Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Fifteen years of Keating PM? Nine of Beazley PM?

As we approach Howard's tenth anniversary, presumably we receive more examples of the silliness proposed by Nick Cater, who has edited a book on Howard’s ten years. Cater argues in his column that Howard has presided over increased welfare spending, higher immigration (despite the 'tough rhetoric' of 2001, those on the Tampa were apparently imprisoned by discourses alone?). The climax of the argument is that Australia can't be meaner than in the 1970s as sodomy is no longer illegal as in the 1970s. When the Berlin wall fell Erich Honecker complained that East Germans were ungrateful: weren't they much better of than their grandparents had been under Weimar? I'm a bit puzzled how if welfare and immigration have gone up how can Howard's victory have been the start of a "of a quiet revolution that changed Australia forever" according to the book blurb. This description of Howard as wondrous but somehow not changing much is common among the 'soft right'; Andrew Norton and Imre Saluszinsky for example. The question that should be asked is how would Australia be different if Labor had won in 1996 or even in 1998? Some very hasty conclusions:
1. income distribution would have been more equal (under Clinton, unlike Howard, an economic boom did reduce inequality)
2. Substantially more people would have come to Australia under family reunion (really putting 'families first').
3. The treatment of asylum-seekers would not have been perfect but it would have been much better than it currently is
4. Environmental sustainability on a local and global level would have been much more central to government policy
5. The gap between indigenous and non-indigenous living standards would be less (compare the trends apparent in the census of 1991, 1996 and 2001).
6. Indigenous Australians would not have had their property rights trashed without compensation.
7. Australian workers, particularly the low-paid and low-skilled, would have more rights at the workplace.
8. Levels of human capital would be higher


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