John Howard is starting to show signs of not being the invincible politician he is often made out to be. John Howard’s longevity as a politician is often portrayed by various political pundits as an indication that he has an uncanny ability to link up with and understand ‘middle Australia’ and the ‘Aussie Battler’. Recent events are beginning to show that it is more the case of his extraordinary luck as far as the economy and various political events is concerned that are the key to his longevity.
Howard has been Prime Minister for 10 years based upon a continuing up cycle in the Australian and world economy during this time as well as a commodities boom which is helping sustain the Australian economy. Howard has managed to use fear and uncertainty because of terrorism to maintain power due to people staying with the devil they know during such uncertain times, particularly if the other devil does not pose any kind of real alternative.
With the winning of a senate majority Howard may have thought he would have an even easier run. However recent events in the senate with the threat of coalition senators voting down his anti refugee legislation (and its subsequent withdrawal) and backbenchers actually crossing the floor in parliament have shown this is not the case.
The most recent increase in interest rates and increase in oil prices along with the increase in inflation ( which he tried to blame on banana prices) have also shown how vulnerable he is to a downturn in the economy. All this comes on the heels of the well publicised showdown between Howard and Costello where Howard had broken his promise about standing aside as PM and letting Costello to take over (Costello should really have known better after the non core promises, no no never a GST, and the children overboard etc) Despite this Howard’s colleagues see him as the best bet for the coalition to hold on to power.
There has also been disquiet over several other issues including stem cell therapy research and Industrial Relations legislation.
Howard was planning to make it so that any refugees arriving near to Australia would not be able to come into Australia and be subject to Australian law and legal processes. This comes in the aftermath of refugees from Nauru being granted asylum in Australia and subsequent anger from Indonesia. Howard was hoping to placate the Indonesians, prevent any further such incidents, as well as continuing to make himself look ‘tough’ over immigration. His response to oil price increases has been a $2000 subsidy for LPG conversion for cars.
For stem cell research rather then risk overt division he is going to allow a conscience vote on a private members bill to overturn the current ban on therapeutic cloning. On IR he has set up a government task force to sell and defend the IR laws and got Joe Hockey as minister assisting the minister for workplace relations, as Hockey is also minister for Human Services, this will tie in well with the governments anti worker Welfare to Work legislation.
Despite these set backs for Howard he remains as the preferred Prime Minister and recent opinion polls still have Labor and Coalition very close on a two party preferred vote. This demonstrates that Howard may still be able to win further election victories because of a failure of the ALP to pose as any real alternative. On almost all issues mentioned above the ALP has been very little different to the coalition, on IR it is going to tear up the legislation as it currently exists, but has not indicated what it is going to replace it with. On stem cell research, they are giving ALP members a conscience vote.
On the economy they are the party that started Australia on the neo liberal path and they will continue to do this. On Howard vs. Costello as PM whilst publicly stating that they agree with the Coalition on this it would be quite evident that they would see Costello as an easier target. The ALP’s opposition to the proposed refugee bill was based on nationalistic sentiment about Australian sovereignty rather than any kind of compassion for refugees; it was after all the ALP who first created the refugee camps
Regardless of who is PM the fundamental policies of both Coalition and ALP remain the same. They are the policies of neo -Liberalism of doing whatever it takes to ensure that the profits of bosses are maintained and increased in the only way that they can be at the expense of workers. What workers need is a new workers party consisting of unions, community groups and activists to put forward a programme for workers interests and also to lead the fight for such a program on the theoretical, industrial, community and political fields.
By Socialist Party reporters