A salutary lesson

Reflections prompted by the Battle of the Speaker’s Chair.

By Gary Scarrabelotti

The Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and the Coalition parties can thank their lucky stars that PM Julia Gillard brilliantly out manoeuvred them in the Battle of the Speaker’s Chair.

By tipping Harry Jenkins out of the Speaker’s job on November 24 and slipping into his place “Slippery Pete” Slipper, Julia Gillard did Tony Abbott and the Opposition a great big favour.

She reminded them that the next election is not in the bag; that government will not fall by misadventure into the Coalition’s lap; that the Labor team is far more tactically skilled, and far more cunning and ruthless, than the Opposition; and that the Honourable Members of the Liberal and National parties are all going to have to fight, every inch of the way, to take government from the ALP at the next federal elections … a long two years away.

It will not be by adroit manoeuvring or by main chance that Tony Abbott and the Coalition will defeat the Gillard government. Its policies, and the dangers they pose for Australia, are much too serious to rely upon a parliamentary mishap to deliver us from them.  Too much has been invested by the Coalition in the unfathomable workings of Fortuna and too little in statesmanship.

The problems – unfortunately for Australia – are much wider than the dreadful Gillard triad of policy failures:

  • Loss of border control;
  • The introduction, on the cusp of a new global recession – or worse, of a job-destroying Carbon Tax; and
  • The imposition of a Minerals Resources Rent Tax stitched up in a desperate hurry with the “Big Three” miners and then gutted by secret trades with the Greens and rural Independents.

Today, any political leader ambitious for a decisive mandate from the people needs to do more than bag Labor.  That’s all too easy – and one can still lose, as recent events have demonstrated.  The real challenge is to answer for the voters this vital question:

What is the alternative?

The answer needs to be given only in broad brush strokes but, necessarily, across a very wide canvas covering a great range of strategic issues many of them full of peril for Australia and for its survival as a “stand alone” nation.

In no special order, the following occur to me.

The economy

How would the Coalition propose to lead Australia out of a global economic depression were one triggered by the possible collapse of the euro or even by mere shrinkage of the euro-zone? And let us not mention the possibility of a Chinese real estate implosion on top of everything else.

Absent such a disaster scenario, how aware is the Coalition of the deep-seated pathologies of the Chinese economy and what, if any, plan does the Coalition have to soften Australia’s economic dependence upon China and to diversify Australia’s foreign markets and the range of our exports?

What is the Coalition’s assessment of our once-in-a-lifetime mining boom and whether – and how – should it be harnessed to achieve long-term structural reforms to the Australian economy?

Any political leader ambitious for a decisive mandate from the people needs to do more than bag Labor.  That’s all too easy – and one can still lose, as recent events have demonstrated.

Centralism vs. devolution

Given the signal failures of the Rudd-Gillard essays in bureaucratic centralism –  Rudd’s health funding policy; the pink batts programme; the Building the Education Revolution (aka the useless school halls) project – is the Leader of the Opposition still confident that his own brand of pragmatic centralism, essayed in Battlelines, will succeed where Rudd and Gillard failed?

More to the point, might not the failures of Labor in power suggest that the limits of bureaucratic centralism have been reached and that, perhaps, the time has come to begin devolving federal government activities – for example, in the fields of health and education, to the States (together with appropriate taxing powers) and to the private sector?

Defence & strategic policy

Does the Coalition look upon the American alliance as the insurance policy a military-shy Australia takes out to cover for the fact that we are unwilling to shoulder responsibility for the defence of our own territory and national interests?

If the Afghan War really was justified both by considerations of morality and national interest, should not Australia be embarrassed by the tokenism of its contribution?

Which of our enemies are real and which imagined?

With Al Qaida dismantled and broken in Afghanistan, does the Taliban now amount to anything without Pakistan – and that country nuclear-armed and animated by an increasingly popular, religiously justified, and visceral hatred of the West?

With a 50-year project ahead of it of national development and military forces much inferior to those of the USA in equipment, training, and combat experience, is China – our presently indispensable trading partner – really a threat to Australia because it wants to deploy its modest navy in the South China Sea?

What kind of armed forces does the Coalition envisage for Australia and how, and for what purposes, should they be deployed – or not deployed – as the case may be?

Apropos – I never thought I’d find myself posing this question, but – after President Obama’s recent appearance in Darwin against a backdrop of Australian servicemen, deployed in imitation of American troops thronging about their Chief, are our armed forces raised and paid to preserve, defend and protect Australia and its vital interests or to provide faithful colonial regiments in an American empire?

Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m generally in favour of the American empire. Without it the world would be a hellish place for us. But just what, exactly, is our relationship with America?

A free ally, or what?

The Right Stuff?

And, finally, something addressed to the Coalition parties at both Federal and State levels.

Do these parties and their several leaders have The Right Stuff to the carry to Labor the battle over the Carbon Tax?

How deeply, for example, have the Liberal and National parties pondered the potential constitutional “traps” that the Gillard government has set for itself in its Carbon Tax legislation?

Perhaps Liberal Premiers Baillieu and O’Farrell do not yet fully grasp how the Carbon Tax is going to deliver the coup de grace to the remnant manufacturing industries of Victoria and NSW.  Do they not realize that they could end up, with terrible suddenness, on the political scrap heap as manufacturing jobs leave Melbourne and Sydney for foreign shores?

And, in the case of NSW, perhaps it has not yet been fully appreciated that the Carbon Tax is going to slash the value of electricity generating assets that the O’Farrell government proposes to privatise.

Perhaps my political antennae have gone all fuzzy, but I keep getting signals that some Liberal supporters of the unwiser kind actually want Labor to succeed in making the Carbon Tax a permanent feature of the Australian life.

As implausible as such speculations might seem, we are left with the ineluctable fact that the capricious goddess Fortuna has turned her wheel and taken away from Abbott all hope of easily rubbing out the Carbon Tax with an early election.

Musty tomes on constitutional law have much less allure than the glorious lines of Lady Luck.  But the boring old law books yield suggestions on strategy and tactics much more amenable to human management.

No one can ever predict High Courts, but one thing is certain – not to fight the Carbon Tax, tooth and nail, is to lose control over Australia’s destiny.  We will decline from first world skill and unrealised potential in manufacturing to a mined-out quarry, as well-known in years to come as the once-famous silver mines of Potosi are known today.

Is this the vision of our political class – the Bolivarian Republic of Australia?

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