Hard Labor

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
Thu Sep 27 16:34:02 MDT 2001

Off list I have had something like a discussion on the Australian Labor
Party. I generally avoid the path well traveled by and certainly the Left
has spent its share of time discussing Labor and Social Democratic
parties.  However we are coming up to an election and yesterday was the
final sitting of Parliament.  For the second day in a row I tuned in to
watch our political masters.  In a strange way it was so boring that it
became fascinating. The Labor Leader of the Opposition for the second day
in a row got up and asked questions about Australia's defence capabilities
and security.  For the second day in a row John Howard got up and swelled
visibly into his statesman role.

He loved the questions.  Absolutely loved them and intoned his replies in a
very serious "I am the nation's leader" type voice.  Beazley sat slumped
opposite him with his hand over his face. He seemed to sense that he had
just given Howard the forum he desperately craved.   why then did he do
it?  Why did he feed Howard's strength?

Beazley of course did it because he wanted to show that he is on top of
defence matters.  He was after all Minister for Defence under the Hawke
govt.  And apparently he loves to talk about wars and spooks. But this was
Beazley's last chance to hurt Howard in Parliament before the election and
there he sat choking on his bi-partisan support for America "in her hour of

The polls now show that the Govt cannot be beaten.  Within Beazley's office
it is at last panic stations.  For months upon months they have stuck to
the line that they must not raise issues nor oppose the govt on a matter of
principle.  They have been content to let "reform fatigue" sweep them into
office.  Reform fatigue is their expression for the palpable despair caused
by neo-liberal economics that have ripped the heart out of this
nation.  Policies BTW begun under Labor when it was in office.

The polls seem to have suggested that Beazley's minimalist strategy was
working.  Then came the Afghani refugees on the Tampa.  The government
treated them brutally, denying them refuge and Beazley went along with this
all the way.  He did not want to give the government an issue after
all.  Howard's popularity soared but still Beazley's team was not worried,
because after all 300 refugees hardly represented the equivalent of the
Falklands War.  That war rescued Margaret Thatcher from defeat, but though
Labor's lead went back a bit they remained confident that if they made
sufficiently brutal and right wing noises about refugees then they would
claw back the government's advantage. Then came Sept 11 and Howard had his

Since then Beazley has been like something trapped in the headlights.  He
is exactly the wrong leader for Labor at this juncture.  He is the most
pro-American leader of Labor, indeed any party, since Bob Hawke.  He cannot
even conceptualise in secret never mind articulate in public any criticism
of how the Bush team and previous American administrations have
administered the world.  So he is stuck with a particularly stupid
interpretation of the role of Sancho Panza while Howard plays out a very
farcical version of Don Quixote or if you like Beazley is Michael Foot to
Howard's Margaret Thatcher.

Yet it is clear to anyone with even half a brain that all is not well
within the Bush Administration and that this "war on terrorism" is little
more than a murderous joke.

As I have said Beazley and his advisers are stunned by the reversal in
their fortunes. I know this because a friend in the Party dropped into see
me and asked me what I thought Beazley should do. He had it seems been
phoned earlier in the day by someone from Beazley's office looking for

When Labor types turn up looking for help from the likes of me then you
know they have shat in their pants and want someone else to clean up the
mess. My reply was that there was nothing that Beazley could do.  He had
blown it and now pay up time had arrived.

There is though the slim hope that the "War on Terrorism" will turn out to
be the kind of war you have when you are not having a war and that the tide
of pro-American, pro-blood sentiment which has lifted Howard's fortunes
might begin to subside.

However as Australians are wont to say - I would not hold my breath waiting
for that to happen.



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