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Issue No. 194 05 September 2003  

Relatively Speaking
At its heart, political debate has always been a struggle between competing views about how a society should organise itself to maximise the benefits for the majority of its citizens.


Interview: Crowded Lives
Labor frontbencher Lindsay Tanner talks us through his new book on the importance of relationships and why politics is letting the people down.

Activists: Life With Brian
Work by men like Brian Fitzpatrick is exposing new Australians to old truths. Jim Marr reports

Industrial: National Focus
A showdown looms in Cancun, Qantas gets bolshie, casual and lazy in its response to aviation challenges, and long festering disputes fester on in Victoria and Tasmania reports Noel Hester in this national wrap.

Unions: If These Walls Could Talk
Trades Hall is preparing for a major facelift but first, Jim Marr reports, it must bid farewell to the colourful bunch who have populated its dusty corridors in recent years.

Economics: Beating the Bastards
Frank Stilwell looks at some of the proposals for building a fairer finance sector.

Media: Three Corners
So its come to this. Four Corners, one of the world's longest running television programs is now under pressure from an ABC Executive that is less cultural visionary than feral abacus.

History: The Brisbane Line
Percy Spender was Menzies' foreign minister, but, Neale Towart asks, was he also prepared to serve as Prime Minister in a Japanese controlled Australia?

Trade: The Dumping Problem
Oxfam-CAA helps set the scene for this month's World Trade Organisation in Cancun.

Review: Frankie's Way
In The Night We Called It A Day Frank Sinatra learns 'sorry' Down Under is a loaded word and refusal to say it when due will lose fans in important places, writes Tara de Boehmler.


 Truckies Tip Safety on AGM Floor

 Geelong Lockout Claims Family Homes

 Aussie Labour Laws Fail US Test

 No Accident � Insurance Dough Rises

 Union Mum Wins

 Rheem Runs Cold On Entitlements

 Unions Take It Up for Footballers

 Drug Boss Fails Workers

 Ministers Urged to Take Responsibility

 Museum Jobs Face Extinction

 Less News And More Of It

 Legal Costs Threaten Access

 Learning for Life

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
Staking Our Territory
ACTU secretary Greg Combet argued for a fairer Australia in his keynote address to last month's ACTU Congress.

The Locker Room
Seasonally Agisted
Spring is a season when a person�s thoughts turn to�horse racing. Phil Doyle reports on the fate of nags and folk heroes.

Beyond the Block
We are wild about the people who live in The Block but not too interested in those who are on the streets outside, writes Michael Rafferty.

The Westie Wing
Workers friend Ian West MLC, reports form the Bearpit about a project to raise awareness about trade unionism amongst young people.

The Awkward Squad
Paul Smith meets one of the new generation of British union leaders who is taking the ball up to the Blair spin team.

 Lyon Roars
 Spicey and Tart
 Tony and Pauline
 PNG Bags Plastic
 Fighting Words Craig Emerson
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Relatively Speaking

At its heart, political debate has always been a struggle between competing views about how a society should organise itself to maximise the benefits for the majority of its citizens.

The story of political debate over the past hundred years has been a recurring contest of competing ideologies: the free market versus socialism, the state versus the individual and religious fundamentalism versus secularism.

In practical terms, these debates have all been about applying an over-arching worldview into a set of laws to govern a society, with citizens of that society viewed very much as the passive consumers of the system.

With the triumph of market-based democracies, citizens do get the opportunity to vote for their preferred provider of legislative services, but as political parties have converged this choice, it has become more one of style and nuance than of fundamental difference.

In the past two decades the faultlines in Australia have further blurred, with two parties with different traditions (social democracy and liberalism) competing on their credentials as economic managers and service deliverers.

It is hardly surprising, that for the majority of people squeezed into their roles as economic units in the market of life, politics means less to them than ever before. They just don't have the time.

What has been missing in the political debate is an engagement with the lives of the people the system is meant to service, particularly the crisis in people's ability to maintain relationships in a global world.

We talk about Medicare as an abstract, Telstra as a business, education as an aspiration. Yet we don't strip back the debates and look at how political and business decisions affect the lives of individuals.

The experience of modern Australia is that while all the economic indicators say things have never been better, the people who are meant to benefit are over-worked, stressed and increasingly alone.

These are the crucial issues that Federal Labor frontbencher Lindsay Tanner grapples with in his new book, Crowded Lives, launched this week.

It's an ambitious and courageous work, not because it has a big picture solution, but rather the opposite: it calls for a new view of citizens, that sees them as members of a group, not just a subject or a consumer.

It is based on the notion that the best things in life are not things - but intangibles like friendship, time with families, and community participation.

According to Tanner the first step is for governments to view the impact of their decisions on the relationships between people at all different levels as a threshold. From there good policy must inevitably flow.

If the time has come to construct a new politics that links the state and individuals by focussing on the state's role in building and maintaining relationships, then Tanner's contribution could be an important building block.

Peter Lewis



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