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Dwarf Nation?

Tue 15 Aug 2006 In: Features View at NDHA

When I read a recent book about Australia's John Howard, I realised aspects of Australia's current federal government are hauntingly similar to the repressive seventies on our own side of the Tasman. To be sure, most of the contributors to The Howard Factor try to spin Howard's current regime positively, although few Australian lesbians and gay men would agree with his assessment. Howard's Australia resembles Thatcher's Britain in the eighties- or New Zealand's Muldoon era. In fact, that comparison is probably the most appropriate one if New Zealanders want to understand the odious little man. Like Muldoon in the seventies and early eighties, Howard dominates his federal government, appointing a lacklustre band to share the spoils of office. Like Muldoon, he is a diligent media manipulator, and like Muldoon, he is a populist and opportunist, with dire results for Australian human rights and civil liberties. Whether asylum seekers and refugees, trade unionists, lesbians or gay men, the Howard regime preaches division and social exclusion, and is based on a blinkered rural, monocultural and provincial worldview that would be impossible today within New Zealand. Unfortunately, Howard's premiership is not balanced by an adequate constitutional framework, apart from those legislative and administrative powers handed to Australia's states and territories under the barebones structure that outlines them. Under Howard, same sex marriage has been banned at the federal level, while Howard and his cronies have even used their ability to overrule territorial legislation to invalidate the Australian Capital Territory civil union legislation. Fortunately, Tasmania's civil union laws are safe from the predatory and belligerent social conservative regime in Canberra. Thank the goddess for Helen Clark. While the current Labour-led administration needs to balance its fiscal and social responsibility more carefully, and I disagree with the seabed and foreshore legislation, I believe that New Zealand still mostly abides by mainstream standards of human rights and civil liberties. Although inclusive adoption reform is still forthcoming, we can hold our heads up as responsible citizens. Can Australia, any more? And if Howard is such a competent leader, then why does the ALP Opposition control all of Australia's state and territory governments? And what happens when pressures within his party for reform and leadership change reach critical mass, or when the ALP finally exercises cohesion and internal discipline under a new federal leader? Will his Liberal colleagues neccessarily thank Howard for bequeathing them a situation where there is a contested succession, due to his desire to monopolise power at all costs? The Howard Factor: A Decade That Transformed the Nation Nick Carter (ed) Melbourne University Press, 2006 Craig Young - 15th August 2006    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Tuesday, 15th August 2006 - 12:00pm

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