WHEN A GOVERNMENT BEGINS TO DISINTEGRATE…
There is little doubt that the Howard Government had its high point following the 2004 Federal election. For the first time in many years the party that had the numbers in the House of Representatives now also had the power in the Senate. While publicly post election John Howard was very humble about his new found power his subsequent policy program leaves no doubt that he was not only very conscious of the power but has no qualms about exploiting it to the full.
The time of course has not been all smooth sailing. Apart from the usual Liberal backbench muscle flexing which for a long time passed without incident [or effect] there was the entertaining experience of Senator Barnaby Joyce either threatening to, or actually crossing the floor of the Senate to oppose Government legislation, although he never really put the Howard majority at risk. Fortunately for John Howard, Joyce's efforts created a lot of publicity but no real traction on the ground. The full futility of his efforts will become more apparent to rural communities when Telstra is finally sold and the standard of their communications system and the price they pay for what ever they get will be in the hands of overseas interests.
The dissension now facing the Howard Government however is far more insidious than any internal muscle flexing or posturing. The dissension is now coming from the public and given some of the policies that are causing this unrest the great likelihood is that between now and the
forthcoming election it can only increase.
Undoubtedly Howard's biggest present threat is his new industrial relations laws. There is no doubt that industrial relations needed an overhaul and both the public and particularly small local business would have been really grateful for some injection of badly needed commonsense. The combination of Unions, the Courts and a politically correct Government overlay had created a situation so artificial that not even employees guilty of stealing [not pilfering] could be fired. Any normal and justified dismissal could be expected to attract an action for unfair dismissal and usually nothing short of an extortion payment would have to be made to finally effect the dismissal.
What was required of our legislators was a law that exempted small companies, without the benefit of in-house Human Resource expertise, from some of the more outrageous practices that had developed in industrial relations. In attempting to overcome this obvious abuse the Government went overboard and extended the size of eligible companies way beyond what anyone thought was reasonable. With the help of a little constructive reorganisation any company can now avoid almost any industrial relations restraint. And this has to be a conscious intent on the part of the Government as Senator Nick Minchin has so embarrassingly mentioned. His remarks indicated that the Government still has a long way to go and that is a real worry.
The immigration debate, although more divisive is one of those issues that has always caused dissension at the political and lobby group levels. Just where the public stands is a matter of speculation, or perhaps one for pollsters, but it has caused a substantial public breach of discipline for the Howard Government. Immigration is an area where the public definitely has an opinion but it is one that is characteristically kept private. But outcomes do influence and ultimately it will probably turn out to be a loser for the Howard government for probably a quite different reason than the one that is causing the dissension at the political level. Dissension is also rife on the situation in Iraq. Iraq was invaded under the most questionable of circumstances and the argument for our continued presence becomes more flimsy every day. Recently the Government has recommitted our troops to a far more hazardous area within Iraq and we can only hope and pray that it works out well. The obvious alternative was to withdraw with the Japanese but that opportunity was passed up without adequate explanation. Australia is of course a "bit player" in this area of international affairs and so following the Japanese out should not have been difficult.
Another area of concern is creeping centralism. This partly is reflected in the present High Court challenges by the States to the Federal Governments present Industrial relations laws but as the Commonwealth has always had an industrial relations role following the Engineers Case of the 1920's, the Industrial Relations issue stands alone in this regard. Commonwealth intervention in Health, Education and Water are only some of the areas of concern and this concern flows over into the next enormous though probably subliminal concern, which is of course privatisation. Subliminal because both of the major parties are at one mind on this matter with any difference only being on the periphery and so dissent is without any publicity. But it's a big issue that has had its origins back in the days of Hawke and Keating and deserves a little more attention than it is presently getting.
Initially we had a Trade Practices Act that, in short, forbade unfair trade practices, collusion in price setting and market sharing and the formation of monopolies in the interests of "competition". It applied only to the private sector and followed what was internationally accepted legislation. The rot really set in when the "free competition" concept was vested on State instrumentalities that dealt in all manner of things including power, water and the like. It also included a number of Primary Producer Marketing Boards.
At the time the move was promoted as a universally accepted ideological concept and the rhetorical question was asked, "Why shouldn't Governments be forced to compete". This was of course a ruse, as we now know. The real motivation was that most of the areas in which the then State and Federal Governments were operating, that is communications, banking, services such as water and electricity had enormous profit potential, and capital, mainly of the offshore variety, was interested in capturing this profit potential.
Consequently we have our present situation where what was taxpayer assets, are being sold, purportedly to the public, with no present gain to Australians and for the future, without voter input, decidedly uncertain. In fact what is happening is that there is a transfer going on of what was Australian community assets to foreign interests and consequently foreign pricing of the products. When combined with the new Industrial Relations legislation this leaves the working Australian in an unenviable and certainly unprotected position.
This is a problem, which although is enthusiastically promoted by the present Government would be equally promoted by Labor. The reality however is that the present Government will wear the voter backlash which unfortunately will be of precious little benefit to the public.
All these issues are accumulating in the public mind, the concerns are being reflected in representations to local representatives, Letters to the Editors and the like. The pressure is building indicating growing public dissatisfaction.
But can the public expect an improvement given that the Labor policies are broadly the same as the Liberal's. Regrettably the answer is probably no. But it's still a matter for the ballot box and voters should keep this well in mind when their turn comes to have a say. Putting the major parties last on the ballot paper, (in the order of your choice of course) rather than first is now becoming a real option and may be our only hope of redemption for the future.
It really is worth thinking about, particularly when credible Independents are the common sense alternative.
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