The outcome of last weekend’s by-elections was the natural result of the Liberal party sending itself spiralling into turmoil when it dumped Tony Abbott and showing that it is no better than the Labor party. In a bidding war, the Labor party always wins. Since then, it has been beset by personality friction that manifests itself in juggling left- and right-leaning policies and achieving the inevitable bland result. Take energy policy: an attempt to give something to everyone has resulted in giving nothing to anyone. Moreover, with the by-election results, the opinion polls and the ceaseless promotion of socialist and Green policies by the ABC, the Liberal party is now the de facto Opposition. Even this dispirited party must still have the wit to remember how Abbott in opposition galvanised it, cut through with his message and laid waste to the other side. They should enlist him to do the same again. If returning him as leader is beyond them, like most things, they should insist on him having a seat at the top table. It is churlish, spiteful and counter-productive not to do so. But doing it would give them the colour, substance and distinctiveness they so badly need.
In that regard, I have noticed two more pale attempts by the Coalition parties to copy the ALP and with the predictable result that we saw in the by-elections; it never wins votes because it is so false and people can see that it is. The first is the battery of propaganda in the media about the federal government’s wondrous achievements. No one believes this, because it is propaganda and nothing else. These days people will not even believe the truth from politicians; why should they believe self-serving hot air? The second is the subject of the current propaganda campaign itself, praising the governments ‘initiatives’( why do they use this cringe-making word?) in creating jobs. Minister Michaelia Cash actually claims, not that the government’s job is to allow economic forces to work their magic, but that ‘we have created’ 1 million jobs and are ‘creating’ more. Governments cannot create jobs, short of putting people on the government gravy train. So, propaganda that claims the government can create jobs is patently false and will rightly be treated as such by the people. What next? Will politicians start claiming they can control the weather?
The big economic issue that must now be addressed is the difficulty that people are having making ends meet from their current wages. Most workers have little if anything left over after paying exorbitant energy charges, rising interest rates, child care costs and avaricious state government charges. At the same time, many feel threatened, rightly or wrongly, by the imminent loss of penalty rates. But none of this is fatal to the conservative cause. In fact, it is the best time ever to allow some modest steps towards direct bargaining between employers and employees. The following argument should be capable of being won: you will not get a real wage rise from the present system of enterprise bargaining set up by the Labor party because it is a rigged market and economic forces are not free to have their effect; nor will you get one through what is left of the award system; industry-wide bargaining is a complete pipe dream and could never get you a pay rise; but individual bargains between employees and their own employer have great potential for winning higher real wages and better terms and conditions. I know it is a hard one to sell and a Workchoices scare campaign will erupt. But it would be guaranteed to draw a clear distinction between the Labor and Liberal offerings. If it is not that, or something like it, what will the big issue be? Tax cuts for banks?
Finally, one of the advantages of growing old is that you can compare current events with equivalent events of years ago and sometimes actually learn something. I was thinking of this during the strident demands that Philip Wilson, the Archbishop of Adelaide, should resign, even before his appeal has been heard. He refused to resign immediately on being convicted of concealing child sex offences committed by a priest; he wants to appeal and then consider resignation or not. But this was not good enough for those who knew better, from the PM down, who wanted him to resign immediately or have the Pope sack him. The latter has now taken place, couched in the language of the Pope accepting his ‘resignation’. It seems to me that the Archbishop has been singled out for onerous treatment not meted out to others. But of course, as we have often pointed out, opinions on contentious issues depend on who is involved. For example, in July 1985, I was Shadow Attorney-General when Lionel Murphy, a serving High Court judge and formerly a major figure in the Whitlam government, was convicted (by a jury!) of attempting to pervert the course of justice, a similar offence to Wilson. I declared that he should resign forthwith; you could not have a High Court judge remaining in office with that sort of finding hanging over his head. I was told by what seemed like the entire population that it was outrageous to demand Murphy’s resignation before his appeal was heard and a complete denial of his human rights. But of course Murphy was a darling of the Left, so he could stay on. Today, however, it is apparently not outrageous to demand the resignation of an Archbishop convicted (by a magistrate!) of concealment, although he has filed an appeal. Moreover, Murphy’s appeal succeeded and on his retrial he was acquitted, so he remained a judge thoughout. Wilson has been forced to resign, but if his appeal is successful, will he be re-instated? Don’t put money on it.
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