In their excellent little book Limiting Democracy (UNSW Press) academics Colin Hughes and Brian Costar lament the increasing adoption of American campaign methods by the Australian Liberal Party.

To negative advertising, excessive expenditure, direct mail, electronic databases, push polling and taking away voting rights can now be added campaigning by uniform. And this time it is Kim Beazley not John Howard borrowing from across the Pacific with the Democrats not the Republicans as the inspiration.

This morning, faced with yet another of those boring pieces in The Australian saying why their Newspoll is wrong and Labor cannot win, Beazley floated the idea of getting former SAS major Peter Tinley to run for the ALP at the next federal election.

This strategy of having officers who had served in Iraq as candidates, worked well for the Democrats in this month’s Congressional poll and Mr Tinley, who served as lead tactical planner for Australia’s special forces in late 2002, was quoted at the weekend as saying the decision to send troops to Iraq was a “cynical use of the defence force by the (Howard) government”.

For the Opposition Leader this makes Mr Tinley the perfect man to turn the contest for the marginal seat of Stirling into a forum on Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war.

Up until now the Liberal-National Coalition has suffered little from its enthusiastic support for the allied involvement in this war. The popularity of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair has plummeted but John Howard floats along with reputation unscathed.

Labor would dearly love to find a way of spreading the anti-war feeling to this country but I wonder if the borrowing of Democrat techniques is too simplistic.

For most Australians the war in Iraq is not a real war because Australians are not getting killed in it. While Americans are getting shot and blown up in their hundreds and Britons suffer in their tens, the only one of our boys to suffer at the front is reported to have killed himself while playing with his pistol.

In the absence of bodies coming home in bags from Bagdad there is no way that this conflict is going to be a major determinant of how Australians vote.

Peter Fray

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