With so much attention focussed on the Rudd-Howard show, Australian politics has been trivialised, even more than usual. But personality politics obscures issues that will have to be faced, after the election. What will we wake up to, with Prime Minister Kevin?
Progressives have become obsessed with the ‘get rid of Howard’ campaign to the point that they speak little of the issues; while the oligarchy and many of its hangers-on seem resigned to a change, on the basis that it will be ‘business as usual’.
Many harbour the fond illusion that a real contest lies ahead; but it seems pretty certain that Kevin Rudd will be the next Australian Prime Minister. The polls are clear and consistent. As if to underline the cynicism of the system, the day after the polls were called, and before a single candidate had registered, the corporate media had their ‘election guides’ published, explaining the choices available: Howard or Rudd.
Even that limited choice is all but made. The impending Labor victory raises two questions: how could this happen? and what difference will it make?
The answer to the first question is not too difficult to discern. Howard’s regime has been the most hated for many years, pushing through unpopular policies of privatisation, war, corporate subsidy and the destruction of civil rights.
Yet the uncritical support of a powerful, indoctrinating corporate media, and the weakness of the political opposition gave Howard his dream run. After all, from the point of view of the big investors, Howard had delivered on taxes, subsidies, protection from the costs of environmental protection and industrial laws. In Australian media terms, no major scandal (the wheat board bribery affair), gross abuse of power (indefinite jailing of refugees) or gross criminal activity (the slaughter in Iraq) ‘stuck’ to the Howard regime.
However Labor under Rudd finally managed to capitalise on the hatred of Howard while apparently cutting some specific deals with the small, unelected groups that control the major banks, mining companies and media groups, and thus dominate Australian policy.
In Australia’s two party system, Labor’s task has become a little more complicated in recent times. Since the 1970s Labor strategists had known they had to not only put together a coherent package for the public, but to sell this to a significant section of the corporate elite.
With no real wish to confront the economic powers, Labor knew it could not afford to alienate the bulk of the investor class, as had happened in 1974-75, with disastrous consequences for the Whitlam Government. The corporate media, backed by finance and mining groups, would crucify them.
This lesson was fresh in the minds of the Labor leadership in 1981, for example, when (in opposition) the executive abandoned the party’s ‘no uranium mines’ policy. The explicit reason was that the investment groups (‘finance markets’) would not accept it. The banks thus ‘out-voted’ Labor’s membership. Hence Labor’s strange ‘three mines’ policy. Then in 1984, with banking ‘deregulation’, the Hawke Labor government allowed the banks to set their own interest rates. Again, in 1985 and after a media campaign by the mining companies, the Hawke Government reneged on its 1983 election promise to introduce national Aboriginal land rights legislation. The recent collapse of Labor’s ‘three mines’ policy is entirely consistent with the Labor leadership’s priority for investor groups.
However with the takeovers, mergers and institutionalisation of major investor groups from the 1990s on, capturing the support of just one section of these groups was no longer an option. All the Australian banks had acquired the same major shareholders (currently led by J.P. Morgan) and these banks were in turn heavily cross linked to the strategically important mining companies. Kevin Rudd had to impress a far more unified group. He seems to have done this.
Labor’s fortunes in the media and therefore also in the polls turned a corner with Kevin. One of his first tasks was to visit Rupert Murdoch in New York; showing the appropriate direction of ‘lobbying’. Next Rod Eddington, a member of both the News Ltd and the JP Morgan boards was quickly badged as Kevin’s business adviser, and introduced him to the Business Council of Australia.
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