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Published The Drum Opinion
5 September 2011

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard just belted home the last nail into her coffin with her ill-considered criticism of the High Court and Chief Justice Robert French.

She claimed the judgement was inconsistent with an earlier ruling by the Chief Justice when serving on another court. Gillard was very unwise to refer to inconsistencies when one of the main criticisms directed against her is the inconsistency of her position on a carbon tax: a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Gillard’s outburst provided insight into her character. She appears weak, on the basis of her attack, not so bright and with respect to asylum seekers, a bully. Not qualities we want to see in a leader.

At the moment the Labor Party is on a hiding to nowhere under her leadership at the next election. The party has absolutely nothing to lose by dumping her and if they choose wisely (for once) they might just give the Coalition a run for their money.

Australian politics, indeed Australian discourse, lurched to the Right under John Howard. There was an expectation that under Rudd the country might move back to the Centre. It didn’t happen and under Gillard the nation has been moved resolutely back to the past. She is firmly of the Right and not for turning.

There is no Left in Australian politics or discourse at the moment. There is just the Centre, now seen as the Left by the Radical Right, as The Right stretches away to glorious infinity – a Nirvana of free markets, the centrality of self, supported by uncontrolled vitriol and uncurbed aggression.

Within the terms of the current political discourse, dominated by the intolerant and bullying Right and the lilly-livered Centre, the term Left, Left Wing or of-the-Left are pejorative terms. Anything to do with the Left is, in the current climate, dangerous and un-Australian.

And yet it is to the Left we, as a nation, must move if some of the pressing environmental, social and political issues are to be addressed. The imagination, creative drive, courage and egalitarian agenda of the Left has been sadly lacking from the national narrative for the last 20 years; “whatever it takes” elbowed it to one side in the push for self at the expense of service and civility.

The dominance of the Right in Australian politics is stifling initiative and leadership. We live in a managed environment, from the untruthfulness of media spin, to the short-term managed outcomes of ministers. Politicians have become public servants, helping to blur the distinction between their respective roles under the Westminster system of government.

The demise of the Left, like that of religion, can be laid at the feet of a long growth in prosperity, where the thrift and frugality of the ’50s has given way to multi-disposable micro moments of food and facts.

The desire of the Right to freeze Australia in some non-existent idyllic moment in the past has the nation marking time, afraid to embrace and plan for inevitable change and to develop a vision for the future.

Both major political parties occupy the same side of the fence; actually it’s a feed lot, heads in the trough of the public purse, they fatten up on personal agendas of power and influence with their feet in manure of their own making; for the moment at least Australian politics stinks.

Gerard Henderson refers to left-wing publications and commentators; I can’t find them, although many in the reading public in Western Australia refer to The Australian as left wing. I guess it’s a matter of personal perspective and definition.

My notion of a Left agenda would include the state providing a framework to deliver the greatest good to the greatest number of people, including the empowerment of Aborigines and asylum seekers. It would embrace the abolition of water licences and state ownership of water for the benefit of all Australians. It would encompass a greatly increased state contribution to public schools and concomitant decrease in funding to private schools. It would see state regulation of banks as a better tool for managing the economy than the crude instrument of having the Reserve Bank control interest rates.

It would see support for innovation, research and local manufacturing and a return to apprenticeships across a range of skills, increased state support for higher education and the CSIRO and the bonding of medical students for service in rural and regional Australia. It would also see a greatly enhanced program of public infrastructure, financed if necessary by borrowings against future productivity gains.

My Left Wing agenda would also see a withdrawal from Afghanistan and a parliamentary inquiry into why and how Australia was taken to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the basis of the above The Greens can hardly be called Left, leftish perhaps in a bourgeois sort of way, but on key issues within their platform, such as management of water and land-use they have squibbed it.

The so-called Left of the Labor Party has allowed the Right to call the shots. The fact that a Labor Party has a Right which dominates the party agenda is a significant statement in terms the current political environment.

In a recent interview on ABC TV, former prime minister John Howard described his politics as conservative, but there was nothing conservative about taking Australia to war and nothing conservative in the systematic abuse of asylum seekers and the election ploy of abusing Aborigines through the cruel ploy of a military backed ‘intervention’. I would call these measures radical.

I have had enough of the radical Right, of the abusive Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, who suck up to our big and powerful friends and kick down the most vulnerable and those most in need. They are weak and they are bullies and we don’t need them.

I for one want to get out of the feed lot and into some greener pastures.

Bruce Haigh is a former diplomat and political commentator.