||Issue No. 332||10 November 2006|
Affairs of State
Interview: Common Ground
Industrial: A Low Act
Unions: The Number of the Least
Politics: The Smoking Gun
Economics: Microcredit, Compulsory Superannuation and Inequality
Environment: Low Voltage
History: The Art of Social Justice
Review: Work’s Unhealthy Appetite
Culture: A Forgotten Poet
Affairs of State
As the Democrats handed the Bush Republicans a walloping in the mid-term polls, our Labor Government in NSW was copping a series of self-inflicted hits, leading some to start writing obituaries five months out from the election.
These types of scandals by their very nature have a political impact. They create a media storm that pushes other agenda issues to the margins and, for the time the tempest blows give the impression it will never stop.
But, the storms do pass and the public judges the leader on his or her capacity to deal with the crisis. After all, that is why we elect leaders, to deal with crises.
In recent years, Australian state politics has been dominated by leaders who made their names dealing with crises - Queensland's Peter Beattie is the master, the worse things get, the more he is the man for the job.
It is a different model of politics, rather than denying a problem, a strong leader takes the negatives, confront them head on as the best person to deal with the problem. Those who saw WA Premier Alan Carpenter's performance this week, will see a bit of the Beatties in his staring down of Brian Burke.
Handled astutely, the focus eventually shifts back to where the public wants it to be - the provision of good government, in particular the maintenance of basic services and the preservation of individual rights.
In NSW this is the ground where the opposition leader is most vulnerable, the double whammy of 29,000 public sector job cuts and endorsement of the Howard Government's WorkChoices agenda has far greater import than the tip pot forensics of a scandal.
And Debnam's extreme agenda is being delivered by a political party drifting further and further to the right, under the influence of a secretive fundamentalist faction that has all the hallmarks of a sect.
The disenfranchisement of all moderate elements of the NSW Liberal Party has its own political dynamic, draining long-term party supporters of enthusiasm to do the hard yards that turn elections.
In contrast, the Labor base is energised like never before, with Rights at Work committees across the state pioneering a new form of activism deeply rooted in the community.
It is interesting to see the parallels with the American elections, where a focussed union base outgunned Rove's Religious Right delivered the Democrats 74 per cent union support - compared to the bear 50 per cent union support the ALP managed to snare at the last federal election.
In the USA and in NSW, the right of centre parties have moved sharply to the Far Right, abandoning their centre - and offering it up to sober, sensible parties of the centre-left.
This dynamic, coupled with an extremist free market agenda and the damage it will do to public services - and not the indiscretions of a few elected officials - will define the March 2007 election.
And that's why it's a little premature to be slashing the wrists yet.
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