editorial: rule of law or law of the gun

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    Editorial: Rule of law or law of the gun

    The Australian
    November 20, 2004

    AMERICA'S enemies have seized on video footage of a US marine killing a wounded insurgent during the fighting in the Iraqi city of Fallujah as evidence of the corruption of the US cause.

    What, they ask, is the difference between the two sides in Iraq, when an American treats a fallen foe in such a despicable fashion. This death is no different to the execution of aid worker Margaret Hassan, they suggest. But for clear-eyed observers the answer is quite different. In the fighting in Fallujah, as indeed in the whole struggle to create a democratic Iraq, the chasm between the moral purpose of the two sides is beyond bridging. This has absolutely nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of the war against Saddam Hussein. The present struggle is between the interim Government of Iraq and its American ally who want free elections next January, and the terrorists who want to stop them. It is a struggle between those who hope for an Iraq ruled by the ballot box and those determined to see it governed by the gun.

    The differences between the two sides include the way they are fighting for the future of Iraq. The marine caught on video killing a wounded insurgent broke the law of war and the specific US rules of engagement that cover this campaign. There may be an explanation for his behaviour. He was in a combat zone and his wounded enemy may have had a hidden weapon. But any explanation will not necessarily excuse his action. The marine will face an inquiry and be disciplined if found guilty. As in the Abu Ghraib outrage, where American guards harassed and humiliated, perhaps even murdered, Iraqi prisoners, the rule of law must – and will – apply.

    There is no credible comparison between this battlefield killing and the murder of Ms Hassan. As a civilian aid worker she was a much better target for her captors than any American or Iraqi soldier. To succeed in stopping the elections and preventing the gradual construction of a civil society, where utilities and social services are equally available to all, with no preference granted to the politically powerful as applied under Saddam's regime, the terrorists and their allies need anarchy to prevail. And one of their standard tactics is to drive aid workers out of the country. The evil individuals who murdered Ms Hassan will be delighted by yesterday's news that World Vision Australia has pulled out of Iraq. While the marine who killed his injured enemy will face a court, Ms Hassan's murderers will likely receive praise from their peers. Because in the Iraq they wish to rule, the law would belong to those willing to kill anybody in their way.

    Making tracks for a growth marathon

    AUSTRALIA has found a path to prosperity and we are all richer for it. In decades past, a booming Australian economy would create labour shortages which would lead to union pushes for pay rises. Inflation and recession would follow until the cycle started again. Not any more. Unemployment is at a 30-year low but wage rises are not roaring ahead. Instead of the 20 per cent pay hikes that occurred at the beginning of the 1980s – the last time the job market was this strong – wage rises last year were a sustainable 3 per cent or so.

    The result is we are all getting richer, rather than just the minority of workers with skills in special demand. Research by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling shows that between 1996 and 2001 all segments of society enjoyed an increase in wealth of about 25 per cent. And this week we learned the average wage has passed $50,000 per annum, good money in a low inflation environment.

    The foundation of these excellent outcomes is the changes that have occurred in the way we work. Instead of centralised wages and conditions set by a quasi-court, businesses can negotiate with their own workers. And the days when unions commanded most of the workforce are over. The Institute of Public Affairs estimates the self-employed now make up a quarter of the labour force, over 2.5 million people. By reducing industry protection, businesses have become more efficient. We have effectively exported low-paying jobs and are attracting workers with skills we need from overseas. Commentators used to talk about the end of manufacturing, now the Immigration Department lists boilermakers and panel beaters under the skilled migration program.

    It is a great Australian story but one we should not take for granted. Skill shortages that can slow growth and stoke inflationary fires by generating demands for wage increases are emerging. Projects in the resource-rich northwest of Western Australia are being canned because construction costs are 80 per cent higher than in Sydney or Melbourne.

    Certainly, a great deal of this is due to isolation, but the high cost of labour is also part of the problem. It is a problem we can answer with a new wave of reform, by further deregulation of the workplace and by encouraging more young people to take up a trade. It would be a disaster if the economy ran out of puff at the very point when we were laying a foundation for a generation of prosperity.

    A way to avoid jobs for the boys

    INDEPENDENT MP for the seat of New England Tony Windsor told parliament on Wednesday that an intermediary acting for Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson suggested an overseas posting could be his if he left parliament. John Anderson says it is all news to him. And his alleged agent, businessman Greg Maguire, says he had no offer to convey from Mr Anderson and that Mr Windsor has got the wrong end of the stick. Government members are now saying Mr Windsor has no credibility and should resign from parliament. However no explanation is on offer why Mr Windsor should be held to a higher standard than another bush conservative, NSW Liberal senator Bill Heffernan who continues in politics despite making untrue allegations against High Court judge Michael Kirby.

    The Windsor affair demonstrates the ruthless practice of the politics of personality and patronage in Australia. Mr Windsor must have known the consequences of implicating Mr Anderson in a bribery allegation under parliamentary privilege. Any individual convicted of offering an election candidate a bribe can be imprisoned for two years. But Mr Anderson's Nationals have never done Mr Windsor any favours. A proposal for an equestrian complex in New England languished for years while Mr Windsor was involved. Yet after he resigned, a new application for commonwealth funding was approved – just in time for the election.

    The brutal truth is Australian governments, of all persuasions, look generously on electorates they hold, or think they can win, in allocating funding. And plum international posts can be used as rewards. But just because such behaviour is long-established does not justify it. The American system, where appointments are scrutinised by legislative committee, would go some way to preventing patronage in overseas jobs. It certainly could have stopped this unseemly row in New England from ever starting.
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