Australia: Howard's 'months, not years' in Iraq as foolish as Bush Jnr's 'mission accomplished' Print E-mail
Sydney Morning Herald ~~ Saturday September 15 2007

Parting shots from a veteran hit the mark

Alan Ramsey

It was Carmen's last aria. A fter the better part of 22 years in political life, state and federal, three of them as premier of Western Australia and two turbulent years as a Keating Labor cabinet minister, Dr Carmen Mary Lawrence, six months away from turning 60, this week said her farewells in the nation's Parliament. She is not contesting her seat of Fremantle this election and, unlike many MPs who leave without a word, the white-haired Lawrence rose in her place on Thursday morning on the Opposition back bench, alongside Kim Beazley, another going this election, and said her piece.

And what a piece it was. She hit all the high Cs.

Some excerpts: "You could not expect from me a dispassionate assessment of the Howard/Costello Government's achievements and flaws, but I know my concerns are shared by a great many Australians. I part company with the Government and their views at an early stage of any debate. I disagree with them not only about how to respond to the challenges we face but even what those challenges are. I do not, for example, share the Prime Minister's image of the ideal Australian everyman with a cricket bat and Gallipoli nostalgia. It may be a useful political device, but [as well as the] the fact it excludes women, it hardly embodies the creativity, energy and vision needed for our times …

"I have been horrified the Government so blithely involved us in the illegal invasion of Iraq, sanctioning the death of many thousands of innocent bystanders. Many Australians protested, multitudes marched and the majority made their opposition clear. We were ignored and derided. I ask today, whose position has been vindicated? It gives me no pleasure to say we told you so. As many anticipated, Iraq is at a stalemate. The war shows no sign of diminishing in intensity. The PM's 'months, not years' promise looks as foolish as Bush's 'mission accomplished' [on May 1, 2003]. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands have died. Bloody suicide bombings are daily events. More than a million people have been displaced within Iraq. Double that number fled to neighbouring countries. I say to the Prime Minister, to his cabinet and to his members: 'You were wrong. Appallingly, brutally wrong.'

"I have been dismayed, too, that on so many fronts the Government capriciously withdrew our support for good international citizenship, engineered and justified the brutal treatment of asylum seekers, surreptitiously endorsed the Hanson agenda, and continue, as one editorial put it, 'to hector minorities for political gain'. The Government knew which buttons to push and had no compunction pushing them, despite the consequences to our social fabric. And they have systematically singled out indigenous people for 'special treatment' to pressure them to assimilate into the mainstream.

"The Government have habitually construed disadvantage as resulting from individual moral failing, and acted accordingly. They have been relentless in their attacks on organised labour. They have bullied critics into submission, narrowed the sources of advice to government, stacked boards and committees with fellow travellers, politicised the public service and misled the public on so many occasions we have lost count. They have dramatically shifted the provision of health, education and social services towards private consumption and undermined the core of our egalitarianism. They continue to pay lip-service to the very real threat of global warming. And frankly, they could not give a stuff about the cultural life of the nation.

"We need to broaden our horizons. It is rare to hear the Prime Minister talk about anything but the state of the economy. He seems to think Australians are interested only in 'stuff'. We need a better balance between material gains and the quality of life. The economy is not all that matters.

"I am confident a Rudd Labor government will help shape a more compassionate society. The Howard/Costello legacy is dangerous: you deserve what you get and you get what you deserve. It is mean-minded and narrow and refuses to acknowledge the role chance plays in all our lives. And I look forward to a reduced emphasis on fear, threats and coercion [as] exemplified in the excessive security and cost at APEC. As the Chasers demonstrated, it made Australia a paranoid laughing stock."

Amen, Carmen. Goodbye and good luck.

Alan Ramsey