Campaigning as an Ex
Nothing more ex than an ex. In my case, ex-Premier of course. But if you have spent all your life in arguing about policy how – and why – would you desist?
One of the happiest campaigns I devised after leaving “the job” was in getting regulations to force fast-service food outlets to post calorie information on their menus. It came into effect January 1. It means a harried mum picks up information that enables her to make healthier food choices for her kids when she shepherds them into a McDonalds or Kentuckys. Along the way on that campaign I and health professionals put more pressure on the companies to “re-compose” their food products and you might have seen the letter I published here from Hungry Jacks about less salt and less fat in their offerings. The others have been moving as well.
This is nearly as important as campaigns on smoking.
Last year I was able to join with others in NSW politics in celebrating the advantages and explaining the working of the medically-supervised injecting room. Full marks to Kristina Keneally in ending its status as experiment and rendering it permanent. Putting the case in the media all over again last year I was heartened that people could see the value of what we did in 1999, surprised that we remained the only jurisdiction in Australia.
The biggest environmental successes I have been involved in since retirement were, one, persuading the NSW government to save the River Red Gums – it looked a lonely campaign for a while (I and the wonderful people of the National Parks Association and former colleagues Bob Debus, Graeme Wedderburn and Mark Aarons but Premier Rees delivered and Premier Keneally clinched it) and, two, the campaign against the notion of a “Big Australia” so that both sides of Federal politics would now never use the catchphrase. That, too, in late 2009-2010 looked a very lonely campaign.
So did opposing the woeful notion of Australia adopting a charter of rights and signing up for more judge-made law. For a brief period I could see the country sliding in that direction because nobody on my side of politics seemed to want to speak out and elucidate the principled grounds against the charter. With the support of former NSW Attorney John Hatzistergos, however, the case got made until I got sick of speaking about it. But will resume the duty in debating Michael Kirby on it at a Young Labor gathering in the next few months.
Yes, Labor – the ALP review I worked on with John and Steve. I am convinced it is the ethos – the day to day behavior of the battered old party more than its rules – those too – that needs to be changed. That is why, moving to another campaign of mine, the party should campaign all this year on global warming. Well, first, because it is the biggest threat to humanity but, pragmatically, because the ALP comes alive when it advocates and explains and rallies. Think Whitlam, Hawke and Keating. Passage of the carbon law is just an invitation to do more on this front, not less, as I urged the party at the National Conference in December.
Out of elective office especially, one should not hesitate to be a bit provocative – although as Premier I did go on the record as a supporter of nuclear power. I have repeated that call since. We need to throw everything at the woeful prospect our planet could suddenly find itself two degrees warmer and that means the most reliable source of base-load energy.
My big disappointment has been not getting an opening of the Australian book market. This is nuts. I can download on an e-reader, order books on-line but a bookshop is stopped by the law from importing cheaper books to sell to it customers. Nuts.