Thursday, April 24, 2008

DEAR MR RUDD (Ed. Robert Manne)

The Gist of DEAR MR RUDD (Ed. Robert Manne, 2008).

Here’s a book addressed to Australia’s recently-elected Prime Minister,
in which 20 experts (mostly left-of-centre, as you’d expect if they’re
chosen by Robert Manne) offer ideas and suggestions for Australia’s
future. This was a rush-job, written and edited during the couple of
months after the November 2007 election, but with some brilliant
offerings by academics and others on such key issues as Aboriginal
affairs, climate change, the economy, human rights, education, health,
the republic... and much more.

Here I’ve selected a fairly representative miscellany of
opinions/suggestions – one from each contributor. Add these to the 2020
Summit ideas, and Mr Rudd has quite an agenda in front of him, eh?

‘”Dear Mr Rudd” hopes to help resume the conversation between public
intellectuals and government, which broke down so badly during the
Howard years’ (Robert Manne)

‘On what basis should Australia remain a constitutional monarchy? There
is no credible argument left... If the queen died tomorrow, the streets
of our cities and towns would not be lined with thousands of mourners as
they were in January 1936 with the death of George V, when the empire
“stood still and silent in grief”’ (Mark McKenna)

‘Over the last decade, this nation has experienced a diatribe from
ultra-conservatives attacking Indigenous people’s quest for recognition
as a distinct culture and acknowledgement of past injustices’ (Pat Dodson)

‘John Howard presented himself as the protector of the national culture
against the social engineering of the left-wing elites who had got their
hands on state power’ (Geoff Gallop)

‘Viewers of the televised segments of [Question Time in Parliament]
would be surprised to learn that past speakers’ rulings... forbid the
barracking, cat-calling and other nonsense that moves so many of those
viewers to write furious letters about the poor quality of their
representatives’ (Harry Evans)

‘”Yes Minister’s” Sir Humphrey put it epigrammatically: “If you want to
do those damn silly things, don’t do them in such a damn silly way”.
Ministers need their departments’ help... There has not been a single
case since 1901 when a minister has been forced to resign for actions of
the public service about which he did not know or could not reasonably
have been expected to know’ (Patrick Weller)

‘After almost 120 years it is time to cut the labour movement’s Gordian
knot, that most intricate relationship between the fortunes of the
political wing (the Australian Labor Party) and the industrial wing
(trade unions affiliated to the ALP’ (Mark Aarons, no less!)

‘Howard [built] his credentials as a national security leader largely on
his close identification with the personality and policies of the US
president, and his standing suffered accordingly as the president and
his policies were discredited... American policy is drifting in a
dangerous direction – towards an attempt to build a coalition of
democracies designed to contain China’s challenge to American primacy’
(Hugh White)

‘[Minister for Foreign Affairs] Stephen Smith... is well-placed to
engage with neighbouring states in a civil rather than a patronising
manner... The Tampa affair ... was orchestrated to win back the votes
of bigots... Achieving one’s [foreign policy] goals requires a
willingness to listen rather than preach’ (William Maley)

‘When arguments get heated, battles so often occur over words: are
asylum-seekers refugees or queue-jumpers? Is Hamas a terrorist
organization or liberation movement? Was Australia settled or invaded?’
(Martin Krygier)

‘[Professor Ross] Garnaut described the response to climate change as
“the defining challenge of our time”... Over the years the aluminium
industry has made more threats than any other to take its business to
countries without emission restrictions, and has bankrolled the
greenhouse mafia... If unconstrained, aviation emissions will account
for half or more of Australia’s total emissions by 2050 and will
undermine all other efforts’ (Clive Hamilton)

‘An independent, expertise-based Murray-Darling Basin Authority... like
the Reserve Bank [should] be required to communicate with great
discipline, always mindful of the weight given to its statements’ (Mike

‘The fundamental economic fact of Rudd’s victory is that he won in a
boom. This is rare... Ultimately, economic growth comes from two
sources: you can get more people into work and/or get the existing
people to work more efficiently... Australia is suffering a skills
shortage, as several industries struggle to find the qualified employees
they need to expand and grow’ (Andrew Charlton)

‘The Australian health-care “system” is a structural and organizational
shambles that has nevertheless produced world-class results... In the
absence of any grand over-arching vision, the system is a product of one
hundred years of short-term fixes... We have too few staff for too many
hospitals, many [of which] are located where people used to live rather
than where they live now’ (Bill Bowtell)

‘Australia is the only [OECD] nation with the dubious distinction of
combining long hours – over one-fifth of all employees work more than
fifty hours per week – with very high levels of casualization... In his
essay on Bonhoeffer, Rudd wrote that “the time has come for a vision for
Australia not limited bythe narrowest of definitions of our national
self-interest.” The family must not be “sacrificed on the altar of
market reality.” Two large British studies... concluded that “high
levels of group care before the age of three (and particularly before
the age of two) were associated with higher levels of antisocial
behaviour at age three”.’ (Anne Manne)

‘The “Bringing Them Home” report... found that race-based child-removal
policies were a special instance of genocide... This is crystal clear,
for instance, in Western Australia, where the instructions and
justification were aimed at eliminating the entire “race”... Throughout
the last decade , Andrew Bolt, Christopher Pearson and their ilk have
engaged... in polluting Australian political debate with a vicious
account of the nation’s history... I have heard the life stories of many
of the victims and read the documentary evidence’ (Marcia Langton)

‘The ALP’s “Forward with Fairness” policy [re workplace relations]
adopts the notion of “fairness” as its underpinning ethical principle.
By contrast, the Howard government’s WorkChoices revolution arose
primarily from an economic perspective...’ (Jill Murray)

‘House prices are now less affordable in Australia than in almost all
other developed countries... Our three levels of government should
cooperate in providing... a scheme to provide subsidies and other
incentives for institutional investors in low-rent housing... At least
initially, the scheme should be managed by non-profit organizations’
(Julian Disney)

‘Australia has just two universities in the top 100 [Shanghai Jiao Tong]
universities [in the world]... ANU at fifty-seven and Melbourne at
seventy-nine. Canada... has two universities in the top forty’ (Simon

‘The arts need government patronage because they create minds that
matter... The optimistic claims made by Keating: “Culture creates
wealth... Culture employs... Culture adds value”... Artist fees in most
art forms remain pitifully low’ (Juliana Engberg).

(After reading these chapters with hundreds more generalizations and
suggestions like the above, I’ve moved Mr. Rudd up my prayer-list!)

Rowland Croucher

April 2008


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