President's Report 2001

Normally the president's address is a proforma description of the Foundation's work. These are not normal times. John Howard has successfully won a War and Order election. The election campaign and his success challenge everything that the Evatt Foundation has stood for.

We have promoted greater awareness of the main factors affecting the social, political and economic development of society. We have sought to analyse the record of Australia and other societies in upholding standards of social justice, equality, democracy and human rights. The Evatt foundation has also pursued our work in education and the arts, as intrinsic components of an advancing society.

First, let us look at this year's accomplishments. Despite reduced resources, we have published in association with the Public Sector Research Centre and with trade unions Globalisation: Australian impacts, edited by Dr Chris Sheil and launched by the Honourable Barry Jones. The book was well reviewed and is selling well, although the election campaign has dominated our target audience and we must now relaunch the work to socially aware Australians.

In the eighth edition of our publication, The state of the states, the Tasmanian state government has taken top position. The analysis uses figures from the Commonwealth Grants Commission and the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The 15 statistical measures are grouped under three headings: economic, social and environment. The significance of The state of the states is that it challenges the economic rationalist mindset that is obsessed with the bottom line. We are attempting to achieve a transparent and comprehensive comparison between states and a resultant debate on economic, social and environmental issues. Dr Sheil is to be congratulated on this work.

Our web site has now been established by Mark McGrath from Social Change Online and we hope to use it to bring together university and tertiary thinkers with social and labour movement activists to advance our objects. We have co-operated successfully with the Public Sector Research Centre and Pluto Press on joint projects. In August, we held a successful seminar in Parliament House with Pluto Press on "Privatising Democracy?" I want to thank our participants, Professor Murray Goot, who spoke on the politics of discontent, Margo Kingston, who spoke on the Tampa affair, Dr Ghassan Hage, author of White nation, who spoke on racism, Nigel Stokes, who spoke on forces driving privatisation, Dr Sheil, who asked what we expected government to deliver, Dr Steve Keen, who spoke on the topic of his book, Debunking economics, and Tom Morton and Ann Symonds, who chaired the sessions. The breadth of the speakers highlighted the ways that democracy is under challenge, and we met at the height of the Tampa hysteria. We hope to have further joint activities where we can bring together Pluto authors and others together to give their distilled wisdom to our members and the public.

We have also had discussions with others seeking to put ideas and analysis into the hands of activists on the ground. In the election campaign, human rights, so dear to Dr Evatt's heart, became a casualty. We knew that John Howard was mean and tricky, but with the Tampa and its progeny he hoodwinked the electorate by not differentiating between terrorists and the refugees that their activities had created. More seriously, he disgraced Australia before our Moslem neighbours, many of our citizens, and the rest of the world. 

As Laurie Oakes said in 1988, "Howard's slogan - pre-Hanson and all his own work, not the work of an advertising agency - was "One Australia". In the same year, 1988, Howard played the race card for the first time when he said there was a need to "slow the pace of Asian immigration". So this year, when he used the "dog whistle" technique, it was no accident. It's all too easy to demonise the latest ethnic group of refugees, to cause voters to see foreigners as a threat to their standard of living. Leadership was needed to remind the electorate of the impressive performance of our immigrants. The immigrants' history of Australia and their contribution to it is a source of inspiration. The racism that was soundly rejected in 1988 had legs in 2001, particularly after five years' experience of a government that had reduced security, particularly in the workplace, all subsequently enhanced by the horror of September 11th.

Everyone has a view of what Labor could or should have done at that time. I believe that there is a fundamental problem, and it has a direct bearing on the Evatt Foundation and our future. I was a Labor Party official at the time of the election of the Whitlam Government. From 1969 to 1972, a great deal of intellectual work went into identifying the problems of our society, vigorously discussing the program of change that was finally adopted as the platform of the Labor Party. The campaign that took place for the change in society reflected a culture that had swept the world of the sixties of challenging the existing power structures of society and achieving change.

In sharp contrast, 30 years later, we face the vastly increasing power of corporate interests reflecting the global growth of capital. As our Prime Minister looks to his US model, it is sobering to see the increase in inequality, which is summed up by the fact that the top 1 per cent of households in the US achieve as much after-tax income as the lowest one hundred million income earners combined.

We are moving to the same type of inequality. In practice today, the representatives of large companies through their donations are seeking to buy the political process. All advanced societies have had examples of outright corruption. The more subtle forms of subversion of the political process are increasing. We are following the tactics used in the American political process: personality over policy, and obsession with raising corporate donations from large companies to pay for the advertising, all delivered as a last-minute media blitz.

Sharon Beder, in her book, Global spin, details the tactics used to head off and destroy democratic movements trying to improve the environment. In many cases, right-wing think tanks fill a significant role in the manipulation process. It's not just shock jocks who set the agenda. The Evatt Foundation can play a part in challenging the way the political process is deteriorating. The world recession will most likely hit Australia in the year ahead. This means we face difficulties in the areas of social justice, education and human rights. We face the need for reactive strategies as well as long term goals. If we move back to the campaigning tradition, identifying the real problems of society, adopting a program and mobilising the community to challenge the status quo, we will succeed. The unions are using an organising model in their revitalisation.

The Labor Party National Secretariat appropriated the Evatt Foundation's Commonwealth Grant so we will have to rely on member activism in this period. The web site is an excellent way of sharing ideas with those people who are at the forefront of change in the political, social and labour movements. It will allow us to share experience across the continent and we have taken steps to make international links.

The incoming executive committee is well placed to continue our co-operative arrangements with the Public Sector Research Centre, the trade unions, Pluto Press and the NSW Alliance. We need to have a discussion at the AGM to review the things we do now to see if there are any suggestions for improvement. We certainly need increased fund-raising, a membership drive and volunteers to help in our work.

I would like to thank Jeannette McHugh and Fay Gervasoni and all the members of the executive committee for all their effort and teamwork.

Bruce Childs
President
Evatt Foundation


"Nothing is more dangerous in war time than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallop Poll, always feeling one's pulse and taking one's temperature."


- Winston Churchill, 30 September 1941