Dutton for PM – no thanks

If the conservative ideologues get their way, Peter Dutton could be Prime Minister within a few months. If Dutton became Prime Minister, he would be the eighth person to be Prime Minister with double letters in his last name. For the record, if you get asked the question at a trivia night, the others are (in order) Cook, Scullin, Fadden, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull. The history of the last four is well known and in all cases their terms as Prime Minister are remembered more for the politics of gaining or losing power, associated with poor opinion polls, party infighting and a general sense of unease within the community, than their achievments.

So, were the first three any better? Apparently not.

According to the National Museum Australia website, Cook
. . . became Prime Minister following the general election on 31 May 1913. He led the Liberal Party to victory with a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives but he failed to win control of the Senate. He took up office as Prime Minister on 24 June 1913, and also served as Minister for Home Affairs from this date.

On 8 June 1914 Cook sought and obtained a double dissolution of parliament from Governor-General RC Munro-Ferguson, after the Senate had twice refused to pass the Government Preference Prohibition Bill. Before the election was held (on 5 August 1914), the UK declared war and over the next five years the First World War and its aftermath were the all-consuming political issues in Australian politics. The general election held on 5 September 1914 resulted in a strong win for Labor, which gained control of both Houses of federal parliament. Cook’s term as Prime Minister ended formally on 17 September when Andrew Fisher took office.
Post the 1914 election, Cook supported the government of the day’s war policies and his Liberal Party was merged with Prime Minister Hughes’ National Labor group to become the Nationalist Party after the Conscription Referendum in 1916. He was the Australian High Commissioner to the UK from 1921 until 1927, then he retired. Cook died in 1947.

Scullin to some extent was a victim of circumstances as well as poor political judgement. He became ALP leader in 1928, and won an additional eight seats at the election held in November of that year, despite disunity and a long running and violent waterside workers strike. In October 1929, Scullin led the ALP to victory in a general election caused by the fall of the Bruce-Page Government. Unfortunately, the US stock market crash happened a few weeks later; causing the ‘great depression’. Scullin, who didn’t have a majority in the Senate, was also the External Affairs and Industry Minister.
When his Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, EG Theodore, stood down in July 1930 after being implicated for defrauding the government in the Mungana mines affair, Scullin also took on the role of Treasurer. During a seven-month period in this role, Scullin presented his government’s first budget to parliament on 9 July 1930. Scullin’s budget planned for increased expenditure to be met through increased income tax and postal charges and the introduction of a sales tax.

As a result of the government’s difficulty in meeting interest payments on overseas debts, Scullin agreed to invite to Australia a Bank of England delegation led by Sir Otto Niemeyer. Niemeyer formed a poor impression of Scullin’s grasp of economic issues. Scullin, however, was well read in conventional economics and had been horrified by the state of the economy he had taken over - with its high level of debt, falling export commodity prices and rising unemployment.

The Bank of England delegation met with Scullin and state premiers at a special premiers’ conference in Melbourne during August 1930. On Niemeyer’s advice, the conference agreed to a heavily deflationary package of measures (known as the Melbourne Agreement) for tackling the Depression. This involved balancing budgets, ceasing overseas borrowing until all external debts were paid, confining internal borrowing to income producing schemes, reducing government expenditure (including spending on social services) and cutting wages.
Scullin left Australia soon afterwards for four and a half months to attend an ‘Imperial Conference’ with the heads of government of other dominions of the British Empire. While he was away
. . . the ALP caucus was deeply divided over the implementation of the Melbourne Agreement. The Acting Prime Minister, JE Fenton, and Acting Treasurer, JA Lyons, supported by the absent Scullin, adhered to the Agreement. Opposing them were ‘inflationists’ (the group supporting Theodore’s views) and ‘Langites’ (the group supporting the New South Wales Premier’s position).
A ‘soap opera’ of events happened when Scullin returned to Australia, including the reappointment of Theodore to the Treasury, causing some to leave the ALP and align themselves with the Opposition members of Parliament. In addition, the head of the Commonwealth Bank refused the Government’s request for funding until Scullin cut pensions, leading to a second Premiers Conference in 1931 where an agreement was hammered out and subsequently passed in Parliament (albeit with 50% of Scullin’s ALP voting against it). This led to the eventual demise of Scullin’s Government late in 1931 with Scullin rejecting calls for an inquiry into allegations of corrupt distribution of unemployment relief by Theodore, causing the ‘Langite’ Labor members siding with the Opposition to pass a no confidence motion in the Government.

Scullin resigned the ALP leadership in 1935, to be replaced by John Curtin. He acted as a mentor for both Curtin and Chifley during their Prime Ministerships and retired from Parliament in the 1949 election. He died in January 1953 and the funeral service was conducted by Archbishop Daniel Mannix.

Fadden is the only member of the Country (now National) Party who was appointed Prime Minister in a permanent rather than acting capacity. Having said that, it didn’t last too long. His term was 29 August until 7 October 1941. A year earlier, Fadden was a compromise choice as Country Party leader, being appointed as ‘Acting Leader’ in October 1940. He was confirmed in the Leadership role in March 1941 and retained the role for 17 years.
Fadden served as Minister Assisting the Treasurer and Minister for Supply and Development in the Robert Gordon Menzies United Australia Party-Country Party coalition from March-August 1940, then as Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation from August-October 1940, and finally as Treasurer from October 1940-August 1941. He was a member of the war cabinet and economic cabinet from 1940 to 1941.

In January 1941 Fadden became Deputy Prime Minister for four months while RG Menzies was overseas. After increasing dissension within the UAP-CP coalition, Menzies resigned as Prime Minister on 28 August 1941 in favour of Fadden.

Fadden served as Prime Minister from 29 August until 7 October 1941. By October, he had lost support of two Independents who voted with Labor to defeat his government in the House, thus making way for John Curtin’s Labor government.

Except for the periods in office of three caretaker Prime Ministers (Earle Page, Francis (Frank) Forde and John McEwen), Fadden’s 40 days as Prime Minister was the shortest of any Prime Minister in the twentieth century.
Fadden went on to serve as Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer in the 1949 and subsequent Menzies’ Governments, retiring in 1958. He died in Brisbane in 1973.

They aren’t particularly awe-inspiring, are they? While it could be argued that politics is full of well – politics – it seems that all the Prime Ministers with double letters have come to prominence under atypical circumstances. Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull all came to power by manufacturing a party room coup and ensuring they had ‘the numbers’ to succeed. Some of the problems they had in government were due to their concentration on foiling the attempts of others doing to them as they did to their predecessor. Dutton is being touted openly by some conservatives as a potential Prime Minister when Turnbull falls or is pushed onto his sword (whichever happens first), probably to see how much public support there is for the concept. As a result, Turnbull is apparently finding it difficult to distract his colleagues from navel gazing to actually deliver policy and legislation that is wanted by the majority of Australians, such as marriage equality, while being assured of retaining his current position.

Dutton has certainly shown he has the heart of stone necessary to forcibly inflict obscene and unusual punishment on people who have attempted to apply for refugee status in Australia. US President Trump liked how the Australian Government has managed the ‘refugee problem’ so much that he commented during that now infamous phone call
TRUMP: That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.
Turnbull went on to boast the only reason people were under Australian custody on Manus Island and Nauru
TURNBULL: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here.

TRUMP: Malcolm, but they are arrived on a boat?

TURNBULL: Correct, we have stopped the boats.
Turnbull is too busy checking his back for knives from the conservatives in his party and media to run an effective and equitable government. If Dutton comes to be the LNP Leader by the same path as Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull – will he be too busy checking his back for knives from the progressives in his party?

Regardless of the political party the Prime Minister comes from, they are supposed to govern for all Australians. In the 21st Century, we expect our politicians to act honestly and demonstrate equality for all. Neither Abbott or Turnbull have appeared to understand the concept of equality in recent history. Various surveys, including the one referred to in this Sydney Morning Herald report show
The divide between rich and poor is growing in Australia, according to a new national survey which found more than a quarter of households have experienced a drop in income.
We have also touched on marriage equality. Let’s just add that Howard (the Prime Minister who inserted the ‘man and woman’ clause in the Marriage Act) didn’t need a plebiscite, secret vote or any other delaying tactic to do so – so why can’t Turnbull remove it the same way? Probably because the conservatives, including Dutton, will mutiny if he does.

We keep people in inhumane conditions across the Pacific because they tried to get here by boat and claim refugee status (which is legal according to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 – signed by PM Menzies) rather than arrive by plane and overstay their tourist or study visa (which is illegal). Dutton is the enforcer of this process.

Dutton got his wish for a postal ballot on the proposed changes to the Marriage Act (a device that will require the Australian Bureau of Statistics to oversee a ’statistical survey’ that comprises a ‘yes/no’ answer, is not binding on Parliamentarians and costs Australia $122million) and he administers an overseas refugee policy which Turnbull admits to be selective, vindictive and driven solely by politics in his call with President Trump. If either Dutton or Turnbull have ethics and morals, clearly, they are subservient to what they believe to be winning politics.

Clearly, there is no evidence to suggest that Dutton, if he was to become Prime Minister, would be any better than the motley collection of those with double letters that preceded him. To retain the ’top job’, he would have to concentrate on the politics, hatred and spite rather than equity, equality, morals, ethics, compassion or betterment for all Australians. We are better off without him.

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

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Assuming the Opposition agrees, there will be a plebiscite on the proposition to allow same sex marriage in Australia in February 2017. The independents in the parliament have (mostly) stated their positions on the matter and the Greens are against the plebiscite but in favour of same sex marriage.

The history here is that the Marriage Act was legislated in the 1961 saying (basically) marriage is a union of two people and that union is recognised across Australia. It also recognised marriages legally made under the laws of another country. As Rodney Croome wrote in the ‘Winter 2011’ issue of Overland magazine, the reason the law was made was to eliminate blatant discrimination in Australia whereby Aboriginal people were not allowed to marry who they wanted to in some states and Territories. Until 2004, there was nothing in the legislation to suggest that marriage had to be between a man and a woman, leading some same sex couples to have their marriage legally recognised in jurisdictions such as Ontario, Canada which, they claimed, automatically made their marriage ‘legal’ in Australia. The Howard Government didn’t agree and stripped the marital rights of same sex couples as soon as they landed back in Australia.

According to Croome, in early 2004:
… two such couples sought a ruling from the Federal Court on whether Australia’s relatively liberal laws on foreign marriages extended to the recognition of their Canadian unions.

The court was never allowed to decide. Liberal senator Guy Barnett petitioned the prime minister to ‘protect marriage’ from being ‘demeaned and degraded’. The petition was successful, not least because 2004 was an election year in both Australia and the United States, and the politicisation of ‘gay marriage’ welded wealthy and highly disciplined evangelical churches in marginal electorates to the conservative cause.
In August 2004, the Senate passed the ‘man and woman’ amendment to the Australian Marriage Act. Again Croome suggests:
The government’s marriage amendment — declaring matrimony to be exclusively hetero-sexual, and limiting the powers of the courts to recognise overseas same-sex unions — was raced through parliament, prioritised over government anti-terror legislation. For good measure, the prime minister addressed a rowdy meeting in the Great Hall of Parliament House in defence of ‘traditional marriage’, during which homosexuals were condemned as ‘moral terrorists’.
Not that the ALP was any better:
In her address to that anti-gay audience, shadow attorney-general Nicola Roxon declared Labor’s support for entrenching discrimination against gay relationships. She was given a standing ovation.
So why waste somewhere between $160 and $200 million on a plebiscite to change the legislation back to the way it was in the 45 or so years until 2004? Clearly, the reason is not due to some specific wording in the legislation, as Howard had no problem in changing the law in the first place.

In 2015, Time Magazine listed 21 Countries (apart from the USA) where same sex marriage is legal. The USA legalised same sex marriage in June 2015, New Zealand did in 2013. It is plainly obvious that life as we know it has not ended in either the USA or ‘over the ditch’ in New Zealand.

We’ve done the history — now for the politics. Turnbull, like most prime ministers before him, claim that they govern for the benefit of all Australians, regardless of whether or not you voted for him. While it is true that the ALP governments between 2007 and 2013 could have legalised same sex marriage, to be fair around half of the countries on the Time magazine list have only acted since 2013. It makes sense that while the issue had been building for a while, it was the Abbott Coalition government that felt the effects of the debate from 2013. Abbott ‘bought some time’ by promising a plebiscite in the next term of government (he also didn’t know that he wouldn’t be the prime minister at the 2016 election — and that story has been done to death so let’s move on).

Details of the Coalition Agreement between the Liberal and National Parties are re-negotiated every time the leader changes and subsequent to each election, so when Abbott was ousted in favour of Turnbull in 2015 there was a re-negotiation. Both parties confirmed there was an agreement for a plebiscite on same sex marriage in the next term of parliament (the parliament subsequent to the one elected in 2013). Subsequent to the 2016 election there was another renegotiation, as is customary. The 2016 agreement is secret but believed to include an understanding that a plebiscite on same sex marriage is required before the legislation is considered. (A small but worthwhile digression is to ponder why a secret agreement governing an arrangement between two political parties is perfectly acceptable in the case of the Liberals and Nationals, but any co-operative arrangement between the ALP and the Greens is frowned upon by both the ALP and the Liberals.)

Turnbull, rightly or wrongly, has continued to support a number of Abbott government measures, including a plebiscite on same sex marriage, claiming it should be non-binding but compulsory. The logic here is interesting as Howard rammed through changes to the Marriage Act in double quick time (with ALP support) in 2004 to insert the ‘man and woman’ concept into the Act. So according to Turnbull it is completely logical to change legislation to address the concerns of conservative members of his political party in 2004, but we have to waste $200 million in a vote to change it back to the way it was. To ensure tracing the logic is the equal to the triple pike with twist, the plebiscite is non-binding, so if your conservative member of parliament doesn’t want to change the legislation, they can still vote no in parliament — in spite of the results of the plebiscite (however the individual politicians choose to ‘spin’ the response and their eventual vote).

To make it even worse, the federal government has decided in its wisdom to fund both sides of the argument to the tune of $7.5 million each. Turnbull claims this will allow for a respectable debate which will allow the public to make an informed decision. Before the funding was even allocated, the ‘no’ case was linking the same sex marriage discussion to educational matters as well as using (apparently without permission) the image and words of Nelson Mandela.

Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton, claims that:
“The baby who is taken from the breast of her mother doesn’t have a voice in this debate, the child who doesn’t get to know their father doesn’t have a voice,”
“Research clearly shows the quickest pathway to poverty for a child is for their biological mum and dad to break up, that's just a fact.”
While Shelton didn’t offer any evidence to support his claim, he is claiming that those who are brought up in a family that doesn’t replicate his idealistic view of the world are somehow fatally flawed, something that both Shorten and Turnbull (who were both raised by single parents) should demonstrably be arguing against. Instead Turnbull proposes to give the ‘no’ case $7.5 million to further denigrate those who don’t live in Shelton’s ‘nuclear’ family. While you could suggest that Shelton has ‘jumped the shark’ (again), Turnbull as the nation’s leader has a responsibility to ensure that all are treated equally. He clearly hasn’t to those children in Australia who for a variety of reasons (including same sex partnerships, death, divorce or numerous other reasons) have only have one parent. Clearly keeping the conservative rump of his political party ‘on side’ is far more important than correcting the false testament of people like Shelton who is belittling Turnbull’s own upbringing.

Another example of Turnbull’s behaviour concerns his ‘new’ approach to climate change. It has been widely reported that the Great Barrier Reef is undergoing significant bleaching of the coral. The government’s own Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (better known by its slightly easier to say GBRMPA acronym) reported in June 2016 that this was caused by a seemingly small rise in sea surface temperature. The overwhelming consensus of scientists with experience in the area of study suggests that sea surface warming is an indicator of human induced climate change. One proven way to reduce human induced climate change is to move away from burning fossil fuel to generate electricity. South Australia has probably moved quicker towards renewable energy power than other states connected to the ‘National Grid’, but recently suffered a statewide power failure. Turnbull is publically implying that ‘extremely unrealistic’ renewable energy targets are the problem.

In reality, the South Australian blackout in late September had nothing to do with renewable energy. Twenty-two high voltage power pylons blew over due to excessive wind during a severe storm. As the article points out:
If the recently closed Port Augusta coal power station was still operating, it would have been cut off by the downed distribution lines too. And that would have likely made the disruption worse, since it would have created an even bigger sudden change to the network.
Lenore Taylor argued recently in The Guardian:
… state targets are exactly what Australia needs to meet the promises the prime minister made in Paris last year about reducing greenhouse gases.

Of course it would be preferable to have a consistent national policy to reach those goals, but it’s not exactly the states’ fault that we haven’t got one.

That vacuum was Tony Abbott’s proud achievement, with the abolition of the carbon price and the winding back of the federal renewable energy target, after a lengthy debate about whether it should be abolished altogether, which of course dried up almost all investment in renewable energy.

And consistent, credible national policy hasn’t been any more evident in the year since Turnbull took over either.

His own officials admitted in a Senate inquiry this week they had undertaken no modelling at all about how to meet the target Turnbull pledged in Paris for reducing Australia’s emissions out to 2030. That’s the target he is about to ratify, the target that will be Australia’s legal obligation.

But plenty of others have done modelling and analysis for him, and they all conclude that he won’t meet it, not with the Coalition’s current policies.
Clearly Turnbull is keeping the conservative rump of his political party ‘on side’ and apparently arguing the false testament of notable ‘thinkers’ and conservatives such as Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Queensland Senator (with 77 direct votes) Malcolm Roberts and Brett Hogan, the Research Director of the Institute of Public Affairs.

(Roberts actually linked to a news item stating the real reason for the power failure and still gets it wrong!).

In an environment where Turnbull publically called for the resignation of ALP Senator Sam Dastyari for accepting around $6,500 from people who have ‘connections’ with the Chinese government, he is doing nothing about the claims of a former minister in his government, Stuart Robert, who apparently sees nothing wrong with attempting to stack the Gold Coast City Council with people sympathetic to development proposals. Robert was sacked from his ministerial position in February after (separate) claims of inappropriate use of political donations. Fairfax’s The Age called for his resignation from parliament in an editorial on September 29. At the time of preparation, however, it appears that Turnbull is again keeping the conservatives in his own party ‘on side’ rather than calling out Robert’s behaviour for what it is.

When Turnbull became prime minister, there was a hope that he would bring the claimed decency and ability to appeal to the middle ground that was so lacking with Abbott. After 13 months, it hasn’t happened. There are two possibilities: Turnbull is just as bad as Abbott (except for better clothing choices and living in a ‘more expensive’ postcode); or, to coin a phrase, Turnbull ’doesn’t have the ticker’ to promote and implement policy and legislation that isn’t approved by his conservative rump thereby ensuring his longevity as prime minister.

Either way, the rest of us as Australian citizens will continue to suffer as a result.

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