Kim Beazley’s reluctance to spell out, even in the broadest terms, how he would rule Australia is becoming a serious concern given some of the social issues likely to dominate public debate over the coming few years.
Beazley’s tactic, borrowed from the one John Howard was alleged to have used prior to the 1996 election, is to make himself and the ALP the smallest possible target while encouraging the hard men of the Labor Party such as Wayne Swan, Simon Crean and Senator John Faulkner to go out bashing the Government until as many voters as possible are alienated before the election proper.
Then, the pantomime goes, Kim bounds on to centre stage to hand out all the prizes and good news announcements to a gullible public which will cheer him into the Lodge.
It is worth noting that the vast majority of ALP policies have been locked away since half-way through last year to satisfy Beazley jitters about the early election which never eventuated. They are all there, Labor just won’t show them to us.
The ALP says it will not release any of the policies until the Government releases its final pre-election Budget figures claiming it needs to see which are “affordable” and which will need to be junked. Given the Howard Government’s mediocre record on the implementation of the new tax system, it has chosen to concentrate its tactical weaponry on Labor’s economic competence.
And it appears from Government insiders that its tactics will remain squarely in the economic field right through the campaign. The tactic is dangerous and short-sighted. Despite what Peter Costello says, Simon Crean is likely to be a solid and competent Treasurer who will pride himself on running a tight ship. Economic management is probably the least of the potential problems of a Labor Government.
The biggest unknown factor about Kim Beazley is not on economic responsibility, but on social issues and the wider cultural agenda.
From Beazley we have had virtually nothing except for some fluffy ideas about the “knowledge nation” which are meaningless to the vast majority of people anyway. On these and many other areas of government, the Western Australian leader is a complete unknown. We do know Beazley is in favour of prescription heroin – which would be running up the final white flag in the drug war.
But where would Beazley stand on homosexual marriages, for example, on a Bill of Rights, or on human cloning, on state interference in church hospitals?
He is certainly all in favour of “good things” like an apology to Aborigines, but where does he stand on reparations to Aborigines, and how much would this cost? Where does he stand on inviting Aboriginal leaders into the Cabinet room, as was suggested by former ALP minister Robert Tickner recently?
At least John Howard spelt out his broad philosophical ideas during his series of Headland speeches when he returned as Opposition Leader after the Downer debacle in 1995.
Howard’s long career in politics made him one of the more transparent Opposition Leaders in Australian politics when he went to the people in March 1996 – even those who did not agree with him knew where he stood on most issues. For all the words that flow out of Beazley’s mouth, he is the least transparent.
One of the most important reasons why Beazley should be talking more about the way he would govern as Prime Minister is because no Labor Government in Australian history will have ever had such untrammelled power. There could be Labor Premiers in every state and a Chief Minister in the ACT.
If Beazley wins, only the irrelevent and cowboy administration of the Northern Territory would have a conservative flavour. The Senate is likely to be controlled by the Democrats and the Greens, vying with each other to be the furthest-left party in Australia on environmental and social issues.
Labor will have to make concessions to the extreme end of politics to get its laws and policies through the Parliament. Within the Labor Party itself the Left has never been more powerful – the faction has backed Beazley during crucial periods of Labor instability over the past few years, and Beazley knows he owes them big time.
Senior left-wing figures, including Jenny Macklin in health, have control of vital areas of public policy and in areas which are going to become more and more important over the coming years.
Labor will need the support of homosexual activists in Parliament, including Senator Brian Grieg and to a lesser extent Senator Bob Brown, who support “reform” of marriage and adoption laws.
We know Mr Beazley is a likeable and amiable person, it is a mantra repeated almost daily in most of the press, but he is also possesses one of the worst possible traits in a leader.
He is a man who can’t say no.
The only way voters can size up how a person will lead is on his track record.
The only test Beazley has come up against on any of these issues was the IVF treatment for lesbian couples. On this test he failed.
The Opposition Leader has to start to say where he stands on these issues, and how he intends to run Australia.