Paul Kelly is on the button, he tells us:
The policy and strategic flaws of the Howard Government have been exposed this week with the appointment by ALP leader Kevin Rudd of Australian National University economics professor Ross Garnaut to produce Australias version of the Stern report. This is what John Howard should have done a year ago.
Turns out it is only this week that we discovered there is a certain vacuum in the area of the Howard Government’s policy. Geez, do I feel stupid; here is me thinking that point was reached five years ago. Thanks Paul, now I know it was this week.
Over the last five years we have watched defence procurement and policy get erratic; and this is outside of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts which have had similarly push-me-pull-you policy responses. There has not been a defence white paper since 2000; which is bad policy. Defence think-tanks and Parliamentary Committee have suggested this been done, but it has not. The ad-hoc nature of procurement has reflected this lack of strategic rigour. To make it worse, the two big ticket items that will go toward Australia maintaining its projection – the tankers and strike fighter/bomber have not been bought, and there is no guarantee the surpluses will continue.
The Super Hornet decision was whim, and largely to silence what was seen as a political liability, which was Labor calling for the F22 to be sought out – which is now apparently available despite a letter saying it wasn’t (more political shenanigans). A better policy response in that situation is to keep the F111 flying – it is an awesome, if expensive deterrent. The Air Warfare Destroyers and Landing Helicopter Dock platform don’t have any real use, but then again, a white paper would have exposed that.
And what else? the flip-flopping on Iraq and Afghanistan. Originally our policy in Afghanistan was that we were there for the war on terror, not Afghanistan. Which was a good policy, and we wound our commitment down to one person, but then Iraq intervened, and GAPF followed. We had already done the local neo-con thing as part of foreign policy fashion. The ASPI released the Our Failing Neighbour report, and not long after we were in the Solomons. East Timor had moral appeal, and was managed well, in comparison to our commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Both of which would become commitments of domestic political obstinacy, rather than any form of policy. The internal incoherence of our purpose and policy on those two nations show the lack of rigour and thought put into them from Australia’s point of view. The fact remains that our presence, no matter how well the ADF performed, was not going to affect the outcome of Iraq becoming a stable democratic country. Our commitment was never enough for that, we were loud-mouths with a small (if not without a) stick.
As to Iraq, and the a-priori for invasion, it turns out it wasn’t the French and Russkies that were funding Saddam – we were the ones sending 300 million to the ‘kill invading Americans’ fund. Once again the cabinet ministers all went blind, deaf and dumb – they didn’t know, they weren’t sure, and to cap it off, it was a legislated monopoly that helped orchestrate it. How economically liberal? The commission was restricted to minimise political fall out, but we were in America trying to stave off an investigative US Senate until after the Australian elections; bit like the David Hicks debacle (what rule of law?), who is now silenced until after this year’s elections but again, we didn’t know, it wasn’t us – yeh right.
How about DIMIA? Immigration became an electoral hot-topic issue, where we traded good governance and the rule of law for a state of exception. We had the normal forgetfulness between political advisors and cabinet ministers; who never know, or can’t recall, as soon as democratic accountability becomes an issue. We had bad legislation passed for the purpose of covering up all the bad administration that went on in DIMIA for political reasons – and to our eternal shame we created camps offshore – where law reached, but wasn’t executed, and the latter solely for political purposes. This is the classic emergent property of a state of exception. So good liberal and democratic governance was out the window for political selfishness.
And then the economy. For a party who makes a claim to liberalism, there hasn’t been much in the way of continuing liberalising the economy. I still pay way too much for trans-pacific flights because the government protects QANTAS’ market. Telstra remains an issue due to a mix of bad policy, government ownership and minimal oversight, while having the appearance of regulation, and broadband in Australia is pure suckitude as a result. The supposedly liberal legislation, Workchoices, is illiberal because it bans collective bargaining. Those that want to bargain, under liberalism, should have the liberty to do so and vice versa for those that don’t. Instead we have legislation based on prohibition. Not to mention Workchoices was anti-federalist and centralised a responsibility in Canberra that was rejected three times by referendum.
Since none of the Australian parliaments have term limits, executives over-staying their welcome is a perennial problem. Term limits are good, they save politicians from themselves. New South Wales has this wonderful non-ministerial body, the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC], which acts in a similar manner; it has chased both Nick Greiner and Bob Carr out of office; it will probably chase Morris Iemma out too unless the Liberal opposition gets its act together. To Greiner and Carr’s eternal credit, they both helped establish ICAC.
Federal Parliament needs an ICAC, for more reasons than just a palatable form of term limits in the vague executive position in the parliamentary system. Government’s fall into corruption and bad habits after about eight years, to the point where it affects good governance and policy. Kicking the Prime Minister or Premier out, may not necessarily rejuvenate the executive, but it can curb some of the worst excesses. Federal parliament requires a more frequent churning of the executive, and if not cabinet, then definitely the Prime Minister. ICAC could provide that within the framework of stopping corruption. I suspect many of the minor scandals of the Howard Government would have had different outcomes if a non-ministerial ICAC body was involved.
East Timor will probably be remembered as the Howard Government at its best. It mixed Australian diplomatic, military, soft and hard power to gain a non-violent result that lifted a cancer that had rested on the Australian conscience for many years. It was done in a manner that was palatable to Australia, the region and the globe through the United Nations. Governance has not been always or consistently been bad under Howard, the early years were a good slow and steady response the frantic pace of the Keating years; and even now good government out-weighs the bad, despite the unconscionable use of emergency and exception, but many policies have frayed to the point of incoherence over the last five years. Domestic political timetables have taken precedence over national interest and policy rigour – and this has lead to bad governance. Howard is a good Prime Minister until there is a political focus or aspect to his executive and legislative management – and when that point is reached, everything is dropped, and it steps outside of executive administration and becomes pure politics. Governance suffers when that happens.
But luckily, the last five years of policy and governance didn’t matter – because it was this week that Howard’s policy and strategic flaws were exposed. Thanks Paul, you have given me a short term forgetful memory I didn’t know I had.