Election 2013: A tale told by an idiot

June 10, 2013

It’s time. Time for the media to bring out tired old speculation about the Labor leadership; time for obsessive focus on a single, arguably self-interested poll that indicates an ever-greater victory for the Federal Coalition; time for backbench politicians in marginal seats to become the hottest headlines in political reporting.

Yes, it’s time.

And if you spotted the mangling of an old election slogan here … well, that’s rather the point. The September 14 election looms ever closer. The Coalition helpfully told us last week that we’d passed the hundred-day mark – though why it would bother is a bit of a puzzler. After all, the Coalition hasn’t stopped campaigning since the result of the 2010 election. Notwithstanding, the official election campaign is about to begin, and all parties are getting ready in their own way.

The government is at pains to point out how much legislation has been passed under Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s leadership. Led by carbon pricing, the mining tax, the National Broadband Network, increasing the compulsory superannuation contribution from 9% to 12%, education reform, and the NDIS, the government have passed over 300 pieces of legislation. ‘Obviously’, this points to a stable, functioning government.

Then there are those polling numbers, that so rarely seem to go the government’s way. Gillard seems unable to take a trick, especially when it comes to the Newspoll. ‘Surely’ this indicates the people don’t want another Labor government.

And let’s not forget the Greens and Independents. Without them, the government could not have passed so many bills. They ensured a full term of Parliament, and helped institute Parliamentary reforms that gave a greater voice to cross-benchers. Their influence is ‘out of proportion’.

But you know what? None of that matters.

The amount of legislation passed by the government is irrelevant.

The polling numbers are irrelevant.

The stability of the Parliament is irrelevant.

Oh, and that little thing called policy? Irrelevant.

Why?

Because this election will be about nothing more than ideology.

The facts don’t matter, you see.

It doesn’t matter whether the Federal Coalition refuses to delineate its policies, or to have what little detail it releases costed through Treasury. It doesn’t matter that the two major parties are effectively in lockstep on asylum seeker policy, pursuing an increasingly inhumane agenda. And it certainly doesn’t matter that the Prime Minister has managed to administrate a minority government in an effective, consultative way.

What will matter in this campaign is nothing more than a narrative created by the Federal Coalition. The story it wants to tell is one of desperation; of a weak Prime Minister manipulated by factional ‘warlords’, a government at the mercy of an ‘extreme’ left-wing minor party, and a country at the mercy of crippling taxes levied upon a populace that simply cannot afford to pay for the government’s ineptitude. Add to that a hefty whack of xenophobia (‘the boats, the boats!’) and the hackneyed ‘Rudd wants his job back’ motif, and there you have it.

The Coalition’s description of itself is, of course, far more optimistic. Its narrative boils down to, ‘Under us, you’ll have more money and sleep safely in your beds at night’. It’s all sleight of hand, of course; you’re expected to believe that somehow the Coalition – the so-called ‘party of the free market’ – can force power companies to drop their prices, simply by removing the carbon price. You’re also supposed to believe that refugee boats will stop coming – or, if they do come, that there’ll be no ‘convicted Egyptian jihadist terrorists’ roaming free to (presumably) threaten Our Way Of Life. Never mind the increasing evidence that said ‘terrorist’ may well be nothing of the kind. It’s all about how many times you say something – not whether it’s true.

Labor’s story isn’t much better. It got spooked by the Coalition’s unrelenting insistence on knowing when the Budget would be in surplus – at a time when the majority of the Western world was struggling with deficits of, in some cases, trillions of dollars. It made the critical mistake of promising big, then having to walk back expectations. That’s a gift to the Coalition. The polls are terrible, but rather than eat any form of humble pie and promise to listen to the electorate, Labor’s strategy is to say, ‘It wasn’t our fault’. And out comes the increasingly tattered spectre of WorkChoices and the threat of razor gangs rampaging through the halls of the public service. Labor’s trying to recapture its old image of ‘the workers’ champion’ – whether or not its deeds match its words.

The minor parties, of course, criticise everybody. The Greens and the Katter United Party make for odd bedfellows, but when it comes to ideology, you can’t beat them. Both are light on policy, heavy on rhetoric. So far, that’s working – and perhaps Labor, in particular, should have looked at the election results and seen that.

The voices crying in the wilderness are the Independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. They’re Parliament’s equivalent of the strange uncles that one has to invite to the family reunion, but no one wants to get trapped in a corner listening to them. A pity, that, since they’re the only ones talking policy and making sense. They’re not interested in narratives; they want to hear some policy detail. How quaint.

Duelling narratives. It would be funny if it wasn’t so frustrating.

And the media are enthusiastically complicit. Here’s a sample, just from recent news.

Dennis Atkins is particularly good at this game. ‘Labor sent packing by nearing gallows poll‘! ‘Federal Labor a dead government walking as September election approaches‘!

The Sydney Morning Herald zeroed in on the Labor leadership. Tony Wright opined that Labor MPs are under a self-imposed vow of silence. That article was helpfully accompanied by a poll asking readers who they’d like to see as leader. Jacqueline Maley urged the ‘Ice Queen’ to thaw. That article featured the following astonishing description of Federal Labor:

‘Some are traumatised and attacking each other, some are so depressed they’re literally packing up in anticipation of their ruination at the polls, and some have just gone bonkers.’

Bonkers. There’s some hard-hitting analysis right there.

It goes on. Latika Bourke, on ABCNews24’s Breakfast News, spoke solemnly of a ‘mood of despair and despondency’ in Labor, this morning. And last week Chris Uhlmann threw around phrases like ‘death rattle’ and ‘the September poll feels more like a coronation’. Mind you, that article did, at least, point out that Education Shadow Christopher Pyne was telling porkies about the Prime Minister – although Uhlmann didn’t quite go as far as to call Pyne a liar. He said, carefully, that Pyne ‘really needs to get better Labor sources’.

So there you have it. No substantive discussion of policy. No policy, for the most part. Just endless regurgitation of old ideas and advertising slogans served up to us disguised as meat. Why not? It worked in 1972, when Whitlam, with little more than a catchy tune, convinced the Australian people that record low unemployment and a high Australian dollar were dire circumstances that required them to vote in a new government.

And we’re expected to swallow it all. We’re not supposed to ask questions, or demand detail. Silly electorate; anyone would think this election was something serious.

This campaign is already nearly three years long. The final days will be, in the words of Shakespeare, ‘A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

Unless, of course, we make it clear that we won’t settle for that. Unless we demand something more. Something better.


The CIA, the Greens, and the time-travelling carbon tax

March 21, 2012

Sometimes, Australian politics is a gift that just keeps on giving.

By now, there’s probably not a person with access to any form of media that hasn’t heard about the Great CIA-Greens Conspiracy, helpfully revealed to us by mining magnate Clive Palmer. But just in case you’ve been hiding in a shack in the rainforest while wearing a tinfoil hat, here’s the gist:

The CIA wants to destroy the Australian coal industry. This would mean that the US coal industry could snap up our international markets. In order to accomplish this dastardly goal, they are funnelling money to groups like Greenpeace. And to the Australian Greens.

Via, of course, the Rockefeller Foundation, itself a long-time target of conspiracy wing-nuts, I mean theorists.

Because of this terrible situation, all Greens MPs should immediately resign. Conveniently, Palmer also demanded that those planning to run in Saturday’s Queensland state elections should withdraw their candidacy. This … this … dirty dealing, this funny money from international governments, must stop!

Shocking, isn’t it? Why, this could destroy the foundations of Australian politics as we know it!

Mr Palmer? You’re a significant contributor to the Queensland Liberal National Party, aren’t you? A vocal opponent of both carbon pricing and the mining super profits tax, which are foundational policies for the Greens? And aren’t you suing the management of one of your own hotels, alleging they’re – goodness me – illegally sending money to the US?

I think that’s known as seeing a theme. Or possibly smelling a rat. Or both.

Speaking of rats, the Opposition – recipients of Palmer’s largesse – is doing a fine job of impersonating them leaving a sinking ship, as the media descend upon them with glee. Tell us, they cry, what you think about Clive Palmer’s accusations!

Ever been at a party when someone has broken wind? Remember how everyone near them slowly edges away, while trying to look terribly casual?

Yeah.

They’re not doing themselves any favours. Really, the best thing to do would be to simply tell the media that Palmer’s entitled to his view, but it’s not one they share. Instead, they’re dancing around the question, looking for all the world like they secretly agree with him.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s response was particularly painful. He forced a laugh that actually sounded like it was causing him pain, and commented of Palmer: ‘he’s … (heh, heh) a larger than life character’.

Who presumably needs a larger than life tinfoil hat. Or, at least, a media advisor who can tell him it’s time to get off the podium and stop reading AboveTopSecret before bed.

But it gets better.

We all know that the Opposition believes the sky will fall when carbon pricing is introduced. It’s not like we can forget, after all – their elected members make a point of cramming their ‘carbon tax’ talking points into speeches on everything from superannuation legislation to grammatical corrections of current acts. It’s their favourite boogeyman, and they do so love to drag it out of the wardrobe for the purposes of frightening us whenever they can.

But guess what? Not only will this ‘carbon tax’ make the sky fall when it’s introduced on July 1 this year – it’s already doing so! In fact – gasp – it must have travelled back in time!

No, really. I’m not kidding.

The ‘carbon tax’ pushed up electricity prices starting from 2007. The ‘carbon tax’ forced any one of a dozen small businesses to lay off workers or close altogether months ago. The ‘carbon tax’ reduced our senior citizens to huddling around a candle for warmth because they couldn’t pay their gas bills. It’s driven up food prices! House prices! Petrol! Our international reputation, small country towns and trade – all in the process of collapse!

Yes, folks, this may be the single most powerful piece of legislation ever enacted. Forget SkyNet and its remorseless Terminators – it’s the ‘carbon tax’ that will destroy the world.

Sorry, is already destroying the world.

Or has destroyed the world? (looks out the window) Nope, there are houses still standing. Must be a work in progress.

What’s that, you say? There was a global financial crisis? Electricity prices started going up long before 2007? The price of petrol depends largely on the price of oil, set by Middle Eastern cartels?

Pshaw. You’re just not looking hard enough. For those in the know, the ‘carbon tax’ can be easily spotted lurking in the background of old photos, leaving behind traces of its nefarious activities.

It’s possible, even, that the ‘carbon tax’ was responsible for the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt. After all, he was a Liberal PM, and this agent of destruction – sorry, Agent of Destruction, it really deserves capitals – is a creature of Labor’s making.

(Oh, sorry, Senator Eric Abetz, the ‘Labor-Greens Majority Alliance’s making’. Let’s not forget that little bit of space-cadet scripture – the idea that Labor and the Greens are in ideological lock-step.)

So let’s see if I’ve got this straight. The Greens are taking CIA money to kill our coal industry, while the ‘carbon tax’ travels back in time to destroy Life As We Know It. (Really, it’s a wonder the Greens bother – they could just sit back and let the ‘Carbon Tax of Doom’ do the job for them.)

Really, none of this sort of thing is new. You don’t have to travel far on Teh Interwebs to find someone claiming Elvis is alive, the Moon landing was faked, Satanic messages can be found by playing rock and/or roll music backwards, and 9/11 was an attack mounted by the US on its own citizens. And that’s without needing to go anywhere near David Icke and the Lizard People That Rule The World. (I’m looking at you, Your Majesty.)

The difference here is the profile, and the amount of power these people can command. Palmer is a billionaire, and money buys a lot of influence. The Federal Opposition are elected representatives who have their speeches preserved, repeated and interpreted by the media, the public, and our international trade and alliance partners. That makes these notions of a CIA Conspiracy and a Time-Travelling ‘Carbon Tax’ of Doom not only ridiculous, but potentially damaging in financial and trade markets.

Not to mention the howls of derisive laughter directed towards us.

Do Clive Palmer and the Opposition have the right to say what they believe? Sure – although I’d question the ‘right’ of anyone to deliberately spread lies. But, why not? Let’s grant them the right to free speech.

As long as we have the right to mock them mercilessly for the dingleberries they show themselves to be.


Win-win for Rudd

February 23, 2012

As expected, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a leadership ballot for Monday, citing a need to settle the issue ‘once and for all’. Rudd is still to declare whether he will contest that ballot, although it’s likely.

With that in mind, let’s examine some scenarios.

Scenario 1: Rudd loses with the support of more than a third of the caucus.

Result: Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem for Gillard. To have the support of two-thirds of the caucus should be conclusive. In fact, when Opposition Leader Tony Abbott won his challenge against Malcolm Turnbull by only one vote, he spun the narrowest of victories as indicative of party unity.

There is a problem, though. Gillard’s supporters are out there talking down Rudd’s support as vanishingly small, well short of having enough numbers to even mount a challenge under party rules. If they are proved wrong, it raises the question of whether Rudd is a viable alternative to Gillard – perhaps not today, but soon. The Keating model. And once the question is raised, Rudd becomes a focus for discontent with Gillard.

Gillard tried to stave that off in her speech today by effectively challenging Rudd to a dare. She announced that if she lost – adding quickly that she did not expect that to happen – she would go to the back bench and promise never to challenge again, and called on Rudd to make a similar undertaking. Of course, that’s nonsensical. Any such undertaking isn’t worth the bytes it’s recorded on (oh dear, the old print metaphors really are the best). There are any number of get-out clauses, from the tried-and-true ‘I know I promised but people are begging me’ to the weak but difficult to refute ‘that was then, the world has changed’.

So she’s left with Rudd on the back bench as a credible alternative who’s free to speak his mind, not bound by the usual constraints on Ministers.

Scenario 2: Rudd loses comprehensively.

Result: This should spell the end of Rudd’s leadership ambitions. But again, he could employ the Keating model. This time, though, he keeps his head down. He publicly supports the government when called on to specifically do so, but looks pained about it. He reminds the media at every turn that he is a back bencher, and refers them to appropriate Ministers or to Gillard herself.

And, as in the previous scenario, he becomes a focus for discontent among back benchers. A leader ignores the possibility of a back bench revolt at their peril – after all, there are more of them than the Cabinet, many with personal axes to grind on behalf of their individual electorates.

Both of these scenarios presume that the Coalition wins the next election. On the strength of polling trends, this seems likely. Rudd losing a challenge now and going to the back bench sets him up as someone to lead Labor out of the electoral wilderness. He has a proven track record in winning elections – and not via the skin of his teeth, either.

Scenario 3: Rudd wins.

It’s an outside chance, at best. Although Centrebet reports that Rudd’s odds are shortening (no link provided, in the interests of avoiding spam trackbacks, but it’s easy enough to find), enough Labor figures have already declared support for Gillard to make it unlikely that he could snatch victory. But let’s look at it anyway – just for fun.

Obviously, there would be a huge sense of personal achievement for Rudd, not to mention a fair amount of ‘best served cold’ satisfaction. It might also bring disaffected, left-leaning voters back to the party – those who objected to the way Gillard became Prime Minister in the first place, or who reject her policy stances (which can be described as Centre Right at best). If Rudd bullies through his stated aims on party reform, constraining the power of the factions and unions, it removes a key plank from Abbott’s anti-Labor platform. And he just might squeak an election victory, if enough voters forgive him for the political manoeuvring he undertook to get back the top job.

Even if he doesn’t win the next election, he can argue to keep the leader’s job in Opposition, on the grounds that he needs time to consolidate reforms.

An outside chance, yes – but it has to be one he’s considered.

Scenario 4: Rudd does not challenge.

This is by far the least likely scenario. All the rhetoric suggests Rudd is positioning himself to contest the leadership on Monday – and possibly that he expects to lose, setting up the groundwork for a later challenge (at least, according to Labor strategist and Rudd backer Bruce Hawker). In the interests of completeness, though …

It’s a very, very dangerous strategy. Rudd risks looking like a coward, talking big about the need for good leadership and touting his own credentials, then not following through. He also risks having his supporters – both public and Parliamentary – turn on him.

On the other hand, if he’s clever enough, he can spin it. His speeches weren’t a job application – he was defending himself, and warning people of the need to work hard to (a) defeat Abbott and (b) come through the looming Eurozone financial crisis. It would take some brilliant speechifying – and while he’s capable of it, I think it’s too great a risk.

So there you have it.

But no matter what scenario ends up being played out, Rudd’s already won. He’s drawn out into the spotlight the venom with which Gillard’s supporters regard him. Steve Gibbons called him a ‘psychopath’. Simon Crean said he was a ‘prima donna’. Nicola Roxon advised us to get over the idea that he’s a ‘messiah’. And from Treasurer Wayne Swan (also Treasurer under Rudd) came an extraordinarily petulant spray that his media advisors clearly never saw until it was too late.

This morning, Rudd spoke about the damaging nature of those comments, how they showed disunity and helped only the Coalition. He urged those speaking out on his behalf not to be drawn into the same kind of personal comments, confined his remarks to policy decisions, and talked himself up rather than criticise of Gillard herself.

By contrast, Gillard – already under fire for not chastising her Cabinet and supporting Rudd as Foreign Minister – engaged in similar personal attacks this morning. She accused him of everything from deliberately sabotaging the 2010 election campaign to single-handedly paralysing the government through his ‘chaotic work patterns’ to responsibility for her government’s inability to communicate its agenda (something she’s previously ascribed solely to Abbott).

Rudd also gave credit to Gillard’s government for pushing through reforms – with the reminder that these were begun by his own government. Gillard characterised the Rudd government as entirely ineffectual, and claimed solely for herself those same reforms.

The language was clear. The contrast was clear. And yes, you can say that Rudd was talking in private, leaking to the media, undermining Gillard privately. Maybe he was. Politicians do that. Remember Gillard arguing against Rudd’s proposed pension increases? Remember the leaks against Rudd? And still, no one has yet come out and categorically stated that they were briefed in a de-stabilising campaign by Rudd, or named any followers who have allegedly done so.

Rudd’s not a white knight, by any means. He’s a slick political operator, as is Gillard. You only have to look at how they’re handling this issue. It’s a textbook in politics.

But Rudd’s the clear victor in one sense. He exposed the vicious side of Gillard’s team. He blindsided her by resigning from Cabinet without warning. He’s reminded people of why he became Labor leader, and why the Australian public elected him the first place.

And now he’s effectively barricaded against the media for around 24 hours. It does give Gillard a clear field – but it also means that the media will zero in on her wherever she goes. She already displayed her temper once this morning at a particularly insistent journalist.

You can bet the pressure won’t let up until Monday morning. And in the meantime, Rudd can monitor, strategise and assess the situation.

He may not have the numbers, but so far, he’s ahead on points.


Marriage equality bills to hit Parliament today

February 13, 2012

Today ALP backbencher Stephen Jones will introduce a bill into the House of Representatives calling for marriage equality. Greens MP Adam Bandt and Independent Andrew Wilkie will introduce a similar co-sponsored bill, containing a specific provision that will exempt religious ministers from solemnising marriages between a same-sex couple.

I’d like to be optimistic, even enthusiastic, about this. But I’m afraid I really, really can’t.

Because unless Opposition Leader Tony Abbott loosens his stranglehold on the Coalition’s consciences, the bills will fail.

We’ve already seen what happens when Bandt or Wilkie tries to introduce ‘controversial’ legislation. The major parties fall into lockstep against them. Granted, the ALP passed the resolution at its last conference to make marriage equality a matter of conscience, so perhaps there might be a few more bums on seats sitting with the two minority MPs this time around. But there are enough Labor members determinedly opposed to same-sex marriage to ensure the bills suffer a resounding defeat.

Jones’ bill may fare more kindly. After all, he’s a Labor man, and even those who won’t support Bandt and Wilkie on principle might vote for one of their own. Again, though, the bill runs up against the Coalition’s refusal to allow its members a conscience vote.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has already signalled her intention to introduce a marriage equality bill later in the year. This is as clear a signal as she could send that she expects today’s bills to fail – and probably her own as well. At this point, the strategy appears to be one of simply flooding the Parliament with similar bills in the hope that it will wear down MPs’ resolve – and that in the end, they might vote for it just to get the issue out of the way.

That this strategy should even have to be considered, let alone employed, is shameful. It’s a matter of civil rights – human rights – that are denied to Australian citizens. Worse, it’s a matter of a privileged majority not wanting to have that privilege ‘sullied’ by having to share it.

Now, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the numbers will be there. Maybe some Coalition members will defy Abbott’s decree and cross the floor to support marriage equality – or at least inform him privately that they intend to do so, at which point I predict a swift reversal of the ‘no conscience vote’ stance. Maybe the rest of the ALP will realise that clinging to privilege and discrimination flies in the face of everything that party supposedly stands for, and support a bill.

It’s possible.

It’s also possible politicians will stop lying in Parliament, abandon mindless party loyalty in favour of the good of the people, and remember that they are our servants, not our masters.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Tell her she’s dreaming.


Liveblog – the marriage equality debate.

December 3, 2011

Morning, folks. Kicking off the #marriageequality debate soon, though a conscience vote looks to be a foregone conclusion. #alpnc

8.45am And, we’re off. First up, delegates will pass a motion recognising today as International Day of People with Disability. #alpnc

This is a suspension of standing orders, so the agenda is interrupted. Have to wonder about this move, coming right before the #marriageequality debate. Is this designed to be a pointed reminder that it’s ‘less important’, a ‘second-tier’ issue?

8.54am If this is an attempt to pull the focus off #marriageequality, it’s a pretty poor one. #alpnc

8.57am Gillard makes the point that PMs don’t usually move motions at #alpnc. Underscores this as a political move. Pretty dirty politics.

I receive a tweet from @AustralianLabor telling me that ‘We are celebrating International Day of People with Disability and the great reform that Labor is working to implement #NDIS'(National Disability Insurance Scheme) … presumably in response to my tweets about this motion possibly being a cynical move … a distraction to take the focus off #marriageequality and relegate the debate to a second-order issue.

9.01am Over-egging the pudding a bit here. Disability a worthy cause, but this is gilding the lily, eating into #marriageequality time. #alpnc

9.02am Listen closely to the ‘equality and dignity’ rhetoric in this motion. Now remember that when #marriageequality comes up. #alpnc

9.12am Looks like the #marriageequality debate will now start at 9.30am. Meanwhile, Labor pulling out all the stops to position themselves as compassionate champions of equality with the NDIS.

Unsurprisingly, the motion passes unanimously.

9.20am After the NDIS motion, Macklin acknowledges traditional owners of the land. Whoops, probably should have happened earlier. #alpnc

9.21am Macklin banging the ‘compassion’ drum again. Really setting themselves up as champions of fairness here. #alpnc

9.24 Macklin: ‘We are a party that hears the voices of the voiceless’. Then stresses this is about the ‘most’ disadvantaged people. #alpnc

There are some deeply cynical political moves here. Labor paints itself as ‘fair’, concerned with ‘equality’ and ‘dignity’ – but makes sure that everyone knows there is a hierarchy of disadvantage. Undoubtedly, those calling for a conscience vote or arguing against same-sex marriage will use this same argument – which, paraphrased, boils down to ‘we’ve done heaps for you, be thankful, others are in greater need’.

Debate on the proposed conscience vote will *precede* Wong and Barr’s motion to amend the party’s policy. Very sneaky move, there.

9.30am @AustralianLabor hastens to reassure me that a Welcome to Country ceremony was held yesterday.

9.31am And now amendments relating to indigenous issues. #alpnc

9.37am Still on indigenous issues. Big slaps aimed at the Victorian government for making acknowledgment of traditional ownership ‘optional’ – but a resounding silence on the Northern Territory intervention.

9.39 am It just gets more cynical. If the Left doesn’t cave in to the Right and support a conscience vote, it will fail. The Right has already said they won’t support a formal change to policy. What are we left with? Status quo?

.46am Here we go … Gillard’s conscience vote up for discussion now. #alpnc

9.47am Gillard to speak first, arguing for a conscience vote on #marriageequality. Yet she’s not actually HERE. #alpnc

Gillard out of the room, so debate is suspended ENTIRELY. Shame. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.49am Oh wait, there she is. Not a good look. #alpnc

Gillard’s speech on #marriageequality starts with a ‘few words’ on jobs, growth and fairness. #alpnc

9.51am And from jobs, the PM moves to education. Which apparently also wants to get married. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.52am Jobs, growth, fairness, health care, disabilities. Aaaand #marriageequality? #alpnc

Gillard stresses that this debate must be had in a climate of respect. #alpnc #marriageequality

Of course, she did this after making sure everyone was reminded of *her* view on the subject.

9.54am Gillard: this is a ‘deeply personal’ debate; she stresses the need for respect for religion. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.55am Gillard now falsely claims that marriage was always a question of conscience. Doesn’t mention 2004. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.56am Gillard: ‘Whatever we determine to do with our platform … we should accord the views of all respect.’ #alpnc #marriageequality

Note that Gillard’s talk of ‘respect’ leaned heavily on the idea that religion should be respected *more*. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.57am Notice that Gillard didn’t actually address the ISSUE at all. Just the need for a conscience vote. #alpnc #marriageequality

9.58am Smith, like Gillard, doesn’t address the issue. And Smith fails to mention the 2004 changes. #alpnc #marriageequality

Smith says a conscience vote should depend on whether there’s a ‘deeply held personal belief’. So, we’ll see one on uranium then?

10am Shorter Gillard/Smith: we should respect discrimination and bigotry. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.01am Andrew Barr now up to speak on a direct platform change. HUGE applause and cheering. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.02am Barr, at least, speaks to the issue. #alpnc #marriageequality.

10.03am Impressed that Barr reminded delegates that this issue affects more than just ‘gay people’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Barr: ‘I can see no good reason for denying marriage to same-sex couples’.

10.0am Barr is choking up. ‘We’re not nameless and faceless people … we’re members of the community like everyone else’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.06am Barr reminds delegates that this issue is ‘intensely felt’ by those who cannot marry. #alpnc #marriageequality

Standing ovation and cheers for Barr. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.09am Wong: if people were denied marriage on the basis of race, ‘there is not a person in this room that would countenance it!’ #alpnc

Huge applause and cheers. Wong is totally fired up.

10.11am Wong: ‘Do not ask us any longer to accept our relations being treated as less worthy … there is nothing to fear from equality’. #alpnc

10.12am Someone yelling from the audience ‘it’s against natural law’ (Joe de Bruyn?). Cries of ‘Shame!’ from the audience. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.13am Another standing ovation as Wong wraps up. #alpnc #marriageequality.

10.14am Big hug for Penny Wong from Tanya Plibersek. But now Joe de Bruyn is up to support conscience vote. #marriageequality #alpnc

10.15am de Bruyn: this should be decided with our heads, not our emotions. Scornful laughter from the delegates. #alpnc #marriageequality

de Bruyn: Heterosexual marriage has been that way ‘since the dawn of humanity’. More laughter. #alpnc #marriageequality

de Bruyn: Same-sex marriage cannot, of itself, produce children. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.16am de Bruyn, of course, doesn’t mention that infertile heterosexual couples are allowed to marry. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.17am de Bruyn just undermines his ‘marriage is historical’ argument by referencing the 2004 amendments. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.18am de Bruyn: ‘Are we going to turn our back today on something we’ve said is a core value?’ Delegates roar: YES! #alpc #marriageequality

10.19am de Bruyn references the ACL petition, which he falsely claims is ‘over 100,000 signatures’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.20am de Bruyn trying to claim that the petition for #marriageequality is somehow sleazy, because many signatories didn’t give their electorates.

After his rhetorical call-and-answer fails, de Bruyn moves on to warning that people will lose seats over it.

10.21am de Bruyn lying through his teeth about petitions and community support for #marriageequality. #alpnc

10.25am Faulkner: ‘Human rights can never be at the mercy of individual opinions or individual prejudices’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Faulkner: ‘It is not for governments to *grant* human rights, but to recognise and protect them’. Huge applause. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.28am Faulkner: we don’t have a conscience vote on going to war. Pacifists can’t vote with their consciences. #alpnc #marriageequality

Faulkner: We compelled young men to go to war through conscription – no conscience vote then. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.29am Faulkner: ‘A conscience vote on human rights is not conscionable’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.30am Standing ovation for Faulkner, too. Now Deborah O’Neill up to speak for a conscience vote. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.31am O’Neill supports a conscience vote. Asks for respect from those who disagree with her. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.33am O’Neill trying to run the difficult line that Labor’s ‘done enough’, and marriage is ‘not a rights issue’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.36am O’Neill: ‘changing the platform will not remove the terror of homophobia’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.37am Michelle Lancy up now to support Barr-Wong. ‘There are 2 opposing views here today, love and hate’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Lancy nearly crying: ‘I do this for the children whose beds I’ve sat at when they’ve attempted suicide’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Lancy: ‘I’m bringing my Christianity and my humanity in here today’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Standing ovation for Lancy. Now Mark Arbib. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.41am Mark Arbib wants to support both amendments. Huh?? #alpnc #marriageequality

10.42am Arbib asks how could he tell a potentially gay daughter she can’t get married? #alpnc #marriageequality

10.44am Arbib says the platform must change, but the only way it will work today is via conscience vote. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.44am *None* of the pro-conscience vote speakers admits that the 2004 ‘man & woman’ amendment was NOT a conscience vote. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.45am Anthony Albanese up! #alpnc #marriageequality

10.49am After an Adobe AIR malfunction …

Albo reminds Labor of its history on fighting HIV, passing laws against discrimination; calls on the party to keep it up. #alpnc

10.50am Delegate Polly up, very little applause. Claims she was ‘invited not to turn up’. #alpnc #marriageeqaulity

Polly says she respects Wong – but not enough to let her marry, apparently. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.51am Polly with the ‘some of my best friends are gay’ argument. (facepalm) #alpnc #marriageeqaulity

Polly: ‘Marriage is the heart of our community … it’s our way of life’. Possibly also Mabo and the vibe? #alpnc #marriageeqaulity

10.52am Polly: ‘Marriage is the basis of our social fabric’ – which is funny, given our PM is ‘living in sin’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.53am Polly would like to point out that only heterosexuals can use the word ‘marriage’. Teh Gayz can have ‘unions’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Polly says we should be allowed to have different views – but only on some issues, it seems. #alpnc #marriagequality

10.54am Now Tanya Plibersek: ‘the time for this great change has come’.

10.56am Plibersek: We can focus on jobs and growth and fairness at the same time. We don’t have to choose. #alpnc #marriageequality

Plibersek: ‘I’m also here representing my straight constituents’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.57am Plibersek says she’s here for the teenagers who are being told their love is ‘not right’. #alpnc #marriageequality

10.59am Plibersek: It’s not good enough to say to one group of people, ‘you’re almost equal’. #alpnc #marriageequality

Plibersek: ‘Almost equal is not good enough’. I may cry. #alpnc #marriageequality

11.00am No further speakers. Time for the votes. Conscience vote first, and a count is called for. #alpnc #marriageequality

11.04am I wonder if the #alpnc will publish a list of who voted which way on this? #marriageequality

11.07am Albo’s down on the stage watching the count. #alpnc #marriageequality

The tension is palpable – both in the room and on Twitter.

11.09am Call for delegates opposed to the conscience vote to raise their cards. Applause and cheers. #alpnc #marriageequality

So hard to gauge the voting, but looks to be very close. #alpnc #marriageequality

11.13am 208 for the conscience vote, 184 against. Conscience vote is carried. #alpnc #marriageequality

I am apparently over the daily limit for sending tweets. This cannot be happening right now.

11.15am Barr-Wong amendment passes on the voices.

11.20am Well, since Twitter’s cut me off, I’ll wind up the liveblog here. Labor’s in an interesting situation now … marriage equality is now officially included in their party platform, but any vote on the issue must be one of conscience. It’s likely such a vote would fail, given the Coalition’s declaration that they will vote en bloc to oppose such a change to the Marriage Act.

Nonetheless … how long, I wonder, before we see another private members’ bill from the Greens? Or even better, a private members’ bill co-sponsored by Wong, Albanese and Bandt?


Marriage equality and Labor’s national conference

December 2, 2011

The Australian Labor Party’s 46th National Conference starts today – and rarely has a meeting of politicians attracted such attention from so many areas of Australian society.

It’s got a full agenda – discussions on the sale of uranium to India, fundamental changes in how the leader is elected and possibly even the institution of a US-style primary system to decide pre-selection in individual electorates. The big issue, however, is same-sex marriage. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has already signalled she intends to propose that the issue be declared one of conscience – that is, to allow members to vote according to their own beliefs rather than along party lines. Rainbow Labor, led by Andrew Barr and Senator Penny Wong, in conjunction with the Left faction, intend to push for the adoption of same-sex marriage as part of the national policy platform.

Yesterday, Barr said that he thought he might have the numbers to win that argument. With Left and Independent factions determined to push for a firm platform, only twelve votes are needed from the Right. Last night, however, the Right announced they intend to vote in a bloc for Gillard’s solution. It comes down to numbers at this point.

For an issue that many commentators (such as former Labor Minister Graeme Richardson and Labor historian Troy Bramston) dismiss as ‘not first-order’, not ‘centrepiece’, same-sex marriage has become the major focus of this conference. Members of the Right accused the Left this morning of ‘pressuring’ people, union leader Joe de Bruyn voiced his vehement opposition to same-sex marriage under any circumstances, and – reportedly – some Labor MPs announced they would cross the floor if the party did change its policy platform, and risk expulsion. Interestingly, there’s been far less media time given to the Left – only Andrew Barr has had any substantial air time.

Paul Howes, head of the Australian Workers Union, managed to be sanctimonious, hypocritical and just plain wrong this morning when he was asked about the impending discussion. ‘Labor has a long and proud history of allowing conscience votes on these issues,’ he said, and went on to castigate those members of Labor’s Left who are pushing for a party policy on same-sex marriage, for daring to attempt to force their beliefs on others.

Honestly, where do I start with that one?

Howes, in high dudgeon, practically vibrated with righteous indignation as he tried to claim the moral high ground here. And oh, doesn’t it make for a good sound bite when someone passionately defends freedom of choice? Surely no reasonable person could argue with the idea that politicians must be able to hold to their own beliefs on important issues?

The problem here is that Howes ignores a basic fact of politics – that politicians are elected not to vote their own consciences, but to represent their electorates. And given that overwhelmingly, almost every poll shows a massive groundswell of support for same-sex marriage (at least 60% in favour), Howes is effectively advocating that Labor selectively ignore those voters. Coming from a man who regularly points to popular support to shore up his positions on various issues, this is inconsistency at best, hypocrisy at worst.

And let’s face it, most of us hold strong beliefs on a variety of issues. My religion, for example, was strongly opposed to the idea of invading Iraq. My religion absolutely rejects the idea that children should be exposed to religious indoctrination while attending a government school. Neither of these issues has ever been exposed to a conscience vote, nor are they likely to be. The so-called ‘moral issues’, such as abortion and euthanasia, are the ones that receive that dubious privilege.

What makes these ‘moral issues’? Nothing more than the fact that some religions declare them to be so. It’s cherry-picking of the worst kind – you won’t find many people arguing that there is a need for conscience votes on whether to allow women access to high office or to prohibit the sale of contraception, despite these issues being apparently as important to those religions.

Yet it’s perhaps even more disgusting that Howes chose to take this line, given that his appeals obscure the fact that, in effect, he’s advocating that Labor continue to deny that same freedom to others – just because some people don’t like the idea of same-sex couples being married. In this, he is no different from those Christian fundamentalists who declare that marriage equality would somehow destroy civilisation as we know it.

These are the same people who scream bloody blue murder when they think Australia is being ‘converted by stealth’ to Islam if they eat halal meat without realising it. These are the same people who raise their hands in horror and lament the death of ‘Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage’ if their kids come home from school saying, ‘Happy Holidays’, instead of ‘Merry Christmas’. And these are the people who argue passionately that no one, no one, has the right to prevent them from living according to their beliefs.

And yet … by writing and upholding in law the idea that some love and commitment is less deserving of recognition – by, in effect, saying that only those forms of union that conform to their beliefs are worthy and legitimate – they force their beliefs on everyone.

But deep down, they know that. They know exactly what they’re doing. If they’re honest, they’ll say so proudly and point to some idea of divine ‘truth’ to back themselves up. If not, you can see it in their eyes. They’ll squirm and dance and fall back on mealy-mouthed appeals to ‘tradition’ – which, of course, means only those traditions they feel like preserving. And Howes, by clasping to his bosom this completely hypocritical ‘Champion of Freedom’ mantle, has put himself firmly in the camp of people like the Coalition’s Cory Bernardi and Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby.

And let’s not forget that Howes is just plain wrong, too.

Labor has not historically allowed conscience votes on ‘these issues’. In 2004, when the Marriage Act was changed to explicitly exclude same-sex couples, no conscience vote was either asked for or allowed. Labor simply voted its party line, which was to enshrine mean-spirited discrimination in law. If, as Howes and others have claimed, the issue of marriage is so important as to require that MPs be allowed to wrestle with their consciences, why weren’t they allowed to do so then?

Gillard, during the 2010 election campaign, proudly declared that Labor’s policy platform specifically included reproductive freedom for women. Back then, that issue was so important that it required party unity. To now claim, as she and supporters from the Labor Right have done, the exact opposite where same-sex marriage is concerned, frankly beggars belief. And raises more than the whiff of suspicion that those who hold this position are attempting to curry favour with one minority group by discriminating against another – and yes, fundamentalist Christians are a minority group, protestations by Wallace and his cronies notwithstanding.

No one’s life will be threatened if same-sex couples are legally married. No country will go to war with us over this. There’s no reputable conflicting science, as there is with matters of human cloning (which, incidentally, the Prime Minister supported during a conscience vote in 2007). By trying to place same-sex marriage on a par with issues of abortion and euthanasia, Gillard and the Labor Right are trying to sweep under the rug the real issue of equality. We no longer socially ostracise or legally penalise heterosexual couples who choose to co-habit rather than marry. We no longer prohibit interracial marriage. We don’t even require people to show ’cause’ for divorce. Those are the issues which should be discussed in conjunction with this question.

Marriage is a secular institution. Sorry, religious folks, but there it is. For a long time now the State has been solemnising marriages without benefit of church or clergy. As such, the State should serve all people equally.

Let’s suppose someone wanted to bring in a law designed to exclude a particular religious group from the right to marry. The screams of outrage would be heard from orbit. After all, it’s an utterly nonsensical notion, right? Yes. It is – as nonsensical as the idea of excluding an entire section of the population from marriage for being same-sex attracted.

The ALP National Conference will tackle this issue tomorrow. At this point, it looks like Gillard will get the result she wants. Which will, no doubt, be a great relief for her. She won’t have to worry about fending off interview questions about whether she has the support of the party. She can say she’s done the ‘moral thing’, and ‘listened’ to the party.

What she won’t be able to say is what Queensland Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser said when State Labor passed same-sex civil unions legislation two nights ago: ‘Today was a momentous occasion for civil rights’.

This issue now hangs on whether twelve people out of around 200 decide that those fundamental human rights are more important than a handful of religious beliefs and cultural prejudices. That equality is more important than doctrine, and that allowing the expression of love and commitment is more important than allowing bigotry to remain enshrined in Australian law.

Gillard argued in her keynote speech this morning that ‘fairness begins in the workplace’. That may be so – but why should fairness end at the altar?.

Gillard also said that ‘only Labor can govern for all’. I wonder how those who she denies the same rights she has the choice to embrace or reject would feel about that statement. When did ‘govern for all’ become ‘exclude those whose issues might upset Labor’s polling numbers’?

Perhaps those members should go home tonight and wrestle with their consciences on those issues. There’s an opportunity here for Labor to show itself to be a champion of human rights, regardless of personal belief – it shouldn’t be missed.

UPDATE

In response to requests, I’ll be live-blogging the same-sex marriage debate tomorrow on Twitter and posting a summary here afterwards. Feel free to follow me on Twitter, or to follow the hashtags #alpnc and/or #marriageequality.


Carbon price a certainty, but the campaign rolls on

October 12, 2011

Well, it’s happened.

Despite a frantic, near-hysterical campaign of fear mixed liberally with lies …

Despite hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of dollars spent on saturation advertising …

Despite Coalition members flying around the country to government and cross-bencher electorates to campaign furiously …

Despite Sophie Mirabella’s tantrum in the House last night when she was not permitted to table a petition allegedly containing 12,000 signatures (which she had to know would be refused – there are times set aside for petitions) …

And despite all the rhetoric – ‘toxic tax’; ‘tax on weather’; ‘Socialism by stealth’; ‘million of people out of work’; ‘pensioners won’t be able to afford to use their heaters or turn on their lights’; and my personal favourite, ‘this will make emissions go up‘ …

The government’s Clean Energy Bills package – including legislation to establish a carbon dioxide emissions trading scheme – passed the House this morning. It goes now to the Senate, which is also certain to pass the bills.

There’s no doubt it’s a significant victory for the government. This is the issue that brought down Malcolm Turnbull as Leader of the Opposition, and contributed to Kevin Rudd’s resignation as Prime Minister in the face of a revolt from his own party. It won’t make us world leaders – we’re woefully behind in that respect – but it will contribute to a growing global effort to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Tony Abbott promised ‘in blood’ (yes, he actually said that) to repeal the carbon price scheme, as well as all the associated compensations and provisions, if he wins the next election. That would presumably include lowering the tax-free threshold, reducing pensions, reducing household assistance and small business; because you see, without the carbon price, there’s no revenue to offset those costs.

Unravelling legislation like this is the equivalent of trying to unravel the GST (which, incidentally, is a tax) – exactly what Kim Beazley promised to do during the 2001 election campaign. There was little chance it would happen, though – most agreed it would simply be too hard to roll back such a pervasive tax once implemented.

Compared to the carbon price legislation, rolling back the GST would have been simple.

Abbott’s only hope, then, is to somehow force an early election before the new legislation can be put into practice. He could cross his fingers and pray for a retirement from one of the government or cross-bench seats. He could try to force a resignation – and I predict we’ll see a resurgence of the accusations against Craig Thomson, possibly with accompanying phone calls from Senator George Brandis to the Victorian Police Commissioner. If he doesn’t succeed with Thomson, he’s certainly not above digging for dirt – either real, or confected – on other MPs and Senators.

The option he had before July this year – of blocking government bills and forcing a double dissolution – is now highly unlikely. There’s no love lost between the Coalition and Greens, who hold the balance of power. They might agree on blocking the proposed amendments to the Migration Act, but the Greens are diametrically opposed to almost every other Coalition policy. Add to that the fact that a double dissolution election contains the possibility that the Greens might lose the balance of power, and Abbott looks to be out of luck.

So, it looks like the carbon price is here to stay. And it’s all a bit anti-climactic, really. A few divisions, a round of applause here and there, and a gracious moment when Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd congratulated the Prime Minister with a kiss on the cheek, and it’s done.

Don’t think the hysteria is over, though. Abbott hasn’t stopped campaigning since the Independents agreed to back Labor for government last year – and a little setback like this won’t stop him now. Sure, the Coalition might have been defeated on arguably the biggest piece of legislation to ever come before the Parliament. Sure, all Abbott’s exhortations to the cross-benchers and rural Labor MPs to cross the floor fell on deaf ears. And sure, passage of the Clean Energy package brings the total of successful government legislation to well over 200.

Abbott won’t even break stride. The carbon price issue will fade to the background, to be trotted out whenever he can find an excuse to do so, but Abbott thinks on his feet. We’ll see a renewal of attacks on asylum seeker policy, tax reform, the deficit, the ‘assassination’ of Kevin Rudd, and – most of all – the proposed Mining Resources Rent Tax. He’ll maintain his rage, and we’ll be the ones who have to suffer through a one-sided election campaign until Gillard finally calls a vote – which she’s unlikely to do before the full term is up. Remember, part of her agreement with Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor was a guarantee against an early election.

It’s a risky tactic. Already, the media have started to question the Coalition’s message. Already, there’s a sense that people have lost patience with both major parties. If Abbott treats the next two years as an election platform, it might well backfire – especially if the Coalition repeats its strategy of not producing policy until the eleventh hour, and refusing to have it costed.

On social media, there’s growing confidence that Abbott’s defeat will see him replaced as Opposition Leader. I don’t think that’s likely – the Coalition rides high in the polls, and, with the example of the Labor Party before them, they know full well the probable negative consequences of replacing Abbott with, say, Malcolm Turnbull. As with Labor, though, the perception that the Liberal Party are dissatisfied with their leader could contribute to a loss of popularity in the electorate.

All of this is speculation, though. The reality is that Abbott, while soundly defeated on carbon pricing, has no intention of conceding anything to the government. He’ll dodge the question in interviews and deflect attention onto other, proven points of attack (such as the failed Home Insulation Scheme or the Coalition’s misrepresentation of the BER outcomes). It’s the equivalent of shouting, ‘Look over there!’ while hurriedly burying anything inconvenient or uncomfortable under a pile of empty rhetoric.

So settle in, get comfortable, and possibly have a few kittens to pet for when the frustration and stress gets to be too much. We’ve got a long, long campaign ahead of us – and that’s before Gillard calls an election.

But it’s worth re-stating: Australia has passed legislation through the House of Representatives to establish an emissions trading scheme, pricing carbon, supporting development of renewable energy and easing tax and cost of living burdens on lower to middle income earners. That same legislation is certain to pass the Senate.

And there’s no sign of the apocalypse happening any time soon.


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