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Andrew Bolt

May 28, 2010

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Andrew Bolt

May 19, 2009

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Several conservative columnists (e.g., Gerard Henderson, with a copy-and-paste by Andrew Bolt; also, Piers Akerman) have discussed the outcome of the Fremantle by-election, where a Greens candidate looks to have claimed an ALP seat while the Liberal Party watched from the sidelines. They tend to frame it in terms of the ALP suffering and the Greens gaining ground, with the (apparently) unwitting assistance of the Liberal Party.

But are they failing to acknowledge that the ALP itself might be shifting to the right, in which case the Coalition is not just an accomplice but a potential victim? If the Greens take Labor’s share of votes on the left, there is a way for the ALP to maintain its share – and that is by eating into the Liberal and (perhaps less likely) National Party support base.

Janet Albrechtsen

Feb 26, 2009

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Janet Albrechtsen has taken an e-mail exchange with playwright David Williamson as the basis for her most recent column. Responding to Williamson’s claim that “conservatives lack compassion”, Janet argues that conservative policies do demonstrate compassion but that conservatives do not do a good job of marketing their compassionate credentials. Unfortunately some of the evidence and argument she draws on to back up her argument are rather shaky.

Janet is one of the few pundits who has had much to say about John Howard’s recent newspaper columns in the SMH and The Australian, which were based on the his lecture at the Menzies Research Centre [PDF transcript]. Albrechtsen proposes that “Howard made a compelling case” that conservative policies help the greatest number of people and provide a safety net for the underprivileged.

Albrechtsen points, in particular, to the Howard Government’s “Work for the Dole” program as one of the substantial reforms that provided the best long-term outcomes and demonstrated the conservative approach to compassion. This ignores the fact that while introducing their “mutual obligation” scheme, the Howard Government also dismantled the Working Nation programs the had been initiated in 1994 to provide training and employment to long-term unemployed. The Keating Government had already adopted the notion of a “job compact”; it can be argued the distinct approach of the conservative government was to reduce the resources being assigned to strategic training initiatives.

Albrechtsen’s reliance on the Howard Government’s record of compassionate reform is also undermined by some obvious cases where there was a distinct lack of compassion: WorkChoices, the removal of unfair dismissal protections, and the Pacific Solution, for starters. But Jason Whittaker makes a broader point about the compassion embodied in many conservative policies – it is conditional and exclusive. The Howard Government’s form of compassion was extended preferentially to those who met their criteria for being appropriate Australians – so, middle-class families were recipients of far greater rewards from the government than same-sex couples, for instance (or aged pensioners, as Ken Lovell notes).

Albrechtsen also undermines her argument by drawing false equivalence between conservative and progressive policies. For instance, she suggests that:

[T]he Australian Human Rights Commission’s report has exposed that under the Rudd Government children are still being held indefinitely in our detention centres. Yet the silence from activists has exposed previous calls for compassion from an uncaring Howard government as bogus, politically motivated stunts. The new-found silence suggests they do not care much about detained migrants, at least not enough to protest against a Labor government.

The Rudd Government announced that from July 2008 children would not be held in immigration detention. The AHRC’s report certainly does not give the new government a clean bill of health on its treatment of children – however, it does note that children are no longer held in immigration detention centres. The concerns the report raises involve several cases in which they found children had been housed – usually, it seems, for a relatively short time – in immigration residential centres and transition accommodation. While this might mean that the Rudd Government’s record is not spotless on children in detention, it is disingenuous to suggest that we should be just as outraged as when it was government policy to hold children in detention centres for what, in many cases, turned out to be a period of years.

Albrechtsen continues her argument by proposing that conservatives engage filters that refine our compassion and direct it to rational and appropriate ends. For instance, she dismisses concern about David Hicks’s treatment as fashion – others, such as myself, would argue that it involved respect for the rule of law and fundamental human rights. She shows no insight that there are any policies of the Howard Government or conservatives in general that could be criticised as lacking compassion; instead, Janet’s final solution is that conservatives need to do a better job of recognising and selling their compassion.

Perhaps that would be easier if the evidence for it wasn’t so inconsistent and contradicted.