Australian Viewpoint

On the Contrary

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

22 February 2014

9:00 AM

Once again, Labor seems genuinely baffled that there aren’t more votes in propping up dying industries. The (non-existent) canneries and production lines of the future would be well-served by a Bill Shorten government, it seems, to the detriment of the budget, the taxpayer and progress. Of course, while in opposition Shorten waxes lyrical about cars and tinned fruit being core competencies without which we would not know what it means to be Australian, it’s just as possible that once in government he would oversee a much drier, boffin-led economic regime. From the opposition benches you can easily vow that this must be a country that makes things. But being in government forces you to decide how much you will pay to make that a reality. The Coalition’s lines have been spot on, talking of transition from ‘good jobs to better jobs’ and terminating the corporate free ride. Remarkable that some wanted Tony Abbott to deliver a handout to Toyota even when it specifically said that would not have made a difference to its decision.

Last year, there was a brief resurgence of respect for Paul Keating within Labor. Wearing red shoes, he posed with Kevin Rudd during the latter’s momentary resurrection, he addressed caucus on how to be effective in opposition, and figures such as Chris Bowen spoke of a need to re-engage with and celebrate the Keating economic legacy. But a protection racket has no part in that legacy. As Keating observed in 2011: ‘Manufacturing’s moved to the east. It’s the service industries are the new growth industries.’

Everybody knows this, and yet some cling emotionally to car-making or fruit-tinning as part of a national identity. It is one of the silliest things we do — attaching a patriotic premium to industries in this way. One might say the same about Australian films, although at least they are telling Australian stories, rather than simply shipping a steel box overseas. But each time Shorten assigns Toyota this symbolic value, he sullies Labor’s claim to any part in our next big economic transformation. This is a company that most Australians aren’t even aware is manufacturing in this country. That doesn’t mean we should dance on the graves of lost jobs, as I’ve seen some people do. There seems to me a limit on how much happiness you can derive from the prospect of people being out of work. Indeed, it’s a strange business to get emotional over at all. It is what it is — inevitable. Dogs bark, caravan moves on.

The final hurrah of freedom is upon us in Sydney, or may already be done and dusted, depending on when you read this. Barry O’Farrell’s lockout laws, which will close bars at 3am and have patrons denied entry after 1.30am, arrive with gusto on 24 February, just in time to anaesthetise Mardi Gras. And despite of a smörgåsbord of potential gripes around efficacy, fairness and the impact on low-paid hospitality workers, the Labor opposition’s only objection to this nanny-statery is that it doesn’t go far enough. Leader John Robertson doesn’t get out much — we know this because he is a virtually unknown figure after three years in the job. He would have us firmly beneath the blanket by about 10pm, perhaps sucking from a straw on one of Kevin’s iced vovos — served from a plastic cup, of course.

The lockouts come only a few weeks after mandatory minimum sentencing laws for one-punch assaults passed with the support of both major parties. This is despite both the Attorney-General and shadow Attorney-General being on the record against mandatory sentencing. Coalition AG Greg Smith said in 2010 that only ‘rednecks’ support mandatory sentencing. Labor shadow AG Paul Lynch called it a ‘failed and flawed policy’ — not in 2010 but on 30 January 2014, moments before he voted in support of it. Remarkable. Surprisingly it is the NSW Greens who, as the chief parliamentary opponents of this plan, find themselves in the rare and enviable position of being the only party standing up for jobs, growth, liberty, personal responsibility, fairness and common sense. No doubt it came as a shock to them, too.

You don’t need to be a member of the proletariat to admire Bruce Springsteen. Though his music is often talked about politically, the tens of thousands who have filled Australian stadiums over the past fortnight were not there out of class loyalty. They are there, as I will be, because the Boss is a selfless master of classic showmanship. There is a total absence of pretence, and yet you never forget you are watching probably the greatest rock band in the world. As Helen Razer wrote this week: ‘I don’t know of another man who can stand and give most of what he has to a stadium for three and a half hours without sacrificing a feeling of intimacy.’ The music is live and embellished, longer and richer than the record versions. Fan requests on cardboard signs are indulged, as ever — even obscure oldies. Whole albums are played in full, among sets lasting up to four hours. Traditions, even the corny ‘Dancing in the Dark’ routine, are faithfully observed. There is no higher priority for Springsteen than the audience. Working-class sensibilities might inform his music, but his true class is exactly that: the old-fashioned kind. I’d love to know his thoughts on the car industry.

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