I would be the first to admit that Phillip Adams is hardly objective in his piece I quoted here yesterday, even if I agree with the general thrust of his remarks.
Ross Gittins has a somewhat more sober assessment in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: A vote for honesty and decency.
Wouldn’t it be great if the defeat of the Howard Government and the election of fresh-faced Kevin Rudd proved to be a turning point, a swing back to moderation in public policy and decency in public life? I am not at all sure it will – politicians tend to ape the ethical standards of their competitors – but it sure would be nice.
The lawyer and academic Greg Craven says the Australian people are radical about only one thing: that their politicians must be moderate. The radical policy in this campaign – at least in its initial form – was Work Choices. By favouring individual contracts it shifted the balance of bargaining power heavily in favour of employers at the expense of less-skilled workers, who were able to lose penalty payments and conditions without reasonable compensation.
The belated restoration of a fairness test did much to correct this injustice, but it came too late. As Liberal insiders are admitting, Work Choices was the greatest single reason for John Howard’s defeat. Inexplicably, it harmed the very working-class battlers whose support had kept him in power for so long.
Work Choices was extreme in another respect: by permitting the removal of penalty rates for overtime and work on weekends and public holidays, it advanced the seven-day working week and the demise of the weekend. Nothing could have been more calculated to damage family life and make social relations more difficult. How this would leave us better off was never explained.
I do not believe the motivation for Work Choices was to promote employment and advance economic efficiency. Rather it was to strike the final blow against the hated unions.
Howard sought to delegitimise the union movement from his first moment in office, removing unionists from government boards and declining to consult the unions about legislation that affected them. Contrast that with Rudd’s concern in just his first few days to establish good relations with business…
On the face of it, the voters’ decision to install Labor federally as well as in every state and territory across the land hardly represents a vote for moderation and balance. We are now a one-party state. Not to worry. I think what we are seeing is just the first stage in an inevitable changing of the guard. Many voters are attracted to the idea of the each-way bet: governments of opposing colours at federal and state levels. Labor gained its stranglehold over state and territory governments while Howard’s Liberals were entrenching themselves federally. Labor’s ascension to power federally makes it only a matter of time before state Labor governments start falling – which will be no bad thing.
I believe standards of honesty and decency fell under Howard. They were hardly very high under his Labor predecessors, but they declined further under a man who, to all outward appearance, radiated respectability. He was a tricky man, leaving you with a certain impression but then later protesting that you had failed to read his lawyerly words carefully enough.
How many times were we misled? There were the non-core promises, the children overboard, the Tampa (which, for all Howard’s ministers knew, may have been carrying terrorists), the weapons of mass destruction and the probably illegal invasion of Iraq, the AWB scandal (which no minister had any knowledge of) and the promise to keep interest rates at record lows.
Howard was never told and so was never responsible. The buck always stopped elsewhere. As to decency, we had the brutal treatment of asylum seekers, the trampling of the legal rights of David Hicks and others, the shameful treatment of Dr Mohamed Haneef.
The Howard Government ruled by fear and behind-the-scenes bullying of bureaucrats, journalists, business economists and business people. It raised the abuse of incumbency to new heights, especially taxpayer-funded market research and political advertising.
In all these things, it had two standard defences: first, you may care but the electorate does not and, second, our Labor predecessors did it, too.
I would like to believe this election shows that, in the end, the electorate does care about declining standards of public morality…