As the fog of war lifts and attention
returns to the domestic phase we find
a Federal Opposition imploding as the
Prime Minister prepares for the final
putsch toward what he sees as his historical
With John Howard's self-appointed date
to consider his political future fast
approaching, the federal ALP should be
applying maximum political pressure on
him to end his dismal and dangerous rule.
Instead, it is as though they were begging
him to stay on, secure in the knowledge
that the hardline conservative agenda
that he spent so long hiding, can finally
flower in the broad daylight.
Howard has already succeeded in introducing
the GST, killing off the Republic, halting
the drive towards Reconciliation and removing
our regional interests from Asia to create
a US-sponsored Fortress Australia.
He now turns his attention to the remaining
two legacies of the Whitlam and Hawke-Keating
governments: universal health care and
access to higher education.
With Medicare, Howard's oft-quoted ambition
to gut Medicare is within his grasp; by
lifting restrictions on the fees GPs can
charge so that only the Medicare rebate
is a universal right, Howard will have
killed universal health care by stealth.
What this means for workers is almost
inevitably a US-style system where there
are two tiers of labour market, those
with access to health care as part of
their salary package and those who are
forced to rely on a substandard public
Of course, those with access to private
health care will be those with access
to higher education - the other target
in the Howard cross-hairs.
The three agenda points of full tertiary
fees, research funding tied to a radical
IR agenda and voluntary student unionism
combine to create a user-pays system where
the wealthy can buy their way into degrees
and knowledge becomes a line item on the
Both agendas will be a focus of the upcoming
Federal Budget session and will become
political issues when enabling legislation
hits the Senate.
Community alliances are already building
around both issues but the big questions
remains whether they will find an effective
political advocate who will not only oppose
the Howard agenda but propose their own
Having just witnessed a state election
where health and education - as personified
by nurses and teachers - were the dominant
issues, it's hard to see how Howard can
be in anyway comfortable.
That he is, is partly due to the War on
Iraq but also the failure of Labor's federal
leadership to stake out its territory
beyond that of defender of the status
quo who will wait for the political tides
to change to surf back into office.
At the end of the day, the federal ALP
leadership should be a question of who
has the grunt - intellectually, politically
and popularly - to translate these issues
into electoral capital and force Howard
to retreat into retirement.
It's more than a battle for the next
term of government, it's a fight for the
gains that previous Labor governments
made for ordinary Australians - those
same Australians who no longer see the
ALP as their party.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.