||Issue No. 325||22 September 2006|
A Values Call
Interview: Australia’s Most Wanted
Industrial: The Fox and the Contractor
Unions: Industrial Wasteland
International: Two Bob's Worth
Economics: National Interest
Environment: The Real Dinosaur
History: Only In Spain?
Review: Clerk Off
Aussie Values DOA
It’s Not Cricket
Kim’s New Platforms
Reaping What You Sow
Roll Out the Tanks
A Values Call
The Howard Government has clearly decided to wrap up the issues of national security, terrorism and underlying fear of Muslim extremism into a values package it intends to ride all the way to the next election.
Andrew Robb's citizenship play, bringing back the English-language testing of the White Australia Policy era, was to have been the opening salvo in this project to shift attention away from the treatment of Australian workers onto hapless foreigners.
After dividing Australia with his IR laws, the plan was to unite us around our fear of the foreigner, push the limits on redneck policy until Labor resists and then make the point of conflict the battleground of the election.
Howard's mistake was to flag his punches, where Tampa sailed across the horizon and caught Labor by surprise, Robb had flagged his citizenship review months previously.
And for once, Labor was ready and was not prepared to simply vacate the field and let the Howard Government set the terms of the debate. So good on them, for getting out there first.
Our criticism is not in this tactic, but in the strategic direction of our engagement on values.
Labor's push for national identity focussed on foreigners' understanding of some ill-defined Australian values when the real cultural issue at the moment is an internal battle for Australian identity.
Far from being a contest between marginal Islamic values, it is actually a struggle between Australia's collectivist culture and American individualist corporate culture.
Industrial relations is one of the key battle grounds in this subterranean cultural war - the erosion of workers rights in return for the individual freedom that the business lobby tells us we crave.
It is clear that the majority of the Australian population has not signed up to this values shift and as their job security, penalty rates and right to bargain are taken away, the backlash against this agenda will only gain momentum.
But it is not the only element.
Big corporations, whether they have an Australian or a global brand, sending jobs off-shore, is another front in this war. The ongoing search for cheaper labour and the rootless and tenuous workforces it creates is another aspect of the American model of capitalism.
Domestically, this plays out in companies forcing states into a bidding war for jobs; globally it is about sending jobs offshore. In both counts it is un-Australian. As Westpac has felt the heat this week, why wasn't Labor pressing the Prime Minister on where he stood?
The PM is exposed on Aussie jobs being sent off-shore, because he accepts the American model of footloose capital devoid of social responsibility. And that is not an economic argument, it is a values call.
Then there is infrastructure, milking our public efforts for profits rather than investing in public services. Those pesky Three Amigos are not the only thing American about the Howard Government's approach to telecommunications.
And a final element - the threat of global warming - now an accepted scientific fact, the inconvenient truth that Howard and Bush ignore, using the well spun diversions of US think tanks to confuse and obfuscate.
Surely this stubborn refusal to address climate collapse, a greater threat than terror, is another flank in the promotion of an American short-termism in the face of a global crisis.
Again, putting shareholder value against the future of the planet is a uniquely American values' statement.
This is the values debate Labor must prosecute. And it need not be crass Latham-esque anti-Americanism; rather a simple and sustained assertion that Australian values are different.
Take us down this path and a broad cross-section of the society will fall in behind you - working class and middle class, churches and greenies, patriots all.
And all that will be in Howard's corner are the corporates and their CEOs sucking their millions out of the machine.
That's the values debate that we ought to be having.
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