Bob Gould, 2005

Trouble for Howard’s anti-terror wedge

Source: Ozleft, October 31-November 1, 2005
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Green Left Weekly discussion list, October 30, 2005

John Howard obviously thought his cynical wedge politics “anti-terror” legislation was an effective response to the government’s difficulties with the industrial relations laws, which are becoming increasingly unpopular.

He wedged the Labor premiers brutally but effectively at the recent Council of Australian Governments meeting and they caved in, by and large, with the honourable exception of the Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister John Stanhope, who wasn’t happy with the civil liberties implications.

He published the draft “anti-terror” bill on the ACT government website and from that point the whole project began to come apart.

Daryl Melham, the chairman of the federal Labor parliamentary caucus, and Lindsay Tanner, MP, began to campaign against the proposed legislation and the obvious police state aspects of the laws, brought into the cold light of day by Stanhope, began to produce misgivings among the other Labor premiers.

These misgivings increased with legal advice from state attorney-generals to the premiers that the proposed laws were probably unconstitutional. In addition, the obvious police state character of laws started to make the federal government’s backbench uneasy.

Outcry from lawyers, civil liberties groups and teachers of law also had an impact, although populist sections of the media have tried to present the proposed laws as popular.

I’m reliably informed that there has been heated debate about the necessity of the laws in the NSW Labor cabinet.

A number of Labor branches have condemned the proposed laws.

I spoke strongly against the proposed laws at an industrial relations protest meeting called by three Labor branches and at the Sydney Labor electoral council, and got a good response when I pointed out that so far, with the honourable exceptions of Melham and Tanner the Labor left had made no public statements against the proposed laws.

That has now been rectified. The national Labor left met over the weekend and decided to reject the proposed laws. This all leaves Kim Beazley in an extremely difficult position as a result of trying to go even further than Howard in supporting some aspects of the police state laws.

In a political situation like this it’s hard to predict the outcome because fear of terrorism is real in the community at large and Howard and the bourgeois media are using this frantically in support of their wedge politics manoeuvre.

Nevertheless, there’s a reasonable chance that an energetic defence of civil liberties, in the first instance in the labour movement and on the progressive side of society, and in the second instance in the community at large, may be successful in defeating, or at least blunting, Howard’s proposals.

There is an interesting and careful article by Daryl Melham in this morning’s Australian Financial Review. Unfortunately, it’s pay per view.

Slanderous left talk

November 1, 2005

My careful piece commenting on the upheavals on the Labor Party and society at large about Howard’s pernicious “anti-terror” legislation produced a flurry of political loopiness on the Green Left list.

In the face of my pointing to the internal upheaval in Labor’s ranks, one of the DSP leaders responded that the DSP hadn’t been hard enough on the Labor Party. Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad, as the saying goes.

The main effective opposition to Howard’s proposed measures has come from bourgeois liberals, lawyers, etc, and from within the Labor Party. If the laws are to be defeated, or at least the worst aspects of them removed, the defeat of Howard and the preservation of some part of our democratic rights will be a direct result of the broad agitation in society producing a reversal among the Labor politicians.

As late as this evening it seems as if Beazley is not having it all his own way on these matters by any stretch of the imagination. None of this fits the DSP leadership’s eccentric schema and curious alternative mental world in which they place themselves at the centre of all progressive developments.

The DSP leaders can’t bring themselves to have anything good to say about the progressive role played on this question by Duncan Kerr MP, Carmen Lawrence MP, ACT Chief Minister Stanhope and Daryl Melham MP, or the role played by the left union leaders from all states, including several from Victoria to whom the DSP often points, at the national left meeting, which opposed Howard’s legislation unanimously.

The weird hysteria and the abusive language directed at Ed Lewis is clearly dictated by the bankruptcy of the DSP leadership’s view of the ALP as a monolithic whole, always engaged in betrayal.

The venom, on this occasion directed at Ed Lewis’s tough head, is also clearly dictated by the increasing turmoil inside the DSP as the factional struggle between its two leadership groups, which wasn’t resolved at the DSP’s national committee meeting, heats up towards the Christmas-New Year conference.

Even allowing for the frustration obviously felt by Dixon on internal DSP questions, it’s outrageous and offensive for him to accuse Ed Lewis of supporting Beazley, which is simply not true unless you have the mad DSP leadership outlook that a failure to engage in crude abuse of Beazley every two seconds is evidence of support for Beazley. What was it Lenin said about scolding soundrels?

The nature of the developments in the Labor Party, with the sharpest conflicts developing on these questions, underlines the bankruptcy of the DSP leadership’s approach to the mass movement, as they try to artificially put themselves at the centre of events, which everyone else can see is fantasy.

Sharp criticism is one thing, slander is quite another and political sanitation suggests that Dixon, who has been around a long time and should know better, should immediately retract his slanders against Ed Lewis.

PS. Ed Lewis pointed to the discussion on Margo Kingston’s site, which was sharply critical of Beazley, as serious analysis of the events. There has been no serious analysis of the political contradictions surrounding the anti-terror laws, either in Green Left Weekly or on its discussion site, because the DSP’s crackpot obsession with denouncing the Labor Party, and placing the DSP at the centre of events, when as in this instance it clearly isn’t, is an obstacle to the DSP leadership making any serious analysis of Australian political events.

The issue of John Howard’s police state laws is still unresolved. I hope we defeat them and preserve our civil liberties, but it would be over-optimistic to say that’s inevitable. These are, however, big and serious questions and if our civil liberties are to be preserved, people like Lawrence, Stanhope, Melham and Kerr, and the many legal people who’ve protested effectively against the laws, are more reliable and effective allies than the bizarre leaders of the DSP sect (both clans) who can’t see the wood for the trees.