Hello, Mr Abbott? Ms Gillard? I can help you
I have long thought that historians have a role to play in Australia’s policymaking process. In particular, I have wondered about historians’ potential for warning political parties against bad policies.
Recently, I have begun to think that historians might be able to move beyond advice on good or bad policy, and also offer advice on good or bad politics. These are not random musings. I am an international historian teaching at the University of Western Sydney. An Australian citizen, I have only recently returned to Australia after spending ten years in Japanese academia. During that time, I spent much time wishing – admittedly forlornly – that someone in the Rudd Cabinet would seek my advice concerning Australian-Japanese relations.
Whaling seems to push mercifully few of PM Julia Gillard’s buttons. That has – thankfully – resulted in a smoother Australian-Japanese relationship than was the case during much of Kevin Rudd’s time at the top. It has also forced me to look elsewhere for bad policies and bad politics.
Now Tony Abbott has come to the party.
Abbott probably thought he’d backed a winner when he called for the scrapping of a $440 million education program in Indonesia. He’d argued against a flood levy, and it made little sense for Abbott to argue for cuts to, say, social security and welfare spending. That would be little different to a flood levy. It would, after all, mean a little less money in the hands of the electorate. Cutting money to Indonesia? It must have presented itself as a no-brainer.
When Abbott first raised the notion of calling for an end to the education program to Indonesia, somebody in his shadow cabinet presumably reminded him that the Australian government is not merely being generous in its dealings with Indonesia.
Somebody in his shadow cabinet presumably reminded Abbott that the Australian government bankrolls the education of a large number of Indonesian kids to keep them out of the religious schools, and ultimately out of the hands of men like accused terrorist Abu Bakir Bashir.
Somebody in his shadow cabinet presumably reminded Abbott that the program is, by most accounts, successful.
For better or for worse, these arguments did not convince Abbott to change his mind.
Here’s where your intrepid historian would have liked to enter the debate. I would probably have raised with Abbott the Marshall Plan. Initiated in the years immediately after World War II, it ran for three years, cost an astonishing $10.25 billion, and contributed to an impressive economic recovery in an otherwise prostrate Europe.
I would also have raised with Abbott the fact that the Marshall Plan had its fair share of critics. Much of the criticism revolved around the notion that the money would be better spent in the United States. Abbott today is sounding a similar tone, by arguing that Australian money is better spent in Australia than in Indonesia.
This brings me to my ace-in-the-hole: critics of the Marshall Plan read the political winds poorly. President Harry Truman won re-election even as he prepared to lay the Marshall Plan before Congress.
No historian is going to suggest that Truman campaigned on the Marshall Plan alone. Still, it does seem fair to suggest that the electorate in the early post-WWII United States was not as blindly parochial as critics of the Marshall Plan had thought.
Most historians would probably like to think that 21st Century Australians are possessed of similarly sound judgment. This particular historian should like to think that either the ALP or the Liberal Party will now be looking me up in my university directory.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…