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The State of Australian governance

By Bruce Haigh - posted Thursday, 11 April 2013


The state of governance in Australia has never been terrific. Curtain should have stood up to Churchill sooner and brought Australian troops home from the Middle East immediately after the debacle of Greece and Crete. He was pushed around and dominated by the supreme bully, General Mac Arthur.

Menzies, who had avoided service in WWI, complied with the directives and the philosophy coming out of Washington in the 1950's and 1960's and actively conspired to have Australian troops fight with Americans in Vietnam. To help do this he introduced ballot conscription for under age Australian males in a most underhand manner.

Whitlam was all huff and puff; he was unable to see off his own appointee as governor general when that extraordinarily vain, arrogant and weak man made moves to have him dismissed, an undertaking in which he was ultimately successful.

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Fraser, the head prefect, of a most uninspiring cabinet, behaved and sounded like the public school poonce that he was. His was a government, like that of Whitlam, of lost opportunity. It was only after he left politics that he matured.

Hawke was a populist, who thrived on attention, he rode an economic upswing, until we encountered the 'recession that we had to have'. That did not deter Keating as Treasurer, who began the recent Labor tradition of dumping leaders in office.

Keating had a strong agenda and the will to implement it. It was a free market agenda coupled uneasily with a strong social agenda, particularly Aboriginals. His free market philosophy, also embraced by arch conservative, political trickster and premier of NSW, Nick Griener, sits uneasily with the internal and external tyranny of distance suffered by a sparsely populated Australia.

Howard was a proponent of divide and rule. His political tools were fear, cricket, of which he knew little, and the American alliance. He took Australia to war, without a declaration, every bit as sneakily and dishonestly as his much admired Menzies. His legacy is state based terrorism inflicted on refugees. Like Hawke, only more so, he rode a wave of economic prosperity, which both he and his spineless Treasurer, Costello, believed they were responsible for. He bought votes with cash hand outs particularly to the increasingly wealthy middle class and he encouraged personal borrowing, which came home to roost as a result of the GFC.

Rudd came to power by deploying the finely honed skill of white-anting. He matched every twist and turn of Howard, something he had done to Laurie Brereton, when he wanted to be opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs and something he is doing now to Julia Gillard. He was, and remains, a vain glorious little man, a fact, which, too late became apparent to his caucus colleagues. They dumped him and made another grave error of judgement by replacing him with Julia Gillard, who believes in nothing except her own ambition, a trait she shares in common with her predecessor.

There is little of Labor about Gillard, except her voice, which seems to have been donated across time by Billy Hughes. Her race seems to have been run, with Abbott set to replace her in September. Her path, like that of her predecessors, is littered with what might have been, moral courage has been in short supply in Australian politics. The great unspoken and un-investigated is corruption in Australian politics, underlined by Eddie Obied and the almost complete absence of moral fibre demonstrated by the last state Labor government in NSW.

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To my mind the issue which has defined federal governments over the past decade and a half is the manner in which both major parties have chosen to handle refugees. Fearful of polls and lacking the quality most needed in politicians, that of leadership, they have chosen to demonise and bully the weakest amongst us, the one group requiring our care and compassion – asylum seekers.

Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott have all used bullying as an instrument of politics. Their policies toward asylum seekers were and are not designed to protect and embrace those most in need, but rather to deter asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat.

The rhetoric of the Gillard government has been to claim that they are trying to break the people smuggler business model, and to assist they appointed an 'expert panel' to come up with policies to back their exclusionist boat policy. The government and opposition claim they want to stop people taking dangerous sea voyages, yet they stubbornly refuse to consider the option of processing on Indonesia for fear of encouraging more arrivals.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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