Sunday, August 26, 2007

National insecurity : the Howard government's betrayal of Australia, by Linda Weiss, John Matthews, Elizabeth Thurbon

This is the second book from the trio of academics. Their first was How To Kill A Country, and was reviewed here at my blog.

The authors write as though a national emergency has been called, with a heavy use of italics. You imagine them in battle gear, running through policy fields that are being rained down with draconian Howard legislation and all round dodgy deals.

This is fair enough. They’re trying to drum up interest in the minutiae of economic policy, a subject that puts most of us to sleep. Who cares about side letters slipped in at the last minute in trade deals with America on regulations covering our blood products? Um, they do. And so should we.

These stories don’t get front page of the media. We should be thankful that someone’s investigating and writing about it.

The book covers subjects like energy (Howard’s wanting to introduce nuclear power to Australia), culture, farming and of the above mentioned blood products. It asks the question, why is the Howard government adamant that we become so US-centric policy wise, especially when these deals (most notably, the free trade agreement) don’t seem to offer Australia much at all. This is the main enigma the book tries to answer.

For the authors, they believe that Howard is trying to build up his sense of self by bending over backwards to look after US interests. This, they feel, make him feel like a first class statesman.

On the subject of nuclear energy, I recall Bob Brown years ago saying Australia should be a leader in solar energy technology. Now the Chinese are, and a lot of them are training at our universities. And also remember, the Howard Government has run down scientific funding in this area.

The book points to a great contradiction of the Howard Government: Howard always talks about the National Interest, yet he always works against it by trying to make his more powerful American friends happy.

My favourite Age columnist at the moment, the cheeky Jason Koutsoukis wrote a column in today’s Age about this. Although it doesn't cover the above subject, it does point to a contradiction in the Howard government. This is something Paul Kelly wrote about a couple of weeks ago: Howard's government is a tax and spend government, not fiscally conservative at all. From Mr Koutsoukis's article:

‘What about Howard's war on the welfare state? Even the French put up more of a fight.
Despite Howard's sometimes hawkish rhetoric, the past 11 years have seen a welfare party that would make Franklin Roosevelt blush. Howard went from welfare warmonger to surrender monkey within about three short years.

Today, hardly anyone misses out on a cash handout. Nine out of 10 families receive a fortnightly welfare payment.

That's not including the handouts for child care, private health insurance, first-home buyers, and the pot of money just for having a baby.

This is to say nothing of the billions of dollars a year Howard spends on business welfare, propping up industries such as the car manufacturers when he should — and surely does — know better.

Another Howard shibboleth was "small government", and for a short time after he was first elected he actually put this into practice.

What a quaint notion that seems now. The Federal Government has never been bigger. Housing is so scarce in Canberra thanks to the influx of public servants that it costs more to live beside Lake Burley Griffin than it does to buy an apartment at Docklands.

If you knew what "view" you were buying on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, you'd know how ridiculous this is.

When Howard says that he stands for something, he is right in one sense. There is no doubt in voters minds that he stands for staying in power.’

Well said! I totally agree. What did the Howard years mean people will ask in years to come. I feel it meant the ability to stay in power.

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