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Tag Archives: Liberal

ScoMo no leader at all.

Capping a week of wacky stunts is Drug-test dole Bludgers a first episode in The Return of the Undead, a schlock-horror series in which the commonwealth is attacked by zombies; bad policy ideas the Coalition has already killed off. Twice. Or so we thought. Totally lacking policy or even vaguely useful ideas, the Morrison government digs up its dead, while dodging shocking reviews of its theatre of cruelty drama, Tamil Family.

Dole Bludgers helps deflect us from Did Treasury shrink the Economy? a Frydenberg-Lowe whodunnit playing centre stage, helped out by “Police State 2.0″ a cop-show sequel involving more raids on whistle-blowers’ homes.

Secrecy, mystery and shock are key to ScoMo’s Police State 2.0, which, like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, thrives on fear and surprise. All we see is a dawn raid. Cops haul black polythene bags. “As this is an ongoing matter, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time,” an AFP “spokesperson” intones.

Weird? Normal procedure for the AFP, as veteran Canberra Times editor, Jack Waterford, observes, is to tip off selected journalists well in advance of any raid. Not so much better sound but great optics.   Waterford notes,

“It is part of the AFP’s media modus operandi to claim that operational or sub judice considerations prevent it from discussing anything damaging to the force’s image. Such considerations never inhibit the AFP if it expects good publicity from trusted journalists.” Uncannily, ScoMo & Co follow much the same protocol.

This week, Home Affairs Minister Dutton and Morrison are free with all kinds of abuse to help their case, even though the Biloela family would normally be off limits as “an operational matter” or “an individual case”. By Friday, even though the case is before the Federal Court, Dutton tells Nine,

“I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country.”

Yet the same day, Federal Court judge, Justice Mordecai Bromberg, orders Immigration Minister, David Coleman, to provide more evidence to support claims the youngest child has no right to protection. This case returns to court for an interlocutory hearing, 18 September, but a full and final hearing will require extensive preparation. An increasingly out of control Dutton would do well to pull his head in; take a hint from his pals in the AFP.

Suddenly it’s clear that ScoMo has even less power over Dutton than Turnbull, who created Home Affairs just to appease Dutton and his monkey-pod cabal. His capitulation to the bullies, condemned by experts then, is an utter failure now. Above all if we’re going get Police State 2.0 right, the AFP, need to know which boss gives the orders.

The AFP has an unblemished record of being lapdog of the government of the day. Only once in thirty-eight years since its inception has it embarrassed a government. The exception is the case of the investigation and prosecution of Liberal renegade – and Labor-appointed speaker, Peter Slipper, which did not result in a conviction.

The AFP keeps mum on Wednesday’s raid of the Canberra home of a diplomat and defence adviser, Cameron Gill, reports the Canberra Times. But the optics are eloquent. Shots of a burly plain-clothes cop, carrying a couple of black garbage bags or loading the bags into the boot of a black car look ominous at least. “AFP cleans up democracy while trashing Gill’s reputation” is the main pictorial message implied on national news.

“Enacting laws in the name of national security without testing them can result in overreach and the erosion of basic freedoms,” warns Australian Law Council president, Arthur Moses, in his natter to the National Press Club.

Australia leads the free world in beefing up existing and creating world-class, new anti-terror and security laws. In the eighteen years since September 11, 2001, we have encumbered ourselves with no fewer than 54 new laws.

“There’s been a massive amount of legislation passed that prior to then (2011) would have been unthinkable”, Pauline Wright, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties says.There have been incursions into freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of movement, right to protest, all basic legal rights that underpin our democracy”. It’s almost as if she’s stumbled on the real point of the war on terror.

“Do not be quiet Australians. That is not your job,” warns Moses to the assembled hacks and flacks.

Moses is keen for reporters to “continue questioning” the Commonwealth’s growing national security powers, and “not just those that are threats to your freedoms”. Yet News Corp, from which all other media take their lead, has been actively encouraging the Coalition’s radical expansion of a police state in Australia in the last six years.

Drug test … is more than a government out of ideas. It blends ScoMo & Co’s yen for mindless cruelty, with its signature impracticality – as seen, for example, in its coal fetish. Blend in its shouty populist campaign to deprive the poor and vulnerable of any form of support, let alone compassion – and the drug test ploy may just upstage news that not only have ScoMo & Co given us the worst financial year since 1990-91, they have no plan.

“We have a plan – and only the Coalition has a plan” is Matthias Cormann’s mantra. But there is no plan. Greg Jericho calls on the government to wake up.

“It spent the entire election campaign telling us the economy was strong despite clear evidence that was not the case, and now in the light of some of the worst economic growth figures this century it would have us believe all is going to plan.”

Alan Austin notes “The increase in GDP for the June quarter, announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday, was a miserable 0.48%. This brings annual GDP growth to just 1.44% for the year to the end of June if we use seasonally adjusted figures. Trend data, preferred by some, show even worse outcomes.

This is the lowest annual growth for a financial year since 2002-03, during the early 2000s global recession. Prior to that, the year with lower growth than now was back in 1991 during Paul Keating’s “recession we had to have”.

ScoMo calls on us to spend our way into prosperity. But what with? With frozen wages, lost penalty rates, rising utility and fuel costs, not to mention a steep hike in fruit and vegetable prices, given drought, flood and heat has cut supplies, means most households will use their meagre tax refund to pay down debt and on daily essentials.

But look over there! A drug test for Centrelink beneficiaries beckons.

Enter the trial drug testing of 5,000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance.  Job-seekers would be tested for a range of illegal drugs in a two-year trial at three locations – Logan, Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown, NSW and Mandurah, WA. Vital trial details are scarce in the news cycle.

The drug test idea is a neat way to scapegoat those trapped in a cycle of poverty. It recycles a farrago of Liberal lies: job-seekers are not only unsuccessful because they are high on drugs, they are also decadent. Unworthy – a popular slur also seen in refugee demonising. Un-Australian. Seeking pleasure instead of work?

The best form of welfare is a job, ScoMo crows. 722,000 Aussies struggled to get by on Newstart’s $278 per week or less than forty dollars a day in August. ABS figures show expenses, especially rising fuel prices – up 4.5% mean we are going backwards. Half a million of us haven’t worked for over 12 months. ScoMo’s “conservative compassion” means job-seekers just don’t eat; 84 percent of unemployed workers report skipping meals.

Implied in ScoMo’s slogan is a rebuke; neoliberalism’s favourite lie, there are plenty of jobs out there- all you have to do is try harder/re-skill/move to the regions/not be a job snob. It’s absurd but hurtful; cruel nonsense.

It’s not just that are far fewer jobs than job applicants, while jobs are increasingly casual, part time and wage theft and underemployment is rife, drug-testing of welfare recipients has failed everywhere it’s been tried.  And the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison show knows it’s a failure, as Josh Butler in The Huffington Post pointed out in 2017.

Jurisdictions in Canada and the U.K. proposed then scrapped the idea. In the US, a few states gave up their trials as few as 0.01 percent of those tested actually returned positive drug tests. Above all, an Australian government-funded report from 2013 found there was “no evidence” of any positive effects in drug testing welfare clients, citing social, economic, legal and ethical concerns which meant such a scheme “ought not be considered”.

But “Just because something has been trialled elsewhere and has not worked does not mean it should not be tried again,” argues Senator Scott Ryan, for the Minister for Social Services. No. Just don’t expect it to work.

Drug-testing for welfare recipients was first proposed in the bizarre, 2014 Abbott-Credlin incarnation of the current government and again by the Turnbull iteration. It’s a great distraction from the imminent nation-wide trial of the Indue cashless debit card, a scam also known as “The Healthy Welfare Card” which is not a success in any trials. Still, it is a nifty business enterprise which could return $12,000 to the Liberal Party for each card issued.

Despite the dead cat on the table of the drug test (trial), ScoMo still cannot hide this week’s shocking GDP data.

Stalling Australia’s economic growth has taken six years of hard work. Morrison, in particular, can take a bow.

As Treasurer, he did keep barking that we did not have a revenue problem. No? Now most households do. And we carry record debt. A tax cut won’t help us. We are in per capita recession even if the government insists on applying US Census boffin, Julius Shiskin’s, yard stick of two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

Former RBA Governor Glenn Stevens says it’s, “not very useful”. Proposed in December 1974 by Julius Shishkin, then head of the Economic Research and Analysis Division of the US Census Bureau which publishes the US national accounts, it’s not used to identify recessions in the US. Saul Eslake points out,

It takes no account of differences over time, or as between countries, in the rates of growth of either population or productivity – which are the key determinants of whether a given rate of economic growth is sufficient to prevent a sharp rise in unemployment. This is something which most people (other than economists) would use to delineate a recession.

In brief, we are fooling ourselves, or allowing ourselves to be fooled, by an esoteric measure of what a recession is. By most other measures, we would be calling what Morrison and Frydenberg have engineered, a recession, now. Calling for Frydenberg to resign. As The Guardian Australia‘s Paul Jericho reports,

The 2018-19 financial year had the lowest growth since 2000-01, and it was the eighth worst year out of the 60 since 1960. In the past 35 financial years, only five have seen worse per-capita growth, and in the past 40 only four have seen lower productivity growth.

Happily, there’s always a Liberal love-in happening somewhere to take the sting out of the hard going. ScoMo insults half the population in one gaffe as he addresses the faction-ridden boys’ club of the NSW Liberal Party’s State Council in NSW, weekend conference, its “most vicious” for twenty years. It’s in uproar over abortion.

It almost upstages Monday’s fuss when the PM, Communications minister Paul Fletcher, Birmo and Senator Jane Hume and sundry other Liberal MPs rock up to a function held by Channel Nine at its Willoughby studios.

Nothing to see here, says ScoMo, “I mean they were happy to host an event and I attended an event.”  Prince Andrew could use the same defence of a photo of himself and a seventeen year old girl at a Jeffrey Epstein event.

Except it was a ten-thousand dollar a head Liberal Party fund-raiser which makes a mockery of Nine Newspapers, formerly Fairfax rags’ slogan “Independent Always”. Luckily, everything is OK, because, as CEO Marks explains, the shindig gave Nine time to voice its deep concern over press freedom while it raised money for the Liberals.

Michelle Grattan says it’s bizarre to engage with a government on press freedom, by raking in $100,000 in funds for it. Clearly she’s yet to get into the Trump-Morrison zeitgeist where the press is free to say whatever the government is OK with. This argument is made by Home Affairs Secretary, Mike Pezzullo in senate estimates.

Fortunately, by Saturday, the PM can change the agenda to gender. How Liberal ladies can step up to the plate.

Pro-lifers protest outside the International Convention Centre whilst inside, right-wing Liberals who wish to keep the current bad law, move a vote to allow debate on decriminalising abortion, a bid that threatens to de-rail the Berejiklian government’s bill to make abortion legal in NSW – as it is in all other states. The vote is lost 217-236.

The bill passed the NSW lower house 59 to 31, a month ago, but it created a split within the Liberals. 19 of the party’s 35 MPs voted against it.  Veteran public ethicists, “barking” Barnaby Joyce and “two-bob” Tony Abbott also protest, support which Sydney lawyer, Michael Bradley, writing in Crikey claims, augurs well for the reformers,

“It was sexist paternalism and disrespect that made abortion a crime and has kept it thus for so long. It is this same instinct that seeks to delay and confuse the remediation of that wrong. But, whether because of or despite the Tony/Barnaby Effect, it will shortly lose this battle.”

Amendments proposed will be considered when the NSW Upper House votes on the bill 17 September. Many of these appear to be disingenuous delaying tactics, including fears that a woman will use abortion to select the sex of her baby, a phenomenon that has never occurred elsewhere in the world. So why would it happen here?

ScoMo’s keynote address is about merit. Up to a higher plane. “I want to see more women in our parliament and I want to see the NSW division work with me and my team to deliver that on merit, on merit, that’s the key.”

ScoMo alienates half his audience with his gaffe.

Who better to lecture Liberals on merit and equity than ScoMo? His advocacy for women is now the stuff of Liberal Party legend. He’s got daughters, he says. Enough said. And, my, just look at the way he acted on serious allegations of a party culture of misogyny and bullying, which came to a head around last year’s spontaneous hands-free leadership spill that accidentally, led to ScoMo becoming PM – and without any plotting, lobbying or double-double-crossing. So he says. It caused at least one MP, Julia Banks to resign.

All packed off to an inquiry or review or report or something. And denial from Linda Reynolds who has now gone on to do a mighty job in Defence and Sarah Henderson, who is parachuted back into parliament into former Senator Mitch Fifield’s policy-free Victorian senate seat, this Sunday, despite smears and slurs from religious groups following her support of marriage equality.

Henderson’s not beaten Sophie Mirabella’s hubby, Greg, more of a conservative, but she’s battled vicious email. One accused her of being “a Malcolm Turnbull, gay marriage and abortion supporter”. Unholy Trinity.

Sunday, she wins a 234-197 a vote from five hundred Liberal Party delegates to the NSW conference. Despite intense lobbying from government MPs, the result still suggests as deep a division in Victoria between small ‘l’ liberal Liberals and the rip-roaring right as in NSW. In the end, however, ScoMo has one more token woman MP.

So it’s fitting the PM should be there. Not for the abortion vote – he’s pro-life – but as a father figure who can tell Liberal women they just need to improve their merit; lift their game and work on their CVs, their networking and interview skills. It’s an old lie but it helps explain why today there is the same number of women Liberal MPs as there was in 1996. At the end of the end of the day was it Henderson’s merit or ScoMo’s orchestrated lobbying?

Women everywhere will be chuffed to know that our current crop of mostly male Liberal MPs is a meritocracy.

Merit just shines out of Josh Frydenberg, this week, for one, as he tries to fudge the worst set of GDP figures this century, while blaming Treasury for not getting its forecasts right. And claiming he and his government did.

Merit is also the word that leaps to mind to describe the work of Stuart “Rolex” Robert whose business empire is in a big chill this week, according to reports that he and his partner may lose over $400,000 due to the tragic collapse of Cryo Australia, one of his cooler company investments which have attracted the interest of ASIC.

No inference is given nor suggestion made that Robert has done anything wrong in relation to Cryo Australia, which offered customers therapy sessions in a human-sized cooler. When it was working. Robert does seem dogged by business troubles, however, and it just bad luck given his cabinet role and his duties in charge of both government services and NDIS, two portfolios, which demand sound judgement and due diligence.

Liquidators are investigating whether crimes may have been committed by directors of the company, Cryo Australia, where Robert briefly sat on the board alongside rapist Neran De Silva, reports The Guardian Australia.

“Merit” Morrison himself, whose MPs snubbed rival contender for PM, Julie Bishop, because the blokes said she was a lightweight, won Cook in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, fair and square with just a little bit of help from The Daily Telegraph’s, four article slander of Michael Towke, a Lebanese Christian Australian, who, in July 2011, was democratically pre-selected rival in Cook- until he was disendorsed by the Party after the articles were published.

Dazzled by the display of merit currently on show in the Liberal party room of our faux-Coalition, an unrepresentative secret agreement which includes a mandatory quota at its core, it’s difficult to tell whether the women members of the Liberal Party are laughing or crying. Just don’t expect a petticoat revolution just yet.

In the meantime, despite its diversions, the week exposes the Morrison government’s false claim to any economic expertise.  It is just another Coalition government; hopeless with money, clueless about women or gender equity, run by the top end of town for the top end of town and increasingly keen to control us by drawing us into the politics of division, unreason and fear.

Helping this control is the apparatus of a police state developed under the aegis of a war on terror, which like the war on drugs, is another toxic US import which can only cause us harm – as it has caused that nation immeasurable suffering and created unimaginable death and destruction for millions of others it has illegally invaded.

The threatened deportation of the Biloela family is an act of gratuitous, if not shockingly sadistic, cruelty which demeans us all. If the Tamil family are returned to Sri Lanka, they will be imprisoned and tortured. Yet even if they were to escape this fate, repatriation would be immoral, illegal under international law preventing refoulement and egregiously wrong in its calculated lack of humanity.

What kind of monsters have we become when we seek to punish innocents, make an example of a traumatised family who have already endured unfathomable suffering whose only mistake is to throw themselves on our mercy and seek our compassion?

Morrison must get Dutton to rescind his decision. Unless he can show the moral courage and the authority to act decisively on this, he is no leader at all.

WA Voters: Disrupt the Disruption. Let’s Blow This Shit Up!

WA voters! Lend me your ears! Ask yourself this: “Do I want to be a disruptor? OR Do I want to disrupt the disruption?” You are in a game. Today, you need to decide which role you play.

It Is Just A Game

There is absolutely no doubt we are in the middle of a game. A game fuelled on by the media and populist politics. A game played to see just how many people don’t really care about politics. They are asking you today when you vote (and the media are testing you on this) “How much do you actually care about Western Australia?”

The media have played this game for a while now. It’s a fun game for the media. Because this game fuels suspicion and a divide amongst us all. It sees politicians scrambling. This agenda is a game to see how the politicians respond to this disruption. For those who feel like a star and are “having your voice heard for the first time.” Well in this game you are the pawn, not the King.

Why this is a game of disruption is that forever there has only been two sides to choosing our votes in this country and it is the way it will always be. The Liberal/National Conservative anti-worker parties versus the Laborist Pro work at parties. Work or the inability to work for whatever reason is central to everything we do.

The struggle between these two sides is endless. How much power and autonomy do the conservatives try to take from the workers, the disadvantaged and the poor? What will the worker parties do to protect this? The fight is real. This fight against conservatism can be captured in three spheres: welfare, workers and unionism and protest groups.

Other minor parties and independents have always served as one issue parties such as environmentalism, animal justice, gun lobbyists, farming and agriculture or LGBTIQ rights as examples.

The Party of Disruption

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party are not true Conservatives. For example, her economic adviser is a totally free market, user pays libertarian. It is very clear after voting for the ABCC, supporting cuts to penalty rates and being very anti union, the Pauline Hanson One Nation party is indeed an anti-worker party. The are certainly not a pro-worker party.

In saying this, Pauline Hanson does not lead a single issue party either. The One Nation party is simply set by an agenda of disruption. To disrupt everything. The good and the bad. They have not thought about how to deal with the ramifications of this.

Both major parties need to take into account all of the single issues the other minor parties advocate for. For example, they respond to environmentalism in a conservative or a progressive way. The extreme of conservatism or progressiveness may differ depending upon the issue.

Pauline Hanson’s agenda is to disrupt every single minor or major issue and to hell with the outcome. To hell with society and to hell with the people of Western Australia. The main objective for Pauline Hanson is power.

Her candidates who have left the party are consistent on this. Pauline is about power for Pauline. Being from Queensland, and following her since the 1990’s when she turned on Indigenous people in my community; hand on my heart, this is very, very true.

Harming Society. Harming Our People.

The media has actively fuelled this on. They have fuelled on what they label as the ‘Pauline Hanson Phenomenon.” This insinuates, Hanson’s appeal is more widespread than it is, and to give it a cool sounding edge – that it is acceptable to participate in.

However, the media know full well that massive disruption in our economy, in business, for our workers, in the community sector, and in a public services could really truly harm our society and our people irreversibly.

They are actively encouraging voters classed as disruptors to see if this game could become a reality. A real life of real chaos for four years ahead of voters with no rhyme nor reason.

But why? Why would the media do this? What is in for the media is that this generates a lot of stories and a lot of advertising revenue, which equals a lot of profit for them. 

The Minor Parties Are Pushed Aside

Pauline Hanson is disruption personified and everyone who votes for Hanson is considered a disruptor. An army of disruptors. Like the KISS Army, but way, way, way less cool.

At the moment, the media wants you to believe this is cool. However, after buying it and after unpacking it at home, you will soon release it is just a piece of junk. Just like all the adverts in their magazines and newspapers, they position words, meaning and symbols to present what they want you to think is cool. Their game is not fairness and full representation of all voices in politics. It is not democracy. It is sales.

Don’t believe me? Major parties aside: ask yourself this, how many minor parties are there and how many minor parties have been in the spotlight this election?

That’s right! Just one party. The Pauline Hanson One Nation party. 

Who Doesn’t Give A Stuff?

What the media is really pushing when they are pushing you to be this ‘disruptive voter’ is how many voters don’t really care about themselves, their family, friends, the community, their state, and their country? How many people will show they don’t give a stuff about Western Australia, by giving disruption their number one vote. How will this disrupt Federal Politics and Queensland Politics and how many stories are there in this!

In a nutshell the media is asking voters in Western Australia today how much of your state are you prepared to blow up?

You Need To Blow This Shit Up!

To be a disruptor you need to disrupt the media and the populist politics it has embraced. You need to blow this shit up! Don’t blow up Western Australia. You need to choose the alternative, because the media wants this disruption that Hanson brings to become cool. It sells their papers and their advertising. If simply being a minor party was the best for change, they would be shoving the Greens down your throats.

This is vitally important. It is you who needs to live in the aftermath of this this disruption. The media, just like me, will bang on the keyboards long after your decisions today, regardless of the outcome.

Think of it as when alternative music becomes mainstream and it simply isn’t cool anymore. We have all been there. Anarchy in the UK and punk hair became tiresome after a while and we turned to pop synth, Karma Chameleon, ragged clothes and boots (OMG I miss my boots soooo much!). 

Today Become a True Disruptor

To be a real disruptor on voting day, you actually need to vote to disrupt the disruption. You need to choose to disrupt the media and disrupt the populist politics of Hanson. Because simply, it is not cool anymore. Don’t give them what they want! You need to blow this shit up! Today!

The only way this can be achieved is very simple. Ask yourself, do you choose the side of the anti-worker Conservative parties or do you choose the side of the pro worker Laborist parties?

Subsets of the major Liberal Conservative parties or the Laborist Workers parties are found in either conservative or progressive minor single issue parties. The key is if you do choose these minor parties first, where do you put your preferences for the major party? Who do you preference to Govern from the major parties? Because one of the major parties will govern after today. That is a fact.

Regardless of whether you achieve this by first preference vote, or via preferences, at the end of today, Colin Barnett’s Liberals or Mark McGowan’s Labor will Govern Western Australia.

The only party that should be last on your ticket is the disruption party and that is the Pauline Hanson One Nation party. Don’t let this fly-in blow up your state. She lives in Queensland and doesn’t give a stuff about us either!

Best of luck with your decisions today and from all the way over here in Central Queensland I wish your state of Western Australia all the best for the next four years.

 

Originally Published on The Red Window Blog

 

Beyond the Bali 9: Indonesia’s Ongoing Contempt for Human Rights

After ten years of languishing in the Indonesian penal system, Myuran Sukumuran and Andrew Chan have been executed for drug smuggling on Wednesday the 29th of April 2015.

The executions came after months of diplomatic back and forth between Australia and Indonesia, high profile social media campaigns and even weigh-ins from celebrities around the world. Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision to go through with the killings is sure to deeply alter the future of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and cause international debate on the legitimacy of the death penalty and the so-called justice systems that administer it.

Hours after the event, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Tony Abbott made the decision to remove Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia, an unprecedented response to the death penalty being carried out on a citizen. It is currently unknown how long the measures will last, according to The Age, senior government sources say that all aspects of the diplomatic relationship are “on the table”.

Australian politicians say that the Australian public should not “boycott” Indonesia and that the relationship between the two countries, although facing a “dark period”, should remain strong in the future.

Tony Abbott made statements today to the effect that he, or perhaps he means “us”, respects the Indonesian system of justice. All well and good. Diplomacy at times like these is, of course, an important consideration to avoid loss of relations, trade, and potential hostilities.

In saying this without qualification, however, we’ve missed our chance to stand up for our national values in a very real sense. Why has the administration not overtly and clearly denounced the death penalty? We can respect the Indonesian system as a sovereign judicial construct, but this does not imply that we must swallow it whole.

There are aspects of Indonesia’s justice system, as there are of our own, that are simply not good enough. The death penalty is one of them. More than half of the world’s countries have now abolished the punishment, and it is counted as a violation of section five of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

There is also the issue of Indonesia’s legal hypocrisy when it comes to their treatment of Indonesian nationals facing the death penalty overseas. Their government, under Widodo’s leadership, has launched a formal appeal to acquit an Indonesia domestic worker on death row in Saudi Arabia for murdering her Saudi employer’s wife.

If President Widodo cannot practice universality in his treatment of human beings, we cannot take him seriously as a democratic leader. The rule of law is one of the most important foundations of the modern democratic state, and to skew the process so that some are treated more fairly than others is to hold democracy, and it’s values, in contempt.

His treatment of the issue has been frivolous at best, declining even to read each separate clemency application as he is required to by law.

To uphold the legitimacy of the death penalty is to state that, under certain circumstances, crimes committed are so reprehensible that their perpetrators are beyond redemption and worthless as human beings. For a crime far worse than this, that argument may hold some weight with some of the less astute moral thinkers among us, but if we are to be sensible in our appraisal of these Chan and Sukumuran, we must recognise that trafficking even a drug as dangerous as heroin is no cause for a state to engage in murder.

We must also acknowledge that these two young men were, factually, not beyond redemption. They had spent ten years in the Indonesian prison system, which is more than enough time to rethink the actions that landed them there. And so they did, Chan becoming a pastor with aspirations of starting a family with his new wife, whom he married on Monday this week, and Sukumuran a qualified artist using his talent to draw attention to the human costs of the Indonesian justice system.

The response from the opposition and from the Greens has been more strident in condemnation of the executions, with Christine Milne stating, “Capital punishment must be abolished wherever in the world it is still carried out. We in Australia must continue to advocate for an end to capital punishment and promote human rights around the world, especially in our region.”

Labour leader Bill Shorten and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek condemned the executions in “the strongest possible terms”, in a joint statement today, questioning their commitment to the rule of law and the impact the killings will have on Indonesia’s reputation.

“Indonesia has not just robbed two young men of their lives but robbed itself of two examples of the strengths of its justice system.”

It has also robbed itself of two men who could have served as mentors to Indonesia’s underfunded and mistreated prison population, giving hope to human beings in a situation that is, for all intents and purposes, hopeless.

There is also the burning question of whether the Australian Federal Police’s decision to alert Indonesian authorities prior to the arrests of the Bali nine in 2005 was a responsible one to make. It is public knowledge that Indonesia executes drug smugglers, so the AFP cannot plead ignorance. At best, their actions unintentionally sentenced nine people to face a corrupt and brutal system of justice, at worst, it was calculated and intentional.

In the wake of the executions, it has come to public attention that Justice Minister Michael Keenan had omitted a line from the ministerial direction of the organisation outlining the role of the AFP in matters concerning the death penalty. The line reads as follows: “[the Australian Federal Police should] take account of the government’s longstanding opposition to the application of the death penalty, in performing its international liaison functions.”

This seems to run contrary to Julie Bishop’s comments that the government has sought to uphold the values of Australians. The Foreign Minister criticised the attention given to the removal of the line, stating that the AFP guidelines and the ministerial directive were “completely different documents.”

This seems to me to be missing the point. Any removal of strong words condemning the death penalty from government publications is cause for discussion, and those responsible for the changes should be subjected to questioning from the press and the public.

On the topic of discussion, there has been talk about “redemption” in the media with regards to Sukumuran and Chan, and I think that’s patently absurd to talk about with regards to the situation. They were not murderers or rapists, they were drug traffickers, men who engaged in a form of business we have made illegal.

When a banker is caught laundering money, the word “redemption” is suspiciously absent. When a CEO is caught funnelling money out of his shareholders accounts, again the word is nowhere to be seen. To use it in the context of drug smuggling is to characterise the behaviour as in some way a condition, rather than a decision, and that seems to me to be in no-one’s best interests but those of cheap political commentators.

Many of those commentators have failed to use this disturbing waste of human life to draw attention to the wider humanitarian issues taking place in Indonesia today. While the eyes of the world are on Widodo and the people he governs, it is high time to critically examine the legitimacy of the power structures in Indonesia and the ways in which they affect the some 252 million inhabitants of the nation.

Advocates for human rights have noted Indonesian government actions as a concern. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the Indonesian government on multiple subjects. In it’s 2012 World Report, Human Rights Watch stated that “while senior officials pay lip service to protecting human rights, they seem unwilling to take the steps necessary to ensure compliance by the security forces with international human rights and punishment for those responsible for abuses.”

This contempt for human rights seems to have marred Indonesia since it’s establishment as a democracy. The nations first elected president, Sukarno, employed a form of political control he termed “Guided Democracy”, an oxymoron if there ever was one, and seemed to act as more of a de facto emperor than a democratic leader. After being deposed in a United States-backed military coup on October 1st, 1965, the Indonesian and East Timorese people were subjected to decades of abuse and genocidal murder at the hands of the new kingpin, General Suharto. By most estimates, between 500,000 and a million civilians were murdered, and tens of thousands were detained in concentration camps and prisons.

Journalist Kathy Kadane quoted Robert J. Martens as saying that senior U.S. diplomats and CIA officials provided a list of approximately 5,000 names to the Indonesian Army while it was fighting the Indonesian communist party and its supporters.

One would assume that such violence so close to our own borders would engender strong condemnation from our officials, but the reality is far from it. Internal documents from Australian embassies show that officials were approvingly reporting that army units and Muslim groups were working hand in hand to shoot, hack or club to death at least 1,500 suspected Communist Party sympathisers per day, sometimes parading their heads on sticks.

General Suharto relied heavily on the military to “maintain domestic security”, a synonym for suppressing dissent and quashing resistance to his authoritarian style of governance. By 1969, 70% of Indonesia’s provincial governors and more than half its district chiefs were active military officers. Under these conditions, foreign journalists were murdered for reporting on the abuses taking place, including five Australian men in October 1975.

Corruption in the government was rife during Suharto’s reign, with lucrative government contracts, such as the national toll-expressway market, being awarded to his children. The family is said to control about 36,000 km square of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 square metres of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40% of the land in East Timor.

From 1983-1985, army death squads murdered up to 10,000 suspected criminals in response to a spike in crime rates. Efforts were made to control the freedom of the press by issuing a law that required all media to possess a press operating license, which could be revoked at any time by the Ministry of Information.

While the situation has improved markedly in the years after Suharto’s leadership, conditions are still less than humane for many living in Indonesia, West Papua and East Timor. Many Papuans will be able to recount stories of friends or family members who have been murdered. A study carried out by the University of Sydney claims that the continuation of current practices in West Papua “may pose serious threats to the survival of the indigenous people”.

Torture is not only a reality for Papuans, it is widespread, with significant documentary evidence including “trophy footage” filmed by Indonesian soldiers that depicts extreme abuses being carried out on helpless individuals. Rape and sexual assault has reportedly been used as a weapon by the military and the police forces, with a 1999 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women concluding that security forces used rape as “an instrument of torture and intimidation” and that “torture of women detained by the Indonesian security forces was widespread.”

There are often limited or no investigation into human rights abuses and if any discipline is handed out it is usually a token gesture, with little effect on the perpetrators of the abuse. West Papua is currently off limits to international journalists, who face deportation, attack or imprisonment if they are discovered. The International Red Cross were expelled from the nation in 2010, and in 2012 Peace Brigades International were also forced to depart.

With all this injustice painfully surrounding the people of Indonesia, we simply cannot stop at a condemnation of the murder of two Australian men at the hands of a corrupt judiciary. If we are to call ourselves a nation that values human rights, where better to demonstrate that valuation than with our closest neighbour?

A clear message needs to be sent to Indonesia by Australian political leaders, that if they are to continue to commit genocidal acts on their citizens, that our economic and political relations will be unable to continue. If Australia garners international support for the movement, there is a good chance that the Indonesian leadership will be forced to comply, and that we can reopen the country to human rights organisations, aid groups and inspectors.

The omission of any mention of the crimes being committed under Widodo’s leadership in the Australian media’s response to the executions of Chan and Sukumuran speaks volumes about our leaders commitment to the goal of ending human rights violations in Indonesia. It is our responsibility as citizens of a somewhat functioning democracy to take action, to raise awareness and to push our elected officials to take a stand in our name against torture, rape, murder and genocide.

It is the least we can do.


This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

 

Choosing to Lie About Indigenous Australia: Why Tony Abbott Should Do More Than Just Apologize

Tony Abbott has, yet again, demonstrated his appalling lack of knowledge on even the most basic aspects of our society with comments made last week that claimed the problems Aboriginal people face are a result of “poor lifestyle choices”.

The irony of a rich, Catholic white male lecturing a people who have routinely been consciously disadvantaged by government after government after government in this country is palpable.

Anglo-saxon relationships with the indigenous people of Australia have been consistently poor, to understate the matter, since our cultures first crossed paths. The response of our “noble forefathers” to the presence of what they considered to be savages was to engage in mass killing, in genocide, to allow easier access to the land and it’s resources.

There are no Tasmanian aborigines left with 100% aboriginal genes.

Just think about that for a moment.

Imagine what it must be like to know that from an indigenous perspective, to understand that the white man has since the beginning been a force of slaughter, of death, of discord to your people.

Imagine then what it must feel like to hear one of these white men telling the nation he leads that it is the fault of the Aboriginal people that their living conditions rank among the worst in the developed world, that white police officers murder them in custody, that mining magnates such as Lang Hancock, Gina Rinehart’s father, have proposed they be sterilised.

In short, Tony Abbott is blaming the victims, and he’s not apologising for it.

“I’m not going to concede that. I accept people have a right to be critical of me, but I’m certainly not going to concede that.”

This statement made by the prime minister in response to journalists remarking that his framing of indigenous living conditions as a choice may have been a poor choice of words, demonstrates that this monkey in a suit has even less understanding of the situation than he does empathy towards it.

Was it a “lifestyle choice” that resulted in children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being forcibly removed from their families for over a century?

Does the prime minister believe that these human beings are choosing to live seventeen years less than non-Aboriginal Australians?

This behaviour, from the man who is supposed to represent Australia on the world stage, is despicable. It alone is reason enough to oust Gina Rinehart’s praetorian guardsman and ensure he never holds a position of power in this country again.

For those wanting to learn more about Aboriginal Australia and the horrifying disparity between indigenous people and the rest of the populace, head on over to youtube and watch John Pilger’s excellent film, Utopia.

You can find it here.


This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

Privatisation: Just Who Is It For?

New South Wales is following Canberra’s lead in adopting what the Abbott government is referring to as “asset recycling”, which in practice translates to privatisation, securing 2 billion dollars under the deal.

Abbott’s five billion dollar scheme encourages states and territories to sell assists to fund infrastructure development.

The Baird leadership intends to funnel the money garnered from leasing 49% of the state’s electricity network into road and rail projects, though it is unclear as to whether this will actually take place and if it does, whether the decision is in the public interest.

Proponents of privatisation describe it as conferring a multiplicity of benefits to the public by boosting the efficiency and quality of remaining government activities, reducing taxes and shrinking government. The argument rests on the presumption that the profit seeking behaviour of private sector managers and owners will produce ever more efficient, cheap and customer focused services.

We mustn’t forget that the raison d’être of a business is to provide profit. People do not start up or buy a business for the sole purpose of serving the public, that sort of behaviour is more likely to be found in a monastery than in McDonalds. This basic profiteering function of business is primary in capitalist society, and we often see that rather than being customer or human centric, the businesses that make it to the big time cut corners when it comes to ethics and the treatment of their employees and customers.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the same profit hungry managers and owners the evangelists of privatisation refer to may have no second thoughts about implementing practices that make service unaffordable to large segments of the citizenry. Profit seeking organisations may decide that spending on the disabled or the poor is money wasted, and those affected may find it far more difficult to seek accountability than they would were the services government owned.

It is worth noting that efficiency is not the only goal of services like electricity, healthcare and water. One must also take into account quality, ease of access and sustainability when building a picture of what a successful service should look like.

Privatization was billed under Jeff Kennett’s Victorian government as leading to a more efficient and productive industry, passing on the savings to consumers. Despite Kennett’s comments to the contrary, electricity prices in the state have remained consistent with non-privatised states, only falling below the mean between 2004 and 2008.

There is evidence that companies running Victoria’s electricity services increased prices by up to 175% for “off-peak” periods, a decision which affects a sizeable portion of the populace who conduct their business during those times, perhaps the most notable example being agriculturists and farmers.

The notion that productivity would increase under privatisation has fallen apart, with the industry becoming an anchor on national productivity since the turn of the century. The private sector’s tactic of employing a higher percentage of managers and salespeople has contributed to further bureaucracy rather than having the intended effect of streamlining the industry.

Selling off government assets is typically coupled with the promise of the revenue being funnelled into new and needed infrastructure such as roads and rail networks, however the promise does not always carry through to reality. Economist John Quiggin noted that investment in infrastructure did not occur in Queensland under Bligh’s leadership despite almost ten billion dollars being made from the sale of government assets.

A 1991 report from the Harvard Business Review raised three key conclusions on the issue of privatisation that may help us frame the issue a little better:

1. Neither public nor private managers will always act in the best interests of their shareholders. Privatisation will be effective only if private managers have incentives to act in the public interest, which includes, but is not limited to, efficiency.

2. Profits and the public interest overlap best when the privatized service or asset is in a competitive market. It takes competition from other companies to discipline managerial behavior.

3. When these conditions are not met, continued governmental involvement will likely be necessary. The simple transfer of ownership from public to private hands will not necessarily reduce the cost or enhance the quality of services.

There are hidden costs of privatisation rarely spoken of by the politicians and their friendly counterparts in business. When a public service is privatised, much of the time employees are paid less on average and lose their existing benefits. On the surface this seems like a saving, but the costs of poverty and ill health must fall somewhere, and it seems it’s generally into the waiting arms of another state agency. The profits increase for those at the top of the pyramid, and those underneath carry an ever-increasing burden to support them.

It is also unclear as to whether privatisation actually does save governments money, with a study by the Project on Government Oversight finding that in 33 of 35 occupations, using contractors cost the United States Federal Government billions of dollars more than using government employees.

This seems yet another example of cosy relationships between politicians and businessmen taking priority over the wellbeing of the public. A more thorough, nonpartisan investigation into the history of privatisation in Australia, a cost benefit analysis and a public debate over the issue would go some ways to clarifying the relationship of privatisation to the people it affects.


This article was originally posted on the author’s blog, which you can find here.

What a Circus!

Photo: litistan.wordpress.com

Photo: litistan.wordpress.com

Why is there a sense of foreboding whenever Tony Abbott travels overseas? Probably because one’s immediate reaction is, “Oh God, in what way will he embarrass us this time.” I can’t help thinking that as they watched John Oliver’s parody of Abbott on his weekly satirical, “Last Week Tonight” show, members of the American press were of a similar mind about his planned visit there next week. Tony Abbott’s poor media presence, his stilted speech, his fake laugh are grist for the mill to a press corp. aware of his tendency to say something incredibly stupid. My fervent wish would be that they ignore him and give us all a break from the cringing and squirming we will have to endure as we sit on our sofas, in front of our TV sets and follow his movements across the Northern Hemisphere. The planned meeting with US President Barack Obama will, no doubt, be particularly painful to watch. One can only hope that Obama will take pity and shield him from the US press or at least spring to his aid when Abbott inevitably sticks his foot in his mouth.

In the meantime the Coalition government and particularly the Liberal side of it appear to be imploding. Bolt on Turnbull, Bernadi on Turnbull, all stirred up over a meal Turnbull had with Clive Palmer. And the winner was . . . Clive Palmer. Even West Australian Liberal MP Dennis Jensen, a former research scientist and defence analyst, was moved to criticise the government for cutting funding to the CSIRO? It’s not hard to see that the Liberals are running scared right now. Bad polling numbers, internal criticisms of Hockey’s budget and the press popularity of Clive Palmer who is clearly enjoying the road show and keeping everyone guessing as to what he’ll do next, is taking its toll. Queensland Coalition MP’s in particular are already starting to panic. Palmer’s popularity in Queensland and the rising dissatisfaction with the Newman state government is a genuine concern for them. As most MP’s know only too well, when Queensland voters are upset they can be particularly savage come election time.

One wonders why Andrew Bolt raised the question of Turnbull’s activities on his programme. Was he prompted to do so by the Abbott camp or was he trying to gain some publicity for his show? Does he genuinely fear Turnbull? Has he forgotten the devastating impact leadership speculation had on the previous government? For all the commentary that has appeared on this issue, it was Bolt who started it. He is the one making the case for Turnbull’s so-called disloyalty. Interestingly, several Coalition MP’s came out this week criticising Turnbull and favouring Bolt, when the PM made it clear in parliament that he favoured Turnbull over Bolt. That is hardly what you would call a co-ordinated united front.

In the meantime, Hockey has gone strangely quiet and Scott Morrison is in damage control. Two self immolations and one murder so far on Scott Morrison’s watch. And that’s what we actually know. There are claims of asylum seekers being lost at sea while being forcibly repatriated to remote Indonesian Islands by the Royal Australian Navy. But the Minister is warning his critics against making “assumptions” about what led Sri Lankan man Leorsin Seemanpillai to take his life. Does he not realise by saying that, he is drawing attention to the obvious?

Now, a new problem has surfaced and it has gone viral. John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ skit made Abbott look like the village idiot. Anyone familiar with the Comedy Channel who knows the threesome that is Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert and John Oliver, would also know their popularity worldwide via YouTube. And the Liberal party brains trust would have noticed too that Oliver was careful not to alienate his friends in Australia. He emphasised that only 30% supported Abbott. Australian politics is hardly ever presented in satirical form overseas. We are mostly ignored, criticised or praised depending on the circumstances, but rarely satirised. And for an Australian Prime Minister to be the subject of that satire, to be so jeered and made to look so inept and just plain stupid must be a first, particularly on the eve of an official visit. Will we be hearing accusations that this also was planned by Turnbull?

Everything about this farcical situation has been of the conservative’s side of politics own making. It might have been planned but the more likely explanation is that they are all just so rattled and dysfunctional these days, that it all came naturally. Did you see Barnaby Joyce’s sexist gaffe on The Project during the week? On Peta Credlin, he commented, “I’m on good information from her husband that she’s a woman.” He explained the gaffe as a poor attempt at humour. Yes it was, but it also validates the dysfunctional element infecting the government. What a circus!

Abbott’s Failures: list them here

I thought it might be interesting to create a place where the readership can feel directly involved in making “the story”.   This is a place for the politically engaged intrepid reporters to post links to articles, news stories and/or blog pieces that expose Abbott’s various failures in Government and the growing list of broken election commitments.

I think will make for one of the most interesting comment sections ever!  Enjoy.

Tony Abbott builds: a road

imageThe Liberals went to the election with a few slogans; they would cut the waste, they would then start to build things with this being achieved by “cutting the waste”. This according to yet more sloganeering, would be Real Solutions.

Sparse indeed were questions from our mainstream media such as which waste?  And what are your alternatives? But most especially how are you, the Liberals planning to pay for extreme policies such as $75,000 for millionaire moms? A few dollars saved by sacking a swag load of government employees served as window dressing; populist in the extreme.

A cynic might suggest that if you have few policies to implement, then you don’t need nearly as many people to do the non-existent work.

Goals were to cancel, demolish, defer and ultimately to do very little whatsoever.

However as “waste” seems to be a priority, here is but one example of Abbott’s idea of waste:

The Coalition will also begin unwinding key “nanny state” agencies such as the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, established to lead the national fight against obesity, alcohol abuse and tobacco use.

Comment from “Livsh“:

“That’s not the half of it . . . there are a large number of other pretty bloody essential agencies that are up for the chop.

Including the flaming AIHW . . . this blows my mind, how the HELL are we supposed to improve the health of Australians if we DON’T KNOW WHAT THEIR HEALTH STATUS IS NOW”.

If one discounts Abbott’s Liberals and assorted barrackers in mainstream, once in a rare while there appears a few who are prepared to seriously look at issues – who are prepared to look at policy not politics. As such, Ross Gittins quotes Ian McAuley, an economist at the University of Canberra:

McAuley argues that, after another round of good luck with the resources boom, we need to secure our long-term prosperity by building a more resilient economy.

McAuley suggests:

”Capital in the form of a row of machines or a fleet of trucks is less important than the capital in the form of ideas, skills and education, capacities to communicate and to work with others – human capital, in other words. It is the knowledge worker who is emerging as the capitalist of our day, but we are a long way from recognising this.”

”We pay far too little attention to our human capital. We still see education expenditure as an expense, or even as a welfare entitlement. And we pay even less attention to our environmental, social and institutional capital.”

Ross Gittins adds, “It’s hard to imagine Abbott has any of these in his field of vision”.

To date Tony Abbott’s investment in human capital has consisted of the promised sacking of tens of thousands of public servants, including those who work in close collaboration with enlisted defence personnel, promises of cuts in funding to universities, under the guise of what he perceives to be “futile research”. The latter in spite of Abbott’s previous statement that he “gets it”, that he gets the idea of universities being “an independent community of scholars“.

Tony Abbott: “Well intentioned outsiders should not be trying to micromanage universities . . .”. Yet hypocritically, it will be he, Tony Abbott who decides that which constitutes “wasteful research”. As reported by University World News,

Australia’s new Prime Minister Tony Abbott, elected in a landslide victory in Saturday’s election, has promised to reverse many of the policies implemented by the defeated Labor government over the past six years – including those intended to lessen the impact of climate change.

The National Tertiary Education Union condemned the plan, with president Jeannie Rea describing it as “a direct attack on the academic freedom of researchers working in Australian universities”, a far cry from Abbott’s pre-election promise that “he gets it”.

The answer came to Tony in a mere flash, and that answer was . . . ROADS!

This was in spite of Abbott stating that all projects would be “in close collaboration with Infrastructure Australia”.

We will require all Commonwealth-funded projects worth more than $100 million to undergo a cost-benefit analysis by Infrastructure Australia to ensure the best use of available taxpayer monies.

For Tony, trains are bad:

TONY Abbott has slapped down Denis Napthine, insisting the states will have to fund their own commuter rail infrastructure and leave nation building projects to the commonwealth . . . he rejected Dr Napthine’s claim he had softened his position on funding public transport infrastructure such as the Metro tunnel.

But on the other hand, roads are good:

ROADS are “good for the environment” because cars are able to work efficiently, Tony Abbott has declared while pledging financial support for the Gateway Motorway extension in northern Brisbane.

Roads are not just good, they’re super-splendid:

  • “Better roads means better communities; better roads are good for our economy; they’re good for our society,” he said.
  • “They’re good for our physical and mental health.
  • “They’re even good for the environment because cars that are moving spew out far less pollution than cars that are standing still.”

Roads doubtless also make your whites whiter than white and also act as a preventative for many known causes of tooth decay.

It’s as if Tony Abbott believes that by the Liberals returning to power, this will in itself, solve most of our problems. Build a road, and everything will be fine again. Education, health and indeed our entire human capital are going to rank lowly with this, an Abbott-led government.

At least ‘building a road’ is a policy. Let’s see if he builds it.

Malcolm in a Muddle

Malcolm Turnbull (image from abc.net.au)

Malcolm Turnbull (image from abc.net.au)

By Dan Rowden

Back in 1993 Malcolm Turnbull, a highly successful businessman and politically engaged lawyer, became chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, a position he held until 2000.  During this tumultuous period for the Nation, Turnbull gained a significant public profile and considerable personal support from within the ranks of Republic sympathisers of every political stripe.  It was a neat segue into a political career.

After an abortive attempt at a life in politics in 1981 during which he failed to win pre-selection for the Liberals in the Seat of Wentworth, he made a second attempt in the 2004 election and was successful, beating the sitting Liberal member Peter King for pre-selection.  King subsequently stood as an independent for Wentworth and helped Turnbull to victory on the basis of his preferences.

Despite having famously described John Howard as the man who “broke this nation’s heart” following the defeated Republic Referendum, Turnbull was elevated to the position of Parliamentary Secretary for Water as part of a 2006 Howard Cabinet reshuffle.  He was further promoted to Environment Minister in 2007, during the tenure of which he controversially approved the $1.7 billion Bell Bay Pulp Mill in Tasmania’s north.

After the defeat of the Coalition in the 2007 election, an invigorated and ambitious Turnbull challenged Brendon Nelson for the Liberal Leadership.  Turnbull lost 45 to 42.  In a politically generous but possibly naïve move, Nelson subsequently appointed Turnbull Shadow Treasurer.  Perhaps Nelson was operating under the principle of, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”  Whatever the case, in September 2008 Turnbull was elected Party Leader 45 votes to 41.

From that day large amounts of fecal matter began finding its way into nearby rotary cooling devices.

On November 24 2009, the Liberals discussed the Labor Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Turnbull called on his party to support the scheme.   Much political turmoil ensued and the Australian voters gained an important insight into a strong trend in the Conservative view on Climate Change.  The following day, the Conservative’s intellectual giants, Wilson Tuckey and Dennis Jensen (who along with Sophie Mirabella, Wilson Tuckey, Don Randall and Alby Schultz had boycotted the Parliament on the day of the apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008) forced a spill motion that failed 48 votes to 35.

I offer the following text from a subsequent press conference to demonstrate just how far above his Coalition counterparts Turnbull was in terms of vision and character.

Thursday, November 26, 2009 7:30 pm press conference:

Malcolm Turnbull:
Now I think we all recognise that most Australians expect their political leaders and their political parties to take effective action on climate change. This is about the future of our planet and the future of our children and their children. It is one of the great challenges of our time. Now I know there are many people, including many people who are supporters of my own party, who have doubts about the science and grave reservations about it. I understand that and I respect it. But as Margaret Thatcher said, right back nearly 20 years ago in 1990, this is about risk management. Or as Rupert Murdoch said, we have to give the planet the benefit of the doubt. Matt Franklin smiles, from The Australian. He is very pleased when I quote his boss.

But the fact is we have to take a prudent approach to this. Saying that we are not going to do anything about climate change is irresponsible, and no credible, responsible political party can have a ‘no action on climate change’ policy. It is as simple as that.

Now the Liberal party room meeting here, Coalition party room in fact, meeting here and, of course, the shadow cabinet asked Ian Macfarlane and I to negotiate a package with the Government, to take amendments approved by the party room to improve the Government’s emissions trading scheme. And we did that with the full, the overwhelming authority in fact, of the Coalition party room. And it was a set of amendments that were designed to make the scheme more environmentally effective and to save tens of thousands of jobs.

We achieved enormous concessions from the Government and indeed when they were announced many of you wrote it up as an enormous win for the Coalition. Many of you were surprised that the Government made such big concessions as they did, and those concessions, those improvements will save tens of thousands of jobs and, in addition, make the scheme more environmentally effective. Then the shadow cabinet endorsed that deal, the party room endorsed that deal.

Now this has now become a question not simply of the environmental responsibility of the Liberal Party but of its integrity. We agreed with the Government on this deal. We must retain our credibility of taking action on climate change. We cannot be seen as a party of climate sceptics, of do nothings on climate change. That is absolutely fatal. And we also must be seen as men and women of our word. We entered into a bargain. There was offer and there was acceptance….

Now I know, and I just repeat this, this is a difficult issue for many Liberals, many Australians. But I repeat most people who doubt the science also know that it makes sense to take out insurance, to manage the risk, to give the planet the benefit of the doubt. Now at the moment, as you know, some of my colleagues have found it necessary to resign from ministerial positions so they can cross the floor on the issue. That is their right and I respect it. But I believe we must maintain this course of action. It is the responsible thing to do. It is the honourable thing to do.

Australians expect their political leaders to act responsibly, to take action on climate change, to protect and safeguard the future of our planet, the future of our children. That is the challenge for us now and I am committed to it. We must be a party committed to action on climate change. Anything else is irresponsible.

But those operating from within an alternate political universe were not done trying to break through the dimensional vortex.  Turnbull’s frontbench was revolting, but not as revolting as we subsequently learned them to be.  Just five days later on December 1, 2009, another spill motion saw Turnbull defeated by 42 votes to 41 after a fascinating vote.  Tony Abbott was the new leader of the Liberals, rather ironically achieved with the vote of a chap by the name of Peter Slipper.

After vacillating about his future, Turnbull was re-elected in the seat of Wentworth in 2010 with a significant swing in his favour, proving his personal popularity in the electorate had remained throughout all of the tumult.  He was appointed Shadow Communications Minister.  The erudite and outwardly socially concerned Turnbull continued to behave like a man with political energy and ambition, speaking his mind and solidifying his regard in the electorate.  His personal gravitas remained untouched.

The following indicative quotes are from speeches made in the later part of 2012 in Western Australia and Queensland and other times:

The only reason to be in politics is public service. There’s no other reason. Frankly, if that’s the best job you can get in terms of money, that’s too bad, you know. Because frankly, it’s not well paid, everyone knows that. So for most people it’s a big sacrifice.

It’s not a 24-hour news cycle, it’s a 60-second news cycle now, it’s instantaneous. It has never been easier to get away with telling lies. It has never been easier to get away with the glib one liner.

There is a tendency to try to dumb everything down and turn everything into a one-paragraph press release or even less, just a slogan.

Broadcasters or politicians or writers who think that they are respecting Struggle Street, the battlers, by dumbing things down into one-line sound bites are not respecting them, they are treating them with contempt. Because it is our job, above all in politics, to tackle the big issues, and to explain them and have the honesty to say to people, ‘there are no easy solutions here’. If the answer to global warming was obvious and simple, we’d have it licked by now.

When politicians offer you something for nothing, or something that sounds too good to be true, it’s always worth taking a careful second look.

Climate change is a global problem. The planet is warming because of the growing level of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If this trend continues, truly catastrophic consequences are likely to ensue from rising sea levels, to reduced water availability, to more heat waves and fires.

But who knows, some years from now if there’s a global emissions trading scheme agreement, as many have hoped for, then I’m sure Australia would be part of it.

I do not believe we can effectively move Australia to a lower emission economy, which is what we need to do if we’re going to make a contribution to a global reduction in greenhouse gases, without putting a price on carbon. 2010

Then came 2013. The Turnbull we had known and many had come to “love” seemed to disappear.   The erudite raconteur and outspoken visionary just seemed to vanish.  Instead we saw a man who danced to the Coalition’s Choreography, never putting a foot wrong, never missing a beat.   Apart from a brief appearance in June with Wayne Swan to help launch a series of essays about the Republic – Project Republic: Plans and Arguments For a New Australia – for which both had written Forwards, Turnbull has given the appearance of a man being stage-managed in much the same way as Tony Abbott.  The difference was Turnbull looked and sounded extremely uncomfortable.  One does not have to be a trained psychologist or an expert in body language to have seen a seemingly broken man delivering the Coalition’s Broadband Policy to the electorate.  This was not a man convinced of the veracity and allure of his words.  Since 2012 Turnbull seems to have aged suddenly.  It’s not just that his hair went thoroughly grey; that can happen in a short period of time.  It’s his overall demeanour, his carriage and the manner of his speech.  Perhaps he is simply unwell and hasn’t declared it, but he looks like a broken mustang – bereft of life, energy and spirit – or a dog that’s been beaten into submission by its owner.   I think there’s no doubt whatsoever that at the very least he’s been told by the power brokers in his party to shut the hell up on a number of fronts.

But this leads to some serious and intriguing questions.  Why does he persist?  What does he now stand to gain from a continued presence in this particular Party and Government?  He has been hog-tied in respect to almost everything he went into politics to do.  This particular Coalition Caucus isn’t going to provide him with any sublimation at all with respect to his pet issues:  The Republic and Climate Change.

Is Turnbull simply biding his time, waiting for the political cycle to turn and the current Christian Conservative faction of the Liberal Party to step aside?   I suspect he’ll be waiting an awfully long time for that.  Is he just waiting for Tony Abbott to fail so he can step into the role himself?  That would be naive, given the faction that is currently in control of the Liberal party.  It’s not even close to a fait accompli that they would elect a classic small “l” Liberal as their leader, regardless of his popularity in the electorate.  Witness Abbott himself as proof of that.  Why does Turnbull persist in the face of forces and events that clearly frustrate and embarrass him?  What has he been promised?  Certainly not the leadership, but what?  You would be forgiven for thinking it must be something.  It’s not like he needs the money.  His Government salary would be little more than an annoyance on his Tax Return.  Maybe there’s the traditional envelope with incriminating photographs in Tony Abbott’s top drawer.  But then, these are not British Tories, so perhaps not.

Is it that he just wants to serve the community?  But serve it how?  By helping to peddle policies that he not only knows to be garbage but in some cases directly contrary to what he believes in?  How is that service to the community?  Or, has the unthinkable happened?  Has he been beaten into intellectual and moral submission by the forces that surround and support Tony Abbott?  Has he sipped too much of the Party Tea?  Have we lost Malcolm?

In July 2013, a mere 3 months ago, an Australian Financial Review/Nielsen Poll showed Malcolm Turnbull had increased his lead over Tony Abbott with 62 per cent of voters preferring him as leader compared with 32 per cent for Abbott.   In the same month a ReachTel poll showed the Coalition leading Labor 58 to 42 per cent, on a two-party preferred basis, if Turnbull were leader.  With Abbott as Leader, the figures were 51 to 49 per cent.  The poll also showed Turnbull leading Kevin Rudd as preferred prime minister 65 to 35 per cent.

Turnbull’s popularity with the electorate remains strong, largely untouched by Utegate and other controversies, and possibly even by an ignorance of some of his less desirable political views.  But that popularity amounts to nothing but empty numbers if he cannot and will not do anything about it.  Could it possibly be the case that in the same manner that the current Coalition Cartel set out to destroy their political opposition without, they are willing to destroy their political opposition within?

Joe Hockey Manages to Smear Himself

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Image by heraldsun.com.au

The Courier Mail today ran a story revealing that would-be Treasurer Joe Hockey failed to declare a family interest for most of the duration of his Parliamentary life.

Mr Hockey declared the directorship of Steel Harbour Pty Ltd held by his wife, Melissa Babbage, in May last year among a series of “new positions” under spouse declaration rules. But business records show Ms Babbage was appointed to the role in 1998.  Pecuniary interest register declarations are supposed to be made within a month.

What was even more interesting than the seeming disregard for public accountability, was Mr Hockey’s response to the story …

“As I become aware of my wife’s commercial interests I declare them, as is appropriate,” Mr Hockey said.

No, Sir, that’s not good enough.  Setting aside the question of what it implies about a relationship that one can go over a decade without knowing about one’s spouses’ Directorships,  the rules pertaining to the register of pecuniary interests are such that you have an obligation to ask your wife about them.  But what’s most extraordinary about Mr Hockey’s response was his utter petulance, nay arrogance in declaring the revelation to be a Labor “smear campaign”.

Mr Hockey said: “The Labor Party has previously engaged in this type of muckraking and then been forced to correct such unsubstantiated assertions. It is a desperate action from a desperate government.”

No go, Joe.  I mean, what “smear”?  There’s no indication from you the story is incorrect.  There’s no concession from you – at least none reported that I can find – that you erred significantly.  No apology.  No “oops”.  Just a pathetic attempt to pass the buck to those who are simply pointing out that you have failed in an important area of public accountability.   Is it too much to ask that you acknowledge the failure and offer at least a smidgen of contrition?  It’s not the Labor Party asking this of you, Joe, it’s the Australian public (or at least those that think such things matter).

Earlier this year when Liberal heavyweight Arthur Sinodinos was forced to apologise to the Senate for failing to declare a bunch of Directorships, he at least showed some character.   Can you, Mr Hockey, match that?  Do you share a similar level of concern and regard for the principle of transparency in Government?  It would appear not.

Even if were to come to light that you had expressed some sort of penitence it wouldn’t matter, as trying to make the issue about Labor and “smear campaigns” is a pathetic and cowardly way to attempt to abrogate your personal responsibilities. And you want us to support you as a future Federal Treasurer?

What’s also somewhat tangentially interesting about the Courier Mail’s story, is that despite the fact they were revealing a not insignificant failure on Joe Hockey’s part, they nevertheless saw fit to litter the story with photos clearly intended to show him in a positive way.  Happy snaps of him and his wife, culminating in a fantastically irrelevant-to-the-story family shot of the couple and their children.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my news services, when reporting actual news, to not attempt to emotionally manipulate me, and how else is such a thing to be interpreted?

History. And why our grandchildren should be paying off debt!

Image by usapostweek.com

Image by usapostweek.com

  1. Victoria. Kennett has been elected, and his main platform was that the State was “broke” and that we were in so much debt that our grandchildren would be paying it off.

Slash, burn, cut the public service! INCREASE taxes – not because he wanted to, but because it was necessary. You see, Labor enjoys increasing taxes so we should criticise every single increase or new taxes, but Liberals only do it out NECESSITY. Some argue that Kennett didn’t have to move so quickly. Some find his cuts to services while spending money on improving the dining in Parliament House or bringing “Sunset Boulevard” to Melbourne offensive.

But whether Kennett moved too quickly or cut too deeply, he DID pay off Victoria’s debt. And it doesn’t take several generations. It takes less than the seven years he’s in office.

Of course, the asset sales and the lower interest rates probably helped, but the point is: Whatever was said before he was elected, our great-grandchildren weren’t paying for the debt. Neither, for that matter, were our children.

Although, it could be argued that these ARE the people who paid for the debt. The ones who missed out on educational opportunities. Or the people who died waiting for an ambulance – although it was considered bad form to try to make political capital out of that, unlike these days when the Liberals suggest that Labor have blood on their hands over the Pink Batts. (“Should have been more regulated! Because private industry needs regulation, although once we’re in power we can cut red tape because as with the economy, it’ll all be ok then!”) And of course, the generations who are told that power prices have to go up because the private companies that Kennett sold our assets to haven’t spent money on infrastructure and that the public transport system can’t be improved because the private companies can’t afford to.

Liberals are fond of using household budgets as an analogy, and I suspect that my son would rather be left with a small mortgage on a house that was safe for him to live in than being debt free but homeless. That’s the thing with debt, it’s always relative to assets. The Australian Government – or the taxpayer – may be $300 billion in debt, but servicing that debt is only costing $2 a week for every working Australian (my source is a Murdoch paper!) And as for assets, well the $300 billion is less than a quarter of our Superannuation. Or about equivalent to what the Government spends in a year.

Basically, the debt isn’t that bad. We can pay it back over ten years by just a small increase in tax.

Or we can say it’s out of control. Sack half the public service. Cause a recession. And spend the next ten years blaming Labor for our inability to deliver a surplus. The Kennett option isn’t possible because there’s nothing left to sell. Apart from Medibank Private.

Old, Tired Cynical and Arrogant (Part 2)

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Part 2 of the guest post by Doug Evans.

In Part One of this story I described the disastrously declining membership of both the Liberal and Labor Parties. I discussed the reasons for the disillusionment that is the immediate cause of this decline. In Part Two I will canvass the reasons for the structural change that are driving this loss of members, what these parties have done to counteract this (nothing effective) and the likely corrosive consequences for our democratic processes.

Why have the old parties centralized power and decision making?

Abjorensen’s generic answer is that this is the inevitable result of the increasing professionalization of politics. Professional politics leaves nothing to chance. Such as the possibility of loose cannon candidates causing havoc during election campaigns. This is probably the primary motivation in the Liberal Party. However in respect of the ALP according to Latham, the problem is also strongly grounded in the shrinking influence of the unions within the Australian workforce. In Australia only 18% of workers now belong to a union and as little as 10% of Australian workers belong to unions affiliated with the ALP. As their power in the workplace has waned so the Union leadership has strengthened its power within the ALP. This process has been aided by the long term decline in branch membership which it has in turn strengthened.  

In any organization power flows to the centre whenever a critical mass of grassroots participation is lost. This concentration of influence usually results in self-serving processes and decisions, generating ethical problems and further disillusionment among rank and file members . . . Over time, the preservation of power internally is regarded as a higher priority than satisfying the organizations external goals.

Latham continues:

In effect Labor has split into two organizations, each operating in a different sphere of political activity. Branches go through the motions of monthly meetings and debate, knowing that their resolutions will be ignored by the Party hierarchy. At the Party’s centre, the branches are viewed as an irritation, a mid twentieth century anachronism . . . The union/factional wing of the Party has divorced itself from the rank and file. thus modern Labor is living an institutionalized fallacy. It is two parties in one. Two divisions pulling against one another . . . These two organizations have little in common beyond the name Labor and a romantic attachment to the notion of working class struggle.

What have the old parties done to correct this situation?

As far as I know the nearest thing this century to a review of the Liberal Party ‘s internal procedures and practices is the review of the 2010 election loss conducted by former Howard government minister Peter Reith in 2011. Although primarily an analysis of an election campaign, among the report’s 34 recommendations for action to be undertaken were a number of changes to the Party’s internal procedures aimed at empowering the membership. These included measures aimed at the democratization and standardization of pre-selection procedures and the direct election of the National President by the members on a one member one vote system.

The Labor Party has commissioned two internal reviews of its operating procedures and processes. The most recent, the Bracks Carr Faulkner review of 2010, made 31 publicly available recommendations intended to comprehensively address the Party’s internal malaise and decreasing relevance to the community. The parallels with the restructuring recommendations of the Reith Review of 2011 are striking but more striking is the fate of the Bracks, Carr Faulkner Review. In 2013 Crikey’s Ben Westcott asked what happened to the report and its recommendations?

Two years on from a comprehensive review to overhaul the Labor party, the party has squibbed on most of the significant reforms proposed. The report, written by Labor identities Steve Bracks, John Faulkner and Bob Carr in 2011, is gathering dust on a shelf. And the federal Labor government is at a catastrophic low in the polls as it appears to be on course for an electoral wipeout.

The 2011 ALP National Conference rejected in whole or in part, (most) of the thirty one (publicly released) Faulkner, Bracks, Carr recommendations to increase the role, influence and say of the membership in Party affairs. These recommendations if adopted would have restrained some of the power of those currently in control of the Party. Eighteen of the recommendations were either completely rejected  (8) or adopted in weakened form (10). The unrepresentative union power brokers are still firmly in control of the ALP. Elected politicians are beholden to the power brokers in the Party and threaten their own pre-selection if they fail to toe the line set by their factional allies. Attempts at reform are sputtering out and Party membership will presumably continue to decline. It is impossible to reach any conclusion other than that the Labor Party is broken and unable to repair itself.

What does it mean to the 99% of Australians who are not members of the old parties that they find themselves in this situation – who cares?

Probably very few people do care (yet) but we all should. It already impacts on all of us and the impacts may become far more severe in future. The decline in the membership of the ‘old’ parties has a number of consequences that effect us directly. It means that they have increasing difficulty finding the numbers needed to carry out the traditional voluntary tasks allocated to party members. Staffing polling stations, organizing community events, participating in pre-selections, door-knocking and letter-boxing on behalf of candidates etc etc. This can be overcome through increased reliance on focus groups, direct mailing, phone polling and the use of radio, television and on-line vehicles to both elicit the information they require to target their actions and to communicate their messages. Where people are required, they can be employed. Put simply this means getting hold of more money from somewhere to run the political process. And what better source of money than the Australian taxpayer? If Tony Abbott hadn’t been so severely embarrassed by his colleagues and public outrage over the Gillard government’s proposed political donations legislation that he reversed his Party’s previous support for the proposal it may by now have become law. This bill substantially watered down the disclosure rules on political donations and handed all parties (the Greens included) a share of an extra $50 million+ a year as an ‘administrative allowance’ to ‘administer and monitor compliance’ with the legislation. Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor sounded a clear warning that the attempt to pass this bill bodes ill for the future of our democratic processes. Windsor said:

If people out there have some concern about their democracy – and I think they should start to get a little bit concerned about this particular issue, because all this is doing is locking in the two giants, the two major parties, so that they have this massive advantage over anybody else who wants to enter the playing field. That’s what it’s about.

They’re quite comfortable having both sides of the tennis court occasionally but they don’t want other players in the pack. So that’s what this is all about.

It can be argued that this little attempt to grant themselves a bigger share of the taxpayer pie to run their own businesses is part of a larger trend. Blatant political advertising by sitting governments outside the context of an election is becoming rampant at both State and Federal level.

They’re spending our money to tell us how good they are!

Not only does the falling membership of the ‘old’ parties already cost us substantial sums of money but another inevitable outcome of  the unrepresentative and at times corrupt practices that are used to select parliamentary candidates is a widening gap between community needs and expectations and the initiatives and actions of MPs whose first allegiance is to the party and its financial backers and the unrepresentative ‘players’ who underpin their continued pre-selection as an MP.

Recently in Independent Australia Sandi Keane posted a thought provoking two part piece on the ‘cartelisation’  (very ugly word that) of Australia’s political system. This concept was new to me  but I have since discovered that the cartelisation of Australia’s old political parties (or its symptoms) is much discussed in scholarly circles and even in the mainstream media. Where have I been! Keane’s  articles are an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the implications of this for the future of our democracy.

A cartel is defined as:

  1. An association of manufacturers or suppliers that maintains prices at a high level and restricts competition.
  2. A coalition or cooperative arrangement between political parties to promote a mutual interest.

Keane explains:

A “cartel party” is a party that deals itself resources of the state to maintain its powerful position within the political system. The emergence of the cartel party in Western Europe was first identified … in the 1990s. Like commercial cartels, major political parties colluded by employing the resources of the state to ensure their own collective survival. Election campaigns were:

‘…capital-intensive, professionalized and centralized, and are organized on the basis of a strong reliance on the state for financial subventions and for other benefits and privileges.’

Sound familiar?
The transition of the two major (Australian) parties from mass membership models to cartels for the elite has disenfranchised party members from the political process. The steady disengagement from their membership base has seen valuable ideas crucial to problem-solving and policy-making forfeited.

I think Keane understates the case. Not only has the progressive and ongoing stifling of the people’s voice (in this case party rank and file members) caused ‘valuable ideas crucial to problem saving and policy making’ to be lost but it has disproportionately strengthened the voice of that ‘other constituency’, those who bankroll elections and seek to influence political decision making in return for their financial support. Depending on which party we are talking about this is  either the industry and business lobbyists, the rural producers’ lobby groups or the unions. So if you are wondering whose interests have to be secured and where possible enhanced as policy is formed and legislation passed you might like to look at who funded the old parties in 2011 – 2012, how donations from the mining sector are currently flowing and how the party coffers are filling in advance of the September 14 election in 2013.

In the business world Australia’s legislators have placed strong controls on cartel activity. An Information guideline from the  Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ACCC states:

While cartel activity has been illegal for more than 30 years in Australia there is now, for the first time, the additional sanction of criminal conviction for cartel conduct. The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (the Act) provides major additions to cartel detection capacity, including search warrants and telephone interception. The criminal provisions provide a powerful deterrent to those who might be tempted to collude with competitors.

Unfortunately for Australians with few exceptions our Parliamentarians have not shown the same willingness to regulate the probity of their own behavior. When Tony Windsor complains about the collusion between Labor and Liberal evident in the failed Gillard government political donations legislation in terms of its potential to strengthen the power of both these old parties he is complaining about typical cartel behavior. When these parties conspire to remove minor parties they would rather not have in the Federal Lower House by swapping preferences they are engaging (although in this instance the structure of our parliamentary system clearly permit it) in typical cartel behavior to limit consumer choice. When governments grant themselves vast sums of public money to engage in political advertising, as they increasingly regularly do – they are engaging in typical cartel behavior. If these parties were businesses their principals would be behind bars.

So quietly, behind closed doors, at meetings, conferences and working dinners away from public scrutiny, our democratic processes are incrementally re-shaped to suit the interests of these old parties and their unelected financial backers from industry and the increasingly unrepresentative union movement. Aided and abetted by the distortions of an over-concentrated, lazy, often deliberately deceptive and disgracefully partisan main stream media the old parties and their backers quietly chip away at the foundations of our democracy. Because it happens one modest step at a time almost no-one notices. Does anyone care?

 

Old, Tired, Cynical and Arrogant (Part 1)

Guest post by Doug Evans 

This is a tale of two political parties: the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party of Australia. The ALP was founded in the 1890s and the Liberal Party in 1945 so as political parties go they are old and as often happens in old age they have arguably grown tired, cynical and arrogant. These two old parties have dominated Australia’s political landscape since the middle of last century.

There is a third old party, the Nationals (founded in 1913), the permanent minor coalition partner of the Liberals. And a young party, The Greens. They are not central to this story. For better or worse around 85% of Australian voters vote for either the ALP or the Liberals. It is these two old parties who have shaped the Australia we live in today and whether we like it or not, whether we care or not, these parties between them are now shaping the Australia of tomorrow. This story is not about the probable imminent destruction of the Gillard Labor government. It is not about the disgraceful role played by a financially challenged, over-concentrated mainstream media in the shaping of Australian choices at the ballot box. Important as these stories are in their own right they have been endlessly discussed elsewhere.

This is a story of the forces reshaping these two old parties and their profound implications for the future of our democracy. It starts with the rapid decline both in membership and perceived social relevance of both the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party of Australia. Much has been written about the internal problems of the ALP and according to Margot Saville at Crikey more buckets of ink are about to be spilled between now and the end of the year on the question of ‘What is wrong with Labor?’  We all know that Labor’s membership base is collapsing but little is written about the corresponding decline in Liberal Party membership. Political junkies know that the decline in Labor’s membership is due to the marginalization of rank and file members and blatantly undemocratic internal processes but are less aware that the same applies to the Liberals.

Report number four for the Democratic Audit of Australia conducted by the Political Science Program of the Australian National University summed up  the situation succinctly for both these ‘old’ parties:

The picture with regard to internal democracy is a bleak one. Low party membership probably means even lower levels of active participation. And ordinary party members may have little opportunity to engage in debate that would conform to deliberative principles, that is, principles concerned with the quality of debate. Pre-selection is a key party activity and work by (former Labor minister) Gary Johns suggests that the major parties don’t meet even basic principles of fairness in the way they conduct these processes.

Further cause for concern arises out of the extent to which parties rely on large private donations. Public funding only exists in some jurisdictions and, even when it is available, parties continue to attract high levels of private funds. There is much debate about the need for increased financial accountability and about the effectiveness of rules for disclosure, particularly given that these rules vary considerably across the country.
(Jaensch, Brent and Bowden, ‘Australian Political Parties in the spotlight’, ANU, 2004)

Little has changed for the better in the subsequent decade. This post is part one of an examination of the consequences for our democracy of these changes and the growing gap between them and the electorate. So I’m going to write about this. The story needs to start with some facts.

Who belongs to the old political parties?

The short answer is old people. Writing for Inside Story Norman Abjorensen states that the median age of Victorian Liberal members in 2008 was 62 (presumably higher in 2013) against the median age of Victorians of 43. There is no reason to believe that the membership of their coalition partner the Nationals is more youthful. According to Latham, 55% of Labor’s national membership is in the ‘concessional’ membership category, largely retirees. Given the strong influence of the Union movement over the ALP you might expect that a high percentage of Labor members would be members of trade unions. You would be wrong. Latham shows that roughly 5800 unionists Australia wide belong to the ALP. About 16% of the membership. This is less than 0.5% of the membership of ALP affiliated unions, hardly a resounding vote of confidence in the continued relevance of the ALP by the members of the Unions whose dues bankroll the Party.

How many people belong to the old political parties?

LIKE MOST other western liberal democracies, Australia has experienced a steady decline in membership of political parties, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics putting total party membership at just 1.3 per cent of the adult population in 2006 – the same percentage as in Britain, where there is growing concern about dramatic falls in member numbers, and much lower than many European countries. – See more at The parties democratic deficit. So in 2013 about one in every hundred Australians belongs to a party. There has been some discussion of the decline in ALP membership lately. Mark Latham’s Quarterly Essay ‘Not Dead Yet’ charts a membership collapse “from 150,000 members nationally in the 1930s to 50,000 in the 1990s to just 11,665 members who voted in the ballot for the ALP national presidency in 2011.” Latham probably overstate the scale of the decline as Wikipedia gives a membership figure of around 35,000 nationally. The 2010 Bracks, Carr, Faulkner Review of the Party put the number at 36,000 and after Prime Minister Gillard called for a membership drive numbers are thought to have risen to as much as 44,000 in 2012. Whether this is a temporary halt in the decline or something more permanent this is still well below a membership of 50,000 twenty years ago. Hardly cheering. It also raises the question of why, if the total membership was 35,000 people only one in three members would bother to vote in a ballot for the national president in 2011?Estimates of the membership of the Liberal Party tell a similar story. One source gives a national membership of 78,000 for the Liberals and a surprising figure (to me at least) of 100,000 for the Nationals.  cites a State membership figure of 13,000 from a 2008 internal party review of the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party, down from a peak of 46,000 in 1950 when the population was far smaller. Whether such a figure in Australia’s second most populous state is consistent with an national figure of 78,000 seems questionable.To place these membership numbers in context if we accept that the current ALP membership is 44,000 and the current Liberal Party membership is 78,000 Labor has about the same membership as the Adelaide Crows AFL club and the Liberals just exceed the somewhat more successful Collingwood Football Club.Australia’s population is roughly 22,300,000. A total of 719,582 Australians are members of an AFL Club.The ALP has 44,000 members and the Liberal Party has 78,000 members. My computer’s calculator tells me that this means:

One in every 31 Australians belongs to an AFL club.
One in every 506 Australians belongs to the ALP.
One in every 286 Australians belongs to the Liberal Party.

Australians are more than nine times more likely to belong to an AFL club than to the Liberal Party and about seventeen times more likely to belong to an AFL club than to the ALP. Now perhaps this is not a fair comparison. Membership of an AFL club promises pleasure and the sense of belonging and requires nothing in return. Membership of a political party which offers nothing to ordinary rank and file members unless they become part of the Party elite and requires some contribution of time and effort is unattractive to busy Australians balancing the pressures on time and money of daily life.

Why is membership of the ‘old’ political parties declining?

The reasons for this can be quite specific. For example Abjorensen cites the example of the Queensland Branch of the former National Party.

The former National Party in Queensland, now merged with the state Liberal Party, suffered a massive exodus soon after John Howard was elected leader of the federal Liberal–National coalition in 1996. An internal report, never made public, identifies a single reason for the abrupt slump – Howard’s clampdown on guns in the wake of the Port Arthur killings in Tasmania. The party went to considerable lengths to keep this quiet for the sake of Coalition unity, but the Queensland Nationals were fatally wounded and have never recovered their previous clout. Many of the disgruntled ex-Nats found their way into One Nation, where they caused mischief for their old party. – See more at The parties democratic deficit.

The former National Party in Queensland, now merged with the state Liberal Party, suffered a massive exodus soon after John Howard was elected leader of the federal Liberal–National coalition in 1996. An internal report, never made public, identifies a single reason for the abrupt slump – Howard’s clampdown on guns in the wake of the Port Arthur killings in Tasmania. The party went to considerable lengths to keep this quiet for the sake of Coalition unity, but the Queensland Nationals were fatally wounded and have never recovered their previous clout. Many of the disgruntled ex-Nats found their way into One Nation, where they caused mischief for their old party.

The former National Party in Queensland, now merged with the state Liberal Party, suffered a massive exodus soon after John Howard was elected leader of the federal Liberal–National coalition in 1996. An internal report, never made public, identifies a single reason for the abrupt slump – Howard’s clampdown on guns in the wake of the Port Arthur killings in Tasmania. The party went to considerable lengths to keep this quiet for the sake of Coalition unity, but the Queensland Nationals were fatally wounded and have never recovered their previous clout. Many of the disgruntled ex-Nats found their way into One Nation, where they caused mischief for their old party. – See more at The parties democratic deficit.

But in the case of both the Labor and Liberal Parties the decline of membership is a function of the increasing centralization of decision making in both Labor and Liberal parties. This process has increasingly marginalized the rank and file members. Abjorensen again:

There is a body of largely anecdotal evidence that suggests rank and file members of both main political parties find they have very little input into the parties’ processes, namely policy and pre-selections. Indeed, the more these are centralised, the less relevant local branches and their members become.

In respect of the ALP Latham comments that:

Compared to other community organizations the return on ALP membership is minimal. Active Branch life has been reduced to a hard core of the ageing party faithful. plus members of parliament and their staff and others hustling for elected office.  … Branches go through the motions of monthly meetings and debate, knowing that their resolutions will be ignored by the Party hierarchy. 

The ‘Party hierarchy’ is driven by two overlapping substructures of the affiliated unions and the factions. According to Jaensch et al:

In the Labor Party the factions and the unions are parallel, if not unified sub-structures. The factions have their organisational and numerical bases in the unions, and the unions spearhead the faction leaderships and decision-making. … the 2002 Rules Conference decision to set 50:50 as the national union to member vote will have no effect on faction (or union) domination. 

The hold of the factions and unions on ‘their’ candidates does not relax after their election. Appearing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Lateline program on 24 June 2002, former South Australian ALP Senator, Chris Schacht commented:

I want to have an open mind in debate within the party and hear the debate before I make up my mind about how I should vote on party policy—not to be directed by what a factional leader says you must vote and if you don’t follow it, you might lose your pre-selection.

With regards pre-selection of candidates for the Liberal Party; when John Howard was Prime minister no Liberal Party pre-selection took place without close Prime Ministerial scrutiny. A tick from the Party Leader and the patronage of powerful party figures to whom there are direct personal and professional links were both necessary for successful pre-selection as a candidate for the Liberal Party. Local members who too strongly disagree(d) with the consensus of the powerful risk(ed) their displeasure and the possibility of negative consequences. The importance of powerful patrons is well illustrated by the rise to Parliament of Liberal Party rising stars Josh Frydenberg and Kelly O’Dwyer.

In a 2009 piece for Crikey Andrew Crook wrote:

…the grassroots doily conventions have been steadily eroded in favour of hand-picked or factionally-“flagged” candidates. In most states, hopefuls will have already jumped through numerous social hoops and fronted “pre-pre-selection” selection committees designed to weed out the rabble. Just like Labor’s preference for industrial officers and backroom numbers men, the idea of a Thatcher-loving shopkeeper rising through the Liberal ranks has been eclipsed by blue-chip blue bloods like Kelly O’Dwyer in Higgins and Peter Dutton in Dickson/McPherson.

In the Labor Party the situation is no better. Andrew Crook in this Crikey piece paints an equally depressing picture of the process for pre-selecting candidates within the ALP.

For the most part, internal democracy is a charade, and there is generally no legal requirement for “private” party structures to open up their processes. … The disjuncture with the electorate is startling. In Victoria, outcomes are determined by numbers that represent around 0.1% of the ALP primary vote in any given lower house seat.

Discussing the ALP Abjorensen says:

The rapidly declining relevance of its shrinking membership and the capture of its factions – and with them the party machinery – have seen Labor become little more than the plaything of unrepresentative cliques. Poor-quality candidate selection and scant attention to policy are the inevitable outcomes, not to mention the corrosive effect of even greater public cynicism and further disengagement.

This position is supported by a profile of the Seat of Batman, site of a controversial pre-selection battle, which reveals the arcane tribal nature of ALP structure.

The 2010 Review of the ALP internal processes and structure conducted by respected ALP elders Steve Bracks, Bob Carr and John Faulkner Faulkner supports this view of the party. Its assessment of the disillusionment of the rank and file members was that it is deep and widespread.

The following are verbatim extracts from face-to-face consultations and submissions made by members to the Review process. They are a sample of what members and supporters believe is wrong, and what needs to change, in our Party. The Review Committee was struck with the consistency and strength of the views put to it.

“As a party member for nearly 39 years it seems that branches are now treated as irrelevant by head office — only good for handing out on election days.” — Member, Sydney

“A branch member no longer has any power and hasn’t for a long time.” — Member, Melbourne

“Many branches feel very frustrated and ignored these days.” — Member, Adelaide

“At the moment, the party branches are dying, because the rank and file are given no voice in the Party. The members and branches no longer have any say in preselections or in policy. Unless this trend can be reversed, we will become a party that exists just to provide a path for ex-trade union leaders and ex-staffers of politicians to enter parliament.” — Member, NSW

“The [issue is the] rise of the central Party apparatus and the decline of the branches. If the resolutions of branches are ignored, if the rules of the Party are ignored, if pre-selections are determined by head office and not the relevant electoral councils, if we remove democracy as the beating heart of our Party why would people join a branch, why would people get involved in our Party, why would people vote for us?” — Member, NSW

“The demand that branches be respected meant that a branch’s local knowledge and concerns should be taken seriously. There was a sense that the party leadership did not take seriously or wish to involve itself with a branch’s participation in issues and policies that profoundly affected its members and its local community. Branches, it was argued, could be at the forefront of pivotal community battles.” — Branch submission

“The grassroots organisation of the ALP used to be something that we left the Liberals for dead in.” — Member, Cairns

“Members have given up. They feel that their only function is to turn up on polling day and spend a day in the sun handing out how-to-vote cards. Members want to be involved at a local level at a bare minimum.” — Member, Queensland.

In the case of the ALP at least the disillusionment of the rank and file members is surely also driven by the ongoing series of scandals and corruption that have dogged the party for decades and continue despite attempts at ‘root and branch reform’.

Thus the disillusioned membership of both these old parties is not only shrinking but it is also aging rapidly. In Part Two I will argue that despite awareness of the process its causes and consequences neither party has acted to halt or even slow this rate of decline and I will outline the profoundly disturbing implications of declining membership of these two parties for all Australians.

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