Johno goes to heaven

Johno was (as they say in the classics) a good and decent man. When he dies, he goes to heaven, and St Peter shows him around. They go past one room, and Johno asks: ‘Who are all those people in there?’ ‘They are the Methodists,’ says St Peter. They pass another room, and Johno asks the same question. ‘They are the Anglicans,’ says St Peter. As they're approaching the next room, St Peter says: ‘Take your shoes off and tiptoe by as quietly as you can.’ ‘Why, who's in there?’ asks Johno. ‘The Catholics,’ says St Peter, ‘and they think that they're the only ones up here.’.

Yes, it’s basically an old Dave Allen joke about religious difference (and would have been much funnier if you saw him tell it rather than read it). In contrast, Nick Earls recently wrote an article that discussed Australia’s seemingly never-ending preoccupation with ‘religious difference’ in The Guardian that shows wit and humour as well as having a good point. Earls claims:
I arrived in Australia in 1972 at the age of eight in the middle of an apparent Irish joke boom, and spent much of my lunchtimes over the next couple of years being dragged aside and read pages of Irish jokes. As fun goes, it had its limits.

But it wasn’t as bad as being the kid from the Italian family who had his “wog” lunch thrown in the bin most days, only to watch the perpetrators spend $10 in cafes 20 years later for the exact same food — focaccia and prosciutto — with no recollection of what they’d done.
Earls noticed a difference when travelling after the ‘9/11’ attacks in the US when those born in Northern Ireland were no longer ‘randomly selected’ for ‘special clearance procedures’ yet again. He also relates the history of Australia where the first Catholic Priest, a convict, was transported to Australia in 1798, then allowed to conduct masses from 1803 only until there was a rebellion of Irish convicts in 1804. The claim was that the rebellion was plotted during the mass (it would have been in Latin and the guards probably weren’t the smartest people in the room). The next Catholic mass in Australia wasn’t held until 1820.

Earls argues that the current discrimination against Muslims is equally as silly as the many decades of discrimination against the Irish around the world. While some Irish did belong to the IRA and were willing to do anything to ‘further their cause’, there were a hell of a lot of Irish people around the world that really didn’t care that much about the ‘free Ireland’ the IRA proposed. A lot of the Irish weren’t even Catholic! It would be nice to record here that discrimination and profiling by assumed religious characteristics died in the early years of this century when the world finally realised that every person with an Irish name or place of birth wasn’t a religious nutter with a bomb hiding in their luggage, but to believe that would be delusional.

As Earls mentions, early this century the focus switched from some Irish person going to blow you up to some Muslim person going to blow you up. While there have been some horrible atrocities around the world in the past 15 years caused by those claiming to further the Muslim cause (despite the mainstream Muslim religion abhorring violence), let’s look at some facts.

In September 2014, Crikey looked at various facts around terrorism. Between the Sydney Hilton Bombing in 1978 and September 2014, 113 Australians were victims of terrorism. While each life lost is a tragedy, Crikey points out that from 2003 to 2012, there were 2617 homicides, something like 8500 victims of car accidents and 22,800 suicides. The number of terror related deaths in 35 years is even eclipsed by the number of people who died from falling off a ladder (230), electrocution (206) and, surprisingly in a first world country, more died of shingles (228) as well as gastro and diarrhoea (168) in the 10-year period between 2003 and 2012.

So, is terrorism a problem? Of course it is — but is it an issue so all-encompassing that politicians like Pauline Hanson are correct in demanding CCTV cameras be installed in mosques? Of course it isn’t. Going back to numbers again, Hanson claims that she has a right to free speech and while there is no such clause regarding freedom of speech in Australia’s constitution, there is an implied right for anyone in this country to say what they want provided it doesn’t injure the reputation of others. Hanson also claims that she speaks for the majority of ordinary Australians. This too is debatable as her political party received around 500,000 first preference votes from the 16 million or so that were entitled to vote in the 2016 Federal Election. Mathematically, that means that around 15,500,000 Australian voters specifically decided that Hanson did not speak for them.

One of those who determined that Hanson didn’t speak for him is Barnaby Joyce (Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party). Joyce countered Hanson’s suggestion of CCTV being installed in mosques by stating that every religion has ratbags and suggesting that if all Muslims were terrorists, all Catholics were members of the IRA. Joyce is also correct in suggesting that:
… the democratic process which saw Pauline Hanson elected to the Senate should be respected and he did not want to start the new parliament with a “fight”.

“I am happy to have a cogent debate where nobody is insulted but I am happy to argue these things on the facts and on the reality of the nation I live in,” he said.
Last weekend, a teenager shot and killed 10 people in Munich, 27 other people were injured. It appears that the person with the gun had mental issues and thought highly of Anders Behring Breivik who murdered 77 young people on the Norwegian island of Utoya in 2011. Yet the same ABC online news report that reports all this in the first paragraph goes on to identify the perpetrator as a German-Iranian. Since when is the ancestry of a mass murderer relevant to the crime?

Earlier this year, Omar Marteen walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and shot 102 people (49 of whom subsequently died). According to the US authorities, while Marteen acted alone, he had mental health issues and was inspired by radical material he found online. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed his mother, then drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot 28 people, including 20 children. Lanza had mental health issues.

All mass murders are horrific, but the ancestry and/or religious beliefs of Lanza were not discussed in the reporting of the events that occurred. See the difference?

Locally, most will remember the siege at the Lindt Café in Sydney which was initially claimed to be a terrorist attack — including this breathless reporting:
At 10.30am, the seriousness of the ISIS threat forced the remaining TV production staff to leave the premises, throwing to the network’s Melbourne news crew, anchored by Nick Etchells and Laurel Irving.

TV executive producer Max Uechtriz tweeted confirmation of the terror scenario, with hostages forced to hold up the sinister black flag of the Islamic terror group.
The reality was Man Haron Monis, who perpetrated the crime, had a long history of borderline criminality and certainly ‘was known to authorities’. And the ISIS flag at the Lindt Café that proved the connection with terrorism — well apparently it wasn’t the ISIS flag and didn’t prove a thing.

Curtis Chang was a NSW Police Service accountant, shot and killed by a teenager while leaving work in Parramatta in October 2015. The claim at the time was the teenager had been ‘radicalised’. Senator-elect Hanson recently cited incidents such as the Lindt Café siege and Chang’s murder as reasons for a Royal Commission into religion on the ABC’s Q & A program telecast on July 18. Chang’s son has written an open letter to Hanson requesting that an entire religion is not blamed for the actions of a 15-year-old boy. From the letter:
As a high school teacher, I have Muslim students and I have met their parents and family. They have the same hopes and dreams of all Australians; to be successful in their lives and enjoy the freedoms we enjoy. I have not changed my hope for them to be successful members of Australian society.

This fearmongering directed at minorities is not a new phenomenon in history. Nor is it new with me personally. When I first arrived to Australia, I remember being a victim of the hateful and fearful attitudes that the One Nation Party promoted. I remember being told I will be sent back to where I came from because I was Asian and, therefore, not Australian. I remember feeling ostracised and isolated from the country and identity with which I had adopted — in harmony with my cultural heritage.
If anyone has the ‘right’ to ‘hate’ in Australia, surely it is Chang — not Hanson.

The Federal Member for Moreton, Graham Perrett recently reported in an opinion piece published by Fairfax:
At Eid Down Under earlier this month I had some halal lamb and cevapi and they tasted exactly like Australia. Despite being raised a Catholic in country Queensland I felt right at home at a Muslim celebration on Brisbane's southside. It wasn't a tradition from my childhood or my culture or my religion, but it was enjoyable — and the food was delicious!

Some politicians have mistakenly suggested that, in order to protect "our" culture and "our" way of life, the parliament should curtail the freedom of Australians to practise any religion that is not Christianity. As well as being offensive to around nine out of 20 Australians, such a restriction is contrary to our own Constitution.
And he’s right. Section 116 of Australia’s Constitution allows all those who live here freedom to practice their own religion. As Perrett points out, the Constitution was written by a number of ‘white blokes’. Those ‘white blokes’ apparently could tell the difference between an Irish Catholic and a member of the IRA. It’s a pity that those who attempt to victimise people based on some tenuous link between their appearance or name and a religious group over one hundred years later don’t have the same ability.

What do you think?
How is Australia less safe now than it was 50 years ago?

Have there always been religious ‘nutters’?

Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
Mr Turnbull, where are your verbs?
Ad astra, 20 July 2016
It was one of The Political Sword’s regular contributors, Casablanca, who drew my attention to the absence of a verb in the Coalition’s prime slogan ‘Jobs and Growth’. She had been alerted by an article in The Guardian by Van Badham in May: Good slogan, Malcolm Turnbull, but growth in what kind of jobs?

The absence of verbs
Someone’s gotta pay
2353NM, 24 July 2016
According to the Coalition government, the ALP’s campaign over the privatisation of Medicare was somewhere between dishonest and outright lies. While it is true that the Coalition has frozen some Medicare rebates and eliminated others, attempted to introduce a $7 co-payment to see a doctor in the 2014 budget and set up a task force …
Why is there so much anger?
Ad astra, 27 July 2016
No matter when we listen to the news, watch TV, or browse social media, the pervading emotion in so many items is anger, unremitting anger.

We see it in the wars in the Middle East and among terrorist organizations. We are told it is what motivates individual terrorists.


Why is there so much anger?

No matter when we listen to the news, watch TV, or browse social media, the pervading emotion in so many items is anger, unremitting anger.

We see it in the wars in the Middle East and among terrorist organizations. We are told it is what motivates individual terrorists.

Social commentators insist it is what motivates gangs of youths to invade homes, terrorize families and steal luxury cars in our big cities. It is prevalent within our indigenous communities.

We see it among the protesters in US cities where police officers have gunned down black people, and affronted citizens have retaliated by shooting police.

We see it in America where support for the mavericks Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders is attributed by political commentators to intense anger within the electorate directed towards the political establishment, which is seen as not listening to voters’ pleas, unaware of their plight, indifferent to their needs, out of touch with ordinary people, simply focused on its own agenda and power struggles.

People support Trump and Sanders because they are angry with Washington, angry about the way it goes about its business, angry that they languish while politicians and their wealthy backers prosper, angry because the politicians don’t seem to care. They want a voice, and they want the politicians to listen. It’s Trump’s and Sanders’ anti-establishment stance that attracts people to them. They promise to change the prevailing culture, which is what the voters want, now more than ever. In his acceptance speech at the recent Republican Convention in Cleveland, tellingly Trump shouted: “I am your voice”.

George Lakoff has penned a fascinating piece: Understanding Trump. Addressing the question of how Trump has managed to become the Republican nominee for president, he says: “There are various theories: People are angry and he speaks to their anger. People don’t think much of Congress and want a non-politician. Both may be true. But why? What are the details? And Why Trump?” Lakoff goes on, in the words of a linguist and cognitive scientist, to elucidate. His long article is well worth a read. Using the language of framing, he develops his argument around his ‘Strict Father’ model of parenting, which he demonstrates Trump is using to appeal to conservatives.

We see anger in our cities here in Australia. Some are angry about immigration, particularly Muslim immigrants; others are angry about racism. Some are angry about 457 visa workers taking Australian jobs. Others are angry about politics, policies and politicians.

We see anger in our parliaments too. Political opponents attack one another venomously. What the opponent suggests or does is always wrong, stupid, self-serving, or poorly thought through. Adversarial discourse overwhelms any talk of cooperation; indeed, an offer to collaborate, such as was made post-election by Bill Shorten, makes it into the breaking-news headlines!

We see anger in our institutions where conflict too often despoils the worthy agendas they are pursuing.

We see it among disadvantaged groups: the homeless, the poor, the unemployed, young people unable to afford a house, parents of students at underprivileged schools, the LGBTI community, indigenous people and communities, all of whom feel left behind, excluded from the privileges and bounty this rich country affords so many others, disenfranchised with no voice to protest, with no power to effect change.

It is social injustice that is the root of all of this. Inequity, unfairness, disadvantage, the over-abundance of have-nots in our wealthy society, and the experience of marginalisation that induces anger, and in extreme cases radicalisation and violence..

In April I wrote Inequality will be a hot button issue at this election. It was not apparent as a strident issue during the campaign; instead it manifested itself as simmering anger about the emptiness of the Coalition’s policy of ‘Jobs and Growth’, predicated as it was on giving a tax break to big business. The ordinary folk were sceptical that any benefit would trickle down to them.

They were angry that the beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut included the big banks, whose unethical behaviour is well known to us all, and the multinationals, whose tax avoidance is legendary. They remembered the ‘Panama Papers’ that exposed the tax havens so many use.

They were angry that the big boys were to get the breaks they did not need or deserve, while the little man in the street had to wait, hoping some of the oats the horses were to be fed would eventually end up in the manure on the street, from which they might take their pickings.

They realised the ‘Jobs and Growth’ mantra was a fraud. They were angry that PM Turnbull, Treasurer Morrison, Finance Minister Cormann, and all the ‘little Sir Echoes’ in the Coalition, were selling them a pup.

They showed their anger by voting for other parties and independents to the point that the LNP just scraped over the line ahead of the others; unable to legitimately claim it had a mandate for the tax breaks. In all likelihood the best the LNP will achieve is a tax cut for genuinely small businesses.

The rush to support independents, particularly in the Senate, was another sign of the voters’ anger with the major parties. They were determined to put roadblocks in the way of the unfair legislation proposed by the Coalition. Even Coalition members were angry with some of it - the superannuation changes – that they saw as unfair to their constituency. They are threatening to force amendments on a PM and Treasurer unwilling to forego the revenue the changes would generate.

The anger among Coalition members extended to the marriage equality issue, which the arch conservatives want to abort and defeat, and also to what they saw as under-representation of the conservative clique in the ministry.

Anger is everywhere. It derives from a sense of injustice, a feeling of unfairness, a perception of inequity.

We saw hard evidence of inequality last week in the ’HILDA’ report The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: (2016). The data-rich report in pdf format can be accessed here.

It showed that the wealth of the over-65 year olds had increased over the last decade while that of the young had remained static. The wealth gap has widened. Here’s what it said:
“Wealth typically accumulates over the lifecycle (at least up until retirement), so it is unsurprising that there are large differences in median wealth by age group. In all four years in which wealth data has been collected, median wealth is lowest for the youngest age group, and increases in age up to the 55–64 age group. Prior to 2014, the median wealth of people aged 65 years and over was less than that of those aged 45–54, but in 2014 the median wealth of the 65 and over age group had overtaken the median wealth of those aged 45–54.

"This reflects the very strong growth in median wealth between 2002 and 2014 for the 65 and over age group, with the median increasing by 61.2%. Growth was also strong for the 55–64 age group (39.1%), but much weaker for the younger age groups.”
In recent times, fewer young people have been able to acquire a home. It is predicted that soon less than half of Australian families will own a home. Here are the details:
“…the decline in home ownership has been concentrated on those aged under 55. Home ownership among persons aged 25–34 declined from 38.7% in 2002 to 29.2% in 2014, with much of the decline occurring between 2010 and 2014. Among persons aged 35–44, home ownership declined from 63.2% to 52.4%, and among persons aged 45–54, it declined from 75.6% to 67.4%. There was also a slight decline in home ownership among persons aged 55–64, from 75.1% in 2002 to 72.9% in 2014. There was essentially no change in home ownership among those aged 65 and over.”
When it came to investment housing, the statistics were stark:
“… owners of investment housing are predominately in the top two income quintiles… In 2006, 70.3% of owners were in the top two quintiles and a further 14.5% were in the middle quintile… Over 50% of owners are in the top wealth quintile, and over three-quarters are in the top two quintiles. Thus, the evidence from the HILDA Survey is that owners of investment housing are relatively affluent from both an income and a wealth perspective.”
Increasing inequality is a cancer in the body of our society. Unless it is reduced, anger and dissatisfaction continues to grow. Like cancer, it spreads. Joseph Stiglitz has written about inequality for years. His book The Price of Inequality is a classic. He advances hard evidence that increasing inequality breeds anger and social disruption.

Much of the anger and aggression, much of the terrorist activity we see abroad, and sadly much of the antisocial behaviour we see in our own country, is a direct result of feelings of inequity – about income, wealth, housing, unemployment, opportunity, and social justice.

Here is what the HILDA study reported:
“There is a clear and unsurprising ordering of deprivation by labour force status, with the unemployed faring worst and the full-time employed faring best. Likewise, deprivation is strongly ordered by income quintile and is strongly connected with receipt of income support.

“Indigenous people have very high rates of deprivation...and…there is a very strong relationship between disability and deprivation, which is highest for individuals with a severe work restriction and lowest for individuals with no disability…”
Those who are unemployed, disabled, or feel deprived and dispossessed, who feel left behind, who feel they are swimming against the tide and getting nowhere or going backwards while others get the goodies and prosper, justifiably feel angry and seek to reverse their disadvantage.

Too often the system thwarts their best endeavours. Eventually they revolt as anger and frustration boils over. Then the ‘authorities’ come down on them heavily, thereby exacerbating their anguish. The ‘law and order’ advocates see more punishment as the solution, whereas what is really needed is more equity, greater fairness, better opportunities, more empathy, and consistent encouragement and uplifting. It is telling that Trump now styles himself as ‘the law and order’ presidential candidate!

How can we achieve equity and fairness in our Australian society, one so blessed with riches and opportunity?

Not through legislation that advantages those who have the most at the expense of those who have the least, not by bolstering the top end of town, not by keeping the poor and disadvantaged in their inferior position.

Only when the needs of all our citizens are acknowledged, only when income, wealth and housing are more evenly distributed, only when opportunity is available to all who can benefit, only when inequality is minimised, will the anger gradually ease, and its effects become less violent.

If we want to live in a tranquil tolerant society, free from the fear of unrest, social disruption, violence and terrorism, where we can feel secure and cared for, our governments will need to abandon ideologies that promote disparity and division, and adopt those that foster equality and a fair go for all. They will need to create an agenda that takes care of all our citizens; they will need to focus on values and show empathy for all. Lakoff puts it well in his conclusion: “Values come first, facts and policies follow in the service of values. They matter, but they always support values: empathy, devotion, love, pride in our country’s values…

With the world in the turmoil it is in, is this a vain hope? Maybe, but only we, the ordinary folk, can make a difference. The establishment is a formidable barrier, but it cannot oppress us indefinitely. It is up to us.

What do you think?
What do you think is making people so angry, here and abroad?

How can this anger be assuaged?

Let us know in comments below.

Someone’s gotta pay

According to the Coalition government, the ALP’s campaign over the privatisation of Medicare was somewhere between dishonest and outright lies. While it is true that the Coalition has frozen some Medicare rebates and eliminated others, attempted to introduce a $7 co-payment to see a doctor in the 2014 budget and set up a task force to examine the outsourcing of payments to Australians, the Coalition claims that these measures were nothing to do with the privatisation of the Medicare entity. Really, if the payment system was privatised, the Medicare rebate would still appear in your bank account at some point after the doctor’s visit. The election is over and Turnbull has promised not to outsource the payment services of the Medicare entity. We’ll see if his promises have more validity than Abbott’s did over time but at this stage let’s take him at his word.

There is a larger issue here — privatisation. Despite the rhetoric of governments around the world that they are trying to emulate business operations, the prime purpose of government is to provide the services that the society requires and can afford. The ultimate aim of business is, frankly, to make a buck (or pound or euro or rouble) for the owners of the business. The business could be the school-aged boy walking dogs after the homework is done or as large as Wesfarmers, Microsoft or General Motors — the profit margin is what any business is looking for. New walking shoes cost; just like employment of engineers, purchases of inputs to the production process and marketing people.

Ross Gittens observed recently that one of the reasons Turnbull’s government was considering the outsourcing of Medicare payments was:
… the department's computer system is old and clunky and needing to be replaced — a prospect that always seems to frighten governments, especially those trying to keep their budget deficit low by postponing needed asset replacement.
A large computer system takes a considerable amount of time and money to replace. It’s not like you can go to your local ‘big box’ retailer, pay the money, take it home and plug it in. As Gittens observes:
For instance, one of the ways federal and state governments seek to retain their AAA credit ratings is by using "public/private partnership" agreements to have the borrowing for motorways and other big projects done by some private enterprise. This way, the debt appears on its balance sheet rather than the government's.

Small problem: hiding the government's debt in this way ends up being far more costly to taxpayers. The oh-so-holy credit rating agencies turn a blind eye.
So while the government doesn’t have the development and operational costs for the system on its books, it is locked into paying for the development, operation, staffing and depreciation over a period of many years.

In some ways it is like people who are moving into their first home away from their family. Rental of a new refrigerator is sometimes seen as an alternative to the only other affordable option — purchase of a second hand unit where the paint isn’t as shiny, there may be a few dents and a shelf or two might be missing. On the face of it, a few dollars a week is more affordable than a couple of hundred for the second hand one, but sooner or later the rental payments will exceed the cost of both the second hand fridge or even a new one. And that’s where the rental company makes its profit (which for the rental company is the major objective of the entire exercise).

Assuming Gittens is correct, the concept seems to be that a private company develops a computer system to handle the millions of payments that Medicare makes every week. They then get the right to operate the system on behalf of the Australian government for a number of years. While the government doesn’t pay up front for the development of the system (which will take considerable time, resources and intellectual property), included in the monthly payment for the processing of the claims would be the value of the claims made, the operational costs of the system (lights, power, staff, maintenance and so on), a proportion of the development costs as well as a profit for the company that operates the system. Assuming the system is large and complex it would be difficult for the government to change providers at the end of the contract as the initial provider would own the systems, processes and intellectual property associated with the system. If there was a clause to hand the equipment and intellectual property to the government, we’re back at square one with an obsolete computer system that needs to be redeveloped at the end of the contracted period.

A-ha, you say, governments have a lot of clever people who will ensure that they don’t get sucked into a scheme this simple to transfer public money into private profit. Well, they might not. In 1999, Coalition Premier Jeff Kennett privatised the provision of public transport in Victoria. The claim was that the granting of licences to operate trains, trams and buses in Melbourne and across regional Victoria would make the government $28.05 million per year in 2013 and more thereafter. The reality is somewhat different. The Victorian government paid the public transport operators around $2 billion in 2013.

The public elects governments to provide services. A lot of governments around the world provide subsidies to public transport services. Those that support public transport would argue that the subsidy is worth it as there doesn’t need to be as much ground covered in asphalt, space allocated for parking, oil consumed, traffic management costs and so on. Others would suggest that it is a waste of money as there should be more ground covered in asphalt, or they don’t get a direct benefit from the subsidy and so on. Regardless, governments around the world either provide or support public transport in larger towns and cities for the perception of benefit it provides to the communities serviced.

Brisbane’s Airtrain is not subsidised by the Queensland government and from the Brisbane Airport to just south of Toombul Station runs on a track constructed and owned by a private company. The cost for a trip from Brisbane Central Station to the airport is $17.50 one way (peak period on a weekday) with a trip time of 24 minutes. For comparison, a 24-minute trip from Brisbane Central to suburban Geebung, which uses similar rolling stock and the same tracks from near Toombul to the CBD as the Airtrain is a subsidised $4.66 (peak hour with a ‘Gocard’. Airtrain makes a profit on the $17.50 it charges to take an adult to the airport. The operator has to pay for the train (operated by Queensland Rail under contract), maintenance, staff and all the other business expenses. While Queensland Rail may have a different formula for cost recovery on its own services rather than as a contractor to Airtrain, it’s hard to believe that the formula is so vastly different that the $4.66 charged to travel to the delightfully named Geebung is profitable to the operator.

Medicare is also a government service that subsidises Australian residents who need medical attention. While Australians theoretically pay a levy on top of their income tax for the service, not all Australian residents are taxpayers. As Turnbull admitted soon after the election, the ALP’s Medicare campaign was successful because Coalition governments over the years had provided evidence that they were not averse to disadvantaging those without private health insurance on top of the universal ‘free’ Medicare coverage.

Should the outsourcing of Medicare rebates go ahead (and Turnbull reneges on a promise) the Australian public will again be accepting the conversion of public money into private profits for a considerable period of time into the future. While it’s a cheap shot to suggest that this process is broadly supported by the Coalition and its business backers, the rest of us are paying considerably more than we should for the provision of a service the Australian public demands for years into the future.

Problems with outsourcing are not solely related to computer systems. Apart from the failure of outsourcing of Victorian public transport discussed above there are the considerable costs that the Tasmanian, Australian and New Zealand governments incurred to restore the Tasmanian and New Zealand rail freight networks after the sale and operation of the networks by private enterprise. ABC Learning is an example of what happens when a private service provider (childcare in this case), reliant on a business model involving considerable government subsidies and taking the place of the various government and non-profit service providers, fails. The current problems with a number of private providers permitted to replace the state-owned vocational education and training providers is fast becoming a case in point where the ‘make a buck’ ethos outweighed the requirement for appropriate costs and services to ensure the education of a considerable number of young Australians in trades, which will potentially lead to those caught up in the scam not being able to repay training debt (they can’t get a job if the training wasn’t delivered to the appropriate level) and for the rest of us, a shortage of qualified tradespeople for the next few decades leading to poor service and higher prices.

Governments argue that passing the risk and potential for profit to private enterprise is more efficient — as well as running government like a business. The problem here is that government is not a business, as a government should be providing services, not making a buck. For a start, one of the main reasons that business will contract out ‘non-essential’ services (transport and refund payments to name two) is that the cost of the service is an operational cost, written off the cost of producing their major products and therefore tax deductable. The cost of new assets (such as new computer systems) is deemed under taxation rules for business to be a capital expense and depreciated (the cost is recouped) over a number of years. There is a debt on the financial books of the business for the cost of the capital asset until it is depreciated in full, which is considered to be a poor leverage of available capital. The fundamental problem with the logic is that governments do not pay income tax — and therefore don’t need to maximise their operational expenses or leverage their capital.

It is also a fallacy that the private sector is always able to do the work cheaper over the long term (look at the Tasmanian and New Zealand rail systems where government intervention and rehabilitation was required after only a few years). Private enterprise has to do the work paying similar rates of pay and cost of overheads effectively for less to ensure they make a buck and will probably take shortcuts to achieve this apparently contradictory task.

Governments raise taxes and charges to facilitate the services they provide. In the case of state governments (which do not issue currency), they have to have a conversation around raising taxes to pay for the requirements of the society that they are supposed to be supporting. The federal government is in a slightly better position in that it can issue currency: however, this is not politically attractive at present.

If ‘big ticket’ items, such as the computer system owned by Department of Human Services is obsolete, one has to ask how many other major government assets across Australia are well beyond their use by date and there are no funds available to replace them?

In 1983, then Prime Minister Hawke called employers, unions, non-profit groups and state governments into a room and explained the need to restructure our economy. As a result, some taxes were increased, there was wage restraint and employees and governments co-operated to work together for the benefit of all. Hawke remained prime minister for nearly a decade.

If Turnbull is the smart politician he claims to be, maybe he should sit down and have the conversation with Australia about why there is a need to find a different way to fund the services required by our society (in part due to the extravagance of the Howard/Costello years) and ensure that Australia can continue to support these services into the future. Who knows business and employees sitting in the same room as government may come up with a better plan than cutting services and converting public funds to private profit. It worked for Hawke.

What do you think?
Would a Turnbull Economic Summit be as successful as the Hawke summit?

Would the Coalition’s conservatives and big business co-operate with a summit?

Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
The Liberals are dreaming
Ken Wolff, 17 July 2016
On Sunday morning 10 July, before Shorten conceded defeat in the election, Arthur Sinodinos appeared on the ABC’s Insiders. He claimed the Coalition had a ‘mandate’ for its 2016 budget and its company tax cuts. Sinodinos’s view takes no account of the reality of the new parliament.

Although the final count is not yet complete, it appears the LNP will win 76 or 77 …
The election in numbers
Ken Wolff, 18 July 2016
We know the Liberals lost 13 seats, or in other words Labor gained 13 seats, with one seat, Herbert, still in the balance at the time of writing. (Labor actually won 14 but gave one back which I will come to later.) The Liberals claimed a win because they did at least manage to hang on to government, thanks to the Nationals, and Labor claimed success because of the number of seats …
Mr Turnbull, where are your verbs?
Ad astra, 20 July 2016
It was one of The Political Sword’s regular contributors, Casablanca, who drew my attention to the absence of a verb in the Coalition’s prime slogan ‘Jobs and Growth’. She had been alerted by an article in The Guardian by Van Badham in May: Good slogan, Malcolm Turnbull, but growth in what kind of jobs?

The absence of verbs

Mr Turnbull, where are your verbs?

It was one of The Political Sword’s regular contributors, Casablanca, who drew my attention to the absence of a verb in the Coalition’s prime slogan ‘Jobs and Growth’. She had been alerted by an article in The Guardian by Van Badham in May: Good slogan, Malcolm Turnbull, but growth in what kind of jobs?  

The absence of verbs is diagnostic of the malaise that afflicts PM Turnbull, Treasurer Morrison, Finance Minister Cormann and most of the Coalition ministry.

Casablanca reminds us that we learned that verbs are 'doing' words when we were kids in Primary School. Yet here we are in 2016 finding that it is the intention to do something, to take action, that is missing from the centerpiece of the Coalition’s election strategy, its much-vaunted ‘economic plan’ for 'Jobs and Growth'; indeed it is missing from many of the Turnbull government’s so-called ‘plans’.

While it repeated ad nauseam its three word ‘Jobs and Growth’ mantra, it avoided saying how it would achieve this ethereal aspiration. We were left to deduce that somehow giving a tax cut to business would magically stimulate investment, expand business activity, improve productivity, create jobs, and increase wages. It was left to Arthur Sinodinos to confidently assure us that workers would be the main beneficiaries of a tax break for business – good old trickle down all over again! It seems the electorate did not give that assurance much credence; nor did it believe the insistent declarations about Jobs and Growth that emanated from Turnbull, Morrison and Cormann. No less than Victorian Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger castigated Turnbull and Morrison for selling the ‘Jobs and Growth’ story so poorly; in truth the slogan was never saleable as it had no substance, it had no verb.

Whatever else we thought of the calamitous Tony Abbott, we have to acknowledge that his three-word slogans at least had verbs: ‘Stop the Boats’, ‘Axe the Tax’, ‘Stop the Waste’ and ‘Repay the debt’. We could see his intentions, even if we disagreed with them. The intentions of Turnbull et al are vague, lacking in action words, sans verbs.

Now that he has his majority, we will see how he intends to action his promises.

Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald in an article titled: Federal election 2016: Malcolm Turnbull is a man with no plan, just a lot of flimflam, economics writer Ross Gittins said:
“Malcolm Turnbull went to the election offering a "national plan for jobs and growth" that was supposed to secure our future. Trouble is, it now looks unlikely he'll be able to implement the centrepiece of that plan, the phased reduction over 10 years of the rate of company tax, from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.

“Unsurprisingly, the proposed cut in company tax did not impress the voters, who think companies are paying too little tax, not too much. Labor opposed the cut, save for the immediate reduction to 27.5 per cent for genuinely small business.

“With the government now facing an even more hostile Senate, it's unlikely Turnbull will get any more than that.

“This would be no great loss in the quest for jobs and growth. The government's own modelling suggested the tax cut would do virtually nothing to create jobs, and the boost to growth in Australians' incomes would be tiny and come only after a decade or three.”
So ‘Jobs and Growth’ not only had no verb, it had no substance. Asked what ‘the plan’ was to achieve ‘Jobs and Growth’, the stock answer was: “The plan is the Budget”. The people saw through this answer, picked it as a fraud, an attempt to deceive. It nearly lost Turnbull the election.

What is this aversion to using verbs, to stating what action will be taken, to saying how promises will be kept?

Gittins continued:
“But what about the other parts of Turnbull's ‘five-point plan’? It's a muddle of things that will be done, things already done and…what the plan will achieve.”
Apart from the planned company tax cut, Gittins mentioned "an innovation and science program bringing Australian ideas to market" that’s already done with benefits likely to be modest; "a new defence industry plan that will secure an advanced defence manufacturing industry in Australia"…a highly protectionist and costly way of buying votes in South Australia, of debatable defence value; "export trade deals that will generate more than 19,000 export opportunities", which refers to preferential trade deals already made with Japan, Korea and China, which Gittins’ colleague Peter Martin demonstrated usually add more to our imports than our exports; and "a strong new economy with more than 200,000 jobs to be created in 2016-17", based on Treasury's budget forecasts for growth in employment, but few of those extra jobs would have been ‘created’ by anything the government did.

Gittins continued:
“Get it? The "plan for jobs and growth" is a (now-thwarted) plan to cut company tax, plus a lot of packaging. That is, Malcolm Turnbull has no plan.

“And, as we've been reminded by noises coming from one of the credit rating agencies, nor does he have a plan to get the government's budget back to surplus anytime soon.”
In his election announcement speech, Turnbull used the words 'plan' and 'tax' 21 times, 'jobs' 14 times, 'economic' 11 times and 'investment' 10 times. There was no mention of climate change. Verbs were sparse; the predominant one by far was ‘will’. Take a look at his May 8 ‘word cloud'.

Isn’t it laughable that as the long election campaign progressed, the focal point in his platform: ‘Jobs and Growth’ became the object of derision among journalists and commentators, some of whom mockingly personified it as: ‘Mr Jobson Grothe’.

Malcolm Turnbull turns out to be a man without verbs. He has nouns, plenty of adjectives: ‘nimble’, ‘agile’, ‘innovative’, and ‘exciting’, and an abundance of stock phrases that he, Morrison and Cormann spout whenever they get a chance, as portrayed in The tale of two Daleks.

How will he proceed with his bare minimum of seats in the House and a likely uncooperative, or even hostile Senate?

His spurious raison d'être for calling a double dissolution election: the desire to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, if necessary at a joint sitting of both Houses, seems doomed to failure. His exaggerated rhetoric about the imperative of cleansing the CFMEU and other construction unions of corruption and strong-arm behaviour has lost its zing. Nobody is listening any more. Even the Coalition-leaning Bob Katter has warned that he will not vote for what he terms ‘union-bashing’ legislation. With his slim majority in the House and the lack of a majority in the Senate, how can Turnbull muster the votes he needs? The one occasion where his intended action was spelt out, looks like being a non-event. He might have had a verb in mind, but an adjective – ‘impossible’ – will likely operate to thwart him.

How will he get his company tax cuts through the Senate? Even without the cross benches, it is likely that Labor and the Greens will not approve his full package. The best he can anticipate is a tax cut for genuinely small businesses, which Labor seems inclined to support. That will help small business, but will do nothing much for ‘Jobs and Growth’.

Except among Coalition members there is negligible support for giving the tax avoiders, the big banks and the multinationals still more tax relief. What is likely is substantial support for a Royal Commission into Banking, which will put intense pressure on Turnbull’s slender majority. The verb ‘oppose’ will be in his mind, but he might be forced to consider some nouns: compromise, conciliation, negotiation, concession, and cooperation. On top of this comes the revelation that four of our most prominent accounting firms are complicit in tax avoidance, advising big business and multinationals how to avoid paying their fair share of tax. Will there be a move to include them in the banking inquiry. What verb will Turnbull use to block that?

How will Turnbull handle the marriage equality plebiscite? If Labor or the Greens put forward legislation for a parliamentary vote, will he be able to muster his troops to oppose, or will he give way and compromise. He has to choose between a verb and a noun.

His distaste for verbs may leave him dangling indecisively, just as he has been for months now.

The behaviours that voters seek in those they elect are honesty, openness, transparency, lucid and appealing plans for advancing our nation and its citizens, decisiveness in implementation, and fidelity in keeping promises.

Voters want action, verbs that they understand, plans that have substance and 'doing' words, and nouns that indicate collaboration with other parties and cooperation that will bring benefits to us all, not just the top end of town.

Voters are tired of waffle, empty nouns, implausible adjectives, deceptive platitudes, a paucity of verbs, indecisiveness, dishonesty, self-interest and special pleading by rent-seekers. They want honest actions that lead to equitable outcomes for all of us.

Verbs are important Mr Turnbull. Verbs tell us that you intend to act - that you are going to do something. Where are your policy verbs Prime Minister?

What do you think?
What verbs would you like PM Turnbull to use?

Let us know in comments below.

The Liberals are dreaming

On Sunday morning 10 July, before Shorten conceded defeat in the election, Arthur Sinodinos appeared on the ABC’s Insiders. He claimed the Coalition had a ‘mandate’ for its 2016 budget and its company tax cuts. Sinodinos’s view takes no account of the reality of the new parliament.

Although the final count is not yet complete, it appears the LNP will win 76 or 77 seats in the House of Representatives and Labor 68 or 69 (the uncertainty at the time of writing being the seat of Herbert in Queensland). So Turnbull will form a majority government but also has to provide a Speaker. If the LNP final total is 76, which means 75 after a Speaker is elected, then the government will be reliant on one of Bob Katter, Cathie McGowan, Andrew Wilkie, Rebekha Sharkie or Adam Bandt to pass legislation that is opposed by Labor. It will also need an effective pairing agreement for those times when parliamentarians are absent for legitimate reasons.

The Senate will be more complicated. At this stage its result is less clear but we already know there will be at least six Greens (possibly three more at the final count), Pauline Hanson (and possibly another one or two One Nation members), Jacquie Lambie, Derryn Hinch, three of the Nick Xenophon Team and probably another minor party member. These represent a great diversity of views but the Coalition could require all of the non-Green Senators to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens.

These independents and minor parties have their own agendas which they would no doubt wish to pursue in any negotiations in which their support was needed for specific legislation — or, in some cases, their position would not allow them to vote for some of the government’s current policies. For example, in the lower house:
  • on tax, Katter wants to remove the Fringe Benefits Tax for FIFO miners; NXT wants to limit tax cuts to those businesses earning up to $10 million and wants the temporary deficit levy to be extended; the Greens want a progressive tax rate on superannuation and want to end negative gearing.
  • on a federal ICAC, it is supported by the Greens, McGowan, Wilkie and NXT
  • on carbon emissions, McGowan wants a price on carbon (and did vote against repealing the ‘carbon tax’); NXT would like an emissions trading scheme; and Wilkie previously supported Gillard’s carbon pricing.
In the upper house, as well as the Greens and NXT, the views of Lambie, Hinch and One Nation come into play:
  • on tax, Lambie wants a financial transaction tax on high-speed share traders; One Nation wants to get rid of the Double Taxation Agreement which stops companies being taxed both in Australia and another country for the same product (that would breach many of Australia’s tax treaties and free trade deals); only Hinch is likely to support the full extent of the government’s corporate tax cuts.
  • on carbon pricing, Hinch, Lambie and One Nation all oppose an emissions trading scheme (or climate science itself).
  • on immigration, One Nation’s views are well known; Hinch supports multiculturalism and opposes the views of One Nation; Lambie wants immigrants to be screened on the basis of whether they support Sharia law.
They each want Royal Commissions into different subjects:
  • One Nation seeks an inquiry on Islam
  • Lambie and NXT want an inquiry on defence abuse and veterans’ welfare
  • NXT also supports the Labor proposal for an inquiry into banking
  • Hinch wants an inquiry into the Family Court and child protection agencies
Put that together and it is difficult to see how the government will get all its budget measures through the Senate as it is unlikely to agree to some of those positions.

Josh Frydenberg has come out and said that the government should not change its immigration policies nor support for multiculturalism which would seem to rule out horse-trading for One Nation’s vote but without those votes it becomes less likely it will get measures through the Senate.

The easiest way for the government to get legislation through the Senate will be to win Labor or Green support but that will also require compromise to meet the views of those parties.

I heard a radio report that there had been consideration of government policies in terms of which were supported by Labor or the Greens, including which of the so-called ‘zombie’ measures Labor had indicated during the election campaign that it would use in its own budget calculations, those which may be supported with amendments, and which were opposed — it was claimed that the ‘opposed’ column was quite small. (I have not, however, been able to find a written or on-line confirmation of that report.)

One measure that was mentioned was the reduction in R&D tax incentives. During the campaign Labor did announce in its savings measures that it would support the reductions. A proposal to reduce R&D tax incentives goes back to the Gillard government but was opposed by the then Abbott-led Opposition — the details have changed each time it has been resurrected. The Abbott government brought it forward again thinking, as Labor had introduced the idea, that it would gain Labor support but Labor opposed it because the Abbott government did not intend to use the savings in the way Labor had proposed. So even if the Turnbull government brings it into parliament again, it cannot take Labor support for granted unless a significant part of the savings are used for other purposes supported by Labor and that appears unlikely.

The government is also unlikely to get its company tax cuts through parliament in their current form — that over a period of ten years all companies are included. Labor only supports the cut for companies with a turnover of up to $2 million and NXT for companies with a turnover of up to $10 million. So it will be impossible for the government to pass the legislation required in the Senate without a significant compromise that limits the size of the companies to which the cut will apply. So the question for Turnbull will be whether to abandon the idea altogether (thus making significant savings in the budget) or to accept it in a more limited form.

Ironically, even the legislation for the reintroduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) which was the formal trigger for the double dissolution is unlikely to pass the new parliament, even at a joint sitting. Even Bob Katter opposes it as he supports the CFMEU — despite his ‘redneck’ reputation, Katter is in many ways more like old conservative Labor.

The new Turnbull government’s problems don’t end with the new parliament. It has internal problems that will also affect its legislative agenda.

For a start, the coalition agreement with the Nationals will be renegotiated and Barnaby Joyce, as Nationals’ leader, has already indicated that he will be seeking greater power as the Nationals have improved their position while the Liberals lost ground. Such ‘power’ may require the inclusion of more National policies but whether or not we ever find that out is unclear. Joyce maintains that the agreement, even though set out in writing, must remain confidential. Labor is already mounting a campaign that it should be public and transparent because voters have a right to know what deals are being done to form their government.

Turnbull and Morrison may also face opposition to the government’s superannuation policy. The government’s own conservative members, such as Peter Dutton and Eric Abetz, have already blamed the policy for the loss of votes from the Liberal’s ‘base’. Sinodinos in his Insiders’ interview refuted that. It will no doubt come up for discussion in the party room and we will have to await the outcome. Labor will certainly oppose it in its current form although Labor’s spokesperson on superannuation, Jim Chalmers, has suggested an independent inquiry to determine whether or not it is retrospective — then Labor may support changes that are ‘workable and fair’ and not retrospective.

Turnbull may also lose some power within his own cabinet as there are increasing demands for more conservative members to be included on the front bench. In the election Turnbull appears to have lost at least three ministers and junior ministers who supported his ascension last September. What influence that will have on future government policy also remains to be seen but it is likely to be in directions that cannot be supported by Labor or the Greens.

Members of the government, including Turnbull, have conceded that they did themselves create the fertile ground for Labor’s so-called ‘Mediscare’ campaign and that they need to regain the public’s trust on health issues prior to the next election. What they will do is an unknown. Morrison has already suggested that if they were to ‘unfreeze’ the Medicare scheduled fees, then savings would need to be found elsewhere. I think they will have trouble selling that to the parliament partly because Labor takes the view that rather than just making savings, revenue needs to be raised.

So despite Sinodinos’s optimism that the government has a ‘mandate’ for its budget and policies, there appears very little chance of its key policies passing the parliament unchanged. Labor is unlikely to support even those measures it agreed with during the election if the government does not use some of the savings for Labor-supported social measures.

Many of the cross benchers have their own agenda which will also force changes in the government’s policies.

Its own conservative wing appears to have increased its influence and will no doubt use that influence in policy deliberations.

And the Nationals have also improved their relative position and will demand more of their own policies.

If the Liberals think they have a ‘mandate’ and can really implement their budget, tax and economic policies in their current form, then they are dreaming!

What do you think?
If the Liberals are saying they have a mandate, are they just creating a new lie?

How long can Turnbull survive when he has lost control of the parliament and his party?

Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
How has it come to this?
Ad astra, 10 July 2016
The MSM and blog sites abound with critiques of the election and tentative predictions of the political outcomes. So why bother writing yet another to explain how it has all come to this? You will judge whether this analysis adds anything useful.

Far from fulfilling his oft repeated promise of stable government and sound …
Just do your job
2353NM, 13 July 2016
Fairfax media’s Matthew Knott asked the other day ‘Election 2016: The uncomfortable truth is the media got it wrong. How did we do it’. It’s a good question.

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Australia; we need to have a conversation
2353NM, 15 July 2016
There are three types of people in this world, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. – Mary Kay Ash

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics …

Just do your job

Fairfax media’s Matthew Knott asked the other day ‘Election 2016: The uncomfortable truth is the media got it wrong. How did we do it’. It’s a good question.

Knott details issues such as the polls showing split results for months prior to the election yet the betting agencies supporting the view that the Coalition would romp it in on 2 July; Coalition party insiders suggesting that they would pick up ALP seats’; the ‘vibe’ that people were disappointed in Turnbull but not ready to get out the baseball bats; and even the ‘conventional wisdom’ that the eight-week campaign was a masterstroke. As Knott reports:
Leading commentators on Sky News predicted between 80 to 85 seats for the Coalition, with Peter van Onselen saying he would quit in the event of a hung parliament.
While there is some reflection on why the media got it wrong, has he left ‘the biggie’ alone? The ‘biggie’ may be they just didn’t report the news.

Political polling is based on statistics. There is considerable evidence to suggest that if a person asks a question of a number of people with certain demographic characteristics, they can extrapolate that result across a larger population with a degree of confidence. Normally in Australia, the polling companies interview around 1,500 people and can state with a degree of certainty that the response to the survey can be extrapolated across the entire population of Australia. So the result to a hypothetical question, let’s use “should pensions be increased by 50%” is 50% favour ‘yes’ and 50% favour ‘no’. Usually the polling companies will add to their media release that there is a 95% chance of getting the poll correct. There is always a margin of error which allows for the natural variations in a population.

While the headline is 50-50 support for increasing pensions by 50%, logically not everyone in the country is asked the question. Using our hypothetical example, if by some chance the pollster happened to ask the question randomly to a number of people in their early 20’s who have witnessed their loved grandparents living in poverty, the ‘vote’ to increase pensions reported amongst the ‘early 20’s demographic’ might be skewed towards increasing pensions rather than say buying more warships. Pollsters will calculate the margin of error as a percentage: traditionally in political polling around Australia the percentage is 3%. So the potential results for the hypothetical question could be between 47% and 53%.

A sales person for Apple will tell you that an iPhone is far superior to a Samsung Galaxy mobile phone. A Samsung sales person will tell you the opposite. The reality is that iPhones and Galaxy phones are both good products although the way they work is different. The media believed the spin coming from the Coalition media advisers and wrote their stories accordingly. The fact was the election was close as demonstrated by the eight weeks of incessant political polls which rebuts to an extent the margin for error argument. So the narrative that the Coalition would have an easy victory wasn’t able to be verified by facts — just rhetoric, which fed into later stories of why the Coalition was going to win. It is a never ending circle of person A writes that the Coalition will win, which influences the writing of person B and so on. You can see it happen most Sunday mornings on ABCTV’s Insiders and similar programs on other media outlets.

So the Coalition media advisers did their job. They were wrong — but they did their job. The Coalition media advisers convinced the media who convinced the public that Malcolm Turnbull had a much better chance of winning the 2016 election outright than the facts would indicate. As Knott indicates, the media also missed the Andrews’ victory in Victoria and the Palaszczuk victory in Queensland in the past year or two. Again instead of believing the facts — the polls — they believed the ‘insiders’, although to be fair there is at least one media company in Australia that has a view that they should influence you in a particular direction. At the same time the company is wondering why their sales are falling. (In Queensland anyway, if you spend a reasonably small value at Coles supermarkets at the moment, you can purchase one of that media company’s products for half price! Hardly something that would be happening if their sales were healthy.)

History is that the election result is effectively a ‘hung’ parliament; even if Turnbull’s Coalition creeps over the line by one or two seats. The terminology is misleading: there are still 150 members of the House of Representatives and 76 Senators but the groupings aren’t the traditional Coalition and ALP working majority which is driving the, again media supported, calls that ‘we’ll all be rooned before the year is out’ (with apologies to John O’Brien). What the media (and politicians) should be saying is there will be a minority government, where whoever is the prime minister relies on the support of members of parliament that ‘belong’ to another political party (or no political party at all).

Minority government is not a new concept in Australia. It’s actually par for the course. Since Menzies was elected in 1949, there has been a Coalition of the Liberal and National Parties at federal level. The reason for the Coalition is that neither party would be able to govern in their own right as they almost never get the 76 seats required to do so. Certainly the agreement between them is renegotiated after each election, win, lose or in this case draw, but ultimately even in Abbott’s ‘stunning’ victory in 2013, the Liberal Party gained 58 seats, the National Party 9 and 23 were held by the LNP (Queensland) and the CLP (Northern Territory). Again you need 76 to form a government and even if you split the 23 ‘others’ seats in half (half Liberal, half National), neither conservative party had the required number. The members of the LNP and CLP nominate which party room they will meet with, as demonstrated by Barnaby Joyce when he was a Queensland LNP Senator cohabitating with the National Party.

However, for the media to retain some justification to their claim of being effective at seeking and reporting and providing analysis of the ‘insider’ discussions and deliberations, they will have to do more than just rely on the claims made by the Coalition’s media advisers in the 45th Parliament — as the Coalition’s strategy will be amended on a regular basis to ‘accommodate’ the needs or wishes of other interested parties that have a vote on the final legislation. If it is reported in a similar way to the Gillard government (which relied on independent MPs for support), it will be seen to be a chaotic mess where the only outcome is confusion and delay. The reality is Gillard’s government passed a number of showstopper pieces of legislation dealing with people with disabilities, school funding and climate change. It wouldn’t have passed if there wasn’t a consensus of the majority of parliamentarians in both houses of parliament at the time (despite the claims of Abbott and his ultra-conservatives).

To his credit, Matthew Knott asked his readers (via social media) for their views on the election coverage. The responses are interesting:
  • An insistence the Coalition was on track to win (despite the polls predicting a tight result) and a consistent under-estimation of Shorten's performance;
  • Overly "insular" coverage dominated by conversations with political insiders and other journalists rather than voters;
  • Coverage that was too "presidential", with an intense focus on daily movements of both leaders;
  • Too much focus on the colour and movement of campaigning rather than the policy offerings of the two main parties;
  • A lack of co-ordination by journalists, especially in the travelling media pack, to demand answers from the leaders;
  • More focus on campaigning techniques by third-party groups such as GetUp!
Ironically, the ALP’s 2016 election Medicare and penalty rates campaigns may finally result in some truth in advertising legislation that is actually applicable to political campaigns:
While Senator Xenophon secured three Senate spots in his native South Australia, his overall vote was down from 2013. He believes a "misleading and deceitful" Labor scare campaign on penalty rates was part of the reason.

The ads claimed Senator Xenophon wanted to cut penalty rates — a decision that is actually up to the Fair Work independent umpire.

"It was a lie," Senator Xenophon said. "I had to put up corrective advertising, but nowhere near to the extent of their misleading advertising. Why should politicians be exempt from the sort of laws that apply to misleading and deceptive advertising that apply to corporations and individuals?"

The Greens are also planning to move amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act to incorporate truth in advertising provisions.

"Blatantly false political advertising runs counter to the public interest," Greens democracy spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said.
If the media was doing their job, there should be enough evaluation of political claims to make political truth in advertising legislation redundant.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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The Liberal lie continues
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In his speech on election night, as reported by The Guardian, Malcolm Turnbull:
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Sausage sizzles and mandates
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There was a winner to the Federal Election last weekend. A lot of school parents’ organisations and charities made money on sausage sizzles and cake stalls across the country. While you could argue that if funding for education and to those less well-off was at a realistic level there would be no need for the sausage sizzle, it is becoming …
How has it come to this?
Ad astra, 10 July 2016
The MSM and blog sites abound with critiques of the election and tentative predictions of the political outcomes. So why bother writing yet another to explain how it has all come to this? You will judge whether this analysis adds anything useful.

Far from fulfilling his oft repeated promise of stable government and sound …

How has it come to this?

The MSM and blog sites abound with critiques of the election and tentative predictions of the political outcomes. So why bother writing yet another to explain how it has all come to this? You will judge whether this analysis adds anything useful.

Far from fulfilling his oft repeated promise of stable government and sound economic management; far from avoiding the 'chaos' of a close result, Turnbull seems unlikely to achieve either. The consensus among those analyzing the election results, the commentariat, and the social media, is that the outcome will be a narrow LNP majority.

I’ll not try to best guess the long-term political outcome, and instead ask what has brought about this situation.

While acknowledging that multiple factors bring about any election outcome, I propose that this time five significant factors have been in play: the Turnbull character; Medicare; Inequality; Turnbull reversals on the NBN, marriage equality, global warming and the republic; and insensitivity towards the Coalition’s constituency.

The Turnbull character
We don’t have to go far back to gain insight into Turnbull’s character. Annabel Crabb’s 2009 Quarterly Essay: Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull spells it out in detail. You can read a summary of it in her article on the ABC website, updated on 16 May this year.  This is what we wrote about it on The Political Sword in June 2009.

Against the background of Turnbull’s successful involvement in the Spycatcher case and his representation of Kerry Packer (the Goanna) in the Costigan Royal Commission into the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union, Crabb writes: “From the Costigan affair we can draw some preliminary conclusions about the young Turnbull. The first is that he has no regard for orthodoxy...” and “This refusal to ‘play by the rules’ is something of a lifelong pattern for Turnbull; it explains much of his success, but also accounts for the worst of his reputation.”...“The second thing we learn from Costigan is that violent tactical methods are not just something to which Turnbull will contemplate turning if sufficiently provoked. It’s not enough to say that Turnbull is prepared to play hardball. He prefers to play hardball – that’s the point. It is impossible to rid oneself entirely of the suspicion that Turnbull enjoys the intrigue – the hurling of grenades...”

Turnbull is a risk taker. He backs his own judgement. He gambles on being right. Often he is, sometimes not. His gamble this year to take on Tony Abbott by challenging his leadership paid off immediately with a convincing win in the Liberal party room, high popularity in the electorate, and improving polls. But his gamble a couple of months ago to call a double dissolution election predicated on the urgent necessity to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission, if needs be by a joint sitting of parliament, has ended in disaster for him. It was a charade from the beginning, hardly mentioned in the campaign, and now unlikely ever to pass a joint sitting. This episode was vintage Turnbull risk taking, foolish risk taking.

It is understandable that the relief felt by the electorate when he replaced the calamitous Abbott has dimmed memories of Turnbull in his earlier days as opposition leader and minister for communications. Then he performed as he is performing even now: incautious, indecisive yet at times precipitous in decision-making, inadequately prepared, and lacking in due diligence.

You will all remember ‘Ute-gate’, where Turnbull was conned by a Liberal mole in Treasury, Godwin Grech, into believing the contents of what turned out to be a fake email that attempted to implicate PM Rudd and Treasurer Swan in an underhand deal in which a car dealer gave Rudd a ute for campaigning in return for OzCar favours. Turnbull swallowed the story, hook, line and sinker, as did Murdoch journalist Steve Lewis. Turnbull, the accomplished barrister, had failed in due diligence, as had his collaborator, Eric Abetz.

In case Turnbull’s recent prime ministerial aura, such a contrast to Abbott’s embarrassing ineptitude, has erased the memory of his earlier days as Liberal leader, go to the archive of The Political Sword and re-read: The old rusty uteAfter TurnbullWhat will Turnbull do now?The Turnbull endgameTurnbull in a China shopMalcolm Turnbull’s intelligenceWhat is Malcolm Turnbull up to?, The Turnbull Twist, and Why does Malcolm Turnbull make so many mistakes?.  

It would take you hours to do so, and there are still more, but they will be sufficient to remind you that Malcolm Turnbull has not changed. What was written then could be written now. The context has changed, but the man has not. He creates his own disasters; he makes the going tough for himself.

PM Turnbull is the same man who over the years has been a big risk-taker but has lacked judgement and has eschewed due diligence. His successes have been overshadowed by his failures. We are now witnessing his most spectacular failure, one that will affect us all as politics in this nation enters an uncertain phase where governance will be very difficult.

In an angry, ungracious speech on election night, Turnbull blasted Labor for its ‘Mediscare’ campaign: “Today, as voters went to the polls, as you would have seen in the press, there were text messages being sent to thousands of people across Australia saying that Medicare was about to be privatised by the Liberal Party. The SMS message said it came from Medicare – an extraordinary act of dishonesty. No doubt the police will investigate. But this is, but this is the scale of the challenge we faced. And regrettably more than a few people were misled ... But the circumstances of Australia cannot be changed by a lying campaign from the Labor Party.”

Turnbull sought to label the Labor campaign as the prime cause of his loss of support. The following day Scott Morrison was equally adamant; he was arrogantly unwilling to concede any fault on the Coalition side.

The next day though Turnbull was prepared to acknowledge that ‘Mediscare’ worked because the seeds of the scare ‘had fallen on fertile ground’, no doubt a reference to the suspicion created in the electorate by the Coalition’s many recent attacks on Medicare: the threat of a GP co-payment, the freezing of GP rebates until 2020, the threat to remove bulk billing inducements for imaging and pathology tests, and the increased co-payment for pharmaceuticals. Turnbull ought not to have been surprised that voters were susceptible to believing Labor’s assertion that the Coalition intended to privatize Medicare. The Coalition’s past and more recent attitude toward Medicare rightly made them suspicious. Turnbull’s denials and voluble reassurances were simply not believed.

’Mediscare’ was a significant factor in Turnbull’s humiliation at the polls, but not the only one. He reaped what he had so abundantly sown.

Although the word was seldom uttered, the people were aware of the widening gap between those at the top and those languishing at the bottom. They spoke of feeling they were being left behind, struggling with cost of living pressures, and finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Many were finding it hard to get a satisfying job. Their feelings of abandonment and resentment were accentuated by Turnbull’s continual reminders that there was “never a better time to be an Australian!”, something they were not themselves experiencing.

Voters needed no more than their contemporary experience to feel left behind, but then along came the Turnbull/Morrison move to give $48 billion of tax relief to businesses, extending over the decade to the big banks and multinationals, the very ones whom we all know do not pay their fair share of tax. The tax rorters were being offered a generous tax break!

The Coalition mantra of ‘Jobs and Growth’, on which they based their much-vaunted ‘economic plan’ was yet another example of the Coalition’s faith in ‘supply-side’ economics, despite it having been discredited repeatedly. The term ‘trickle-down’ began to be mentioned by commentators and included in questions to politicians, and even the long-debunked ‘Laffer curve’ was mentioned in a question on Q&A. The public became aware of the fraud they were being offered by the Coalition with their monotonously repeated and meaningless three-word slogan: ‘Jobs and Growth’.

I wrote in April that inequality would be a hot button election issue and it was - not in overt terms, but simmering angrily below the surface and significantly influencing voters’ preferences. Will the Coalition heed their desire for a fairer deal?

The Turnbull reversals
Countless comments have been made about Turnbull’s reversals of position. There has been widespread disappointment at his stance toward crucial issues. They are familiar to you all.

In his attempt to avoid Abbott’s ‘demolish the NBN’ instruction, he has given us a hybrid multi-technology fibre to the node (FTTN) mishmash with speeds slower than are needed by a nation competing on the world scene, far too slow in rollout, and possibly more expensive than Labor’s superior fibre to the premises (FTTP) model, which Turnbull ridiculed so sarcastically. For such a tech head to oversee the introduction of this inferior technology is disgraceful. People are appalled, angry, and disappointed, especially those in rural areas, who if they can get connected to the Internet at all, suffer debilitating buffering.

Marriage equality
Marriage equality is the focus of another Turnbull reversal. In an earlier life he was strongly in favour and insistent that it should be resolved with a conscience vote of the parliament. But he reneged on that to placate the hard right conservatives who want a plebiscite, designed by Abbott to delay the debate, allow it to be debased by the bigots, and eventually to be defeated. Another disappointing Turnbull reversal!

Global warming
After all the talk in his early days: “I will not lead a party that is not as committed to effective action on climate change as I am”, he has disappointed the climate lobby by insisting that the Coalition’s paltry ‘Direct Action Plan’ is all that we need, and that it is working. All his devotion to an emissions trading scheme has evaporated, simply to appease the climate skeptics in his ranks and thereby secure his leadership. It is to many his most profound, his most disturbing and disappointing reversal of principle.

The Republic
The cause to which Turnbull devoted himself so fully for so long no longer attracts his interest. He has discarded any intention to move soon on this, much to the chagrin of those who feel it is high time Australia became a republic. While it was unlikely to be a vote changer; it did confirm in many minds Turnbull’s willingness to sacrifice his principles for personal advantage.

Insensitivity to the Coalition’s constituency
Whatever else a politician does, he needs to avoid alienating the people who support him financially and who vote for him.

Turnbull has managed to alienate a large group of wealthy superannuants by proposing that changes to superannuation be made that will disadvantage them, and by the prospect of the changes being retrospective. In some analyses of the poor result for the Coalition at this election, anger over proposed changes to superannuation among his constituency have been cited as a powerful force that tuned away Coalition voters.

Another group that has been alienated are the hard right conservative clique that is currently agitating for more say, more clout, and more recognition, led by Tea Party admirer Cory Bernardi who wants to establish a group like GetUp, but right leaning, one that can represent conservative views. Because Turnbull is a moderate with progressive views, this group may cause him more grief than his traditional opponents as he tries to keep conservatives and ‘small l’ Liberals together. The conservatives are hostile and dangerous, still angry that he toppled their patron, Abbott. They paint Turnbull as a fraud, a traitor to their cause. Writing in The Australian, right-wing Sky News commentator Graham (Richo) Richardson's assessment is: “Turnbull is a traitor to his class and constituents.” His opponents will erode his standing in the party through internal sabotage. The sharks are already circling! We saw it when Kevin Rudd sabotaged Julia Gillard; it can happen again. It is more debilitating than external attacks.

In an attempt to reverse the alienation among Muslims that Abbott provoked with his anti-Muslim attitude and his obsessive focus on terror threats, Turnbull held out the hand of friendship, even to the point of inviting several prominent Muslims, including a radical sheik, to an Iftar dinner that he hosted for Ramadan. Whilst applauded by some, it has further alienated those who follow Pauline Hanson, who has now added to her anti-Asian stance an equally aggressive anti-Muslim one.

When the Coalition gets around to analyzing why it has done so poorly at this election, coming close to defeat, expect it to include pointed reference to the alienation of important parts of the Coalition’s constituency, with accusatory fingers pointing firmly at Turnbull.

You are bound to read about reasons for the diminishment of Turnbull’s prestige and standing, other than those cited above. Tell us about them in a comment.

How has it come to this? PM Turnbull has ‘won’ but is apprehensive; Opposition Leader Shorten hasn’t, but is smiling?

Whatever other factors were in play during the election, prominent factors were: Turnbull as an incautious risk-taker; the Medicare bogey; the unfairness and inequality felt by those on Struggle Street angrily watching the top end of town get the rewards; the reversal of deeply held Turnbull principles on the NBN, marriage equality, global warming and the republic, all sacrificed at the altar of self interest; and insensitivity towards the Coalition’s natural constituency. All were recipes for failure, and at worst, political disaster. Time will tell how potent they were.

What do you think?
What do you believe are the most significant factors in the Coalition’s poor showing?

Please offer your suggestions in comments below.

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The hazards of voting Liberal
Ad Astra, 29 June 2016
It’s clear that around half of all voters for the major parties will vote for the Liberal-National Coalition and half for Labor and the Greens. The result is likely to be close. There are many seats that promise to throw up intriguing results. If the Coalition wins, the Senate may end up being no more helpful to it than the last one.

The purpose of this piece is not to attempt to predict …
The Liberal lie continues
Ken Wolff, 6 July 2016
In his speech on election night, as reported by The Guardian, Malcolm Turnbull:
… accused the Labor party of running “some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia” in a campaign in which Labor claimed the Coalition was planning to privatise the …
Sausage sizzles and mandates
2353NM, 8 July 2016
There was a winner to the Federal Election last weekend. A lot of school parents’ organisations and charities made money on sausage sizzles and cake stalls across the country. While you could argue that if funding for education and to those less well-off was at a realistic level there would be no need for the sausage sizzle, it is becoming a tradition and clearly part of the Australian psyche.

The Liberal lie continues

In his speech on election night, as reported by The Guardian, Malcolm Turnbull:
… accused the Labor party of running “some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia” in a campaign in which Labor claimed the Coalition was planning to privatise the government funded health insurance system, Medicare.

Turnbull questioned whether there would be a police investigation over the Labor campaign and he accused Labor of sending texts to voters claiming the Coalition would sell Medicare.
The Daily Mail (Australian edition) reported it this way:
“Today, as voters went to the polls, as you would have seen in the press, there were text messages being sent to thousands of people across Australia saying that Medicare was about to be privatised by the Liberal Party,” Mr Turnbull said in the speech.

“The SMS message came from Medicare. It said it came from Medicare. An extraordinary act of dishonesty. No doubt the police will investigate.”
And George Brandis said this:
I think that the thing that made the difference between a reasonably comfortable win and, if this is the case, a very narrow win for the Government, was the fact that the Labor Party threw the kitchen sink at one of the most mendacious and disgraceful campaigns that we've ever seen. The proposition that the Government planned to sell or privatise Medicare was ... a nonsense.
So they accept that the Medicare campaign by Labor had a major effect but they insist it was a lie. Why?

As I pointed out in Turnbull’s Medicare backflip — or is it? the government had begun the process of examining how the Medicare payment system could be outsourced or sold to a private provider. Although the Liberals described this as only the ‘back office’ operations of Medicare, payments are the central role of Medicare. When this first became public news in February, there was no denial that it was taking place.

It was only after Labor aired its Bob Hawke campaign advertisement, that you don’t create a Medicare privatisation task force unless you intend to privatise Medicare, that Turnbull eventually came out and guaranteed that Medicare would not be privatised and that updating the payment system would take place ‘within government’.

Thus, when Labor continued its Medicare campaign, Turnbull and other Liberals claimed that it was based on a ‘lie’. Firstly, remember that denying privatisation came late in the election campaign and only after Labor’s message was obviously having an impact. Before that, or in other words for the first few weeks of the election, privatisation of the payment system was still on the Liberal agenda. Turnbull’s ‘guarantee’ was a decision made on the run and not reflective of what had previously been Liberal policy. It was purely a last minute and desperate political decision.

Secondly, Turnbull’s denials and ‘guarantee’ did not address the other issues surrounding Medicare: namely that Medicare rebates will now be frozen until 2020, making no increase for six years; and that the removal of bulk billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging services was still on the table and would be reconsidered after the election. Even the new president of the AMA, Dr Michael Gannon, not a natural ally of the Labor party, pointed out that the freeze would force GPs to charge higher fees and to abandon bulk-billing and that some GPs had already advised the AMA that they were doing so.

Turnbull’s response was that doctors could charge whatever they liked and that if the freeze was removed it would increase the scheduled fee by only 60 cents, or up to $2 if backdated. Those amounts are probably fairly accurate and sound small but if a doctor is seeing between three and six patients per hour for six or seven hours a day, five days a week for 48 weeks of the year, even at 60 cents that could add up to an extra $6000 per year which would no doubt assist in meeting the surgery’s running costs. If there are four doctors in the surgery that is potentially up to $24,000 a year, or about $80,000 if the increase is $2. So despite Turnbull’s attempt to downplay the effect of the freeze, its real impact can be quite substantial for a surgery’s business model over a full year.

The other issue relating to Turnbull’s response is that it continued to ignore the concern that people will have to pay more. By taking the approach he did, he was basically abrogating any responsibility for medical costs — that is not what people expect of the government. What they do expect is that if medical costs rise the government will assist in meeting those costs, not say it is nothing to do with them, that doctors can charge whatever they like. If anything helped raise the profile of Labor’s Medicare campaign in the last days of the election campaign then I think Turnbull’s response did.

Turnbull and the Liberals also tried to emphasise that the freeze had initially been introduced by Labor. That is true. It was introduced by Wayne Swan in the last Labor budget in 2013. What the Liberals didn’t say, thus lying by omission, was that Swan’s freeze was for a total of seven months, from November 2013 until June 2014 — of course, the savings made in that time would be built into future budgets. There was however another reason for that ‘freeze’, not just the need to save a few dollars. Indexation of Medicare scheduled benefits in November was associated with the old budget timetable when budgets were presented in August and new measures (costs) could only apply from 1 December. Since budgets have been presented in May all new measures can apply from 1 July and the change Swan made was to align Medicare indexation with the new budget timetable (most other indexed government payments had already been realigned and Medicare was one of the last). The freeze on Medicare rebates since June 2014 has been purely a Coalition government decision but, of course, they didn’t mention that.

So who was lying about Medicare? If the Coalition plans to continue the Medicare freeze until 2020, surely that is a valid point that Labor can make during an election. And if Medicare is covering less and less of the cost of seeing a doctor or specialist, that is also undermining the very purpose of Medicare. Again it becomes valid to argue that Medicare needs ‘saving’ because the Coalition’s approach would certainly mean that over time it would become worthless as health insurance. So Labor’s campaign of saving Medicare was not a lie. Medicare may not technically be ‘privatised’ but the continued impact of the freeze and removal of bulk billing incentives would have very much the same effect, pushing consumer costs higher and reducing both the health and social benefits of Medicare.

If voters responded to that, Turnbull has only himself to blame. His denial of privatisation came late so it could be questioned: the obvious response being that if you did not intend to privatise Medicare why didn’t you say so on day one of the election campaign? — why wait until you were forced to respond to Labor’s Medicare campaign? And if you only responded when forced to, can your decision really be trusted? If you are supporting Medicare, why is there a freeze on rebates for six years which is five years and five months longer than Labor’s original freeze? Why are you going to force pathologists and diagnostic imaging services to charge patients upfront and then have the patients claim a proportionally reduced rebate from Medicare?

They are questions that Turnbull just refused to address when Labor raised them. So it wasn’t simply a ‘privatisation’ scare campaign by Labor but a campaign that raised legitimate questions about Turnbull’s and the Coalition’s approach to Medicare. For Turnbull to come out and claim that Labor improved their vote because of a lie about privatisation is missing the point and is itself a lie because he will not face the truth that his other actions were still a threat to Medicare. People could see that and did believe that Medicare was worth saving.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
Your vote is valuable
2353NM, 29 June 2016
Over the past couple of months, Turnbull, Shorten, Di Natalie and others have been attempting to convince you that they are worthy of your first preference vote. The usual claim is that your vote is valuable. Guess what — it is. Every first preference vote cast at the election on 2 July is worth $2.62784 to the political entity that gets the vote (provided certain conditions are met). Ironically, the ‘value’ of your vote is indexed every …
The hazards of voting Liberal
Ad Astra, 29 June 2016
It’s clear that around half of all voters for the major parties will vote for the Liberal-National Coalition and half for Labor and the Greens. The result is likely to be close. There are many seats that promise to throw up intriguing results. If the Coalition wins, the Senate may end up being no more helpful to it than the last one.

The purpose of this piece is not to attempt to predict …
G’day America
2353NM, 3 July 2016
Hi, howyagoin? We hear that you are having a real problem with who is going to be your next president. We’ve done our election and gone back to the beach!

If we understand the issues correctly, there is the choice of a property tycoon who seems to be able to lend his name to a lot of developments, star in what are laughingly called reality television series, lampoon women and minorities …

G’day America

Hi, howyagoin? We hear that you are having a real problem with who is going to be your next president. We’ve done our election and gone back to the beach!

If we understand the issues correctly, there is the choice of a property tycoon who seems to be able to lend his name to a lot of developments, star in what are laughingly called reality television series, lampoon women and minorities without fear or favour and also wants to build a fence along your borders. The last one is a bit silly – is it to keep you inside, or to keep others out?

The other alternative is the wife of a former president who while secretary of state maintained a private email server, allegedly made a horrible botch-up of a couple of sensitive issues and let’s face it, for a Democrat she is really pretty conservative. The really progressive Democrat unfortunately doesn’t have a hope.

Over this side of the Pacific, there is the occasional news or opinion piece on how a number of your citizens are considering moving to Canada if Trump wins the presidency. It seems that life is not necessarily greener north of the border when you consider the need to find another job, some new friends, change schools and learn the local customs. You would probably have to leave your guns ‘back in the states’ as Canadians seem to have a similar ‘oppressive gun control regime’ to Australia.

It seems that your current president quite likes the Canadian prime minister and their national airline is promoting the need to ‘test drive’ Canada before you move there.

There is another option that you might not have realised. Australia has a recent history of changing our prime minister every year or so over most of the past decade. It’s a ‘downunda’ thing – we have the option of getting rid of them if they lose their nerve so we have a few low mileage, fuel efficient late model leaders sitting on the lot ready to go. We’ll even arrange the finance for you. There are special deals on our Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull models – check the internet for the latest pricing.

For logistical reasons, this piece is being written before the Australian election results are known. Before anyone really thinks that any of the slightly used Australian prime ministers on offer can become the President of the United States – unfortunately they can’t. To be the President of the USA, not only do you have to be an American citizen, you have to be born in the USA. While a segue to a Bruce Springsteen song would fit here, this is a political blog so let’s look at the politics of change and uncertainty instead.

It is fact that in Australia, we have had five prime ministers in six years. At the same time the UK has had a referendum on Scottish Independence as well as the ‘Brexit’ vote, while the US has suffered years of ‘truther’ allegations over Obama’s country of birth (with subsequent questions over his eligibility to be president) followed by the rise of the neo-cons, as well as Donald Trump’s candidacy for president in the latter part of 2016.

As usual, there is a connection. All three countries have a history of two major parties that (for want of a better term) rotate through the effective ‘Head of State’ positions. In the case of ‘Brexit’, it seems that the Conservatives’ Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, sealed his own fate when he initially agreed to the European Union referendum in 2013. This The New Yorker article by John Cassidy discusses the issues:
In retrospect, it can be argued that Cameron’s mistake occurred as far back as 2013, when, in an effort to satisfy the Eurosceptics inside his own Conservative Party, he pledged to hold a referendum at some point before 2017. At the time, this was an easy promise to make: Cameron believed he couldn’t deliver on it. He was then heading a coalition government alongside the pro-E.U. Liberal Democrats, who wanted no part of a referendum and had the power to veto one. But after the Conservatives pulled off a surprise in the May, 2015, general election and won a majority in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister felt he had no option but to follow through on his promise.

Yet even after he had set a date for the referendum, Cameron could surely have done a better job of selling an upbeat vision of the E.U., one that had Britain as an active and enthusiastic member. Rather than accentuating the positive, Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, sought to scare the electorate into voting their way, arguing that a vote for Leave would plunge the U.K. economy into a recession and cost the average household about sixty-two hundred dollars a year.
Cassidy goes on to suggest that there is a lesson for Hilary Clinton in her campaign against Donald Trump:
Looking ahead, the fate of the Remain campaign should serve as a reminder of the limits of negative campaigning—a reminder that Hillary Clinton would do well to take note of as she goes up against Donald Trump. In confronting populist demagoguery, it isn’t enough to attack its promulgators. To get people to turn out and vote in your favor, you also have to give them something positive to rally behind. The Leave campaign, for all its lies and disinformation, provided just such a lure. It claimed that liberating Britain from the shackles of the E.U. would enable it to reclaim its former glory. The Remain side argued, in effect, that while the E.U. isn’t great, Britain would be even worse off without it. That turned out to be a losing story.
Nigel Farage, the leader of United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) while not the leader of one of the two major parties in the UK is an ultra-conservative politician who is protectionist and anti-immigration. He also was a prominent campaigner for the “Leave” side. He was interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain program the day after the Brexit vote and backtracked on key planks of the “leave” campaign. You can watch it here and it’s refreshing to see a television host call out a politician on exaggerated claims. Boris Johnson (ex-Conservative Mayor of London) also campaigned hard for the “Leave” cause and all suspected it was to commence his bid to become the next Conservative Party Prime Minister. He announced a few days after the referendum result that he was no longer in contention after he lost support within his party. Adam Hills (known to most Australians as the host of ABCTV’s Spicks and Specks), who hosts The Last Leg on the UK’s Channel 4, launched into a stinging attack on Farage’s apparent backtrack (NOTE: explicit language warning).

There seems to be a deal of ‘buyers’ remorse’ since the ‘Brexit’ vote, with a number of articles around the world suggesting that the UK parliament may not invoke ‘Article 50’ – the section of the European Union rules that allows for someone to leave. The Guardian’s view is here and The New Yorker’s version is here. In a similar way, it seems that Donald Trump’s popularity is falling rapidly – here from Politico and here in The New Daily.

So where does this lead us?

We’re changing Prime Ministers faster that most of us move house or change our car. The British have voted to dismantle the United Kingdom and the European Union and those who live in the USA have a choice between two presidential candidates that nobody really seems to want.

There is a connection. Australia, the UK and the USA all have political systems with two major parties that to a greater extent have become corporatised over the past 10 or 15 years. The parties rotate in turn through the respective halls of power and have an intense hatred for ‘the other side’ as displayed particularly by Abbott in Australia, Farage (leader of UKIP) in the UK and Trump in the USA. Like most corporations, the culture is for the staff to literally hate the competition, so in this case the ‘party HQs’ continually generate a culture of hatred rather than consensus.

So you get claims such as ‘The Greens want to legalise the drug Ice’ (according to a leaflet dropped into my letterbox during the recent election campaign; they don’t by the way), which makes consensus after the election difficult as the respective sides start from a position of distrust. Those who really don’t follow politics hear these people on the news, get inflammatory leaflets in their letterbox or read paid advertising that has a small whiff of the truth in their social media feed every day either suggesting ‘the other side’ is morally and/or fiscally corrupt or promising ‘their side’ will ensure immediate action on whatever the issue of the day is. So our uninformed voter decides that the problem is ‘sorted’, or agrees with the proposition the other side is horrible (based on fabricated evidence) and gets on with their lives.

As the interview with Farage demonstrates, he and the other popularist politicians such as Abbott and Trump tend to leave certain opinions in people’s minds, even if (as Farage claimed in the clip above) they actually didn’t make the precise claim they are being accused of. Is it any wonder that people feel disenchanted with the process when, inevitably after the event, the popularist politician is seen to renege on the reason that people supported them? Remember Abbott was going to remove the ‘carbon tax’ on Day 1 of his prime ministership? In reality it is highly unlikely that Trump will ever convince the Mexican government to pay for a wall along the shared border – no matter how many times he claims it will happen.

They promise what they can’t deliver, they will make whatever promise they see as necessary to achieve their aim and then renege. They will disparage people, lifestyle choices, religions and whatever else it takes to get their way, and then wonder why people hold them and their peers in contempt. Sooner or later their exaggerated or false claims will catch up with them, Abbott was originally seen by the conservatives of Australia as the man who could fix everything. Inside two years, there was a spill motion to remove him. Johnson, after the success of the “Leave” campaign was a shoo-in to become the next Conservative UK Prime Minister – and in Farage’s case the beginning of his downfall may have happened on UK national television last week. The good citizens of the USA still have time to find a president who will actually look after the safety and security of their society – so they probably don’t really need a recycled Australian prime minister who potentially had trouble implementing their respective promised ‘vision’ for our Country.

Parliaments are places where representatives of communities are supposed to gather to discuss ideas and implement plans to make life better and more equitable for all members of the community. The two party system is an effective block to this happening, as if either side gets control of the Parliament, they can effectively do what they want. Isn’t it time that we put our politicians on notice that behaviour as displayed by the likes of Abbott, Johnson, Farage and Trump is not acceptable, degrading people or making unrealistic promises is no longer permitted and while in the past the two party system worked well, we now require diversity of opinion and that opinion needs to be understood and acted on? Turnbull and Shorten have both discussed in the past eight weeks that there needs to be more consensus and less war – we need to ensure they and their successors deliver.

What do you think?
Has politics just become the same in western democratic-capitalist countries?

Can the existing major parties adapt to working with other parties to govern?

Most importantly - what was the ‘democracy sausage sizzle’ like at your polling booth?

Let us know in comments below.

Recent Posts
Turnbull’s Medicare backflip — or is it?
Ken Wolff, 26 June 2016
Turnbull recently announced that his government, if re-elected, will not change any element of Medicare. It came in response to Labor’s campaigning that Medicare was under threat, that it would be privatised under a Liberal government. The general media response was to take Turnbull at his word and that Labor’s continuing use of the campaign was no more than a ‘scare campaign’ now based on a ‘lie’…
Your vote is valuable
2353NM, 29 June 2016
Over the past couple of months, Turnbull, Shorten, Di Natalie and others have been attempting to convince you that they are worthy of your first preference vote. The usual claim is that your vote is valuable. Guess what — it is. Every first preference vote cast at the election on 2 July is worth $2.62784 to the political entity that gets the vote (provided certain conditions are met). Ironically, the ‘value’ of your vote is indexed every …
The hazards of voting Liberal
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It’s clear that around half of all voters for the major parties will vote for the Liberal-National Coalition and half for Labor and the Greens. The result is likely to be close. There are many seats that promise to throw up intriguing results. If the Coalition wins, the Senate may end up being no more helpful to it than the last one.

The purpose of this piece is not to attempt to predict …