Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Reflecting on the Republic - How to Elect a Mate as Head of State

The Australian Republican Movement made a brave attempt earlier this year to put the issue of an Australian republic back on the agenda, with their `Mate For Head of State' campaign. We often forget not only how close we came to becoming a republic, but also what a big issue this once was. Head to the political section of any university library and there will be shelves of twelve year old books about it, with chapters written by some unlikely candidates (I remember reading a very persuasive argument by Amanda Vanstone, for example). We also forget that, once upon a time, Malcolm Turnbull was better known for his passion for this cause rather than as Prime Minister in waiting.

From what I can find, relatively little in-depth research has been done about the aftermath of the Republic debate. The participants of the much mooted Constitutional Convention occasionally mutter darkly about what a debacle it was (Labor raconteur Mungo MacCallum once commented that the only thing everyone could agree upon is how much they hated Malcolm Turnbull). There seems to be common consensus on two things. Firstly, that because the change was largely symbolic, it was difficult to frame it in a way with which the ordinary person could engage. Secondly, it was divisions within the pro-Republic camp rather than the Monarchists that eventually brought it down. Chief amongst these was, of course, the model - whether a head of state would be directly elected by the people or, as the Conventional eventually decided, by a panel of government appointed representatives.

We all remember the infamous Electoral College that we heard so much about during the 2000 US elections, and none of us understood it much. What happens is similar to the way representatives are chosen for a State or National conference in Australia. Roughly, in addition to the regular popular vote, each state elects a number of representatives based on its representation in Parliament. This group then go on to vote on who should be President.

The flaws in such a system are evident in the fact that a president can win on Electoral College votes despite losing on the popular vote, as George W. Bush did in 2000. However, a similar model may be valuable to consider in the context of an Australian Head of State, who does not have same the executive powers as in the US. In electing representatives to go on and elect a Head of State, Australians would be allowed a certain amount of direct democratic participation, but without the danger of the position being overtly politicised. This would certainly be a preferable method to the one settled on in the Constitutional Convention - a situation which could (and let's face it, would) allow a stacked panel to choose a politically preferred candidate. It also reduces the problems inherent in direct election - that is, to potentially invest the candidate with a sense of political mandate that would threaten to destablise regular Parliament, as occurred in 1975.

Many would argue that Australians would want another election like a hole in the head, but if we consider how infrequently Governors General are changed (scandals of recent years notwithstanding), it would be a rare burden. Monarchists use the well worn line `if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. And certainly, Constitutional change should not be taken lightly. However, when a Head of State has recently been utilised by the same government that chose him (in the overturning of the ACT Civil Unions legislation), it looks like time for fixing to me.

Why I Haven't Posted

1) I'm on a super-slow dial up connection while the ADSL people try to figure out the right end of an optic cable
2) It's assignment season at university
3) Frankly, there's nothing happening.

Honestly, there isn't. Pop over to the Sydney Morning Herald website and try and find something that would be at the top of the agenda on any normal news week. Then try and find something there that wasn't high on the agenda once upon a time but is now being shoved to the top in the absence of anything else. Anything, anything? It's quite bizzare. Even Piers Akerman has had to fall back on bashing Play School as a virulent leftie breeding ground.

Mind you, I mustn't complain. In the US, the lack of major news actually became news in itself early one year. Then September 11th happened.

So what happens in this case?

You go back into the archives and find something that didn't quite make it to publication the first time round!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Immigration Detention: Bad For Your Health

I was surprised that yesterday's reports that Villawood Detention Centre has a serious asbestos contamination problem didn't get more attention, especially on a day which, until the annoucement of the Telstra sale, was the epitome of a slow news day (Channel 7 News led with a pilot doing a successful crash landing, while one of the hottest stories on the Sydney Morning Herald's website was the revelation that Osama Bin Laden has a crush on Whitney Houston. Ay, ay ... ). Villawood inmates were already relocated after an asbestos cleanup operation earlier this year.

This sort of pollution at a site with a history like Villawood's is hardly a surprise. Prior to its redevelopment as a detention centre in 1976, the centre was a migrant hostel. Unlike its current incarnation, new migrants - many of whom had escaped from war-torn regions following WWII - were encouraged to travel the local area and get to know the Australian people and lifestyle. Prior to this, the area was used as army barracks. It is ironic that the detainees were moved to Holsworthy Army Barracks, given that it is alleged that this area is also being investigated for asbestos contamination.

Long-term contamination is common on former army sites, from sources such as asbestos, but also including heavy metals, chemicals such as arsenic, pesticides, lead and mercury. Given that the Villawood site has been in almost continuous use since 1952, and serious concerns about substances such as PCBs were not widespread until after its 1978 redevelopment, it is unlikely that the sort of remediation that usually takes place on former army land has taken place at Villawood. The centre is about to undergo a major redevelopment - let's hope that detainees and workers end up with a site that is safe for all. Given past reports of GSL's regard for detainee amenity (not to mention the government's - but, yet again, privatisation has allowed them to claim that it's Not Their Fault), I'm not optimistic that they'd do it for any other reason than not getting sued.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Telstra On The Block

In the past few minutes, John Howard has announced that it is the `unanimous advice of the government's investment advisors' that the full sale of Telstra should go ahead ASAP, with an $8bn tranch to be sold off to private investors between September and November, and the rest to be parked in the Future Fund for later sale. The sudden announcement comes even despite the fact that Cabinet could come to no conclusion on the issue only three days ago.

Clearly, these advisors have forgotten about Telstra's recently reported worst-ever annual result - or that investors in T2 have seen their shares almost halve in value, from $7.40 at purchase to $3.50 at the present time.

Given this performance, who exactly will these `private investors' be? Could anyone who was silly enough to believe the hype about T2 still be silly enough to imagine that buying low now will be selling high in the near future? Can anyone possibly be interested in investing in a company that uncomfortably straddles the regulatory imperatives required of a major government utility with the monetary (and statutory) imperative to return money to their investors? When I've suggested in the past that Sol Trujillo had a right to demand less regulation, I was certainly not playing the devil's advocate. Instead, the simple truth is that the reasons government utilities are set up is, and will always be, in fundamental opposition to the reason a corporation is set up. If you don't want decisions made on the basis of what makes money rather than what's best for the people of a nation, corporatise, corporatise, corporatise. The same is true of the Snowy Hydro Scheme, and the political dilemma that surrounded it is, as is the full sale of Telstra, a demonstration of how governments abrogating their basic duties to their people - often in order to avoid scrutiny and blame when mistakes are made - can eventually comes back to bite them.

The full sale of Telstra is the culmination of the corporatising and privatising zeal that countries such as Argentina have already had great cause to regret in retrospect. I imagine we'll be telling our grandkids about it one day. That is, if we can get them on the phone.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Abbott Goes Mad (Again)

As I've been reduced to posting from internet cafes while my dodgy dial-up fritters and I wait for the installation of ADSL, my posts will be lacking a certain something (brevity and continuity, to name but two).

Then again, Sunday's interview with Health Minister Tony Abbott on the stem cell debate speaks for itself. `Human-Animal hybrids'? Mad scientists creating Frankensteins in their basements? If anything could ever prove the mandate for a conscience vote, it is he.

Births, Deaths, Marriages, Debnam

The casual reader of the Daily Telegraph's notices section will have come to something quite odd when they reached page 46 today: an advertisement by the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Debnam, announcing his whereabouts for the day and also suggesting the state of trains in NSW is currently sub-par. It's quite astounding that an Opposition leader in the biggest state in Australia has to resort to the classifieds to remind people of who he is (and come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure it doesn't breach rules surrounding political advertising), but there you go.

The notice contains a link to Mr Debnam's newly-launched website, It appears that the website is part of the Opposition's roll-out of its election campaign (I can't really say `policy roll out' and not go to Queensland for lying. Sorry, Queensland readers ;) ).

So, what is the Opposition running with? Well, the major policy issue at the moment for the Opposition is nurses. Nurses? Uh, yes - nurses. I am certainly not implying that we do not need more nurses. But is it so big an issue that an election campaign can be built around it?

Shadow Health Minister Jillian Skinner must certainly think so, having sent out glossy brochures to hospitals and, if some reports are true, the home addresses of all registered nurses in NSW (I'd like to know the cost of this, but I'd like to know how she got the addresses even more).

But what I'd really, really like to know is - are we living in 2003? The trains are no longer the major topic of talkback radio. Since the discrediting of Camden and Campbelltown's `whistleblower nurses', neither are the hospitals. Does the Opposition plan to base its election hopes on the candidate for Macquarie Fields, Nola Fraser.

All I can say is ... crikey.

The Opposition's full range of policies are available here (`Keeping the DPP Accountable', from the pestilent Chris Hartcher, remains a popular favourite).

To be perfectly objective, if I was a NSW Liberal supporter I'd hardly be booking Doltone House for the victory celebration.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

$150,000 For More Pollie Waffle

I must admit I'm one of the few people who actually enjoys getting mail from local MPs, but I imagine I'm in the minority. Admittedly, the pollie newsletter can be glossy and without substance - some would even argue that they help MPs abrogate their responsibility to spend more face-to-face time directly addressing their constituents.

However, funding for constituent communications undoubtedly does one thing very well: help incumbents stay in power. It is very difficult for a challenger to elevate their profile without such benefits. Imagine the task facing whoever challenges Clover Moore for the seat of Bligh in the next election, given that Moore has both the resources of the City of Sydney Council and her benefits as a sitting member in the State Parliament to fund promotion of herself.

Previously, the Federal mailing allowance stood at $125,000 - which is a lot of money. On the other hand, I know that a single mailout, including postage and colour printing, can cost as much as $20,000. This would give a politician the capacity for roughly 6 major mailouts per year - enough for a quarterly newsletter and a few other pieces. Looking at it that way, it doesn't seem enormously unreasonable.

However, enter new laws, which raise the allowance to $150,000 and make an important change. Previously the allowance could not be rolled over from year to year. This rule has been abolished. Thus, a pollie can now hoard away a large proportion of their mailing allowance for three or four years before bombarding their electorate in the lead up to an election. And speaking of elections, this money can reportedly now be used to fund the production of How to Vote cards.

On one hand, this may lead to a welcome revival of grassroots campaigning - returning to the simple but effective methods of door-knocking and public meetings which ensure people really do get to know their candidate. On the other hand, the person who attempts to run against a sitting member and already faces a range of out-of-pocket expenses, is now playing on a hopelessly hilly playing field.

A True Conscience Vote

John Howard's decision to allow a conscience vote on stem cell research is - aside from being yet another example of Howard admitting his own agenda and that of society and his party are increasingly distant - notable in that it demonstrates that this debate, much like that of global warming, is finally coming into the mainstream rather than being considered a leftie fringe issue. Many people have worked long and hard to haul it onto the agenda. Former Health Minister Kay Patterson will, in probably her last major gesture before retirement, draft a Private Members Bill on the issue, while Democrats senator Natasha Stott-Despoja is drafting a similar bill on therapeutic cloning.

Anything other than a conscience vote on this issue would have been a travesty. It is a rare sort of issue that must always lay outside the simple notion of party political belief in broad principles, because we must fundamentally rely on our own instincts and conscience to form an answer. It speaks very much to the notion I have been discussing recently that there are no right or wrong answers, only better and worse solutions. Deciding which is the better solution is fundamentally different when it is a human life that are being debated. That being said, I can't imagine a conscience vote on sending troops to war, and I would suggest that wars achieve a lot less than valuable research that can save or improve the quality of hundreds of lives.

The slow, gradual turn in favour of stem cell research makes the recent decision of NSW Premier Morris Iemma to reverse NSW's previously strongly-held support for the research doubly curious. As I've indicated, the public mood appears to be turning toward rather than away from this issue. There seemed no great electoral demand for the reversal. Former Premier Bob Carr was one of Australia's most prominent advocates of the issue, at one point bringing Christopher Reeve to Sydney to talk about the benefits of fast-tracking research to a person such as himself. It will be interesting to see whether Iemma resumes this advocacy in the light of Federal developments. It's a sad day when the Prime Minister shows up a Labor premier as retrograde.

Qld Election

It's old news by now, of course (more computer problems - this time the net connection), but Qld Premier Peter Beattie has called an early election for September 9th (coincidentally, the day we will also learn who the candidate will be for the seat of Balmain). Beattie's decision to announce another scandal within the Queensland hospital system shortly beforehand - in fact, during the press conference many assumed would be to call the election - was curious at the time, but in retrospect, was a quick way of putting out a spot fire that would inevitably flare during the election campaign.

I've said before that despite the problems Beattie faces, losing the election will be almost impossible, especially given Queensland's one-house system of Parliament and the massive majority of 16 seats that it now holds. However, the election may be an interesting indicator of the electoral mood amongst the states. The results are likely to particularly interest the NSW Government.

Like Queensland's government, the NSW Government is a long-term government that has seen periods of extraordinary, nearly insurmountable popularity, but now faces a number of issues that need to be solved to maintain public support. However, both also face weak Oppositions that are riven by internal conflict. The disastrous failed merger of the Qld Liberals and Nationals was only a matter of months ago, while the new leader of the local Liberals, Bruce Flegg, was elevated only a week ago.

I think this is an important point to consider. It is true that governments are voted out, not voted in, as the old saying goes. However, as I alluded to in an earlier post, the Opposition has to look like they're up to running things for people to take a punt on change rather than stay with the status quo. Again, it comes down to Howard's line, so effective in a time when people are taught to be mistrustful: who do you trust? A government is more than just its leader, and there isn't a whole lot I'd like to entrust to the current Opposition frontbench, some of whom, such as Shadow Attorney General Chris Hartcher are almost maniacally nasty pieces of work, and others of whom, such as Andrew Humpherson are frankly boofheads; while others are just plain invisible. Did you know Peta Seaton is the Shadow Treasurer? Does anyone, besides herself and I?

It is very foolish to rule out a landslide, as everyone who observed the election that saw Jeff Kennett tumbled from power in favour of Steve Bracks. Seats will undoubtedly be lost, but the appetite for wholesale change does not seem high.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Number of Debuts

Tonight marks the inaugural meeting of the ALP's Central Policy Branch, with special guest speaker, the former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

I've expressed my doubts about the Central Policy Branch concept - in particular, the potential that it may be used to rort pre-selection. Though I'm very interested in the notion of reviving and restructuring branch meetings to encourage higher rates of participation, I don't think creating a sort of ALP-branded Fabian Society meeting is necessarily the way to go about it, especially as the location of the meeting will restrict it to the sort of inner-city activists who are already amongst the rather vocal choir of the converted. I was intending to attend the first meeting for interest's sake, but I have other commitments. If any readers do go along, I'd welcome your comments.

Also debuting tonight is the new Lateline spin-off, Lateline Business. I had already planned to suggest the programme was created to fill the void left by Channel 9's Sunday Business - and that was even before I realised that the show's former host, Ali Moore, would also be hosting Lateline Business.

We saw yesterday how Channel 9's Sunday can shape the national agenda, and it's to the network's detriment that they plan to jettison such important shows as this. However, it's the ABC's gain, and I imagine their new show will be just as agenda-setting as its Channel 9 predecessor. Apparently Eddie Macguire doesn't realise that prestige comes down to ratings only - it also comprises producing shows that are, for a small but very influential slice of society, must-see TV.

Migration Amendment Bill Scrapped

I don't want to risk turning this blog into a running commentary on migration issues, but a rather dispirited John Howard has just held a snap news conference to make the extraordinary announcement that the Migration Amendment Bill has been entirely withdrawn, following the decision of a Liberal senator (clearly Judith Troeth) to cross the floor, while another Coalition senator is threatening to abstain should an `unworkable and unacceptable amendment' not be passed. In this, Howard is referring to Barnaby Joyce, and I have to concede that Howard's description of his amendment as unworkable is accurate, containing such clauses as giving the Senate oversight on every asylum seeker's case.

Thus, Howard's control over the Senate is proven not as unimpeachable as many had imagined. If only MPs had demonstrated more chutzpah late last year, when so many other pieces of equally deleterious legislation was passed.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Asylum Seeker Laws Defeated

I was itching to get onto the net shortly after Barnaby Joyce's intriguing interview on this morning's particularly good episode of Insiders, which largely concerned the future of the amendments to the Migration Act that are due to be debated in the Senate this week. Joyce was playing his hand fairly close to his chest, refusing to declare he would vote one way or the other, and implying that he was ready to cross the floor, but only if his extra vote was needed to sink the bill.

Over on Channel 9's Sunday, Family First senator Steven Fielding was providing the second part of the answer to Barnaby's puzzle, declaring that his vote would be the one that, along with the vote of Liberal senator Judith Troeth, would see the legislation fail in the Upper House.

Fielding's and Joyce's arguments were quite different, and are worth reading in their full at the links above. I was particularly interested in Joyce's comments about the beliefs on asylum seekers now held in the bush. According to Joyce, many are now balancing their fear of Paris-style riots in Australia with a genuine concern for the welfare of legitimate refugees. That many people are now taking that second part of the equation into account is a significant step forward from where the nation was in 2001.

This is a tremendous win for all who support the rights of asylum seekers - not to mention asylum seekers themselves - but it is also an enormous slap in the face for John Howard and the leadership of the Federal Liberal Party. It makes you wonder how many MPs and Senators have, in the past, swallowed their pride, girded their loins, and walked into the House to cast a vote for something they did not believe in; or on the other hand, whether the government's leadership has simply become so out of touch - relaxed and comfortable, if you will - that it makes policies without realising that its own MPs will react so violently against them as to sink them.

What more to say, than ...

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'

Nah. I might save that one for the next election.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

August 10th: Foiled?

Reports are now coming in that a major terrorist attack has been foiled in Britain. The conspirators allegedly planned to blow up a number of aeroplanes between Britain and the US, using liquid exposives. The explosions were to take place over the Pacific Ocean, to hinder rescue efforts and destroy forensic evidence. Both countries are now on their highest alert since September 11th.

I've mentioned before that I was living in New York on September 11th. When you tell people this, they tend to probe you with slightly indecent fervour, and you tend to react by reeling off a set menu of well-worn anecdotes. After a while, you realise you have two sets of memories - the preserved, varnished and properly
arranged ones, and the ones - much deeper down; emerging much more rarely - that truly represent the real event.

By coincidence, I'm currently studying a course on the public management of crises and disasters and, minutes before reading the website headlines announcing the foiled plot, answered the question `Do you think an attack of the scale of 9/11 could occur again?'

My answer was this. If such an attack did occur, the scale - a difficult thing to quantify - would inevitably tempered by the fact that we are no longer complacent enough not to expect such an attack, as we were on September 11th. When that attack occurred, the sentiment was much like that second set of memories I just mentioned. Should another attack occur, we already have September 11th, branded, transformed into a coherent narrative, and set in its cultural picture frame as a reference point.

Given that this sense of rawness could not be replicated - could the change in public sentiment that permitted everything from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the Tampa incident also not be replicated? One thing that I found particularly objectionable following September 11th was the lust for revenge, completely foreign to my understanding of the situation. Would the same feeling emerge if there was another attack in America? Or, realising that nothing that the Coalition of the Willing have done in Iraq or Afghanistan appears to have addressed the factors that caused 9/11 to happen, would the reaction in fact be one of restraint?

This is all in the realms of speculation, of course, but the depth of resentment of the Iraq War has already been demonstrated in the dumping of US senator Joe Lieberman for his pro-Iraq War stance, while few Australians are particularly worried about the notion of the country being over-run by gun-toting terrorists arriving on leaky boats from Indonesia. In any case, I very much hope that events do not test my theories.

Crossing the Floor For Those Who've Come Across the Seas

The asylum seeker bill has been passed in the House of Representatives, 78 votes to 62, with three MPs crossing the floor, one (Bruce Baird) abstaining, and two Independents - Peter Andren and Tony Windsor - voting with the Opposition. While this was not enough to get the bill toppled, the division is unprecedented in the history of the Howard Government and may, to my knowledge, even be unprecedented in Australian parliament. The very interesting Australian Parliamentary Services report `Crossing the floor in the Federal parliament 1950 - August 2004' records the intriguing fact that Philip Ruddock once crossed the floor over a matter of immigration, but says nothing about MPs and Senators who crossed the floor concurrently. Arguably, the most dramatic action was taken by Nationals MP John Forrest, who abstained from voting entirely without warning, and either resigned as Nationals Whip soon afterwards or, according to the 7.30 Report, was sacked from the position. I'm very sorry if it was the former, but far more so if it was the latter.

The real battle for the legislation's future will now begin in the Senate. Family First senator Steve Fielding was playing his cards very, very close to his chest during an interview with ABC 702's Virginia Trioli this morning, saying only that he had met with a number of interested parties. The fact that these included the Indonesian Ambassador does not bode well. Judith Troeth and Marise Payne are also holding their counsel. This is legislation that could - and should - be defeated in the Senate. If this does occur, it will be a significant demonstration that there are limits to where the Prime Minister can take his agenda.

Profoundly Disturbing

What a day for my computer to start working again! Now that Parliament's back, I feel like I could blog half a dozen different things! My screed about, for example, the fact that corporatising public utility companies such as Telstra and Snowy Hydro will never, ever work, Malcolm Turnbull's outrageously out of touch comments on interest rates and exactly what the Debbie Bridgmans of Australia think about it, the rumour that Anthony Mundine is planning to run for the seat of Marrickville in the next election, and the US Democrats' dumping of former Vice Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman for his support of the Iraq War - as recounted by Time Magazine and the always fair and balanced Fox News - that's all just going to have to wait for another day.

Perhaps, in the fullness of time, asylum seeker policy will be seen as the defining issue of the Howard Government, in the same way the New Deal epitomised the Roosevelt Administration. It won the government the election in 2001, and while I don't suggest that it could lose it the election in 2007, the massive change in voter sentiment not only about this, but over a number of Howard heartland issues, could.

Today, as we have all been saying a lot recently, has been quite an extraordinary day for the Howard Government, which is facing up to four MPs and Senators crossing the floor over asylum seeker policy. Liberal MPs Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and, of all people, Russell Broadbent, have all announced their intention to vote with the Opposition, with Georgiou memorably describing the bill as `the most profoundly disturbing piece of legislation I have encountered since becoming a member of parliament (Georgiou's speech to Parliament, available at The Australian's website, is well worth reading). Bruce Baird also strongly foreshadowed an intention to abstain at the very least. Baird's mention of the fact that it would be the first time in his 19 year parliamentary career that he crossed the floor is a concrete reminder of exactly how disciplined Howard has kept his dissidents, and how large are the cracks that now appear.

Though significant, such moves largely symbolic in the Lower House, unfortunately - it's the Senate that truly has the ability to overturn this truly noxious piece of lawmaking. Judith Troeth is playing coy, strongly hinting at either crossing the floor or abstaining, while nothing has been heard from Marise Payne, to my knowledge, which is surprising given she has been fairly strong on this issue in the past. Though there is some talk about Barnaby Joyce following, I'm sceptical after hearing his only statement on the issue - that anyone with a dissenting view deserves to be heard and paid respect. On this, I certainly agree with him. Should Family First senator Steven Fielding be the one who allows the bill through - and he could well be the one casting the deciding vote - he should not only hang his head in shame, but change the name of the party he represents.

One school of thought has it that crossing the floor is genuinely treacherous - that an MP was elected by their constituents to represent a party line. However, it is most noteworthy that nearly all of the statements of the MPs who pledged to cross the floor today contained references to the fact that the move could well be their political suicide - as Broadbent put it, better to die on your feet than live on your knees (and yes, the sheer notion of a Liberal MP quoting Che Guevara in the House, with genuine sincerity, has me feeling a little strange and dizzy). Not at the hands of voters, but at the hands of the party machine itself. It's nasty times for Australian democracy when members of the government feel so threatened for speaking out.

The only MP not to express doubts about his future was Petro Georgiou, who of course won a thumping majority in his own pre-selection a few months back. The breadth of this victory would certainly appear to affirm that his stance is endorsed by his constituents, and it is the government's policy, rather than Georgious and his fellow dissidents, that are out of touch with public sentiment.

Chickens, Roosters and Galahs.

It shames me to speak almost reverently about the Liberal MPs who plan to stand up against asylum seeker policy (honestly, I could never speak truly reverently about any Liberal), while making a swipe at the Federal Opposition in the same breath.

Firstly, I think Kim Beazley was unwise to invite - almost goad - the dissident MPs to `come over' and vote with the Opposition, and I certainly hope it hasn't encouraged anyone to reconsider crossing the floor. The fact that MPs are voting against their own party does not necessarily mean they are voting with Labor, only the Opposition, in the true sense of the word. I imagine the notion of voting alongside their sworn political enemies and demonstrating disloyalty to their own party pains them as much as it would me, if the shoe was on the other foot for some unfathomable reason.

Secondly - please. The stunts. They must stop.

Currently, the gambit is to label Costello a `chicken' for ending his campaign for the Liberal leadership. I've got nothing against robust behaviour in the House - if there were CDs of Paul Keating's Most Entertaining Question Times I'd be first in line to buy it - but quite frankly, this is extremely silly business (and not a particularly well chosen metaphor, given the famous labelling of Opposition leadership aspirants as `roosters').

The orthodoxy behind stunts is that they get the Opposition some publicity - any publicity. What nonsense. On a slow news day, a stunt may plug a hole between two dull stories, but little more. During a day on which important legislation is being passionately debated, stunts detract from the real issues. It would have been far more valuable to have heard what the Opposition has to say on asylum seeker legislation, or Telstra, or WorkChoices, or anything rather than see Bernie Rippoll interviewed about why he chose to bring a toy chicken into the House with him.

So there you have it, quite a bit of devil's advocacy I'm afraid, but it must be said. Schoolchildren play up not only because they dislike their teachers, but because they are safe in the knowledge that they do not share the responsibilities of their teachers, and never will do. By acting like a rabble, the Opposition risks projecting the same notion. As the last election proved, bashing Costello is a hollow exercise, and one which distracts the Opposition from its true responsibility - to articulate real answers to the problems with which the current government presents it.

As former ALP National Secretary Geoff Walsh said at the Fabian Society's forum on whether Labor could win the next election: there's one man who entertains the possibility of the Opposition winning every single election night, and that's the Prime Minister. But if the Opposition want to be a government, they have to start acting like one.

Jolly Hockey Sticks

This week's oh-to-be-a-fly-on-the-wall Coalition Cabinet Meeting certainly seems to have come up with the goods. I would suggest with some certainty that WorkChoices popped up in conversation at some point or another. Apparently, The People Out There just aren't cottoning on to the fact that it's far nicer to hand over your bargaining rights and work longer hours for less pay. Thus, a bigger stick is being employed from which to dangle the unappetizing carrot - Human Services Minister Joe Hockey.

This is being seen as a blow to Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews' credibility - which it is. But forgive me - does it all sound a little familiar?

Think back to less than a year ago - late September 2005, if I remember rightly. $20m had already been spent to extinguish the mere spot fire that the 100,000-strong protests against the legislation represented, but - stop me if you've heard it - The People Out there just weren't cottoning on ... and yadda yadda yadda. The eminently formidable Andrew Robb was appointed as Carrot Stick Holder Elect.

Now, whatever happened to that, one wonders? After one spectacularly ordinary interview on `Meet the Press', and a handful of nine second grabs, the man who was supposed to save WorkChoices disappeared faster than a poorly-skilled immigrant with poor English from a newly AWAed workplace.

There's an old saying in Hollywood: `Try as you might, but you can't polish a turd'. This particular turd has already been drop kicked to two Ministers after a third failed to buff it to its requisite shimmer. Could it be that people just don't like it and never will?


Monday, August 07, 2006

Jackie Kelly - Dancing on Thin Ice

Jackie Kelly - now there's a strange case. They think Barnaby Joyce is a tad fractious, but Kelly has, since leaving the Federal Cabinet (largely on the basis of restrictions on childcare that her own government were responsible for), spent more time battling her own side than the Opposition. Indeed, her comments on childcare issues a few months back essentially agreed that the Opposition's policy on this issue is superior to that of the Government.

Today, it's her description of Peter Costello as `a toff' who perpetuates the image of the snotty Born to Rule Liberal that has been attracting attention. Now, I'm not one to suggest that people intimately involved in political parties should keep their mouth shut when they think things are wrong. This is how we stop things like Groupthink from occurring. But Kelly's comments are quite bizzare - you might say non-strategically combative. Every man and his dog knows that Costello will take the leadership if and when Howard finally buggers off. Kelly has said she would resign if this occurred, but would she? And if she did, how would her constituents regard such a move?

What I'd be very interested in is exactly how Kelly is perceived in her local electorate, the marginal seat of Lindsay - one of the seats that make up the much-overstated Liberal takeover of Western Sydney. Such bombast may be interpreted as the actions of a Joyce-style maverick, scorning the minutiae of the parliamentary process to Fight For the Little People. However, it may also be interpreted as a pollie going a bit flaky. Kelly complains about her party being interpreted as `pearls and twin set'. Well, what do you expect, Jackie? This is a party which would sell its own mother if an economic rationalist argument could be found for it. If you want strong social policy, you're going to have to join another party.

Kelly happily admits to having no respect for the party room process, and only attending party room meetings intermittently. She is still, to my knowledge, planning to continue her stint on `Dancing on Ice' rather than return to Parliament this week (someone who watches this godawful piece of guff should feel free to correct me - perhaps she's already been voted off). Perhaps this does bring her closer to her electorate. We all know more attention (and respect) is paid to winners of reality shows than to politicians. Yet these same constituents should realise that while Kelly talks the talk, she doesn't appear to want to walk the walk.

And yet, she has stated her intention to run for the next election. It's all very odd. Here's hoping that a decent Labor candidate is chosen to run against her. To make the first of the Federal election predictions - I'll eat my hat if she manages to hold on to this seat.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The New Pacific Solution

As Parliament resumes next week, the government should find plenty to distract them from Bananagate (today dissected by the always excellent Ross Gittins), but not all of it is likely to be desirable. In particular, the notorious Migration Amendment Bill will be up for debate.

This is the bill that was the subject of a very unflattering Senate report and has raised the ire of many a Coalition MP. It's also a bill provoked by a specific diplomatic incident - the granting of visas to Papuan asylum seekers (the last of whom was granted their Australian visa only yesterday). Now that the political imperative seems largely over, will the government still have so much enthusiasm for creating a back bench ruckus, especially amongst those in marginal seats? Surprisingly enough, the notion of keeping kids behind bars isn't as popular with the electorate as it was back in the days of Tampa.

In the long run, the passage of this bill (or - I hope - its defeat) may also be a test of whether the influence of the extreme Right that is already tearing the NSW Liberal Party asunder is also being felt in Canberra. It's already well known that senators such as Marise Payne are being pressured to toe the new party line or risk losing their preselection. Will the party demonstrate the oft-quoted `wide church' approach or will they ensure all dissenters go down in flames?

More info is available at ChilOut and A Just Australia.