Monday, July 31, 2006

POLITICS: The Banana Monarchy?

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating was once voted “The World’s Best Treasurer”. He was committed to fundamental structural reform of the Australian economy, and was responsible for the deregulation of Australia’s financial system and the floating of the Australian dollar.

But Australia’s trade deficit was always one of Keating’s worries. During a 1996 radio interview, he warned Australians to curb their debt or risk the nation becoming a “banana republic”. The comment sent the value of the dollar tumbling, and gave Keating’s critics a stick with which to poke him in the eye.

Back in my days with the Young Liberals, the “banana republic” theme was used to great effect. During the 1996 Federal Election, an old mate ran as endorsed Liberal Candidate for Paul Keating’s Western Sydney seat of Blaxland.

At polling booths, Liberal Party volunteers were provided with a box of rotten bananas and a simple script. Anyone refusing a Liberal “how-to-vote” sheet would be offered a rotting banana instead. “Vote Liberal or vote for Keating’s banana republic”.

Now, with the latest inflation figures and with interest rates looking like they might go through the roof, John Howard looks like the best he can offer Australians is a banana monarchy.

Howard has attempted to blame a record 4% inflation rate on the price of Queensland bananas following the devastation to banana growing districts caused by Cyclone Larry. Record inflation will almost certainly place upward pressure on interest rates, causing greater devastation to Australian household economies than Cyclone Larry caused to North Queensland’s banana crop.

With fuel prices continuing to rise and interest rates ready to add an extra few hundred dollars to average monthly repayments, Australians can kiss goodbye their tax cuts from the last budget.

And across the Tasman, NZ Opposition Leader Don Brash’s references to New Zealand’s last budget as “the Bondi budget” won’t be sounding as amusing as when they were first delivered.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Questioning Israel

Antony Loewenstein’s book My Israel Question is released in August.

The book has brought extreme discomfort to some within the Australian community which believes Israel has the right to bomb Lebanese civilians even if this risks the lives of thousands of Australian citizens in Lebanon.

This same group has been actively lobbying the Australian government to virtually ignore the interests of Lebanon and its citizens. Similar forces in the United States have been pressuring American lawmakers to act against American interests in the Middle East.

Loewenstein is a brave man for taking on this nefarious, dishonest and destructive force. Already, he has been pilloried on national television, accused of making factual errors and of being far-Left.

To some extent, I personally can understand where Antony Lowenstein is coming from. I myself have written and spoken in the media, condemning forces within Australia’s Islamic communities, including peak bodies, who have wasted resources and are spreading extremism and hatred in the community.

Because of the public positions I have taken, I have also been condemned and pilloried. I’ve been accused of being anti-Islamic, I’ve received death threats (via e-mail, over the telephone and in person) and I’ve had numerous occasions to feel apprehensive about my own safety and that of my family.

There are forces within the Islamic communities who have a vested interest in maintaining control over community organisations. There are others who derive income and prestige from their involvement in Muslim affairs.

The Jewish communities in Australia have their fair share of self-appointed spokespeople who deliberately take the most belligerent approach to any issue affecting Israel.

I am not aware of any Australian Muslim organisation which has gone out of its way to defend Hezbollah's attack on Israeli sovereignty. I am also not aware of any Muslim lobbies set up to defend even the most outrageous actions of the governments of Muslim-majority states.

Indeed, as a rule, Muslims are amongst the loudest critics of Muslim governments and states. The only exception to this rule has been those institutions deriving income on condition of their support (if not their silence) for a particular king or emir.

Aussie Muslims are openly irreverent to both local community leaders and to political figures in Muslim countries. An open and lively debate is conducted in Muslim circles, including on internet forums (even if Sydney and Brisbane American-owned tabloid newspapers confuse such open debate with terrorism).

Jewish and Muslim communities are going through a process of generational change. It is understandable that so many Australian Jews feel strongly about Israel. After all, the Australian Jewish community has a much higher proportion of Holocaust survivors than most diaspora communities (hence, Sheik Hilaly’s despicable attempts at Holocaust denial were even more irresponsible and damaging to Muslim-Jewish relations).

However, many younger Jews don’t feel such a strong link to a foreign state in the Middle East. Not all necessarily take the same approach as Loewenstein. But their voices need to be heard. And thankfully they are being heard more and more.

(The launch will be held on Tuesday 8 August 2006 at 6pm at Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe. RSVP by Tuesday 1 August 2006 by tel 03) 9342 0300 or

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Monday, July 24, 2006

MEDIA/COMMENT: Has Miranda Devine lost the plot?

I used to edit a conservative youth magazine called pro-Action. Despite being a small-“c” conservative, I’d still allow Big-“C” conservative views to be aired. How?

By inviting the most rabid Big-“C” conservative to write regularly. And by not editing out the idiotic bits.

Which I suspect is exactly what the Sydney Morning Herald does with Miranda Devine. I’ve written about Miranda in the past. But her latest defence of “Howard generation’s conservatives” against allegations of election rorting suggests she is really losing the plot.

Miranda claims Howard conservatives are being wrongly accused of rorting and stacking. She mentioned former Group-staffer John Hyde-Page, whom she claims has become a “media darling” for the ABC.

She conveniently ignores the array of Howard conservatives appearing on Four Corners confirming the allegations, even admitting they participated. Michael Darby, Fran Quinn, Betty Mihic, Ken Henderson and myself are hardly tree-hugging lefties.

Miranda then insults conservatives everywhere, describing offensive behaviour by (perhaps drunken) Liberal Students as merely ...
... [b]eing openly conservative and displaying … regard for Howard.

I guess I’ll be getting a “SHUT THE F*CK UP” t-shirts to wear at the Manly polling booth next election.

Miranda then tries to flex her pseudo-conservative muscles by telling us how un-Left she is. Miranda loves to show her political erectness by defining herself by what she doesn’t stand for (instead of what she does stand for). When a conservative columnist attacks something just because it is expressed in a manner or has an outcome that someone on the Left might support, you can tell they aren’t a real conservative.

Finally, Miranda finds a way to link allegations of internal Liberal rorting to a letter some bureaucrat from the NSW Education Department wrote to the Koori Mail newspaper.

Toward the end of the Four Corners episode, Michael Darby asked Janine Cohen:
What planet are you from?
Perhaps he is better off asking that question of Miranda.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Political Puberty Blues – Chapter 1

Ah f#ck it! If John Hyde-Page can write a Mills & Boon novel about his days as a Young Lib, why can’t I? Here goes …

During the mid-1990’s, when I was on the executive of the Bankstown Young Liberals, I attended a meeting at the Kirribilli Hotel, just across the road from Milson’s Point Railway Station on the north side of Sydney harbour.

The meeting was called by an old colleague from Macquarie University named NC. My friends from Bankstown Young Libs (most of whom, like me, were Macquarie University Law graduates) knew NC as a guy who acted as a sleeper amongst the hard-left at Macquarie University.

NC organized a small sleeper-cell of capitalist environmentalists who had impeccable conservative credentials unknown to the hard-left. They ran a ticket for the Macquarie University Student Union Board, and managed to get quite a few hard-left tickets to give them preferences.

NC’s covert organization skills were impressive. So when he decided to apply his skills to organizing against the liberal-left, we were all excited.

NC had managed to attract quite a few ex-Groupers over to our side. Amongst them was a very smart chap who was completing his PhD in American History from the University of Sydney. PP was also editor of a small but impressive newsletter called The Atlas.

It was at that meeting that I met the endorsed conservative candidate for the Young Liberal presidency. JR was a likeable and down-to-earth guy from the country. He seemed sincere and was genuinely conservative without being an embarrassing bigot.

Also at the meeting were some people from the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation (ALSF) including one delegate from Queensland.

It was at this meeting that I met, for the first time, someone I had heard about. JR introduced me to a smiling middle-aged chap as follows: “Irfan, it is my pleasure to introduce you to one of the dead-set legends of the right, David Clarke.”

JR later became a staffer for the newly-elected MP for Parramatta Ross Cameron. Unfortunately, my relationship with JR deteriorated after he led a coup against the President of that branch who was also Ross Cameron’s campaign secretary (and also happened to be my partner at the time).

JR enjoyed poking fun at the hard-left, and was particularly fond of taking the piss out of the politically correct fixations of some people. Hence he was a perfect candidate to play the role of “Banjo” on Stan Zemanek’s evening show on Radio 2UE.

Banjo’s role was to pretend to be a dole-bludger who would spend much of his time drinking and smoking pot. At the same time, Banjo had this ability to come up with coherent social and economic policy. The role was quite controversial, and I am surprised that JR’s employer Ross Cameron never found out.

In case you have read this far, I will try my best to continue with this story. I might then be able to introduce you all to some more interesting characters – like the Young Liberal Presidential candidate for the Right who ended up falling hopelessly in love with a Group staffer. Or about that really cool guy who went to a Bankstown Young Liberals meeting and screamed out to the Hon John Ryan MLC the following words of endearment: “You f#cking chetnik!”

Stay tuned for more!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

POLITICS: Time to Act

I was told by the 4 Corners crew that there would be a rather large turnout of people prepared to go on the record with their allegations against the Party. I never expected it would be this big.

To get a former federal leader, a former state president, a former regional president, a former country representative, former staffers and even some self-confessed branch stackers is quite a turnout!

The allegations are serious and deserve scrutiny by the Party hierarchy. It will be difficult for Peter Debnam to stand up and accuse the ALP of ethnic branch stacking when members of both his Parliamentary and Organisational wings have confessed to and/or are involved in the same activity.

Worse still are the allegations of vote-rigging. And branch stacking. And God-knows what else.

The NSW Party needs to deal with these issues urgently. Its participation in democratic electoral processes cannot be taken seriously if its own house isn’t in order. These allegations cannot just be dismissed as the rantings of disgruntled former members or failed preselection candidates. They have been made by people who seriously care about the Party and who don’t want it to be railroaded by narrow sectarian agendas and by fringe special interest groups.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

POLITICS: A Matter of Distrust

John Howard’s repeated electoral mantra has been based on trust.

He went to the last election asking voters to trust him and his government to keep interest rates down, to secure the nation and its borders against terrorism and queue-jumpers, to manage the economy.

At the heart of this trust involved trusting his ministers to perform. The most important minister in this regard was and remains the Treasurer.

Howard has been able to weather repeated political storms – children overboard, AWB and much more. The electorate was prepared to overlook these scandals provided the economy was strong. Howard’s formula of trust depended on it.

Now, the man Howard relies on to manage the economy has effectively called him a liar. Peter Costello claims John Howard made a commitment in 1994, some 12 years ago and around 18 months following Paul Keating’s “victory for the true believers”.

At the time, the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party was in the political wilderness. John Hewson was failing in his attempts to transform himself into a small “l” liberal. His rival Bronwyn Bishop was busily slipping on her own verbal banana peels, her leadership ambitions in tatters.

The party looked to a young team, led by Alexander Downer and Peter Costello. The pair released a policy platform described as “The Things That Matter”.

Downer’s leadership was still-born thanks to an almost unbelievable case of foot-in-mouth disease. Downer described the Liberal policy on domestic violence as “the things that batter”. It was meant to be a joke. For the Federal Liberal Party’s political fortunes, it was no laughing matter.

By now, the Liberals were desperate and effectively leaderless. Powerbrokers looked toward drafting former leader and then-IR spokesman John Howard to the leadership. Howard was among the most experienced MP’s, having been both a senior government minister and shadow minister. He was also a formidable parliamentary debater, one of the few Coalition MP’s who could successfully intimidate Keating.

It is in this context that the alleged meeting was held in December 1994. Howard claims this meeting was one of a number of meetings held to discuss the vexed issue of leadership in the run-up to the 1996 election. He thereby claims that the discussion was merely a discussion, not a final deal.

One of Howard’s most loyal supporters, former National Farmers’ Federation head and former Minister Ian McLaughlan, disagrees. He has produced his own record, a contemporaneous note confirming the outcome of the discussion.

Howard agreed to take on the mantle of leadership. He agreed to stay for a fixed time, following which the leadership would be passed on to Peter Costello in time to enable him to maximize his chances of winning voter approval.

Who is to be believed? Was there really a deal? Or was it just brainstorming about hypotheticals?

The answer to this question is more than likely another question: who cares? Been accused by his own deputy of lying, Howard’s continued leadership of the Parliamentary Party is fast becoming untenable.

Howard might have the numbers today. His backbenchers might feel more comfortable presently with him leading the Party at the next election. But Howard’s trustworthiness has taken a mortal blow.

Costello doesn’t look like backing down. His ambition makes him almost sound like a drama queen, preferring the Coalition to lose the next election than be deprived of leadership.

Unless the leadership issue is dealt with, the Coalition looks almost certain to handing Beazley victory in a plate. It certainly isn’t a victory Beazley will have earned.

Monday, July 03, 2006

COMMENT: Howard’s fingers are slipping

Politics isn’t the most exact science on the planet. The best that most political commentators and advisers can do is read the polls and make some wildly educated guesses. Few politicians believe they can read and feel the pulse of the electorate.

JW Howard is the exception. But as each day passes, Howard’s fingers seem to be slipping from the electorate’s pulse. And the electorate (or rather, electorates) seem to be slipping from him.

Now is not a good time to be John Howard. Thanks to an Australian Electoral Commission redrawing of federal seat boundaries in NSW and Queensland, Howard’s own seat of Bennelong is beginning to resemble a Labor seat more and more. Howard now faces the prospect of an even bigger challenge from voters who, at state level, have almost always voted Labor.

But it gets worse. Former National Party deputy leader John Anderson is now left without an electorate. He might need to find a seat occupied by a Liberal MP. We might then see the most damaging three-cornered contest in Australian political history.

Howard has Treasurer Peter Costello breathing down his throat. Costello’s recent pronouncements on a redefined federalism effectively require a change in the constitution before they can be implemented. Howard cannot be seen to be opposing Costello on this, though thus far his support has only been lukewarm and limited to the federal administration of ports.

Costello knows his proposals are outlandish. Does he really believe the electorate will support such radical constitutional change? Can someone remember the last time an a referendum ballot for constitutional change got up?

Howard has become less confident than before. The AWB saga has shaken his government’s credibility. The Iraq war has produced its first Australian casualty, and this was obviously botched up by an ideologically confused Defense Minister. Issues Howard used to brush aside as the obsession of left-wing elites have now become sources of irritation.

The apparent double standards of the Howard government are also becoming apparent. Howard always prided himself for standing up for the battlers of Western Sydney. Now those very battlers are deserting him in droves, especially as they can see their basic award entitlements being eroded by the Work Choices revolution.

John Howard always felt he could rely on the electorate to support him against the trendy Fairfax columnists on issues such as asylum seekers and security. But his response to the ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope releasing the Anti-Terrorism Bill was resented by the electorate. After all, what would Howard have to hide from the people?

Then events overseas are also proving a challenge. Here again, the image of “honest John” is being replaced with that of a duplicitous politician prepared even to act against the national interest for the sake of appeasing a foreign power.

Howard’s changes to asylum seeker policy are seen as an attempt to appease Indonesian President Yudhuyono. Howard’s lack of action on Guantanamo detainee David Hicks is seen as supporting President Bush at a time when even the Bush-stacked US Supreme Court are against him.

The prognosis for the Howard government isn’t good. But then, Howard has survived bigger challenges than this. Whilst in opposition, Howard was opposed by a band of fruitcakes led by the ever-irrelevant John Stone who wanted the country turned into a huge Queensland peanut farm. The “Joh for PM” push robbed Howard of his chance to become PM.

Currently, John Stone’s influence is limited to the odd irrelevant and hysterical op-ed in The Australian where he seems to be entertained as the broadsheet’s occasional village idiot. But the challenges facing Howard now extend beyond the white-shoe-wearing section of the electorate.

Work Choices is proving to be an unmitigated disaster. Howard has effectively given the dying Federal ALP leadership some oxygen. The AWA push has been cleverly demonized by the union movement, and Beazley has jumped on the bandwagon.

What makes Beazley’s attack so devastating is that he has an alternative that actually seems to work. His formula satisfies the employer lobby by offering them the chance to enter into individual contracts, with the proviso that they cannot force workers to contract out of minimum award conditions. The common law contract cannot override awards protected by statute.

And with awards now having reduced coverage, Beazley can maintain the Workplace Relations Act reforms whilst restoring award protection. He can now ride on the success wave of all the hard work done by Tony Abbott and other Workplace Relations ministers.

So what should Howard do? Should he fight the next election and potentially lose his seat and/or the national ballot? Or should he retire gracefully and allow Costello, Abbott, Downer, Nelson, Turnbull and all the other aspirants to fight amongst each other for what’s left?