Thursday, November 22, 2007

Election 102 – or 'Don't hold your breath'

Okay. It's two days to go and I've laid my cards on the table and shown how I want a change in government – mainly because I believe we need a change in the country.

But don't get me wrong. I am under no illusions over what an ALP government can or will achieve in these issues. For all Kevin Rudd's talk of 'New Leadership', the ALP still supports mandatory detention of undocumented asylum seekers, and sees itself as a party that can wage war against terrorists, whether in Afghanistan or Southeast Asia, rather than make peace with the poor. Kevin Rudd supported the government's NT Intervention in Aboriginal communities, and their treatment of Dr Haneef, and while Rudd's policy on cutting greenhouse gas emissions is far better than Howard's, it falls short of what is urgently required now.

I am also under no illusions because I remember how much I hated the Keating ALP government when it was in power. Admittedly, I was younger, more radical in my politics, and heavily involved in the education campaigns of the day – against Keating's HECS increases, moves to replace Austudy with a loan scheme, and the bottom-line driven underfunding of universities. I also opposed the Keating ALP government's collaboration with the Suharto regime over Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, the ALP's support for the PNG government's war in Bourganville, and Hawke's support for the first Gulf War.

It is amazing what my memory can dredge up when I bring my mind to it.

I vividly remember how much my friends – especially fellow activists – and I hated the way the 'lawyer-dominated', right-wing of the ALP so profoundly controlled the party and federal government, and how we detested the economic-rationalist zealotry of the '80s-'90s that changed this country in a mean-spirited, money-grubbing, bean-counting way. Does that sound familiar to you? Deregulation and free trade meant thousands of manufacturing workers losing their jobs, and why you can barely find a wool jumper made in Australia in the shops these days. Or anything else made in Australia that isn't designer-, boutique-, or hand-made, for that matter. We also saw the deregulated finance sector squeezing low-income people where it hurt – with account keeping fees and increasing transaction fees.

It was 'economic rationalism' in the early 90s. How different will it be from Rudd's 'economic conservatism' of today?

We witnessed (with mockery, mind you) how lefty and union ALP members and supporters shook their head in disbelief and waited for the day when the their beloved party would forsake its right-wing capitalist turn and return to its roots. Hah. Do you see that happening under Rudd's economic conservativism?

Why am I saying any of this is now? After all, there is an almost palpable fear amongst those who want to see Howard defeated that if we were to speak the truth about what we fear of Rudd's ALP, that the spell will break and Howard will not be defeated. There is a belief that Rudd is only saying what he needs to to get into power – hence his 'Me Too'-ism – and then everything will change and come out all right after the election. And there will be a return to the ALP long hoped for by the True Believers. And milk and honey will flow down the Yarra.

You could say that the nation waits with baited breath, for the massive change to come under Rudd. But I don't. We will probably let out a collective sigh of relief. But then the hard work of rebuilding will come. And, for all his talk of education and infrastructure revolutions, I think Rudd is an incrementalist, rather than a revolutionary.

That is why I've come to the opinion that who holds the balance of power in the Senate will be more crucial that we think. Whoever does so will have the power to push through stronger responses to climate change than the government is prepared for, to temper cost cutting so that it doesn't hurt the disadvantaged, to to insist on more far-reaching changes to the industrial relations regime, and to ensure we don't turn to nuclear power at the expense of renewable energies. And of course on the range of other matters I raised when I expressed why and how I believe this country needs to change.

When I've raised this with friends and colleagues, I'm greeted with 'The House of Reps is what matters', or 'Oh, no, it's not a shoe-in, the ALP is not guaranteed government,' and 'Now's not the time to be voting Greens!'.

But I think many people do get it - perhaps far more deeply than I do, and more realistically. It would explain, for one, the financial and moral support some trade unions are offering the Greens for this election.

I admit that a return to power for the Howard government, or a Costello government if Howard loses his seat or retires, will be devastating for Australia – and the world, if Australia fails to support the development of a credible, viable international agreement to stop global warming.

And, while I'm not convinced that a Rudd government will bring us the groundswell of social, political and economic change and renewal that this country needs, I do believe that a growing majority of people sincerely do want that change – that they're not just toying with a change of government because they're bored with Howard. This is something that the media commentators have not given voters credit for.

But it is a question of when people will start being disheartened with a Rudd labor government not fulfilling the hopes of people (rather than the promises they've made, which are pretty slim so far…) for the change we seek.

And then we will see the first disagreements with the new government – over how far they're prepared to dismantle WorkChoices, how far they are prepared to cut greenhouse gas emissions, how soon they will bring the troops home from Iraq, and whether they will support more asylum seekers to settle (without trauma) in Australia. And that's also when we see the Senate, and those who will hold the balance of power, come into play.

I'm not sure which will be the first major, defining fight that will end the
(hypothetically future) Rudd honeymoon – the split between the unions and (hypothetically future) Rudd government over Workchoices, or the split with the green movement over greenhouse gas emissions and the Bali negotiations. But it will come.

And then hopefully, we'll more and more come to realise that we – each of us, individually and together – will have to make the change we want, and not just proxy it to our government.

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