|Issue No. 142
|28 June 2002
Interview: Safe as Houses
Safety: Ten Steps to Safety
History: Staying Alive
Unions: Choose Life
International: Seoul Destroyers
Corporate: Crash Landing
Activists: The Refusenik
Review: Dumb Nation
Poetry: Helping Out The Rich
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Good News from the Pilbara
Go Mark, Go
We love a stoush as much as the next political junkie, but the performance of these two in the past week has crossed the threshold into boorishness. In one corner, we have Tony Abbott plunging Australian industry into chaos with his constant attempts to ferment industrial confrontation for short-term political gain and the Federal Parliament into dysfunctional disarray with his commitment to playing the man not the ball. In the other corner, Mark Latham, playing right into the Tories' hands with a misguided determination to fight fire with fire culminating in the 'arse-licker' line that has left him looking crass and humourless.
Abbott has always been a bovver boy, throwing the mud at opponents with a uncontained zealotry born of an unhappy seminary education. Abbott's idea of political engagement is a head-on confrontation, his idea of shrewd, a sledge-hammer behind the back. As for cooperation - has anyone got a dictionary? The difference is now he has responsibility - as the Government Leader in the House he sets the tone of Parliamentary debate; as Workplace Relations Minister he sets the industrial relations climate for the entire economy.
While Abbott is good at firing missiles, he's currently failing to carry out either responsibility. His handling of his Parliamentary duties has left the Chamber in a state of disrepute that is only compounded by Speaker Neil Andrew's bias in the Chair. His constant jibes at the ALP may make good TV, but it leaves the entire institution discredited in the eyes of the public. Which is classic Tory political tactics - take away faith in politics and social change will never flourish.
But that is nothing compared to the damage he is doing to Australian industry, as Bob Herbet pointed out this week. As union and industry work to come up with a plan for the car industry Abbott is on the sideline lobbing grenades - threatening to withdraw federal funds to the industry if it does not go to war with the AMWU. Meanwhile, he continues chipping away at workers rights, introducing legislation to take away the right to strike and ensure that any worker taking industrial action can be personally sued by the employer. It is partisan, indulgent legislation that will do nothing for industrial harmony.
Abbott finally met his match though when confronted with Kerry O'Brien on the 7.30 Report mid-week. O'Brien asked Abbott the question the union movement has been posing for years: Is there any such thing as an acceptable strike? A justifiable strike? All Abbott could come up with was the strike he himself led at The Bulletin while a member of the MEAA. Like all bullies, it is only from his own vantage point that he can recognise an injustice.
As for Mark Latham; we think we understand what he's trying to achieve, but as usual, he seems to be leading with his chin. Some months ago Latham pronounced the time had come for Labor to muscle up to the Liberals. Ever since he's been given an impression of a canetoad on steroids - ugly and venomous and prone to explode. He's turned his invective on targets as diverse as The Chaser, Tony Staley, John Robertson and even Workers Online (we are "the biggest grubs in the labour movement"). Calling the Prime Minister an 'arse-licker' takes it onto a new plane though and while we agree with the sentiments, we can't help thinking Mark is playing into his opponents hands.
As for his claim that he was merely employing the vernacular of his electorate, many would see this as an insult to the people of Werriwa. Already they have been told they're racist - hence Labor should not take a moral position on asylum seekers. Now they're being told they are uncouth as well...
The liberation theologists have written extensively about the folly of the oppressed using the tactics of their oppressors. In this context, the salvo at Howard is a classic case study. Contrary to Latham's defence, the issue is no longer Howard's performance abroad but the nature of the attack. The impact of his intervention is not that Howard is under added pressure to stand up for the national interest, it's that Latham's own leader is under pressure to rein in his loose cannon. Like a peasant with a stone, he has become the villain - and, thus, the tank is justified in rolling over the top of him.
Australia needs politicians with passion and vision. What we don't need are machismo haters who personalise the contest of ideas. So let the battle begin. We say go for it boys: no holds barred and if we're lucky, all that will be left of you will be a pile of hair, blood, bones and a cache of unexploded bombs. Now that would be a real contribution to the national polity.
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