Q&A with Joe Miles, Pirate Party of Australia

September 5, 2013

With less than 48 hours to go before the polls open – and that may be a cause for relief or depression, depending on your political point of view – let’s step back from the major parties and take an in-depth look at a newcomer. The Pirate Party of Australia is one of a huge number of minor groups contesting this election, but it is far from the usual single-issue ticket.

The party has its origins in Europe, founded in 2006 and fielding successful candidates in the 2009 European Parliament elections. At the time of writing there are Pirate Party representatives in governments across Europe. The Australian branch was founded in 2008.

Through the wonders of the internet, I (virtually) sat down with Joe Miles, the PPA’s lead Senate candidate for Victoria.

CV: Could you tell us a little of your background, including why you decided to go into politics?

Joe: I’m a new dad, I’ve been working as a Welfare Worker since 2006 (ish) mostly working with people who have an intellectual disability and who are on their way into (or out of) prison. It’s work I’m proud of, and being able to look at myself in the mirror after work is a bonus too. Not realising it, I got into politics as a shop steward in my third job. It was the only good thing about that job. I began to read, and learn to speak up and speak out. I moved to queer politics somewhere around 2008 or 2009, and added deep-green to my pink flag-waving activities somewhere around Edinburgh in 2010ish.

Aristotle says we’re all political animals, and I think he’s right – we all enter politics in some way, I just decided to do it publicly and under the pirate banner.

CV: The name ‘Pirate Party’ opens candidates up to all sorts of lampooning and charges of being a single-issue group (as evidenced in the way the Sex Party has been treated); given that, why join and run for a party with that name?

Joe: I liken our name to “The Greens” – Green is a colour, not a political persuasion, but the name is the signpost to the idea. Any questions I get on our name get dealt with in around 6 seconds, especially on hearing about Pirate MEPs and Pirates in the Icelandic and German city governments.

To be honest, the name the perfect ice-breaker. No-one is guarded around people who call themselves Pirates – political conversation flows uninhibited, and conversations about solutions to problems are freer. This isn’t normal. The usual conversation is base and unhelpful, the name Pirate Party helps a lot in getting around this. I’ve had long discussions with people who wouldn’t call themselves ‘political’ about the types of decision-making they’d like to see.

CV: Let’s move on to look at specific policies. Your education policy would require a massive restructure for the tertiary sector, which is already overstressed in terms of teacher/student ratios and research/teaching balance. What is your timeline for that restructure, and how would you pay for these reforms, given your policy to reduce HECS-based funding?

Joe: The tertiary restructure is mostly to do with the third point; ‘Defund administrative functions and organisations associated with monitoring, surveillance, government reviews and data collection’. There’s a world of potential resources used for compliance that could otherwise be spent on instruction or research. These changes would provide savings, not more burden, and these savings could be unleashed.

There’s no rigid time-line for this, though there’s been consultation with ACT and NSW academia on this policy, and I’d suggest 3 years is the common wisdom. That’s for both the student-teacher ratio and the teaching-support ratio.

CV: On the subject of hate speech – many would say your policy allows an anything-goes approach not only in terms of speech, but also in terms of incitement to violence; how do you address that? Do you have a law enforcement policy that encompasses ‘hate crime’?

Joe: The policy covers speech that someone may be offended by, not speech which incites to violence. There are common law provisions against incitement, harassment, intimidation – that would stay in effect. Our policy is to remove an almost radical subjectivity from the system.

We propose repealing Part 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Apart from the last point of 1(a), it deals with being offended. The last point (intimidation) can be more than ably dealt with by preexisting legislation. Most intimidation is (I think, rightfully) viewed as a kind of assault.

‘Hate speech’ involves an incitement to violence, abuse, intimidation or other discriminatory action. Hate speech is already effectively illegal, without the need for part 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In fact, this Part adds absolutely nothing of value to public safety, but it does chill speech.

CV: You’ve called for a US debate style, which is arguably little more than a feistier version of ours. Often nothing is done to call candidates on their misinformation or failure to answer questions; how would the PPA ensure candidates are made to answer properly?

Joe: In US style debates the candidates are forced to talk off the cuff, they then can be followed up on and made to engage with each other. Good moderation and effective debate opponents would allow a kind of self-correcting that would incentivise answering questions well.

Though key here is an independent debate commission (or committee or whatever the name may be) – specific rule sets can devised and moderators can be tasked with things like keeping the candidates engaging properly.

CV: The Pirate Party says it supports Fibre to the Premises broadband; does this mean you support the ALP’s NBN project?

Joe: Yes.

CV: Your energy policy expresses support for the ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan; could you expand on that?

Joe: In short, we aim for 100% renewables inside 10 years, with a concerted program. It would be paid for by a partial sale of the project on completion, a levy and the fact it is a profitable exercise. We view it as not only an investment in our environment, but a quintessential financial investment – build this now to save both repair, maintenance and fuel costs in the future.

CV: Do you support an Emissions Trading Scheme? If so, what model?

Joe: A floating price doesn’t work, except for speculators. There’s been very little in the way of action in Europe considering the time an ETS has been running, contrasting with Australia – a flat price for a short period has solid results. It’s a cliché, but business loves certainty.

We support a carbon price until Australia’s investment in renewables is so great a carbon price (or any other mechanism, for that matter) is redundant.

CV: Your marriage policy calls for the Marriage Act to be repealed altogether. Such a move would likely be resisted by parliamentarians and by many sectors of the community, including those who advocate for marriage equality. Wouldn’t it be simpler to reverse the Howard era changes to the Act, rather than legislate an entirely new civil unions act?

Joe: Aiming merely to amend the Marriage Act is to aim to leave a loaded gun on the table – those amendments could be rewound easily by any theocratic-minded conservative government. As you’ve suggested, it would be simple to amend the Howard era changes.

That’s why we have as policy a new Act – any attempt at regressing would be obvious. Our societal view on the validity of romantic relationships (and which body defines ‘valid’) is evolving, this policy just keeps pace. There are always people resistant to change – that’s why people voted “No” in the 1967 referendum.

CV: Finally, if the PPA gains a seat in the Senate, it’s likely to bring with it a great responsibility in terms of balance of power. In those circumstances, would you go it alone or ally with a party with larger representation, such as the Greens?

Joe: We won’t join a voting bloc. We’ll vote according to our principles, with our goals being to get our policy aims realised, apply transparency provisions to all relevant legislation and make sure decisions of the House uphold human rights.

* * * * *

And there you have it. The PPA is no fly-by-night ticket; it takes its politics and its goals seriously, and it’s in it for the long haul. Its policies are more detailed than any I’ve seen published, even attempting to provide a general idea of costings. In terms of preferences, the party has achieved an unprecedented level of transparency, exposing to the public the internal workings of what can only be described as an exemplar of democratic process at work.

Whether the Pirate Party of Australia can secure a seat in the next Parliament will almost certainly depend on those preferences. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that there is real potential for the PPA to become a formidable force in Australian politics in time to come.

Abbott kicks off: second verse, same as the first

January 31, 2013

Yesterday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard assured us that – despite announcing the election date seven months early – the campaign had not actually begun. Today, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott fell right into her trap, and came out swinging in full campaign mode.

His address to the National Press Club left no doubt that as far as he was concerned, knowing the poll date was a signal to ramp up the rhetoric. Right from the beginning, he spoke as though he was directly addressing the Australian public – that he was listening to ‘you, the Australian people’. Now, while the NPC is televised, it’s primarily a forum for the media to listen to a long speech and get an extended time for questions. Not for Abbott, though.

In rapid succession, he ran through his well-known talking points. The ‘carbon tax’ will go. The Mining Resources Rent Tax will go. The boats will be stopped (‘we’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again’). It was all about the people – but not all the people. Abbott wants to ‘reach out to all the decent people of our country’, to those migrants who have come to our country ‘not to change our way of life, but to share it’.

Mr Abbott? Senator Cory Bernardi called. He wants his dogwhistle back.

With that established, Abbott settled in, and for the next hour we were treated to a barrage of negative campaigning. Most of it was familiar stuff – the Prime Minister ‘fibbed’ about the ‘carbon tax’, ‘faceless men’ of Labor, big spending, more taxes, puppets of the Greens, protecting people of bad character like Craig Thomson and former Speaker Peter Slipper, etc, etc. There were more than a few jaw-droppers mixed in with that.

First, he claimed that people are saving more than ever before – but only because they don’t trust the government. It conjures up visions of old ladies surrounding by jars full of five cent pieces, or stuffing bank notes into their mattresses. It’s ridiculous and overblown – not to mention there isn’t a shred of proof for such an assertion.

We were treated to a few moments of outright silliness. Abbott claimed he had ‘never been anti-union’, that he ‘deeply respects women’s choices’, and – this is my favourite – that ‘no decent government should ever deliberately set out to divide Australians’.

I guess it’s okay if the Opposition does it.

There were some expected personal slurs, delivered in a rather slippery fashion. Abbott reminded us he has three daughters and a wife, and therefore understands and champions women’s needs. His wife Margie, he informed us, was a Girl Guide Leader. No need to point out that the PM was in a childless de facto relationship with a hairdresser, after all that. He told us he wasn’t ‘just a glorified tourist from Canberra’ – perhaps a reference to his photo ops in the middle of disasters, or maybe just letting us know yet again that he’s visited 215 small businesses since the 2010 election. Then Abbott all but called the PM a coward, stating that he wasn’t afraid to get out and ‘get an ear-bashing’ from the people. It was an obvious reference to the hysterical anti-carbon tax rally on the lawns of Parliament House where protesters bayed for blood under the approving smiles of the Opposition.

Then came the clearly outrageous – and possibly defamatory – statement that the Prime Minister’s office had ‘orchestrated a riot on Australia Day‘. To say this twists the known facts is only the start. What we know is that a former staffer told someone that Abbott had made apparently derogatory comments about the Tent Embassy, and through miscommunication, that led to an angry outburst from indigenous activists that resulted in the Prime Minister and Abbott being escorted to safety by security personnel. There has never been any evidence that a ‘riot’ (a legal term, one never applied to the situation by prosecutors) was planned out of the PM’s office.

And then during questions, Abbott was asked about the resignation today of South Australian Liberal leader Isobel Redmond. In his response, Abbott clearly stated that it was only due to ‘electoral malfeasance’ that the ALP had won the last state election. He didn’t point the finger specifically at either the Electoral Commission or Labor, but the implication was clear. It was his ‘illegitimate government’ message all over again.

Despite Abbott’s assertions that he had already presented the Opposition’s plans the last time he appeared at the NPC – around a year ago – there was little that was new, and nothing of substance. In fact, he stated proudly that the Coalition would only release its policy costings after the government had released theirs – as though the election were nothing more than a giant game of chicken.

What little we did get in the way of policy was hardly encouraging. In government, the Coalition would not only scrap the ‘carbon tax’, the MRRT and the NBN, but also get rid of the Schoolkids’ Bonus, and the Low Income Superannuation Contribution Scheme (funded through the mining tax). He wouldn’t be drawn on whether the carbon price compensation would be withdrawn, or whether Labor’s tax cuts would be removed, but he’s often said that without a carbon price, no one needs a compensation scheme. He also hinted that he would look at removing the means test for the private health insurance rebate.

Incredibly, he remarked that families wouldn’t be hurt by the removal of the Schoolkids’ Bonus.

(On a personal note, that one had me gobsmacked. My two girls started secondary school this year, and without that bonus, we would have had a struggle paying for the associated costs – and that’s to go to a public school. I’m lucky – we’re relatively comfortable, financially speaking. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a single parent, or a single, low-income household trying to cope.)

Possibly the most telling moments came in response to questions. Abbott had made statements on several occasions to the effect that, should he be elected but face a hostile Senate who refused to pass the ‘carbon tax’ repeal, he would call a double dissolution election in 2014. He was asked if he thought that was akin to saying he didn’t trust the Australian people to know their own minds, that it showed an arrogant disregard? His response? Labor wouldn’t be stupid enough to ‘ensure’ they stayed in Opposition for a long time by refusing the repeal – but in the unlikely event they did, he would indeed dissolve the Parliament.

A double dissolution election is a serious matter. The provision exists so that if Parliament is simply unworkable (for example, a Senate that refuses to pass the Budget), the people have an opportunity to show their preferences and elect new representatives. It’s not there so that a leader can throw a tantrum if his favourite piece of legislation is blocked. That Abbott would repeatedly affirm his willingness to throw Parliament into disarray if he didn’t get his way shows an appalling amount of arrogance.

That was only hammered home by his response to a question about trust. Reminded that when he was Health Minister, Abbott broke a promise not to increase the Medicare Safety Net threshold, he excused himself by saying he was ‘rolled’ by his colleagues. Then he paused, broke into a broad grin and said, ‘But now I am the authority’.

This is not the thinking of a party leader, first among equals. This is someone who gives the clear impression that holding the Prime Ministership is a mandate to do whatever he wishes – and that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll simply do whatever he can to get rid of those who stand in his way.

That, frankly, is the thinking of a would-be dictator.

Abbott wound up with a call to arms: ‘I’m ready, the Coalition is ready, Australia is ready’.

The question is: ‘Are we ready to elect someone who thinks the democratic process is his personal servant?’

It’s the end of the world as we know it

July 2, 2012

Day 2 under the cruel yoke of the ‘carbon tax’.

It’s true. It’s all true. How blind we were not to see it! This toxic tax is destroying us all.

I’m reporting to you from my bunker in Townsville, where the unseasonably warm weather is just one sign of how devastating this tax has been. Now, what I have to say might shock readers,, but I’m committed to bring you the truth – no matter how ugly.

As I write this, I look around me at the ruin of our civilisation. In this once-neat middle-class suburb, I can see lawns that need mowing, dogs romping – without leashes in the park opposite, and the raucous, triumphant laughter of the lorikeets drowns out the sound of the lamenting populace.

Tony Abbott was right. This tax is hurting us all. Why, just last night we were forced to choose between Masterchef and The Block. What sort of government institutes a tax that divides families like that?

And it gets worse. We’d planned a family roast dinner, but because of the carbon tax, the meat was undercooked and we had to eat in the dark.

Today, we plan to venture out into the chaos to see what can be salvaged. We’ll have to walk, of course – we need to conserve what little petrol remains for when we’ll inevitably have to flee. It’s just a question of where. We could probably survive in the mountains, but it might be better for us to sell whatever we can and get on a boat. I’m sure we could find a country generous enough to take in carbon tax refugees.

It’s the children who suffer most, and my heart breaks to see them. My niece can no longer access Facebook, and my teenage nephew had to wake up at (dear god) 7.00 am and go to work.

My computer’s batteries are dying now, so I’ll have to finish this entry and hope it gets out. People need to know.

Just remember – it’s only going to get worse from here. Soon, we’ll be reduced to living in armed camps and eating each other for food – uncooked, of course. Tony Abbott warned us and we didn’t listen.

And he couldn’t possibly be wrong, could he? Just look at the evidence.

Tony Abbott, secret Socialist

April 16, 2012

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott – sometimes he’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Today, he was out making the rounds of the businesses and calling media conferences in order to warn us all about the dangers of the ‘carbon tax’ – again. Honestly, you have to wonder if the local businesses in Canberra keep a look-out when Parliament is sitting, just in case he’s cruising the streets looking for a photo op.

Imagine it.

‘Hey, Jim? There’s the Oppo Leader’s car again.’

‘Quick, turn the sign around! We’ll hide behind the counter and be really quiet.’

But I digress.

Today’s speech was pretty much the same as all his other speeches … ‘great Australian business, manufacturing is our lifeblood, carbon tax will destroy the economy, government out of touch, etc, etc, ad nauseam‘. Yawn … cut, paste, move on. But then there was this gem:

‘I call on the workers of Australia to rise up, to rise up against this carbon tax and let the government know – ‘

Wait, what??

Did Abbott just call for a workers’ revolution? Is he really – gasp – a Secret Socialist???

Oh my god. It all makes sense.

Maybe that’s why he’s been so quick to point the finger at Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He’s trying to deflect suspicion from the Commie pinko skeletons in his own closet! He’s not really an economic and social conservative – that’s just a cover. All this time, he’s been hiding a Che Guevara t-shirt in his bottom drawer and hiding copies of Das Kapital and Chairman Mao’s little red book inside those biographies of Robert Menzies. He’s a sleeper agent, and now he’s revealed himself to the world. Any moment now, his horde of Secret Socialist Ninjas will leap into action.

I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Think about it. Why else would he wear red budgie smugglers?

The Secret Socialist Revealed!

Can you see him embracing the union representatives? Leading the Workers’ March on Canberra, standing proudly in front of the banners, chanting ‘the workers united will never be defeated’? Exhorting the crowd and storming into the House of Representatives to seize the Parliament for the people? Hand on heart, singing the Internationale (or possibly ‘Do you Hear the People Sing?’ from Les Miserables)?

Yeah. Me neither.

The idea of Abbott as Workers’ Champion is so ludicrous that there’s really nothing to be gained by arguing the point. His party’s policies at best ignore the needs and rights of Australian workers – but you don’t need me to tell you that.

So there’s really only one thing to be done here – and that’s to treat this ridiculous ‘rise up, workers’ routine for what it is.

Pure comedy.

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?


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.

Party of no policy?

February 15, 2012

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking we’re in the middle of an election campaign. Between lobby groups buying up television advertising, drop-in visits from the Leader of the Opposition to every kind of business from dry cleaners to aluminium plants, and what seems like at least one opinion poll every freakin’ day, it sure seems like it.

There’s no election date called. There’s no election date even on the horizon. But the campaign is in full swing. Given this, I decided to take a look at what policies were out there from the ‘alternative government’.

Let’s see …

Repeal the carbon pricing scheme with all associated rebates, compensation and industry assistance. Presumably this includes the lifting of the tax-free threshold and pensioner allowances.

Repeal the Mining Resources Rent Tax.

Repeal the means test for the 30% private health insurance rebate.

Scrap the NBN. It’s unclear whether that includes ripping out the infrastructure already in place and returning those areas already connected to copper.

Close Trades Training Centres.

Rip up any deals that might be made with Malaysia regarding asylum seekers, discontinue community detention and reinstitute processing on Nauru and Temporary Protection Visas.


But surely there are actual, concrete, positive policies out there? Maybe the media just isn’t reporting them. So I swung by the Liberal Party’s website to take a look. And there they were. Policy documents. Policies on health, energy, transport, the economy … you name it.

But wait.

Every single policy document is from the 2010 election.

None of the mini-essays from the relevant Shadows date from later than 2010.

And the odd piece of writing from this year? Falls into one of two categories: either relentless criticism of Labor; or a promise to repeal, scrap or otherwise abolish nearly every major accomplishment of the government.

If Abbott wants an election so badly – as he claims he does – surely he should start releasing alternative policy? If it’s imperative to stop the government from implementing its policy, or – god forbid – being re-elected, why not show us a better option? Motherhood statements are all very well, but they are no substitute for concrete policy.

It’s really no wonder that the most common parody of the Opposition is that they are the ‘Noalition’.

And lest readers complain that I am unfairly concentrating on the Opposition, I’d like to point out that government policy is under constant scrutiny as legislation comes before the House and the Senate. Those policies can be thoroughly analysed.

It’s very, very hard to examine what amounts to nothing more than the word ‘NO’, repeated ad nauseam.

Perhaps we will get some real policy announcements from the Opposition when the election date is finally announced. But given their track record of refusing to provide policies that have enough detail to be verified?

I’d have to say … no.

Gracious in defeat on carbon pricing? Hardly.

November 8, 2011

The government’s package of carbon price related bills has finally passed both Houses of Parliament. Despite months of scare campaigning from the Opposition, hundreds of column inches given over in editorials and opinion pieces, astro-turfed rallies on Parliament House lawns, and hours and hours and hours of hysterical lies, the bills have passed.

Even at the last minute, the Opposition tried every possible tactic to delay the final vote in the Senate. They tried for amendment after amendment, which were designed to render the bills useless and which had no chance of passing. Senator Eric Abetz led a desperate charge to suspend standing orders after debate ended, arguing that there hadn’t been sufficient time to examine the legislation properly.

Of course, he carefully didn’t mention that of the nearly 30 hours allotted for debate, almost all the Opposition’s speeches boiled down to nothing more than, ‘Gillard lied to us and we should have an election’. Virtually no substantive debate whatsoever.

When that failed, votes on the last amendments were held up by Opposition Senators leaving the Chamber to force longer-lasting divisions. And what did they gain from that? Around 12 minutes in total.

In the end, though, the vote was called. Even during the vote, there were objections. Could the Opposition hear the question again? Why were they being asked to vote on a whole group of bills at once? (Never mind that this was agreed upon when the bills first came before the Senate.) They did everything but sneak out and set off the fire alarm – and I’m not sure it didn’t cross their minds.

The vote was decisive – 36-32. And a packed Senate gallery erupted with cheers and applause.

So that’s it. End of story, right?

Foolish optimists.

Within seconds, Abetz was on his feet again wanting a suspension of standing orders. The reason? He wanted to have a chance to condemn Labor politicians for their ‘betrayal’ of the Australian people. By name. At length. It was all about the ‘will of the people’. Why couldn’t Labor just accept it?

Accept what, exactly? The result of the 2010 election, when we voted in such a way as to bring about a minority government? The dozens and dozens of polls showing popular support for pricing carbon dioxide emissions? Oh, of course not. The ‘will of the people’ is what Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says it is, apparently.

Senator George Brandis thundered that it was the ‘most infamous day in politics’ in Australian history. He railed against the government’s ‘alliance of infamy’ with the Greens, and contemptuously dismissed the ‘ragtag bunch of people in the gallery’ who’d applauded the vote. Finally, he warned that, come the next election, the Australian people would make sure that Labor wore ‘the crown of thorns’ and would crucify them.

That particular metaphor might have worked better had not Senator Barnaby Joyce been – at the same moment – telling the media that this was in fact, the ‘biggest betrayal since Judas betrayed Jesus’. The part of Judas, it seems, was played by Independent Tony Windsor. ‘Jesus’ was presumably the mythical ‘forgotten families’ so beloved of the Coalition of late.

Not to be outdone, Senator Ian MacDonald practically frothed at the mouth in his condemnation of the government. In a stunning display of utter hypocrisy, he objected violently to Senator Evans referring to the Opposition as being ‘wreckers’ – and then went on to name the Members for Corangamite and Deakin as ‘gutless wonders’ who were too ‘cowardly’ to speak on the bills. To add insult to injury, he referred to the Prime Minister as a ‘liar’, and when asked to withdraw, he argued with the Chair that he had a right to say it because ‘it’s been said a thousand times’. And besides, he muttered, it was ‘true’.

(Incidentally, this is what the Prime Minister actually said before the last election: ‘I don’t rule out the possibility of legislating a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a market-based mechanism … I rule out a carbon tax.’ And what do we have? An Emissions Trading Scheme. Not a tax.)

And so it went. Speaker after speaker, all contributing nothing of substance – in fact, throwing a tantrum worthy of a room full of three year olds.

I used to help out at my local university Co-Op childcare centre. If any of those kids tried behaviour like that, we’d have put them in Time Out. It’s a great shame there wasn’t the same disciplinary option available in the Senate chamber today.

The upshot? The vote was defeated on voices alone. The Opposition didn’t even try for a division. But it wasn’t over. Out they trotted to front the media with their dire predictions of imminent doom for the government and the Greens, and the End of All Employment in Australia. Those left in the Senate chamber bravely soldiered on, pulling quorum to interrupt debate over some of the related bills (such as those designed to assist the steel industry) and regurgitating the same tired old arguments.

Many of us had parents or teachers who counselled us to be ‘gracious in defeat’. Certainly I was always told that the grown-up thing to do when you lost was to congratulate your opponent and to move on. Perhaps the Opposition wasn’t as fortunate. Nonetheless, it’s not too late for them to learn.

Mr Abbott? Mr Truss? Mr Abetz? Opposition members? GROW UP. You lost the vote. Accept that. We’re not asking you to congratulate the Prime Minister, although it would be the gracious and adult thing to do.

If you still want to repeal all this legislation, you’ll have your chance to put your case to us at the time the next election is called. And if we don’t vote you in, perhaps you might finally accept ‘the will of the people’. Do us all a favour, and hold your water until then.

* * * * *

Dear Diary,

Day 1 of our oppression under the Socialist Green Carbon Tax of Doom. Sky not fallen. No anarchy in the streets. Dishes still need washing. Cat still needs feeding. Opposition still complaining.

Same old, same old.

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.

The carbon price debate: a little light relief

September 14, 2011

The debate on the government’s Clean Energy Bills package (the so-called ‘carbon tax’) is in full swing. We’re two and a half hours into what’s promised to be a 35 hour debate – and we can already identify some recurring themes. Let’s take a look.

First up, we have Forward to the future! This government arguments boils down to: ‘first a trading scheme, then flying cars!’ Well, not exactly – but it’s a relentlessly utopian view. Here the emissions trading scheme is held to be the key to all forms of future energy innovation – which then, apparently, leads to Australia entering a new Golden Age of Wonder. Presumably with a Kitchen of the Future!

To counter that, we have Back to the Stone Age. This one relies entirely on the idea that we’re all basically addicted to electricity, and our lives will fall apart when the trading scheme kicks in. We won’t be able to turn on our air conditioners! We will freeze in winter because we can’t use our heaters! Worst of all – we might have to ration our television viewing!

The horror.

Next up, More capitalist than thou. This is one of my personal favourites. We should depend on the market! The market will save us from dangerous climate change! The market will stop the ice from melting! Bow down to the god of the market! A tried-and-true conservative argument.

Except it isn’t the Coalition saying this – it’s the government.

(Oddly, I couldn’t find a humorous video for this one.)

Not to be outdone, the Coalition retaliate with Greens under the bed. The government is at the mercy of those Socialist Luddite Extreme Greens, who want to take away our freedom and spit on our flag! Comrade Brown is the only one who wants this ‘carbon tax’, and he’s blackmailing the government to get it! Run for your lives! We must protect Our Way of Life and Our Right to Pollute!

And just in case all that’s a bit too esoteric, there are the old standbys.

Liar, liar, pants on fire! Everyone, sing along with me now: Gillard lied to us! She said there wouldn’t be a carbon tax and now she’s got one! Never mind that these bills are not a bloody carbon tax (as some of us have been screaming for months, and Malcolm Farr finally recognised this morning.)

And finally, But all the cool kids are doing it. California’s doing it! Canada’s doing it! South Korea says it’s going to do it! If we don’t do it, we’ll be left behind! We’ll be … we’ll be … carbon dorks. Muuuuum …

All of which is by way of saying that there are no new arguments in this debate. We’ve heard them all before – ad nauseam. So here’s my proposal. How about the Coalition simply tables its leaked ‘confidential’ talking points, the government tables a few Gillard’s press releases, and we all just get on with it?

A sleazy new low for Abbott

September 8, 2011

Remember back in March, when Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wanted to address an anti-‘carbon tax’ rally on the Parliament House lawns? That was so important, apparently, that he felt it necessary to request a ‘pair’ from the government, in case a vote was called. Even though Abbott was effectively asking for freedom to slander the government and encourage hateful and violent sentiments, Labor granted him that pair. Thus secure in the knowledge that his absence wouldn’t upset any Coalition plans, Abbott hurried off to get himself married to the lynch mob.

The rally Tony Abbott couldn't miss

Fast forward to around three weeks ago, where Abbott declared that he would not grant pairs to the government during debate over the 13 bills that make up its Clean Energy Future package. He backed up the threat with immediate action, denying a pair to Arts Minister Simon Crean so that he could not attend the funeral of Margaret Olley AC, one of Australia’s great artists. This meant that his own colleague, Malcolm Turnbull, was also unable to attend the funeral. It was a particularly puzzling act – the absence of both Crean and Turnbull would have balanced the numbers anyway – unless you take into account that this was a shot across the bow.

Abbott quickly followed it up by denying the Prime Minister a pair so that she could meet a fellow head of state. In that case, Gillard had no choice but to risk that no vote would be called – it was that, or deliver an inexcusable snub to the President of the Seychelles.

Now it’s Craig Thomson’s turn. You probably remember him – during the last sitting of Parliament, the Opposition used Parliamentary privilege to consistently assert that Thomson was guilty of multiple acts of fraud, and incidentally employed sex workers (because a good ol’ morality campaign never goes astray). The New South Wales police, who looked into the matter after Opposition Senator George Brandis decided to make a few phone calls putting pressure on the state’s Police Minister, announced that it had insufficient evidence to even warrant launching a full investigation – let alone bring charges. Effectively, this means that Thomson has no case to answer, at least in NSW.

Not that this matters to the Opposition. Abbott declared that NSW had very high standards of proof that needed to be met in order to bring charges – so high, in fact, that even with all the ‘evidence’ that it had, it couldn’t go any further. Brandis chimed in with his own brand of spin, asserting there was prima facie evidence of Thomson’s guilt – though apparently the NSW police don’t agree. The message was clear – no let-up on Thomson in the near future.

But the Coalition may have undone themselves this time. As part of the ongoing campaign against the government in general, and Thomson in particular, Abbott has denied Thomson a pair in the upcoming session. ‘No way,’ Abbott said. ‘We have made it crystal clear that only in the most extraordinary circumstances will pairs be offered for the carbon tax vote.’

Well, that’s somewhat softer than his earlier ‘not under any circumstances’ stance. Which begs the question – for what apparently trivial reason has Thomson been denied a pair?

His wife is due to give birth soon.

Yes, you read that right. Attending the birth of your child, supporting your spouse in labour – that’s not enough reason to miss a vote in Parliament.

Remember, this is the man who asked for and received a pair merely in order to attend a violent, hate-filled rally in order to make a speech and get his photo taken in front of signs recommending Gillard burn in hell. It’s arguably ‘extraordinary’ – but more important than being there for the birth of your child?

Abbott prides himself on being a family man. Remember during the election, when he took every possible opportunity to sideswipe Gillard for being unmarried and childless? When his wife Margie accompanied him on the campaign trail, and his daughters sat in the audience during speeches to the faithful? And that’s without listing the numerous times he’s used his ‘Dad’ status to bolster his opinions on everything from abortion to same-sex marriage.

Yet he doesn’t consider the birth of another man’s child sufficiently ‘extraordinary’ to allow a pair.

Leader of Opposition Business Christopher Pyne confirmed Abbott’s statement. He went further, claiming that it was up to the government to make sure it didn’t schedule any votes while Thomson was with his wife and new baby. This is nonsensical in the extreme. Debate and votes are usually scheduled in advance – is Pyne suggesting the government employ a psychic to determine when the birth will be? He also completely ignored the possibility that the Opposition might take advantage of numbers to attempt a suspension of standing orders to attempt a censure or throw the bills back into committee. In other words – what he said is simply meaningless.

Perhaps the Coalition thinks the baby should just wait until it can be squeezed into a packed schedule. After all, ‘the first duty of members of parliament is to be in the parliament when critical votes are taken,’ as Abbott said. Never mind his own record of sleeping through a crucial vote on the ETS under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, or Pyne’s own vote missed through bungled scheduling – a vote that was re-cast after the Coalition insisted it was ‘only fair’ that Pyne be allowed to record his vote anyway.

That baby has no business interfering with the business of Parliament, by the Coalition’s reasoning – and Thomson’s wife should really be more considerate about her timing.

This isn’t just petty politicking. It isn’t even simple, mean-spirited points-scoring. This is sleazy. Not content with smearing Thomson’s reputation from the safety of Parliament (and perhaps not coincidentally, suggesting that he’s a poor husband), Abbott has now attacked Thomson just for wanting to be with his wife when she’ll need him. Apparently Abbott doesn’t realise the contradiction there – he’s as happy to attack Thomson for being a supportive husband as for allegedly being a two-timing lowlife.

With any luck, this will backfire on the Opposition. Thomson was cleared by the NSW police – just pursuing him on that matter runs the risk of looking like a witch-hunt. Add to that the absolutely inexcusable refusal of a pair, and it rapidly takes on the odour of persecution.

It’s a serious misstep – there are few people who wouldn’t make an exception to business as usual for such an important family matter, and even diehard Coalition voters are likely to think Abbott’s gone too far. He needs to back down immediately; he can easily save face while doing so, say he’s consulted with his colleagues, made an exception in this one case, wax lyrical again about the importance of family – really, whatever works. But he needs to do it quickly before he poisons his unending election campaign irrevocably.

A frequent charge levelled by the Opposition is that the current government lacks ‘compassion’. They should scrap the ‘carbon tax’ to show compassion for the ‘forgotten families’. They should send asylum seekers to Nauru to show compassion. They should scrap the mining tax. Et cetera.

This is an opportunity for Abbott to walk his own walk. Grant Thomson a pair, apologise for even suggesting his family’s welfare should be sacrificed, and provide an example with which he can task the government on future occasions.

It’s a win-win, Mr Abbott. But something tells us you won’t see it that way.


Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey considerably softened the Coalition’s stance on the pairing issue this morning. Appearing on the Sunrise program, he informed Environment Minister Tony Burke that, ‘If you tell us when the vote will be I’m sure we will be very reasonable’. (Notice the attempt to make the Coalition’s sleazy tactics the fault of the government?)

Hockey added, ‘We are not going to deny a person the chance to be at the birth of his child’, which seems like a laudable sentiment. Unfortunately, at the same time Abbott was telling the Today Show that he supported Pyne’s comments from yesterday. Confusion in the ranks? Or Hockey caving in under pressure?

A moment ago, Sky News reported that Abbott has since refined his position. Apparently now it might be possible for Thomson to be granted ‘brief relief’ if his wife goes into labour. It’s not at all clear what that means, but it certainly suggests that Abbott would impose a time limit on any pairing granted. In that time limit, Thomson would have to travel from Parliament House to the airport, get a seat on a flight, fly to Sydney, and take a cab from Mascot Airport to the hospital. That doesn’t leave a lot of time to spend supporting his wife.

Presumably, it would be Mrs Thomson’s fault if her labour went longer than Abbott thought it should. Just like it’s the government’s ‘fault’ that the Coalition won’t grant him a pair.

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