Friday, 23 November 2007
On an early summer's morning in northern Tasmania, the Tamar valley looks like an Australian slice of Tuscany. There are groves of walnut trees beside white-barked eucalyptus, a lavender farm, apricot orchards and small fields of olives. Vineyards run down to the river and fat black cattle graze the pasture. Yachts are anchored in the winding reaches of the tidal river. The Tamar seems a model of sustainable development - green and welcoming.
Except that the Australian government has just approved the building of one of the world's largest pulp mills in the middle of this scene. A 200-hectare (500-acre) polluting giant by the side of the Tamar river, the factory would accelerate - some say double - the already rapid pace of logging in the mountainous and verdant island state. Turned into woodchip and then exported as chlorine-bleached pulp, much of what remains of Tasmania's native forests may end up as cheap paper for the hungry markets of Asia.
This is not the first time that the island has found itself caught up in environmental conflict. The logging industry has long been a source of controversy as well as local jobs. The successful 1970s campaign to stop a dam being built on the wild Franklin river led to the birth of the world's first Green party. The Bell Bay pulp mill is now part of a much wider public debate over Australia's environmental future that is now shaping the country's politics.
Australia goes to the polls tomorrow in what is arguably a milestone in 21st-century history: the world's first climate-change election. It comes after a five-year drought that has seen some of the country's greatest rivers dry up and crops fail. A land that has grown rich over two centuries on the back of what seemed like unlimited space and resources - and which is booming through the shipping of coal and iron ore to fuel the furnace of China's economy - is confronting a far less comfortable reality of water shortages, failing crops and environmental collapse. But the logic of the new debate is emerging faster than the old politics can catch up. As the 21st-century wind changes, political faces are caught in 20th-century grimaces. There is a disconnect between national arguments and Saturday's election choices.
The story begins with Australia's conservative prime minister, the Liberal leader John Howard, the man who the polls say will be defeated tomorrow night - though Australians know there is a chance that the great survivor could pull off one last victory. His downfall, if it comes, will be symbolic for reasons that run well beyond climate change. An icon of global conservatism, he is the last of the Iraq warriors to seek re-election, after Tony Blair and George Bush. He stood alongside the United States in refusing to sign the 1997 Kyoto agreement. Howard poured scorn on the existence of climate change, though he has now been forced to change his mind. Australians can see for themselves that he was wrong.
"Salt is coming up out of the ground, trees are dying," says Geoffrey Cousins, a well-known Sydney businessman and former adviser to Howard who has now turned his efforts to stopping the pulp mill. "It is quite clear to anyone living in Sydney that rainfall patterns have changed, the pattern of storms is different. There has been a big shift in thinking and the mill became a concrete, readily understandable example of all of this, something we could actually do something about."
Facing Howard is the man who expects to become Australia's prime minister tomorrow night, the Labor party's leader, Kevin Rudd. A clever, bespectacled former bureaucrat from the tropical state of Queensland, he recently used his fluent Mandarin to chat to the Chinese premier Hu Jintao in front of the anglophile Howard - a humiliation that symbolised the way national priorities are shifting to Asia.
Yet Rudd has fought a highly restricted, personalised campaign, aping Howard more than opposing him on most issues. Friends - including Britain's former cabinet minister Alan Milburn - have turned Rudd into a brand: Kevin07. It is very reminiscent of New Labour. Rudd has fought on a handful of issues targeted at working families in suburban seats, especially the changes to employment law that were pushed through by Howard. Such caution has disappointed some supporters. Controversially, Rudd has also backed the construction of the Tasmanian mill - shaken by a Labor defeat in 2004, when the party promised to save the island's native forests in the last week of the campaign, only to be savaged on polling day.
But Rudd has been much bolder on climate change, making it a defining point of difference. He has promised to sign the Kyoto protocol as his first act of government - and the fact that the decade-old agreement is still a live issue in Australia is a sign of how far debate is behind Europe. For a car-addicted nation that was last week named as the world's biggest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gasses - Australians produce 27% more tonnes of carbon dioxide per head than Americans - it would be a significant moment.
"There is no doubt that over the past few years the impact of the drought has been to make voters personally experience what they see as a changing climate," says Lynton Crosby, the pollster and campaign strategist who helped Howard to win four elections in a row and directed the Conservative party campaign in Britain in 2005. "For the first time in 25 years in this country, the environment is an important voting issue." Crosby is no new-generation eco-rebel. That he can see the way the wind is blowing speaks volumes.
By the banks of the Tamar river in Tasmania, winegrower Peter Whish-Wilson has built up the Three Wishes vineyard and is also in no doubt that the climate is changing in politics as well as the skies. "We have had storms come through that we have never seen before," he says. "In the last five years we have broken every single temperature record - highest temperature, lowest, highest rain. Climate change is tangible; we can see it in the country. Farmers are coping with the worst droughts on record.
"The country is learning the hard way. It has always been seen as the lucky country, with a lot of land and resources, but you can't live in a lot of Australia now."
For him, the pulp mill is part of the choice facing Australia: between exploiting its natural resources or managing them. On the road that runs past his farm, huge logging trucks already pass every few minutes, loaded with wood cut from the hills. The scene confronting visitors to the forests is almost apocalyptic. Trees are bulldozed or blown apart with explosives and the ground cleared by fires, started by napalm dropped from helicopters. Any native wildlife that survives is culled by sodium fluoroacetate poison, allowing regimented new saplings to grow - monoculture on an industrial scale.
This, and the sense that the island is in thrall to the power of the giant timber business Gunns, is one reason Howard's Liberal party fears it will lose two key marginal seats in Tasmania tomorrow, on the back of Green party votes redistributed to Labor under Australia's preferential system.
Gunns, the company that wants to build the plant, argues that it will be "the world's greenest pulp mill". Opponents dispute that: they say that its chlorine processes are outdated and will pump dioxins into the fishing grounds of the Bass Strait. They also question the economics: the A$1.7bn (£720m) plant will require state funding and huge bank loans.
The logging company argues that "opponents of the development have resorted to misinformation, scaremongering and false claims". It has not been shy of taking on Tasmania's green movement, and in 2004 launched a multimillion-dollar claim for damages against a group of environmentalists. It is true that, as Gunns say, part of the Tamar valley is already industrialised. There is a metals plant at one end, and a woodchip mill, which will feed the pulp plant. But the planned site is untouched. "If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. People have got to come to grips with the fact there has got to be a balance," says Whish-Wilson.
The journey from Tasmania to Sydney's eastern suburbs involves a dramatic switch of cultures. In the richest part of the country's largest city, Saabs and Range Rovers crowd narrow streets of Victorian terraced houses and huge glass and stone millionaires' palaces tumble down to the harbourside. There are boutiques and designer coffee bars, the haunt of Australia's pinot grigio classes, as well as Bondi beach and Australia's biggest gay community.
This is the Wentworth constituency of Malcolm Turnbull, the millionaire lawyer who took on the British establishment in the Spycatcher trial and went on to campaign, unsuccessfully, for a republic in a referendum opposed by most Liberals. By saving the monarchy, he said, Howard was "the prime minister who broke Australia's heart". At least until tomorrow, Turnbull is also the environment minister and one of the most striking players in Australian politics - a man of ability and undisguised ambition.
He could hope to replace Howard as Liberal party leader. Instead, Turnbull's political career may be cut short. As environment minister, Turnbull himself led the way in announcing a ban on the sale of tungsten light bulbs, a world first. But his seat ... solidly conservative for more than a century - is at risk after a backlash from voters who oppose the Tasmanian pulp mill. Lampposts across the constituency sport Green party slogans. The Greens expect a record vote in this election, but their vote is not concentrated enough to win seats in parliament. The irony is that if Turnbull is defeated, Labor, which also supports the mill, will win.
The scale of Green activism in Wentworth is one sign of a changing country. Another is the background of the man picked by Labor to fight the Sydney seat that sits next to Turnbull's. Elected as a Labor MP in 2004, and now - like Turnbull - his party's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett is the closest Australia gets to Bono. As the lead singer of Midnight Oil, a rock group that formed the soundtrack to rebellion for a generation of Australians, Garrett used his music to campaign for Aboriginal rights and environmental change.
Now he is accused of being a sell-out in a suit, kept out of the limelight during the election campaign by a party worried that he might frighten voters. In the ferocious TV attack ads allowed by Australian electoral law, he has been repeatedly described by the Howard campaign as one of Labor's "fanatics, extremists and learners" - after a supposed slip when he admitted that Labor's green policies appeared cautious but that "once we get in, we'll just change it all".
Garrett and Turnbull might deny it, but the two Sydney MPs have much in common. Both want to push further on the environment than their parties allow. Both probably privately wish the Tasmanian pulp mill plan would disappear. And both are tall poppies in a political culture that punishes individuality.
Westminster is a model of freethinking compared with Australia's House of Representatives and elected Senate. Rebellion against the party whip is not just frowned upon but banned: any MP who tries it risks expulsion. The result is a form of processed politics that encourages caution and blandness. David Cameron's attempt to modernise the Tories produces puzzled looks from Australian Liberals, still a party of white men sweating slightly in heavy suits and loud striped ties.
Howard himself will soon leave office whether he wins or loses - and he may lose in the most dramatic form possible, since his marginal Sydney seat of Bennelong will swing to Labor if the polls are right. Even if he survives, he faces a fate familiar to Tony Blair. Having long fended off the prime ministerial ambitions of his treasurer Peter Costello, he has been forced by a cabinet revolt to promise to stand down after the election. But Costello is an unconvincing performer with the droopy looks of a fall guy in a New York cop show and a political agenda almost as antique as Howard's.
According to Crosby, "the government is campaigning on the risk associated with change to an inexperienced team". It is a tactic Gordon Brown will surely use in Britain next time - and it might work. But it has allowed the Rudd campaign to set the terms of the debate. The Howard government has proposed an aggressive plan to intervene in Aboriginal affairs. Though it was much-discussed before the campaign, Labor has not challenged its fundamentals. Nor has Australia's presence in Iraq, or the future of the monarchy, caught national attention.
Politicians blame Australia's media culture for the decline in debate, but the fault lies with parties too. They have reduced campaigning to the mechanistic manipulation of numbers - seeking to catch the attention of the sort of disengaged and easily scared wavering voters who do not turn out in Britain but must do so by law in Australia or risk a $20 fine. That leads to turnout of more than 90%, but also crude tactics such as Howard's scare stories over asylum seekers in past elections, and a Liberal leaflet discovered this week that claimed to be from a Muslim group backing suicide bombers and thanking Labor from its support. Howard distanced himself from it quickly.
Labor has also indulged in attention-grabbing: Rudd exposed himself to an interview in which he was asked whether he would win a bar fight against Howard, and who he "might turn gay for". "My wife," he replied - which led the host to ask, not unreasonably, if she was therefore a man.
That demeaning of debate is common to many modern democracies: caught on camera seemingly eating his own earwax, Rudd faced mockery. The British tabloids would surely do the same to Cameron or Brown. Underneath all this there is a serious election trying to escape: it's about a society that is more prosperous than ever, but uncomfortable about the effect of prosperity on the way people live and on the planet's ecosystem.
"The Howard government has degenerated and is purely obsessed with its own re-election," says Lindsay Tanner, the Labor MP for inner-city Melbourne, a seat where the Green party is also strong. He is hopeful that the necessary superficialities of a campaign will not prevent the election of a government that can respond to environmental and social change. "We have been disciplined and focused and kept political attention on critical issues, with climate change and Workchoices employment legislation as the most obvious priorities," he says.
Back in Tasmania, Gunns claim that its timber industry will be part of this sustainable future. If elected, Labor will have to decide if it agrees. It will not have much time to think. Logging of new sections of native forest is set to start on Monday. Work on the pulp mill will begin within weeks.
News and politics
I tried this out and the results were very interesting, it asks you a series of questions (took about 3 mins to complete) and then based on your answers, your electorate and the candidate profiles, it ranks in order of preference who you should vote for. It was very accurate ranking extremely close to how I will order my preferences tomorrow.
48 Hour till election tool kit
ABC Election Coverage
News and politics
When Al Gore stood against George Bush for the US presidency in 2000, the reaction of much of America's political commentariat was a giant collective yawn.
It was a choice between "Tweedledee and Tweedledum", Americans were often told. The smart position to assume was a studied boredom, the sophisticated expression a dismissive sneer.
Of course, the history of the US, indeed the modern history of the world, turned on the choice. Washington's reaction to Islamist terrorists and global warming, for instance, would probably have been quite different under a Gore administration.
When history knocks, it matters a great deal who answers the door.
But many in the US, and particularly on the progressive side of politics, could not see it in 2000.
The activist Michael Moore said: "You wanna tell me there's a choice here between two guys who both support NAFTA, WTO, the death penalty, the Cuban embargo, increased Pentagon spending, sleazy HMOs (health management organisations), 250 million guns in our homes, the rich getting richer and the rest of us declaring bankruptcy?"
It was common to see the candidates' names spoonerised to illustrate the interchangeability of the men so that Bush and Gore became "Gush and Bore".
The Greens candidate for the presidency, Ralph Nader, derided them as "Tweedledee and Tweedledum - they look and act the same, so it doesn't matter which you get". And it was Andy Kohut, a veteran pollster and president of the Pew Research Centre, who dubbed the 2000 contest "the Seinfeld election" - it was about nothing.
The American people got the message. Only 55 per cent turned out to vote. Nader, posing as the only real alternative, won 2.7 per cent of the vote. Neither Tweedledee nor Tweedledum but just dumb, Nader's share was not enough to get himself elected but enough of the progressive vote to cost Gore the presidency. Bush won by the hair's breadth margin of fewer than 500 votes. The rest is history.
Now, in the Australian 2007 federal campaign, we are living through what is daily and fashionably derided as the "me-too" election. The splenetic ghost of the 2004 election and confessed "hater", Mark Latham, emerged from self-imposed exile to recycle the line that Kohut had used in 2000 - it's "a Seinfeld election, a show about nothing".
"No matter which party wins, Australia will still have a conservative economic policy and a decentralised, productivity-based industrial relations system," Latham wrote in The Australian Financial Review.
"No matter which party wins, Australia will still have a conservative foreign policy dominated by the US and its mismanagement of the so-called 'war on terror'.
"No matter which party wins, Australia will still have conservative social policies: overfunded elite private schools, huge subsidies for private health insurance and bucket loads of middle-class welfare."
Certainly, there is a great deal of convergence. This is a natural condition in a successful, stable developed country. And Australia, proportionally, is one of the most middle-class countries, so it's no surprise that both major political parties should compete for the middle ground.
Kevin Rudd's greatest compliment to John Howard is that he is seeking to continue perhaps 90 per cent of Howard Government policies.
And despite Latham's personal preferences, the fading of socialism is increasingly the norm in a post-socialist world. It was a little-remarked milestone, but in the course of this campaign Exxon Mobil was eclipsed as the biggest corporation on earth when China's principal oil company, PetroChina, listed on the Shanghai stockmarket.
Its majority owner is the People's Republic of China, presided over by the Chinese Communist Party. The world's biggest stockmarket-listed corporation is proudly controlled by communists. Truly, ideology has not counted for so little at any time since the Bolsheviks rose up in 1917.
In a frivolous yet telling exchange in the House of Representatives in May, Howard and Rudd competed over the ideological symbolism of their neckwear.
While a minister held forth from the dispatch box, the leaders bantered so quietly it could not be heard in the press gallery above, but one of them told me it went something like this.
"That's a very red tie you're wearing today, John," Rudd observed. "Not as red as your socialist-red tie," Howard replied.
"Ah, but I have a conservative blue stripe across mine," the Labor leader rejoined, indicating a sapphire slash.
Yet to concentrate on the similarities of the two main parties is to overlook the differences, and to be guilty of the same blurred vision that afflicted so many in the US seven years ago.
Don't believe what either party tells you about the implications of choosing the other. Both scare campaigns are silly caricatures.
Would a Rudd government really be run by unions and "stuff the country"? It would be likely to be harassed by unions - the secretary of Unions NSW, John Robertson, has said repeatedly that he reserves the right to "pull on" a fight with a federal Labor government.
But it would not be controlled by unions. Rudd is a pro-enterprise conservative. He has never been a union official, but he has run his own small business, a China consultancy. Even Peter Costello has concurred that there is a conservative cut to Rudd's policy cloth.
As the Treasurer told the Herald last month, Rudd's policy mimicry was so great that "the more I hear from Kevin Rudd the more I wonder whether even Kevin Rudd wants a change of government".
Rudd may work side-by-side with former union officials, but who does he go home to? Therese Rein is a multimillionaire entrepreneur, one of Australia's most successful businesswomen.
As Rudd told the Herald this week: "Corporate realities are certainly not foreign to the Rudd household."
And would a re-elected Howard-Costello government really "take Work Choices even further"? It may secretly fantasise about a more laissez faire labour market, but if it survives its disastrous experiment with Work Choices it is simply implausible that the same people, bloodied and tattered, would be so stupid as to risk another near-death experience with a much-reduced majority. And how would it get its aggressive new proposal through the new Senate? No, Labor's scare campaign, like the Coalition's, is just not credible.
So what are the real differences? It is untrue that the parties are barely distinguishable.
Rudd is offering Australians a low-risk alternative government that essentially offers the status quo minus the least palatable bits - Work Choices, the war in Iraq and the person of Howard himself.
But Rudd Labor is offering some policy extras. These are an "education revolution", the promise of an action plan for dealing with global warming, a plan for a federal takeover of public hospitals, proposals for new tax rebates for education, and a national broadband plan.
The Coalition has responded to each of these - "me too" - with a policy variation of its own. None is a carbon copy, yet they seek to fill the same policy space.
So when Rudd started to talk about an "education revolution", the Government in the May budget suddenly discovered the urgent new priority of university funding with its $6 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund, something it had ignored for a decade.
Both parties have partial responses to the problem of global warming. Rudd promises to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Howard promises to set up a carbon emissions permit trading system by 2012 but has not yet committed to a target to cut emissions. Both have announced mandatory targets for the production of electricity from renewable energy - Howard's is 15 per cent and Rudd's is 20.
And the parties have widely divergent policies to change the system of responsibility for public hospitals, now state government functions.
Howard would give responsibility for each of the nation's 750 public hospitals to boards of local citizens. Rudd would pay $2.5 billion in incentives to the states to improve hospital performance and, if the states failed, to then launch a full federal takeover.
Both parties offer national systems of internet broadband, with some variations but with Labor planning coverage for 98 per cent of the population and the Coalition for 99 per cent.
And on tax rebates for education, Rudd offers $2.4 billion over four years in rebates on school items including books and computers and internet connections, but only for families eligible to receive Family Payment Part A, that is, families earning up to about $100,000.
Howard is offering the same idea but with two key differences - no means test would apply, so it would cost $6.3 billion over four years. And it would apply to a wider range of items, including school fees.
So Howard describes his education tax rebate as part of his vision for an "opportunity society", while Rudd speaks of a "wired society".
Rudd's me-tooism is his way of refusing to respond to Howard's agenda. It is his way of writing "return to sender" on Howard's invitations to an argument. A senior figure in the Rudd team put it this way: "Most of the time the motivation of the me-tooism is to avoid a change of subject."
Howard's me-tooism is his way of competing with Rudd's new ideas, filling in some of the "blind spots" in the Coalition's own policy offerings.
And there is one other important difference - the cost of delivering their rival plans. The Herald's election spendometer puts the cost of the Coalition's promises at about $5 billion more than Labor's.
They do converge on a great deal - in the words of the online satirist Hugh Atkin, Rudd proceeds according to the "clever principle of similar difference".
But in the areas of difference, in the space between the parties' offerings, there is enough to define two distinct Australias of the future.
News and politics
In an interview with the Herald, Mr Rudd promised to make fighting inflation central to a Labor government's economic policy, describing rising prices as a cancer for ordinary families and the economy as a whole.
He said Labor would require all federal public sector wage deals with unions to match pay rises to productivity, and he would expect state governments to adopt the same approach.
As the latest opinion polls put Labor in a strong election-winning position, Mr Rudd took a combative tone on questions about how he would deal with pressure from Labor's Left or the unions to change direction if the party won government. He indicated he would not hesitate to discipline dissenters.
"If I am elected I will govern in the national interest and not in any sectional interest," he said.
"If that means we are going to have significant disagreements with individual trade unions in the future I couldn't care less. That's what will happen.
"In the last six months or so we have had periodic disagreements which resulted in the expulsion of a number of people from the party. If that were needed in the future I would do the same."
Mr Rudd is more conservative on social and economic issues than many within the party and the union movement, and does not have a strong base in his own party's machine.
But his comments indicate he would seek to use his leadership authority if Labor wins to resist pressure to shift his policy agenda further towards the left once in government.
Mr Rudd said the Senate should respect Labor's mandate on industrial relations. He would not say whether he would call a double dissolution election if the Senate modified Labor's industrial relations legislation.
"I think our mandate would be absolutely clear-cut. There has been no area of policy more debated and more canvassed than Labor's industrial relations policy over the last six months or more," he said.
Asked about the economic outlook for an incoming government, Mr Rudd said Treasury's latest forecasts did not forecast a US slowdown dragging down Australia's growth rate.
"It is very important to keep a weather eye on emerging international and national economic circumstances and adjust fiscal policy accordingly, but there is nothing in the current prognosis that would lead us to that conclusion," he said. Labor's first priority would be to bring down inflation and contain it below 3 per cent.
"I am determined through fiscal policy, skills policy, industrial relations policy, infrastructure policy to do everything possible to keep downward pressure on inflation, which I regard as a cancer on the economy and a cancer on working families.
"It is a core organising principle for our approach to economic management.
"It has taken a long, long time, since the early 1990s, to have inflation contained within the [2 to 3 per cent] band. We must exert every element of policy necessary to keep inflation at those levels."
He ruled out any Accord-style understandings to curb wages growth.
'Meat axe' to public service
KEVIN RUDD will take "a meat axe" to the bloated public service and end what he calls the Government's culture of secrecy and ministerial unaccountability.
In his final major address before the election on Saturday, Mr Rudd promised to hold cabinet meetings once a month in rural or regional areas, and have a press conference after every cabinet meeting.
He said the Coalition was so out of touch it now treated working people as "economic commodities". While confidently outlining a time frame for implementing his promises, Mr Rudd said John Howard was arrogant and absurd to seek re-election because he planned to retire and would be unaccountable.
"What's the point of re-electing him?" he said. "I will be here for the long haul. I will be accountable to the Australian people for the commitments I have made to them at this election."
"If the Liberals are successful on Saturday, Peter Costello will be handed the prime ministership without ever facing the Australian people."
As Mr Rudd addressed the National Press Club, Mr Howard issued another plea to undecided and wavering voters in a speech to business leaders in Sydney.
"It's a very winnable election," he said. "And I say to those people who think you can change a government without changing a country, you couldn't be more wrong."
To those fixed on voting Labor, "nothing I say today is really directed towards them", he said.
Mr Rudd said the secrecy and lack of accountability that had developed over the past 10 years, as shown by the "disgraceful" children overboard affair, was cancerous. He promised to improve external scrutiny of ministers and staff.
"I know that's very easy to say from Opposition because you're not in government and when the heat's on you, it all seems different," he said.
"But if you're running a decent government, you shouldn't fear these things."
Mr Rudd said he was "dead serious" about bringing back the razor gang to trim the public service while not affecting services.
"It just strikes me as passing strange that this government that supposedly belongs to the conservative side of politics has not systematically applied the meat axe to its own administrative bloating for the better part of a decade," he said.
This angered the Community and Public Sector Union, which has been happy with Mr Rudd's promise to restore independence to the public service.
"He undid all that good work by using intemperate language," the union's national secretary, Stephen Jones, said.
"If you look at Labor's policies, I can't see how they can do that with any significant downsizing of the public service."
Mr Rudd said reversing the decline in education was his biggest policy priority.
"Saturday will decide whether Australia gets stuck in the world's slow lane, letting other nations pass us by, or whether Australia decides to shift up a gear so that we can properly realise our true potential.
"More than ever, Australia needs a government that will help the nation fulfil its promise, rather than a government that makes promises it can't fulfil."
He said he would meet the premiers within 100 days to begin revamping the health system. The Kyoto Protocol would be ratified immediately and within a year there would be an interim target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the roll-out of national broadband would have begun.
By the end of his first term, in late 2010, he promised "concrete results" in the policies he had promised. These included having urban water recycling under way, desalination plants under construction, a more efficient health system, and Work Choices replaced with a more fair and flexible system.
News and politics
Islamic Council calls for investigation
The Lindsay seat saga has deepened with more revelations over the use of questionable campaign tactics by the local Liberal Party branch.
It was revealed yesterday that members of current candidate Karen Chijoff's campaign team had used anti-Muslim leaflets as a way to convince people into voting for the Liberal's.
The individuals involved in the campaign were photographed dropping the leaflets into local letterboxes, forcing the resignation of up to three campaigners.
Outgoing Lindsay member Jackie Kelly yesterday said that the leaflets were intended as a joke, and could be seen as a "Chaser style prank".
Prime Minister John Howard disagreed with his former Minister, saying it was a serious matter, adding that he had no prior knowledge.
However further revelations have surfaced regarding unethical campaigning in the Lindsay seat, with a former campaign worker claiming he was forced to distribute fake how-to-vote cards in the hope of gaining further preferences.
Ken Higgs, who worked on Ms Kelly's campaign in 1998 and 2001 has claimed that the member asked campaign volunteers to pose as a local community group, handing out voting cards that preferenced Jackie Kelly and the Liberal Party first.
"It was actually a fake how-to-vote card ... intended to deceive voters into voting for Jackie Kelly instead of the the Save the ADI site candidate," Mr Higgs told ABC Radio.
"It actually said how to save the ADI site and the number one preference was Jackie Kelly and our Liberal party booth workers were told to put on a 'Save the ADI site' T-shirt and hand out this bogus how to vote card."
The husband's of both the current candidate Karen Chijoff and Jackie Kelly have admitted to being part of the leaflet distribution, with allegations its production took place in Ms Kelly's home.
Jackie Kelly denied the claim, saying that she had known nothing about it prior to the media's coverage, and that it was the result of campaigners who had become "drunk" and "bored".
Lindsay, a marginally held Liberal seat, has now become hotly contested, with local residents telling network news programs they were outraged at the campaign tactic.
Lindsay is held by a margin of just 2.9%.
News and politics
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
Hawke and Keating dramatically reduced the size of the welfare bill, introducing the then unpopular assets and activity tests. In fact, it can be said that the Hawke-Keating project was a lot more than just liberalising markets, important as this was. Their true legacy was diverting resources and capital from the public sector to the private sector - shrinking government and removing distortions that prevent resources being directed to their most productive ends.
Hawke did not free up Australia's highly inflexible industrial relations system. This task was initiated by Keating in the early 1990s and continued by the Howard Government in the second half of the decade.
Howard inherited those changes and, with the addition of the GST and some early fiscal tightening, has ridden Labor's economic legacy to four consecutive election wins.
In Paul Keating's own words he said ""Mr Howard sought to rescue his tawdry reputation as treasurer, by saying that as treasurer I took credit for reforms started by him. This is an untruth even unworthy of him," Mr Keating writes.
"Howard has spent two decades of his life trafficking in the lie that the Liberal and National parties in opposition supported the reform agenda of the Hawke and Keating governments.
"The fact is the float, the exchange rate and removal of deposit maturity and lending controls on banks didn't require any help or agreement from the then opposition," he says. "Bob Hawke and I needed John Howard's endorsements for our policy changes in 1983 like we needed a dose of rabies."
Paul Keating, first as Bob Hawke's treasurer then as prime minister, saw that Australia's economic structure was failing. The economy was highly protected and deeply uncompetitive. There was a pervasive sense of entitlement but only a feeble impulse to compete. Keating stripped away the comforting but ruinous protection of high tariffs, a tightly controlled financial system and a rigid, inflationary wages structure. He unceremoniously ended a century of protection, and forced Australia to compete in the world.
At the time, this historic transformation won him few friends. He insisted Australians abandon their failing economy before they understood the need. The wrenching retooling was absolutely essential and thoroughly unpopular.
Unfortunately Labor has systematically distanced itself from the Hawke-Keating economic reforms. The model of an open, modern, market-based economy, the economy that John Howard and Peter Costello inherited from Labor, but a concept that Labor itself, post-Hawke and post-Keating, let slip.
Labor needs to make a stand and take their fair share of responsibility and credit for the current economic climate our country finds itself in. What's even more important is that the average voter in Australia sees Labor making that stand.
The coalition continues to focus their scare campaigns on high interest rates from the past saying under Labor, Australia will regress which is the usual political lies. A discerning voter knows this but this election is going to be won or lost on the vote of those who are not necessarily so informed; those who still might be influenced by the right or wrong message.
During this election campaign I would like to have seen some extra focus on Labor's economic credentials to really put some much needed perspective on this issue for the general public. They should be proud and must take credit for the economic reform process that began with the election of Labor on March 5, 1983, with Bob Hawke as prime minister and Paul Keating as treasurer.
The Art of Mental Warfare Opening Statement: Let The Media War Begin
For my opening statement I am going to say some things that are obvious to those of us who spend the majority of our time researching and analyzing power politics. We have come to understand that the mainstream media is an elaborate and sophisticated propaganda apparatus that is designed and utilized to deceive, manipulate, dumb down, distract and marginalize the American public. We realize that the mainstream media is not giving us the vital information that we need to develop informed opinions and participate in this so-called “democracy.”
However, the average US citizen still does not understand this. They are too busy working hard trying to make ends meet, trying to provide for their families, trying to pay off their homes, credit cards and debt. They don’t have the time to spend hours everyday researching issues that the mainstream media doesn’t even mention or discuss.
In fact, with hundreds of television channels, radio stations, magazines, newspapers and movies, the average citizen thinks the amount of viewpoints in the media are overwhelming and diverse. They don’t realize that the vast majority of media companies are controlled by a handful of the world’s most powerful interrelated corporate interests. They don’t realize that over the past 25 years we have experienced a scandalous concentration in media ownership and an all out attack on public TV and radio.
The number of corporations dominating the US mainstream media:
1983 = 50
2007 = 5
Government spending on public broadcasting per person:
The US has the lowest per capita funding of public broadcasting in the industrialized world.
“Never before has censorship been so perfect. Never before have those who are still led to believe, in a few countries, that they remain free citizens, been less entitled to make their opinions heard, wherever it is a matter of choices affecting their real lives. Never before has it been possible to lie to them so brazenly. The spectator is simply supposed to know nothing, and deserve nothing.” - Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle
The censorship most prevalent today is the most dangerous form. Not the censorship of explicit words, sex or violence, but the censorship of any thoughts outside of elite corporate ideology. Any views that lead to critical thought on the prevailing elite market dominance are not allowed to enter into public consciousness (the mass media).
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth…. The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal…. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” - Malcolm X
The Imperial War
Since Cheney and Bush began their disastrous “War on Terror,” terrorism incidents have increased over 600%. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has created worldwide hatred toward America on an unprecedented scale. If we had a critical and informative media system, the Bush administration would have never been able to launch a war built on lies, distortion and misinformation - a war that has already claimed the lives of over 750,000 Iraqi civilians, and killed, wounded or maimed over 30,000 US soldiers. As costs continue to escalate, the war will cost the US taxpayer well over a trillion dollars - with billions of tax dollars stolen and unaccounted for!
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” — President Dwight D. Eisenhower
For those of us who have researched and read the strategy papers that have driven the Bush administration’s foreign policy - all written before 9/11 - specifically the Strategy of the Silk Route, James Baker’s and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Strategic Energy Policy, the Project for a New American Century’s Forces and Resources For a New Century and other crucial documents, we know that these documents clearly demonstrate that the war on terror is mostly a front for a geo-strategic imperial war designed to control the majority of the earth’s remaining oil supply. And the fact that this subject is almost never seriously discussed in the mainstream press is an edifying example of just how scandalous the mass media system has become.
This imperial war for resources brings us to the next urgent crisis of our time, the current and coming environmental catastrophe.
The earth’s resources are being quickly depleted. As the three billion people in China and India become more modernized and begin living and polluting like the modern US consumer, the earth’s resources and fragile balance will become undone. Billions of people, literally billions of people, will die - from the lack of food and water that will lead to mass starvation, to the lack of medicine for treatable diseases and the spread of infectious diseases.
Half of the world’s population now lives on $2 per day or less.
Global warming is quickly making these numbers grow and we are already facing a crisis unprecedented in human history. The past three years have been the hottest three years ever recorded. In the early nineties leading scientists and organizations tried to inform us. In 1992, long before Hurricane Katrina and Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, 1700 of the world’s top scientists signed an official document, a Warning To Humanity, stating:
“Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”
In 1997, the World Watch Institute reported that storms would be, “more frequent, more intense, and more destructive.” Yet these dire warnings went unheard. Paid-off energy industry experts and lobbyists marginalized them, and they were never given fair coverage in the mainstream corporate media — media companies that have shared economic interests with the energy industry that they serve.
If you thought the recent upsurge in catastrophic hurricanes, tornados, heat waves, droughts and other climatic disasters have been bad, you need to understand that this was only the opening act, only a warning shot as to what lies ahead.
“The economy has now come to declare open war on humanity, attacking not only our possibilities for living, but our chances of survival…. When an all-powerful economy lost its reason - and that is precisely what defines these spectacular times.” — Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle
The war and environmental crisis will only exacerbate the current economic inequalities that have been growing ever wider. Even in the US, which once prided itself as being a nation with a thriving middle-class, the financial wealth of the top 1% of households now exceeds the combined wealth of 98% of households. That’s 1% having more wealth than 98% combined! The US now leads the industrialized world in inequality of wealth.
“There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation.
One is by sword. The other is by debt.”
– John Adams, US President
The economic top 1% has looted the economy and enslaved the US public like never before. Out of the recent trillions of dollars in tax cuts more than half has gone to the economic top 1%. Tax cuts for top 1% are larger than health, education, and all other initiatives combined.
But this is just the beginning of the theft from the American middle-class. Our federal debt has reached an all time high. It is reported over and over again that the federal debt has reached a staggering eight trillion dollars. However, based upon the Financial Report of the United States, issued by the Treasury Department - a report the corrupt corporate media has suppressed and not reported on - the true total federal debt is actually over $50 trillion! $50 trillion! We are paying over $300 billion each year in interest alone. Your share of the federal debt, as a taxpaying American, is already $400,000. That’s your share! $400,000 out of your pocket and it is growing even higher.
We can no longer rely on a co-opted, bought and paid for political system. Our current politicians have proven over and over again that they only make bold moves when they act in the power and greed-addicted interests that they serve. The two-party system has become a sham! Greedy Republicans and weak Democrats serve the same corporate elite masters.
Last year’s change in Congress and the coming change in president are only changes on the surface. The overwhelming majority of us will be relieved when Bush and Cheney finally leave office, but Bush is just a figurehead, just a spokesman, just a puppet on a string! He will eventually leave, but the underlying system and institutions will remain in place. Bush did not decide to go into Iraq alone, he had the support of almost every member of the Senate and an overwhelming majority in Congress. And most importantly, he had the vital support and backing of the mainstream corporate press who brazenly and uncritically trumpeted the call for this disaster. Bush is just the fall guy now, a patsy for the elite interests he serves. The press and Congress will bash him, as they rightfully should, and he will now take the blame, as he rightfully should. But when he leaves office things will only appear to be better.
Just look at the newly empowered Democratic Congress. Despite their rhetoric, they have been incredibly weak and inept in stopping the Iraq war and cleaning up congressional corruption and ethics rules. They continue to pass legislation that funds the war without any meaningful timetable for withdrawal and have officially endorsed the Bush/IMF plan to rob Iraq of their oil. And another significant and underreported fact is that none of the war funding bills have included a proposed provision that would have required the Bush administration to get congressional approval for an attack on Iran.
The Democratic Congress has even been cutting secret “trade” deals that mean billions in corporate handouts. The Republican Party is dominated by Neo-cons who believe in world domination by military force, and the Democratic Party is in the hands of Neo-liberals who believe in domination by economic force - leaving 98% of Americans without any representation.
Fighting Back: The Media War
These are just some of the serious problems now staring us in the face. It is imperative that we start getting these messages out to the mainstream and quickly swing into action. We must get our message through elite corporate censors who seek to maintain the status quo and only half-heartedly attempt half-measures. The time for half-measures is over! We must begin to take bold actions now.
We need to widen the scope of debate and expand the spectrum of thinkable thought. We have to create a culture of accountability and destroy the support systems that have led us toward devastation. We must destroy the propaganda system and dismantle the concentration of media ownership!
“I think one has to say it’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems.”
– Paul Wolfowitz
The power elite expend such great effort in controlling our communication and information system because they fear the American public more than any other enemy. They understand that if they lose their grip on our mass media, their lies and injustices will be exposed to the very people who can put a stop to their crimes!
The famed military strategist Carl von Clauswitz wrote in his study, On War, that the key to defeating an enemy is to identify and strike at “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends.”
The mass media is the foundation of the elite power structure. Without domination of the mass media the elite power structure is a house of cards.
“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil,
to one who is striking at the root.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Once the people can get their message through elite censors, the necessary evolution will occur. And thanks to the internet the tide has begun to swing back in our favor. The internet has given us a major weapon to battle these entrenched interests.
The internet is the one method of mass communication where you can research news and information for yourself, where you can use your own critical thinking and judgment skills, where voices are not censored through elite corporate interests.
The internet has been for us what pamphlets were to our forefathers; a new form of mass communication that is not censored by elite interests.
People are going to the internet and finding out all the information and facts that the corporate media is not letting the public in on. So, right there, you have a critical mass of informed and outraged citizens.
“Never in my lifetime have people all over the world demonstrated greater awareness of the political forces ranged against them and the possibilities of countering them.” — John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
People are using the internet for organizing and movement building.
The corporate elite are well aware of this. They see an informed citizenship rising up. The elite do not want us getting together and discussing political issues. They want that to be something that the aristocracy decides, not you. That is why they are currently attacking the open architecture of the internet.
“Every new technology necessitates a new war.”
– Marshall McLuhan
The internet has become the frontlines of the latest battle for justice, freedom and democracy. The internet is democracy’s last avenue. Cyberspace is our Underground Railroad.
The bottom line is that we are at the most crucial and pivotal time in human history. The actions we take within the next few years are of vital historical importance. Every one of us, whether we realize it or not, or whether we want to be or not, is in a war, a war unlike any other.
“You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
– Howard Zinn
And the train is racing toward devastation at a quickened pace.
Unless we evolve from passive, apathetic spectators into active participatory citizens and overthrow the corporate elite, we will eventually pay the ultimate price.
It’s just a matter of time… tick… tick… tick…
We are here to fight a war, an information war, a media war, a war for the survival and advancement of our species. However grandiose this may sound, it is the unfortunate reality of the current situation.
It is not a war that I want to fight, I wish I could ignore the power politics of the day, but I cannot, we cannot turn away from this crisis. When you see a major catastrophe heading your way you have to confront it and fight it with every tool at your disposal! Will you fight this war with us?
Sign up to get involved, stay informed and voice your own opinions and concerns.
“Are you brave enough to see?
Do you want to change it?”
– Trent Reznor, The Hand That Feeds
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– This opening statement is an adapted excerpt from David Vincent’s book, The Art of Mental Warfare.
Sunday, 18 November 2007
Prime Minister John Howard says the world isn't about to come to an end because of climate change.
Mr Howard made the comment today while defending his claim that economic management is the only big issue of the federal election.
"I think climate change is important. I don't think it is as important in this election as economic management," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting today.
"I think a strong economy is central to everything.
"I don't think the world is about to come to an end because of climate change. I think we have to have a balanced approach."
The prime minister was responding to a caller who questioned his priorities.
"I don't know how you can say that economic management is far and away the single most important issue in this election when the issue of climate change threatens the survival of humanity right across the planet," said the caller, identified as Steve.
"I have a daughter. I am worried sick about climate change," Steve said.
He was responding to the prime minister saying earlier in the interview: "There's only one big issue in this election campaign that dwarfs everything else and that's economic management."
Mr Howard said greenhouse gas emissions had to be reduced and that could be achieved by using more clean energy, setting up an emissions-trading system and seeking a new international agreement which included all the major emitters.