How the ghost of Kennett loomed over Doyle’s first day Election 2002

Robert Doyle is being selective when evoking Jeff Kennett’s legacy, reports Karen Kissane.

Managing the ghosts of premiers past can be a tricky business, particularly when that premier is Jeff Kennett. Yesterday Robert Doyle did his best to pick the cherries out of the Kennett chocolate box.

For his first news conference of the campaign, Mr Doyle appeared duly pancaked and scripted. He talked quickly, not yet master of the measured tones of the political trouper, and threw voters sweet reminders of how the Kennett government had turned around the state’s finances.

“I think it’s easy to forget where we were in 1991-92,” he said. “We were a laughing-stock . . . We were on our knees economically. Within two terms of government we were a prosperous state again . . . I’m very proud of that.”

But Mr Doyle was careful to avoid anything that voters might find hard to swallow, such as hints that the Kennett government’s style might be resurrected.

“We have learnt how we got out of touch with the communities, and we have learnt that we need to keep in touch with their priorities,” he said. “I’m a completely different bloke from Jeff Kennett and I lead a completely different party.”

There have been other kinds of differences too. When Mr Doyle made his lunge for the Liberal leadership in August, Mr Kennett was scathing. “He is not, in my opinion, a leader,” Mr Kennett told 3AK listeners.

“He is not leadership material now and he is certainly not leadership material in the future. Those who back him . . . must accept responsibility for what I consider to be a gross act of disloyalty so close to an election.”

That was then. This is now: “Since taking over he’s done a wonderful job,” Mr Kennett said yesterday in his Richmond office (home base for Jeff Kennett Pty Ltd). “He comes across as a leader, particularly on television, much stronger than Denis (Napthine) did . . . I have a very clear feeling that if Robert Doyle says he’ll do something, he’ll do it.”

Mr Doyle said he and Mr Kennett had mended fences – “My relationship with the former premier is great” – and that he had a morning meeting with Mr Kennett last week that was amicable and constructive. The former premier was welcome to help with the campaign any way he liked, Mr Doyle said. But he seemed to reserve overt enthusiasm for borrowed statesmanship for the prospect of a visit from John Howard.

Mr Kennett said yesterday he had met Mr Doyle three or four times in the past few weeks. He was booked for “a sea of functions” with Liberal candidates but has no appearances lined up with the leader. “He hasn’t asked me to do anything for him,” Mr Kennett said. “We’re going to discuss that.”

Any hard feelings over the way the new leader was distancing himself from the Kennett legacy? “I think that is understandable. Every person who is charged with a leadership position has got to establish their own opinions, their own environment. Robert Doyle is not a Kennett, Steve Bracks is not a Kennett.”

He beamed. “Fortunately, there is only one Kennett.”

First published in The Age.

Scarred ground still gives up its secrets


The sacrifice made by Diggers in World War I is duly honoured by the French village of Bullecourt, writes Karen Kissane.
The blanket of green fields around Bullecourt is peaceful on a misty morning, shaped by man and his machines into gentle slopes known for their production of those unromantic crops, potato and sugar beet.
Well tilled though they are, the fields still yield some surprises – or perhaps, given the history of Bullecourt, surprise is not quite the right word. The farmers here still occasionally turn a clod to find something beneath – a button, a knife, a bullet – left by a soldier long ago.
“Each year the plough blades bring to the surface unexploded shells, scrap metal, the bones of lost soldiers,” says Bullecourt’s mayor, Jules Laude.
In 1917, this small village in northern France sat on the formidable Hindenberg Line established by the German military in World War I. On April 11 that year, the British High Command ordered Australian troops to march across open, snow-covered ground without support from tanks or artillery to try to break the German defences.
The Australians took the forward German lines but the Germans attacked from the sides, forcing them into a bloody retreat. There were 3300 casualties among the 5000 Australians.
A second assault on May 3 resulted in the Australians taking the Bullecourt trenches. The two sides fought to a standstill and the Germans abandoned the area on May 20. This time there were 7000 Australian casualties, though they were supported on the left flank by the British 62nd Division.
One young soldier, Private John Ambrose Ware of the 3rd Battalion AIF, wrote without punctuation to his mother in Victoria about what such a battlefield looked like.
“If ever you saw a sheep camp in time of drought you will know how many sheep [died] in one night our men are lying about in just the same way only a drop of blood spilt to show where they are hit,” he wrote.
But the hard-won victory at Bullecourt was soon overtaken, with the village changing hands not long after.
More than 290,000 men served on the Western Front with the Australian Imperial Force, and 46,000 were killed. Eventually Bullecourt itself became a casualty, razed by bombardment over many battles. “Nineteen times this place was taken and retaken,” Laude says. “It was completely demolished.”
In the new war museum at Bullecourt, there is a grainy photograph of the pitted moonscape that greeted any of its inhabitants who returned after the war; every building was smashed to smithereens. “A town annihilated,” reads the caption.
The town was rebuilt from scratch in the 1920s. In the decades since, mementoes of the battles fought here have been unearthed and many are now in a refurbished museum that will be opened today in a ceremony attended by the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Warren Snowdon.
The Australian government donated a large portion of the €980,000 ($1.23 million) it took to renovate and extend an old stable that had been donated by a former mayor, Jean Letaille, to hold his collection, which he had been gathering since the 1980s. He died last month, just before his dream came to fruition.
The museum is part of a wider project to establish an Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front before the centenary of the outbreak of World War I in 2014.
From the museum’s ceiling hangs a rusty art installation of battered shovels – the Diggers were given their name for a reason – as well as horseshoes, water canteens and helmets. Underneath lie the turret and gun of a tank.
On walls nearby are medical exhibits: a surgeon’s brass saw, a slatted wooden stretcher. There are small glass bottles that might have carried morphine and opium for pain relief, or the camphor and caffeine used to revive flagging hearts, or the iodine that routinely stained brown the lips of harried nurses who removed the corks of the bottles with their teeth.
In the backyard of the museum stands a deactivated shell, pointing at the sky. Authorities have yet to decide where it could be displayed to best advantage, Laude says.
While the British soldiers who fought at Bullecourt are also remembered – one display has an eloquent letter of sympathy written by a chaplain to the widow of an officer of the 62nd who died there, Captain H.B. Gallimore – it is Australia’s fighters who are best memorialised.
The town has a “slouch hat” monument outside the church, and along the Rue des Australiens is a memorial park with a bronze statue of the “Bullecourt Digger”. His kit caked in mud, he gazes out over the fields where the AIF lost 10,000 soldiers killed or wounded.
The statue was created by the Melbourne sculptor Peter Corlett, who discovered only after he was commissioned that his father, Kenneth, had fought at Bullecourt. He gave the statue his father’s features, trying to capture “the fresh face of a young man about to set out on a great adventure”.
In the lobby of the local council building is a photograph of Major Henry William “Mad Harry” Murray, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for the second time for his valour at Bullecourt on April 11, 1917. Despite many acts of derring-do, he survived the war.
Not so lucky was Major Percy Black of Beremboke, Victoria, who earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Gallipoli. In the second battle of Bullecourt, he saw his men pulled up at the wire of the Hindenberg Line; the tanks that were meant to have breached it for them had not appeared. He ran to the front yelling, “Come on boys, bugger the tanks!” He was killed shortly afterwards and his body never found.
There were terrible losses on both sides. There are said to be 45,000 German dead buried in this area, too.
For Letaille, who, with his wife Denise was made an honorary member of the Order of Australia for work on the museum, the emotional legacy of that era remained vivid.
Laude chuckles over the time Letaille found himself unexpectedly having to host a group of Germans who wanted to see the museum. Uneasy, he rang Laude to join him.
Laude’s eyes light up with mischief as he recalls how Letaille greeted the Germans: “It’s been a while since we last saw you.”

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The trouble with water

AT MILKING time there is a job for everyone. Young Luke, a fearless four, wants one too. Then he sees his chance. As his father herds more Friesians into the stalls, Luke grabs a plastic pipe and charges over to cows in the holding pen. Like a little emperor, he stamps the ground with his new-found staff to get them moving. They part around him placidly, their big brown eyes mild and unquestioning. Here, man and beast understand their appointed places, and man — however small — has dominion.
Luke knows the drill because he has watched it every morning and evening from the time he was a baby, parked in his pram, off to one side. His father, Jeff Broad, working down in the dairy’s “pit”, has known it all his life too. He is a fifth-generation dairy farmer. Broad’s job at this time of day is in the low passageway between the two rows of stalls; he’s in the basement and cows are on the first floor. The machinery chugs steadily in the background but his own rhythm is irregular: he reaches up to snap vacuum cups on udders, detaches them when the cows look ready, squirts them with antiseptic. He’s in gumboots and an apron, and spatters suggest he needs them both. Mucky business, this, in every regard except the result: luscious, creamy, foaming, it looks like nothing ever poured from a supermarket carton.
Ruth Broad is tending to the babies. She scoops up fresh milk to pour into feeders for the calves in the nursery, a corrugated iron lean-to. They nuzzle her with soft noses and raspy tongues. These are the heifers and they will be kept for the herd. In a separate pen with their mothers are the boys; they will be sold as soon as their navels dry out, in three or four days. She checks their eyes for signs of ill-health. “The rim on the bottom of their eyes gets swollen and their eyes sink into their heads when they’re not doing too good,” she says. “That’s when you give them electrolytes.”
This is the busiest time of year for a dairy farmer, and the Broads have another 60 calves to come from their herd of 280 cows. But the twice-daily demands of milking always have them rising in the dark and then working through what in most families would be dinnertime. They bought the farm from Jeff’s father, who had bought it from his uncle, who had settled here after riding around the district on a bicycle in the 1930s looking for just the right place. He settled on this lot at Nanneella, 15 minutes’ drive from Kyabram.
Jeff has lived in the same house all his life. “You know what they say about some of these farmers?” laughs Ruth. “All they do is shift bedrooms!”
Jeff is a man of few words. Asked what he likes about farming, he says, “Your own boss. Just out and about. Being outdoors.”
Ruth teases, “Tractors!”
After 12 hard years of drought, the Broads and their four children and families like them should be sitting pretty this year. But now they find themselves facing a new kind of trouble, one that many farmers across south-eastern Australia fear threatens not only their own livelihoods, but the very existence of their communities and their whole way of life: water wars.
Kyabram is part of the Murray-Darling Basin, a vast irrigation district that stretches from Queensland down to New South Wales through Victoria and on to South Australia. Here in the wide brown land, water is wealth. The 2500 dams and weirs on the Murray River and the thousands of channels that run off them have spread that wealth among the farmers and country towns of three states. But now the river is dying from the mouth and authorities want to return water to its flow. That means taking it back from people like the Broads.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority this month released a basin plan guide that proposed taking back up to 37 per cent of the water from farmers in the Goulburn region. A study by auditing firm Marsden Jacob Associates suggested this might well kill not just Kyabram but Cohuna, Stanhope and Numurkah; a second study — by independent banking consultant Adrian Rizza — warned that eight other towns might not survive, including Robinvale and Mildura.
The proposal to take back between 3000 and 7600 billion litres a year across the basin has unleashed a tide of apocalyptic fury in irrigators. “You have hurt my wife and family, you sons of bitches!” roared one local at a meeting in Griffith, NSW. Another asked if the basin authority intended to bankrupt rural Australia, and a third threw a fake horse’s head at authority chairman Mike Taylor. Protesters burned copies of the basin plan guide.
Taken aback by the response, authorities quickly responded. A federal parliamentary committee chaired by independent MP Tony Windsor will spend six months inquiring into the economic impact of the proposed cuts. The basin authority has said it will research the social impact.
It’s not enough for the 90 farmers who turned up to a public meeting in the historic local theatre organised by the shire council in Kyabram this week. “We are the environment, and other people are destroying us,” said one, to loud applause.
Farmers are not just enraged but bewildered and, underneath it all, wounded. They feel they work hard to be frugal with water and other resources and that they changed their practices radically to cope with drought but now are being attacked as “environmental vandals”. They are outraged by assessments that assume less water is fine because they managed to keep producing despite the drought — assessments that do not take into account those who went bust, or the enormous debt many went into in order to keep going.
Perhaps most importantly, the environmental arguments make no sense to them. Rural Australia is a heartland of climate-change scepticism. Jeff Broad is among the few who acknowledge, warily, that the rivers might need better flows, but many can’t believe a river that looks fine to them is struggling to survive. Farmers in Kyabram view climate-change science as rather like the tooth fairy: a foolish fantasy for those who like to believe it and not something sensible people waste time on. There’s been a drought and droughts break, they say confidently; it’s just natural cycles.
“Not many believe in climate change,” says Ruth Broad. “We don’t know anyone who believes it.”
Says Jeff, “It’s a dry period.” His father, Keith, also sitting at the kitchen table, tells of an international meeting in which “hundreds and hundreds of scientists say they haven’t got enough evidence for it”.
For them, water that runs into the sea is a waste. Says Ruth in disbelief, “We haven’t got very much water and we’re getting a bigger population. We can’t just tip it down the river. We’ve got people that need food.”
A survey last year of 1500 farmers by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries found that while 88 per cent acknowledged that rainfall and run-off had declined and 62 per cent agreed the state was experiencing more high pressure systems, only 30 per cent accepted a link between greenhouse emissions and global warming. Despite this, many were taking action that would reduce emissions or store carbon on their farms, such as tree planting.
Talking to farmers in Kyabram, it is clear they see themselves as custodians of the land and holders of its history. They refuse to discount the evidence of their own eyes, and they resent townies and boffins claiming to know better. At Kyabram’s public meeting, state MP Paul Weller said, “We shouldn’t accept that the environment is a big disaster.” He said the salinity in the Murray was now one-fifth of what it was in 1983 and that it had far more fish and invertebrates and much clearer water. “When I went to school, there were paddocks in our area that were bare with salt that are now green with trees . . . [They] have to acknowledge that the community has done a wonderful job of improving the environment.”
ANOTHER local jeered at scientific climate modelling: “You put something into a computer and let it tell you something at the end, and what it tells you depends on what has gone in . . . It means all the figures they are supplying are really vague and probably false.”
Other farmers said this was always a river that had had dry spells. They told of years in which locals had been able to picnic on the dry bed of the Murray, and one quoted explorer Charles Sturt writing of the river’s “putrid series of saline waterholes . . .”
Aren’t these the benchmarks of its natural history, they asked? Isn’t it overshooting the mark to want flows at the mouth of the Murray nine years out of 10? “It didn’t have that before white settlement,” claimed one man.
There was also fierce resentment at what is seen as a “water grab” in which vote-hungry politicians are diverting country water to city folk via the north-south pipeline and the desalination plant. “Why should 10 per cent of the population have to pay for 100 per cent of the population?” asked an angry woman.
Between the greenie and the farmer there seems almost no common ground. Paul Sinclair is healthy ecosystems programs manager with the Australian Conservation Foundation and author of The Murray: A river and its people. He says Professor Ross Garnaut’s figures forecast that with less rain as a result of global warming, “under business as usual, we are looking at 92 per cent less inflow into the rivers of the Murray-Darling Basin over the next 100 years”.
He warns it is rural people who will be hardest hit by more extreme weather such as droughts and storms and by the spread of diseases such as dengue and Ross River fever. “Farmers can think what they want and that’s their right, but it’s about more than what farmers think. Sticking your head in the sand means you fail to exercise leadership to help your community.”
As for the river looking fine, he says farmers don’t have a helicopter view of the overall system: “One of the great truisms of the river is that if you are in Albury, you don’t know how it is at Echuca, and if you are in Echuca you don’t know how it is at Swan Hill.”
Sinclair has a litany of disasters to recite: the Murray contains only 10 per cent of the native fish it had 100 years ago and many of its redgums are dead or dying. Ninety per cent of the basin’s floodplain wetlands have been destroyed and 20 of the basin’s 23 rivers are in poor or very poor condition. Vast stretches of the Murray have already collapsed. Two-thirds of the Coorong, at the mouth of the Murray in South Australia, has been devastated by overuse of water: “Rivers die from the bottom up. The consequences of over-extraction [there] are obvious: increased salinity, acid sulphate soils and no water for irrigators no matter how big their water licences are. For example, there used to be 23 dairy farming families around the Lower Lakes. Now there are three.”
Closer to home, “the Lindsay-Wallpolla islands, near Mildura, look like someone has detonated a nuclear bomb. It’s a system, so it won’t all die at once, but bits of it are under great stress.”
Sinclair says it is not valid to use local lore to compare today’s dry spells with those of a century ago or more. Back then the river was more resilient because it was not broken up by thousands of weirs and dams: “The river is like a boxer in round nine of 10 rounds. The river those people are describing hadn’t even got into the ring.”
There is, however, one point on which Sinclair and the farmers are agreed: it was appalling that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority released its detailed environmental proposals without mention of the effect they would have on the human elements of the environment, other than a cursory (and widely derided) estimate that the changes would lead to only 800 job losses. For rural people who already felt abandoned by government and marginalised in the debate, the report was evidence they had been entirely erased from the calculations of distant, hostile powers-that-be.
Sinclair groans when asked about the insensitivity of the process: “The performance of the MDBA has been like watching someone walk slowly into a metal fan. I thought, ‘My God, what are you doing?’ ”
Rural researcher Professor Margaret Alston, head of Monash University’s department of social work, had a similar reaction. She received an early copy of the guide and after she flipped through it her first question was, “Where are the people?” She says, “You will find information about birds and frogs but you won’t find a word about children. I was very uncomfortable that it was a socially blind document.”
AND HERE is where the woundedness comes in. Hurt as they might be by what they feel are assumptions about their environmental recklessness, that is not the main fuel for the fury of farmers around Kyabram. There is a deeper vein of resentment and fear that has spurted like lava to the surface: the pain caused by 10 years of drought. Rain has turned the grass green but has done little to ease other hardships that will be with them for a long time.
Money is tight, so tight. Many had to borrow large sums to see them through; for dairy farmers, no rain meant little or no irrigation, which meant they could not grow crops to feed their cows. Buying in fodder is hugely expensive. “It could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for the largest farms,” says Jenny Reuther, who has relinquished her herd but not her links to the industry.
The drought forced most into ugly decisions of one kind or another. “Some people have said they want to keep going on the farm but others have said, ‘I don’t want to go into any more debt. I don’t want to erode my equity any further by continuing to borrow.’ ”
Many have left and their absence is felt by those who remain. The public meeting was told that the primary school in Stanhope had dropped from 140 students to 50, and many houses were for sale. Bob Winwood, a farmer outside Kyabram who has switched from dairy to beef, talks of a 20-kilometre road that in the 1990s was a sea of black and white cows. Now, “There’s one dairy farm at the top of it and then I don’t think there’s another one right through to the end.” He fears further water cuts “will just devastate this area”.
Deputy mayor and dairy farmer Neil Pankhurst estimates the Goulburn Valley has lost 60 per cent of its dairy farmers in the past decade and is producing a billion fewer litres of milk than at its peak in 2002-03. He warns of the risks for other rural industries if farms are hit any harder, listing milk factories and canneries in the region that depend on farm produce for work.
He says people were stunned and despairing when they heard the latest proposals piled on top of their existing problems: “There’s just so much uncertainty.”
Businesses are worried too. John Bacon has been in the mower and motorcycle shop on the main street for 32 years. He says the drought was purgatory: “The farm market was cut in half or less. So many businesses just survived by a little bit. Many had to tip money back in to keep going. At one stage one in five shops were empty.”
That’s because in a country town everything depends on the profitability of the farms: “If you pull out that bottom rung, it all falls down — the price of properties, the number of doctors and teachers.”
Then there are the private losses. People will tell you quietly that depression is on the rise, with all its sad sequelae, including family violence. Others have lost confidence; that fabled rural resilience is wearing thin. Local counsellor Allannah Jenkins says, “Communities where we had significant people who were enthusiastic and driven to nurture and drive that community have become exhausted.
We are seeing a lot of loneliness and isolation because communities are so fragmented and the people who are left are worn out and no one is stepping up to the mark.”
She uses government funding and donated goods to organise “pamper evenings” for women and “blokes’ barbecues” for men. Children are affected too. Alston says there are country schools where teachers set up anger management classes for children who were bringing the family tensions into the classroom.
The government has said no one will be forced off the land. There is $9 billion for the modernisation scheme and farmers can apply to have their water rights bought back by the government whenever a “subscription” is opened. “Farmers call it ‘the lucky dip’,” says Jenny Reuther.
She and her husband missed out the first time round and are hoping for a second chance to sell just part of their water rights, so they can retire debt but their farm stays workable for others.
Alston has been talking to rural people since 2001. She found gender differences in the family debate about whether to sell back their water rights. “Often it’s women who are going off-farm to source income that’s needed to get people through the next few years. It wasn’t uncommon to come across women in their 60s and 70s who were holding down full-time jobs, some of them in Melbourne. For a lot of them, buyback looks like a get-out-of-jail card.
“But for men, selling water meant revisiting the whole idea of who they are. Who are they if they are not farmers? In a small minority of cases, women were seriously considering leaving because it was just too hard to keep supporting that notion of the male farmer. They just wanted to move and have a dignified retirement.”
There is sympathy for those who put up their hands because the prevailing view is there are no “willing sellers”; people sell because they are financially pressed. But both those considering leaving and those who plan to stay are worried about what it will mean for their communities.
Peter Costello, Tongala farmer and United Dairyfarmers of Victoria district president, says farms that have sold out are now covered in weeds and pests, posing problems for neighbours. He also fears that if more than a third sell out, those left behind will have to share the cost of water between them: “I would expect the water price could double.”
Those worries seem a long way away as little Luke Broad swings on a farm-gate pointing out the smallest calf on the farm. The shadows lengthen across the paddocks and birds flock, chattering, to their nests in nearby trees. Their day is over long before the Broads’ is.
Jeff and Ruth plan to go to the protest meetings but are not as concerned as many of those around them. Their property straddles a “backbone”, a large water channel. They are doing their sums and hope to sell some of their water back to finance improvements to the farm that will make them more water efficient. They don’t want to see 37 per cent of flows taken from the region, though.
“The dirt in our area is rubbish without water,” says Ruth Broad.
Whether their family will see a sixth-generation dairy farmer depends on many factors, not least of which are the outcome of the basin plan and the ambitions of their children. Luke doesn’t want to be a dairy farmer, he admits shyly. What does he want to be? “A racing-car driver!”

Euro zone needs action, not finger-pointing: Swan

World leaders have ‘absolutely no excuse for failure’ in managing the euro-zone crisis.

WORLD leaders have ”absolutely no excuse for failure” in managing the euro-zone crisis and must deliver a bold and credible plan at this weekend’s summit in Brussels, Treasurer Wayne Swan told an Austrade business luncheon in London overnight.

He said the outcome was important for Australia because it was not immune from Europe’s troubles. ”In spite of our strong fundamentals and tiny exposures to European banks, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that our economy isn’t already being hit by what’s happening here, or that it can’t be hit harder.”

He said the crisis had made the target of surplus by 2012-13 more difficult to achieve: ”The impact on confidence alone has had consequences for our own growth and budget revenue, and there is every prospect this could get worse if we accept ? that the extreme volatility of recent months is likely to continue for some time yet.”

He said traditional policy arsenals were depleted, and political divisions mired efforts to overcome problems on both sides of the Atlantic.

But he was confident that European finance ministers understood the seriousness of the threat and the need for political unity. But they needed to make more progress on Europe’s bailout fund, tackle debt levels and develop a plan to recapitalise the banking system.

”We know what is happening, we know what needs to be done, and we have a good understanding of the consequences if only half-measures are applied. We know that Europe needs to regain the confidence of markets. It needs to get its house in order and it needs to do this now by setting out credible plans for fiscal consolidation [reducing deficits and debts] ? The time for half-measures, the time for finger-pointing has long passed.”

Mr Swan said Prime Minister Julia Gillard would take the same call to action to a meeting of G20 leaders in Cannes in November. ”The world can ill-afford further hits to confidence,” he said.

Mr Swan also said the US should get its budget in order. ”There needs to be a concerted effort to support growth quickly and create jobs for the millions of US unemployed ? we still need the major components of President Obama’s jobs bill passed in some form.”

Speaking to BusinessDay before his speech, Mr Swan said millions of people ”depend on European leaders getting their skates on”.

First published in The Age.


He will also meet British Chancellor George Osborne and Bank of England governor Mervyn King.

Dangerous liaisons: the lessons of election 1940

WHILE the nation has not been faced with a hung parliament since 1940, it has occurred at times throughout the states and territories in the decades since then. Some of the resulting marriages of convenience have been pragmatic and steady, and some poisonously volatile.
The seeds for the 1940 stand-off were sown the year before when prime minister Joseph Lyons died in office. His United Australia Party eventually elected Robert Menzies as leader, who became prime minister.
After his first election as leader, in September 1940, Mr Menzies’ UAP-Country Party coalition won 36 seats. This created a stand-off with the ALP, which had 32 seats, and the four members of Lang Labor, a breakaway group loyal to sacked NSW Labor premier Jack Lang. There were also two independents, Arthur Coles and Alexander Wilson, who came from seats traditionally non-Labor. They held the balance of power.
Mr Coles and Mr Wilson backed Mr Menzies but support for him as leader collapsed within his own party. He was forced to stand down as prime minister in August 1941 and he was replaced by the Country Party’s Arthur Fadden.
Mr Coles and Mr Wilson disliked this government and, in October 1941, they blocked the budget. This gave power to Labor’s John Curtin, who became prime minister and went on to romp home in the 1943 federal election.
Victoria faced a minority government in 1999, when the ALP’s Steve Bracks had to rely on three independents.

Election 2004: Lazarus just keeps on rising

The Verdict
For resilience, ambition and determination, there is no match for John Winston Howard, writes Karen Kissane.
He was centre of the national stage on Saturday night, beaming from the podium with his family as 800 party faithful roared their delight at Lazarus’ fourth coming. But come Sunday morning, Prime Minister John Howard was just another worshipper at the prayer service at his local evangelical Anglican church in Sydney. Well, almost.
All the important events of this small community were raised: a baby’s christening, a parishioner’s illness, the 132nd birthday of the beautiful sandstone church, which has an Australian flag and a Union Jack mounted near the altar. The Prime Minister, in his turn, got a share of the attention in the prayers of intercession: “We pray for Mr Howard and his newly elected team, that in his elation and sense of humility he will look to You and to Your ways to lead this great country so that justice and mercy for all will be his ambition, as they are Your ways . . . but also (that he be) aware of the needs of so much of our world and (be) proactive to meet those needs.” Presumably the PM joined the rest of the congregation in their “Amen”.
Leaving the church, a cheerful Mr Howard declined to speak to reporters, other than to say that he had been phoned the night before by both US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “They rang me and congratulated me and I had a brief discussion with each of them.” He would spend the rest of the day talking to a few people and “taking it a bit easier”.
He could well afford to. He has joined a pantheon of rare prime ministerial successes; only Bob Menzies and Bob Hawke share with him the winning of four elections.
“This is a truly historic achievement,” he said on election night. “You have to reach back to the ’60s (to find an incumbent government that) has increased its majority on two successive occasions,” he said, referring to his hero Menzies.
Mr Howard has probably won control of the Senate. He has also strengthened his dominance over the party’s internal critics by virtue of his sheer success.
It will probably take at least two elections for Labor to claw back Howard’s comfortable majority. The man who spent so many years in the wilderness, the pollie who couldn’t win a chook raffle, now appears to have an unassailable hold upon the nation’s leadership.
Before the last federal election, an eye-rolling Paul Keating is reported to have said of Mr Howard: “The man must have been hit in the bum by a rainbow at birth.” In fact, John Howard’s luck – and his ill-luck – have come in alternating bursts. As a boy at Canterbury Boys High School, he could not muster enough votes to become one of 25 prefects. As Opposition leader in 1987, his electoral hopes were stymied by the machinations of the Joh-for-PM campaign. In 1988, a poll reported that “John Howard appears to be a leader without any kind of voter mandate. He is neither liked nor respected . . . We can only question the potential inherent in a leader (of whom the) strongest perception is that he’s boring.”
In 1989, his own party dumped him as leader. Asked then if he could make a comeback, he said: “That’s Lazarus with a triple bypass – I mean, really.” But his wife, Janette, had said in 1987 that she never doubted they would make it to the Lodge: “I think it is our destiny. He told me he’d be prime minister the first time we met. He will be, wait and see.”
Now his party is hailing him as the greatest conservative prime minister since Menzies, who served 15 years, five months and 10 days as leader of the nation. There are similarities between the two, agrees Paul Strangio, a political historian at the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University.
“Both of them struggled early on, and their ascendancy has been built on three main pillars: their ability to manage the economy, their superior ability to look after Australia’s interests in dark and threatening times, and their forging of constituencies. For Menzies, it was ‘the forgotten people’; for Howard, it’s been ‘the battlers’.”
Howard has more appeal for the battlers than Latham, argues Professor David Flint, a leading monarchist and one of the party faithful celebrating at the Wentworth hotel on election night. “I think a lot of rank-and-file Labor supporters have voted for John Howard . . . Traditional Labor voters are very conservative.”
Dr Strangio agrees: “Labor has a problem in reconciling its two constituencies: those who are middle-class, liberal and cosmopolitan, and the more traditional working class.”
Gerard Henderson, author of a history of the Liberal Party called Menzies’ Child and a former chief of staff for John Howard, yesterday summed up the Prime Minister’s appeal this way: “He’s not at all charismatic, and he can be a bit boring. But you know where he stands and he doesn’t surprise you because there’s a degree of consistency (in his attitudes) that goes back 30 years.”
Mr Henderson believes the Government would have had to blunder seriously to lose this poll, given the state of the economy. So did this election fall like a ripe plum into Mr Howard’s lap?
Dr Strangio says that, in fact, it is possibly the first election win that Mr Howard can claim to be all his own: he won in 1996 because of public loathing of Paul Keating; in 1998, with the GST, he fell over the line and came close to being a oncer; and in 2001, critics argue, the outcome was affected by the Tampa and the children overboard affair. This time, Howard’s stance was “Here I stand, I can do no other,” says Dr Strangio. “In the end, he basically stood on his record . . . and he won handsomely.”
What does the PM promise for his fourth term? In his election-night speech he returned again to his core values, his love of country, the strength of the economy and his decisions to send Australian troops to East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“This is a proud nation, a confident nation, a cohesive nation, a united nation, a nation that can achieve anything it wants to,” he said; a country that he passionately believed “to be a beacon of democracy and tolerance and hope and achievement all around the world”. He said this election had always been about one thing: who Australians best trusted on security and the economy.
John Winston Howard is determined and resilient, as any reporter who has panted after him on one of his early-morning walks will attest. His gait and speed are deceptive; like that of elderly marathoner Cliff Young, it appears unremarkable, almost awkward, but he sets a cracking pace that forces followers into occasional little trots to keep up.
His walk on election morning was along his usual route, which takes in views of the Sydney Opera House, Luna Park, and the Harbour Bridge. On this walk, as in his political life, critique did not sway him. He did not slacken his stride when he reached the graffiti chalked at intervals on the pavement below his feet: “Vote for the forests”; “WMD – Where are they?”; “Free children in detention”; and “Howard throws the truth overboard”.
He knew where he was going and he paid no mind.
On election night, that honed political judgement was proved right.

First published in The Age.

ELECTION 2004: Prime minister takes history in his stride

John Howard’s day started with nerves as he faced becoming the second longest-serving prime minister, writes Karen Kissane.
Perhaps it was because he’d had a bad night. Prime Minister John Howard yesterday postponed his scheduled 6am power-walk, emerging at seven to lead the media pack up the hills and down the dales of Sydney’s Kirribilli. He confessed to butterflies in his stomach, and later said he had slept fitfully: “What would you expect?”
He had seen that morning’s polls, and one of them gave credence to his claim – incumbent upon leaders on election day – to underdog status: “I think they tell a picture of a very close result.” He then took off on what was either his last morning walk as prime minister, or his last before walking into the history books as the longest-serving prime minister since Robert Menzies.
He was not left wondering for long. The Prime Minister watched the result unfold from his official home, Kirribilli House in Sydney, with his wife Janette and children Melanie, Tim and Richard. Richard had flown home from Washington, where he has been working on the election campaign of US President George Bush.
At 7.05pm, Liberal Party powerbroker Michael Kroger told Channel Nine that in Victoria there was an early swing to the Liberals in every one of the state’s 37 federal seats. By 7.15, Labor Senator Robert Ray predicted that it would be almost impossible for Labor to win the election, and that it was likely to emerge with fewer seats than before.
By the time the official Liberal function began at the Wentworth Sofitel Hotel at 8pm, many of the invited 800 family, friends, key advisers and donors who had begun to trickle in were confident they were headed for a party rather than a wake.
Former Liberal Senator Michael Baume said Mr Howard’s campaign tactic of “pointing out the risks of change” had proved right.
Would this latest win make the PM’s position in the party room unassailable? “He was already invincible.” NSW Liberal Party director Chris McDiven agreed: “He is unassailable now for as long as he wants to be prime minister.”
On his power-walk that morning Mr Howard’s pace was, as usual, unrelenting, and his tracksuit was of the requisite dagginess, with a patriotic twist: the fluorescent yellow jacket had a green “Australia” and the stars of the Southern Cross on the back. On his walk, as in his political life, critique did not sway him. He did not slacken his stride when he reached the graffiti chalked at intervals on the pavement below his feet: “Vote for the forests”; “WMD – Where are they?”; “Free children in detention”; and “Howard throws the truth overboard”. The chalked opposition may have been extensive but it was in a form that George Bush’s “man of steel” could literally walk right over.
Mr Howard did not get off quite so easily when he arrived mid-morning at Putney Public School, in Sydney’s north, to cast his vote in his home seat of Bennelong. He was met by his daughter, Melanie Howard-McDonald, and her husband Rowan, who were in jeans and Liberal T-shirts handing out how-to-vote cards. Mr Howard kissed her and said effusively, “Family support – fantastic!” His wife and sons were not with him.
As the PM democratically took his place in the queue, he ignored a woman who shouted from the back of the crowd in broken English that he did not rescue countries that did not have oil to protect them. Then another lone female voice began warbling an angry ditty of the kind PMs do not enjoy as background to their media moments: “Shame Howard shame, you have cheated on the game.”
As the singer launched into encores, Mr Howard’s efforts at innocuous chitchat with reporters were suddenly re-energised. A reporter asked if this would be the last time he voted for John Howard. The PM gave a tight smile: “You never rest, you guys, do you?”

First published in The Age.

ELECTION 2004: Generous PM talks of years ahead

SYDNEY. John Winston Howard entered the Wentworth Hotel in Sydney to a triumphant piece of musical kitsch of the kind that would signal a happy ending in a Hollywood movie. He brought with him his beaming wife, Janette, in peach and pearls, and his children. He was too tactful to say it, but backslapping supporters in the room had no qualms: “The sweetest one of all!” one roared.
Mr Howard had more grace. In a generous, confident and impassioned speech, he thanked the nation for its vote of confidence and made an almost prayerful vow to rededicate himself to the Australian people. Australia stood on the threshold of a new era of achievement, he promised. “The rest of the world sees us as a strong, successful nation . . . We are a nation that is respected by the world because we are prepared to stand up for what we believe in.”
He promised never to forget that governments are elected to govern for the people who voted for them and those who voted against them.
He thanked the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, for his loyalty and his Treasurer and would-be successor, Peter Costello, for Australia’s strong economy, “the strongest economic conditions that this country has arguably experienced since World War II”.
He did not mention Iraq directly, but made several references to Australia’s willingness to stand up for democracy, and pointed out that “on this very day the people of Afghanistan have had an election, and that election has been made possible by reason of the fact that a number of countries, including Australia, were prepared to take a stand for democracy and to take a stand against terrorism”.
Earlier in the day, he had postponed his 6am power walk, emerging an hour later to lead the media pack around Kirribilli. He confessed to butterflies in his stomach, and later said he had slept fitfully: “What would you expect?”
He had seen that morning’s polls, and one of them gave credence to his claim, incumbent upon leaders on election day, to underdog status: “I think they tell a picture of a very close result.” He then took off on what was either his last morning walk as Prime Minister, or before walking into the history books as the longest-serving prime minister since Robert Menzies.
Mr Howard’s pace was, as usual, unrelenting, and his tracksuit was of the requisite dagginess, with a patriotic twist: the fluorescent yellow jacket had a green “Australia” and the stars of the Southern Cross on the back. On his walk, as in his political life, critique did not sway him. He did not slacken his stride when he reached the graffiti chalked at intervals on the pavement below his feet: “Vote for the forests”; “WMD – Where are they?”; “Free children in detention”; and “Howard throws the truth overboard.”
Mr Howard denied that he saw the fine, sunny weather as a good omen: “The first time I was elected to Parliament it poured rain, in 1974, it was unbelievably wet.” Was he superstitious at all? “Oh no, not quite. (But) I occasionally carry a gold watch that my father carried through the First World War.”
He was not left wondering about his place in the history books for long. The Prime Minister watched the result unfold from his official home, Kirribilli House in Sydney, with his wife Janette and children Melanie, Tim and Richard. Richard had flown home from Washington, where he has been working on the election campaign of American President George Bush.
At 7.05pm, Liberal Party powerbroker Michael Kroger told Channel Nine that in Victoria, there was an early swing to the Liberals in every one of the state’s 37 federal seats. By 7.15pm, Labor Senator Robert Ray predicted that it would be almost impossible for Labor to win the election, and that it was likely to emerge with fewer seats than before.
By the time the official Liberal function began at the Wentworth Hotel at 8pm, many of the invited 800 family, friends, key advisers and donors who had begun to trickle in were confident they were headed for a party rather than a wake. They paid more attention to the wine and the tempura prawns than they did to the TV screens running election news; they knew it was all over, red rover. They were as one for the first time only when NSW State director Scott Morrison took the stage at 9.30 to ask them for silence during Mark Latham’s upcoming concession speech, “out of respect for our opponents”. He was greeted with jeering laughter.
Former Liberal Senator Michael Baume said Mr Howard’s campaign tactic of “pointing out the risks of change” had proved right. Would this latest win make the PM’s position in the party room unassailable? “He was already invincible.”
NSW Liberal Party director Chris McDiven agreed: “He is unassailable now for as long as he wants to be Prime Minister.”
Leading monarchist Professor David Flint said this could not be guaranteed: “I can’t see him facing a challenge, but economics don’t always go up.”
What now . . .

First published in The Age.

Winds of blame sweep though the Liberal ranks

Election 2002
The Liberals are accusing themselves and even their supporters, but as Karen Kissane reports, few are publicly pointing the finger at their new leader.

It was a sombre Robert Doyle who faced the media yesterday. Gone was the cocky, quipping politician high on the excitement of a campaign. He had led his people over a political cliff – or had he?

Mr Doyle was non-committal when offered chances to defend his performance. He deflected them with promises of an inquiry into the party’s electoral disaster. Asked whether his negative anti-union push in the final week of the campaign had hurt the party, he said: “The foolish thing would be to try to jump in and have quick and ready answers.” But some Liberals say Mr Doyle is responsible not for carnage but for rescue from what could have been a worse catastrophe.

Party polling the weekend before the election indicated the party faced losing so many seats that it could have lost party status in the parliament, a Liberal source said yesterday.

The polling suggested the party could finish up with fewer than seven lower house MPs after the loss of even blue-ribbon seats such as Doncaster, Bulleen and Sandringham. “We were going to be wiped out,” said the source, who did not wish to be named.

“So that (anti-union) strategy was adopted in the last week to save the Liberal Party from becoming an irrelevant rump. We appealed to our own people, to our heartland, because it was our own bloody people who were soft. They were deserting us. And it worked, to a certain degree.”

Had Mr Doyle controlled the campaign or was he told what to do? Mr Doyle told a press conference at Parliament House yesterday: “The campaign is a team effort with input from a number of sources.”

Upper house Liberal MP Cameron Boardman said Mr Doyle had been constrained by a party machine that refused to allow him off the leash: “A very small group of people . . . were saying what he was going to say, and it wasn’t Robert Doyle. It was completely manufactured.

“If Robert had been given scope to perform like himself then people would have seen a completely different side of him. But his lines were predictable and he ended up sounding like a politician.”

Mr Doyle said the electorate “felt we had not heard their message of 1999”. Other MPs also blamed the loss on the party’s failure to face the truth about the Kennett defeat. The parliamentary party was out of touch, said one MP: “There’s a lot of complacency, a lot of laziness. People don’t really get out of their offices to try and work out what’s happening on the ground.” MPs and candidates talked to each other and their constituents: “It was just purely Liberals talking to Liberals.”

Consequently, candidates had been too smug and had behaved more like MPs than people seeking votes: “The party machine, in fairness, tried to put the fear of God into the candidates as a whole team. But the message was pretty late and not adhered to.”

Labor, in contrast, worked hard to build relationships with all kinds of groups and organisations: “We lost creativity and we lost the edge, and the Labor Party filled the gap,” he said.

Peter Katsambanis, who lost his upper house seat of Monash, agreed that the seeds of the disaster were sown by the party’s response to the 1999 election loss: “Far too many people sat around trying to convince themselves that we hadn’t really lost. They tried to blame the people of Victoria, tried to suggest that somehow the people had got it wrong and hadn’t wanted to vote the government out.”

Mr Katsambanis also criticised the organisational wing of the party for redecorating its headquarters rather than saving money for the campaign: “There was no war chest to run an effective campaign, and I believe the Labor Party outspent us by three
to one.”

Had the Kennett factor been important in Mr Doyle’s downfall? Mr Doyle said: “I don’t know about that. I think one thing that’s very important for the Liberals is that we stick together.”

But Bernie Finn, unsuccessful Liberal candidate for Macedon, said Mr Doyle had been continually upstaged by Jeff Kennett.

“It’s a ghost that has to go away. What the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party needs is an exorcism.

“Even in the last week of campaign, he pushed Doyle off the front pages when he resigned from 3AK. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a collection to send him on a one-way ticket to Chechnya.”
Was Mr Doyle’s leadership now under threat? Mr Doyle said: “I will certainly stand again as leader and then it’s a matter for my party room.”

Mr Finn said: “When they meet in a telephone booth on Monday – there’s only a bloody dog and a cat left, after all – I would be staggered if they were to dump Robert. Who else is there?”

First published in The Age.

Doyle vows to battle on

At a booth in his Malvern electorate yesterday, Robert Doyle ran into a woman who predicted his fate. She brusquely brushed aside his offer of a how-to-vote card. “No way. No way. You’re gonna lose, mate,” she said. Dead man walking.

Shortly after nine o’clock last night he appeared, grim-faced and red-eyed, to acknowledge it. Flanked by his wife, Jennifer, and his two older children, Andy and Bridie, he made his concession of defeat to a room full of Liberals stunned by the extent of their loss.

There was no sign of the ebullience that had carried him through the campaign and through its final day, when he had whipped around his own 13 booths and four marginal seats exhorting people to “Vote for me!”
Last night he faced the public after first having completed the grim task of phoning all his members who had lost seats. He said soberly: “We in the Liberal Party have to fully accept the verdict of Victorians, and we have to work very hard to win their trust back again. There are some real lessons here for us in the party and I promise all of you . . . that we are going to have a full, frank analysis of where we went wrong over the last three years . . .

“I’ve lost some good friends and we’ve lost some very good members. We need to learn that we can’t sit back for three years and try to do everything at the last moment.”
Two hundred Liberal Party faithful had been invited to celebrate at the Carlton Crest Hotel in Albert Park at 7pm. By 8pm it looked as if not just the state but the party’s own members had turned their backs on the Liberals, with waiters and media outnumbering party supporters. They stood shaking their heads at the big television screens blaring out confirmation by one commentator after another that their party had not just lost, but lost badly. Platters of food turned into leftovers.

More party faithful appeared in time for Mr Doyle’s appearance but Federal Treasurer Peter Costello and Arts Minister Rod Kemp were the only senior politicians to arrive. Mr Costello declined to speak to the media. He told one party worker: “Keep working on it. We’ll win Broadmeadows in due course.”

Some old-guard Liberals had reportedly been alienated by what they perceived as the negative campaigning of Mr Doyle’s increasingly desperate last week. Branch members, who did not wish to be named, said the result was devastating and far worse than they had expected. “The amount of seats lost is just unbelievable,” one woman said.

Mr Doyle thanked his family for having put up with him over the past four weeks; his wife laughed, providing the one moment of relief on the stage. He then promised he would give 100 per cent to the job of winning back Victoria, which started now.

But the man who had won the leadership after warning that the party would be “in desperate trouble” at this election without a change, now has to face his party room with a massive defeat. He gave no interviews last night but earlier in the day had been asked what a large loss would mean.

Mr Doyle had said that he was very happy with his leadership team and they would stay, even after a loss. As for what would happen to him, “That’s a question for my party.” Would he like to stay on as leader? “I’m here for the long haul. There’s no doubt about that.”

Jennifer Doyle had said her husband would be very disappointed if he lost. He had worked “amazingly hard . . . he has really dug deep . . . and shown me how determined he can be. It’s taken so much out of him and he’s given it everything.”

As Steve Bracks’ victory speech was televised to the Carlton Crest last night, Liberals stood stern and silent or hoed determinedly at last into the food and drinks. As Mr Bracks talked about health, schools and police, one man called out, “Who paid for it, Steve?”
Mr Doyle might talk of trying to win back voters’ trust. But last night at the Carlton Crest, his troops were more of the mind to say, “They’ll be sorry.” Several warned that Victorians did not know what they had done to their state. One woman said: “Let’s just see how many people get bumper stickers that say, `Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote Labor’, when things start to go wrong.”

First published in The Age.