The Economist’s Politics

One of the more discombobulating issues of converting to a neo-con has been buying into the liberal media meme. It’s confusing because there’s no particular reason I can see why individual media biasses shouldn’t pretty much average out; but instead I keep finding publications I’d expect(ed) to be written by, for and about The Man to be slanted the other way instead. Martin pointed out this Economist article on Australia’s politics. Let’s have a look at that.

John Howard’s victory in Australia’s election in November 2001 was a remarkable turnaround for his conservative coalition government. A few months earlier, state election results had suggested a victory for the opposition Labor Party.

State government election results alone still suggest a victory for the Labor party. As it happens people are capable of beyond the party name to both the policies and the people they’re voting for.

But Mr Howard’s tough treatment of asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants launched a comeback.

And that’s a nice line, but it’s not actually right. Howard reached a nadir around the time of the Ryan by-election, and was on the comeback from then on. As the FinReview noted in its 2001 election wrap-up:

ALP strategists claim Labor was about 10 percentage points behind the Coalition at the start of the election, which was overshadowed by the Tampa refugee issue and the United States-led campaign against terrorism.

The next paragraph is a shocker. It begins:

Mr Howard’s policies are doing Australia no good,

None. Whatsoever.

especially as relations with Indonesia (and elsewhere in Asia) have grown fractious in recent years.

Compare with this report from The Age in April this year:

So now we know for sure. Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, really was the chief obstacle to closer relations between Australia and the Association of South-East Asian Nations, […]. Last week, only six months after Dr Mahathir’s retirement, trade ministers from all 10 ASEAN member states, including Malaysia, signed a communique proposing that they “upgrade economic relations” with Australia and New Zealand. The communique is not an invitation to join ASEAN itself, though it may one day lead to such an invitation.

We’ve already negotiated a free trade agreement with Singapore and Thailand, and are investigating agreements with Malaysia and China. We even resumed diplomatic relations with North Korea in 2000.

That’s “growing fractious”?

On the other hand, relations with Indonesia have been strained for a while, over East Timorese independence, through Indonesia’s state of denial over the possibility of local terrorists, and various related issues about the effectiveness of the rule of law in that country. But it seems dishonest to describe those issues as nothing more than “relations growing fractious over recent years” too.

The Bali bombing in October 2002, which killed many Australians, heightened the fear of terrorism.

That would be the one in Indonesia. If you really want to link it to Australian actions; rather than putting the blame on the bombers themselves, or expecting improvement in the Indonesian law enforcement and intelligence officers, then you’re presumably seconding Imam Samudra’s criticism of Australia’s involvement in the UN supported liberation of East Timor:

Samudra told the court the Indonesian Government had forgotten that Australia and the US had taken East Timor from Indonesia.

Or perhaps the implication is that the government should have censored the information about the terrorist atrocity so people weren’t afraid?

Worries about unsustainability surround the buoyant economy.

Err, they do? Even the Labor party’s promising continued budget surpluses; that’s not what you do if you’re expecting a recession, right? Oh, wait a minute — you mean about housing prices and the property boom? You realise there’s more to the economy than just property prices, right?

Domestically, Aboriginal grievances have yet to be assuaged.

Fortunately addressing that’s part of the Liberal’s A Plan for a Stronger Australia (large PDF, no further details):


The Howard Government has concluded that the experiment of separate representation for indigenous people has been a failing and in April this year announced the scrapping of ATSIC.

The focus will now, even more, be on delivering practical outcomes in health, housing, education and job opportunities for indigenous Australians.

Labor agrees:

A Labor Government will abolish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the executive agency Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS).

despite ATSIC being a Labor initiative from the Hawke days:

In Australian politics, every initiative to advance Indigenous Australia has come from Labor.

Perhaps it would be interesting to contrast those comments with this story from last year:

A major indigenous community has lobbied John Howard to stay on indefinitely as Prime Minister, dismissing the left of politics as “clueless” and calling for a new alliance between Aborigines and conservatives.

In a letter written to Mr Howard on the day before he announced his intention to fight the next election, influential Cape York Land Council chairman Richie Ah Mat begged him not to retire.

But hey, there are still unassuaged greviences!

A flawed referendum on republicanism in 1999 produced a result out of step with the wishes of most Australians.

Well, no: the result of the referendum was exactly what the vast majority of Australian’s wanted: it didn’t pass. If the referendum was flawed, that’s a good thing, too. If you really believe that Australian’s want a republic with a popularly elected President, then you need to criticise the Constitutional Convention that recommended something else. Personally, I don’t think a popularly elected President would be a good idea; and that if it went through the process of a referendum that it’d be defeated too. YMMV, but don’t presume to speak for “the wishes of most Australians” when what you’re saying directly contradicts the express wishes of the majority of Australians.

Australia’s next federal election, called for October 9th 2004, will be a tight race between Mr Howard’s ruling coalition and Labor under its newish leader, Mark Latham.

Uh, “newish”? Also, the term is “governing”; “ruling” is what kings, queens and emperors do. (As an aside, tight races are good; it encourages both competitors to give that little bit extra. I can’t see any reason why the public would ever want anything but a tight race.)

The prime minister can point to Australia’s strong economic performance during his watch and will doubtless win votes from his softening of the country’s controversial immigration policy.

Eh? Presumably that’s reviewing this Economist article from July:

So it came as a surprise on July 13th when Amanda Vanstone, the minister for immigration, announced a softening of policy. She said that most temporary visa holders, 9,500 people, would be eligible to stay in Australia permanently.

At best, that’s likely to save a few votes that might otherwise switch to Labor, but the tactic for winning votes seems to still be Strong Border Protection:

New plans to protect our borders include high-tech systems to fight identity fraud, disaster recovery systems to maintain border integrity and more immigration officials at Australia’s airports.

The Howard Government will continue to tackle people smuggling, improve Border Protection, assist genuine refugees and return people who don’t need protection.

(also from the “A Stronger Australia” PDF).

Yet Mr Howard’s staunch support for the Iraq war will do him no favours: members of his own party are among those who attack him for it.

Members of John Kerry’s own party attack him, too. Likewise George Bush, or Tony Blair. It’s what happens when you don’t value party discipline above the public’s right to be informed.

In the whole “backgrounder” the only issue in favour of the Liberal party is the “buoyant economy”, and the link to further information about that is to “worries about unsustainability”. Every other issue listed is negative. How the hell are you meant to understand from an article like that why the election will be a “tight race”? And heck, shouldn’t the Economist of all things focus just a little more on economic issues rather than indiginous issues and referenda from five years ago?


Martin asked, in response to the aforementioned article:

Who is a social and economic liberal supposed to vote for? Not the “Liberals” (more accurately, Conservatives). […]

The Liberal party isn’t purely “conservative” — it’s quite progressive on economic issues, being in favour of dropping tariffs, workplace reform, university fee reform, and so forth. Not as much as I might like, maybe, but until Labor start competing on that front (rather than, eg, financing their tax cuts by retaining tariffs), there’s not much chance of improvement there.

It’s probably fair to say the Liberal party’s quite risk-aversea, and thus conservative in that sense; and perhaps too that they’re best able to overcome that aversion on economic issues. For social issues, that’s a more difficult issue, but I’m not convinced there’s a problem of direction there, so much as one of speed. It seems reasonably easy to argue most of the coalition’s “anti-social” activities (clarifying the absence of gay marriage, disallowing IVF-treatment for unmarried women, resisting the move towards a republic, and so forth) are more about applying the brakes than shifting into reverse.

Anyway, there’s always the Liberal Democratic Party who’re running Tim Quilty and Tom “c8to” Vogelgesang for the Senate (NSW), and Michael Sutcliffe and John Humphreys in the ACT local election.

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