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Labor belts Natasha, Howard woos Hansonites, Economist backs Labor

Hillary is just exhausted but much appreciated Laurie Oakes (no relation) stepping in to produce this gem of a column on all the colour from the campaign.

However, if you want your Hillary fix, over the next fortnight subscribers will have access to Hillary’s exclusive analysis of key marginal seats and all 150 spots up for grabs in the House of Representatives, to be followed by candidate profiles once nominations close. If you want the real inside information, click here: https://subscribe.crikey.com.au

Pity poor political journos. As a our brave boys rattle the ragheads in what the Army has code-named Operation Token Presence, their stories are being buried - with notable exceptions such as the Oz doing Rupert’s bidding and making Kim Beazley’s Ansett plans the front page news.

On Friday night I was watching the ABC news, and the first 13 minutes were devoted to the wake of September 11. The campaign only got a mention after that.

People’s minds are elsewhere, and that makes last week’s polls interesting. Newspoll and AC Neilson gave huge leads to the Coalition, while the face-to-face Morgan Poll put them both on 50 per cent and predicted that the Government would just sneak in. But with so much happening, and news being dominated by the “war on terror”, who is really thinking about November 10?

If things continue as they are, a lot of people will be deciding which way to go at the very last minute.

Anyway, it is time to give you all a few brief doodlings, as much as a form of therapy for myself from having to cover a campaign which is already playing to some of the worst aspects of the Australian electorate.

Bob Hawke used to say that he had complete faith in the good sense of the Australian people. Those who actually run campaigns have never been so idealistic. Thankfully yours truly is in a position to concentrate on the positives of the government’s term in office rather than the Prime Minister’s preferred campaign strategy of convincing the electorate they are in danger of being invaded.

I can think of no better historical allusion than to refer to our defence commitment in the Timor Sea as building a naval Maginot Line. For those who don’t remember their history, the Maginot Line was built by the French in the 1930’s as a defence against German invasion. An impressive line of ramparts, bunkers and enforced positions, it proved completely useless when the war began as the Germans just went round it through Belgium.

And isn’t our Maginot Line proving just as porous. The Prime Minister and Ruddock are running round tub thumping about how we are sending a message to people smugglers. Oh yeah? Unfortunately, all the messages are on Australian television and talkback radio, which the asylum seekers are not watching. Fortunately for the government, the people who are getting the message are voters in the suburbs. And the message they are getting is at last an Australian government is prepared to stand up and do something about the wogs.

There is a proportion of the Australian electorate who have always wanted a stop to all these bloody foreigners coming to the country. They eat smelly food, they don’t talk bloody English and they work too hard. All this de-regulation over recent years has given them an unfair advantage as Australians just aren’t used to working the sorts of hours these wogs are prepared to work. And these foreigners are happy to live like ants all over each other. Though that has some uses, because it allows us traditional Aussies to migrate to the outer suburbs and live out our quarter acre dream without any pesky coloured faces around.

All a bit extreme you think. Well just listen to Allan Jones, (known as Gloria by his close friends) any morning as he thumps the “us and them” drum on 2UE. If you look at the results of the 1999 referendum, the most startling difference between Sydney and Melbourne was the overwhelming defeat of the referendum in Sydney’s Labor heartland, while the results were reasonable in similar Melbourne seats.

The difference was Gloria, and his refusal to have any truck with socialist ideas like balance in broadcasting. He just berated the republic, and he is doing exactly the same to the Labor Party now. There are more than a few of my lefty colleagues in Sydney starting to get very worried, and it’s all a bit late to start sucking up to him now.

Gloria is close to irresponsible with his current campaign. (He’s a disgrace who should be thrown off radio for life - Ed) He has been happily pouring petrol on the problems of race and crime in Sydney. Having poured on the accelerant, if someone now tosses in a match, do you think Gloria will take any responsibility. No, someone else’s doing he’ll say.

Just what was the Prime Minister on about the other day when after reports that boat people had been throwing their children into the water, he said Australians will not be “intimidated” in this way.

How great a war leader is he to be intimidated by a few people tossing their children into the ocean in life jackets. I mean, intimidated is what Churchill might have felt during the blitz. Intimidated is what George W. Bush might have felt over the September 11 terrorist attacks. But intimidated by bobbing babes in life jackets?

Everything about the boat people is working in the government’s favour in shoring up support amongst the “do something about the wogs” brigade. Babes in water, Arabs throwing excrement at Australian sailors and refusing to get off our boats. It’s all working in the government’s favour, and they don’t have to actually do anything.

For those of you who didn’t see it, the Canberra Times’ cartoonist Pryor encapsulated the story beautifully. It was a cartoon of an Australian naval ship beside a fishing boat. The plaintive voice bubble coming out said “Would it help if some of us ate our children.”

Just why was Ruddock so appalled last week when the latest arrivals decided to sink their ship. That was always an obvious thing to do once the Australian government had decided to try and turn ships around.

Yet we are slowly populating islands to our north with asylum seekers we are still paying the full cost of. I wonder if the residents of Port Augusta, who rejected having a refugee camp near their town, are now wondering how their local economy would be had they received the money we are now lavishing on Nauru.

And still the boat people keep arriving. We wonder if the Indonesian President has yet returned John Howard’s phone call. And what about Nauru’s corrupt President Renee Hariss? It’s rather hard for him to make decisions in his own nation’s interest while the Australian government hovers over his kidney dialysis machine.

We are also wondering just why the media is allowing the government to get away with using the entire Navy as an arm of government public relations. They are maintaining absolute secrecy over all operations and hiding behind the cloak of “operational secrecy” every time they get a tough question. We have a boat people problem, we are not being invaded. The entire country seems to have gone mad - so let’s take a look at what the parties are doing.

The Coalition

Who was impressed by the Government’s first TV spot of the campaign? John Howard took the tough decisions, it says, to “reduce Labor’s debt, to fix the tax system, to protect East Timor, to take a strong stand against illegal immigrants”.

Funny. The landmark “tough” decision used to be the stand Howard took on gun control after the Port Arthur massacre.

One Nation types, of course, love sticking the boot into “illegals” and hate gun control. Is there a connection here? He did mention guns on The Great Debate though.

Other strange changes are happening too. The PM never seemed to be all that endeared of APEC. Now he’s so keen on it that he’ll quit the campaign trail to be there.

However, will APEC happen or not? Most importantly, will the Prime Minister get his photo op with Dubya?

Of course, it will be a useful weekend to be out of the country, as the ACT Liberal government looks set for defeat. Not that it will bother the Liberal Party that much. Not many of the Federal hierarchy ever liked former Red Hill pharmacist Kate Carnell anyway, and without her as Chief Minister, the party has little chance of victory.

But watch for the battle between the minor parties. A poll in the Canberra Times last week, admittedly with 30% undecided (why do papers pay for that sort of poll), had the Green vote down and being outpolled by the Democrats.

But I digress. One used to get the impression that Howard understood the vital importance of adjusting to meet the needs of globalisation, at least before he started his series of backflips last autumn. Now he talks about “Putting Australia First”. Again, just what those One Nation types want to hear.

Meanwhile, the Coalition cockies from the National Party have had a spot of bother with this newfangled internet thingy. For most of the week when you went to look at the candidate profiles, they all just had “text, text, text, text, text” everywhere..

Australian Labor Party

Just how bad is Labor’s polling? Last week they felt obliged to beat up Natasha Stott-Despoja on their yoof-orientated “Political Big Brother” site. Here’s what they ran:

STOTT DESPOJA DEMANDS INCLUSION IN POLITICAL BIG BROTHER HOUSE

Natasha Stott Despoja today launched her campaign to be included in the Political Big Brother House at a trendy, up-market coffee shop in inner city Paddington, Sydney.

For too long the Democrats have been excluded from important debates. I demand equal time and that we be taken seriously. I demand that I - sorry - we, get more photo opportunities. We demand that I be in the Political Big Brother House,” snapped a clearly miffed Stott Despoja.

Earlier in the day, Stott Despoja obtained an injunction against the release of reports showing she was suffering from “acute Limelight Deprivation Syndrome” since the demise of Good News Week. Stott Despoja denied that her campaign focussed too much on her and not on her party’s policies - like supporting the GST.

Medical opinion over the cause of “Limelight Deprivation Syndrome” is divided. Some doctors say it has to do with excessive chocolate and caffeine intake, while others put it down to a disconnection from reality.

When asked what sort of coverage she wanted, Stott Despoja laughed, took a sip of her cafe51 latte, flicked the page of Harpers Bazaar and said “My party - coverage of my party - mmmm. Will someone please get me a skinny soy latte, with plenty of froth, hold the beans. Sorry, you asked about coverage - I will be launching all of our policies and making all of the media appearances for my party. The coverage I want is no more than we deserve - a picture of me every day on the evening news.”

You will see how relevant we are when I announce our policy to reform Australia’s digital copyright laws. Our party polling says that is a big issue and we are in there with the big boys, dealing with the bread and butter issues. We are more relevant now than ever before.”

Stott Despoya (sic) also rejected comments that she was becoming a bit like Jiminy Cricket, but with nicer hair, saying “It’s really, really hard being the conscience of the nation”.

The Prime Minister was unavailable to comment as he was “meeting with Meg Lees”.

ends

Interesting. Yoof voters who go for the Dems usually send their preferences in Labor’s directions - but if the backroom heavies have decided to have a go at Natasha, God knows what’s showing up in the polling. And they could spell her name correctly, too.

Still, Labor has some interesting and influential friends. The Economist magazine has surprised many people by backing Kim and Co in its editorial this week.

The Economist likes to be contrary - it advocates a British republic - but it was fairly harsh on Howard and his team: “Mr Howard’s bunch deserves credit for one achievement: last year it brought in a goods-and-services tax-a sort of value-added tax-which has allowed a big shift from direct to indirect taxation, and with it lower income-tax rates and higher social-security benefits”. Unfortunately, a cynically voter-pleasing budget this year and the funking of the sale of the government’s 51% stake in Telstra, the big telecoms company, suggest that Mr Howard’s lot have lost their reforming zeal. The bigger blot on their record, however, is their even more cynical decision to refuse refugees the right to seek asylum on Australian shores, and to pass them on instead to the Pacific micro-state of Nauru. Though the courts have sanctioned this policy, it plainly defies the spirit of Australia’s obligations under the 1951 UN convention on refugees, which says that the right to asylum in any country can be claimed only in person in that country. The Howard government claims its policy is aimed at people-smugglers, not refugees, but it is hard to see it as anything but a populist attempt to win votes.”

Beazley gets a much easier ride: “Labor has its blemishes too. It opposed the new tax, and promises changes to it, though they probably would not amount to much. It says it will not privatise Telstra, and it still has ties with Australia’s less-than-enlightened trade-union movement. But in economic affairs Labor would probably not depart much from the path of modernisation that it started 18 years ago. And in helping to bring an end to the attitudes of the past - many associated with the white-Australia policy that characterised the country for so long - Labor would almost certainly be more successful than Mr Howard’s team. If he does indeed turn out to be the lucky prime minister, Australia might just cease to be the lucky country-for a while at least.”

All very impressive - but I’d hazard a guess that very few Economist leader writers will be voting in this election.

Poor old Cheryl Kernot seems to be slowly coming a cropper again.

Let’s be honest here. She comes from a Democrat background. They play politics very soft there, rarely descending to acts of complete political bastardry, though there are still a few questions over Chezza’s role in undermining former leader Janet Powell.

But Cheryl is now in the major party political game, where life can be much more brutal.

If you want a metaphor for Cheryl’s problem, it’s like going on your first visit to an abattoir. Your eye is so captured by the blood and gore that you don’t actually appreciate the deft knife work going on.

Which is Cheryl’s problem. Coming from the Democrats, all she tends to see in party politics is the blood and gore. When she tries to do a bit of butchery herself, with veiled accusations about her political opponents departure from the Queensland police, she completely stuffs it up. No finesse, no experience about the correct way to use the knife.

Very depressing for all those with some belief that nobility is possible in political life.

Australian Democrats

The Australian Democrats are very busy - sharpening knives. The Dems scored 5.5 per cent in this week’s Morgan Poll - exactly what they scored in March - and letters like this one are doing the rounds of members:

8 October 2001

Dear Sir/Madam

So much for Changing Politics. Obviously even the new look Democrats don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

The Democrats’ Leader purports that for the first time ever the Democrats will run candidates in all Lower House seats. Actually the party reached that milestone in the 1998 campaign.

She also claims the Democrats are polling “double what we were at the beginning of the year” (SMH 6/10/01). According to the Roy Morgan Federal Voting Intention poll, the Democrats were polling 5.5% in January and in September this year. Since when did double 5.5 equal 5.5?”

Natasha’s supporters are offering an intriguing spin on all of this. Apparently, it’s all the fault of Meg Lees for supporting the GST.

And the candidates? Well, the Dems might be running in every seat, but quantity does not necessarily equal quality. This report from the ABC suggests that a few of their candidates may lack a few basics:

The Australian Democrats campaign for the South Australian federal seat of Grey has been delayed for 10 days because the candidate only just found out about the election.

Gil Robertson, from Port Lincoln, has been in England studying radionics, a system in which vibrations are said to be able to bring balance to plants, animals and humans.

His wife Fran, says the election has caught him by surprise and he will not begin campaigning until next Monday.

Gil has been in England studying in a little village where he has not been near TV and radio and he didn’t know that there was even an election.

When he went away five weeks ago he thought the election was going to be next year so politics was far from his thoughts and at this stage the Democrats don’t even have a photo of him, a recent photo, to even put on the posters so things are going to be a little later,” she said.

The Greens

Bob Brown released a fascinating campaign ad last week that included a shot of the Dalai Lama. Bob, of course, is very big on Tibet - but it would be fascinating to know how he feels about his Holiness’s dirty little secret.

Back in 1998, the Los Angles Times published classified documents that showed that the Dalai Lama received regular funds from the CIA until Richard Nixon’s visit to China. That’s right - the CIA, the force behind all evil.

It’s rather curious that Brown and his “dark greens” should be so supportive of one who has enjoyed the support of the CIA in the past, but who loudly condemn all the agency’s other activities. Maybe this means that the Greens are not as anti-American as they seem. Or that the CIA are OK - sometimes.

Brown’s ad focuses on peace and non-violence - which is rather different from what the 2,100 CIA-trained and armed Tibetan paratroopers within the Tibetan Freedom Movement were taught to do.

Meanwhile, Brown has forecast that the Greens could win “up to five Senate seats”. This, of course, is unmitigated crap - unless he’s got CIA backing, too.

One Nation

Does One Nation have a Photoshop wiz on board? Have a look at the photos of Pauline on their site. She seems to be turning into the late Princess of Wales.

Next cab off the rank

We have the Federal election on November 10, the South Australian government passed its fourth anniversary last week but can use constitutional trickery to hang on until March and then Tasmania is tipped to go to the polls early next year.

News from the South Island says that former Republican head Greg Barns, is going down a treat with the local Liberals as he seeks preselection for the state seat of Denison.

Now Barns used to work for Premier Ray Groom. Groom was always a better VFL ruckman than he was a politician, and with his height, one of the local gags is to refer to Barnes as Ray Groom but with brains.

Of course, with the Hare-Clark electoral system, Barns is up against two great no-brainers in the sitting Liberal MPs in Denison, Michael Hodgman and Liberal Leader pro-tem, Bob Cheek. If Barns can’t knock one of those two off, he should give up on politics.

Anyway, the locals are very impressed that someone has actually come back to Tassie to work. Any new blood helps. Like the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, Barns is an important addition to the local gene pool.

At the same time, people are a little worried at some of the directions local light Eric Abetz has been taking the party. State council meetings have been resembling revivalist meetings of late, opening and closing with prayers. All that has been missing is speaking in tongues.

A less useful addition has occurred in the north of the island with One Nation announcing that Denis Collins will be their candidate in Bass.

Collins was a CLP member of the Northern Territory Parliament who was so unimpressive that the party denied him pre-selection while a sitting MP. Collins was one of the great conspiracy theorists, and used to bury cachets of guns in the desert in case they were needed when the aborigines rose up as part of the one-world government conspiracy.

His one great claim to fame is he delayed the entry of Shane Stone to territory politics. Having kicked Collins out of the Party, Stone ran for his Alice Springs based seat of Greatorex. To Stone’s horror, he lost to Collins, Stone having to wait a couple of years before winning Port Darwin.

But we are not exactly sure what Collins is doing in Tasmania. Perhaps like Joh Bjelke-Petersen after his failed bid for Canberra, Tasmania become a bit of a bolt hole to escape to.

And in other news?

* Col Allan has trumped “A nation of bastards” and “Cheryl goes into Labor”. Just have look at how the New York Post reported the start of the raids on Afghanistan:

* The British Conservative Party are a very sad bunch of losers nowadays. They held their conference last week under the slogan “Security abroad, Security at home”. Now what other bunch of no-hopers have we heard using the same line lately?

* Watch the Great Debate? Me neither.

* Who else got a shock when the celebrated litigant Iris Mackler turned up on Channel 9, sans makeup, reporting from a Northern Alliance camp somewhere in Afghanistan. Very different from the fur swathed creature we used to see reporting from Moscow for the ABC.

* The National Tertiary Education Union, the Vice-Chancellors and the trots at the National Union of Students might be dancing in the streets at Rupert Murdoch’s education comments - but journalists should have realised that they are nothing new. Rupe has been going on about the need to skill Australia and Australia’s potential as an education exporter for yonks if one looks back over his speeches.

* Victorian MLC David Davis has dismissed speculation of his retirement as “Crikey crap”, but that didn’t stop Bob Stensholt, the man who took Jeff’s old seat, from raising it in the Parliament last week: “As the honourable member for Hawthorn has praised the so-called good work of the upper house so much this week, perhaps he wishes to move to the upper house. I read that there will be two vacancies in East Yarra Province. We know that the Honourable Mark Birrell has decided to leave the Parliament at the next election. But I am told that crikey.com has fingered the Honourable David Davis to be moving out as well.” To top it off, he was immediately interrupted by an interjection from Louise Asher. Bob, of course, now qualifies for a free Crikey subscription and tee shirt. And whatever happened to the Davis/Asher nuptials?

* Nick Bolkus remains miffed at Crikey. Have a look at these two facesl. Now don’t anyone start making gags about them being related. Crikey is happy to apologise in a manner that could be described as grovelling for questioning his drink driving record when it is absolutely 100 per cent clean. As for Bin Laden, well he’s the sort of bloke who’d stick 20c on a string in a public phone to try and get a free call away.

Feedback to crikey@crikey.com.au and we’ll pass it on to Laurie Oakes or you can try Hillary’s old email address of hillarybray@crikey.com.au but she might not have time to read it.

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