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Wednesday, 27 May 1998
Page: 3187

Senator O'BRIEN (1:01 PM) —Today I want to talk about a number of matters relating to the actions of this Prime Minister. Firstly, I want to talk about the manner in which the Howard government has gone about its waterfront strategy because that should not surprise anyone. Nor should it surprise anyone that the Prime Minister has been personally involved in this plan from day one. His involvement has been ongoing. Mr Howard ticked off this plan as it was developed from early last year. The Prime Minister is involved in everything because he trusts no one. One assumes with hindsight that the waterfront plan might be renamed `operation Titanic' because it has succeeded only in sinking the political machismo of Mr Reith and his hapless Prime Minister.

Even in his own office he leaves nothing to chance. This is especially the case since the departure of Graham Morris. There is a simple reason for this. Within his own party this Prime Minister has always been an after-thought. He has always been the party's second or third choice as leader. A look at the Prime Minister's path to the Lodge makes this point clearly. In the lead up to the 1983 election Mr Howard saw himself as the heir apparent. But senators will recall that the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, had a very different view. Mr Fraser called Andrew Peacock the morning after the election defeat and told him he was prepared to do anything to prevent Mr Howard taking the leadership. His leader dudded Mr Howard and Andrew Peacock got the top job.

Senators will also recall that in 1985 Mr Peacock called a meeting of the party and declared all leadership positions vacant. Mr Howard had been working on Mr Peacock's demise and the opposition leader decided to take the matter head on. Mr Peacock called on Mr Howard to declare he would never ever run for the leadership but Mr Howard refused—of course, he said he would never ever have a goods and services tax. So Mr Peacock pulled on a vote to force Mr Howard's hand but Mr Howard did not have the confidence to nominate; he refused to nominate. Mr Peacock was re-elected but his running mate, Mr Moore, was not. The party decided it wanted Mr Howard as deputy leader.

Senators will also recall the extraordinary scenes that followed, with Andrew Peacock declaring a vote for Howard was a vote against him and he promptly resigned. So Mr Howard, who would not throw his hat in the ring and would not even nominate after there had been a spill of positions, found himself as leader of the party. Then Mr Howard lost the leadership to Mr Peacock in 1989. Remember the front page of the Bulletin—`Mr 14 per cent—why does he bother' The Prime Minister had another shot at the top job in 1990 but lost convincingly. He tested the water again after the 1993 election but did not have the gumption to run against John Hewson, who had just lost the unlosable election. He finally returned to the leadership position of the Liberal Party on Australia Day in 1995.

So, as I said, Mr Howard has always been the party's second or third choice and hence he trusts no one. Not only does Mr Howard not trust his ministry or his party he does not trust the Australian community. He is far more comfortable with the politics of division than the politics of consensus. It is a political strategy the Prime Minister has applied on a number of occasions. In August 1988 Mr Howard expressed the view that the number of Asians coming to this country was too great. He made this statement in the context of a debate about multiculturalism and its place in Australian society. On the ABC AM program, Mr Howard was asked:

. . . Mr Howard, is the rate of Asian immigration into Australia too fast?

Mr Howard responded:

I think there are some people who believe it is.

He was then asked what he thought and he said:

. . . I wouldn't like to see it greater . . . I do believe that if in the eyes of some in the community, it's too great, it would be in our immediate term interests, and supportive of social cohesion, if it were slowed down a little . . .

And what was his view on multiculturalism? He said that it was an aimless concept. In 1988 he was happy to take the political course of creating division within the Australian community in pursuit of his political agenda. It was a simple message: there are too many Asians coming to Australia.

In his Future directions document released in December of that year Mr Howard said he wanted to see `one Australia' not an Australia of individual groups. Another simple message: if you want to live in Australia you have to behave like a white European middle class heterosexual. One could be forgiven for thinking that the member for Oxley is a plagiarist.

I must add that Mr Howard was more than happy to let the member for Oxley and her motley crew run their campaign of division and bigotry. This was despite the best efforts of many—including John Laws of 2UE—to get him to speak out against her as the Prime Minister of Australia. John Laws was rightly concerned about the damage she was doing to the social fabric of this community. He wanted the Prime Minister to take a stand. John Laws asked him to act like the Prime Minister of Australia and he would not. And why, because he did not want to—he saw political benefit in remaining silent. So Ms Hanson and her acolytes parade the misnomer of one nation. It begs the question: what do we call the Howard Liberals? Half a nation?

The manner in which the Prime Minister dealt with the debate over the native title issue provides further and clear evidence that Mr Howard's approach to the Australian waterfront is true to form. On the ABC's 7.30 Report on 4 September last year the Prime Minister said that the problem with native title is:

. . . that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction, particularly after the Wik decision . . .

He then held up a map of Australia and said:

Let me just show your viewers . . . This shows 78 per cent of the land mass of Australia—coloured brown on the map. Now, the Labor Party and the Democrats are effectively saying that the Aboriginal people of Australia should have the potential right of veto over further development of 78 per cent of the land mass of Australia.

He then told the 7.30 Report viewers:

Now that is a very simple message. I think the Australian people will understand that message.

It was a very simple message, delivered via a map coloured brown. He was saying to the community that if we are not careful the blacks will take over the place. It was almost identical—and just as misleading—to the crude but effective campaign run by the Western Australian Chamber of Mines in the 1980s. The only difference is that their map was black, not brown.

And now the Prime Minister has turned his hand to demonising the wharfies. He has decided to be a more sophisticated person in his approach to this matter. First, he had to create the image. How was this achieved? Through his ministers he appointed Liberal pollster Mark Textor, the principal of Australasian Research Services. Mr Textor, it should be remembered, is closely associated with the technique of push polling. This first appeared on the Australian political landscape in the 1994 Northern Territory Election. Voters were asked if they would change their vote if they knew the following facts. They were then told that Territory Labor planned to introduce two sets of laws—one for blacks and another for whites. The Country-Liberal Party employed Mr Textor in the lead up to that election as a polling adviser. The Liberal Party also employed the same technique in the lead up to the Federal by-election for the seat of Canberra. Mr Textor was the pollster for the Liberal Party for the 1996 election campaign.

Last year Mr Howard, Mr Reith and Mr Sharp commissioned Mr Textor to attack not their political opponents but an industrial union. The work was channelled through the ACIL consultancy. Mr Textor then organised a number of focus groups. He showed them parts of a 60 Minutes program and other material designed to colour their view, including edited `highlights' of an address by the Secretary of the ACTU, Bill Kelty. He was paid over $40,000 for his trouble.

Despite his best efforts the waterfront and wharfies were not considered to be so-called `top the mind' issues. There was strong concern about waterfront efficiency, international competitiveness and any hindrances to exports. The Textor research was then provided to a second consultant—long time Liberal Party election strategist, Jonathon Gaul. The Gaul plan was to use the Textor research to paint the wharfies as the privileged elite—$100,000 for 14 hours a week and then they all nick off anyway. That is the sort of line we have been hearing from this government and that is the line that was created by Jonathon Gaul.

As with the Asians in 1988, the Aborigines and the Wik message, it was both simple and divisive. Madam Acting Deputy President, you would know that the average wharfie is like any other Australian worker. He has to work long hours to make ends meet. He has a family to support. And in many cases he does achieve world's best practice in his workplace. At the port of Burnie in my state, Tasmania, the waterside workers achieved an average rate, I believe, of 33 containers per hour in the week before they were dismissed. In the state of Queensland, your state, Madam Acting Deputy President, Townsville is a port of hard working and highly productive workers. What did the Prime Minister say of their fate? The Prime Minister was interviewed on A Current Affair two days after Chris Corrigan implemented what the government thought was the final part of its grand plan to smash the MUA. He was asked about workers in ports like Burnie and Townsville and why they were sacked along with their colleagues in Sydney and Melbourne. He said:

They are all part of the one union.

Guilty by association.

This country has changed dramatically under the leadership of John Howard. There is now mistrust in the community. There is now a high level of insecurity about what the future might bring. Mr Howard has achieved all of this in just over two years. His is already a remarkable record. I, together with many Australians, hope the legacy of this Prime Minister, as Prime Minister, is a short one.

The Senate would recall that the last time Mr Howard lost his job he mocked the suggestion of a possible return by claiming that that would amount to Lazarus with a triple bypass. We now know that we have Lazarus with a triple bypass as our Prime Minister. The question that must be answered and will be answered, and in the hearts of many Australians has already been answered, is: has John Howard got the ticker for the job that he now has? The facts show that he has not.