Workers Online
Workers Online
Workers Online
  Issue No 42 Official Organ of LaborNet 17 December 1999  





So Many Questions

It was a year in politics that threw up more questions than answers. We look at some of the sticky ones.

Is Bob Carr Too Popular?

The Premier was swept back into power in a landslide; is riding high in the opinion polls with more than 60 per cent approval, yet has never been more unpopular with the labour movement. Some unkind souls have suggested that the only people who are currently opposed to Carr are his natural constituency. A mid-year budget that failed to make any provisions for public sector pay rises has ensured an acrimonious wages round, that has already sparked action amongst fire fighters, police, nurses, parking police, national parks staff and, of course, the teachers. Meanwhile rural workers wonder how Labor and competitive tendering can mix while rail workers are rocked from one confrontation to the next by management trying to impose the will of their hairy-chested Minister, the Brereton-esque Carl Scully.

All of which prompts Workers Online to ask the fundamental question: should a Labor Government dedicated to social justice issues ever be this popular? If more than 60 per cent of the population is comfortable and relaxed with its performance, is Labor really fulfilling its historical brief of standing up for the battlers? More fundamentally, is it healthy to have a government with such a superiority over the Opposition? Then again, Carr only has to look South to realise how quickly the polls can turn.

Is a GST Enough to Kill Howard?

Federal Labor has publicly put all its eggs for the next federal election in the GST. Adopting John Winston Howard's strategy of wrapping oneself into the smallest political ball imaginable and sneering at his opponent; Labor is now banking on the June GST start-up being met with universal fear and loathing. All of which makes smart politics, provided the negative expectations can be met. The risk Beazley's crew are running is that if the sky doesn't fall in, the punters, who expect the worst, will say - well, that wasn't so bad after all! In which case Labor will be left with a very empty election cupboard.

More fundamentally, the tactics raise questions about the nature of modern politics. Can a Party win on a purely negative platform? Particularly when the Opposition admits they won't be able to unscramble the tax egg? And devoid of any broader vision, what sort of Labor Government would we be locked into? A purely reactive one? Or just one lacking a broader mandate for change?

Where are All the New Ideas?

Has the Left finally accepted the Cold War is over? The demise of the Evatt Foundation to a mere shadow of its once influential self, has left a void in the generation of new ideas. Moving to fill in the gap are, in one corner the Third Way-ists like Mark Latham - who is agitating with newspaper columns in two separate newspapers and Peter Botsman who's taken corporate money to set up the Brisbane Institute and bid to put a human face on capitalism. At the other end of the spectrum, net-based activists like J8 and Critical Mass who run a guerilla war against the powers that be. Somewhere in between are a range of new initiatives like Lindsay Tanner's Open Australia discussion room, Strewth and The Chaser magazines and, in all modesty Workers Online.

But while the noise is there, the coherence of the ideas is still wanting. Major questions remain unanswered. Like: How does one oppose the excesses of globalisation without being trapped in a purely reactionary position? Where do questions of equity sit in the new age of information? How can we spread the benefits of change as well as the costs? As national borders collapse, where do our communal responsibilities begin and end? And, most importantly, how can any one thinker master all the complexity of the Age to frame a coherent critique?

Will We Survive the Games?

September will see Sydney playing host to the 2000 Olympics, ending nearly a decade of hype, hope and broken dreams. While the Games have undoubtedly delivered a boost to the state economy, sparked by the Olympic construction program, the two weeks are shaping up as hell on earth for Sydney's residents and any hope of seeing an event has now vanished. As we lurch towards Sydney 2000, the Olympic dream is fast losing its tarnish and if the Gold medals don't come, the whole thing could become a collective downer of millennial proportions.

So if it is a shit sandwich, who will we blame? The Government? The jingoistic marketeers who implore us to Go for Gold? Or our own acquiescence in backing a bid that never looked good on paper? And what about the post-Games depression? If the promised tourism boost doesn't come, who will be the scapegoats? With both sides of politics and all of the media backing the Games from Day One, it may be hard to find the right people to blame.

Latham - Was It Suicide or Murder?

It's one thing to quit the front bench and bag your leader straight after he went within a whisker of winning an un-winnable election. It's one thing to take up a column in the tabloid press to push your idiosyncratic world view. And it's one thing to wed yourself to a breed of feel-good Third Way-ism that is the product of US marketing wizzes.

But to bag Warnie? That's suicide. In an era where politicians are only marginally more popular than peadophiles and sports stars are royalty, Latham's attack on Warne under the veil of Parliamentary privilege smacks of political self-destruction. The big question is: why did he do it? To snipe at Kerry Packer? To fulfil a long-term commitment to Scott Muller - (whose post-dropping spray was of Latham-esque proportions)? Or is it just that he's had enough and wants to go out in a blaze of glorious controversy?

Who Cares Anyway?

As the dark long years of conservative rule in New Zealand has shown, as government loses touch with the people, the people don't fight back, they just lose interest in government. Many people - in a country once renowned for its robust civil society - have simply given up on the political process. A comprehensive survey conducted this year by a team of academics from Massey University found that 39 per cent of New Zealanders favoured a team of experts or board of directors - not a government - making decisions 'according to what they think is best for the country.' Seventeen per cent actually supported the idea of a dictatorship , with 'a strong leader' presiding over the country without having to 'bother with parliament or elections.' Two per cent favoured army rule. Only 75 per cent supported a democratic system.

It's a worrying trend, that the republican referendum tapped into astutely. Don't like politicians? then vote for the status quo. In fact, it's a tactic that plays into the hands of conservatives. To win popular support for change you need to have a trusting and engaged electorate. Alienate them and the one thing you won't get is political change. With the policy of voluntary voting still sitting just below the conservatives' political surface, one of the prerequisites of social justice campaigns is to re-engage the electoral and build faith in the democratic structures.


Just a few questions to ponder over your Christmas roast. Any revelations gratefully received.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 42 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Costa Bravo
Labor Council�s chief trouble maker chronicles the battles of the past year and ponders those still to come.
*  Unions: More Wins Than Losses
Workers Online ranks the Top Ten industrial relations stories from a year of frenetic activity.
*  International: Eric Lee's Year in Review
The editor of Labourstart looks back over his favourite stories of 1999.
*  Politics: So Many Questions
It was a year in politics that threw up more questions than answers. We look at some of the sticky ones.
*  Republic: Referendum With Class
Labor heretic Michael Thomspson analyses the failure of the Republican proposition.
*  Environment: Seattle Kills Greens V Jobs Bogey
The sight of US unionists, environmentalists and human rights activists being attacked by police in Seattle shows how far the progressive movement has come.
*  Deface a Face: Give Him a Hairdo
What better present could Michael Costa offer Workers Online readers than the chance to give him a Deface a Face style make over?
*  Labour Review: What's New at the Information Centre
See the latest issue of Labour Review, our resource for officials, activists and students.
*  Review: Cultural Wasteland
Workers Online resident door-bitches Zanga and Paul pass judgement on the year that finished the millennium.

»  What Price Aussie Jobs as Olympics Loom
»  TWU Activist Named Organiser of the Year
»  Unions Lock in New Years Eve Deals
»  'Scrooge' Destroys Staff Christmas
»  Rule Changes to Restructure Council
»  The Great Salary Rip-Off
»  George to Kick Start NSW IR Reforms?
»  Shaw Loses Key Advisers
»  More New Faces at the New ACTU
»  Reith Second Wave Not Beached Yet
»  Peace in the Gong
»  Workers Support Register Gathers Steam
»  Pay Equity Enters Campaign Mode
»  Union Aid Agency to Establish Dili Office
»  Job Vacancies at the LHMU

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  Aquilina's Insult
»  Well Done 1999
»  US Union Site Worth a Look

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