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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

it's oh so thin « Previous | |Next »
August 8, 2003

Michael Keating puzzles me. I read his op. ed columns in The Australian and often wonder what I've read. What is the argument. Often I cannot work out what he is saying. His content seems to be as thin as a lot of Australian journalists.

This one is no different. Costello says:

'John Howard ... recognised he had to fight the "culture wars" and challenge Labor's interpretation of history if he was to establish his political ascendancy. Howard is winning that war. Indeed, his campaign against "political correctness" has turned into a rout of his opponents. One of the most successful parts of Howard's use and abuse of history was his statement that Labor, from 1996 onwards, was a policy-free zone, which had retreated on the core Hawke-Keating economic reform agenda. The media, by and large, bought this myth. It is still buying it.'

Costello then shows that the ALP is committed to a reform agenda to internationalise the Australia economy and creating an market order. It has even developed the new reform agenda devoted to research and development, education and training, and innovation.

Okay. So the media don't this. They are ensnarred in the myths spun by Howard's machine. And that's it.

So what is the problem?

It is this. Costello reduces the culture wars to economic reform and the market. There is very little here about civil society, the welfare state, culture, the media democracy or our cities. Nothing about sustainability--but that is to be expected from a neo-liberal who thinks that wealth creation is the end of government policy. There is nothing about the quality of public debate and discussionve rpublci policy, and no mention of citizens actively participate (beyond the simple act of voting) in the political life of the country.

In short, there is nothing about innovations in governance to improve the capacity to govern, even though governance is central to ongoing economic reform in a global world. Yet, as is pointed out by by Carmen Lawrence:

"The 'business of government' is very sick indeed....In Australia there appears to be a growing conviction that the fundamentals of the democratic contract have been corrupted."

She adds that:

"....most MPs are largely unable to influence the legislative or policy agenda except behind the closed doors of party rooms. Even then, there is often little room to manoeuvre because decisions have been made by the executives. Matters which deserve free and open consideration are often submerged because of anxiety about dissent. The media feeds this paranoia by portraying even the most minor disagreements as tests of leadership or signs of party disintegration. Indeed, the opportunities to speak openly are becoming more and more constrained."

Costello's reduction of the culture wars to economic reform and the market. that means that he sees reinventing government as making governments leaner and more efficient. What is ignored is the way the culture wars are also a conflict of future shaping--the way we shape the future. We can see that shaping the future is about if we ask, governance for what? For Costello the how of governance --the techniques to deliver productivity growth-----matter more than the what.

If you then ask what is the point of all this ongoing reform you hear stuff about creating jobs, raising the standard of living, wealth creation etc. Maybe ulitility is dropped in. But anything about an ethical life or vlaues is avoided, even shaping the future involves conflicts over values--wealth creation versus sustinability---whilst he valuies involved in libving happy lives is shunted off into the private life.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:26 PM | | Comments (0)