AUSTRALIA’S ELECTION: Why I’ll be voting Liberal on Saturday (and no, it’s not because I usually do)

It’s fair to say that neither of the major parties – Labor and the Coalition (taken collectively this is sometimes a fractious prospect as we have seen demonstrated in recent days) – totally inspire confidence. But that’s democracy. You get a choice, but it is never a clear one between inexhaustible excellence on one hand and cloddish stupidity on the other.

I am by nature a Liberal voter in Australia, since I believe that while we must look after those whose life circumstances make it difficult for them to do so themselves, we should avoid mollycoddling. We should do this because taking away personal initiative breeds sloth and creates a client relationship between citizen and government. Civil society requires the reverse relationship (the religious and secular charities demonstrate this point). In general, the more the government keeps its hands out of people’s pockets the better. Labor, because of its history, its apparatchik practice, and its perception of where political advantage lies, epitomizes the oxymoronic pitch “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

But I am not a bolted-on voter. I’ve swung before, electorally speaking, generally when the non-Labor government in question has been absolutely hopeless, or venal, or simply not up to it. I voted ALP in 1972 (my first Australian election after early opportunities to vote in another of Her Majesty’s realms) not because I thought Gough was God or because of the catchy slogan, but because it really was time. I voted ALP in 1983 because Malcolm Fraser had squandered his historic opportunity and just been a pedantic patrician for seven years. I voted ALP in Queensland in 1989 because the proto-democratic post-Joh Nationals needed to go away and learn how to get quite a different sort of grip on themselves.

And it’s on that last ground, this time, that there is no contest. The demeaning and embarrassing pantomime that the Labor machine has served up since 2007 –  first Kevin 07, who they knifed;  then Julia 2010, who they beheaded; and now the reincarnated Captain Chaos of Kevin 13 – demonstrates in spades just how badly the federal ALP needs a spell in the paddock. It desperately needs to go on retreat to work out what it actually believes in (as a political movement) and what it really can bring to the national narrative. It needs to be sharply reminded that slapstick farce is entertainment on TV or the movies or the stage, not something requiring daily performances in the national auditorium.

It is a fact – though it has been repeated so often that it is danger of dying from aphorism – that far more binds Australians together than keeps them apart. The bulk of the policy platforms of the major parties are unremarkably – and thoroughly sensibly – similar. The real work of the parliament, an institution it has become fashionable to denigrate, is collegiate. And this is across the board, taking the Senate into account where the minor parties actually do have a role to play. This seldom gets an outing in print media, because concord is basically boring. And it is never aired on commercial radio or TV because it’s completely devoid of colour and movement and is thus wholly unsuited to the 10-second grab.

I’ll be voting in my electorate on Saturday – these days that’s in Western Australia not Queensland: something that even after eight years away remains more geographical dislocation than new start allowance – but I’ve observed the campaign from outside Australia. This has given me a distant perspective that, for me, brings the picture into sharper focus.

Australia will not be in deadly peril if Tony Abbott becomes prime minister. Labor bots please note. Ruin does not automatically await us if an electoral miracle occurs and Kevin Rudd hangs on. Coalition partisans please jot that down too. It would be better if Abbott did win, and Rudd did not, for the reasons outlined above and others to follow shortly. It would be better – this is merely a qualitative assessment – because Australia needs a circuit-breaker and some people need to go away and get a life.

Popular politics – this sounds like an oxymoron but actually isn’t – is seen by its practitioners as something demanding sharp contest. It’s meant to be a battle of ideas, after all. But this is difficult to achieve, and even more difficult to manufacture, when most of the ideas presented are sensibly middle of the road. Abbott is no Thatcherite, and Rudd is no Bevanite, to place the matter in a political context familiar to many.  The light has certainly gone out on the hill, but there’s no great divide behind it over which anyone might blunder inadvertently, however much the partisans of either side seek to assert their discovery of such an entity.

Few Australians cavil with the carbon-copy principles (sic) of each side’s policy on asylum seekers who risk their lives to reach their privileged country. The disgusting nature of this bipartisan approach unsettles rather fewer coalition voters than it does latte Labor ones. But unless you’re going off with the fairies and voting Green, there’s nowhere to go. A vote for either Labor or Liberal means poor bastards are still going to drown. And voting Green won’t help them anyway.

No one is going to be seriously disadvantaged if either of the rival national broadband policies proceeds, at whatever pace and cost-blowout is available at the time. Defence and foreign policy are (sensibly) essentially bipartisan. Both cost a lot of money on which the average taxpayer would fail to discern any immediate personal return.

Policy settings on health, aged care, pensions and education are basically the same. Both sides favour cost-concessional health, disability and aged care, each is as bureaucratically mean about pensions as the other, and both understand that “private” education in a religious school system is in a functional sense public schooling.

There are differences of emphasis in employment and workplace relations. The Liberal position is better – with proper safeguards and absent Peter Reith and the other hairy-chests – because it retreats from manipulation of commercial reality.

Each side panders to and seeks to benefit from another aspect of the unpleasantly xenophobic streak in Australian public opinion. This gets an airing in pronouncements about foreign land ownership such as the latest faux-horror about owning the farm expressed by Rudd. Reality check: only miners actually dig anything up and take it away.

Neither side has an industry policy that truly recognizes the reality that subsidy is not the way to conjure up excellence and product marketability but that seed funding for cutting-edge technology, green or otherwise, is.

The killer in this election is delivery. We don’t want any more Pink Batt scandals; we can do without politically motivated grace-and-favour funding for self-serving plaques on school hall walls; we do not want any more fairground-style revolving prime ministers, or tedious Lazarus acts such as we’ve seen with the Labor and Rudd-Gillard-Rudd circuses; we need no more policies presented on a “gotta zip” basis.

We need – bottom line, both literally and figuratively – budget integrity; lean administration; true consensus (and then delivery) of policies to counter environmental challenges (including climate change); concerted proactive action to bring Australia’s first peoples fully into the mainstream of national life and opportunity; and a firm grasp by those who occupy the corridors of power of the fact that Australians will prosper better and faster and on a greater scale if official busybodies leave them alone and let them get on with it.

Labor under Hawke (and, just, Keating) did that well. The Coalition under Howard did it very well. The years since 2007 – whether or not we’re all better off on a range of arcane statistical measures, as Labor-leaning economists keep trying to tell us – have been a hiatus for common sense, applied focus, and sensible outcomes.

Oh and by the way, none of it is the fault of Rupert Murdoch, whatever you may think of him and the appalling crassness of many of his corporate products.

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, March 7, 2012

Dolts Rule

It’s always fun visiting the Odd Zone; it’s the very best of your diarist’s former domiciles, for all sorts of reasons, most of them a cause for wry smiles or irritated grimaces. There’s the traffic, for one thing. It largely obeys the road rules and even stays in lane; what’s more, at traffic lights if there are, say, three lanes of traffic marked, none of the vehicles present attempts to create eight lanes. It’s very confusing for drivers accustomed to Bali’s road system (sic) and driver behaviour.

But the very worst of the Australian experience, for those citizens of the Odd Zone who have exchanged You’re Being Watched resident status for the significantly better benefits of Frequent Visitor, is the bureaucracy in general and the customs and quarantine and airport security you encounter in particular.

On our way back to Bali from Perth the weekend before last, for example, the Diary and Distaff lost some valuable soft cheeses – the finest products of Western Australia no less – on the risible grounds that they were “gels” and thus suspected of being potentially explosive.

We all value airport security and agree that mad shoe bombers and others of incomprehensibly suicidal intent should be detected and diverted from their proposed criminal acts. But a little common sense wouldn’t go astray among those whose daily duties arm them with bureaucratic instructions that an imbecile would instantly recognise as stupid.

If the two Aussie border control heroes who fished around in our cooler bag had exercised common sense when they detected brie and haloumi (we had to insist they dropped it down the disposal chute while we watched – we’re not in the business of providing free gourmet foods to anyone) they’d also have confiscated the prime soft Tasmanian blue with which we were also armed.

But they didn’t.  For that oversight they and their over-prescriptive masters should be shoe-ins for a Dumbo award.

There’s a serious side to this.  Frequent visitors have plenty of other places they can choose to go instead, where you’re much less likely to get cheesed off by doltish buffoons on food patrol.

Bit of a Stumble

It’s not always as much fun as it should be returning to Bali. This time The Diary stepped on a hidden road-level metal guardrail on alighting from the bus from the plane to the terminal and overstretched a hamstring.  Perhaps it is there to deter bus drivers from motoring up the terminal steps. But the embarrassing limp that resulted has not been a Favourite Moment.

In the terminal, we ran into some nattily dressed customs and excise officers who, while presumably present to clamp down on the informal system of paying under the counter for extra alcohol above the one-litre limit attempted to extort even more. Unfortunately for them they had to deal with the Distaff, who was not in the best of moods. We paid, but not on the basis of their aberrant and singularly profitable mathematical concept.


By happenstance, the day after our return from the Odd Zone (Western Division) the Perth online newspaper WA Today ran an article headlined “Where the bloody hell are all the tourists?” Coarse language (along with bad grammar) is only one irritating element of life as it is lived in the continent of kangaroos.

We tweeted that, suggesting that perhaps all the tourists were in Bali. They’re not, of course – for some strange reason Aussies are also travelling elsewhere overseas on cheap holidays – but one of the reasons they’re not packing Western Australia’s many attractions is the cost of doing so. We sympathise with WA’s tourism marketers and agree there are a great many reasons to be a tourist on their patch, among them the beaches and the wineries. And beaches might be a mass market chance, except that most Australians already live within reach of perfectly adequate alternatives to flying 3000 kilometres to sit on one in WA.

Other tourism options are largely for niche markets. It’s a tough business, as Bali itself is finding out.  Pursuing quantum figures in tourism is fine if you’re only looking – in the Australian context and here – for the Yeh ‘n’ Neh crowd and big sales of “I Drink Beer and Have the Belly to Prove It” vests.

The Diary looks forward to regular trips to WA where, in the south-west particularly, there are many establishments offering prime potable products. On our recent visit to home territory we dined and drank at both Voyager (whose Girt by Sea pinot noir is fabulous and not only for its name, which comes from a memorably ridiculous line in the Australian national anthem) and Wise, a personal favourite because it looks over an expanse of generally calm north-facing ocean and has a Provencal air. Voyager affects a Cape Dutch architectural style (quite well) and has lovely roses – and perhaps the biggest flag in Australia apart from the double-decker bus-sized flutterer atop Parliament House in Canberra.

Quality Counts

On the question of looking for quality rather than quantity (and the higher per visitor spend that results) it’s cheering to hear that Bali proposes to shift its focus that way. We’re under siege here, after all, though not solely from foreign tourists: all those chaps who bring their cars with them on holiday from Jakarta and Bandung and Surabaya, and their road manners and driving skills too, are a nuisance.

It’s long overdue, even if we’re pitching for three million foreign tourists to write another record. Bali’s infrastructure – not just the roads and the pathetic power system – is literally cracking under the strain of the tourist load. Provincial second assistant secretary Ketut Wija recently pronounced upon this at a planning meeting on economic development held appropriately enough in Lombok (which should be taking a larger portion of the tourist load, except that Bali keeps putting rocks in the road of that endeavour) when he said: “We no longer will prioritise the quantity of tourist arrivals, but will now place the emphasis on quality of those visitors.”

Wija said Bali – an island of only 5632 square kilometres, 0.2 percent of Indonesian national territory – has between five and six million visitors annually. It is also a magnet for Indonesians from other islands seeking work, with about 400,000 arriving to settle each year.

Skippy’s a Winner

The Diary’s side trip on the Australian tour – mentioned in the Diary last issue – was by Qantas flying Perth-Canberra-Perth.  We’re now a mere bronze QFlyer (the halcyon days of pointy-end platinum status are long gone) but a happy confluence of an accommodating friend at head office and unoccupied seats in business class resulted in upgrades both ways. It was delightful to have space to stretch the legs, food to match the ambiance and actual metal cutlery to eat it with, and an unobstructed view out of the window.

Both flights were into the gloaming and then the night, affording the Diary an opportunity also long forgone to feast the eyes on the amazing light-hues off to the south in the stratospheric distance and to imagine all that ice-waste far away beyond the Southern Ocean. It stirs the Muse, that sort of thing.

Another stirring element of the flight was a dangerous confection, the work not of the Devil but of Maggie Beer, who may be one of his culinary agents but is certainly an Australian icon. Her burnt fig and honey ice cream is to die for, though one naturally hopes not immediately.

The Purser on the flight agreed, when we beckoned him over and said: “Maggie Beer is a bad, bad woman.” A big smile lit up his face and he replied: “Oh I know, I know. But I’m lucky. I live only 30 minutes up the road from her shop.”

It’s a Riot

It is the lot of the unlucky diarist to be elsewhere when something happens. We had to watch the unfolding drama of the Kerobokan prison riot through the imperfect prism of Australian television.  Matt Brown was measured – and by far the best – on ABC. The commercial stations were their usual breathlessly uniformed selves.  And that’s such a shame because most Australians get what passes for their news from tabloid TV.

The Kerobokan insurrection was hardly unexpected. It beggars belief that the custodial authorities are not provided with sufficient funds to properly house all those that their companions in crime, the police and the judicial system, insist on jailing.

A solution is more prison space so that at least the basics of human existence can be practised in clink. There are some useful human rights rules the government could read up on, in that regard, too.

Oh All Right Then

Last issue’s guarded reference to Titian and ladders – it was in the context of the Renaissance exhibition at the Australian National Gallery – brought a rash of requests to expand upon it. So OK, we were wrong to attempt to be decorous. Here’s the limerick in question:

While Titian was mixing Rose Madder

His model reclined on a ladder.

The position to Titian

Suggested coition,

So he ran up the ladder an’ ‘ad ‘er.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser’s print edition, out every second Wednesday, and on the newspaper’s website Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and on Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

The Carr That Skittled Kevin

Appointing Bob Carr as foreign minister-designate – ahead of the New South Wales parliament formally electing him to the vacancy caused by the unexpected departure of no longer faceless man Mark Arbib – may be just what Prime Minister Julia Gillard needed as a circuit-breaker.

     There are certainly signs the Liberal opposition thinks so (along with such parts of the National Party as are able to think further than the brims of their hats); its confected incandescence over the Rudd non-coup and Labor brawling show that very clearly.

     Two things emerge immediately from the Carr appointment. The first is that Gillard has finally (albeit messily as usual) stamped her authority as leader on something of moment. Many commentators have already noted this. The second is that Carr neutralises – though neuters may be the better term – Rudd as an alternative foreign affairs voice, again something that other commentators have noted. Both these outcomes are beneficial for Gillard and Labor. It remains to be seen whether benefit then flows on to governance or indeed to Australia’s foreign representation.

      It is in the chaotic workings of the law of unintended consequences, however, that longer-term questions arise over the events of the past week. Tony Abbott’s charge for The Lodge 2013 has not yet been officially dented – we’ll have to see several sequential opinion polls for any real assessment there – but there’s no denying that a working Labor government would claw things back to a very contestable margin at the next election.

      Gillard’s image is tarnished. The manner of her 2010 coup against Rudd, his devious behaviour and disloyalty since, and the marginal outcome of the 2011 election, would have taken the shine off any prime minister. The fact that until now Gillard has looked like a leader only by power-dressing – overcooked events at the Lobby restaurant in Canberra on Australia Day aside – hasn’t helped.

      Rudd has now been very effectively sidelined. Well, no: actually he sidelined himself, the victim of his own unbridled hubris and self-image. He won’t be back in the medium term, if ever. The drubbing he got last week speaks volumes. If there’s a future challenger this term, it’s unlikely to be him. He may remain the member for Griffith. But as that old scoundrel Graham Richardson said during the week on Sky TV – who cares what Rudd thinks; and he might usefully have added, or does.

      If Gillard does get her act together the focus will rightly turn onto Abbott and his credentials as alternative Australian prime minister. Other than for agenda-setters on The Australian newspaper and some of the tabloid TV channels, this is where it should be.

     It is not true to say – as Labor trolls in the all-pervasive social media continuously assert – that Abbott is unfit to govern. He does have policies (some of them are execrable but that’s another issue, especially for traditional small-l Liberals) and he does have a working team. It would be folly to assume an incoming Liberal-National government would be train-wreckers in disguise. That’s just what people on opposite sides in politics say about each other.

      Labor hasn’t been a wrecker in office since 2007 (well Rudd was, but he is now his own problem) and no one able to see out of the political prism would suggest it has. It hasn’t been very good at governing, but – again – that was a situation wrought upon Labor by the 2010 election. Bob Brown’s a pleasant fellow, but he’s never easy to work with and he has his own politics to consider – continuing to grow the Green vote. The independents are relevant only on the numbers in the present parliament. A fresh election, in all the new circumstances, might well sort them out.

      Abbott articulates an argument that is specifically designed for opposition. He does it very well, although he’s had a lot of stumble-footed help from the government to push along his argument that Labor’s a dog. That’s essentially his job, until an election comes along and he has to say what he’ll do instead of just what the other side should do.  It’s worked for him as leader, in the opinion polls. But effectively they don’t count, other than as material likely to cause euphoria on one side and indigestion on the other. The reality is that on Election Day – in the only poll that really counts – the margins are likely to be far tighter than public opinion sampling has previously indicated. Abbott knows this as well as anyone.

      And that’s his real dilemma. If Gillard’s a dud – his continual assertion – and remains so, Labor will ultimately fix its own problem. It won’t do so by drafting Rudd:  he’s killed his own chances. If on the other hand Gillard does now actually get it – if she can lead without internal distractions and with the real support of all her colleagues – and public opinion (as gauged) begins to swing Labor’s way, Abbott’s in trouble.

      He’s a combative character (he’s an engaging one too, in private) with views that he articulates well but which are not necessarily those of a swinging voter, or even of many small-l Liberals. It’s not just that his frequent macho war-cry is tedious to most people, or that he and his immigration spokesman Scott Morrison shamelessly beat the jingoistic drum on illegal boat arrivals.

    His problem seems to be that from time to time he’s confused as to whether he’s leading Opus Dei or the Australian opposition.

    It’s possible to be an abortion sceptic, if you remember to couch that scepticism in line with the fact that half the people you want to vote for you are women whose views on pregnancy termination are rather more important than those of men. And that they are largely the opposite of yours.

     It is permissible to be out of step with the global scientific community on global warming, but it’s not wise to then let the view grow, among those whose urban votes you wish to attract, that therefore no one need worry overmuch about cleaning up the atmosphere.

     It is conceivable that many Australians support the philosophic concept of cutting back on welfare. But that, in the smugly self-indulged society that is today’s Australia, would be a very brave call indeed.

     It is possible to believe that wages – real or relative – should be cut to fuel productivity improvements, but that may be rather more of a Luddite position than most 21st century Australian voters accept is feasible or proper.

     Abbott is unchallenged. But he is not unchallengeable, especially if the polls start flowing Labor’s way. That may be the ultimate result if Gillard now gets down to the real work.


28 February 2012
Australia supports Indonesia’s territorial integrity
Australia is fully committed to Indonesia’s territorial integrity and national unity, including its sovereignty over the Papua provinces. This is a fundamental obligation of the Lombok Treaty between Australia and Indonesia.
The meeting being held by the International Parliamentarians for West Papua on Tuesday in Canberra does not represent the views of the Australian Government.
In Australia’s system of government, foreign policy is determined by the Government. And in relation to Indonesia, the Lombok Treaty has the support of the largest parties in the Australian parliament.
Australia and Indonesia are strategic partners and our relations today are healthy and strong. As Indonesia continues its remarkable transformation, Australia is working to contribute towards the nation’s progress.
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