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11 March 1994. Thought for the Week: "The. Australian Constitution is a protection bequeathed to us from the past. Just as our father's house gives us protection in the days of our immaturity, so the Constitution stands as a guard until such times as the people have time to gather together to devise a change. Such a protection is vitally necessary at present, and the fact that Canberra politicians, are so eager to get rid of the Constitution should be a warning to all those who believe in democratic control."
James Guthrie in Our Sham Democracy
NO RECOVERY IN SIGHT
The Keating Government continues to try to "talk up" the alleged economic recovery. Any small improvement in economic activities is the result of some people deciding that with inflation relatively low, they should buy some of the consumer goods they have been putting off purchasing. Building activities must go on, and so people are building new homes, or taking advantage of lower interest rates to renovate existing homes.
The state of the stock markets do not indicate any great confidence in the future. The last temporary upsurge in stock markets saw the usual flood of small investors, most of whom lost badly. The growing trade conflict between the U.S.A. and Japan, which looks set to become worse, hangs like a deep cloud over the international scene. The Clinton threat to use its famous 301 law to unilaterally impose trade sanctions unless Japan complies with his demands makes a mockery of the much-publicised GATT agreement. The Keating Government has said that while it supports the concept of opening up Japanese markets, it does not support this being done as suggested by the Americans.
The reality is that all the industrialised nations are locked into a straitjacket of financial orthodoxy, which makes it increasingly difficult to try to stimulate their economies without a renewal of the dreaded inflation. Investors have at least learned from past experience that accelerated growth in the economy inevitably results in inflation. Therefore there is a growing tendency to curtail investments when it is perceived that a much publicised growth policy is going to end with more inflation and, later, yet another credit squeeze in an attempt to curtail the inflation.
And so, ironically, the more Treasurer Ralph Willis boasts about an escalating rate of growth, the greater nervousness of investors. There is no evidence anywhere that depressed economic conditions and growing social instability can be overcome under debt finance.
(Suggested reading: A Programme for Reversing Inflation, without economic dislocation. By Eric D. Butler. Available from all League addresses. $2.50 posted.)
KEATING'S POWER LUST THREATENS SENATE
by David Thompson
Prime Minister Keating's venomous attack on the Senate has little to do with improving representative Government in Australia. This is a naked power play, in which a power-drunk Prime Minister seeks to make the Parliament subservient to the Executive by destroying the Senate's role as a Rouse of review. It can be achieved by a change to the Senate voting system, from one of proportional representation to a preferential system, merely by passing new legislation. No referendum, and no election would be required, but at the next election, the minor Senate parties would almost certainly be wiped out.
Keating's contempt for the Senate ("unrepresentative swill") is a product of his arrogant demand that groups like the Democrats cease frustrating a Labor executive that controls the House of Representatives. On the other hand, Senator Kernot, in an impressive display of political courage, has demanded that the Government produce Foreign Investment Review Board documents on the sale of Fairfax Press, and forced the dismissal of Mrs. Kelly over mal-administration of the allocation of sporting funds. "This is not a Senate out of control," wrote Kernot. "It is a Senate doing its job."
In fact, Keating's Senate proposals are a cynical betrayal of traditional Labor principles. The proportional representation system of selecting the Senate was originally introduced with strong support from the late Sir Arthur Calwell and the Labor Party. Australians have used the Senate ever since to act as a brake on the Government or to represent minority views. For example, Senator Syd Negus was elected from W.A. to oppose death duties, and the Democratic Labor Party, as an anti-communist force, was represented in the Senate.
It gradually became obvious that a small proportion - about 10% - of voters who may have been prepared to vote for a major party, in the lower House, actually voted against them in the Senate. When this was pointed out to the Liberal frontbencher, Mr. Don Chipp, in the mid 1970s, Chipp left the Liberals, and founded the Australian Democrats, depending entirely upon that small proportion of voters who always voted to ensure that a government did not have a Senate majority. Chipp simply popularised this principle with the cynical but enduring slogan that the reason for the Democrats' existence was to "keep the bastards honest".
SEDUCING THE COALITION
It is quite clear that not only the Democrats but the W.A. Greens and the Independent Harradine from Tasmania all have legitimate constituencies in the Senate. When Keating disparages the Senate as "unrepresentative" he is being blatantly deceitful. The Senate was never intended to represent numbers this was the role of the House of Representatives. The Senate is there to protect the interests of minority groups and States. As Kernot says, "Contrary to his rhetoric, Keating doesn't want to make the Senate more representative - he wants to make the Government less accountable."
No new Senate voting system can be introduced without the Coalition's support in the Senate. In order to succeed, Keating must seduce the Liberals to support him. This he has set out to do, by hinting that if a Coalition Government is elected, they also could enjoy unrestricted power if the Senate was purged of minor parties. The tragedy is that this is music to the ears of the Liberal powerbrokers. Already Mr. Alexander Downer has warned the Democrats that the Coalition may support Keating's "reforms".
Those with short memories should remember the Bill of Rights campaign, in which the Democrats were deluged with mail demanding that they throw the Bill out of the Senate. Under enormous pressure, the Democrats did so, thus defeating a key Fabian initiative, and moving the then Attorney General, Senator Evans, to remark bitterly that "progress" had been denied by 'political troglodytes'.
If it wasn't for an independent political force in the Senate, Australia could be in even more diabolical straits today. Every effort must be made to protect the role of the Senate. Whether we agree with all their policies, or not, the Democrats, under the leadership of Cheryl Kernot, are emerging as the only useful opposition to the centralisation of power.
The growing violence between Greek and Macedonian
communities in Melbourne highlights once again the folly of multiculturalism.
Historic differences between Macedonia, originally part of Jugoslavia,
and Greece have, like other differences, been imported into Australia,
and inflamed by a policy, which deliberately fosters multiculturalism.
Victorian Jeff Kennett and his economic rationalist
advisers keep insisting that the stiff financial medicine they are administering
to the Victorians will eventually restore health. This treatment has
the blessing of the International Bankers who have indicated to Mr.
Kennett that he can borrow more overseas. The Kennett theory is that
his programme will eventually result in more private investment in Victoria
and consequently a fall in unemployment.
Observers of the international scene have long drawn attention to the military build up in Communist China. In spite of President Clinton's warning that China will not continue to be granted a Most Favoured Nation status beyond June of this year, unless its human rights record improves, international investments continue to flood into China. Now comes a report that there is a massive Chinese military build up in Tibet.
FROM THE SECRETARY OF A.C.L.U. (Australian Civil Liberties Union)
Peter Reith, Shadow Special Minister of State, warned in the debate on the Native Title Bill, 1993, that an outfit called The Working Group on Indigenous Peoples has now virtually completed a draft text for the U.N. Declaration on Indigenous Rights. He noted that if the Draft is approved in 1994 or thereabouts then, because Australia has been active in its development, there is no doubt that it would be ratified by the Federal Labor Government.
"If, as expected, it is ratified, it would not only enhance Canberra's power, but could lead to giving legal rights of appeal to the U.N's. Human Rights Committee. "Even though this is not a court and its rules not binding, nevertheless, attempts could be made to override Australian sovereignty, and therefore this Draft headed 'Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples' could be a move towards an independent and sovereign Aboriginal nation.
"Rights for indigenous people are demanded throughout the Draft text, but especially 'operative paragraph 29', where it says that 'indigenous peoples have the right to autonomy and self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, including culture, religion, education, information, medical, health, housing, environment, social welfare, economic activities, land and resources management, entry by non-members, as well as internal taxation for financing these autonomous functions'. "That doesn't leave much room for outside control! (Except military.)
"Peter Reith mentions that the U.S. Government has rejected similar provision, on the grounds that 'national law will necessarily limit the autonomy of an indigenous people'. Surely, the same applies to Australia. "This could be 'added on' to Mabo, and 'operative paragraph 41', specifically states that 'nothing in this declaration may be interpreted as diminishing or extinguishing existing or future rights indigenous peoples may have or acquire', so it would include 'native title' legislation in its scope.
"I think that there should be an awareness of the danger of this draft text and the possibility that U.N. control under it could override Australian sovereign law. People should be advised of its danger and there should be open debate in Parliament. It should not be 'rubber stamped'. This could be a 'next stage' after Mabo, and it needs guarding against." (Geoff Muirden, Secretary, A.C.L.U., Melbourne)
LIBERALS NEED POLICIES, NOT A MESSIAH
from Maryborough District Advertiser (Vic.),
"There are, however, two stirrings of sanity within the Liberal Party which, if adopted as policy and carried through into law, would be to the lasting benefit of the political scene, and ultimately the Australian people. The first is the determination of a section of the Liberal Government of South Australia to abolish compulsory voting. Only a handful of countries ever adopted compulsory voting, some of which have already abandoned the idea.
"Compulsory voting makes lazy party machines as it forces the disinterested and the satisfied to register a vote. These two categories of electors can be relied upon to split their votes, half to 'your' side and half to 'mine', so their votes effectively cancel each other, but the parties parade themselves as paragons of virtue. It has the advantage from the point of view of the party machine of saving them the trouble of ensuring people are interested enough to vote. The parties, of course, will say they spend millions in advertising to get their message across. The reality is that election campaigns have become a 'turn off' with people so bored that they can't wait for election day to pass.
"The other hope in the Liberal Party is the move by Peter Reith in Canberra to have the Citizens' Initiated Referendum (C.I.R.) written into the Constitution. This is a long-established function in the Swiss political system, which enables a percentage of the voting public, usually advocated at 5%, to petition for a referendum on any proposed law. If the required number of signatures is obtained the government is obliged to conduct a referendum and abide by the result.
"The usual criticisms of C.I.R. are that we would always be having a referendum, and that referendums in Australia are never carried. In reply to the first criticism: a government knows how far it can go without triggering sufficient anger to precipitate a referendum. Furthermore, collecting the signature of 5% of the electorate would deter the frivolous.
"In the second case, the history of referendums in Australia has been one in which we have been asked invariably to increase the power of the central government. A referendum to reverse that trend would have a better chance of success.
"Finally, C.I.R. would give us the opportunity to decide one thing at a time; a luxury that general elections and the perceived mandate of one party cannot give us. (Ron Fischer, Talbot, Vic.)
ATTACK ON COUNCIL PLANSfrom Herald-Sun, Melbourne, March 4th
It is likely that by June, the administration of a third of metropolitan councils, the cities of Geelong, Ballarat, and Bendigo, and the south-west of the State will be in the hands of Government-appointed administrators. "There will be no elected councillors accountable to their ratepayers possibly for up to two years. By the end of the year it is likely the entire Melbourne region and the LaTrobe Valley will be likewise administered'.
"At the same time the Planning Minister, Mr. Rob Maclellan, is reforming the planning system to remove individual rights to appeal against developments which are seen to be appropriate. "He has proposed new residential zones in which the final decision to appeal will lie with council administrators. "Look at the recent furore caused by the proposed amendment to facilitate fast food outlets in residential areas. "Who will speak for the community when the councillors have gone? Will homeowners be happy to rely on non-elected administrators?" (Rob Barfus, Chief Executive/Secretary, Municipal Association of Victoria.)
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