Mungo MacCallum- Political Corrections

The great, big splash

You have to hand it to the maestro. The $10 billion water initiative Little Johnnys Great Big Splash is brilliant politics.

Whether or not it is good policy will depend on if, when and how it is implemented, and theres a lot of devil in the detail. But the election will be long gone before any serious leaks become obvious, and in the meantime the Howard huggers can rejoice in the knowledge that their Dear Leader can still give his opposition a bath.

Consider how many problems Howard has solved with this single strike:

He has dispelled any suggestion that his government is tired, lazy and bereft of new policy ideas; He has taken back the initiative on climate-related issues, on which he was thought to be weak; He has neutralised Kevin Rudds push for a new federalism by announcing the biggest Commonwealth takeover since federation; He has trumped Rudd by incorporating Labors water policies into his own, and then enlarging on them; He has locked up $10 billion during an election year, severely limiting Labors ability to make credible promises; He has wedged all the Labor state premiers who, in spite of a bit of huffing and puffing, cannot afford to reject a popular move which Rudd has already been forced to endorse; He has given Malcolm Turnbull a huge boost at the expense of Peter Costello, thus removing any possibility of an immediate threat to his leadership; He has created a massive diversion which will take the focus away from inconveniences such as industrial relations, David Hicks and the rapidly fading Wheat Board bribery scandal anyone remember that?

And last but not least, he has completely stalled Rudds progress in cautiously, but methodically wheeling out its own policy initiatives. Asked about Labors plans for an education revolution, Howard fell back on Crocodile Dundee: Thats not a revolution this is a revolution. And for once the quote was completely apposite.

There is, as always, a certain amount of smoke and mirrors involved. The initiative actually has nothing to do with climate change or global warming; at best it is an attempt to treat one of the symptoms. The immediate effect on the vast bulk of Australians who live in the cities will be zilch; unless it rains, water restrictions will continue, with increasing severity. Even in the bush it will be a while before conservation and trading measures make any real difference. And do not expect the Murray to flow happily through to Lake Alexandrina any time soon.

But its the thought that counts, and for once Howard has had a big one. To cap it off, in the same week came the first real signs that the drought might be breaking. When youre hot youre hot, and when youre wet, youre wet.

A useful side effect of the Great Big Splash is that it has taken attention away from the ministerial reshuffle before voters can realise just what a cop-out it really was.

Amanda Vanstone blustered off; Howards own teddy bear, Joe Hockey, was moved to Workplace Relations where it is hoped his ursinity will be useful in flogging the WorkChoices lemon, while the thin-lipped Kevin Andrews was relegated to the cesspit of Immigration; and of course Malcolm Turnbull ascended into heaven.

And that was about it. Apart from Vanstone, hardly any dead wood was disposed of. Rod Kemp, known to his colleagues as Elmer Fudd, finally retired and Gary Hardgrave was despatched, unmissed and unmourned. But John Cobb, Jim Lloyd, Fran Bailey, Ian Macfarlane and De-Anne Kelly to name but the silliest continue to disfigure the front bench. A handful of Costello supporters have finally made it into the new ministry, presumably on the basis that they no longer constitute even the mildest of threats; even George Brandis, the man who christened Howard the lying rodent gets a guernsey.

But if this is really the best our Dear Leader can do to muster an effective concentration of firepower for the election, Rudd remains in with a chance. To pinch a line used against the Liberal ministries of the 1960s, the Howard team is top heavy with light weights.

The jelly-bellied flag-flappers, as Rudyard Kipling once called them, certainly had a Big Day Out; indeed, they carried it over into Australia Day, using their Howard-given right to use the national banner as a weapon of wog destruction with enthusiasm and gusto.

While this year there were no reports of victims being bashed up if they failed to kiss the Chinese-made artifacts, the message remained the same; after all, it is hard to interpret a T-shirt bearing the flag and the slogan Love it or f*ck off as anything but an invitation to a stoush. Howard apparently believes this is a legitimate use for the flag, along with its function as a picnic rug, underwear or a snot rag anything as long as it is displayed.

Those who believe that the flag deserves more dignity may have their qualms, but in Howards case we should not expect any: he is, after all, himself a serial abuser. His staff carry a giant flag wherever they go, and our Dear Leader seldom appears without it. Many are the false promises, the poisonous smears, the deliberate discords and downright lies he has let fly from the shelter of its folds.

Indeed, there is a good argument that in recent times the flag has become so debased that the only sensible course would be to throw it away and get a new one unless, of course, you agree with Ambrose Bierce that any flag is merely a coloured rag borne above troops and hoisted on forts and ships. It appears to serve the same purpose as certain signs that one sees on vacant lots in London Rubbish may be shot here.


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