The meaning of life

As you sit on your comfortable chair after a satisfying meal with a glass of your favourite drink in hand and view current affairs programmes on TV, do you reflect on the plethora of distressing images that assail viewers day after day? Do you ponder how you might feel if you were part of those images?



How did you feel when you saw the stunned, blackened, bloodied face of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, sitting in an ambulance after being dragged from the rubble after another air attack on Aleppo? Did it bring back memories of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy of Kurdish background drowned on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum in September last year during his parents’ attempt to escape Syria for the Greek island of Kos. This image shocked the world, yet here we are a year later shocked again by the same conflict and the same awful outcomes for children. Now we hear that Omran’s ten-year-old brother Ali died in the same attack.



These images reminded us of a photo of a small, naked nine-year-old Vietnamese girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, also known as 'Napalm Girl' running away from a napalm raid on her village. The photograph is one of the most memorable of the 20th century. It may have changed attitudes to the Vietnam conflict, highlighting as it did the tragic legacy of war, but here we are again reliving the tragedies all over again, tragedies that afflict little children, innocents who suffer because of where they live, whose lives are forever scarred. These children have known nothing but war.


When you wake in the morning, do you ever ask: ‘What am I going to do today?” For older folk, now in retirement, this may be a regular question. Can you imagine what the answer might be if you were living in the rubble of Aleppo or any of hundreds of places ravished by war day after day? Can you picture what your answer might be if you were living in an overcrowded refugee camp in Turkey just over the border from Syria. The most likely answer might be simply ‘survival’, survival for another day – finding enough food, water and shelter for yourself and your family to keep body and soul together. What might your answer be if you were confined to Manus Island or Nauru, with virtually no prospect of ever settling where normal family life might be resumed?

As we enjoy our comfortable lives, how can we imagine what it must be like to suffer the torment, the danger, the uncertainty, the boredom and the endless weariness of living in limbo?

We struggle to contemplate these never-ending agonies, and feel helpless as we reflect on whether we can ever make a difference for those who live with this daily suffering. It is distressing even to think about it.

For these unfortunate people, what is the meaning of life?

When survival is their prime endeavour, how can they anticipate a secure life, a rewarding existence, and a healthy future?


Most who read this piece will have had a satisfying life. Not perfect, not lavish, not entirely free of stress, worry and ill health, but agreeable enough in this land of ours so gifted with natural resources and opportunity. Most will feel fulfilled, will feel that they have made a contribution to our multicultural society. Not all – there are always the disadvantaged, the sick, the disabled, the poor, the homeless, those who have been dealt a poor hand in the game of life. Our society recognizes these inequities and makes provision for some of them.

Most who live in this richly endowed country are likely to feel that they have been able to make a contribution to society and, to use a hackneyed phrase, will ‘leave it in better shape’. For some this has been relatively easy. Teachers, doctors, health care workers, neighbourhood workers, firefighters and police officers go to work each day feeling that what they do is valuable, indeed essential for the wellbeing of the community. Likewise, mothers know that giving life to children is crucial to the vitality of our community. Raising and nurturing a family gives meaning to life for parents around the world. Some find meaning in life by adherence to religion, or through support for charitable organizations. Some join movements protesting against injustice.

There are of course many other ways that we contribute, whether through manufacturing, commerce, industry, public service, the armed forces, or the myriad of services the community wants and needs. Some may feel that their occupation is humdrum and their contribution insignificant, but most can enjoy the satisfaction of doing something for others. For most in this lucky country, although sadly not all, there is meaning to life, and satisfaction with a life well lived.

But this does not relieve us from being concerned about those less well off, about the inequality that afflicts our Australian society, about those whom we as a nation treat poorly, or inhospitably, or cruelly, or indifferently.

How can we watch the images of war: destruction, displacement, despair and death, even of precious children, and not want to do something? All except those who have built a wall of indifference around them feel the anguish of conflict, dislocation, poverty, injustice, unfairness and inequality. Yet we so often feel powerless to effect any change. Too often, we lack the means. While life might be meaningful for us, we know it is not for so many others. How can we make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate? How can we help them to find meaning where there is so little?

The answer seems to rest largely with those whom we elect to represent us. Individually, we are unable to stop conflict, eliminate war, remedy the displacement of many millions around the world, and relieve the poverty, the injustice and the inequalities that afflict so many. But we do have our politicians and the public service that supports them.

Of all our citizens, politicians have more power than any of us to effect change. Politicians are able to assess the state of our world and our nation, to identify our problems, to evaluate our advantages, to take stock of our resources, to arrive at equitable solutions, and to put them into place. We elect them to do this. We want them to enact laws that give meaning to people’s lives, laws that give a helping hand to those who need it, that smooth out social inequities, that increase the prosperity of our nation and all who live in it, that enable all of us to make the most of our lives, to enjoy meaningful lives that enrich not just ourselves, but all those with whom we have contact.

Moreover, we want our politicians to reach out to those outside our country, to use their influence to lessen tensions, conflict and war. We want them to bring peace to our troubled world. And while they are doing so, we want them to give succour to the displaced, to the families and the children ravaged by conflict, destruction and death, to give them the opportunity of a meaningful life.

I know it reads like an impossible dream. Sadly we not only seem to be far from realizing the dream; we seem to be making the nightmare worse.

I could write reams about the inadequacies, the indifference and sheer incompetence of our federal government, but I need go no further than ask why our offshore detention arrangements continue to persecute the innocent – the men, women and children that languish without hope on Nauru and Manus Island. How in earth has it come to this?

We know the history pretty well. Look behind it though and we see the real reasons. John Howard saw a political advantage in opposing asylum seekers coming by boat. The ‘Tampa affair’, the ‘children overboard’ saga, and his words, indelibly written into our history; “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”, all reinforced a view that these people were unwelcome intruders. Tony Abbott, never to miss a chance to wedge his opponents, ramped up the anti-asylum seeker rhetoric, demonized boat people, stirred up enmity, even hatred among some in marginal electorates, and used the slogan ‘Stop the Boats’ to successfully wedge his opponents. His hyper-partisan approach to boat arrivals set a pattern that exists to this day.

Labor became caught up in an unseemly race to the bottom; inhumanity, cruelty and hopelessness became the norm for boat people. It persists still. Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton became loyal foot soldiers for Abbott and his conservative admirers, and now for Turnbull, who despite his own feelings, has been dragooned into taking the same punitive, unyielding, unsympathetic, mean approach of his predecessor, all in pursuit of the spurious objective of ‘protecting our borders’ from what is represented as some sort of invasion. The truth is that he is protecting his back from the knives of Abbott’s conservatives.

Our federal government seems hell-bent on depriving those on Manus and Nauru of any real meaning in their lives. Every morning, as they ask what they are going to do today, the answer is the same – survive another day. They dare not hope for any improvement in their situation. And in addition to their overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and despair, they now suffer assaults, sexual abuse, rape, child abuse, and discrimination, about which reports Dutton is skeptical and indifferent.

What has our country come to? Our reputation as a decent people is tarnished daily. We are held up to the world community as cruel, indifferent to the norms of international behaviour towards asylum seekers, and thoroughly mean spirited. Is that the image we want?

So what is the answer? What can we do to change the state of the world, or closer to home the plight of asylum seekers in indefinite detention? How can we make life more meaningful for these almost-forgotten people? How can we enhance the meaning of life for ourselves?

The ballot box is one answer. But with both major parties using asylum seeker issues as a wedge, would a change of government make any difference, so entrenched in the electorate is the anti-asylum seeker feeling, now accentuated by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party?

There are protest movements: GetUp and 350.org are just two, but they are having little effect on the Turnbull government and its hardnosed Immigration Minister, the odious Dutton.

Blog sites and social media have a role to play; even writing something like this piece, and commenting on it, give a feeling of doing something, no matter how small.

We all seek meaning in our lives, but sadly many have few avenues of enriching it. Maybe contributing our small voices in this way is the best we can do to encourage, indeed pressure those whom we depend upon to speak out and act for us in this troubled world, to challenge, repudiate and defeat the alien forces we see operating around us everywhere, every day. But that would take fortitude and selflessness, rare attributes in today’s politicians, for whom self-interest prevails.

Oh for politicians of the calibre of William Wilberforce and Emmeline Pankhurst, whose courage, tenacity and unyielding persistence gave meaning to the lives of so many of the oppressed, so many of the disadvantaged!

Where have they gone?


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

What do you feel about the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East?

What do you feel about the way the government is managing offshore processing at Manus Island and Narau?

How would you prefer them to be managed?

Should those detained there be brought to Australia for assimilation?



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A once and future Senate


We now know that the Senate elected at the July election comprises 30 Coalition members, 26 from the ALP, 9 Greens, 4 from One Nation, 3 from the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) and one each from Family First, the Liberal Democrats, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party and the Jacqui Lambie Network. Thirty-nine votes are required in the Senate to pass legislation, so the government will require either ALP or Green support, or otherwise support from nine of the eleven minor party members. Given that NXT has three Senators and One Nation has four, their support for every Bill opposed by the ALP and the Greens becomes essential. It will be a difficult situation for the government but there is another issue I wish to discuss.

Before the election, the Coalition and the Greens combined to introduce a new voting system for the Senate, the aim being to reduce the number of minor parties or people being elected despite starting with only a handful of first preference votes. It did not work this time, largely due to the election being a double dissolution, but will it achieve its aim in the future when we resume the cycle of half-Senate elections?

Senators are elected for six years but on a rotational basis so that half the Senate faces the electorate every three years. After a double dissolution a decision has to be made as to which of the newly elected Senators will serve a full six-year term and which will serve only three before facing an election. There are two ways of doing this.

The common approach has been to use the order in which Senators from each state are elected and give the first six the six-year term, with those elected from seventh to twelfth to serve three years. In a Senate election those with smaller votes are progressively ‘excluded’ and their preferences distributed and preferences from those who have an ‘excess’ quota are also distributed on a proportional basis: as that process unfolds a clear order of election emerges.

The other way, put in legislation by the Hawke government in 1984, allows the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to do a recount of the election as if it was a half-Senate election and those ‘elected’ under that count would be given the six-year term. The underlying idea supporting that approach was that using the ‘first six elected’ may have been fair when we had ‘first past the post’ voting but not when we have a proportional representation system: despite that, even after the 1987 double dissolution this method was not used.

Although those two methods are available, the Constitution states only that the Senate itself can decide who will serve six years and who three.

Derryn Hinch had suggested that if he did not get a six-year term he would challenge the decision in the High Court. I am not a lawyer but I don’t like his chances if he carries out that threat. When the Constitution states the Senate can decide, it would seem that it is not even bound to use either of the methods I have described.

It was reported on 12 August that the Coalition and Labor had agreed they would use the ‘traditional’ method of the ‘first six elected’ to determine the six-year Senators. That means the Coalition will have 16 six-year Senators, the ALP 13, the Greens 3 (Di Natale, Ludlam and Whish-Wilson), NXT 2 (Xenophon and Griff) and One Nation (Pauline Hanson) and Jacqui Lambie Network (Jacqui Lambie) one each. So that will be the starting point for a new Senate from 1 July 2019.

At a state level that translates as 3 each from the Coalition and the ALP in NSW; in Queensland, 3 Coalition, 2 ALP and Pauline Hanson; in SA, 2 each from the Coalition, ALP and NXT; in Tasmania, 2 each from the Coalition and ALP, and 1 Green and Jacqui Lambie; and in both Victoria and WA, 3 Coalition, 2 ALP and 1 Green.

I will basically ignore the Senators from the NT and ACT, except in discussing total numbers, because they face election every three years and the territories invariably return one Coalition and one ALP Senator, meaning that we just add two to each major party.

What becomes more important is who will face re-election in three years: 12 Coalition Senators, 11 from the ALP, 6 Greens, 3 One Nation, 1 NXT and Derryn Hinch (Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party), Bob Day (Family First) and David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrats). From that list you can see why the Coalition and the ALP agreed to the ‘first six elected’ method: their numbers for re-election are close and 13 of the 20 cross-benchers have to face re-election. In that regard, the government may be relatively content with the outcome from the new voting procedure and see the next half-Senate election as an opportunity to reduce the size of the cross-bench.

To be elected a Senator has to achieve a ‘quota’ which is determined by dividing the total number of votes in a state by the number of Senators facing election plus one. In the recent double dissolution that meant the vote was divided by 13, or in percentage terms a quota was about 7.69% of the vote. In a half-Senate election, the number is divided by 7 and so a quota becomes 14.29% of the vote. While preferences are important in determining who is elected, the quota achieved after first preference votes gives a reasonable indication of who will be elected, with those achieving at least 0.4 of a quota having a higher probability of achieving a full quota after preferences.

Given the results in the 2016 election who is likely to win re-election at a half-Senate election and what will that mean for the Senate from 2019?

Firstly, neither David Leyonhjelm, NSW, (Liberal Democrats) nor Bob Day, SA, (Family First), appear likely to be re-elected: their 2016 vote becomes only 0.2 of a quota at a half-Senate election. They would each require something close to a doubling of their vote and that is highly unlikely.

In Victoria, Derryn Hinch may be in with a chance of being re-elected if he can maintain his vote: his half-Senate quota would start at 0.42 rather than the 0.79 at the 2016 election. My guess is that at a half-Senate election Hinch, if he runs again, may even achieve a slightly higher vote, but even with a starting point of 0.4 of a quota I expect that he could be returned.

Jacqui Lambie was elected in Tasmania at the recent election but will not face re-election at the half-Senate election. The 2016 vote translates to 0.58 of a quota at a half-Senate election but because that vote was for Jacqui Lambie herself, it is unlikely to be repeated when she is not running. So even if she runs a Jacqui Lambie Network candidate, I would expect a very reduced vote and it is unlikely a second Network member would join her in the Senate.

Three One Nation Senators will face re-election with the NSW and WA Senators appearing unlikely to win as their starting quota would drop below 0.3. A Queensland win is possible based on the 2016 vote as it would become 0.64 of a quota at the half-Senate election. Hanson herself will not be running so that could reduce the One Nation vote but it may still be enough to secure a second One Nation member in the new Senate (unless there is a large drop in the vote, which is possible based on the past history of One Nation).

Based on the 2016 vote, NXT could pick up two more Senators in SA at a half-Senate election as it would have 1.52 quotas. As with Lambie and Hanson, however, Xenophon himself won’t be running and that may reduce NXT’s vote. Even so, it seems likely that at least one NXT member will be returned and two can’t be entirely ruled out. So NXT will maintain at least three Senators, and possibly increase that to four, in the new Senate from 2019.

One Green Senator from every state will face re-election. They are likely to have at least four and probably five returned. SA is most problematic for them largely because of the magnitude of the NXT vote. If the NXT vote drops, it may become a battle between the Greens and a second NXT candidate for the final Senate position. So that will not change the number on the cross-bench, just the composition.

So, on my estimation, it is possible that 9 of the 13 cross-benchers facing a half-Senate election could be returned, meaning there would still be 16 rather than the current 20. Counting the six-year Senators, the new cross-bench could comprise 8 (possibly 9) Greens, 4 (possibly 3) NXT, 2 One Nation, Jacqui Lambie and Derryn Hinch.

How the Coalition and the ALP fare at a half-Senate election depends very much on who wins government in the HoR because, obviously, the winning party would probably see an increased vote compared to the 2016 election. An increased vote for either party may also have some influence on the results for the minor parties, with Hinch in Victoria, the One Nation candidate in Queensland and possibly the second NXT candidate in SA being most at risk.

At best, the Coalition could win three seats in each state, although if NXT continues its success in SA it may only be two there. Even with an increased vote, and irrespective of the NXT vote, I suggest that 17 Senators is its very best outcome, for a total of 35 Senators (including the two Territory Senators) in the Senate from 2019, still four short of a majority.

The ALP’s best result, with an increased vote, appears to be 16 Senators for a new total of 31 (also including its two Territory Senators) so, as in the past, it would be reliant on the support of the Greens to pass legislation.

Those ‘best’ results for the Coalition and the ALP include the scenario that Hinch, One Nation and NXT do not win the extra seats I mentioned. If they do win, then the Coalition could expect to win 14 seats and the ALP 13, in which case the 2019 Senate would be 32 Coalition Senators, 28 from the ALP, 8 Greens, 4 NXT, 2 One Nation and Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie.

In that scenario the Coalition would require ALP or Green support, or all but one of the minor party Senators to pass legislation, and the ALP would require the Greens and at least three of the other Senators, which most likely would mean gaining the support of NXT.

There are of course many permutations. Will there be a stronger vote for the Coalition or the ALP in 2019 and, if so, will it be strong enough to reduce the vote for minor parties? Will there be a resurgence in the Greens’ vote? Will the One Nation vote collapse as it has done in the past? Can NXT maintain the very high vote it achieved in SA in 2016? The answer to those questions can change what happens at the next half-Senate election and perhaps re-write my scenarios.

But unless the answer to those questions is ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘yes’ and ‘no’, then it appears likely that the government’s Senate voting changes will not achieve its intention of significantly reducing the size of the Senate cross bench. It may have to wait until 2022, even 2025, and try, try again.

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


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Two of the three ex-prime ministers who were deposed by their own political party have been in the news in recent weeks. Kevin Rudd requested backing from the Coalition government to bid for the Secretary-General position at the United Nations and Tony Abbott claimed there are factional divisions in the NSW Liberal Party. On face value, both men are using the media to further their own ends. To observers of Australian politics, this really shouldn’t be a surprise.

While Rudd’s campaign was probably always going to be unsuccessful according to others, on the face of it he does offer the UN some demonstrated leadership ability in trying circumstances — such as the GFC when Australia was the only developed economy that continued to expand during the late 2000’s. Certainly he also has some less redeeming character traits as well — some of which were aired in public when the ALP deposed him as prime minister.

Abbott made a number of claims about factions and backroom lobbying in the NSW Liberal Party, despite Prime Minister Turnbull’s claim to the contrary.


In spite of Abbott probably airing the ‘dirty linen’ in public for his own perceived advantage, he is correct. In any organisation there is usually a difference of opinions on a host of issues, with some being convinced that policy and practice should change to reflect current society/meet differing expectations and so on, while others will suggest that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sometimes the discussion on a combined position is amicable; mostly it isn’t. It also stands to reason that if you can influence parliamentarians — a benefit of being a member of a political party — you could have a better chance of ensuring a particular law of the land reflects some advantage to your business or personal position — so the stakes can be pretty high. Abbott, to his credit, did ban lobbyists from holding organisational positions in the Liberal Party (suggesting there could be a conflict of interest) early in his prime ministership:
One of Mr Abbott's first acts as prime minister was to rule that party officials could not lobby his government, a move mirrored by then-NSW premier Barry O'Farrell.
Rudd too changed the rules of the ALP after he was brought back to the prime ministership in 2013. Effectively he ensured that there was only a small number of opportunities to change the leadership; the Daily Telegraph claimed at the time that it was an attempt to shore up Rudd’s leadership; probably a pretty good assumption.

In a similar way, Fairfax Media claims Abbott’s statement:
… comes as Mr Abbott's conservative-right faction struggles with increasing irrelevance in NSW, where the moderate faction has become dominant, led by key figures such as party president Trent Zimmerman and lobbyist Michael Photios.
So the rule changes orchestrated by both men could also be construed as attempts to maintain or increase their personal longevity and power within their respective political parties. On the face of it, there is nothing new to see here. However, lets dig a little deeper, there are almost certainly unintended consequences in play here. Rudd and Abbott really are pretty similar. Both men were ruthless as opposition leaders. Rudd was seen as being in touch with the majority of the population and an example of generational change from the days of John Howard and his long term government. ‘I’m Kevin from Queensland and I’m here to help’ went down in folklore and contrasted sharply with Prime Minister Howard’s last term where his ideological position on workplace rights lost him a lot of support.

Abbott became opposition leader during the initial debate around a mechanism for the pricing of carbon emissions. While later demonstrated to be completely false, visions of $100 lamb roasts and entire cities being shut down due to the impacts of the ‘carbon tax’ that Abbott would rescind on day one certainly grabbed the mind of the public.

On top of that, both men were ‘stop gap’ leaders. Rudd was ‘unaligned’ according to the ALP’s system of factions and took over from Kim Beasley who is often cited as the best prime minister Australia never had. Beasley accepted the position of ambassador to the United States when offered the positon by Rudd and survived the transition to an Abbott government seemingly unscathed. As he was ‘unaligned’, Rudd really didn’t have the support of any of the established factions of the ALP, having arrived in federal parliament via the Diplomatic Corps and some time as Queensland ALP premier Wayne Goss’ Chief of Staff. (Goss was the person who led the ALP to victory after a number of decades of predominately National Party rule by Bjelke-Petersen and others). Rudd’s time as prime minister commenced late in 2007; his popularity ratings sank to a position where the ALP decided to remove him from power in June 2010. Some of the reasons for his drop in popularity were supposed to be because of his management style, the actions he took during the Global Financial Crisis, refugee processing and the lack of progress on emissions trading legislation. The ALP reinstated Rudd into the prime ministerial role in 2013 and he lost the subsequent election to Abbott.

Abbott won a party room leadership showdown in 2009 by one vote over his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull. The leadership contest was opened due to differences over climate change policy — Turnbull was prepared to support the Rudd government’s Emissions Trading Scheme; Abbott wasn’t.

The Coalition under Abbott and the ALP under Gillard obtained 72 seats each in the 2010 election. According to contemporary media reports, Abbott begged the three independent cross-benchers to allow him to become prime minister – even his opposition to emissions trading was negotiable according to Tony Windsor, one of the independent MP’s involved in the discussions:
"But ... Tony Abbott on a number of occasions said that he would do absolutely anything to gain government - anything," Mr Windsor told Sky News.

"One could draw a conclusion from that that if we pulled a tight rein and said 'Well, you've got government if you put a carbon price on' he would agree with it - that was the inference from his statements."

Mr Windsor said he had made a "character judgment" about Mr Abbott after the discussions.

"He actually begged for the job ... (he said) 'I will do anything to get this job'," Mr Windsor said.
It seems both Rudd and Abbott are the personalities who will do anything to reach a goal or shore up a position. Now let’s look at why this is relevant in August 2016. When Rudd achieved victory over Howard and Abbott achieved victory over Rudd, they were in the pantheon of glory within their respective political parties. As the opinion polls went south (and the other side was suddenly looking like a winner), there was a reassessment of their capabilities; the respective party rooms came to the conclusion that their leadership was untenable in the long term.

Potentially a believer in the axiom to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, Rudd was kept in the Cabinet by his successor Julia Gillard. History suggests that Gillard didn’t keep Rudd close enough, leading to a challenge in 2013 where Rudd was re-installed as prime minister. One of the things Rudd did to the ALP rules subsequent to his re-installation was to institute a requirement that the parliamentary leader of the ALP be elected by polls of not only those in parliament, but the broader ALP membership. Rudd claimed he decided to: ‘
“. . .democratise the party for the future.

''Each of our members now gets to have a say, a real say in the future leadership of our party. Decisions can no longer simply be made by a factional few," he told reporters in Balmain.
While the statement is true enough — all ALP members now have a vote on the leadership of the Federal Parliamentary Party — subsequent to the 2013 election Anthony Albanese won the ‘ALP members’ vote and Bill Shorten won the ‘parliament’ vote which was held due to an election defeat. Obviously, while all ALP members are equal, Caucus has more say.

As we all know, Abbott was rolled by his party room in 2015 (it couldn’t be because it seemed to work so well when the ALP did it, could it?) and for a while Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition’s approval figures, according to the opinion polls, were stratospheric. Accordingly, Shorten and the ALP’s polling figures went down by a similar level.

The benefit Shorten inherited from Rudd was that it would have taken his resignation, an election loss or a 75% vote of no confidence by the ALP Caucus to topple Shorten. If there were any ALP ‘bedwetters’ (to coin a phrase) in late 2015, they probably realised the hurdles required to change the opposition leader were almost insurmountable and decided (publicly anyway) to grin and bear it. It’s now also history that Shorten went on to lead the ALP to the 2016 election, suffering a narrow loss which was a better than expected result.

Abbott’s recent disclosure regarding factions in the Liberal Party probably didn’t surprise anyone. Turnbull’s claim last October that the Liberal Party in NSW was one big happy family was treated with the ridicule it probably deserved by those that should have some idea of the reality (the video above was published widely when it occurred). In the words of The Guardian:
“Tony Abbott has warned that lobbyists holding positions as power brokers in the Liberal party creates the potential for corruption.”
and
“Some of these factional warlords have a commercial interest in dealing with politicians whose preselections they can influence,” Abbott said.

He said this created a “potentially corrupt position”. “The best way to see off the factionalists is to open up the party — the more members we’ve got, the harder it is for the factional warlords to control.

“There are people not on the state executive who caucus regularly on the phone and face-to-face with people who are on the executive to try and get pre-cooked outcomes.”

Abbott said he wanted to empower the membership by letting them choose Liberal candidates for parliament. The call for more democratic preselection is likely to re-open a debate between moderates and conservatives over how candidates are chosen.
Abbott’s opinion seems to be that if the process of preselection within the Liberal Party is opened up, and dare we say made more ‘democratic’, the party will preselect those whose opinions are shared by the majority of the Liberal Party members in the electorate. He may believe that more ‘conservative’ people would be elected but there is no guarantee that outcome would occur, just as Rudd’s changes to the ALP rules didn’t save his leadership.

Rudd was probably trying to cement himself as the parliamentary leader of the ALP in 2013. Abbott is probably trying to ensure that more ‘conservative’ Liberal Party members are given a chance to enter parliament ensuring that he has a greater number of like-minded people around him, improving the chances of a second ‘Abbott era’.

Both interventions, however, have the effect of opening up both major political parties in areas where they have been accused of pandering to sectional interests. While Abbott obviously thinks he can influence ‘conservative’ Liberals to a greater extent than the more numerous ‘moderate’ faction, it is not a fait accompli that the ‘moderate’ majority would send more ‘conservatives’ to Canberra.

Rudd’s ‘reforms’ to the ALP leadership have made it more democratic (all members have some say) and made it easier for a new leader to develop and implement a strategy designed to improve the position of the ALP at the next election. As the leader is not judged on instant results (because the bar for changing leaders is set at a high level of discontent), a new leader and the party organisation have a reasonable expectation that the strategy will, if somewhere in the ballpark, be implemented in full. Shorten and the ALP’s opinion poll popularity certainly played a part in the demise of Abbott, who went from hero to zero in about two years. The election results also demonstrate the success of the ALP sticking to one leader and strategy for a considerable period of time.

Wouldn’t it be a delicious irony if Rudd and Abbott’s seemingly self-serving interventions into the operation of their respective political parties make the two major parties more democratic and ensure rank and file party members have a genuine say in their respective party’s destiny?

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

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Ad astra, 10 August 2016
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Is Malcolm Turnbull the man you thought he was when he rolled Tony Abbott almost a year ago?

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The election in numbers 2: minor parties and independents
Ken Wolff, 14 August 2016
A number of commentators made the point after the election that almost a quarter of voters did not vote for the major parties in the House of Representatives. But that is misleading on two counts. It ignores the 5% informal vote and the 10% vote for the Greens who I think are now entitled to be considered a major party — they do contest every seat after all. That leaves about a 10% …
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The election in numbers 2: minor parties and independents


A number of commentators made the point after the election that almost a quarter of voters did not vote for the major parties in the House of Representatives. But that is misleading on two counts. It ignores the 5% informal vote and the 10% vote for the Greens who I think are now entitled to be considered a major party — they do contest every seat after all. That leaves about a 10% first preference vote for other than major parties and, given that there were almost 150 smaller parties and independents, that is not a significant vote — an average of about 0.07% for each of them. Many of them garner only a few hundred votes: it is the sheer number of smaller parties and independents that contributes to the overall magnitude of their vote and that was not unique to this election.

We have heard most about the success of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) and One Nation but they contested only a limited number of seats. Two parties that contested more seats were Family First and Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party, which contested 65 and 55 seats respectively. Family First gained 1.5% of the vote nationally (just over 201,000 votes) and Fred Nile’s group 1.3% of the vote (about 178,000 votes). If we consider their vote against the number of seats they contested, then Family First averaged about 3,100 votes per seat and the Christian Democratic Party about 3,240. By way of comparison, the ALP averaged 31,350 votes per seat and the Liberal Party 36,300 in the 107 seats it contested (that is the Liberal Party only, not the full range of Coalition parties). And there are about 100,000 voters per seat, give or take 10%, except in Tasmania.

Nationally, NXT achieved 1.85% of the vote, or 250,400 votes, but it contested only 18 seats (11 in SA) giving it an average vote of 13,900 per seat. But NXT was not as successful outside of SA: for example, in Queensland in Moreton, it achieved 4.8% of the vote (4,072 first preference votes) and 7.6% in Groom (6,960 votes). While those Queensland results are reasonably good for an independent or minor party, they are not extraordinary. In the 11 SA seats, however, NXT averaged 21.3% of the vote or 20,120 votes. Xenophon has been an independent Senator for SA since 2007 and his high profile and popularity translated into votes for his Team but that did not extend to success beyond SA.

One Nation contested only 15 seats, of which 12 were in Queensland, to obtain 1.3% of the vote or 175,000 votes nationally, slightly less than Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party and significantly fewer than NXT, at an average of about 11,700 per seat. One Nation did marginally better in Queensland, averaging about 12,300 votes (13.9%) but this varied from 6,775 (7.6%) in Leichhardt (Warren Entsch’s seat) to 18,461 (20.9%) in Wright (a conservative seat that stretches west from the edge of the Gold Coast). Ironically one of the seats in which One Nation fell below its Queensland average was Pauline Hanson’s old seat of Oxley: it obtained just over 7,000 votes or 8.4% (admittedly the boundaries have changed since Hanson first won it).

So for NXT and One Nation, their ‘success’ largely came from targeting only a small number of seats, of which the majority were in their leader’s home state. At a seat level, they actually averaged more than the Greens who, in contesting all 150 seats, averaged 9,200 votes per seat.

There was also Bob Katter, who has his own party (Katter’s Australia Party) but is perhaps more like an independent. His party contested 12 seats in Queensland but obtained only 72,900 first preference votes of which Katter himself, in the seat of Kennedy, obtained 34,300. Katter is a sitting member with a high profile but his party did not fare so well averaging only 3,500 votes (a similar average to other minor parties) in the other 11 seats.

Also at a national level, over 100 independents, not linked to any party, achieved a total of 2.8% of the vote (about 381,000 votes), more than both NXT and One Nation but at an average of about 3,400 votes per independent candidate. Even that figure is inflated by high profile and successful independents like Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan, and even the unsuccessful like Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott. Those four alone accounted for about 116,000 (or 30%) of the votes that went to independents: if they are removed, the vote for other independents was about 2,500 per candidate which does not suggest a major shift to independent candidates.

They are still independents I hear you say and that is true. But the more successful ones had a high profile in the seats they were contesting and two, of course, were sitting members (or three if we count Katter as an independent). A vote for Wilkie or McGowan was not a genuine shift away from major parties to independents but simply support for a sitting member (a rejection of the major parties could be said to have occurred in the year they first won their seat). And Windsor and Oakeshott, although not sitting members, were previous independent members in the regions they contested. The key to successful independents seems to be their public profile and/or a grass roots movement within an electorate, such as when McGowan won Indi from Sophie Mirabella in 2013 — she was drafted to run against Mirabella by a community organisation that felt Mirabella was not paying sufficient attention to the electorate. Once they do win a seat, as a sitting member they retain that advantage in subsequent elections. Another successful independent ploy is to move from a major party as Windsor, Oakeshott, Katter and Pauline Hanson the first time around, have done, often after having first been elected as a party candidate, so their profile has already been enhanced by party support (noting, however, that Hanson was selected as a candidate but lost party endorsement prior to the election).

In the Senate there are now 20 Senators (26%) not from ALP or L/NP: 9 Greens and 11 others from minor parties — and they are each minor parties although a few of them, like Katter in the HoR, are more like independents. That number would superficially seem to justify the argument that a quarter of voters did support non-major parties but, as I said in relation to the HoR vote, whether the Greens can still be considered a minor party is debatable. In the Senate the Greens secured 8.7% of the national first preference vote (almost 1.2 million votes) behind only the L/NP and ALP and double the vote of the next highest of the other parties — One Nation with 4.3% or 593,000 votes. The Senate, however, is determined at a state level and by a complicated preference distribution process, not by national first preference votes but the national figures give an indication of the actual support across the nation for the minor parties. In that regard, at the national level, NXT secured 456,000 first preference votes (3.3%), the Liberal Democrats (Leyonhjelm’s party) 299,000 votes (2.2%), and Family First and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party each secured just over 190,000 votes (1.4%). I would describe most, but not all, of the minor parties as ‘niche’ parties because they focus on only one or two key issues and so can attract a small percentage of voters who feel strongly about those particular issues — they are often issues not picked up in the broader agenda of the major parties.

But we do need to consider how the minor parties fared at the state level and achieved the outcomes they did.

NXT won three Senate seats all in SA. A first preference vote in SA of 21.7% matched its SA vote in the HoR and gave it 2.8 quotas, so it did not require a high level of preferences to achieve its three seats. NXT did contest every other state but did no better than 2.2% of the first preference vote (0.28 of a quota) in WA. So despite the high profile of NXT, it is a profile and success limited to Nick Xenophon’s home state.

Similarly, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party contested all states but had no success outside Hinch’s home state of Victoria — 6.1% of the vote and a starting quota of 0.79. Otherwise his party did no better than 0.7% of the vote in WA and was as low as 0.2% in SA.

The Jacqui Lambie Network ran candidates in four states but like Xenophon and Hinch had no success outside her home state of Tasmania, securing a highest vote of only 0.4% in Victoria.

So it is clear that some successful ‘independents’ and their associated parties do not have national appeal but rely solely on the profile and local popularity of their principal candidate in their home state. It would appear that they formed ‘parties’ only to secure the option of an ‘above the line’ vote.

Family First won one Senate seat in SA, for its sitting Senator Bob Day, but from a 2.9% first preference vote (0.37 of a quota). Its results in other states were significantly lower, ranging from 0.64% of first preference votes (0.08 of a quota) in WA to 1.97% (0.25 of a quota) in Tasmania.

One Nation is the party that is a little different to the other minor parties because it appears, on the surface, to have had success across the country, with two Senators from Queensland, one from NSW and one from WA. Because One Nation contested all states it was able to increase its national vote to 4.3% from the 1.3% it achieved in the HoR (where it contested only a small number of seats) but again it did best in Hanson’s home state of Queensland, securing 9.2% of votes (250,000 votes) and a quota on first preference votes alone. It gained a second Queensland seat although its provisional quota (from first preference votes) was only 1.2 — so somehow it managed to make up 0.8 of a quota from preferences. By comparison the ALP went from 3.4 quotas to four elected Senators and the Greens from 0.9 to achieve only one Senator. Beginning with 0.4 of a quota is often considered the lower base from which a full quota can be gained, so a second One Nation Senator from Queensland is not really an indication of the strength of the One Nation vote but arises from the lengthy and complicated preference distribution process. Similarly, its successful candidates in NSW and WA both came from an initial position of 0.5 of a quota to win their seats (4.1% and 4.0% of the vote respectively) — although they were the highest starting quotas among the non-major parties. In NSW, however, the ALP had almost eight times One Nation’s first preference vote and in WA was seven times higher but the seat ratio became only four to one. In the other states, One Nation received only 1.8% of the vote in Victoria, only marginally more than the Animal Justice Party; in SA it achieved 3.0% of the vote, only 0.1% more than Family First; and in Tasmania 2.6% — so, for whatever reason, it performed little or no better than other minor parties in those states.

David Leyonhjelm (of the Liberal Democrats) was also re-elected to the Senate from NSW and he came from a lower starting position than the One Nation candidate in that state, with only 0.4 of a quota (139,000 votes or 3.1%) after first preference votes.

The number of Senators from the minor parties is largely a result of Turnbull calling a double dissolution election. For example, if it had been a half-Senate election, the votes received by the parties in Victoria suggest that the outcome would have been 3 L/NP, 2 ALP and 1 Green — no Derryn Hinch. And in NSW, there would also likely have been 3 L/NP, 2 ALP and 1 Green (although there could have been a battle for two spots between the third L/NP candidate, the Greens and One Nation) — so no Leyonhjelm and possibly no One Nation. For the mess the Senate seems to have become Turnbull has no-one to blame but himself. Some of the new Senators appear as if they will be more difficult to negotiate with than the likes of Glen Lazarus and Ricky Muir as they have stronger personal agendas.

In the HoR, I expect that independents like Wilkie, McGowan and Katter will continue to have success as sitting members. Whether more independents are elected in future appears to depend very much on the quality of the candidates of the major parties: the example of the reaction against Mirabella when voters perceived she was not paying sufficient attention to her electorate is instructive in that regard, as is the fact that when she recontested at this election she suffered the biggest swing against the L/NP of any seat in the country. So major parties cannot ignore independents but neither can they ignore the response of the electorate to their own candidates or they will see more independents elected.

The ALP almost shot itself in the foot in Tasmania when it moved sitting Senator Lisa Singh to the almost ‘unwinnable’ sixth position on the ballot paper but Tasmanian voters chose to vote ‘below the line’ and gave her 20,741 first preference votes in her own right: she became the fourth ALP Senator to be elected with the candidate in the fifth position being earlier excluded and the other candidate above her, in fourth position on the ballot, winning the fifth Senate place for the ALP. Although not an independent, I give that as another example of the electorate’s response to individual candidates. If she had run as an independent, after being moved down the ballot the way she was by the ALP power brokers, there is a strong possibility that she would still have won a place. That is often how successful independents are ‘born’ and if the major parties wish to keep the number of independents and minor parties as low as possible they need to heed such examples of electoral responses to their candidates.

Although minor parties and independents had some success, in both the HoR and the Senate, the overall ‘best’ average seems to remain around a 3‒4% vote for minor parties except in the home states of the key principal candidates (Xenophon, Hanson, Hinch, Lambie) and for sitting members. So it seems to come down to the local public profiles of individuals and can also be influenced by the quality of individual candidates put forward by the major parties, not simply a reaction against the major parties.

What do you think?
Is Ken right in suggesting that it is the public profile of ‘independents’ that has most influence?

Is the Senate system ‘fair’, if people can win a seat starting with only 3‒4% of the vote?

Let us know in comments below.


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Why are Abbott’s conservatives destroying our PM?



To those of you who dispute the assertion embedded in the title, let me provide you with supporting evidence.

First some questions for you to answer:

Is Malcolm Turnbull the man you thought he was when he rolled Tony Abbott almost a year ago?

Has he fulfilled your initial expectations?

Is he as secure in his position as PM as he was initially?

Has he been limply acting as a proxy for Abbott and his policies?

Has he disappointed you?

Has he disappointed many voters, even LNP supporters?

Has he disappointed many in his party?

Has he disappointed/angered politicians in other parties?

If you answered ‘No’ for the first three and ‘Yes’ for the others, you will be in tune with the thinking in this piece.

But the crucial question is a Julius Sumner Miller favourite: ‘Why is it so?’

This piece addresses this central question.

It is apparent to all that elements within the LNP distrust, dislike and even despise our PM. This dates back to when he was Leader of the Opposition at the time Kevin Rudd was PM. Many in his party, particularly the conservative clique, believe he is more suited to be in a progressive party – several have suggested he would be more comfortable with Labor.

For some, it was the last straw when he sided with Rudd in proposing an Emissions Trading Scheme to ameliorate global warming, a move that led to a party revolt and his removal, by just one vote, in favour of Tony Abbott. That a majority of the party regarded Abbott as preferable to him shows how deeply the antipathy towards him ran within the Liberal Party!

Initially, after he returned the compliment by toppling Abbott in 2015, Turnbull’s personal popularity soared, and the awful two-party preferred polling under Abbott that had persisted month after agonizing month (the LNP had lost 30 Newspolls in a row) reversed into positive territory. The LNP was then able temporarily to put aside its doubts and outright antagonism to Turnbull. If Turnbull could win the upcoming election that Abbott looked certain to lose, the conservatives would be able to swallow their enmity. There was nothing sweeter than the anticipation of victory to make the bitter Turnbull pill go down. The doubts persisted, but were pushed underground – an uneasy rapprochement was achieved. But it was not long though before the doubts resurfaced.

Everyone realized that Turnbull had sacrificed several of his strongly held principles to obtain the endorsement of the conservative clique that gave him the leadership.

The man who said he would not lead a government that did not take climate change seriously, folded when the conservatives insisted he stick to the highly suspect Abbott/Hunt ‘Direct Action Plan’, which he then defended as if it was Holy Writ. During the election campaign there was no mention of the Coalition’s cut of $1.3 billion from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency or the disgraceful censorship of the UNESCO report on climate impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, even as recent reports highlighted the frightening damage already caused to the reef.

Turnbull said he had paid a ‘high price’ for his previous stand on climate change; clearly he was unprepared to pay it again!

The man who insisted that the marriage equality matter ought to be settled by a parliamentary vote gave in to the conservatives’ demand that it be settled via Abbott’s plebiscite, despite the government's $66 million price tag (and Price Waterhouse Coopers calculated ultimate cost of $525 million), and the risk of community discord arising from the toxic debate that the ACL and their ilk would initiate.

The man who promoted the concept of a republic so vigorously in his earlier years, quietly put it on the back burner.

The tech-savvy man who was prominent in initiating one of the early email services – OzEmail – was dragooned by Abbott into scrapping Labor’s superior fibre-to-the-premises model, and inserting the inferior, slower, multi-technology, fibre-to-the-node model with boxes on the street corner and ageing copper wire connections to the premises. Despite all his talk about innovation and competitiveness he was prepared to give us a lesser service so as to meet the demands of the conservatives. Innovation, competitiveness, nimbleness and agility took a back seat.

With every passing week, we see a diminished Turnbull pandering to the conservatives, looking weaker by the day.

Just when he wanted to look decisive and show leadership after the Four Corners exposé on youth justice in the NT, he jumped quickly, but with little consultation with indigenous leaders, and appointed a ‘law and order’ judge to be the Royal Commissioner into juvenile justice in the Northern Territory. Having been involved in judgments as Chief Justice there, it was not surprising that a protest eventuated that saw the Royal Commissioner as potentially biased. Judge Brian Martin, showing better judgement than Turnbull and Attorney General Brandis, decided to step down on the grounds of ‘apprehended bias’, which ought to have been obvious from the outset.

This, and the pressure from indigenous groups who wanted a co-commissioner with an indigenous background, caused Turnbull and Brandis to turn turtle and appoint high-profile Indigenous figure Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, and former Queensland Supreme Court judge Margaret White as co-commissioners.

How much pressure came from his cabinet we will likely never know.

On the issue of supporting Kevin Rudd’s bid to be Secretary General of the United Nations, how much influence the conservatives had in the cabinet discussion is a matter of conjecture. We do know that Julie Bishop supported Rudd and that more spoke for Rudd than against. But conservatives Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were strongly opposed to nominating Rudd, and the meeting ended with Turnbull and Joyce being left to make a decision.

Clearly, Turnbull, more concerned with propping up his leadership among the conservatives than doing what many, even from a Liberal background, thought was correct protocol – supporting a previous prime minister on the international stage – squibbed making this decision, told Rudd he was unsuitable, leaving him fuming, and in the process attracted strong criticism from many quarters for not supporting an Australian for this post.

And most recently we see Turnbull ‘slapping the banks on the wrist with a feather’ with his threat to force their CEOs before the Coalition-dominated House Economics Committee to explain their reasons for not passing on RBA interest rate cuts. It is his way of avoiding a Royal Commission into Banking, which his conservative colleagues are intent on avoiding.

There are enough examples of Turnbull making decisions that bewilder, enough to ask: ‘Why is it so?’ Enough to evoke the suggestion that it is to placate Abbott’s conservative forces in the LNP that threaten to upend him if he does not comply. We see ‘the three As’: Abbott, Abetz and Andrews poking their heads above the parapet in their own subtle way expressing their dissatisfaction with Turnbull, as we witnessed in this week's episode of Four Corners. And we have seen George Christensen threatening to cross the floor unless the superannuation legislation is altered to his satisfaction!

With the balance of power so delicately balanced with a majority of just one in the House, and a polyglot and quite unpredictable Senate, one might have expected tight unity within the LNP to hold onto its tenuous grip on power. Instead we see actions that threaten that unity. Why is it so?

I can’t explain why some LNP members feel as they do, but it looks as if some would sooner see the leader turfed out if he does not support the party line on climate change, on marriage equality, on the NBN, and on proposed Royal Commissions. They seem hell-bent on tightly controlling their leader, and if they can’t, destroying him. They are well on the way already.

It seems more logical to do what’s necessary to retain power, even if at times uncomfortable, than to destroy the leader and the party with it. Have they got another more acceptable leader lined up? Do they want Abbott back as leader? Do they think that is possible? Insider Gerard Henderson doesn’t think so.

I can’t explain such aberrant behaviour except to offer the suggestion that sometimes, entrenched ideology, the desire for personal power, and feelings of hurt and rejection, are more powerful than the desire for self-preservation and political power. John Howard was easily able to decide which principles ‘he would die for in a ditch’, and for which he wouldn’t. Abbott’s conservatives seem to not have that gift.

Expect therefore that some will continue to say and do things that threaten their leader, and that in the end they may unexpectedly upend him.

Can you offer any other explanation for the Abbott conservatives’ anti-Turnbull behaviour? Has Turnbull the strength to counter them? What will happen when parliament resumes?


What do you think?
Can any of you give a plausible explanation of the behaviour of Abbott's conservatives, especially with just a one seat majority in the House and a likely hostile Senate?

Please comment below.


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The democratisation of opinion


With the rise of the internet and social media almost anyone can express their opinion to an audience in the thousands, even hundreds of thousands, no longer just to a circle of people who are physically present to hear the opinion. While that provides the democratisation of opinion, it also has a more sinister side. It has led to a widespread view that in this new democratic world all opinions are equally valid.

There is no doubt that all opinions are valid but only as personal opinions. It does not make an opinion true (that is, matching the evidence) nor does it mean that the opinion has any validity beyond its expression as a personal point of view. And yet in this democratisation of opinion, we see people maintaining that not only do they have a right to their opinion but they have a right for their opinion to be considered valid in all circumstances, even when a range of evidence refutes it. It is much like saying my opinion that 2 + 2 = 3 is as valid as the alternative that 2 + 2 = 4. No-one would argue that proposition would they? — these days the answer to that question is not so clear.

What is the opposite of opinion? — probably truth or facts. Without getting into a philosophical argument about what is ‘truth’, it is possible to employ scientific method to arrive at conclusions that are true, or most likely true. That is because scientific method is based on observations and drawing conclusions that explain the observations and that has been done for hundreds of years. It is possible to say that science still forms opinions, or what are called theories or hypotheses, based on those observations but science will change its theories when observed facts do not match the current theory.

For a long time people thought that the sun went around the earth — and why not? After all, even though we are spinning at 1670km/h (at the equator), travelling around the sun at 107,000km/h and spiralling with the sun around the Milky Way at 792,000km/h, we feel nothing but we do see the sun rise in the east every day and set in the west. Based on that latter observation alone, it is logical to assume that it is the sun that is moving not the earth. But astronomers watching the stars and planets saw something which that model could not explain: at certain times the other planets appeared to go backwards in the heavens. Eventually that, and other observations, made it clear that it was the earth moving about the sun that explained what the astronomers were observing. And so we have advanced our knowledge using that model. It is not as though science plucks its theories out of the air. They explain what has already been observed until a new observation suggests it is time for a new explanation.

And it is not just scientists who use this method. There are many anecdotal stories of farmers knowing more than scientists in particular situations and proving scientists wrong. But that is not based on some random opinion of the farmers but their own observations over many years of local weather, soil, and crop and livestock results in varying situations. Their opinion is often proved right because their set of observations is over a much longer period than those of experts who arrive for a field trip that may last no longer than a few weeks. Even though the experts are trained in their discipline they do not have the range of observations that the farmers have that are relevant to the local circumstances. The farmers’ observations may not be recorded but retained in memory, or even family tradition for observations over longer periods, but their opinions are based on long term observations. Scientists are acknowledging that history of observation and drawing it into the scientific process, just as they are now recognising Aboriginal knowledge in the management of fire, flora and fauna is based on thousands of years of observation, even if that knowledge is expressed in a different way. These days the scientists are trained so that they can apply their knowledge over a range of circumstances, whereas the farmers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have more detailed knowledge and opinions based on decades or millennia of observation but it has most relevance only to their local conditions.

Opinions have some commonality with the scientific use of observation. Almost all opinions are based on some level of observation but the real difference between the quality of opinions is probably the extent of observations drawn upon to form the opinion. In the recent Brexit campaign in the UK, some experts were warning of the economic consequences of the UK leaving the European Union but Michael Gove, campaigning for the ‘leave’ side, suggested that people were tired of experts and, by implication, would ignore such advice. The observation that led many people to that conclusion concerned the rules coming from the EU technocrats in Brussels which many Britains saw as undermining their traditions and control of their own country. Based on that observation alone, they could validly form an opinion that questioned the experts but it should only have been the experts issuing those rules. Instead, one observation can become a wider dismissal of expert opinion.

Thus we have the questioning of the science underpinning anthropogenic climate change or even questioning climate change itself. People are perfectly entitled to have an opinion rejecting climate change but that does not make their opinion true. For their opinion to be true it would also have to be based on a set of factual observations and some of the observations used by the deniers have been shown to be false or, at best, built on a foundation of quick-sand. When by far the majority of observations support the occurrence of climate change and the probability of it being ‘man-made’ is 90% or more, then some very strong alternative observations would be required to change the current scientific consensus. The deniers have not presented such observations but still insist their opinions are not only valid but true.

I worked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs for many years and so I often came across people who held negative stereotypes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I would be asked why should they have houses when they only break them down for firewood. I knew there had been such instances, although rare, so I would not deny their opinion based on that observation but answer with a broader and more positive range of observations: all of the people who did not burn their houses but lived normal lives in them; the range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses; or even that many problems in housing arose not from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander misuse of the dwelling but from shoddy workmanship by the original construction contractors. I don’t know how many opinions I managed to change but at least I had presented a new range of observations for them to consider.

Politicians hoping to run the country shouldn’t operate from a limited range of observations but many do. They play up to their audience or constituency by presenting views based on a limited range of observations and ignoring those observations that run counter to that opinion — just as the church rejected Copernicus’s observations that the earth went around the sun. The Trumps and Hansons of the world are masters of this approach. While it may have some electoral appeal, it is not a basis on which to run a country. A government, almost by definition, must take account of a wide range of opinions (and the observations on which they are based) and either determine which are true or balance the conflicting views to come to a policy decision in the best interest of the country.

Governments often express an intention to follow ‘evidence-based’ policy, but we also have lobbying which is an attempt to convince policy makers to pay more heed to one set of opinions or observations rather than another. The big and unanswered question is whether members of government are well-placed to assess the varying observations supporting different opinions or whether they are also personally influenced by a limited range of observations. It is perhaps a belief that the latter is true that leads to public opinion that politicians are ’out of touch’ or, in other words, are not considering a broad range of observations but are overly influenced by lobbyists, a small number of interest groups, or personal opinions — each of which is focused on a limited range of observations.

Yes, we all have personal opinions that are valid as personal opinions no matter how few the number of observations on which they are based. If, however, I am willing to listen to, consider and perhaps accept a wider range of observations, then we can have a rational discussion, debate the observations (evidence) and perhaps reach a conclusion that changes my opinion or that of my interlocutor. Or we may mutually agree a different opinion that is new for both of us. If that was the way of the world, then opinions would be in their rightful place and open to change based on a wider range of observations.

Of course, there are some whose opinion will not change, who see all other observations through the prism of their own opinion or believe that the observations supporting their opinion are ‘true’ and therefore all other observations must be ‘false’. That has always been the case but with this so-called democratisation of opinion many more people now feel that their opinion must be valued as it stands. When all opinions are considered valued and valid, people defend them with vehemence as we see on blog sites and social media and do not open their minds to a broader range of observations. Instead of taking the new observations as something to be considered, they take them as a personal attack on their ‘valued’ opinion and attack in return. If this is democratic, it is a negative form of democracy — to use an old cliché it is ‘playing the man, not the ball’ and that is not truly democratic for it fails to recognise the democratic rights of your fellow citizen. Yes, all opinions are valid but only if our minds are open to consider a broader range of possibilities that may change our opinion.

And yes, this entire piece is my opinion. So now over to you for your opinion and revelation of broader observations for my consideration.

What do you think?
Do people form opinions based on only one or two observations because that is easier than considering the implications of a broader range of observations?

Or do we have different opinions because people draw different conclusions from the same set of observations?

And if so, how can all opinions be valid?

Let us know in comments below.


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A couple of weeks ago, our esteemed blogmaster Ad Astra published a piece asking ‘Why is there so much anger?’ It’s a good question.

Sociologists will tell us that whatever position a person takes on a particular subject, there will be some who agree, some who disagree and some who don’t have a strong opinion either way; they’re ‘sitting on the fence’. …
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Make laugh – not war


A couple of weeks ago, our esteemed blogmaster Ad Astra published a piece asking ‘Why is there so much anger?’ It’s a good question.

Sociologists will tell us that whatever position a person takes on a particular subject, there will be some who agree, some who disagree and some who don’t have a strong opinion either way; they’re ‘sitting on the fence’. Some of those who disagree would listen to an argument designed to change their mind; for others, successfully changing their viewpoint would be impossible.

This played out for all to see in the recent federal election. Out of the 150 House of Representative seats, by the end of the election night there were only a dozen or so that were still in play. The (never-ending) election campaign wasn’t to convince the voters in the 130 odd seats that were almost certain to fall to the red or blue teams, the millions of electrons and litres of advertising ink were all expended to convince a handful of voters to change their votes. Out of the 90,000 people in these marginal (or swinging) electorates, the advertising was designed to convince a small number of voters to support the red, blue, green, orange or other party on 2 July rather than their previous allegiance.

How about we look at this another way. Uncle Toby’s Oats products are available all year round on the shelves of most supermarkets so there is clearly a year round demand. As it is winter in Australia, the sales of this and similar products would currently be higher as people choose to have something warm for breakfast instead of their normal cereal with cold milk. Some people will always purchase Uncle Toby’s Oats regardless of the price or difficulty in sourcing them because of some perceived benefit of the product over other similar products. Others would purchase oats in winter based on the cost or some other criteria without caring about the brand. There are also some who would never buy oats in general or Uncle Toby’s Oats in particular due to any number of reasons from they just don’t like oats through to some perceived shortfall in the Uncle Toby’s product.

In a similar way, some people will always purchase a Ford vehicle, some will buy a vehicle regardless of the brand due to the perceived needs of the consumer being matched as closely as possible by the vehicle they are considering and others would never buy a Ford due to past poor experience, they have a tribal loyalty to another brand or some other reason.

Advertising is designed to move people from the ‘undecided’ column to the ‘always purchase’ column. The belief is that if you convince someone to consider your product, the obvious benefits of your product once they have tried it will convert the consumer to an ‘always’ purchaser of that brand. There are a lot of ways to do this: Uncle Toby’s may hand out free samples at little athletics carnivals or major transport interchanges; Ford might display a car at or sponsor a pop culture festival or perhaps loan vehicles from their range of light commercials to the Gympie Music Muster in South East Queensland; a luxury consumer goods supplier might choose to associate themselves with the Australian Ballet or a series of performances at the Sydney Opera House.

At the same time, other manufacturers of similar products such as Kelloggs and Toyota are attempting to convince the undecided consumer that their products are better for each individual consumer than Uncle Toby’s or Ford. You need something to make your advertising memorable. Comedy seems to be frequently used, such as in this Specsavers advertisement.

PJ O’Rourke is an American political satirist and journalist. He is, by his own account, a conservative Republican who is in Australia for the next month or so on a speaking tour that includes the Byron Bay Writers Festival and a number of ‘think tank’ events in the southern capitals. O’Rourke’s writing skills can be demonstrated by his ‘fawning’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US Presidential Race - ‘She is the second-worst thing that could happen to America’. O’Rourke was interviewed by Matt Wordsworth on ABCTV’s Lateline. (Slightly off topic, the interview is worth reading solely for O’Rourke’s opinion of Trump.) O’Rourke and Wordsworth discussed the crossover between comedy and commentating:
MATT WORDSWORTH: You and your colleagues at Lampoon — you're editor of Lampoon, obviously — now, comedians are the go-to commentators.
P.J. O'ROURKE: Isn't that stupid?
MATT WORDSWORTH: Did you see that coming?
P.J. O'ROURKE: No, no. Who could possibly have seen that coming? I mean, it's absolutely ridiculous. The role in — if humour has any positive role in covering politics, it's simply to keep people's attention for long enough that they will actually look at the serious issues that are ...
MATT WORDSWORTH: But they're increasingly becoming the primary source of news for some people — your Colberts and your John Stewarts and whatnot.
P.J. O'ROURKE: (Laughs) Yes, yes. And I object. That's not where one is supposed to be getting one's news. We are and should remain a sideshow. If we can get some more people to go to the big top, great.
The reality is that comedy has been used as a ‘cover’ for making pointed comments since the middle ages. Former Liberal Party Senator Chris Puplick was talking about court jesters in an ’Ockham’s Razor’ interview on ABC’s RN radio network in 2003:
Their job was to give what used to be called 'frank and fearless' advice to the monarch. They were the reality check to the absolute rulers of their day. They were the utter reverse of today's spin doctors. They told the governors what the people needed them to hear, they took the views of the masses to the masters rather than being employed to tell the masses the lies the rulers think they ought to be fed.
It wasn’t just a mediaeval thing, the UK has a long and proud history of comedic comment on ‘sacred cows” such as this Dave Allen clip on his first experience of religion.



Australia also has a rich history of using comedy to comment on the news, from The Mavis Bramston Show, through The Gillies Report in the 1980’s (worth watching the whole 9 minutes for the very young John Clarke at the start and the ‘cover’ of the song ‘Shout’ at the end)



to today where Waleed Aly who presents The Project on Network 10



and Charlie Pickering who presents ABC’s The Weekly



both offer razor sharp commentary on current events.

So why are some people always angry? Some people are always going to find something to be angry about. Regardless of what argument you present on a particular issue, some people are going to absolutely disagree with you. In today’s winner take all society, some of those who will never be convinced to change their mind on their ideas will actively attack you (in an attempt to either change your opinion or challenge your right to have a different opinion) rather than just agree to disagree.

Others will be open to having their opinions changed by discussion. Currently the discussion on a number of issues around the world is being led by those who preach anger, hate and isolation, such as Trump, Christensen, Bernardi, Hanson and so on. While they claim that their argument is sound and consistent, don’t forget that Hanson’s initial speeches referred to the Chinese who were going to take over Australia 20 years ago, showing similar consistency to those who were around in the 60’s and 70’s suggesting that the Greeks and Italians were going to take all our jobs while claiming unemployment benefits (and other farcical stretches of logic). The problem is that if there is no other argument that sticks in people’s minds to reinforce positive attitudes over the carefully calculated scare campaign, the hate preachers gain more converts.

Mark Twain is alleged to have said “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. Advertisers use comedy to attract attention and ensure that the sponsored product is kept top of mind. Perhaps the Colbert’s, John Stewart’s, Waleed Aly’s and Charlie Pickering’s have worked out how to produce discussion in respect to sensitive issues, keeping them top of people’s minds (hopefully turning a number of ‘undecideds’ into people with positive opinions on the way), by appealing to those who are looking for relevant information and using comedy as a tool to deliver the message.

Fairfax recently ran an article in The Brisbane Times that demonstrated how the Islamic Council of Queensland is managing trolls who contact them by social media. Instead of getting upset, they use humour to disarm the situation. It’s an example we could all follow.

A little way up the screen is a Dave Allen clip relating to religion. While he was probably best known for his religious jokes, he also frequently told stories about other issues — such as how he lost the top of one of his fingers. If only we could all tell stories like this the ‘hate’ preachers would have nowhere to go.



Dave Allen, Waleed Aly, Max Gillies, PJ O’Rourke and Charlie Pickering are all good story tellers and frequently discuss subjects where others are too afraid to go. While there is the need for decorum and consideration of others feelings, those who wish to provide positive arguments to people who are undecided about a whole range of subjects including religion, drug use, responsible behaviour and so on need to use tools that those looking for information will relate to. Unfortunately, the argument for positive behaviour is usually more nuanced than the alternative, so the message can’t be communicated in a 10 second soundbite that you watch while scrolling through your Facebook feed. Rather than using ‘fire and brimstone’, perhaps a little humour during the explanation of the positive view will delay scrolling long enough to discuss some facts, helping to disarm the hate and anger. It’s fine to disagree — anger and hate is another matter entirely.

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

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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.

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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 …
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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 …
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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
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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.


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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 …
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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.

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; …
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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 …
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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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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 …
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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.

Medicare
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.

Inequality
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.

The NBN
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 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.


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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 …
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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.

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Your vote is valuable


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 six months to the CPI — which is more than the politicians are willing to do for Medicare rebates for doctors’ visits.

Given that 16,295,463 of us (as at 30 June 2015) will vote this weekend, that is around $42.8 million that will be taken straight from the taxpayers’ pocket and given to political parties, with no strings attached. Of course those that convince more of us to vote for them will get more of this largesse, which probably explains why it is rare to see members of political parties running the pub raffles or fundraising at community events — they don’t need to.

Public funding of political parties in Australia was ‘invented’ by a New South Wales ALP member, Rodney Caviler, who now admits it was the biggest mistake of his life. While originally intended to be a method for anyone who felt the need to stand up and represent a community in parliament to re-coup their costs in running for election (within an upper limit cap), it is now a free-for-all where the money is usually given straight to the political party’s head office with no strings attached.

The reality is that the major parties have no real need for branches and membership fees: the majority of their costs are met by public funding and donations from corporate sponsors. This gives them a large advantage over smaller parties and those who are trying to establish a party. The major parties have the financial ability to get their message out to a far greater extent because they can afford the research, preparation and production costs that this type of marketing requires, which in return ‘earns’ more votes at the next election. The Greens (probably the next largest political party in Australia) claim that almost all their donations are from individuals and the value is nearly always under $500, although they would also receive public funding.

On 23 May 2016, ABCTV’s 4 Corners program devoted an episode to political donations in Australia. The program included interviews with corporate donors, former party fundraisers and the Chairman of the NSW Electoral Commission, Keith Mason QC, who at the time was withholding $4.4 million from the NSW Liberal Party due to non-disclosure of donor information relating to the 2015 NSW State Election. Mason was asked:
How important is it, in your view, to the proper functioning of democracy that ... that donors are open and transparent?

KEITH MASON QC, CHAIR, NSW ELECTORAL COMMISSION: It, it, it's really vital. And it's equally important — ah, perhaps some would say more important — to make sure that, that representatives in government respond only to the, the voting decisions; not to corrupting decisions of, of undisclosed financial donations.
The donations in question were sent to the Liberal Party through a claimed third party in Canberra known as the Free Enterprise Foundation.

Former Liberal Party Federal Treasurer Michael Yabsley was also interviewed by 4 Corners and suggested a return to community fundraising rather than corporate donations would be a good thing for our democracy:
MICHAEL YABSLEY: Now, you know, the political parties — and you can hear it now: they'll be saying, "Oh, you know, we'll have to do sausage sizzles and, and lamington stalls."

In terms of the health of democracy: that would be a damn good thing, if that's how fundraising needs to take place. Far better to take the fundraising to the sausage sizzles, um, than, than some sort of, um, um, arcane process around a boardroom table.

QUENTIN MCDERMOTT: So back to the future?

MICHAEL YABSLEY: In, in many respects, ah, I'm, I'm all for it. It would be a very, very healthy thing for democracy.
In the last week, the world has found out that asking electors for their opinion doesn’t necessary get the answer the politicians expected. The referendum asking if the UK should leave the European Union (EU) was an unexpected victory for those that wanted to leave. The proponents of the leave cause were the ‘right wing’ of the Conservative Party, led by former London Mayor Boris Johnson and the ultra-conservative United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Interestingly, The [UK] Spectator magazine noted in 2014 that Prime Minister David Cameron was leading his ‘conservative’ MPs on by forcing through
… the EU referendum bill — originally introduced in a panic by Number 10 as a symbolic measure to unite the party and highlight Labour and Lib Dem opposition to giving the British people a say on Europe
Well, that political move ended well. The current resident of ‘Number 10’ resigned the day after the Referendum, admitting the failure of his ‘remain’ campaign.

It could be argued that Abbott tried the same thing with the same sex marriage plebiscite in Australia. He pushed it out hoping that it would unite his party and highlight the lack of traditional ‘morals and ethics’ of the ALP and Greens, possibly something he could capitalise on at the 2016 election.

At the time Abbott came up with the plebiscite proposal, the Australian Electoral Commission estimated the cost of the special plebiscite at close to $160 million. The AEC helpfully publishes the cost of all federal elections since 1901, so the estimate is readily verified. Assuming a public vote is necessary to determine the marriage equity issue (which legally it isn’t by the way — the Howard Government inserted the condition that marriage is between a man and a woman into the Marriage Act in 2004), the referendum could have been run in conjunction with the current election campaign. The cost estimate for that scenario was around $44 million. Turnbull (who claims he supports marriage equity) is still planning on the plebiscite which he now claims is non-binding — so we pay the money out and his side of politics (at least) will vote according to their individual personal beliefs. Turnbull is effectively pouring $160 million of your and my money down the drain in what could be described as a vain attempt by his predecessor to hold his political party together.

And before we conclude, here’s another thing to consider. The election campaign was eight weeks. The ALP campaign launch was at the beginning of week 6, the Coalition campaign launch at the beginning of week 7. Considering that the timing of the election was picked by the Coalition, why would they leave it so late to ‘open’ their campaign? The reason is simple: until the campaign launch, the travel by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and most other politicians is paid for by you and me — not the political party. That’s right, you and I are paying for Malcolm and Bill’s ‘Magical Mystery Tours’ until they launch their campaign!

This either makes the ALP stupid or better off than the Coalition as they will be paying for Bill’s ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ for an additional week. However, there is no redeeming value here in the ALP’s actions. It’s similar to suggesting the Olympics being ‘opened’ on day 7 is better than performing the opening on day 9 of the 10 day competition. It’s not logical and it only makes sense if you support the current ‘norm’ of politicians being able to take what they believe is necessary from the public purse, without worry about privacy or the funding constraints imposed on the health, education and support mechanisms for members of our community in need; not to mention an interesting definition of morals and ethics.

A software company (Parakeelia) wholly owned by a political party charges MP’s for the (mandatory) use of its product, the charge is paid by the MP from taxpayer funds and the profits are returned to the political party. Also, the workings of the Free Enterprise Foundation only became known because the NSW Electoral Commission decided to use the tools they had available to force the details of how hundreds of thousands of dollars ended up in the NSW Liberal Party’s bank account. Political parties are paid for every vote they receive. All of this is apparently legal. It’s not hard to see who writes the rules and who they benefit.

Probably, the worst abuse of power is that all the donations (provided they are over the generous threshold of $13,000) will be released to the public — 24 weeks after the election. You and I have little influence when large organisations can write cheques for thousands to reinforce the policy that they want to get over the line (and the major parties have the marketing skills, techniques and funding to sell ice to Eskimos). When will this stop?

While we have a two party system, these arrangements will continue into the future. The reality is that in the majority of the electorates in Australia, either an ALP or Coalition candidate will be elected. It has been demonstrated across Australia and around the world that a parliament without a majority forces people to work together, which usually creates a better result. New Zealand has worked in this manner since the 1990’s and most western European countries have worked in this way for far longer — without the revolving door to the prime minister’s office that Australia has endured. While no one can tell you how to vote on 2 July, remember your vote does have some value — the person or party you choose to give you first preference to receives $2.62. Make sure the respective political machine earns it.

What do you think?
Should WE pay for political parties’ campaigns?

Should parties be required to fund all of their costs from when the election is called (or when parliament is dissolved), not just after their ‘official’ launch?

Let us know in comments below.

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Turnbull’s Medicare backflip — or is it?


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’. But let’s take a closer look, including a careful examination of the words he first used.

First we need to understand Medicare. Although we associate Medicare with medical services, it actually does not deliver a single such service. In essence, it is no different to private health funds insofar as it provides cover for the costs when people purchase medical services — or as it is sometimes described, a ‘universal health insurance scheme’ and we pay the Medicare levy as our insurance policy payment. Of course, it has ‘bulk billing’ which allows that medical services, if provided at a cost stipulated by Medicare, can be provided at no cost to the ‘consumer’. It is basically a payment system. The government controls policy and sets the ‘prices’ it will pay for services and also determines what services are included in the Medicare benefits schedule (which is the other work of Medicare staff, advising on those prices and services). There have been policy decisions over the years that provided additional funding (‘incentives’) to service providers, such as pathology and diagnostic imaging, if they bulk billed.

So it is similar to government provision of pensions. Government sets the policies but provides only a payment and no direct service. By way of comparison, think about the Bureau of Meteorology or the Australian Bureau of Statistics: government again controls policy but its funding of those bodies is for the direct provision of a service.

Back in February it was revealed that a task force had been established within the public service to examine the Medicare payment system, including the ‘commercial possibilities’. The government described this, however, as only the ‘back office operations’ of Medicare. From the description of Medicare, you will see that the payment system is not a ‘back office operation’ but is the core business of Medicare.

The proposed change was described as:
… part of our commitment to ensuring the government embraces innovation and is agile and responsive to changes in the digital economy.
No doubt you will recognise the words ‘innovation’ and ‘agile’ and their obviously intended link to Turnbull’s previously announced national innovation agenda. The implication being that we should support the proposed changes to Medicare as part of a much broader agenda in the national interest.

And:
Any outsourcing would only apply to back office operations and the administrative actions of making payments to individuals and providers. It doesn’t include setting fees or rebates and it doesn’t have any impact on the cost of health care, other than it may result in services being delivered more efficiently.
The latter are Turnbull’s words in parliament and remember this was only four months ago. He wasn’t denying it then.

Labor attacked then and continued the attack that the Liberal government did not support Medicare. It had plenty of ammunition including the continued freeze of Medicare rebates (now continuing until 30 June 2020) and the cessation of incentive payments for bulk billing to pathology and diagnostic imaging services. For the election, Turnbull announced that stopping the incentive payments had been put off for six months, will be reviewed, and that rents for pathologists will be reduced. How he can achieve the rent reduction is a vexed question — surely a Liberal government would not wish to interfere in the market in that way! All Turnbull has done is remove it temporarily while the election takes place. He has not said it is off the table permanently.

Labor’s attack was obviously gaining traction in the electorate forcing Turnbull to come out and say:
It will never, ever be sold. Every element of Medicare services that is being delivered by government today, will be delivered by government in the future. Full stop.
Apparently this was a ‘captain’s call’ by Turnbull but still Labor wasn’t convinced.

And I had to ask myself why did he spell out ‘every element of Medicare services that is being delivered by government’. As far as I can glean the only services not delivered by Medicare, but associated with it, are some registries of diseases kept by non-profit organisations in the medical sector. Or did he mean that payments are not a ‘service’? Or when he referred to ‘government’ was he limiting it to the ministers in his cabinet who govern the country? — in that case, what the government ‘delivers’ is the policy of Medicare. He was so specific in his statement that it hints at obfuscation.

Also he claims that these services ‘will be delivered by the government in the future’. What does that clause actually mean? It doesn’t preclude the possibility that payments could be contracted out: that is still a ‘government service’ but it has simply asked someone else to do it. Consistent with Turnbull’s statement it is not ‘selling’ the provision of Medicare payments, merely hiring someone else to undertake the task. Remember he is a trained lawyer and understands the use of words.

Subsequently Turnbull had to clarify his meaning and spelled out that payments would not be outsourced and upgrading of the payment system would take place 'within government'. The fact he was forced to do so emphasises that his opening explanations were less than clear but more importantly not convincing the electorate.

As Labor initially continued the attack, despite the denial, Turnbull said that Labor was ‘peddling an extraordinary lie, so audacious it defies belief’. Surely it shouldn’t defy belief within the Liberal party: after all they used a similar tactic regarding Gillard’s words about a carbon tax.

Turnbull also made a point of saying that the issue had not gone before cabinet and, therefore, there was no government decision. However, when Labor made an FoI request on the issue it was denied a number of documents because they involved ‘briefing the minister on a submission which is proposed to be submitted to cabinet’. Clearly the public servants had been preparing briefs and submissions on the issue: that doesn’t happen without someone in cabinet knowing about it and such submissions to cabinet are coordinated by Turnbull’s own Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. So Turnbull’s nit-picking that the issue did not go to cabinet was a little disingenuous.

Although the task force seems no longer to be operating, Labor also points to a Productivity Commission report requested by Treasurer Scott Morrison:
… to review all aspects of human services delivered by government, including community services, social housing, prisons, disability services and Medicare.

The terms of reference include examining ‘private sector providers and overseas examples like the United States’ for alternative service delivery models.
One could ask why the United States is specifically picked out as an overseas example. If the government wished only to improve efficiency but retain services within government, it could have listed a few European countries as examples for study. No, looking to America, with its heavy emphasis on the private sector, is clearly indicating the model the government wants.

I still question Turnbull's stronger dismissal of Labor's argument. If payments by the Department of Human Services are outsourced on an American model, it would become logical in the future to also outsource Medicare payments — we already see Centrelink and Medicare in the same shopfronts and it would make sense for staff to have access to the same payment system on their computer screens. Would such an approach still be 'within government'? — it could, simply by fully moving the Medicare payments system to the Department of Human Services.

Whatever else may be said, Labor achieved its purpose and forced Medicare to front and centre of the election debate. For a while it moved discussion onto its favoured ground forcing the Liberals to respond with border security and turning back boats and revealing information they normally claim is a secret operational matter. Yes, when it comes to an election operational secrecy no longer matters!

Turnbull, as are many politicians, is a trained lawyer and knows how to choose his words carefully. He knows how to avoid outright lies but also how to avoid the truth. He knows how to say only what he wants to say and avoid adding any flourish that may reveal more than he wishes. The fact he was forced to change his words does imply that he was less than truthful in his initial statements or, at the least, was attempting to keep his options open. And perhaps even his stronger denial still has an element of keeping his options open but I leave that for you to think about.

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


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Your call is important


To paraphrase, hell hath no fury like a politician scorned. Dennis Jensen, MP for the seat of Tangney, was not preselected by the Liberal Party to recontest the seat in Parliament. He is running as an independent. Jensen recently claimed Liberal MPs use database software to profile constituents and decline requests for help from decided voters, even their own supporters. The system is apparently called “Feedback”.

Let’s be realistic here, Feedback is a form of Customer Relations Management. It the same concept as you scanning your ‘Woolworths Rewards’ card at the supermarket or disclosing your frequent flyers number when making a travel booking. Companies use this information to target their information to convince you to purchase more from them, rather than their competition. To convince you to allow them to track your purchases, there is a reward of some form. It could be a discount on your petrol purchase if you spend a certain value in the supermarket, a ‘free’ flight from Sydney to Melbourne or access to a marketplace where they offer various trinkets (sorry ‘quality merchandise’) for the points you have accumulated.

That is why if you do use a Woolworths Rewards card, you occasionally get emails with ‘specials just for you’. It also explains that if you are searching on the internet because you need to purchase a new vacuum cleaner, all the advertising on the internet sites you visit for a while afterwards seem to have advertising for vacuum cleaners or retailers selling vacuum cleaners. Basically, it’s profitable for retailers and manufacturers to pay for a system to track your interest in various items and present options to you — hopefully convincing you to purchase their item rather than the option presented by the competition. Rather than sticking an ad on the side of a bus and hoping someone who is in the market sees it, they target ‘qualified’ consumers.

It’s the same with ‘Feedback’. The Liberal Party tracks your interactions with them. So, for example, if you choose to write a letter to Immigration Minister Dutton protesting at the inhumane treatment of refugees in the concentration camps located on Manus Island and Nauru, your name and address details together with some information on why you contacted the Minister will be recorded on ‘Feedback’. Now, say you live in a seat that the Liberal Party deem to be at risk — either one of theirs they think they will lose or one held by another party they think they can win — they use this information when the election is called. The system will ensure that the ‘tough on border protection’ personalised material is mailed to others around you but you are more than likely to get some marketing about (again for example) how some grant to an Indigenous community is assisting them to break the poverty cycle.

The logic is simple. Sending you a letter boasting how tough they are on border protection would in the normal course reinforce your existing opinion of the Liberal Party and why you would not vote for them. The alternative on a ‘closing the gap’ initiative would, in the opinion of the marketing experts, demonstrate to you that the Liberal Party does have a concern for the standard of living of those that are less well off in the society we live in and make you more likely to vote for the Coalition.

If you’re an ALP member and read this far saying ‘we wouldn’t do that’ — well you’re wrong. The ALP version of the customer management software is called ‘Campaign Central’ and the same decisions are made by a different group of marketing experts for exactly the same reasons. The ALP purchases a third party solution (in other words, someone else develops and sells a customer management system which is probably customised for the ALP’s needs). An internet search on the ‘Campaign Central’ suppliers name, Magenta Linas, has their official site at the top of the listing.

ABCTV’s 7.30 program reports:
Feedback is owned by a company called Parakeelia, which is wholly owned by the Liberal Party.

Its directors include federal party boss, Tony Nutt, and former minister, Richard Alston.

Former Melbourne Lord Mayor and Liberal figure Ron Walker is listed as a major shareholder on ASIC documents.

Mr Walker told 7.30 that was a mistake and he was involved in the company's establishment but resigned in December 2002.

He said party figures confirmed to him he had resigned, and his remaining on the company documents was an error.
There also doesn’t appear to be a website for the company which is strange considering the company writes software and apparently understands how to market to potential customers.

Jensen claims that he was ‘requested’ to pay $2500 to Parakeelia along with all other Liberal MPs. It is alleged that usually the payment comes from the funding provided by the parliament for the operation of the Member’s electorate office. The company, wholly owned by the Liberal Party, then provides software and training to electorate office staff on the operation and data mining abilities of the system to determine the political preferences of those who contact the electorate office. The electorate office staff are instructed to assist those who are more inclined to be an additional vote for the Coalition to a greater extent than those the system determines would vote for (or never vote for) the Coalition anyway.

So we have federal MP’s being told to use a particular software system to manage enquiries to the electorate offices that has been designed and developed by a firm wholly owned by the political party the MP represents. Furthermore, the MP is told to use taxpayer funds to make the ‘mandatory’ payment to use the system. While it’s probably legal and some software to manage your customer relations is probably more efficient than going through paper files to see where you are at — that’s not all. It seems that Parakeelia is the Liberal Party’s second biggest source of funds.

From Fairfax:
Last financial year, Parakeelia transferred $500,000 to the federal Liberal division, making it the party's second-biggest single source of funds. The year before it came in fourth with $400,000; before that $200,000.
While it all may be legal, what part of it is morally or ethically correct?

Gabrielle Chan wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian recently that commented on the morals and ethics of the Liberal Party owning Parakeelia and then accepting large donations. She also points out that during the current election campaign you can meet the ALP Shadow Minister of your choice for a ‘measly’ $10,000. Tony Windsor (candidate for the federal seat of New England currently held by the Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce) has released the records of political donations by a mining company to the Nationals around the time the Coalition government was trying to expunge legislation relating to water use. The mining company rejected the allegations pointing out their (publicly reported) donations to Labor were actually higher than to the Nationals since 2011. While it may be numerically accurate, that’s hardly the point is it?

While Dennis Jensen dumped on the Liberal Party over the use of Feedback, to be honest his motives were not exactly honourable:
Jensen said: “Labor is no better. The company they use for Campaign Central doesn’t donate to the party but they use their tool in exactly the same way.”

Jensen complained that since he lost preselection he no longer had access to the Feedback database.

“The fact they pulled this from me, and the Liberal candidate will now have access to it, tells you everything you need to know about the extent to which it is a tool for constituents versus a tool for party political purposes,” he said.

“The taxpayer paid for my constituents’ information to be put into Feedback and yet the Liberal party and Parakeelia think they can pull it from me.
Clearly there is some information in Feedback that Dennis Jensen ‘needs’ or ‘wants’ to give him what he believes to be a good chance of retaining his seat in Parliament as an independent. It is probable that the information isn’t how his office processed his electorate’s gripes with government services or payments.

Under federal law, donations to political parties under $13,000 do not have to be disclosed to the authorities. During May 2016, the Liberal Party in New South Wales finally provided a list of donors to the NSW Electoral Commission after the Commission withheld $4million in taxpayer funds ordinarily given to political parties after an election based on the votes they received. The dispute was over the bona-fides (under NSW law) of some donors who chose to provide funds through a related identity to the political party totalling some $700,000:
Arthur Sinodinos, the party’s treasurer and chairman of its finance committee at the time, has denied knowing that a “substantial” amount of the $700,000 donated by the foundation had come from property developers.
Arthur Sinodinos is the current federal cabinet secretary and while no ICAC corruption finding has been made against him, ICAC has yet to release its final report.

When the presumptive prime minister stands behind a lectern on the night of 2 July, he will no doubt tell us all that he will work for all Australians. That may well be the intent, but while anyone can buy access to a shadow minister for $10,000 or Liberal Party MP’s have to spend $2500 of taxpayer funds (provided to run their office) purchasing a licence to a particular piece of software owned by the Party’s head office as well as clearing donations through related entities, there is going to be some doubt as to who they really represent.

It seems that there is a competition between political parties for donations so we all can be bombarded with the respective travelling roadshows and glossy advertising come election time. While the particular winners in the 2016 ‘campaign arms race’ may claim to represent us all, the acknowledged acceptance of donations gives the impression that the donors interests will take precedence — even if the politicians personally are the model of independence, morals and ethics.

The bigger problem here is politicians and political parties are exempt from privacy laws. When you tell your local MP that Centrelink has miscalculated your entitlements, Child Support has misunderstood your circumstances, the Tax Office is picking on you or anything else that is somewhat personal, according to Jensen the information is apparently punched into the customer relationship management system, regardless of it being Feedback or Campaign Central. It stands to reason that political operatives employed by the party also have access to the system and its cross referencing to the electoral roll — otherwise how would those personally addressed missives get to you so quickly after an election was called (and the one that you get is different to your neighbours)?

The popularity of the ‘frequent flyer’ type customer relationship schemes for airlines and supermarkets is undoubted and we all happily give up some privacy for the potential free flight or $10 off our grocery bill. It seems not to matter to most that using the pretty card will disclose that they regularly fly from Brisbane to Sydney or buy a particular brand of Corn Flakes. Really, while the information may be useful for the business (it needs more seats on the planes or to keep a particular brand of Corn Flakes in stock to keep you coming back), some of the information given to MP’s when they are asked to help you is somewhat more confidential, and the information is shared with the political party’s headquarters without your knowledge or approval.

Jensen claims:
"It was a very clear understanding that there's Feedback training provided to staff members and basically the training is to use it as a database politically rather than to assist constituents," he said.

"Indeed, the instruction given by Feedback trainers is if there's not a vote in it, don't do it."
It seems your call is important – as your call will tell the politicians your social grouping, your politics, your belief system, maybe your income and determine if they really do give a damn about your problem.

We elect Members of Parliament to represent us without judging if we are on their side or supportive of their financial donors. If ‘computer says no’ and that leads to nothing happening to assist you, there is a problem.

What do you think?
Do you think that we are well represented by our politicians?

Is there a problem with Parakeelia donating funds to the Liberal Party?

Let us know in comments below.

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The tale of two Daleks



Good Daleks are hard to find. They’re expensive. But for the Treasury and the Department of Finance, no cost is too high. So they spared no expense in their search for reliable Daleks that could repeat their messages tirelessly. They had hoped to find some with a rudimentary knowledge of economics and some understanding of finance, but had to settle for ones that at least could recite mind-numbing messages repeatedly and consistently.

After a long search, and after discarding some defective ones that seemed incapable of learning their lines, they settled on DM and DC as their primary Daleks, and KO’D as a trainee.

DC had had previous experience in finance, and had been programmed so often to repeat the same words and phrases that he needed no further programming. He was brilliant. No matter what the question, he would repeat the same mantras and catchphrases with his inimitable accent, which had an insistent Germanic tone to it. Indeed, he was so good that he became a tutor for DM who previously had been used in Immigration. DC tried to tutor KO’D, but gave up – she was too inclined to go off-message.

When DM was in Immigration, he had been programmed to repeat ‘Stop the boats’; ‘We’ll turn the boats around when safe to do so’; ‘We don’t discuss on-water operational matters’; ‘This government is not running a shipping news service for people smugglers’; ‘We are running a military-led border security operation which is stopping the boats’; and ‘We’ve taken the sugar off the table’.

When he was used in Social Services he would repeat: ‘The age of entitlement is over’, a mantra used by another Dalek, discarded because he was past his expiry date and had been exported second-hand to the US. It must have been an oversight, but DM was not programmed to label people as either ‘lifters’ or ‘leaners’.

The programmer of these Daleks was so skilful that they always repeated the same phrases, word perfect, again and again and again, so much so that anyone remotely interested in politics could recite them by heart. Some voters, too wedded to political discourse on TV for their own good, slowly became obsessive-compulsive, and sat in their corner of the psychiatric ward muttering the lines they had heard so often. “Jobs and Growth’ was so imprinted that it was impossible to erase this mindless utterance. Every time the TV was turned on, there were the Daleks regurgitating their lines, over and over, monotonously, word perfect.

What’s more, they were carefully programmed:
  • to talk quickly, as if firing verbal bullets’;
  • to talk loudly;
  • to talk incessantly;
  • to repeat their words over and again;
  • to talk over their interviewers, and ’never take a breath’;
  • to avoid answering questions they didn’t like’; and
  • to answer such questions with “I don’t accept your characterisation".
The programmer guaranteed that with such tactics it would be impossible to ignore them, impossible to escape them.


Joseph Goebbels knew that if you told a lie often enough, the people would eventually believe it. What’s more, he knew that the bigger the lie, the more the people would be drawn to it. The Dalek programmer knew this too, so it was of no consequence if the words he programmed into the Daleks were wrong, were untrue, were senseless, or had no meaning, so long as they served a political purpose.

Any new device needs testing, so the programmer got DM and DC together to try them out with some talented ABC interviewers, Leigh Sales and Michael Brissenden, who took it in turns to see if they could trip them up.

Leigh Sales began by trying to catch DC off guard:

LEIGH SALES: Against the backdrop of the campaign, Australia has just posted the slowest wage growth in decades. Between that, low inflation, low productivity and a stubborn deficit, do politicians need to level with Australians and say to them that they're unlikely to continue enjoying rising standards of living?

DC: Well our economy's an economy in transition. We're dealing with global economic headwinds, we're dealing with lower global economic growth and we're dealing with much lower global prices for our key commodity exports and that is of course why it is so important that we continue to implement our plan for jobs and growth. And, I mean, if you look at the results that we've achieved so far, the economy is growing at three per cent - higher than any of the G7 economies, double the rate of Canada, employment growth is strong, the unemployment rate at 5.7 per cent is not as low as we would want it to be, but it is much lower than what had been anticipated when we came into government in 2013. So we've got to keep heading in the same direction, we've got to keep implementing our plan for jobs and growth, including a more competitive enterprise tax rate.

Head spinning, she turned to DM:

LEIGH SALES: You talk a lot about your ‘plan’; the electorate still doesn’t understand what it is:

DM: The budget is an economic plan to ensure that we provide for growth and jobs to drive this transition that is occurring in our economy.

Australians know that our economy is transitioning and they know there are great risks and threats to it. This budget is the economic plan, which will support that growth that supports those jobs by backing in the investment that is needed to make it happen.

Michael Brissenden jumped in to chance his arm with DC:










MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Alright. On the broader economic policy issues, what exactly did Treasurer Scott Morrison mean when he said the government may have to ‘recalibrate’ its policy mix after the election?

DC: Well you know, obviously we have a very clear national economic plan for jobs and growth but as you know, we have always - as we have done in the past and as we continue to do moving forward, we'll always make judgements based on the circumstances as they evolve to ensure Australia's…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So everything could be back on the table?

DC: No, that is not right. I don’t accept that characterization. I think that everybody knows that we are focused on implementing our plan for innovation to support start up businesses everywhere.

Everybody knows we're focused on implementing our defence industry plan to support local high-end manufacturing.

Everybody knows we're focused on rolling out our export trade deals, which help our exporting businesses.

And everybody knows that we're focused on making our tax system more growth friendly, delivering business tax cuts paid for by crack downs on tax avoidance and by better targeting relevant tax concessions.

Now, obviously as economic circumstances evolve and as we continue to face economic headwinds, we pursue opportunities and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that Australia is as strong as possible.

An economic foundation to take advantage of the opportunities but also to be resilient in the face of any challenges. We must live within our means!

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And the political realities may mug you as well after the election, you may be forced to change things because you can't get stuff through the Senate for instance.

Nick Xenophon tells us that he has some pretty serious reservations about the company tax cut, extending beyond businesses earning over the turnover of 10 million.

So you may have to compromise on some things including some of the centrepiece of your election budget strategy.

DC: Well our message to the Australian people is that if you want us to implement our plan for jobs and growth, if you want us to implement a plan that would help secure our successful transition from resource investment driven growth to broader drivers of growth, then support our candidates, yes in the House of Representatives but also give us your vote in the Senate because it is in our judgement in the national interest for us to have the capacity to get our plan for jobs and growth through the Senate as well as through the House of Representatives on the other side of the election.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And if that doesn't happen, you may have to compromise, might you?

DC: Well our message to the Australian people is that if you want us to implement our plan for jobs and growth, if you want us to implement a plan that would help secure our successful transition from resource investment driven growth to broader drivers of growth, then support our candidates.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN (exasperated): Okay. DC, we'll leave it there!

He decided to try his hand with DM and tackle him about priorities (Sales sat quietly head in hands):

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: You talk about a $50 billion tax cut for businesses, but you say you can't afford $37 billion for schools.

I mean it is about where you're putting your priorities.

DM: And you know what our priority is – growth, economic growth – because if you don't have economic growth, you don't have jobs.

If you don't have economic growth, you don't have the growth in revenue that pays for schools and for hospitals and for all of these things. And we must live within our means.

Now what Labor is doing in this election is running around committing money that it doesn't have.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And we still have a spending problem under you, your own budget papers show that tax...

DM: I don’t accept that characterization. We're getting it down to 25.2 and what we've learnt this week is Labor's big defence yesterday was to say oh well, it's not as much as $67 billion. It's only $37 billion.

Now what it also admitted to yesterday is that all of the revenue they say they save by, or gain again by not going ahead with our small and medium sized tax cuts for businesses, all of that is already spent because they have to make up 18 billion in measures that they're already blocking.

So when Bill Shorten says 'I'm paying for this on schools or hospitals because we're not going ahead with the company tax cuts', well that's a lie.

It's not true because he's already spent them. He's spent every single cent of that going ahead with those company tax cuts, not on paying for schools or hospitals but for paying for the things he already opposes. We intend to live within our means!

DC chipped in:

DC: Well our message to the Australian people is that if you want us to implement our plan for jobs and growth, if you want us to implement a plan that would help secure our successful transition from resource investment driven growth to broader drivers of growth, then support our candidates.

Irritated by DC’s repetition, Brissenden jumped in to see if he could give a more plausible response to his question to DM. Could he trip him up?

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: How come you can afford a $50 billion tax cut for businesses, but you can't afford $37 billion for schools?

DC: Well, I don’t accept your characterization. You know what our priority is – growth, economic growth - because if you don't have economic growth, you don't have jobs.

If you don't have economic growth, you don't have the growth in revenue that pays for schools and for hospitals and for all of these things. And we have to live within our means!

DM could not resist having his say:

DM: The budget is an economic plan to ensure that we provide for growth and jobs to drive the transition that is occurring in our economy.

Australians know that and they know there are great risks and threats to it. This budget is the economic plan, which will support that growth that supports those jobs by backing in the investment that is needed to make it happen.

It’s all about jobs and growth, jobs and growth, jobs and growth, jobs and growth, jobs and growth…

Brissenden’s eyes glazed over. He turned to Sales. Leigh, how on earth do you turn these things off?

Don’t know Michael. I guess they will stop when their batteries run out. But I suspect someone recharges them every night. We may never escape them!

As Sales and Brissenden retreat defeated, DM and DC chatter on:



Jobs and Growth, Jobs and Growth, Jobs and Growth; Our economy is transitioning, Our economy is transitioning, Our economy is transitioning; The budget is the economic plan, The budget is the economic plan, The budget is the economic plan; If you don't have economic growth, you don't have jobs, If you don't have economic growth, you don't have jobs, If you don't have economic growth, you don't have jobs. It’s all about Jobs and Growth, Jobs and Growth, Jobs and Growth, Jobs and Growth…….

As Sales and Brissenden disappear, DC and DM smile knowingly at each other: Together they babble:
We won. We won. We won! Again!!!

What do you think?
What do feel about our Daleks?

Do they irritate you?

Do you listen to them any more, except for amusement?

Let us know in comments below.