The Leadership of the Liberal Party and the Leadership of the Labor PartyThe present time of bizarre "political correctness" and of attempts from abroad to affect the direction of the Australian economy necessitate capable and principled leadership in Australia. What is needed is a Prime Minister who is prepared to be unpopular to the extent necessary to advance the interests of Australians and who has the necessary breadth of vision.
It is important to analyze the Liberal Party and the Labor Party leaderships from this point of view.
Mr. John Howard and Mr. Peter Costello
Mr. Howard has been criticised for distancing himself too much from potentially unpopular decisions of his government and for not being prepared to show sufficient leadership on important issues. It was commented in mid-1999, "He is not entitled to the luxury of seeking to be above the fray, or of making easy statesmanlike speeches on uncontroversial topics whilst standing back from the more important, but often controversial or even unpopular, issues that face his government."1
This criticism of Mr. Howard may still be made, but more recently he has shown appropriate leadership qualities on a number of occasions. In particular, in the first place he behaved firmly and correctly, and at some political cost in view of the bias of the media, on the issue of the republic. His firmness was rewarded by the defeat of the 1999 republic referendum in all States. Secondly, he has acted correctly as a matter of principle in regard to claims by the Aboriginal lobby for an apology. These claims are not supportable rationally, and often represent a purpose of obtaining pecuniary compensation or are put forward on an emotional or improper basis, and Mr. Howard has been correct to reject them, albeit again at some political cost.
Despite these considerations, Mr. Howard has not yet established himself as an outstanding leader. In particular, the Aboriginal issue is the most important issue for Australia at the present time, and unless greater efforts are made to refute absurd claims made by part-Aboriginals in particular, future generations will inherit unpleasant and unnecessary problems. As Prime Minister, Mr. Howard is able to require discussions of this issue to take place on a more rational basis. He should be seeking to discredit irrationality and reduce the large sums provided every year to fund Aboriginal activists. In particular, he should ensure that a properly restricted definition of "Aboriginal" should be adopted for official purposes; this should be seen as the key to a proper resolution of Aboriginal issues.2 It is Mr. Howard's duty to undertake this reform, and he will be judged harshly by history if he succumbs to Aboriginal activists and "political correctness".
Mr. Howard must be assessed in the light of alternatives, and there is much to be said for the view that Mr. Costello would represent a much less satisfactory Liberal leader. Mr. Costello's perceived early links with the Australian Labor Party have recently received publicity, and it has been noted,3
"His biographer, Ms. Tracey Aubin, has written: 'The record shows that in the late 1970s, his links to the A.L.P. and significant figures in it were close and substantial . . . Labor was beginnning to count Costello as one of its own as early as 1976.' She states, 'Costello's involvement with young Labor at this time was an active one. In 1976 and 1977 he was an energetic member of a team campaigning to take control of the Shop Assistants' Union from the National Civic Council and reaffiliate it to the National Labor Party.' She states that he took part in Young Labor Conferences, where he was seen voting, and that in May 1978 he attended an intensive Labor 'school' or training camp, which Mr. David Cragg has described as being 'for full-on member activists.' At a similar school in 1979, Ms. Aubin states, his name appeared just above that of Mr. Paul Keating."
Also militating against Mr. Costello is the fact that as Treasurer he will be held to a large extent responsible for the taxation debacle that has emerged. Small businesses, for example, have been hurt not only by the G.S.T. but also by a failure to exempt bona fide trusts from draconian and unnecessary taxation burdens and other alleged "reforms".
Mr. Peter Reith
There is much to be said for the view that if a successor is to found for Mr. Howard in the near future, it should be Mr. Peter Reith.4
Mr. Reith has shown himself to be principled and responsible in his difficult portfolio in regard to industrial relations, and the fact that some of his reforms have not been effected is attributable primarily to unintelligent opposition by the Australian Democrats. For example, greater flexibility is certainly needed for contracts of employment - it is neither fair nor appropriate that employees may leave their employment on minimal notice but that employers cannot terminate the employment on a similar basis - and some of the unions, such as the maritime union, have proceeded to a degree of irresponsibility that cannot be afforded.
Unfortunately Mr. Reith has not received proper backing from some of his senior colleagues on these matters. For this reason, and in view of the unfortunate role of the Australian Democrats, Mr. Reith has been more isolated than should have been expected, and it may be hoped that this position will be remedied.
Mr. Reith is one of the few leading politicians who are prepared to pursue unfashionable policies which they believe to be right.
Mr. Kim Beazley and Mr. Simon Crean
Mr. Beazley has had the advantage that he is a likeable and sympathetic person, and when he became Leader of the Opposition he had the additional advantage of much goodwill. He has the further advantage of sharing some of the respect in which his father, Mr. Kim Beazley Senior, has been held.
Unfortunately Mr. Beazley has not, so far, performed well. Indeed, his performance has given rise to much concern, in view of his habit of responding emotionally and, it must be said, foolishly on many issues as they arise. In the Parliament in particular his lack of judgment may be seen in incautious and badly directed comments on many issues. He does not give the impression of a mature and balanced leader who might be expected to react calmly and wisely to matters of importance.
It may be, of course, that Mr. Beazley's performance will improve. Those who are concerned that the Labor Party should present an effective alternative leadership must wish that this will occur. However at the present time his performance must be viewed with a measure of dismay.
Mr. Crean, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, has shown himself to be more measured than Mr. Beazley. If presently a choice out of the two for Prime Minister were required, it appears that Mr. Crean would be the safer. However this should not conceal the fact that Mr. Crean has proved to be disappointing as Shadow Treasurer. He has not mastered his portfolio, and in particular there is clearly much with which he is not sufficiently familiar in the area of taxation. He has not criticised effectively the many unsatisfactory policies of Mr. Peter Costello. If Mr. Crean is prepared to work harder to understand the more technical requirements of his shadow portfolio, and demonstrates that he is strong enough to disregard the pressures of "political correctness", he will obtain greater recognition.
National Observer No. 45 - Winter 2000