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Friday, 6 October 2006
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"No real English gentleman, in his secret soul, was ever sorry for the death of a political economist."
-- Walter Bagehot
Trust Us, We're From Canberra
The Coalition Government has a new slogan. “Trust Us, We're from Canberra ” is now the basis for a growing move towards weakening the role of states in the federal system. The latest move towards centralisation is the suggestion that a national board of studies be set up to control a uniform curriculum throughout the nation's schools.
Behind this attempt to dictate from Canberra is an apparent belief that state education bureaucrats have hijacked school curriculum and distorted them with what Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop is reported as calling “Chairman Mao” type ideologies. "Ideologues ... have hijacked school curriculum and are experimenting with the education of our young people from a comfortable position of unaccountability,” Ms Bishop is to tell a meeting of the History Teachers Association of Australia today. "We need to take school curriculum out of the hands of the ideologues in the state and territory education bureaucracies and give it to a national board of studies, comprising the sensible centre of educators."
Ms Bishop's call for a federal takeover follows criticism of state governments by Treasurer Peter Costello, the establishment of a federal water resources office under Parliamentary Secretary Malcolm Turnbull and even a suggestion by Health Minister Tony Abbott that Canberra takes over the administration of public hospitals.
The Liberal and National parties have come a long way from their federalist roots probably because after a decade in power they are beginning to fell invincible while continuing failure to win state and territory elections makes them despair of ever being able to change things at a state level. They might well be right on both counts but the danger is surely that Labor, the traditional party of centralism, will relish a future opportunity to take over a centralised system of government.
Before sacking eight state and federal curriculum bodies, for example, a prudent conservative might contemplate what those very Maoist supporting ideologues that are flourishing under state Labor Governments will be able to do when they take over the politicised Federal bureaucracy that will be one legacy of this Coalition Government.
Telco Chairman Fights Government Over Murdoch
What the Prime Minister was told about a meeting on Rupert Murdoch's yacht off the Greek island of Zakynthos is central to the first major challenge to the minority government of Italy 's Prime Minister Romano Prodi. At issue is whether Mr Prodi was aware of a proposal by the privatised national telco Telecom Italia to split its mobile and fixed-line businesses with Murdoch's News Corp the potential buyer of part of the mobiles.
The Associated Press reports Mr Prodi tellling the Italian Senate that in talks with then-Telecom Italia Chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera, he was only told of a possible partnership with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and not of a plan to separate the company's fixed-line and mobile phone businesses. "I was never informed of any plan on Telecom Italia," the premier said, reiterating statements he made in a speech to the lower house of parliament last week. Once told of the possible Murdoch deal "the government limited itself to expressing hope that control of the country's most important telecommunications company would remain in Italian hands," he said.
Mr Tronchetti Provera, forced to step down as the Telecom chairman after plans to divide the company were announced earlier this month, gives a different version of events. He told the London Financial Times that there was "no doubt" that Prodi had been told that a sale of Telecom Italia mobile assets was possible.
On Sept. 11, Telecom Italia announced a reorganization plan which reversed the company's previous strategy of convergence and revealed plans to split its fixed-line and mobile businesses in two. At that time Tronchetti Provera stopped short of saying the company was considering selling mobile unit TIM, but the strategy shift prompted a furious response from the center-left administration, with Prodi joining critics opposing the move as a precursor to the sale of mobile assets.
The meeeting on the yacht in the Mediterranean involved Messrs Murdoch and Tronchetta Provera and, according to a newsagency report on the Australia's website, Telecom Italia's chief executive officers, Carlo Buora and Riccardo Ruggiero. The report said a deal between Murdoch's Sky Italia and Telecom Italia - whether on content alone or a deeper collaboration - could be strong competition for Mediaset, which along with digital interests controls three terrestrial channels that compete with state broadcaster RAI. Mediaset is owned by the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
An Excellent Piece of Timing
Those scourges of private enterprise wrong doers Slater & Gordon have shown impeccable timing with their decision to seriously enter the Canberra legal market by taking over the town's leading trade union law firm Gary Robb and Associates. Work is just about to begin on a massive new defence building at Bungendore across the NSW border from Canberra and the Defence Department has allocated a construction site office to the Australian Building and Construction Commission.
There is bound to be plenty of jousting between the ABCC and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and Gary Robb and Associates is the CFMEU's law firm. Good to see Slater & Gordon in these days of lucrative class actions sticking to its trade union foundations.
The expected influx of Slater & Gordon staff should bone up on the extensive collection of Phantom comics the Financial Review disclosed this morning is a feature of their new waiting room. Some of those skills of the Phantom might prove necessary in the months and years ahead.
The Anomaly of the Liberals
When Don Chipp quit the Liberal Party in search of more liberal pastures it was to escape men like Petro Georgiou who back then was the apprentice to that supposedly conservative sorcerer Malcolm Fraser. Chipp wanted the freedom to speak his mind whereas his Prime Minister was surrounded by disciplined apparatchiks like Petro concerned with grabbing and holding on to power. These were the kind of men who had to be kept honest.
Fast forward 30 years and I read in The Age this morning a piece by Greg Barns that “the question then for Georgiou and his fellow dissenting Liberals is whether they should form a new political force to give these voters a natural home.” How times have changed.
Changed indeed when Malcolm Fraser has gone from being seen as an arch conservative to a positive moderate and his henchman is touted as a new Don Chipp!
Yet on reflection it is probably not Malcolm and Petrol who have changed at all. Their liberalism was hidden back in the 1970s by the brutal way they came to power but it was there. What has happened since is there has been a role reversal in the Liberal Party of the party's dual influences of liberalism and conservatism.
Fraser, with Georgiou's urging, was the social liberal who fostered multi-culturalism and set up SBS and an economic conservative who was in no hurry to abandon the protectionism that had dominated Australian business life for a century.
John Howard's Liberal Party has seized on the economic liberalism of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill but turned back to conservatism on social issues.
Perhaps what the country would really benefit from is a new party that was intellectually consistent and liberal on both economic and social questions.
Trees Present Opportunities
How ever much the Greens try and present themselves as a broadly based party of great social justice and concern, their electoral success or failure ends up getting back to trees. It is the images of beautiful forests being raped and pillaged by clear felling that stirs the anger in the hearts of suburban Australians who rarely see a real gum tree. Every time the Greens can engineer a confrontation about trees their vote goes up.
Which is why Bon Brown must be so very thankful to Tasmanian company Gunns. The misguided decision of the timber fellers to take environmental groups to court for defamation was help enough. Every time the case comes to court is an opportunity for television stations to show clips of their handiwork as the trees come tumbling down. And now Gunns is pushing ahead with its plans for a pulp mill on the shores of the Tamar estuary. Just as earlier plans to build a pulp mill on Tasmania 's north west coast turned an earlier generation of Tasmanians green, this proposal is galvanising another one.
The Greens are already a significant force in Australian politics and the campaign they will build around the pulp mill will guarantee they continue to be one.