THE WATCHER: June 05, AU Edition

In paranormal news…
On the north Welsh coast there is the little village of Abergele, where locals claim a ghost ship, the Gwennon Gorn, appears from time to time. According to legend, the Welsh Prince Madoc sailed her to America in the 6th Century – nine centuries before Columbus – and ventured inland as far as present day Kentucky. Show me a bottle of Welsh bourbon and I’ll believe it.
Another mythical ship was sighted recently in the UK during the election there – the MV Tampa. British voters probably hadn’t been thinking much about Norwegian container ships, at least not until a raft of Australian Labor Party has-beens and wannabes washed up in the pages of the UK press. Beware, they cautioned, of sinister antipodean political assassins – namely former Liberal campaign director Lynton Crosby and pollster Mark Textor.
In opinion pieces, which coincidentally appeared on the same day, Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan (in the Independent), and Cheryl Kernot (in the Guardian) – remember her? – lashed out at their nemeses. Swan, feeling ‘an overwhelming sense of déjà vu’, claimed the British Conservatives were mimicking the themes of ‘Crosby’s 2001 Australian election campaign [which] was perhaps the most despicable waged in Australian political history’. The Australians, Swan said, were ‘deadly to progressive parties’ by ‘exploiting fear and race’.

If Kernot was to be believed, the presence of the Aussie duo in the UK election posed more of a threat to Her Majesty’s Realm than Guy Fawkes: ‘Crosby’s tactics represent a truly serious threat to… British democracy’, she forewarned. And even worse, the subversive Aussie would go after the media: ‘BBC, take note!’ Crosby would, she warned darkly, ‘conduct a war of attrition’ against the British broadcaster and accuse it of ‘bias and unbalanced coverage’.
Oddly enough, only three days before Kernot’s dire ‘predictions’ the London Telegraph reported that the Beeb had been ‘plunged into a damaging… row after it admitted equipping three hecklers with microphones’ and sending them into a Conservative campaign meeting being addressed by party leader Michael Howard.
In her familiar understated way, Kernot even went so far as to imply that she was herself a refugee, due to the insidious tactics of Messrs Crosby and Textor. ‘[B]ut thanks to [her] Scottish grandparents, [she’s] been fortunate to have lived and worked in the UK for two years now.’ Well, at least we now know where Kernot lives, because it sure looked as though she wasn’t living in her own home-away-from-home Dickson electorate when she lost it in 2001.
After digesting Kernot’s theories, I suspect most Brits agreed with the Crosby-Textor Conservative slogan, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ And I also suspect most – even Guardian reading, tofu-chomping Volvo drivers – were more concerned about another potential British debacle – the forthcoming Ashes series – than the 1000-year edifice of Westminster democracy being swept away by a couple of sinister Aussie political operatives.
Sounding like Looney Tunes’ hapless duck, former prime minister Paul Keating waddled ashore in the last week of the campaign, also warning Guardian readers that, ‘Prime Minister John Howard had run a despicable election campaign against asylum seekers’ and to expect the same. Australia’s ‘moral compass now lacks the equilibrium it had and the underlying compassion has been compromised,’ the failed piggery owner lamented.
This from the former head of a government that in 1992 stated that ‘rejected asylum-seekers have no claim to remain in Australia…’; won a unanimous High Court backing for Labor’s mandatory detention policy (the Migration Reform Act 1992); and, from the Coalition Opposition, enjoyed support for “the right of the Government… to determine who shall and who shall not enter Australia”. (Sound familiar?)
In its last year, the Keating Government cut off immigration intake at 82,500 places. This year the Howard Government will allow into Australia between 110,00 and 120,000 new immigrants, including a doubling of refugees – a 45 per cent increase from when Keating stood on the welcome mat. In 2004, the top countries of origin for resettled refugees our morally diminished country accepted included Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran, Congo and Somalia. And, on a per capita basis Australia now has one of the most generous refugee programs on the planet. Not exactly a record you’d expect from a government that was accused in 2001 by its detractors in the New York Times of playing the ‘race card’.
If Keating wanted to measure compassion in dollar terms, he need look no further than the $1 billion donated by the Howard government in the days after the Boxing Day Tsunami. And, at one point after the disaster, Australians were donating privately at a rate of $750,000 an hour. Total private giving topped $200 million. Speaking of the generosity of the Australian people, Howard said: ‘Our home is this region and we are saying to the people of our nearest neighbour that we are here to help you in your hour of need.’
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley had every opportunity to insulate himself from the Tampa factor in 2001. But he failed to appreciate that most Australians were offended by the negative fainéant and continuous media reprimands of self-appointed custodians of national morality. Changing chameleon-like as he did on refugees and border security, Beazley’s voice was indiscernible from the white noise of the sniggering intelligentsia – whom have shown about as much responsibility and constructive alternative thinking on these issues as a bunch of garden gnomes.
So why would ALP figures want to dig up all these old ghosts now? It was hardly to lend a hand to their Labour brethren, whom they happily jettisoned over Iraq; rather, perpetuating the Tampa myth serves to reassure the Labor party’s base that they were robbed in 2001. That is, were it not for Howard’s base appeal, the Coalition would have been beaten senseless by Beazley’s ‘noodle nation’. The Tampa is the ALP’s Potempkin legend, which must be repeated, mantra-like, at every opportunity. And foreign media and their less Aussie-savvy readers are an easy mark for a reprint run, which will – and did – get a nice little run back in the Australian media.
This legerdemain, kept alive by ALP, the left’s leadership caste and some segments in the domestic media, may keep the home fires burning for the Labor rusted-on. And it certainly sustains the indulgences of the far left, upon which Labor has prostrated itself over terrorism, border security, the environment and industrial relations, to name but a few. But it has little currency where it counts: among the electorate at large, particularly among swing-voters, who aren’t buying.
It’s a hard sell that insults large swathes of the Australian electorate, with whom the ALP must make its peace if it is ever to regain power. Keating, who referred to Australians as ‘yobs with cans in their hands’ in urgent need of cultural re-education and thinks that Australia, with its current form of government, is the ‘arse end of the earth’, probably doesn’t advance that goal very far, whatever he’s shilling.
Sustaining the myth, with the help of an indulgent media, also prevents the party from tackling internal party reform. Remember the post-2001 ALP reform fight? Does the party look, act or sound any different today than it did in the 2001 election? Spotting the difference is like playing ‘Where’s Wally?’ without Wally. The ghost ship in the piece is the Labor party itself; adrift, without any sense of what it’s about or where it’s going. Until the ALP stops believing its own media stories, every election will, in the immortal words of American baseball legend Yogi Berra, be ‘déjà vu all over again’.