Hawke's first 100 days at Australia's helm: his own party is his biggest critic
After 100 days as Australia's prime minister, Robert Hawke faces more difficulties from inside his Labor Party than from his official opposition. Polls show his Labor government is more popular among Australians than when it was elected in March, but within his own party Hawke is under attack. Labor's left wing charges that he is failing to carry out party policies.Skip to next paragraph
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The main complaint is that the prime minister has not gone far enough in promoting more jobs for Australians. Some critics urge him to abandon the advice of Treasury Secretary John Stone, who they feel is trying to contain the national deficit too much.
Party liberals also accuse Hawke of having soft foreign policy attitudes on Indonesia, the United States, and Vietnam and of failing to adopt the party call for limiting sales of uranium abroad. The criticism comes from both federal legislators and from some state branches of Labor.
The prime minister's reaction to these critics has been to declare that he is not prepared to sacrifice power to ''ideological purity.'' To do so, he says, would deprive the Australian people of a social democratic government that steers them toward a more prosperous and more equitable society.
Hawke admits the economic situation is his prime concern, however. In fact, his political future depends largely on how he manages the economy.
Immediately after his election, Hawke called an ''economic summit'' of the managers and owners of Australia's largest commercial and industrial organizations, as well as trade union leaders and state premiers.
The summit arrived at something of a consensus on holding wages in check, economic expansion, and attempts to reduce the inflation and unemployment rates (both about 11 percent).
Hawke said that the previous Liberal-National Country coalition government had misforecast the deficit for the 1983-84 financial year. It had predicted a deficit of about $4.9 billion ($6 billion Aust.), but the more correct figure, Hawke said, would be about $8 billion.
The prime minister said the country could not ''live with'' such a deficit. He got summit members to agree that a $7.2 billion deficit was bearable, but he then set about using the deficit as an excuse for not implementing many pre-election policies, such as a tax cut.
A month after the summit, his government produced a ''mini-budget'' and introduced a $420 million job-creation plan. Hawke also proposed changes in the way private superannuation plans should be taxed on their maturity. This led to a series of strikes by Australian airline pilots.
The prime minister recently went on a foreign tour that took him to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Britain, France, the United States, and Canada - a tour that raised more hackles among party members. Several state branches of the Party have passed motions critical of Hawke's friendly relations with Indonesia. They accuse the prime minister of failing to implement Labor policy that would require the government not to recognize Indonesia's takeover of the former Portuguese colony in Timor, and not to provide Indonesia with military aid.
Hawke's response is that circumstances have changed since the party made its policy. He says it would be the ''height of irresponsibility'' for the government to fail to adapt to changed circumstances. ''That would be a total abrogation of leadership,'' he says. ''I don't intend to pursue that course.''
Another criticism has been that the government has allowed two Australian companies to begin negotiating to sell Australian uranium abroad, despite Labor's policy of eventually eliminating the product of uranium in Australia.
Some parts of the Labor Party also criticize the new government for slow action on providing foreign aid to Vietnam, despite a plank approving aid in the party's platform. The government had deferred giving aid to Vietnam because all the member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have asked it not to, and because Foreign Minister Bill Hayden is trying to act as an intermediary between the ASEAN countries and Vietnam to get Vietnam to withdraw its troops from Kampuchea (Cambodia).
The Liberal opposition, led by Andrew Peacock after Malcolm Fraser's retirement from Parliament, has taken a fairly low-key approach to Labor's first hundred days.
However, Peacock says Labor's record so far is marked by ''conflict, confusion and a total lack of commitment to reducing unemployment.'' But Hawke's concern in the next few weeks will be with critics in his own party, not Liberals.