Forgotten history: The disasters of Australia's previous Labor government

The Leftists seem likely to win the forthcoming election. Would they if people remembered?

IF 38 per cent of people polled this week by The Daily Telegraph thought the Kyoto Protocol was the treaty which ended WWII, who do they think Bob Hawke [former Labor Party Prime Minister] is when they see the Silver Bodgie sashaying through the local RSL in his white slip-ons? An Antipodean Colonel Sanders? Mick Dundee's older brother? Or a Gold Coast real estate baron?

The gravel-voiced Hawke and his vaudevillian successor, former treasurer and prime minister Paul Keating, have emerged as a sideshow act in Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's travelling dog-and-pony show. But it's doubtful whether those in the adoring throng can remember or ever knew what actually took place during their reign.

While Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello have been careful to pay due attention to the reforms of the Hawke-Keating era, the ALP's ageing but resilient duo have been more reticent to pay tribute to the groundwork laid by Howard in his days as treasurer. They've also been less than flattering about the Howard-Costello team.

Last year, however, former Reserve Bank governor Ian Macfarlane noted that the introduction of the tender system for the sale of Treasury notes and Treasury bonds "was second only in importance to the float of the Australian dollar in 1983". As columnist Gerard Henderson reminded readers recently, "these changes were introduced in 1979 and 1982 respectively, when Howard was treasurer". Readers young and old might also be unaware that Howard also called for the Campbell Commission report which recommended many of the reforms for which the ALP now claims credit, or that the Coalition supported the Hawke-Keating reforms when they were introduced into Parliament. The Howard Government proceeded with the reform process and Australia today has an economy which is the envy of the developed world. But its reforms were opposed every inch of the way by Labor's successors to Hawke-Keating.

Until recently, Rudd described himself as a Christian socialist. The socialist label has disappeared during Rudd's remake. His deputy Julia Gillard has told outright porkies [lies] about her socialist connections, claiming variously that she dabbled in left-wing politics as a student and that she later only helped with the typing.

Our old stagers however have left a paper trail which should be put before the Generation Y voters before they are permitted within 100m of a polling booth and distributed around the nursing homes targeted by the ALP's answers to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Flicking through the files, it is impossible not to be assaulted by the headlines which Hawke and Keating created, such as "Home rates may hit 18 per cent", above the byline of doughty Fairfax veteran Michelle Grattan, in The Age of May 29, 1989. What a cold winter that was.

Or "Apology on recession" from The Herald Sun, above a photograph featuring a smiling Hawke on March 6, 1998, when he admitted his government had misread the economic situation surrounding the 1987 which delivered Keating's recession "we had to have". The corrective action, said Hawke, was too late to avoid soaring interest rates, unemployment and inflation.

Speaking of unemployment, which under the Coalition is at record lows, what about this headline from The Financial Review of July 10, 1992: "Unemployment rate at highest level since 1930s". That was when youth unemployment reached 35.8 per cent. And how about this one, from The Sydney Morning Herald of November 11, 1992: "Worst job figures for 60 years". Unemployment had by then reached 11.3 per cent with a record 979,000 out of work. It got worse, of course, and a year later when the number of unemployed had climbed all the way to 1,017,600 the left-leaning Geoffrey Barker wrote in The Age: "Paul Keating will wear yesterday's unemployment figures like a crown of thorns."

Barker reminded his small audience that Keating had vowed seven years earlier that he would make Howard wear his Liberal leadership like a crown of thorns and do everything he could to obliterate him from leadership. Keating might need to be reminded of those numbers as he stumps around the backblocks now, occasionally emerging from relative obscurity to attend musicals about himself or rewrite history.

And if you thought shadow treasurer Wayne Swan's helpful hints to shoppers were a joke, how about Hawkie's advice to punters on November 9, 1985, in which he advised that the community would have to learn to live with higher interest rates. The overnight cash interest rate at the time was 16.5 per cent, with pressure on the banks to lift their prime rates to 19 or 19.5 per cent. Home mortgages were still capped at 13.5 per cent - but that was soon to change. By June 4, 1989, The Sun-Herald was able to run with "Home-loan rates highest in the world", a barbecue stopper if there ever was one.

The government responsible for this debacle blamed the problem on "the expectation that we who live in the Lucky Country should be able to own our homes". Silly people, silly people, wanting their own homes. But it got worse as The Daily Telegraph headline "18 per cent home loans soar again" announced on July 1, 1999. So, if you happen to see this Down Under version of the Glimmer Twins on one of their outings, remind them again how bad the good old days actually were and ask them how exactly their protege plans to do things differently.



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