Election Eve Round-up

September 6, 2013

With under 24 hours to go, pretty much all that can be said about this election has been said. The media know this; they’ve run out of new questions. They’re reduced to repeatedly asking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd if he’ll stay in Parliament after his apparently inevitable defeat, and how long before Abbott repeals the ‘carbon tax’. Oh, and how Margie will like living in the Lodge.

Of course, what they are not asking – and for the most part, have not asked – is how the Coalition can justify handing out middle and upper class welfare dollars to those who least need it, while cutting funds for vital public transport infrastructure and for indigenous legal aid. They’re not asking how the Greens plan to force a majority government of either stripe to go along with their policies. And – with the notable exception of the Wikileaks Party debacle – they’ve ignored the minor parties altogether.

Instead, the News Ltd media this morning gave us a full-page photo of Abbott in close-up with the Australian flag behind him. The headline? ‘IT’S TONY’S TIME’.

Nope. No bias there. It has to be said, though, that it’s one of the Murdoch empire’s milder headlines. At least they managed not to Godwin themselves.

One notable exception in the lacklustre media coverage was the revelation last night that the Coalition had a hitherto unannounced policy for an opt-out internet filter. Broken by the ABC’s Latika Bourke and ZDNet’s Josh Thomas, the news sent the Shadow Communications Spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull, into frantic damage control. Turnbull’s attempt to quash the story failed miserably when the policy was discovered on the Liberal Party’s website, Taylor published the audio evidence, and Bourke pointed out that Paul Fletcher (Turnbull’s junior) had walked her through the policy in detail. On The Project, Joe Hockey was blindsided. By 8.00 pm, the official line coming from the Coalition was that the policy – which was an old memo, never adopted – had been published in error by an unnamed staffer. An alternative version also popped up, stating that the policy had been ‘badly worded’.

Whatever the truth, the news was clearly damning. Whether that makes any difference to the vote, however, is another story. Arguably, the Coalition were never likely to attract many ‘net voters’, anyway – but at least it made the news.

Barring another such policy explosion, there’ll be little more coming from either major party before the polls open. With such a short time to go, however, there’s still time to read up on the parties, their policies, and some notable commentators in the independent media.

On the mythical beast that is the Coalition’s ‘costings’, Greg Jericho has a ripper of a piece over at The Guardian. Jericho points out what virtually no one in the major media has bothered to mention; what was released yesterday was not costings. It was a short document with few numbers, no detail and none of the bottom-line working-out that should be made available, presented to journalists ten minutes before the media conference. And we’re all supposed to take it on faith that the Coalition got everything right.

For in-depth analysis of the parties and group tickets, particularly in Victoria, Cate Speaks is your go-to blogger. If you can think of a party contesting this election, Cate’s put them under the microscope and turned the magnification up high.

Another very good site for summary and analysis, particularly of Senate candidates, is Butterfly’s Wings. Merinnan also looks into each party’s preferences, and where an above-the-line vote is likely to end up.

Over at the ABC, Antony Green’s Election Guide will take you around the country and show you every electorate in detail. (Okay, so it’s not independent media, but it’s an indispensable guide).

And for the policies themselves, here are the links to the websites, in alphabetical order. If I’ve forgotten anyone, please comment and provide a link, and I’ll update this post.

Animal Justice Party

Australia First

Australian Christian Party

Australian Democrats

Australian Greens

Australian Labor Party

Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party

Australian Sex Party

Australian Voice Party

Bank Reform Party

Building Australia Party

Bullet Train for Australia

Christian Democratic Party

Citizens Electoral Council

Country Alliance

Democratic Labor Party

Drug Law Reform Party

Family First

Fishing and Lifestyle Party

Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party

Katter’s Australian Party

Liberal Party

Liberal Democratic Party

No Carbon Tax Climate Skeptics

One Nation

Outdoor Recreation Party

Palmer United Party

Pirate Party of Australia

Republican Party of Australia

Rise Up Australia Party

Save the Planet

Secular Party

Senator Online

Shooters and Fishers Party

Smokers Rights Party

Socialist Equality Party

Stable Population Party

Stop CSG Party

Wikileaks Party

Finally, there’s Below the Line, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It provides a simple, user-friendly way for everyone to tackle those ridiculously long Senate ballot papers. In this election, with so many minor parties and with the looming prospect of both Houses being held by one party, voting below the line is more important than ever.

So that’s it, folks. Please, take some time, read up on the policies and some of the excellent analysis that is out there. Your vote is more than important – it’s crucial.

Tomorrow I’ll be live blogging and tweeting from early in the day. Please ‘call in’ with sausage sizzle reviews, dodgy tactics and dirty tricks (photos gratefully accepted), exit polls and anything else you see happening around town.

It’s all up to us now. Let’s do it.

UPDATE:

How could I forget the most crucial website of all? The Election Sausage Sizzle Map, for all your sausage, cake stall and school fete needs on Election Day – all those small, but necessary things that sustain us all. Where would we be without them?

Sausage sizzlers of the nation, I salute you. And I’ll have mine with onions and tomato sauce, thanks.


Rudd’s marriage equality line in the sand

September 3, 2013

Kevin Rudd’s appearance on the ABC’s QandA program was always going to be a drawcard. Whether you were looking to see him roundly criticised for everything from challenging for the leadership to the PNG asylum seeker policy, hoping for some substance, or just wanting to see some sign that Labor might not be doomed at Saturday’s election, there was a reason to tune in. And he didn’t disappoint.

This format – alone in front of a live audience – is where Rudd reveals both his best and worst self. Best, in that he can let rip on issues where he feels real conviction. Worst, in that he has a terrible poker face where his temper is concerned. If he’s getting angry with a line of questioning, you can see it.

There was a little of both last night. He completely failed to break through on the issue of superannuation, and at one point looked ready to give host Tony Jones an ear-bashing when the latter challenged him on his constant use of the misleading ‘$70 billion black hole’ phrase. (For the record? The number was confirmed by both Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and Shadow Finance Spokesperson Andrew Robb – but not during this election campaign, and not on the current set of Coalition policies.) On the other hand, his ability to admit where he’d made mistakes in the past, and to own those mistakes rather than make excuses, went over well with the audience.

Where both sides of the man came together was on the question of marriage equality – and it was an amazing thing to see.

The questioner described himself as a ‘pastor’, and gave a rambling statement about Rudd changing his position on various issues, before zeroing in on marriage. It wasn’t quite a case of a trembling finger of rage pointed from the pulpit, but it was close. The questioner actually quivered. It was clear that, whatever else he’d said, the real reason for his anger was that he felt personally insulted by Rudd’s change of heart on marriage equality.

Rudd started off mildly enough, but then asked the questioner whether his view was that homosexuality was normal. The pastor answered with the claim that ‘we’ – he and his fellow pastors – performed weddings between men and women, that the Bible was clear on marriage and homosexuality, etc, and why didn’t Rudd believe the words of Jesus. At that point, Rudd’s whole demeanour changed. His words became passionate, and his manner full of conviction; and he took the questioner to task. Watch it:

For political tragics (like your obedient correspondent) who loved The West Wing, it was a familiar moment – a leader pushed too far on questions of social justice, fighting back as a member of that religion. There was no doubt that Rudd didn’t give a damn about that questioner’s vote, or the votes of anyone who felt the same way. Nor was he simply trying to grab the so-called ‘gay’ vote – his earlier announcements on the subject of marriage equality had already signalled his intention to introduce legislation, and support it. Rudd, simply, was telling it like he saw it.

But there was something else going on, something not immediately obvious. Rudd’s answer wasn’t just a declaration of support for marriage equality. It was a line in the sand.

There are any number of people or groups on the other side of that line, including influential factional bosses of his own party such as Joe de Bruyn of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union. Arguably the biggest, however, is the Australian Christian Lobby.

This group claims to represent ‘Australia’s Christians’. I’ve written before about the staggering misrepresentation in such claims, and how virtually no media outlet bothers to correct them. The ACL is homophobic, anti-choice, anti-secular education and little more than a mouthpiece for certain fundamentalist groups. Hiding behind the mantle of ‘Christian’, it has, in the past, successfully spooked Premiers, Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders, and political parties have bent over backwards to answer the imperious ‘policy questionnaire’ it sends out at election time. (The notable exception is the Greens, which has, at least some of the time, politely told the ACL where it can put its questions.)

As the issue of marriage equality has grown in Australia, the ACL’s tone has become ever more shrill, to the point of hysteria. It seeks promises from political leaders that they will not tamper with the ‘sanctity of marriage’, and for the most part, the parties have made such promises. Whether directly – as in the case of the Rise Up Australia Party (another mouthpiece, this time for a Pentecostal church – Catch the Fire Ministries), or indirectly, as in Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s weasel words about a possible party room discussion sometime in the distant future, the ACL gets what it wants.

In the past, Rudd did his fair share of pandering to Australian Christians. Even then, his language was considerably less enthusiastic than some. During a 2007 ‘debate’ with former Prime Minister John Howard hosted by the ACL, Rudd repeatedly hammered the points of tolerance and diversity, and acknowledged the fact that Christians were not a homogenous mass devoid of individual thinking. Nonetheless, the fact he was prepared to take the time to address the ACL showed Rudd acknowledged its power as a lobby group.

Because, let’s not forget, that’s what the ACL is – a lobby group. The clue is in the name, people.

The pastor who angrily demanded of Rudd that he ‘live by Jesus’ words’ was Matt Prater, from New Hope Brisbane. It’s one of those ‘non-church churches’ that claims to provide an alternative to the mainstream churches – which, according to places like New Hope, have lost the ‘truth’ of God’s message. This is exactly the kind of place that signs up to the ACL.

Prater was singing from the ACL hymn book. He was not simply asking for a religious exemption from having to perform same-sex marriages – he believed all Australians must live by his church’s interpretation of select portions of the Bible (and the Old Testament, at that – Jesus was silent on the question of homosexuality and same-sex marriage). That’s called Dominionism (so-called ‘God’s kingdom on earth’), and it’s the backbone of the ACL’s principles. Nobody gets a choice, because ‘God knows best’, and the ACL (and its affiliates) know what God wants. And politicians have let these religious groups get away with it, giving them – at best – a cautious wag of the finger.

After last night, though, the ACL and those who subscribe to its tenets are on notice. Rudd signalled that, as far as the Labor Party is concerned, the ACL’s influence is irrelevant.

That might not be entirely true – never underestimate the power of the pulpit. Just ask the Catholics who were around when the Democratic Labor Party split off from the ALP in the 1950s. It’s possible Rudd hammered a pretty big nail in Labor’s coffin last night.

What matters, though, is that the issue of marriage equality last night become important enough that a major party was prepared to send a message to a big lobby group that it would rather do without the votes than compromise its support.

And – no matter what the outcome on Saturday – we shouldn’t lose sight of it.

Goodness knows there will be few enough moments of which we can really feel proud when we look back on this campaign. We should celebrate what we can.


Mythbusting the Vote

August 19, 2013

It’s less than three weeks to the Federal Election on September 7, so let’s take a step back from the campaigns to look at actual voting. In every election, there are misconceptions, half-truth and outright lies peddled by various groups, all designed to do one thing: convince you that your vote is only worth what they say it is.

That’s the first lie. Let’s bust the rest.

MYTH 1: I live in a safe seat. My vote won’t make any difference.

Political parties just love this one. The more they can convince voters that any given seat will remain in the hands of the current holder, the less work they have to do to keep those voters happy – and that gives them more time and money to campaign in marginal seats they might be in danger of losing. Prime Ministers and senior Ministers tend to hold ‘safe’ seats. Politicians tapped to be future leaders often move to a safe seat held by a party member who might be about to retire. It’s all very organised and stable.

Except when it isn’t. Safe seats may well be anything but. Usually, a seat would be considered safe if, at the previous election, the candidate won with 60% or more of the vote. At the 2007 election, however, a shock result saw Prime Minister John Howard lose his seat in a massive swing to Labor novice Maxine McKew. Howard became only the second sitting Prime Minister in Australia’s history to lose his seat (the first being Stanley Bruce in 1929). And in this year’s election, there are seats held with margins of over 12% that are considered ‘in play’.

When it comes to your vote, then, questions of ‘safe’ and ‘marginal’ are somewhat less meaningful than perhaps they used to be. It’s possible to overturn a safe seat with only a handful of votes. One of those could be yours.

MYTH 2: It doesn’t matter how I number my House of Representatives ballot, as long as I mark the party I want as number one.

This is a common mistake. The green House of Reps ballot requires you to number all boxes, and often people feel that they only need to focus on which candidate they designate as their first preference. As a result, they simply number the remaining positions straight down the paper.

Preferences determine the outcome of most marginal seats. That could mean a result that at first seems unlikely. For example, a Greens candidate ahead in first preference votes could well be defeated after second preferences were counted, if most of those preferences were for one of the major parties. The way you organise your preferences ensures you have the greatest possible influence on the outcome.

MYTH 3: A vote for a minor party or Independent is just a waste.

Oh dear. Another great piece of misinformation from the major parties – and one you’re likely to hear as you front up at the polling booth. The argument goes like this:

1. Minor parties/Independents don’t get elected.
2. You want to make sure your vote counts, don’t you?
3. You should cast your vote for a party that will get elected.

It’s all based on that first premise – which is rubbish. You only have to look at the Parliament just gone to see that. In the Lower House, we had four Independents and a Greens MP. In the Senate, there were 9 Greens, 1 DLP and 1 Independent. The make-up of that Parliament meant that the government of the day was required to be far more open to negotiation than previous, two-party situations.

There’s no clearer illustration that a vote for minor parties or Independents can be extremely effective.

MYTH 4: Electing someone from a minor party or an Independent will lead to a Parliament that doesn’t work.

You’ve heard this one from the Coalition, both in and out of Parliament’s chambers. Peppered with wonderfully ridiculous terms like ‘shambolic’, ‘unworkable’, ‘held hostage’, the Opposition did its level best to paint the 43rd Parliament, and particularly the minority government under Labor, as utterly useless.

Of course, it’s nonsense. That Parliament passed hundreds of pieces of legislation, including major reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the National Broadband Network, carbon pricing, and the Better Schools program. Additionally, it implemented a number of reforms to the way Parliaments conduct their business – streamlining Question Time, briefing minor party and Independent MPs and giving them access to Treasury for costings being only a few.

As for the notion that the Parliament was ‘held hostage’ – again, this is entirely down to a Coalition attempt to damage the Labor government. The idea there was to convince voters that Labor was somehow so beholden to the Greens that it would betray its own base just to hang onto power.

The minority government worked, whether people (or the Coalition) liked it or not. There’s no reason to think that another minority government would be any different.

Oh, and since Liberal leader Tony Abbott never bothers to remind voters – any Coalition government has also been a minority government, comprising the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Country Liberal Party, and the Liberal National Party. Those governments functioned – and, presumably, Mr Abbott thinks any future Coalition minority governments would do so again.

MYTH 5: It doesn’t make any difference if I vote above or below the line in the Senate, so I might as well save myself some time.

Oh, where to start with this one?

How can I put this simply? IT MATTERS.

Now, it can be an utter pain to fill in every little box, making sure that you haven’t doubled up or skipped a number. If you live in Victoria, this election is likely to be particularly onerous for you. But don’t be tempted to simply stick a number above the line and be done with it.

Why? Because once you do that, you’ve given your vote away to that party. And while you may think that party represents your views, what about those to whom it’s directed preferences? Do you even know who those parties or individuals are, for that matter?

It’s not too hard to find out the preferences for each Senate ticket – all the information is clearly available on the Australian Electoral Commission website. And there are a few unpleasant surprises when you do look. For a start, some tickets in Victoria didn’t even lodge their preferences with the AEC – so you have no way of knowing what would happen if you did simply hand over your vote.

Then there’s the issue of the Wikileaks Party. Broadly considered sympathetic to Left-leaning parties, the WLP was expected to direct preferences to the Greens – and, allegedly, had indicated that it would do so. Instead, it preferenced the extreme Right-wing Australia First Party in New South Wales; and in Western Australia, preferenced the National Party above the Greens.

WLP supporters demanded an explanation, and were told that the NSW preferences came about as the result of an ‘administrative error’.

There are no clearer illustrations of the need to know where your preferred party directs its preferences, and of the need to vote below the line in the Senate. To put it bluntly, it’s the only way your vote can be truly representative.

Thankfully, there are some very clever people out there at Below the Line. They’ve collected the ballot positions and full tickets for all seats and both Houses, and are in the process of setting up their ballot editors. You can find out who’s running in your electorate or State, organise your voting preferences with these editors and print those out on a sheet to take with you into the polling booth. Yes, you still have to write down a lot of numbers, but the majority of the work is already done.

CONCLUSION: So there you have it. Five myths, all easily busted. If you’re skeptical about politicians when they talk about policy, then it’s worth extending that to anything they say about voting. The vote is your power – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


Indecent, Inhumane, Unhappy – the Coalition’s asylum seeker policy

August 16, 2013

First there was Labor’s Papua New Guinea Solution. Then there was the Coalition’s ‘Pacific Solution 2.0’. Both were harsh, and both rightly attracted criticism from asylum seeker advocates, human rights organisations and the public. Now the Coalition’s one-upped itself, with today’s announcement targeting the approximately 30,000 asylum seekers currently in detention – or, as Liberal leader Tony Abbott called them, the ‘old arrivals’.

Here’s a sample of the preamble to this policy announcement:

‘Illegal arrivals … if you can’t stop the boats, you’re not capable of governing this country … stop the boats … stop the boats … 30,000 who have come illegally by boat … we’ve always said people who come illegally by boat will not be granted permanent residency … those who come illegally by boat will get Temporary Protection Visas … come illegally … people who are here illegally by boat’.

That was in less than three minutes.

Of course, none of that was news to anyone who’s ever heard Abbott blow this particular dogwhistle. The Coalition runs on the theory that a lie repeated often enough will be accepted as truth. Asylum seekers who come by boat are not ‘illegal’. They are referred to in both international treaties and our Department of Immigration and Citizenship as ‘irregular’ or ‘unauthorised’ maritime arrivals:

‘The preferred terms for boat arrivals as used by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) are ‘unauthorised boat arrivals’ or ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ and, as noted above, people arriving by such means who then claim asylum are entitled to do so.’

Not that this has ever deterred the Coalition from pushing their lie. And yes, it is a lie. Coalition members, including Abbott, have been repeatedly informed of the truth, and deliberately choose not to speak it.

To return to today’s announcement …

The Coalition apparently decided that putting in place new policies to deal with further arrivals wasn’t enough. It announced retroactive strategies aimed at clearing out what it described as a ‘legacy backlog’ of asylum seekers waiting in detention centres for their claims to be processed. Kicking off with a paraphrase of former Prime Minister John Howard’s infamous slogan – ‘This is our country and we determine who comes here‘ – Abbott described what would happen to those 30,000 people (who, he asserted, were hoping for a Labor victory so that they could settle here permanently).

Their claims will be ‘fast-tracked’, under a ‘triage’ system. What that boils down to is that after a fast pass, anyone who might not be granted refugee status would be quickly processed, have their claim looked over and then ‘put on a removal pathway’. This includes anyone in community detention; if, during ‘triage’, they appear likely to be denied refugee status, they would be immediately returned to detention centres.

After that, ‘likely’ claims would be processed. Anyone finally granted refugee status would be given a Temporary Protection Visa for up to three years, assessed on a case by case basis. For the entirety of that time, TPV holders who were granted a welfare payment would be required to be in a Work for the Dole program. They would also be denied family reunion.

When their TPV expired, their refugee claims would be assessed again and if a Coalition government decided they no longer had any fear of persecution, they would be deported.

Almost as an aside, the Coalition’s Immigration spokesperson, Scott Morrison added that anyone even suspected of throwing away identifying documents would automatically be denied refugee status. ‘They won’t just go to the back of the queue,’ he said. ‘They won’t be in the queue at all.’

The final part of this ‘streamlined’ process would be the abolition of the Refugee Review Tribunal. Abbott noted that under the current system, 80% of those initially denied refugee status had their cases overturned on appeal. ‘That’s why Australians are questioning whether this a fair system,’ he said.

In response to questions, Abbott said he was confident that this plan, together with Operation Sovereign Borders, would see the number of boats drop to three per year by ‘well into’ his first term, certainly by 2016. He described this as ‘the happy situation that was brought about by the Howard government’.

Happy.

There is nothing, nothing happy about this.

This is a system designed to do only one thing; kick as many people as possible out of Australia. It’s not intercepting a boat and processing asylum seeker claims offshore, or even settling people offshore. It’s targeting people who are already here.

And why? Purely so that the Coalition can say it’s ‘fixed the boat problem’. Not only will they stop the boats, they’ll punish those who already got here by boat. Asylum seekers would be entirely at the mercy of a system for which there is no independent oversight, no independent review, no recourse to even the most basic of rights.

DIAC would not have to prove that someone deliberately destroyed documents; it would be enough to be suspicious.

The ‘fast-track’ process (which Abbott likened to the system under Howard) virtually guarantees that grievous mistakes will be made, potentially sending people back into situations that would endanger their lives – but neatly avoiding the accusation that we are breaking our non-refoulement obligations, because after all, it was a mistake. Oops.

Remember Cornelia Rau? OrVivian Solon?? They were just the high-profile ‘mistakes’ under Howard’s plan.

Even if someone is found to be a refugee, they would have no opportunity to build any kind of life here in Australia. Assuming they would qualify for welfare, they would need to work for the pittance they’d receive. (Funny thing – if you have to work for it, it’s hardly welfare.) It sets up a whole new lower class who would be dependent on relatives or charity organisations just to survive.

Perhaps they could serve in Abbott’s Green Army.

The Coalition knows what it’s doing. Morrison said, ‘We want to end the process where “no” becomes “yes” under an appeal’.

You read that right. The Coalition doesn’t want there to be any chance that a decision made by DIAC might be found to be wrong.

Morrison added, ‘The UNHCR says you don’t have to have both judicial and administrative processes’. The Coalition wants to go back to a pure administrative system; ‘it works better for us,’ said Morrison. ‘We’re not obliged to give [asylum seekers] the same rights as we are our citizens’.

There you have it. And while it’s possible there could be more inhumane asylum seeker policies, short of actually locking people up in the equivalent of Abu Ghraib, it’s hard to see how.

And yet Scott Morrison says the Coalition will deal with people ‘in accord with basic human decency’.

And yet Tony Abbott says the Coalition will ‘discharge its humanitarian obligations’.

This plan is neither ‘decent’ or ‘humane’. And for Abbott to describe it as bringing about a ‘happy situation’?

Words fail me.


Election 2013 – the real date

August 4, 2013

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited Governor-General Quentin Bryce today to request that she issue writs for an election of the House of Representatives and half the Senate.

The date will be September 7, and the campaign begins tomorrow.

There’s really only one thing to say now …


The return of Rudd – so now what?

June 27, 2013

Last night everything came to a head – the constant speculation, the outrageous op-eds, and the inevitable cries of ‘What the hell is going on here?’ from the Australian people. Faced with a petition calling for a Special Caucus meeting to decide the Labor leadership, Prime Minister Julia Gillard called a spill for 7pm. In an exclusive interview with Sky News’ David Speers, she invited ‘challengers’, and insisted that the loser leave politics at the next election.

Of course, she didn’t utter the name ‘Kevin Rudd’, but there was only ever one contender. This was to be nothing less than a final showdown. And – unlike the bungled attempt by Simon Crean in March this year – Rudd stepped up. His style could not have been more different. The Prime Minister gave a quiet, exclusive interview. Rudd held a press conference in the Caucus Room, effectively sending a message that he already held the high ground, and was reaching out to all viewers.

As the time wore down, rumours and leaks were everywhere. Rudd had the numbers. Gillard had the numbers. This person was switching allegiances. Nothing new, really – but then there was a bombshell. Bill Shorten, widely regarded as the ‘kingmaker’ of the Labor Party, head of the National Right and instrumental in removing Rudd in 2010, announced that he would be supporting Rudd. He brought around seven votes with him, and from there the tide turned. Water Minister Tony Burke, Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Finance Minister Penny Wong, both stalwart Gillard supporters, also decided to support Rudd.

The result: 57-45. Kevin Rudd was sworn in – again – as Prime Minister this morning.

For some, this was something for which they’d been waiting since 2010. For others, it was nothing less than a coup – and here I confess myself entirely bemused. Gillard supporters – themselves the beneficiaries of a leadership challenge that toppled a sitting Prime Minister – cried foul. Turnabout, it seems, is not fair play when it comes to Gillard being ousted.

It’s worth taking a look at those who changed their votes, however. Why would they abandon Gillard, after supporting her for so long? The answer is simple, and brutal: this was never about anything but winning the upcoming election – or at least, minimising the damage if the Coalition takes government.

Sounds venal, doesn’t it? Self-serving? Grasping?

Of course it is.

Remember those polls? Even the best said that under Gillard, Labor faced decimation at the ballot box. The Coalition would likely hold both Houses by majority, rendering the Greens ineffective in the Senate and Independents like Andrew Wilkie entirely powerless. Labor stood to lose Queensland and Western Australia in the Senate, as well as key seats formerly considered safe. At worst, Labor would cease to have any discernible effect as a political party for a very long time.

Then there were all those other polls, that showed Rudd was by far preferred leader, and might even make a fight out of the election. And finally, internal polling that confirmed the worst fears of everyone in the party. Under those circumstances, any politician is going to think long and hard about not only their own future, but that of their party.

Carr said on Lateline last night that ‘suddenly the next election has become very contestable. … Our achievements … were at risk from an Abbott government’. Wong said it was ‘a difficult decision’, made ‘in the best interests of the Labor party’, to make the next election a real contest.

And what about Shorten, the so-called power behind the throne? As he made his announcement, the Minister looked anything but happy. On his face was the look of a man swallowing a bitter pill. He knew he’d be the target of everything from criticism to outright hatred for changing sides, even making the point himself that his political career would probably suffer, possibly even end altogether. He may well have sacrificed himself for the party. That’s not something any politician does lightly.

Anthony Albanese was elected and sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister, beating Simon Crean 61-38. That Crean ran at all was remarkable. If he expected to be rewarded for his attempt to bring on a spill, he was sadly mistaken. Albanese has shown himself throughout to be someone who works entirely for the party, and stayed loyal to the leader. His appointment will go far to heal breaches, after almost half the front bench resigned their portfolios last night. Likewise the unanimous election of Penny Wong as Senate Leader. The other key position, Treasurer, has fallen to Chris Bowen.

As I write, Prime Minister Rudd makes his first speech to the House, acknowledging former Prime Minister Gillard and lauding her accomplishments. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott delivered a speech almost identical to the one he made when Gillard first took office, changing little other than gender references. There was even a reference to the ‘faceless men’, backed up a few minutes later by Immigration Shadow Scott Morrison, who referred to Shorten as ‘the Kingslayer’. Back to normal.

Abbott squashed any talk of a no confidence motion, but the electioneering has already started. He’s called for an immediate election (earliest possible date: August 3), recycling the accusation that the Australian people have – again – been cheated of their right to elect their Prime Minister. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Abbott knows full well that we elect our government, not our government’s leader. Of course, any given leader may sway our vote, but once the party is in power (or Opposition, for that matter), that leader can be changed at any time. That’s how a party-based Parliamentary system works.

So now what?

Rudd faces a choice: keep the September 14 election date, and use the time to establish himself as leader of a party capable of bringing the fight to the Coalition; bring the election date forward, and go immediately into full campaign mode; or push the date back to its latest possible time, hold more sitting weeks and consolidate legislation.

As Prime Minister, he gains an incumbent’s advantage; right up until the election period officially starts, he can still act in an executive fashion. He has the time to show how his policies will differ sufficiently from both the Coalition and his predecessor to justify his re-election. This will particularly centre on issues of climate change, asylum seekers and marriage equality (to which Rudd is a recent convert).

Any option has dangers. Rudd’s popularity may well wane with time, leaving Labor’s election chances in the doldrums. Long election campaigns always test the patience of the electorate, and in this case, the Coalition is likely to run an almost entirely negative strategy aimed at destroying Rudd. They have plenty of ammunition – some of the comments from Gillard’s supporters during the 2012 leadership challenges were positive gifts to the Opposition.

Bringing on an earlier election, however, has its own risks. Rudd and his new Ministry need to clearly show themselves as a cohesive team. The new Ministers only have a short time to establish their credentials as things stand, which allows the Coalition to argue that their side (populated by many of former Prime Minister John Howard’s cabinet) has the necessary experience.

I suspect Rudd will leave the election date at September 14. It’s the best compromise. It won’t be an easy three months, though; the Opposition will be relentless, and the government needs to push its message through the debris of last night’s challenge. Rudd will continue his tactic of stumping for local members. In fact, he’ll be all over the media – pressers, interviews, QandA, various current affairs programs. He’ll face innumerable questions about the leadership challenge, as will those who changed their votes to support him.

It remains to be seen if the media will finally stop asking those questions, since now – in the words of The Age – they can have a debate about policy and ideas. (Sarcasm definitely intended).

And for the rest of us? There’s no doubt Labor has a new spring in its collective step. We may well actually see a contest in September, not a fait accompli that delivers us at least three years of rubber-stamp government.

Regardless of whether you support Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, the Greens or anyone else, that has to be a good result.


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.


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