 AM

The remarkable thing about Tony Abbott’s speech to the National Press Club was how unremarkable it was. There were no great flights of oratory, no grand calls for Apologies, national summits, digital revolutions, climate changes, bills of rights, same sex marriages, constitutional reforms or whatever. But the speech may turn out to have been remarkably effective. Here is a key paragraph:
This government would hardly have taken the political risks it has without the conviction that some change is absolutely unavoidable if our country is to flourish. A stronger economy is the foundation of a stronger Australia. And if the economy is stronger, everybody’s life is better. A stronger economy helps everyone who is doing it tough: parents wrestling with school fees and health costs; small business people anxious to keep their staff; seniors whose superannuation has to fund their retirement; volunteers wondering if they still afford to serve the community; young people looking for their first job and their first home.

It was a Back-to-Rooty-Hill, down-to-earth appeal to the ordinary voter. It may well succeed in helping restore the Prime Minister’s damaged credibility and authority.


There is a dusty old adage that the voting public usually gets it right on election day. It’s a maxim (or ploy) sometimes mouthed by defeated politicians when they want to show that they are manly or sensible or far-sighted enough to acknowledge their party’s failures even if some of their colleagues do not. They usually do not believe it in their hearts but they think it goes down well with the voters. In any case it is often correct. But not always. The voters sometimes toss out good governments and effective MPs. Many of those cheering the successes of the Labor party in Queensland last Saturday night did not believe that the LNP government deserved losses on the scale it suffered. Campbell Newman’s government had taken measures, however unpopular, that Queensland needed if it were to pay down its extraordinary debt, recover its credit rating, arrest the decline in its productivity, and raise the standard of government services. Whatever complaints the voters had about their state government, whether of style or policy, they do not explain the extraordinary election result. Wiser after the event, it is now obvious to all of us that the overriding and decisive influences on Saturday’s vote were not state issues, however significant for some, but federal issues.The voters’ complaints, realistic, wrong-headed or imaginary, about the Commonwealth government – Budget, medicare co-payment, universities, cuts in health, education, welfare, GST, industrial relations, even Prince Philip – compelled many Queenslanders to treat the state election as a Commonwealth by-election and vote against the Abbott government. So in the end they threw out a good government and sacked Campbell Newman, a Premier who had so much to contribute to public life.

Many long years ago when I was still editor of Quadrant, I had a call from John O’Sullivan in New York who was then editing the National Review. He had an idea, he said. Why don’t we swap jobs for a year or two? He would move to Sydney and edit Quadrant, and I would move to New York and edit National Review. He loved Australia which he had often visited, and he was sure I would enjoy living and working in New York. It seemed a good but extremely unlikely idea to me. But we agreed to think about, make soundings and get back to each other in a week or two for further discussion. Not the least of the problems was that in those simple days Quadrant paid its editor zero salary. Not to worry – because nothing came of the idea. Or at least not then. O’Sullivan went back to his native England as Special Adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and that was the end of the proposed editorial swap. But at last it has happened, or something of the kind. O’Sullivan, now a widely experienced editor in Britain, the US and Europe, will edit Quadrant for the next couple of years while Quadrant’s current editor, Keith Windschuttle, will take leave to finish his books on Aboriginal history and historiography. O’Sullivan’s other past editorships include the National Interest and Policy Review in Washington DC and the Hungarian Review in Budapest.

Windschuttle has so far published two volumes of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History—Volumes one and three. The first is Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847 which Geoffrey Blainey said ‘will ultimately be recognized as one of the most important and devastating written on Australian history in recent years.’ The second volume, brought forward because of its urgency, is The Stolen Generations 1881-2008 of which the historian Robert Murray wrote: ‘Unless comprehensive rebuttal– and not just cheap shots–follows, Windschuttle has demolished the Stolen Generations story.’ (It is a large book of 656 pages, but a condensation – The Pocket Windschuttle – is available.) Volume three will deal with aborigine-settler relations in New South Wales from 1788 to the 1850’s, including the Port Phillip District and the Moreton Bay settlement. Volume four about the History Wars is also underway. Later Volumes on Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory are still in contemplation.

‘Happy the country where conferring a knighthood on the Duke of Edinburgh is a great scandal!’ –John O’Sullivan.

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  • Howe Synnott

    This is a complex issue – no simple explanation.
    Particularly, both sides of politics have experienced difficulties since the GFC; politics has been quite volatile.
    In more recent years, the shelf life of politicians is quite short.
    It’s an externally imposed political obsolescence; the polly turn over is quick – “I did but see them passing by”!!
    It’s a new age – with massive voting swings and endless rotating door for our politicians; do we wish for this to continue?.
    Even if we want to stop it – can it be stopped?
    Recent political developments:
    Rudd wins, but within a single term of Parliament – he’s no longer leader;
    Gillard takes over, but within a single term of Parliament – she’s no longer leader;
    Abbott wins, but within a single term of Parliament – he’s no longer leader;
    Shorten wins (say), but within a single term of Parliament – he’s no longer leader.
    Now, look closely:
    Perhaps there is some kind of pattern here – if it’s not immediately apparent, just look for a little longer.
    OK, OK – it’s difficult.
    Here’s some additional stuff:
    O’Farrell wins in NSW, but within a single term of Parliament – he’s no longer leader;
    (by the way, same thing for the Labor opposition).
    Baillieu wins in Vic, but within a single term of Parliament – he’s no longer leader.
    So
    I reckon I can see a pattern emerging – can anyone else see it?
    However, the question is – can it be explained?

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