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Mungo: Thank you and good night, John Howard

If you have any doubt that the election of a Rudd Labor government has changed the country, consider this: a year ago, did you imagine that the Prime Minister would be sending an openly gay woman of Chinese ancestry to Bali, to ratify the Kyoto protocol on Australia’s behalf?

Because that’s exactly what Climate Change Minister Penny Wong will be doing – after she’s finished reporting on her visits to a couple of schools and a homeless centre, and any other homework Kevin Rudd finds it necessary to set before giving them all a day off for Christmas. The break with the past eleven years spent behind John Howard’s white picket fence could hardly be more dramatic.

Kyoto, of course, has been one of the great symbolic differences between Labor and the coalition; another is WorkChoices, and Julia Gillard is already busy putting that to sleep so she can concentrate on what she rightly sees as her main job, implementing Rudd’s education revolution. And the third major symbol will be the long overdue apology to the stolen generation, now being prepared, as it should be, not just by the government, but in consultation with Aboriginal leaders.

It would be nice to believe that this will be the start of a new surge towards genuine reconciliation, with a renewal of goodwill on both sides. But unfortunately it is not as simple as that. During the wasted years of the Howard era too much has changed for Rudd to be able to pick up where Paul Keating left off.

On both sides, the politics are more complicated. The arrival of Noel Pearson and his agenda of black capitalism has split the Aboriginal leadership and on the white side the discarded policy of assimilation is making a comeback. An apology is a necessary first step, but the distrust right across the board is now too deep for it to be the cathartic event it might have been when Howard first rejected the opportunity.

One thing that needs to be made clear immediately is just what Rudd intends to do about the Northern Territory intervention, because the signals going out to the settlements have been very mixed. Rudd himself has said there will not be a review until the first 12 months are up, but even that is unclear: do the 12 months date from the announcement in June or from the roll-out, which is still very much a work in progress?

But in any case, much of Labor’s campaigning, by the Northern Territory’s Warren Snowdon and the new minister, Jenny Macklin, in particular, has implied that Labor will immediately reinstate the permit system which gives the communities power to control access to their land, and at least partially restore the CDEP, the Aboriginal work-for-the-dole program on which many communities depend. This should be clarified at once; the communities are is a huge state of confusion already and the last thing Labor should do is to add to it.

The architect of the intervention, the now seatless Mal Brough, and the new Liberal leader, Brendan Nelson, have both issued emotional pleas to Rudd to keep the process going unchanged and Rudd has accepted the primacy of protecting vulnerable children. But before accepting Brough’s lines about how happy the communities are with the intervention is taking place and how well things have settled into place, he may care to glance at some of the voting figures from the Northern Territory.

Warren Snowdon won his electorate of Lingiari, which takes in all of the Territory outside Darwin, for Labor by a margin of almost two to one; but the vote in the remote communities was much higher – generally between 80 and 90%. In Yirrkala, where the most important of the elders, Gallarwuy Yunupingu, actually endorsed Brough’s plan, the Labor vote was 99%. And even in Hopevale, Noël Pearson’s own Cape York community, Labor scored 75%.

Admittedly, Labor has always polled well in the communities and did not oppose the intervention; but even so, the figures can hardly be interpreted as a ringing declaration of support for Brough’s invasion. Reconciliation will be a long, hard road and it is obviously not one of Rudd’s immediate priorities. But it is to be hoped that at least he avoids the worst of Howard’s mistakes and includes the Aborigines themselves in any proposals he makes.

The opposition, of course, is still as confused about the issue as ever: Nelson still rejects the idea of an apology while his most serious rival, Malcolm Turnbull, regards it as a necessary break with the past. Actually it probably doesn’t matter much what he opposition does for the next six months, because it will be at least that long before they regroup sufficiently for anyone to take them seriously.

Indeed, it may take another change of leadership before they settle down: Tony Abbott has already been honest enough to declare himself a contender in future, Peter Costello is lurking on the backbench with the suggestion that he just might reconsider and make himself available if they asked him really, really nicely, and of course no one had any doubt about Turnbull’s ambition.

Nelson’s leadership hangs by a very thin thread. And with the long-dreaded Labor monopoly finally in place, it is tempting to say that the same applies to the Liberal Party as a whole: with no government base anywhere to fall back on, it faces a lean few years, as does its dwindling coalition partner. The Nationals’ stocks have never been lower and electing a new leader eight years older than his predecessor is unlikely to revive them.

After 11 years as supreme rulers, the conservatives are at their lowest point ever. Thank you and good night, John Howard.

14
  • 1
    Sue
    Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Tony, what an outrageous thing to say, that Labour’s dependency on what you call the ‘Aboriginal industry’ means child abuse is no longer important - on what basis do you make this absurd claim? Any wonder your lot got voted out…….

  • 2
    Tony Papafilis
    Posted Wednesday, 5 December 2007 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Permits keep everyone out, including police. Swan Valley was such a community in the suburbs of Perth & it was Labor’s Premier Geoff Gallop who removed the gates & then shut the whole thing down. Yet therre was barely a peep from the Aboriginal industry.

  • 3
    Tony Papafilis
    Posted Tuesday, 4 December 2007 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Labor dumps Claire Martin & her deputy a mere 2 days after election because they didn’t confront Howard over intervention. Rudd bypasses it as he allows others to send message that intervention over, permits back to keep kids locked in & help kept out.

  • 4
    Northern Exposure
    Posted Friday, 7 December 2007 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Spot on, Mungo. Since the so-called ‘intervention’ (purportedly but not convincingly in response to LITTLE CHILDREN ARE SACRED), it has been fascinating to hear it described as a “success”. Unmitigated disaster would be closer to the mark.

  • 5
    sam
    Posted Tuesday, 4 December 2007 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Oh Tony! Permits are NOT the reason for child abuse. Police &other social services are not “locked out” becos of permits, its a lack of funding that keeps help out. Abuse has too with social factors (alcohol abuse, poor education, loss of land & culture)

  • 6
    Hall Apte
    Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Hmmmm. It may just be a crazy, twisted thought but your article made me think about the Coalition’s just completed innings and how completely different things might have been if Andrew Peacock had ‘stayed the course’ and beaten Keating. Ah well!

  • 7
    Libby
    Posted Tuesday, 4 December 2007 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Yes! goodnight John Howard and fools like you. Goodbye to the gutter into which you dragged us. Goodbye to the international embarrassment you caused us. Now for some humanity, for change in the vitally important areas you trampled.

  • 8
    Tony Papafilis
    Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Everything is changing after the election. Libs will suffer only if they succumb to media pressure to turn further left. One thing has been made clear - Labor’s dependency on Aboriginal industry means child abuse is no longer key concern of government.

  • 9
    Tony Papafilis
    Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Venise, can you name a country that is better to live in than Australia at end of Howard era? Don’t be shy with your reply. Even if you don’t agree, the intellectual exercise of thinking about nations may cause you to withdraw the “gutter” comment.

  • 10
    sam
    Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    Tony - yes,life in Aust is enviable.But we were a developed, democratic nation long before Howard. Thanks to him we are in the gutter in terms of some major aspects of social policy. Reconciliation, environment, public education, treatment of refugees etc

  • 11
    Venise Alstergren
    Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    The Howard Liberal government dragged Australia into a very deep gutter. It will take a long time to reorganise itself. The amiable looking Brendan Nelson wont do it. The only one left with any cred. is the man with all the teeth. Malcolm Turnbull.

  • 12
    Venise Alstergren
    Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    I stand by my remark and will do so until the day I die. Of the countries I know four alternatives come to mind. Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Italy. Please don’t question my intellect; it’s too valuable to be tossed around by a committed fool like you.

  • 13
    c
    Posted Monday, 3 December 2007 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Concluding with an allusion to the McCarthy era? Rather melodramatic. Liberal are conservatives? Who’s liberal then? Teflon Rudd, twin of Teflon Tony? Does Mr Rudd belong to the world’s only NON C/conservative evangelical Christian community?

  • 14
    Venise Alstergren
    Posted Wednesday, 5 December 2007 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Your precious Liberal Party got booted up the ar*e by the electorate. They are the ones who have to pick themselves up from the “gutter” if they ever wish to be re-elected. It might be a good idea if you could climb out of the same place.

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