The PM continues to misrepresent the truth. He must go
Date: November 21 2007
JOHN Howard has advanced three arguments why you should not vote Labor, each one based on a gross misrepresentation of the truth. I will now demolish those arguments, not with opinions but with facts.
First, the trade union bogy. Every working Australian, and those dependent on them, is indebted to the trade union movement. Everything they take for granted that largely makes up their standard and quality of living — their pay structure, paid annual leave, long-service leave, sick leave, penalty rates, equal pay — was fought for and won by the trade union movement.
I can speak with authority on this because for many years I presented before the national Arbitration Tribunal the union case for improvements in wages and conditions. On every occasion when I walked into the court I was confronted with an array of bewigged senior counsel representing the Coalition governments in the states and Canberra, lined up with the employer organisations, to oppose the improvements that trade unions were fighting to obtain for working Australians.
So whose advertisements on industrial relations and WorkChoices are you going to believe? The employer organisations and the Coalition that have consistently used the independent tribunals to deny you any improvements, and who have now neutered those tribunals and the protections they provide for the most needy — or Labor and the trade unions who have argued the cases from which working Australians continue to be the beneficiaries?
As to TV advertisements and the trade unions: what an insult to voters' intelligence is Howard's "union thug" scam. The fact is that in an organisation as vast as the Australian trade union movement there will be some bad apples. (You may remember that when I was prime minister I finished off Norm Gallagher, a union bad apple of his day; Kevin Rudd has shown his readiness to be just as tough.)
But ask the question: what would Howard say if Rudd, in the context of attacking employers' support for WorkChoices, authorised a TV advertisement with a photograph of a businessman, jailed for criminal behaviour for defrauding thousands of senior citizens of their life savings, with the caption "Employer Crooks"?
I conclude my observations on this first Howard misrepresentation, by saying that no institution in this country's history has done more to flesh out and give real meaning to the concept of the "fair go" than the trade union movement.
Second is Howard's economic management myth, that only he and not Labor can be trusted with the economic management of Australia. Again, let me use facts to destroy this grotesque misrepresentation. Who, as treasurer, had responsibility for economic management for more than five years before I was elected on March 5, 1983? John Winston Howard. I knew that he was handing me the worst legacy in terms of unemployment and inflation in Australia's history; both were at 11%. But I didn't know exactly how bad the projected budget deficit was, because he had refused to come clean on this during the campaign.
On Sunday, March 5, I called in the secretary of the Treasury, John Stone, who told me that the projected figure for 1983-4 was $9.6 billion, the largest in our history; equivalent today as a percentage of GDP to more than $40 billion. Stone pointed out that "the budget balance is projected to deteriorate from near zero to more than 6% of GDP in a two-year period. The speed and magnitude of that deterioration is almost without precedent among the major OECD countries in the postwar period". Stone was no Labor stooge — he went on to become a Nationals senator — and his written judgement was that Howard's performance was virtually the worst anywhere in the developed world since 1945.
My government had to rescue an economy wrecked by Howard. We made the tough economic management decisions he had shirked — we reduced tariffs, floated the dollar, introduced competition into the financial and banking sectors and massively stimulated funding in industrial research and development. Central to all this was a great act of institutional self-sacrifice: the trade unions, in return for improvements in health, education and welfare, agreed to forgo increases in wages, and thus increase the competitiveness of Australian industry.
It is the judgement of economists here and in the relevant international institutions that it was the economic management and structural reforms of Labor and the restraint of the trade unions that laid the foundations for the strength of the Australian economy today.
Prime Minister Howard has squandered it again. With the strong economy we handed over and the enormous surge in demand for our resources from Asia, his Government has had unprecedented surpluses to invest in our future, particularly in education and training. But he has utterly failed to do so and thus our future is hamstrung by shortages of skilled tradesmen and professionals.
Third, and in some ways the greatest Howard myth, is his claim about foreign relations and security. Again, look at the facts: joining with his pal, George Bush, in Iraq (described by Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of the US-led forces there, as "a catastrophic failure"). It is the unanimous view of the Australian, US and UK intelligence agencies that the war in Iraq has increased the threat of a terrorist attack in our country. Thank you, Prime Minister.
When the facts are examined against the panicked rhetoric of Howard, I suggest there is only one conclusion to which you can come: it is time for him and his Government, with all their misrepresentations of the truth, to be gone.
Bob Hawke was prime minister from 1983-1991.