Sunday, 27 April 1997

PM can't ignore demons of the Right

Edition 1SUN 27 APR 1997, Page 043
PM can't ignore demons of the Right
LIBERAL Party tacticians could do worse than read the history of the party during the 1950s and early 1960s as they grapple with how to handle the growth of fanatical parties of the Right.
Back in the pre-Whitlam days, Labor was reduced to political impotency by not knowing how to react to the various shades of Marxism within its own ranks.
The Liberal and National Parties now risk the same fate as they try to work out how to live with Pauline Hanson and the motley collection of parties springing up on a belief that the established conservative Coalition does not take its policies far enough.
The Labor Party's dilemma of old has many similarities with that of Prime Minister John Howard today. Within the Labor Party there were many who agreed with the Marxists about the utopia of the socialist State to come.
The differences were about how to get to the promised land, rather than what would eventually be found in the collectively owned paradise.
An acceptance that the ends justified the means meant that many Labor officials were reluctant to confront the totalitarian Marxists and thus made plausible the taunts of the Menzies Liberals that Labor was soft on communism and would fundamentally change the nature of Australian society.
It took nearly 20 years of electoral defeats before Gough Whitlam could finally crush the influence of the Left-wing fanatics and make Labor fit to govern.
It was a difficult task that took great political courage but without the confrontation engineered by Mr Whitlam, thinking Australians would have voted Liberal forever.
Since then, Labor has been judged a plausible alternative government and has spent more years in office than out.
Now it is the turn of the Liberal and National parties to have their credibility eaten away by the fanatics who say many things that appeal to a considerable proportion of the membership of both parties.
For make no mistake, the anti-immigration, anti-Asian, anti-Aborigine and anti-welfare message of the newly emerging Right has plenty of Liberal and National supporters, just as the socialist State used to have within Labor.
The political danger comes when the sensible majority of Australians in the centre begin to worry about what kind of country they would be living in should a government ever do the things the fanatics call for.
The reaction so far of Mr Howard suggests that he is still more concerned with the short-term problem of keeping peace within the Coalition than with the slightly longer-term one of maintaining harmony in the community.
His historical guide is the Labor appeasement of the 1950s. He needs to be careful that his excessive caution does not produce for him the same fate that befell Harold Vere Evatt and Arthur Calwell.

Sunday, 20 April 1997

Bad guys hurt the good guys

Edition 1SUN 20 APR 1997, Page 138
Bad guys hurt the good guys
BLAMING the government -whether it is responsible or not -is the normal reaction of voters and John Howard well knows it. It is the reason that he is floundering around trying to make it look like he is doing something about Mal Colston while hoping to keep benefiting from his presence in the Senate.
For more than a year the Labor Opposition has been unable to dent Mr Howard's high standing in the opinion polls by pointing to things that he has actually done or left undone.
Now the disclosure of the details of the travel and other expense claims of the Queensland Independent Senator, claims for which the government is in no way responsible, is starting to hurt the Coalition's standing.
There is certainly very little that is fair about politics when the actions of the bad guys hurt the good guys, but that is how it is.
All politicians get smeared with the muck raked up about the few and one part of Mr Howard would love to put an end it. There is no way the Prime Minister personally approves of the padding of expense claims that Senator Colston has allegedly engaged in, and he is entitled to feel peeved that his electoral honeymoon has ended for such a grubby reason.
Yet for Mr Howard the knowledge of what is theoretically right and proper is tempered by the pragmatism that goes with wanting to be able to govern.
Should Senator Colston finally be forced from his position the constitution says his replacement must be the nominee of the Labor Party under whose banner he was originally elected.
When that happens Mr Howard would be back having to depend on the Democrats and the Greens to get his legislation passed.
Which is why there was the attempt last week to be too clever by half and say that the government would refuse to accept Senator Colston's vote.
Mr Howard wanted to make it look like he was dropping Senator Colston while in reality he was doing nothing of the kind.
Having a Coalition senator absent whenever Senator Colston chose to vote with it would not remove the majority of the government plus Tasmanian Independent Senator Brian Harradine.
The public reaction to this attempt to have the best of both worlds will surely be an increase in the disenchantment with all politicians, which means that the Government will suffer most.
And the big winners will end up being the minor parties, who can look forward to record votes at the next Senate election.
Mr Howard, by going to extraordinary lengths to have a majority in this Parliament, is guaranteeing that he will not have one in the next.
He is merely postponing the day when he has to deal again with the Democrats and the Greens plus, perhaps, a senator or two from a Right wing group like that formed by Pauline Hanson.