NDIS launch obscured by political noise

When you’re a political blogger, you never know what you’re going to get (unless it’s an attempted censure motion by the Opposition in Question Time, of course). There are good days – some juicy bit of policy to pick apart, strategy to analyse, election campaigns to follow. There are frustrating days – when all you have to work with is the same old message. And there are dead days.

But on some days, it just doesn’t do to get out of bed.

Today is one of those days.

It might surprise you to know that Gillard launched the National Disability Insurance Scheme today, committing $8 billion and commencing building for the initial sites a year ahead of the Productivity Commission. The NDIS was supposedly bipartisan, yet now the Coalition is backing away from it, describing it in ‘aspirational’ terms and trying to point the finger at the government as somehow being at fault for going ahead with it.

Substantial policy stuff, the NDIS is the kind of program that has been needed for decades, and hundreds of people have worked tirelessly to lobby successive governments on the matter. For this to finally be happening – funds committed, legislation passed – is a real victory for disabled people, their relatives and their carers.

And if you want to find out about it, you have to wait until the bottom of the half hour on the news channels – because, apparently, there are much more important things to discuss. Because, apparently, political scandal, hypocrisy and the demonstrated contempt of our politicians for both the political process and their representatives rates higher in media priorities than letting vulnerable sectors of society know they will be able to access help they desperately need.

First, there’s the ongoing Craig Thomson saga. The embattled Member for Dobell remains firmly in the Opposition’s sights, despite never having a single charge levelled against him, either civil or criminal. There’s been a Fair Work Australia investigation into the Health Services Union, with which Thomson was involved before entering Parliament. Nothing has come of it to date. FWA found it was probable that the union criminally misused member funds. The Australian Federal Police called for a proper brief. To date, they have not received one.

Nonetheless, the Opposition were relentless. Thomson should resign! Thomson is tainted! The PM is clinging to power through a corrupt vote! This government is illegitimate! Et cetera.

Either Abbott employs a team of super-psychics, who can discover dirt that no one else in the country can find, or this is simply the same grandiose political manoeuvring that’s led him to call for an election on almost a daily basis since the Coalition’s loss in 2010. Either way, he kept at it, and finally got a victory.

The government was firmly behind Thomson and firmly on message. He’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. There are no grounds to remove him. We support him. Which is exactly what they should have done. But then yesterday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Thomson had been expelled from Labor Caucus, and would move to the cross-benches.

To make matters worse, she went on to say that Speaker Peter Slipper, who stood aside when allegations of fraud were made against him by a former staffer, would continue to be out of the Speaker’s chair until civil proceedings from that same staffer were resolved. It was another about-face; right up until the day before the government staunchly defended Slipper’s right to return to the Speaker’s chair if he was not facing criminal charges, while the Opposition called for him at least to stay out of the job until the civil matter was resolved, and preferably resign altogether.

In both cases, she justified the action as stemming from a public perception of a shadow over the Parliament. In other words, it looked bad to keep supporting them.

It’s a big call, but this is very probably the weakest thing Gillard’s done since becoming Prime Minister. She allowed herself to be stampeded by an Opposition led by someone Independent MP Tony Windsor describes as ‘a rabid dog’, and did exactly what he’d been demanding.

Maybe she thought this would defuse the issue. With Thomson out of the Caucus, maybe Abbott would have no talking points. If so, it was a shocking misjudgment. Having gained ground on the Thomson issue, Abbott immediately upped the stakes. It’s not good enough to have Thomson out of the caucus, he argued. His vote shouldn’t be counted at all – it was ‘tainted’, and Gillard would rely on that corrupt vote, rendering the entire government illegitimate. The only way out of this situation was – you guessed it – an election. ‘There is nothing wrong with our country that a change of government can’t fix,’ he said today at yet another media conference on the evils of the carbon price and the mining tax.

Of course, he’s not going to attempt a no confidence motion, because he knows he won’t win. Thomson would vote with the government, as would Bandt. Wilkie’s a question mark, but self-interest alone may lead him to support the government (given the Coalition’s oft-repeated dedication to tearing him out of his seat at the next election). The crucial votes, then, are those of Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott – and neither of them support Abbott’s policies. The likely result, then, is a tie, which would be resolved in the negative by Acting Speaker Anna Burke, Labor MP for Chisholm.

But Abbott doesn’t need to bring a no confidence motion. He just needs to keep grabbing the media spotlight, and hammering home his message. Gillard’s backdown on Thomson and Slipper is the best thing to happen to him, and he will capitalise on that every moment he can, while continually pushing for more capitulation. At the same time, he can sideswipe Windsor and Oakeshott by implying in the national media that they’re not listening to their constituencies, who want the minority government gone. And of course, he doesn’t have to provide any evidence – with much of the media slavishly repeating his assertions as fact, and Gillard giving them legitimacy by backing down.

And let’s no forget these standards Abbott sets for the government don’t apply to the Opposition in his eyes. Oh, no. Just take a look, and you decide how far the hypocrisy goes.

Coalition front-bencher Sophie Mirabella is entangled in civil action at the moment connected with a probate case – but Abbott won’t ask her to step aside until it’s resolved.

Senator Mary Jo Fisher was the subject of criminal proceedings, and stepped aside from her Senate Committee position while they were underway – but continued to be paid for that role, and was never called upon to resign altogether.

The Coalition was happy to accept Peter Slipper’s vote when allegations were made against him in 2003, arguing that there were no charges against him – yet now says the government must not do the same with Thomson.

On the subject of poaching Parliamentarians for political advantage – in 1996, Labor Senator Mal Colston left the ALP at the urging of the Coalition, who installed him (as a nominal Independent) as Deputy President of the Senate. A year later he was charged with defrauding the Commonwealth – yet continued to serve in the Senate right through the investigation period.

And finally, Abbott’s declaration today that ‘I don’t do deals’, when asked why he didn’t approach Windsor and Oakeshott directly to gain their support for a no confidence motion – despite offering a swag of money (including no less than $1 billion for the Royal Hobart Hospital) to Andrew Wilkie for his vote to form government in 2010.

And knowing all this, Gillard still backed down. It’s a monumental blunder, and Abbott is far too wily a political animal not to seize on that weakness. Any way you look at it, you can file this under ‘FUBAR’.

At least we have a little absurdity to relieve the seemingly unending round of blunder, bluster, hypocrisy and posturing. Strangely, that comes in the form of mining magnate Clive Palmer.

We’ve seen a lot of Palmer lately. He’s become a bit of a poster child for opposition to the mining tax and carbon price packages – and, apparently makes good television. He secured a guernsey on QandA to regale us all with his considered opinions on how the Greens were running the government and exporting all our jobs to China. He got the media running to Canberra for his announcement that the Greens were, in fact, funded by the CIA – then, when confronted by the ridiculousness of his own claim, grinned and claimed he’d done it deliberately to pull focus away from a government announcement.

This is the man who wants to build Titanic II (thought apparently without the help of James Cameron); who thinks cutting off government subsidies to millionaires will jeopardise their children’s future (perhaps they’ll only have three cars and two homes); and who avowedly ‘loves to litigate’. He’s a long-time contributor to the Queensland Liberal National Party, a vocal opponent of anything that smacks of environmental responsibility and a staunch defender of the right to cut benefits to poor people while maintaining upper class welfare.

And now he wants to go into politics. Specifically, he wants to run against Treasurer Wayne Swan in the seat of Lilley at the next federal election. He announced he would seek LNP pre-selection today against a backdrop emblazoned with the motto ‘Swan’s Song’ – not the clearest of messages, mind you. Palmer put his metaphorical hand on his heart and pledged to work to ‘grow the nation’s prosperity and lift standards in Parliament’. Of course, he doesn’t see why he should give up his business while he’s actually in Parliament. It’s ‘only a small family company’, after all.

Yeah, you read that right.

Uh, Mr Palmer? Have you ever heard of a little thing called ‘conflict of interest’? It’s when your private interests and investments clash directly with your duty as a Parliamentarian. You’re proposing to sit in Parliament as a member of a government that is pledged to repeal taxes and schemes that you’ve shouted far and wide will significantly disadvantage you – and yet you think you can continue to run your mining company at the same time?

(Mind you, this isn’t the first time Palmer’s taken a run at federal politics. As far back as 1984, he stood for pre-selection in the LNP and was soundly defeated.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that he was beaten by Peter Slipper.)

Seriously, Mr Palmer, get a political strategist to go with that media advisor you so desperately need. Even Abbott isn’t comfortable with this – he repeatedly refused to endorse you today. Take a hint.

Even before the sun’s set, this is the kind of day in politics we’ve got. And this is what’s taking up all the air in the media. ABCNews24 just announced their afternoon current affairs program would focus on Thomson and Palmer. Not a whiff about the NDIS. Really, it’s enough to make anyone interested in actually examining policy weep.

Like I said, some days it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.

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4 Responses to NDIS launch obscured by political noise

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  3. jane says:

    There’s rumours flying around that Ashby was paid $50,000 to lodge his allegations against Slipper in Federal Court. If I were the government I’d be ferretting around as hard as I could.

    If it’s true, it could be another enormous own goal by an over confident opposition.

    At first I thought sending Thomson to the backbenches was a mistake, but perhaps it was at his request. He’s been under unrelenting pressure for the last year or so and maybe he just wants a break.

    And as an Independent, Thomson won’t be the government’s problem and Liealot won’t be able to attack him in the House, or refer to him as the member for the HSU.

    And despite Liealot’s best efforts to dump the Constitution, Thomson will still vote for the government.

    Ditto Slipper. Once he steps aside for the deputy Speaker, he’ll have a vote which will make Liealot’s job that bit harder.

    The more I think about it, the more I think Gillard has pulled another stroke and has left the commentariat and the Liars in her dust.

  4. tqft says:

    Also today the Convergence Review, I expect a lot more wailing and gnashing of teeth over that by large sections of the media than any profound analysis of the NDIS.

    Maybe Clive can buy a TV station and newspaper to tell us all what to think and then everything will be OK.
    “The Review recommends that a public interest test apply to changes in control of content service enterprises of national significance. The public interest test would be administered by a new communications regulator, which is described below.”

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