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?’

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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.

Well.

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.


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.


Waiting for tomorrow all of my life

July 1, 2011

So, it’s been a long time between posts. Part of that is due to illness and deadlines … but let’s be honest here. Most of it is simple disenchantment.

And that’s something I thought I’d never say about politics. I’ve lived, slept and breathed political issues and events for as long as I can remember. In fact, the whole reason for starting this blog was to communicate that love (the unkind might say, obsession) to others – because political engagement is important. It’s not a matter of turning up once every few years to tick a few boxes – or worse, simply voting ‘Mickey Mouse’ and then complaining until the next time that things haven’t got any better. It’s about doing something to shape your world.

But dear God, the current state of Federal politics is as bad as I’ve ever seen it.

It’s not like the wheels are falling off. Legislation’s been passed, resolutions made, the Budget funded. On the whole, government infrastructure is barrelling along merrily – pensions paid, building projects underway, the NBN rolling out. You only have to compare Australia to the United States to see that we’re far better off – after all, we’re not calling emergency Parliamentary sessions to try to raise our credit limit just to keep functioning.

But to hear the Opposition and the pundits talk, we’re one step away from social collapse and riots in the streets. The flood levy will take food from kiddies’ mouths! The mining tax will destroy our major primary industry! The carbon tax will cause the sky to fall and civilisation as we know it will no longer exist! Plain packaging on cigarettes takes away our freedom of choice and turns us into a nanny state! And let’s not forget the oft-repeated lie that any moment now, the Greens will seize the balance of power in the Senate and we’ll all be forced to go back to horse-and-cart travel and hand-grinding our wheat for bread.

The polls show that Tony Abbott is leading Julia Gillard by one per cent! More people want Kevin Rudd to be Prime Minister than Julia Gillard! The government is failing, and we’re all going to hell in a handbasket. But wait – Abbott will bring back WorkChoices, install notorious climate change denier (and some say, troll) Lord Monckton as his official science adviser and give the richest people in the country even more money while taxing the poor right out of their homes!

The Greens! The Greens will save us! But wait, incoming Senator Lee Rhiannon wants to destroy the coal industry. Bob Brown will drag us kicking and screaming to the altar of Marx! People will get gay married! Only an early election will save us! Only a plebiscite will save us!

The hysteria goes on … and on … and on.

And there’s only so long you can battle that sort of thing. You can speak out, you can write blogs, you can contact your local member or relevant Minister, hold protest rallies, but after a while it starts to feel that no one who’s in any position of power cares. Because the loudest voices are the ones with the most money, right?

The Minerals Council mounts a campaign to tell us that mining companies will be forced to close, leaving thousands out of work and whole towns bereft of the income they need to survive – while they close yet another deal guaranteed to bring them millions in selling coal for steel manufacture to China.

Big Tobacco waves lawsuits at the government to try to frighten them into dumping the idea for plain packaging while filing record profit statements and intimidating into silence people whose loved ones are dying because of their products.

The gambling industry lies through its teeth to panic venues and patrons into opposing any form of strategy that might mitigate the harm of problem gambling that is any stronger than a sign saying, ‘Don’t gamble too much’, also while recording huge profits.

GetUp puts out statement after statement, but sinks to the same level of attack and just looks amateurish and bolshy in comparison.

Pro-carbon price ads suffer from having dared to put a known face to the campaign – and the simple argument that ‘hey, this is a good thing’ comes across as ridiculously weak against the fear-filled rhetoric it tries to counter.

And then there are the election ads. Yes, not even a year after the last election, we already have to put up with the kind of rubbish that usually only litters our viewing in the run-up to a national vote. No substance, just clever-clever lines, half-truths and catchy phrases designed to bypass critical thought and stick in the mind.

Meanwhile, one in five Australians doesn’t want either Gillard or Abbott to lead the country. No one knows what to think. No one knows who to believe. Should we blame the minority government? The Independents? Surely things wouldn’t be this bad if we had a clear majority? To the polling booths! Let’s elect a government with a mandate! That’ll fix everything!

I wrote back in September last year that:

‘We have a government. We don’t have to endure another election campaign. The Independents and Adam Bandt have secured strong Parliamentary reforms that will change the way business is done in the House. Local members will find that their voices are louder, and more likely to be heard. We’ll see election advertising closely scrutinised, and some actual information communicated to the People via both advertising and Question Time in Parliament. We have a government committed to serving out a full term, and that will have to seek consensus to pursue its legislative agenda.

Whether you’re left- or right-leaning, this can only be a cause for celebration.’

How wrong I was.

Maybe things will change when the Greens take the balance of power in the Senate. Maybe the big reforms – carbon pricing, tertiary education, mental health, water, human rights, asylum seekers – will finally happen. Maybe we’ll even see Parliament itself get the shake-up we were promised – more substantive questions, less abuse of process and less outright bullshit being flung around in the name of scoring a couple of political points and maybe getting your head on the evening news.

Yeah, maybe things will be better tomorrow – but then, I’ve been waiting for tomorrow all of my life.


Open mouth, insert foot: Bob Brown on the floods

January 17, 2011

In the last week we saw three-quarters of Queensland devastated by floods, with 20 lives lost and possibly more bodies still unrecovered. New South Wales and Tasmania were also hit, and Victoria is currently in the grip of its own flood crisis in the north and west of the state. Even Western Australia saw some flooding.

The damage bill is likely to be enormous – much of Queensland’s infrastructure will need to be rebuilt, and that’s without even taking into account private home repairs and rebuilding. Disruptions to industry will affect food production and export, as well as mining revenue.

During this time, politicians are taking care to watch their words very closely. Anna Bligh, Queensland’s Labor Premier, shows herself to be a competent and compassionate leader, completely on top of the situation and showing her empathy for the people of her state. As Liberal Party strategist Grahame Morris noted somewhat wryly, ‘It’s just as well for the Opposition that there isn’t going to be a state election any time soon.’

By contrast, Prime Minister Julia Gillard appears to periodically undergo personality suppression. Delivering announcements about monetary assistance from the Commonwealth, she looks robotic and aloof, especially comparing to Bligh. Nonetheless, she says all the right things – even if they do come off sounding a little like platitudes.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott sounded a bum note when he visited Brisbane late last week. Interviewed by Sky’s Kieran Gilbert, Abbott made a point of saying how important it was to have a healthy budget surplus to deal with crises like the floods. In itself, that skated right up to the point of political commentary – but he followed it up by saying this (presumably the floods) was why he had always been skeptical of the current government’s ability to bring the budget back to surplus. It’s probably just as well for Gilbert that he couldn’t see the Twitter feed at that point, which exploded with advice that boiled down to, ‘You’re standing on a balcony, toss him over!’ No one, it seemed, wanted to hear political spin while the Brisbane River was flooding the streets of Queensland’s capital and lives were being lost.

Later, Abbott was heard to quote a Bible verse in which the writer observes that God makes it rain on both the good and evil alike. Perhaps he meant it philosophically. It sounded flippant.

But the Foot-in-Mouth Award in the current situation really has to go to Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Greens. During an interview, Brown delivered a truly stunning argument that went something like this. Burning coal puts greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases warm the ocean – its temperature is demonstrably going up. When this happens, the weather gets more extreme. More extreme weather = the kind of floods going on right now. The solution? Institute the originally-planned mining tax right now, and make the coal mining companies pay for rebuilding the infrastructure.

Let’s leave aside the whole ‘is-the-climate-changing-and-is-it-our-fault’ debate right now, because that’s not really the point. It’s not about the truth or otherwise of Brown’s assertions. It’s about what many saw as – at best – an incredibly tactless comment, and at worst as a blatant political act devoid of compassion.

Brown’s motives were surely well-intentioned. After all, if you’re looking for a way to drive home the dangers of unchecked climate change, the floods are a perfect example. It’s difficult to deny that something extraordinary is going on. Perhaps if he’d simply observed that the terrible toll taken by the floods showed how important it was for us to address climate change to avoid the same kind of disasters in the future, he would have gotten a better reception.

By going further and suggesting what was obviously designed to be punitive action against the coal industry, Brown undermined his own message. Suddenly it wasn’t about dealing with current and future crises, but about sticking it to one of the Greens’ perceived ‘enemies’. He unwittingly confirmed every hysterical stereotype of the ‘greenie’ – more concerned about the ‘environment’ than human lives, seeing ‘global warming’ at every turn and willing to use tragedy to prove a political point and bash big business. At that point, any truth contained in Brown’s original message becomes lost – and the way is open for others to claim the moral high ground.

Ralph Foreman, representing the Coal Association, appeared on PM Agenda this afternoon to do just. Now wasn’t the time for ’emotional’ and ‘off-the-cuff’ rhetoric, he suggested. We don’t know that these floods are caused by climate change – we should let the scientists do their work. After all, the coal industry supports the idea of action on climate change – they’ll ‘work with anyone’ on a carbon price – but Brown’s comments are ‘not the sort of irrational thinking that we want to see introduced into this debate’.

Foreman went on to point out how much his industry would suffer as a result of the floods. It will take weeks to pump out the mines and an unknown time to make infrastructure repairs. All the time the companies will take ‘a substantial hit’ to their revenues – Queensland’s state revenues will be affected by the loss of royalties. Nonetheless, coal companies are already contributing ‘substantially’ to the Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal, and expect to give more money.

In that one interview, the coal industry managed to position itself as a rational and mature participant in the climate change debate, as well as a victim of the floods doing its best to pitch in and help everyone else recover. Brown – and by extension, the Greens – were successfully painted as callous and out of touch with reality.

Andrew Bolt and his ilk must have been fairly dancing for joy when they heard Brown’s comments.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Brown is the kind of mindless hippie fanatic certain news outlets like to suggest he is – far from it. But in calling for a tax clearly designed to punish the coal mining industry, Brown played into the hands of those very people. It was an extraordinarily naive thing to do, and I can only speculate as to what prompted it.

Maybe he was shocked at the extent of the floods. Maybe it was frustration – he looked at something that might have been much less dreadful if climate change had been tackled earlier. Maybe he was tired. Or maybe it was just a case of his mouth running ahead of his inner media advisor in the heat of an interview.

Whatever his reasons, Brown and the Greens now have to quickly move into damage control mode. They need to be out there doing the rounds of the media clarifying his remarks – and taking the hits. Brown needs to acknowledge that what he said was at least ill-advised, and show that he is mindful of how the floods nearly crippled one state, and badly disrupted others.

The Greens have made a huge tactical error. The coal industry has already capitalised on it – and when the time comes to look at the mining tax and carbon tax in Parliament, the odds are good that the Coalition will do the same thing. Abbott has a perfect opportunity to position his party as more ‘humane’ than the Greens – they care about people, not making cheap political points. (Yes, yes, I know, but how often have we heard that?) There’s real potential for central reforms of the Gillard government to be fatally undermined. The Coalition have already signalled their unwillingness to come to the negotiating table – the last thing the Greens should do is provide them with a justification for doing so.

Right now very few people want to hear theories about La Nina, or climate change, or whether more flood mitigation dams might have saved Gatton and Grantham from being virtually wiped out. People have been killed, lost their homes, their livelihoods, and whole communities are gone. Queensland in particular has only just begun to count up the cost of rebuilding. Some people at this point don’t know where they will live. In such situations, people want to hear that their elected representatives understand what’s happening and are doing everything they can to make things better. They’ll punish anyone who takes their pain and turns it into a political point, no matter what party they belong to or what they believe.

The human face of this disaster is what was lost when Brown started to talk about climate change and mining taxes – now he needs to bring it back.


The sky is falling … or is it?

September 8, 2010

It’s only just 24 hours since Labor was given the nod to form government, yet it seems that the world is already on an inexorable slide to utter destruction. The rhetoric, in fact, is positively apocalyptic.

On the Coalition side, Steve Ciobo muttered darkly on Sky News’ AM Agenda that this was the ‘most Left-leaning government ever’, and hinted that nothing good could come of this unholy ‘Rainbow coalition’. Senator George Brandis accused Labor’s government of having ‘as much legitimacy as the Pakistani cricket team’. Senator Ron Boswell raged that ‘this is going to hurt regional and rural Australia if the Greens demand and they will get their pound of flesh’. Tony Abbott was quick to take up Alan Jones’ suggestion that ‘the boats would keep coming … [and] the debt will keep piling up’. Christopher Pyne seemed almost restrained next to them when he opined that ‘this will not be a Parliament where all of history is turned on its head and we all sit around smoking a peace pipe and singing Kumbaya’, but the prize for restraint and sensible comment has to go to the Nationals’ Barnaby Joyce, whose performance on Lateline last night was model of diplomacy and rational comment. That’s not a sarcastic remark, by the way – he was impressively statesmanlike, especially given his spray at the Independents on Election night.

When Barnaby Joyce is the sanest voice on your team, it should probably be seen as a signal that you need to get your troops together, step back for a bit and take stock before fronting up to a microphone.

The Coalition aren’t alone in their pronouncements of doom, mind you. They’re getting a lot of help from the media.

The Australian‘s Paul Kelly warned this morning that ‘a political war’ was about to begin. It’s a ‘nightmare’, a ‘diabolical situation’, a ‘combative and bitter’ Parliament. Terry McCrann, in the Herald-Sun, indulged in a little ‘I told you so’ when he reiterated earlier warnings that Australia was headed for ‘chaos and stalemate … and very bad government’. Andrew Bolt’s comments on Radio MTR were, well, predictable.

And what about the ABC, that alleged bastion of Leftist bias? Surely they wouldn’t be rushing to drink the Kool-aid?

Sadly, they went even further. Former Liberal leader John Hewson asserted that every day in the new Parliament would be an ‘intense brawl’. The arrangement was ‘unsustainable’, it ‘disenfranchised’ voters in 147 seats and we would be thrust back to the polls inside 18 months. The award for hyperbole, however, has to go to Glenn Milne, author of the ‘subversion of democracy’ tagline.

According to Milne, ‘Queen’ Gillard, a ‘a creature of deal making and unholy alliances’, is so ‘weak’ that she has to ‘plead’ with the Coalition for support. The Independents will control her, and undermine her legitimacy. Abbott is waiting in the wings to commit regicide – and Milne makes it clear that he doesn’t entirely disapprove of this notion, invoking English revolutionary history to prove his point.

Left-wing bias, indeed. Why, the ABC is clearly full of communists!

Bizarrely, some of the most rational commentary on the final election result came from Peter van Onselen, writing in The Australian. I’m not quite sure how that snuck in there.

As for the readers’ comments – well, you can look for yourselves. After a few passes through, I needed to go outside just to make sure we hadn’t been supernaturally transformed overnight into some kind of autocratic fascist state run by a few men in smoke-filled rooms. I’m happy to report that I was unable to locate any mustache-twirling villains rubbing their hands together in evil glee.

Possum Comitatus put it best – the government was legitimately returned. It passed the constitutional test. No one ‘stole’ or ‘bought’ the election. Yet this very legitimacy is likely to signal the beginning of a sustained onslaught of vitriol and scare-mongering commentary which bears very little resemblance to anything remotely resembling reality.

Already, Sky News is claiming that the government has ‘demonstrated its fragility’ because Tony Windsor has had a difference of opinion with Wayne Swan. It was Windsor’s belief that the mining tax proposal might be included in a major tax review to be undertaken soon. Swan, this morning, said that wasn’t the case. Windsor hasn’t reacted badly to finding this out – we haven’t heard any outrage, or suggestion that he feels in some way cheated by Labor. For their part, the government aren’t concerned, either. They confirmed that Windsor – like other MPs – will be consulted on the mining tax as part of the normal course of events.

If something this trivial is going to whip the media into a frenzy of Armageddon-speak, it’s going to be a very tiring three years. Clearly the Coalition (and those in the media who have demonstrably declared their partisan stance) thinks that if it can point to enough cracks – real or imagined – in the government’s arrangements with the Independents (the evil Lefty, Bandt, apparently being a lost cause), people will lose confidence and force an early election.

It’s a possibility. But the Coalition may not have taken into account that people get irritated with constant fear-mongering. The longer petty finger-pointing goes on, the more quickly opinion can swing against those doing it. Historically, Australian minority governments tend to be succeeded by increased majorities for those in power. I’m fairly sure that the Coalition don’t want that, but if they’re not careful, they may just push support back to Labor.

Abbott said yesterday that he intends to ‘rededicate’ the Coalition to the work of Opposition. It would be nice to think that meant he planned to jettison their former philosophy of ‘block the Labor agenda at all costs’. I can’t say I’m optimistic – but at least this time, there will be more voices raised in Parliament, and hopefully, less ‘he said/she said’ meaningless rhetoric.

Unlike Glenn Milne, John Hewson and the others mentioned above, there are still those who think this government will work. It won’t be easy – but nothing worthwhile ever is.


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