The report card


Former minister and Liberal Party director Andrew Robb recently completed an investigation into the poor performance of the Liberal Party in the 2016 federal election. Yes, they won by a whisker, but losing 14 seats is a drubbing. Former PM Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, writing for the Daily Telegraph has her theory
On two separate occasions over the past 10 years, Malcolm Turnbull has plotted to seize the Liberal Party leadership from the incumbent. On both occasions, the polls hit high highs, and then low lows. On both occasions, the base deserted Turnbull and on both occasions, the considered judgment was he had a plan to take the leadership but he had no plan to run the party, or the country.
Robb was probably a little less biased, claiming according to Fairfax media
The review argues the party needs to "recognise and respond to the fact that the next campaign effectively begins the day after polling day" and establish a structured research operation that provides politicians with a "continuous understanding of community sentiment" towards policy.

It argues Liberals must "while governing for all, at all times respect, and be seen to be respecting our base".

This underlines the party's need to focus on the mainstream - necessary to win elections - while also pleasing core conservative supporters who demand action on deeply held but potentially divisive policy positions, such as free speech and tax cuts.
Both Credlin and Robb are pushing the same argument. A political party must appear to have a plan to be successful. The plan must be continually honed to be attractive to the particular requirements of the ‘rusted-on’ supporters as well as society in general. The alternative is the proverbial baseball bats on the verandah at the next election, to which a number of ALP politicians as well as Newman, Barnett, and Turnbull can personally attest. It is a lesson that is forgotten more often than remembered – apparently. Opinion polls would suggest that Turnbull hasn’t learnt the lesson.

One of Turnbull’s actions in the last session of Parliament was to steer tax cuts for business through the House of Representatives and the Senate, unfortunately at the same time the Centrelink ‘robo-debt’ farce continued. Regardless of the claimed benefit to the community of tax cuts for business or recouping overpayments from Centrelink recipients, to be apparently giving business a reduction in tax while actively and aggressively pursuing those on lower incomes [possible paywall] for what are frequently non-existent or grossly inflated debts is certainly not a good look. As Mungo Maccullum observed in The Monthly [possible paywall]
With Turnbull having negotiated the reductions for small to medium firms through the Senate, it was thought that he would take his winnings and retire – that the cuts for the big end of town would be quietly removed from the table. But not a bit of it: Turnbull will plough ahead, pushing the doors marked pull and ignoring the lessons – not just from the last election, but from all the polling since.
The price of housing (predominately in Sydney and Melbourne) is a ‘hot button’ issue at the moment. Domain.com.au breathlessly (they would do that, they are a real estate sales site) reported in mid - 2015 that the median Sydney house price was in excess of $1million, with their economist, Dr Andrew West attributing
the huge growth to the high level of investor activity, with the $6.4 billion in loans approved over May – a record. “Sixty-two per cent of the housing market loan share is now investors – another record – and an increase of 27 per cent over the first five months of this year compared with the first five months of last year.
Last February, consumer rights group Choice co-authored a study that found
thousands of tenants are being discriminated against and live in a climate of fear.

The research, undertaken by CHOICE, the National Association of Tenants' Organisations and National Shelter, found that 83% of renters in Australia have no fixed-term lease or are on a lease less than 12 months long, and 62% feel they're not in a position to ask for longer term rental security.

Half the tenants who took part in the study said they've been discriminated against, and an equal percentage said they were worried about being blacklisted on a 'bad tenant' database.
During April, Choice looked at the economics of renting again and looked at Treasurer Morrison’s recent speech to the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute and quoted Morrison as suggesting
housing prices in Sydney and Melbourne are causing people on higher incomes to remain in the rental market longer, causing a "concertina effect" that's impacting those on lower incomes.

"Over half of renters say they rent because they can't afford to buy their own property," says Morrison. "Because of this, they are staying in the rental market for longer – a dynamic that puts upward pressure on rental prices and availability, and even more pressure on lower-income households, increasing the need for affordable housing."
Rather than tackle the potentially difficult discussion around negative gearing, Morrison suggests that the way to reduce rental demand (and prices) is to increase the amount of rental properties available. While supply and demand does play a part, as Choice points out
The focus of property investment in Australia is capital gain, rather than yield – meaning investors make more money from selling a property that has increased in value than they get from rental income. As a result, there is little incentive for investors – particularly "mum and dad" investors – to hold onto investments for longer.
Greg Jericho, reporting on the same speech reported
The treasurer emphatically ruled out any changes to negative gearing to temper investor lending on Monday.

His speech contained a continuation of the regular theme of specious reasons in favour of negative gearing that we have come to expect.
Jericho goes on to quote Morrison arguing against his own policy
you’ve got one set of circumstances over in Perth and to that matter in South Australia and Tasmania. I mean negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions exist there as well and property prices in Perth are going the other way or have been in the eastern states you’ve got a very different response
To demonstrate his point, Jericho argues
And yet Morrison – as did his predecessor Joe Hockey – also likes to suggests abolishing negative gearing will cause rents to rise because when it was briefly abolished in the 1980s, rental prices rose in Sydney and Perth, despite the fact they were flat elsewhere:

Thus for Morrison different house prices growth in different cities suggests negative gearing is not an issue, but different rental prices growth suggests it is.

Similarly Morrison continued to argue that negative gearing is mostly used by average income earners. He argued that “two thirds of those taxpayers who negatively gear their investments have a taxable income of $80,000 or less”.

That might be true, but of course it ignores that most of the benefit of negative gearing goes to higher income earners:

And crucially his argument ignores the fact that people use negative to gearing in order to reduce their taxable income below $80,000.
You may remember Abbott’s claim before the 2013 federal election that the ALP’s National Broadband Network plan was unnecessary and unaffordable. Abbott won the 2013 election and appointed Turnbull the Communications Minister to ‘demolish the NBN’. Paddy Manning has written a long and detailed article on the policy and practice behind the NBN as rolled out by firstly the ALP and then the Coalition Government (with Turnbull in charge for a considerable period of the time) and it is less than complimentary. There have been a number of opportunities where an intelligent politician would have changed course and delivered a better solution for all Australians – Turnbull didn’t.

Turnbull’s recent headline ‘successes’ include losing 14 seats in Parliament at the only election he has faced as Prime Minister, legislating corporate tax cuts while falsely accusing thousands of those who have relied on Centrelink of theft and perpetuating obsolete technology for political reasons. In addition, he still has hundreds if not thousands of human refugees suffering in Detention Camps. Robb’s review suggested that the next campaign needed to commence the day after election and while the Liberals’ conservative base needs to feel considered, there needs to be a ‘continuous understanding of community sentiment’.

Opinion polls, general sentiment and media coverage would suggest that Turnbull clearly doesn’t understand community sentiment. Additionally, his report card (marked by Liberal Party elder Andrew Robb) is a fail for the lead up to the 2016 election. Can Turnbull learn the lesson before the next election or another night of the long knives?

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

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The winds of change


Question – what do Mark Latham, YouTube, Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May and Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act have in common? The question could be answered by suggesting the winds of change are in the air.

Former ALP leader Mark Latham was sacked by SkyNews recently over a number of issues including attacking the 15 year old daughter of the Reserve Bank Governor as, in Latham’s view, she had no idea of how the disadvantaged live. It’s not the first time Latham’s employment with a media organisation has been terminated. In August 2015 the Australian Financial Review accepted the resignation of Latham after it was determined that he was the person behind the apparently fake ‘real Mark Latham’ Twitter account that targeted Rosie Batty, and journalists Anne Summers, Leigh Sales, Lisa Pryor, Mia Freedman and Annabel Crabb, among others.

In fact, a week or so before he was shown the door by SkyNews, former NSW premier Kristina Kenneally complained to SkyNews about comments Latham made on air that she considered to be defamatory. Kenneally is also employed by SkyNews. He also made a ‘foul-mouthed tirade’ at the 2015 Melbourne Writers Festival. For those who can’t remember his attitude, and potentially why he lost the 2004 federal election as ALP leader – here is the clip.

General Motors Holden and Kia Motors recently announced that they were pulling their advertising from YouTube which, like Google, is owned by Alphabet. The justification for the change of heart is that the two companies found that their products were being promoted alongside an offensive video that directed misogynistic insults at journalist and businesswoman Ita Buttrose. In addition
The UK Government, The Guardian and France's Havas SA, the world's sixth-largest advertising and marketing company, pulled its UK clients' ads from Google and YouTube [during March] after failing to get assurances from Google that the ads wouldn't appear next to offensive material. Those clients include wireless carrier O2, Royal Mail Plc, government-owned British Broadcasting Corp., Domino's Pizza and Hyundai Kia, Havas said in a statement.
Others, including Bunnings, Foxtel, Caltex, Vodafone and Nestle have also suspended using YouTube as an advertising channel over similar concerns. The Australian government pulled its advertising at the end of March as well.

On 28 March 2017, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Britain’s prime minister Theresa May had a meeting. Now, given that the UK has finally delivered the letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Convention (the mechanism to start the Brexit process) and there is some belief that Scotland would prefer to stay in the EU, there was a genuine news story to discuss. What did the UK Daily Mail focus on (pun intended)? Not the process of the meeting, not the outcomes of the meeting but the legs of the respective leaders. Following the outcry from other sections of the media,
A spokesperson for the Daily Mail urged its critics to "get a life" and questioned if the "po-faced BBC" and "left-wing commentariat" had lost its sense of humour.
The ‘great Section 18C debate’ in Australia came to a (possibly) final ending at the end of March after around three years of people trying to justify their positions on allowing racism and misogyny. The Senate in a late-night vote, chose not to insert ‘harass’ in the section to replace the words ‘insult’, ‘offend’ or ‘humiliate’. One of the organisations driving for the change to Section 18C was The Australian newspaper. According to The Saturday Paper,
After more than three years, a change in prime ministers, campaigning by conservative media outlets and countless Q&A debates, changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act were voted down in the Senate last night. In a triumph of the English language, The Australian is calling [paywalled] the defeat a “limited victory”.

Throughout the Senate session, which ran late into the night, the focus was on Attorney-General George Brandis. While arguing for the 18C reforms during seven hours of debate, Brandis said the spirit of “the late, great Bill Leak” was presiding over the chamber. Brandis himself provided the Senate with his reaction to being called “a white man” on several occasions by fellow Senators.
In one of the more factual articles about Section 18C, the ABC published a listing of complaints under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that have made it to Court. On the face of it, the law seems to work (link contains offensive language). Latham has make a career out of being (in the words of my Grandmother) ‘a nasty piece of work’. In the words of Annabel Crabb
Characteristically, the great man incorporated a generous measure of unintended comedy. He accused – for instance – the ABC broadcaster Wendy Harmer of being a "commercial failure". This is pretty good coming from a guy who has been sacked, dumped, or awkwardly non-renewed by countless commercial media executives and is one of the handful of living Australians who has been submitted to the most exacting ratings survey available in this country – a federal election. On which occasion, in Mr Latham's case, the nation opted firmly for John Howard repeats.

(There comes a time in every man's life when he realises that he is not a commercial hit. I would imagine that the hosting of a TV chat show which is out-rated five-fold by ABC2 Bananas in Pyjamas repeats might edge a fellow close to such an epiphany, but each to his own I suppose.)
In a similar way, those who believe that ‘free speech’ gives you the right to publish ‘hate’ such as attacks on Ita Buttrose et al have a right to their beliefs. However, common decency should lead YouTube and similar organisations to determine that ‘hate’ is not acceptable and refuse to be the medium for the publication of those views. Again, in the words of Annabel Crabb, Hate plus hate equals hate. Fortunately, organisations like the UK and Australian governments, Caltex, Holden, Vodafone, Nestle, and The Guardian seem to have determined that hate is not acceptable. While it is a win for community values and common decency (remember: do unto others as you wish them do to you), it’s a shame when the adherence to community values is considered to be newsworthy.

The emphasis from the Daily Mail on Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May’s legs, rather than the matters they were discussing, take us back to the days where a show depicting a lecherous older man running around after young women was considered to be good ‘prime-time’ television. While there were others – most will remember the Benny Hill Show as a good example. The Daily Mail’s excuse for that behaviour – it was just a joke – is also of the same era and was correctly called out by a number of commentators. The Mail calling the commentators ‘left wing’ could be seen to be a demonstration of conservative views of common decency.

The saga of Section 18C also demonstrates the point of conservative values. Let’s use the example of Bill Leak. His employer, The Australian, seemed to be one of the driving forces for the failed attempt to water down the legislation. Leak drew a cartoon depicting a generalisation that is a racist slur against a group of Australian citizens. Members of the group that were slurred correctly protested at the implication. Leak and his employer then claimed that his comments were free speech. However, the comments by others suggesting that Leak unfairly offended them is unacceptable. Hardly fair and reasonable, is it? While Leak may have been trying to make a point that he or his employer considered to be valid; there are a number of ways to make the argument without intentionally or unintentionally insulting an entire group of Australians.

It’s the same with Brandis in the Senate. While Brandis may pine for a return to the ‘good ole days’ when Benny Hill was considered to be good entertainment on the black and white tellie, the reality is that he is a powerful white man and can humiliate and offend anyone he wants to in the Australian Senate. As Bernard Keane suggests in Crikey
Commercial free-to-air TV broadcasters, who like to invoke free speech whenever regulation of advertising is proposed, have admitted they refuse to air ads they think might alienate powerful advertisers. And News Corp’s interest in free speech only extends to its own and that of those it perceives as allies, no one else. The editor of that doughty defender of free speech The Australian, Chris Mitchell, threatened journalist Julie Posetti with legal action over her coverage of the remarks of a former employee of his. The Australian used Victorian courts to prevent the release of an Office of Police Integrity report highly critical of the newspaper over its pointless “scoop” about anti-terror raids in 2009. That newspaper outed a pseudonymous progressive blogger, and tried to damage his public service career. Andrew Bolt — suddenly thin-skinned about racism — demanded an apology from the ABC over remarks by academic Marcia Langton.
While it looks as though you have to be a media conglomerate to influence the law of the land, really you don’t. In a classic case of the ‘look over there’ defence, those who are complaining that they too have the right to free speech are invariably those who feel that they have the right to offend, humiliate and insult others at will. As the YouTube boycotts and Bernard Keane point out, the same groups of people will self-censor on purely economic grounds, so why won’t they self-censor on moral and ethical grounds? Is it because the typically powerful white people that run these organisations believe they are somehow superior to others?

The first TPS post this year suggested that we should be the change we want to see. The premise of that article was don’t sit there and take the status quo you don’t believe is fair, but to actively work to change it. Demonstrably, people like you and I do have a voice and engaging with the organisation that knowingly or unknowingly supports the bully by ‘supporting’ the xenophobic YouTube clip or boorish talking heads such as Latham clearly does have an effect. Social media can amplify small voices beyond a local community.

The reactions from the general public to Latham’s boorish (or worse) remarks, YouTube’s lack of self-censorship, the Daily Mail’s coverage of Sturgeon and May’s legs and the conservative campaign to water down protections of the Racial Discrimination Act show that consumers can influence government and the largest companies on moral and ethical issues. The winds of change in the morals and ethics of large companies are starting to appear driven by people’s stated opinions. Long may it continue.

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Fake outrage


You may have noticed some of our more conservative politicians reacting to the recent terrorist attacks in London and Europe by calling for bans on the Islamic religion or the expelling of all those who have similar beliefs. Apart from the lack of logic that is implied by suggesting that somehow ‘the authorities’ have some way of reading or controlling people’s minds, how do you differentiate between the person with the ‘suspicious’ name who has been resident in a country for two years and the person with the ‘suspicious’ name who has generations of ‘local’ heritage.

The shrill argument goes along the lines that people who have been radicalised by Islamic preachers will cause a catastrophe in Australia. While they might be right, statistically they are more likely to be completely wrong. To claim that terrorism being justified (falsely) by religion is a new or ‘Islamic’ thing is also completely wrong. It is also hypocritical for those like Hanson to suggest that this is a new problem, as she was alive and well when Christians were the terrorists.

As recently as 1996, the Irish Republican Army was using terrorism as a means of forcing the UK to relinquish control of Northern Ireland and cede it to the Irish Republic. The original split that formed the Irish Republic occurred in the 1920s and the Irish Government has traditionally been dominated by those of the Catholic branch of the Christian faith tradition. The area the UK retained, known as Northern Ireland, was populated predominately by non-Catholic members of the Christian religion. The ‘modern day’ Irish Republican Army is not to be confused with
an earlier IRA organisation that evolved out of the struggle for independence. The first IRA was founded as the military of the “Irish Republic,” a state proclaimed in 1916 by the leaders of the Easter Rising, which Sinn Fein, a nationalist party, claimed allegiance to. When Sinn Fein won a majority of Irish seats in the 1918 British elections, they refused to sit in Westminster and instead formed an Irish Assembly and de facto government. Shortly thereafter fighting broke out and the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) began. It ended with the Anglo-Irish Agreement and formation of the Irish Free State, but a large minority within the IRA couldn’t accept the compromise peace.
Rather than publish a history of Irish independence since 1921, we’ll move forward to the 1970s where
Northern Ireland was wracked by sectarian violence, instigated by extremist Protestant elements. Catholic neighbourhoods were under siege and IRA volunteers in the North wanted to take action and use the destabilisation as a pretext to launch a new campaign against British rule.

However, the leadership, which was based in Dublin, had adopted a Marxist position and wished to move beyond sectarianism and ethno-nationalism to a more class conflict oriented position (they supported a united Ireland too of course, but to them it was less important than “the Revolution”). Finally, for the northern members the armchair Marxism of their Dublin-based leaders became too much and the group split (into the Provisional IRA and Official IRA). As the Provisional IRA was based in Northern Ireland it got most of the organisation’s guns and members, while the Official IRA struggled for relevance afterwards.

The atheistic communism of the Official IRA leadership didn’t rub many practicing Catholics in the North the right way either, even though the Provisional IRA itself had a left-wing, socialist ideology. The Provisional IRA went onto launch an urban guerrilla/terrorist insurgency against the British state and fell into a pattern of tit-for-tat sectarian murders with the loyalist paramilitaries, while the Official IRA tried their hand at terrorism for a few years, feuded with the Provos a lot, and gave up insurrection by the late 70s.

The period of Provisional IRA and loyalist violence is known as “the Troubles,” 1969–1998 and saw thousands die.
The point here is that the 1970s and later version of the IRA pitted different groups of the Christian faith against each other claiming it to be a religious issue, but the real aim was significantly different.

In July 2016, we looked at religious difference on The Political Sword with an article entitled Johno goes to heaven. In the article, there is a link to an opinion piece in The Guardian written by Nick Earls. Earls notes that
I was passing through airport security somewhere in North America in October 2001 when I realised it: I was no longer the face of terrorism, and might never be selected for one of those comprehensive “special clearance procedures” again.

Until then, that’s what a passport with a Northern Irish birthplace had got me – it happened often enough anywhere in the world, and was almost inevitable at airports in the UK. I’d be taken away to a side room, physically searched, swabbed for explosives and asked to unpack my suitcase entirely. Sometimes I even had to unball my balled-up socks. I’d adjusted to it being the price of travel for someone with a birthplace like mine.
After the September 11 (2001) attacks on the World Trade Centre, there was obviously a quick re-assessment of ‘potential risk’ to the USA, continuing to President Trump’s current crusade to victimise citizens of a number of middle eastern countries. Trump has signed two Presidential Orders to ban people from certain middle eastern countries entering the USA. Last January, after the first ban was overturned, the New York Times reported,
But the order is illegal. More than 50 years ago, Congress outlawed such discrimination against immigrants based on national origin.

That decision came after a long and shameful history in this country of barring immigrants based on where they came from. Starting in the late 19th century, laws excluded all Chinese, almost all Japanese, then all Asians in the so-called Asiatic Barred Zone. Finally, in 1924, Congress created a comprehensive “national-origins system,” skewing immigration quotas to benefit Western Europeans and to exclude most Eastern Europeans, almost all Asians, and Africans.

Mr. Trump appears to want to reinstate a new type of Asiatic Barred Zone by executive order, but there is just one problem: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 banned all discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin, replacing the old prejudicial system and giving each country an equal shot at the quotas. In signing the new law, President Lyndon B. Johnson said that “the harsh injustice” of the national-origins quota system had been “abolished.”
It’s ironic that the Democratic Party US President that led his and our nation into the Vietnam War had a better sense of justice than a Republican Party President in 2017. The second Order was also overruled.

Trump and other popularist politician’s xenophobic cries to somehow ban Muslims also has a precedent in medieval history. Commencing in 1095, armies of Christians went to the middle east (then known as the Holy Land) to reclaim Jerusalem at the ‘request’ of the Pope. While the first crusade was claimed to be a success when Jerusalem was reclaimed in 1099, there were a series of crusades up until the end of the 13th Century. Really it was a land grab and one could suggest similar tensions are still in play today between Israel and Palestine.

In response to the recent ‘terrorist’ attack on the UK Houses of Parliament, those who clearly have no hesitation in attempting to push a political point regardless of the facts, claimed that Australia needed to manage what they believe is the almost certain potential for an Islamic attack on our shores. Pauline Hanson went one further, advising we should vaccinate against Islam. You would think that Hanson would have learnt her lesson about talking about vaccination – earlier in March she was claiming that parents should ensure their children have the test to see if they will ‘catch autism’ if subjected to the routine childhood vaccinations. There is no ‘test’, and no evidence to suggest that autism is a possible side effect from routine vaccinations.

The Daily Mail reported soon after the Westminster attack that
The British-born jihadi who killed four and injured 29 in Westminster was last night revealed to be a middle-aged criminal career who MI5 had investigated in the past and had a previous conviction for stabbing a man in the nose.

English teacher Khalid Masood, 52, a 'lone wolf' attacker, who was living in the Birmingham area, had a series of convictions for assault and other crimes.

Scotland Yard revealed how Masood was known by a number of aliases and MailOnline can reveal he was born Adrian Elms to a single mother in Kent before his religious conversion. Masood has used the names Khalid Choudry and Adrian Ajao among others.

He grew up in a £300,000 house in the seaside town of Rye, East Sussex and had a long criminal history.

His first conviction was for criminal damage in November 1983, when he was just 19.

His last was for an attack in 2003, where he stabbed a 22-year-old man in the face, leaving him slumped in the driveway of a nursing home in Eastbourne. The victim was left needing cosmetic surgery after the vicious attack.

Masood is understood to have spent time in Lewes jail in East Sussex, Wayland prison in Norfolk and Ford open prison in West Sussex, The Times reported.

He was sentenced to two years for wounding in 2000 and sent back to jail in 2003 for the attack in Eastbourne.

. . . It also emerged today the attacker was known to MI5 after an investigation many years ago, but was considered 'peripheral'

Masood had never been convicted of terror offences, although Theresa May revealed this morning that he had been on MI5's radar a number of years ago.

Police insist there was no intelligence suggesting he was about to unleash a terror attack.

Masood was a married father-of-three, and a religious convert who was into bodybuilding, according to Sky News.
While the Daily Mail reported that ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, ISIL have not provided any evidence to support their claim. Without evidence, the claim has as much credence as Malcolm Turnbull claiming to have solved the budget ‘crisis’.

The reality is that the majority of followers of the Muslim, Christian or any other religion do not subscribe to or wish to be a part of the actions of radicals who are using the name of the religion to further their own purely secular aims. To suggest that Australia should somehow ban Muslims (from what exactly) is as crazy an idea as suggesting that all Catholics alive in the 1970s and 1980s supported the actions and ideals of the IRA, or Halal labelling of Australian food is a plot to ‘convert’ everyone who eats it to Islam rather than a marketing tool to increase sales in Asia and the middle east.

The majority of people, regardless of their skin colour, religion (or lack thereof), or any other characteristic just want to live in peace with those around them. Perhaps we should feel sorry for Hanson’s supporters; not because they actually believe the pronouncements of their leader; but because they have a real problem either way, according to a recent headline in The Shovel on-line (satirical) newspaper - Tough Choice For One Nation Supporters, After Muslim Vaccination Linked To Autism

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In the words of The Monthly, If the name Milo Yiannopoulos means nothing to you, congratulations on being a normal, well-adjusted person. Yiannopoulos is someone we all aspire to be the complete opposite of. He was until very recently, an alt-right figurehead and said all the ‘right’ things. According to The Guardian he did a fine line in Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia or harassment. Out Magazine, (which takes pride in its LGBTI heritage) called him a ‘super villain’. Recently, The Monthly reported:
Here in Australia, Yiannopoulos has many fans on the right. Andrew Bolt called him “fabulous” in one of his multiple appearances on The Bolt Report. Bolt's Herald Sun colleague Rita Panahi thinks Yiannopoulos is “razor sharp, insightful and funny”. Former Liberal MP Ross Cameron regards him as “an ancient form of genius”. Writing in the Spectator, Daisy Cousens described him as an “intelligent, charismatic, witty, stylish, and unbearably handsome powerhouse of a man”.
However, it seems that even the alt-right has boundaries. A Youtube video recently came out (pun intended – Yiannopoulos is gay) where he seemed to endorse intimate relations between older men and boys. He lost his job as a Senior Editor on the Breitbart (extremely conservative) news website, a book deal and some speaking engagements. Let’s give credit where it is due, those who severed connections with a person who seemed to endorse paedophilia did the right thing. However, it also brings into question why hate speech against religions, gender and those who have a different sexual orientation is permitted by the same organisations – as they are all just as abhorrent as the straw that broke the camel’s back on this occasion. Let’s face it, by supporting Yiannopoulos while he promotes hate speech, the organisations also gave implied support for his positions on those other issues. Severing the connection when Yiannopoulos seemingly ‘crossed the line’ demonstrates the principal.

The Guardian reported that during a meeting of an ultra-conservative group in North Carolina, the ‘Islamification of America’ was being discussed:
The Muslim Brotherhood, a culturally conservative organization founded in 1928 that briefly took power in Egypt after the Arab Spring, is the focal point of paranoid rightwing fears about a supposed Islamic plot to infiltrate and subvert American institutions from within and impose sharia law.

“A tactic that the Brotherhood has established over the years is establishing the presence of Islamic centers or mosques, which for them means a recruitment center for jihad, and forming a permanent foundation wherever they’re allowed to exist,” Jones said, continuing to read from Stakelbeck’s book [The Terrorist Next Door].

Jones’s presentation was repeatedly interrupted by comments about killing Muslims from Frank del Valle, a staunchly anticommunist Cuban immigrant, with little or no pushback from the others in the room.

“Can we not kill them all?” Del Valle asked, about 15 minutes into the presentation, during a discussion about the differences between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam.
But it wouldn’t happen in general society in Australia, would it? Well it does actually. Madonna King wrote an opinion piece for The Brisbane Times recently based on the reaction to Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s recent appearance on ABCTV’s QandA. You may remember that Adbel-Magied contradicted some of the more conservative panellists’ views on the Islamic religion and Sharia Law with some facts based on her understanding of the religion as a practising member of the faith. In the piece, King rightly labelled Australians as haters pointing out that while you and I certainly have the right to decide if we agree with Abdel-Magied’s opinion, she does have the right to vocalise it without people starting petitions for her to be sacked from her job presenting a show on ABCTV’s News 24 station, which is what happened on this occasion.

Let’s look at another example. Pauline Hanson was recently reported as suggesting that young women will deliberately get pregnant to receive some perceived advantage from the LNP Government’s proposed changes to family benefits. Quite probably she is partly right — generally a small minority will take any advantage that they can find and turn it to their perceived advantage. Hanson’s argument seems to be:
I’ve gone through a bloody tough life myself as a single mother and held down a part-time job. I had no assistance, no help from anyone. But we have such a welfare handout mentality.
Apart from the fact that single parent payments, family allowances and tax ‘breaks’ for families have been the practice of Australian Governments of all political persuasions for a number of decades, meaning Hanson could have received help if she met the criteria, her rhetoric seems as shallow and self-serving as her claim not to be a professional politician despite being first elected to the Ipswich City Council in 1994, followed by running for the seat of Oxley in the Federal Parliament in 1996, then failing to be elected at most elections between the end of that Parliament and the commencement of the current one.

The issue here is that considerably more young women will use the benefit as it was intended, to ensure that while babies and their parents are both going through a major change in their living and financial arrangements, there is some assistance from the rest of our society to make the financial transition slightly easier. Remember that the children who benefit from the government’s ‘largesse’ here are those who will be paying for the roads and medical services that the naysayers such as Hanson will consume in twenty to thirty years’ time when they are retired and contributing far less taxation (if any at all). All Hanson is really doing here is inflaming the anger in those who follow her particular brand of politics when they see pregnant women or young families walk past. It’s not healthy for the victims and certainly not healthy to the level of political conversation in Australia.

Of course, our ‘major’ party politicians wouldn’t stoop to using hatred to achieve political ends –would they? Don’t be silly, of course they do. As blogmaster Ad Astra recently noted in his article Abbott’s legacy of destruction, former Prime Minister Abbott’s opposition to action on climate change wasn’t a divine revelation that there was another and better way to mitigate the man-made influence on global temperature increase caused by increasing emissions of carbon dioxide, it was purely political. It is worth looking at Abbott’s head of staff’s (Peta Credlin) statement on Sky News again.
Credlin made her comments during an episode of Sky’s Sunday Agenda: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax. We made it a fight about the hip pocket and not about the environment. That was brutal retail politics and it took Abbott about six months to cut through and when he cut through, Gillard was gone.”
As Ad Astra wrote,
The article continued with Credlin's comments:
“It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know.

“Okay, okay, okay. Let’s just provide some context. Australia has a complicated history in trying to do what many countries have already done – put a price on carbon emissions.

“Emissions trading scheme proposals contributed to the demise of Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in 2009 and Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010. Julia Gillard finally introduced a carbon-pricing scheme in 2011.

“It was Tony Abbott who re-framed Gillard’s scheme as a “carbon tax”, even though after the first year the price on carbon emissions was no longer fixed, and was instead set by the market.

“Abbott rode the anti-carbon tax movement all the way into The Lodge and eventually had everyone, including Labor and the media, calling it a carbon tax".
How about we call that for what it is. Abbott lied to get the Prime Ministership. He traded off the future liveability of this country for his personal ambition.

Both Hanson and Abbott (amongst a number of other politicians from all sides of politics) also support or have supported in the past the forcible incarceration of refugees on Manus Island and Nauru while claiming to uphold ‘good Christian values’ not only in their daily lives but in their public lives. While neither ‘Thou shall not hate’ nor ‘Do unto others as you wish others do to you’ are listed in the 10 Commandments, they both have some textual context in the holy book that Abbott, Hanson and others claim to follow. How is changing an environmental imperative to a political argument, denying a benefit the country can obviously afford on the basis that some may abuse it, or treating people poorly in the Australian detention camps, not demonstrating pure and utter hatred to those who don’t meet particular world views of some extremely narrow minded people?

It’s somewhat hypocritical to suggest that ‘good Christian values’ are a part of your life while overseeing hate speech, active persecution of others for daring to hold alternative beliefs or not caring for the world we live in and are leaving for our descendants. You would have to wonder how these people can live with the basic contradiction that is obvious to a large proportion of society – if you have good Christian values, you should live by them.

Someone who should have some idea of what represents ‘good Christian values’ is the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. He has previously made statements on climate change, education, helping those who need a hand, paying your way in life and recently made a statement on refugees which has been widely reported. Even the extreme right wing Breitbart News (yes, the same august journal that accepted the resignation of Yiannopoulos) headlined their report with:
In powerful language, Pope Francis said Thursday that Jesus abhors hypocrisy and it is hypocritical to call oneself a Christian and at the same time not be welcoming to refugees, even if they belong to a different religion.
Pity those who routinely preach their ‘good Christian values’ will not put two and two together. Thou shall not hate.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Climate change, power and coal


You may have noticed it’s been a bit hot lately. In fact, if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month. Let’s just read that again so it really sinks in – if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month.

The UK Government (amongst a lot of other experts in the field) states that Climate Change is happening, noting that
3 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century and in the last 30 years each decade has been hotter than the previous one. This change in temperature hasn’t been the same everywhere; the increase has been greater over land than over the oceans and has been particularly fast in the Arctic.
It’s probably stating the obvious to suggest the UK Government is by nature conservative, as the Conservative Party is the ruling party at present. The same UK Government website goes on to list a number of detrimental effects of life (as they know it) changing in the UK as a result of climate change.

Regardless of the date you choose to start to measure from, and the scale of the graph you choose to draw, there is an upward line going to the right. Great if you’re looking at a company’s sales or share price, not so good if you are looking at the health of the world we want to leave for our descendants.

A number of scientists explain climate change as similar to pouring water into a bath. There is a lot of water in the bath and the water level is continually moving upwards. Dependent on where the spout you are using to pump water into the bath is located, there is a reasonable chance that the waves created by the water entering the bath will appear to reduce the height of the water in the bath on a momentary basis at points along the waveform; your brain will see though that the level is still rising. Climate change is where we are continually pumping chemicals into the atmosphere, which changes the way heat is dissipated. Let’s look at the UK Government’s website again:
Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, such as methane, in the atmosphere create a ‘greenhouse effect’, trapping the Sun’s energy and causing the Earth, and in particular the oceans, to warm. Heating of the oceans accounts for over nine tenths of the trapped energy. Scientists have known about this greenhouse effect since the 19th Century.

The higher the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the warmer the Earth becomes. Recent climate change is happening largely as a result of this warming, with smaller contributions from natural influences like variations in the Sun’s output.

Carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 40% since before the industrial revolution. Other greenhouse gases have increased by similarly large amounts. All the evidence shows that this increase in greenhouse gases is almost entirely due to human activity. The increase is mainly caused by:
  • burning of fossil fuels for energy
  • agriculture and deforestation
  • the manufacture of cement, chemicals and metals
About 43% of the carbon dioxide produced goes into the atmosphere; the rest is absorbed by plants and the oceans. Deforestation reduces the number of trees absorbing carbon dioxide and releases the carbon contained in those trees.
So what does our ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ government do when South Australia again suffers electricity shortages? It claims that the fault for the outages is solely due to the state’s high (by Australian standards) use of renewable generation capacity. To emphasise the fact, Treasurer Morrison acts like a 5 year old taking his new toy to show and tell by bringing a lump of coal into Parliament.

Turnbull started this crusade when the entire South Australia power supply went down in September 2016. Turnbull claimed that the network was not secure:
Today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said several state Labor governments — not just in SA — had set “extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic” targets for renewable energy use.

“If you are stuck in an elevator, if the lights won’t go on, if your fridge is thawing out, everything in the kitchen is thawing out because the power is gone, you are not going to be concerned about the particular source of that power,” he told reporters in Launceston.

“You want to know that the energy is secure.”
While Energy Minister Frydenberg did acknowledge that the September 2016 power failure was caused by a significant weather event, ‘home town hero’ Senator Xenophon claimed that South Australia had become the laughing stock of the nation.

The reality is that the weather caused significant damage to not only the interconnector from Victoria and the national grid, it also caused significant damage to high voltage towers that took power from the base load generation equipment in South Australia around the state, as well as local cables that feed power into people homes. To make it even better, Turnbull knew that the September 2016 blackout had nothing to do with renewable energy.
Turnbull said: “What we know so far is that there was an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets knocking over towers and lines and that was the immediate cause of the blackout.”

However, Turnbull also linked the blackout to South Australia’s use of renewable energy, calling it a “wake-up call” for state leaders who were trying to hit “completely unrealistic” renewable targets.

He said state governments needed to stop the “political gamesmanship” that had seen a state like Queensland set a 50% renewable target when renewables accounted for only 4.5% of its current energy mix.

“What’s the pathway to achieve that? Very hard to see it. It’s a political or ideological statement,” Turnbull said. “We’ve got to recognise that energy security is the key priority and targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security.”
Seems that the facts weren’t allowed to spoil a good story, as this event preceded President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway’s invention of the ‘alternative facts’ term by some months.

Fast forward to 8 February 2017 and 40,000 South Australians underwent the torture, euphemistically called ‘load shedding’ – where the electricity supply doesn’t meet the demand. Intelligent Energy Systems have suppled three graphs which explain the problem. The ‘National’ electricity grid (which doesn’t operate in the NT or WA) works on an economic free market system. The economic theory being that if the demand is there, various operators of the (generally) privatised power stations will bid for the ability to supply power. On 9 February, according to the ABC:
South Australian Treasurer and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis slammed AEMO for choosing not to turn on the second unit at Pelican Point on Wednesday.

"AEMO admitted that they got their demand forecast wrong in SA, and when they realised that, it was easier for them to load shed customers than turn new generators on," he said.

But Mr Koutsantonis also revealed that three generators were out of action due to technical issues.

"There were communication problems on Eyre Peninsula, which meant 75 megawatts of Port Lincoln baseload generation could not be dispatched into the system," he said.
Yes, you read it right, the market regulator chose to ‘load shed’ rather than ask a South Australian power generator to commence generation. In essence, the market regulator chose to withdraw power from 40,000 people rather than generate more power! And Turnbull claims it is because South Australia uses too many renewable energy sources. Isn’t the Liberal Party the party of small business – don’t they understand how the free market works? If they did (and actually wanted to ‘fix’ the problem), surely they would be asking the market regulator A(ustralian) E(nergy) M(arket) O(perator) why it is not allowing the market to operate?

Maybe there is an ulterior motive here. Remember Treasurer Morrison passing a lump of coal around Parliament a couple of weeks ago? Remember Turnbull’s ‘stirring’ speech accusing Opposition Leader Shorten’s apparent desire to live in a waterfront mansion? Remember the brouhaha surrounding the shortage of electricity in a state that does successfully generate a fair proportion of its electricity need from renewables? Perhaps, according to Paula Matthewson, writing on The New Daily’s website they are all related.
Onlookers may have been puzzled to see the coal passed along the government’s frontbench and then among its backbenchers (in direct contravention of the parliamentary rule against the use of props), but the purpose of the Treasurer’s behaviour was clear.

Mr Morrison set out to prove to agitating Liberal conservatives that, if there’s going to be a change of Liberal leader, he is the man to take the fight to Labor on totemic conservative issues such as coal-based electricity.
There are a few points to note here. Apparently Queensland has larger spikes in demand for power than South Australia does. Surely, if there is a reason to question how individual states manage the generation of power, all eyes should be looking at Queensland!
The vast majority of Queensland’s energy is supplied by coal and gas. In 2015, Queensland had just 4% of its supply coming from renewables, compared to South Australia, which had 41%.

“Clearly these figures show that other dynamics like market concentration and gas prices are contributing to these price spikes and volatility, not the penetration of renewable energy,” McConnell [Dylan McConnell from the Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne] said.

While the events in Queensland have not raised an eyebrow, the smaller volatility in South Australia last year hit the front page of newspapers around the country, with politicians and rightwing commentators blaming the state’s reliance on renewable energy, calling for a halt to renewable energy expansion.

The push against renewables was supported by the coal lobby too, with the Minerals Council of Australia saying the reliance on renewables “exposed families and businesses to higher prices, supply instability and greater reliance on imported power”.
The right wing of the Liberal Party also genuinely believes that climate change isn’t happening and carbon pollution reduction processes don’t work! Well, no it doesn’t actually:
Peta Credlin admits the climate change policy under Julia Gillard's Labor government was never a carbon tax, but the coalition used that label to stir up brutal retail politics.

Credlin, the former chief of staff to Tony Abbott when he was prime minister and now a political commentator for Sky News, said the coalition made it a "carbon tax" and a fight about the hip pocket rather than the environment.
And finally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has calculated:
"Clean coal" plants that the Turnbull government has flagged could get clean energy subsidies, are more expensive than solar, wind and gas-fired power and would lead to higher electricity price rises, analysts have warned.

Support for what the government calls "clean coal" stations - ultra-supercritical plants, which still emit greenhouse gas - would also be at odds with a 2015 OECD agreement under which Australia agreed not to fund any type of coal power in developing countries if cleaner options were available.
What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Alternative facts and transparency


Would you believe that I am a 25 year old self-made millionaire and spend my life travelling around the world — only if I can fly in an Etihad A380 equipped with “The Residence” three room suite (only plebs travel First Class apparently!). I also have bankers beating a path to my door to lend me money for my latest development proposal — after all anything I touch turns to a platinum - plated investment opportunity.

You’re right, the statements above are overblown and you could make the claim they are alternative facts (aka completely made up fantasies). The bio listed here is far more accurate, although the alternative facts I have presented sound far more appealing than getting on the bus most mornings to go to work. Rest assured that if I need to borrow money from a bank, I am the one approaching them, cap in hand and demonstrating that they have a better than equal chance of getting their money back one day. For some funny reason, banks seem to want you to prove that you are who you are and, more importantly, have the capacity to repay your debts. In case you’re interested, my credit card limit precludes me from even dreaming about Etihad’s ‘The Residence’ class travel.

Kellyanne Conway must live in that rarefied space where banks don’t look for evidence of a capacity to repay, airlines happily allow you to travel ‘at the pointy end’ and the facts are variable dependent on the message you want to give, regardless of the consequences. Conway is the ‘councillor’ to President Trump who defended some overblown claims by Trump’s Press Secretary (Sean Spicer) by commenting that Spicer’s defence of the claim that more people attended the Trump inauguration than anyone else’s were merely ‘alternative facts’.

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny. Spicer was clearly wrong as the photos of Obama’s 2009 inauguration (above, on the left) and Trump’s 2017 version (on the right) demonstrate. As NBC (America) reported:
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gathered the press to deliver a five-minute statement Saturday in which he issued multiple falsehoods, declaring erroneously the number of people who used the D.C. metro on Friday, that there was a change in security measures this year and that "this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe."

"These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong," Spicer said Saturday.

Asked on "Meet the Press" why Spicer used his first appearance before the press to dispute a minimal issue like the inauguration crowd size, and why he used falsehoods to do so, Conway pushed back.

"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that," she told NBC's Chuck Todd.

She then went on to echo Spicer's claim on Saturday that it wasn't possible to count the crowd, despite Trump's team's accompanying insistence that it was the "largest audience".
The problem is, as reported by NBC:
Conway also suggested that Todd's insistence on asking why Spicer delivered a demonstrably false statement could affect the White House's treatment of the media.

"If we're going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship here," she said.
Trump’s ‘counsellor’, Conway, is suggesting that if an NBC reporter doesn’t ‘toe the line’ and report what he is told to report, NBC may have difficulties in gaining access to the US President’s press conferences. It might be that limited or no access is actually a good thing as it would demonstrate that at least one US based news organisation didn’t (wasn’t permitted to) drink the same Kool-Aid as the rest of the press pack that surrounds Washington DC.

It’s probably a bit hard to ‘toe the line’ when a week later, Conway cited the ‘Bowling Green massacre’ when defending Trump’s 90 day ban on any immigration from certain middle eastern countries.

There was no massacre in Bowling Green USA:
Conway was referring to the case of two Iraqi citizens living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who were arrested in 2011 and later convicted of attempting to send weapons, explosives and money to al Qaeda in Iraq for the purpose of killing American soldiers.

"Neither person is charged with plotting any attacks on American soil," David Hale, then U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, said at the time. "These charges relate to activities that occurred when they were in Iraq, first of all. Secondly, they relate to conspiracy to aid al Qaeda in Iraq."

The men, Mohanad Shareef Hammadi and Waad Ramadan Alwan, admitted to using explosive devices against U.S. soldiers in Iraq in the past, but there were no deaths connected to the plot they were involved in while living in Bowling Green.
When the (in this case inconvenient) truth was pointed out to Conway, she claimed that she was referring to the ‘Bowling Green terrorists’, and that Obama had also tightened immigration requirements for people coming from Iraq and what Trump was doing was no different.

Not only was the ban ‘stayed’ by a (US) federal judge in Seattle, as the judge agreed with the argument that the ban was unconstitutional, the ban does not affect all middle eastern countries. It’s entirely co-incidental of course that the ban doesn’t include countries where Trump has business interests. This is in spite of Saudi Arabian and Egyptian nationals being almost entirely responsible for the 9/11 attack in the US — which caused the death of over 3000 people.

Of course we don’t know for sure that Trump personally still has business dealings with Saudi Arabia and Egypt as he has yet to release his financial affairs — which is ironic as he was one of those screaming for the release of Obama’s birth certificate claiming that, as Obama was born outside the USA, he could not be President. (Obama was born in Hawaii.) Others however have gone into Trump’s business empire with some rigour. Published on The Guardian’s website, Aryeh Neier comments:
In identifying Muslim-majority countries from which refugees and visas will be blocked because of concerns about terrorism, Trump left out Saudi Arabia. Yet most of those who hijacked airliners to attack New York and Washington DC on 9/11, the deadliest terrorist episode in history, were Saudis.

Does Trump shy away from offending Saudi Arabia because he has business dealings with wealthy Saudis? Or because he expects them to curry favor by patronizing his new hotel in Washington? We don’t know. By refusing to release his tax returns and by refusing to divest himself of his businesses, he raises such questions.

Another country left off the list is Egypt. Yet the leader of the 9/11 hijackers was Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian. Was Egypt omitted because Trump is developing a warm relationship with the country’s brutal dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi? Again, we don’t know
Trump has domestic problems as well with his less than transparent business dealings where Trump is the ultimate owner of a number of buildings and facilities that have leases in place with the US government. For a start, one of Trump’s companies has a lease over an old building owned by the US Post Office. His company has turned it into an expensive hotel. The property lease has a clause that specifically prohibits any ‘elected official of the government of the United States’ from holding ‘any share of part of this Lease’. While Trump has nominally handed his business interests over to his family to run, Trump can revoke the trust, which was amended three days before his inauguration, at any time according to The Guardian.

While the embellishments of the Trump Presidency in Washington DC really are not that important in Australia, there are some similarities with Australian politicians. The most notable of this ‘select’ group is former Prime Minister Abbott who led an opposition and government that promised $100 lamb roasts should the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme come into effect; a faster and more affordable NBN which clearly isn’t the case — fibre to the premises as originally promised by the ALP can cope with 100mbps or better — and a mature and stable federal government.

After refusing to discuss his donations to the Liberal Party prior to the 2016 election, Malcolm Turnbull (or President Trumbull if you believe the Trump administration) finally revealed that he donated a staggering $1.75million in the current financial year which means that his largesse did not have to be reported until sometime in 2018. Given the most recent election was on July 2, 2016, Turnbull must have made the donation on election eve or soon after the election to help pay his party’s election debts. Given that $1.75 million is a sum of money of far larger value than the majority of the Australian population will ever be in a position to give away, you would have to wonder about the state of the Liberal Party’s balance sheet and what influence the donation gets Turnbull over the workings of the Liberal Party and by association the Australian government.

Not that the Liberals are the only ones that construct alternative facts and hide relevant information. Pauline Hanson, who bills her ‘One Nation’ party as the party of non-politicians, was first elected to a political office as a councillor for the City of Ipswich in Queensland in 1994. She entered federal parliament in 1996. Twenty-one years later, Hanson is in parliament again after failing to be elected on a number of occasions over the past two decades. Nearly a quarter of a century in most professions would suggest that you are making a living from the profession. The only real change to Hanson’s divisiveness and negativity is that the Asians who were going to ‘swamp Australia’ in 1996 were replaced by Africans in 2006 and by 2016 they too had been replaced by the Muslims, still going to ‘swamp Australia’. Of course, Hanson has never had to actually demonstrate how she would implement her policies.

Trump is innately conservative and obviously has people around him who believe they can say anything and get away with it. He also seems to have a lack of understanding about the need for transparency and compliance with rules that have been developed to protect both the elected leaders of the USA and the people of the USA. Abbott, Turnbull and Hanson clearly believe in similar theories, as some of their actions demonstrate.

The issue for all of us is that people like this selling of simple naive political concepts, that translate well to media, diminish the standard and quality of political discourse for all of us — as it seems the only way to get the attention of those listening to the populism is to disappear down the same rabbit hole. So instead of having a rational debate over something as critical as efforts to mitigate climate change, we were treated to the then alternative prime minister of this country, Tony Abbott, running around the countryside in a hi-viz vest shouting no new taxes. While he did eliminate that particular ‘tax’ once he convinced some of the Senate crossbenchers to support the move (which took some time), he increased and implemented other taxes. Our current political leader is supporting a failed process that is scamming those in our community who have accessed social security benefits while supporting reductions in taxes paid by business.

Australia thankfully is not the USA. Australia can do better than a political leader who clearly doesn’t see a problem in being xenophobic, economical with the truth while brooking no discussion on issues that are relevant. How about we ask our politicians to treat us as adults and have a discussion, rather than repeat populist claptrap?


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

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Computer says ‘no’


Once upon a time, someone came up with an economic theory that robbery was good for the economy. The theory was along the lines that the robbers get some extra cash and most of it will reappear in the economy at some point soon after the robbery; the bank or shop is insured for the loss so it gets its money back; and as the number of robberies per annum doesn’t exceed the insurance premiums that banks and shops pay, the insurance companies are not out of pocket either. Of course, the theory is rubbish as stealing money (regardless of the rationale) is just wrong: staff and innocent bystanders who are the real victims of robberies are likely to need considerable physical and mental health support for a long time and so on.

Some apparently have a similar attitude to Centrelink benefits. In reality Centrelink pays out billions a year to those who qualify, according to some criteria or other, for financial assistance from the government. In any general population, there will be some who determine (for their own reasons) that their need is more important than others and, as this obviously not going to be met by compliance with ‘the system’, they will rort the system to get what they believe is their genuine entitlement. Centrelink’s billions are a good target as they have plenty more money to give away and a little extra won’t hurt.

In December 2016, Australia trundled off again to the silly season. It could be so named because of the number of public holidays, that people are nicer to each other than usual or there are a number of religious commemorations jammed into the month-long period. The ‘silly season’ is also a period when institutions (lets pick on governments and political parties here for examples) bring out unpopular announcements that they hope will be hidden by the decrease in attention generally shown by those who are searching for the latest toy at 2am in the morning, concerned about the results of the ‘summer of sport’ in their particular field of interest, or dreading the forced interaction with cousin Eric at the in-laws yet again. So what does the government try to hide in plain sight in December 2016? The obvious answer is that Centrelink unveiled their new ‘wizz-bang’ fraud detection system.

No one here is suggesting for a second that those who do commit fraud should get away with it. The concept is as silly as bank robbery being good for the economy. However, to be effective, a fraud detection system needs to have some rigour behind it to ensure that those who are doing the right thing are not unfairly targeted. Centrelink’s doesn’t.

When you apply for a benefit from Centrelink you are required to provide certain information regarding your financial affairs (as well as personal information so they can identify you). Some Centrelink benefits are targeted at those who ‘need a hand for a little while’ — such as those who have run out of sick and holiday leave while suffering a serious illness or the temporarily unemployed. It is highly probable that for a large proportion of the financial year in question, those that ‘need a hand’ would not qualify for a benefit as they earn too much (not that you have to earn much to disqualify yourself from most benefits). As you would expect, Centrelink looks at your income at the time a benefit is needed rather than the whole year’s income to determine if a short-term benefit is payable and the decision is made on that information.

All well and good you might suggest, and you’d be right, except that when Centrelink’s computer is given information from the Tax Office’s computer, which is only interested in your income for the year, there is a problem. The Tax Office may report that a person earned well in excess of the benefit cut off in a particular financial year (currently they are looking back six years). Centrelink’s automatic fraud prevention system then questions why you received a benefit for a part of the year. Rather than referring it to a person within Centrelink who can see that for three months of the year, the person was residing in the ICU at the local hospital, between jobs or in some other circumstance that determined that they ‘needed a hand’, the automated letter is sent out and a debt collector engaged.

And there’s the problem. Rather than quickly realise that a mistake has been made, correct the error and actively chase those who do defraud the system, Centrelink senior management and government ministers seem to be comfortable with something like 20,000 letters a week being dispatched with demands for payment being made prior to any discussion of the accuracy of the claim being considered and most of the letters being blatantly wrong. It could be considered to be a fraudulent business scheme; a swindle which is coincidentally the definition of a scam. Ironic really, when another section of the federal government runs the Scamwatch website. In fact, Deputy PM Joyce and acting ‘responsible’ minister Christian Porter are singing the praises of the system.

There are many others who have written about this issue and the seeming double standard surrounding parliamentary members’ travel claims — that frequently are in the tens of thousands. The co-incidence of now ex-Health Minister Sussan Ley being on the Gold Coast ‘for work’ when a unit she was interested in purchasing was up for auction has been done to death, as have the claims of a number of other ministers. The Shovel has an interesting take on the events as well, which given the history of this government, has that slight ‘ring of truth’ to it.

The interesting thing about Sussan Ley’s ‘impulse’ purchase of the unit on the Gold Cost is that it wasn’t a recent purchase. It was made in 2015 and while the reputed $800,000 unit on the Gold Coast may sound excessive to you, me and clearly most Australians, really the unit isn’t that expensive for where it is.

The real question is who mentioned the purchase to the media in the middle of public outrage over the government’s debt collection practices — regardless of whether the practices are legally or morally correct?

Of course, since the unfortunate relegation of Sussan Ley, others were jockeying (to a greater or lesser level of success) for the position of health minister. The ‘prime minister in waiting’ Tony Abbott did his chances no favour when he chose to speak out on the renewable energy target for 2020 (that his government implemented). Pauline Hanson certainly wants Abbott back in the Ministry, which may also be more of a hindrance than a help in the short and long term.

Turnbull has replaced Ley with Greg Hunt (former environment minister for both Abbott and Turnbull) who seems, in current LNP terms, a safe pair of hands. Environmentalists may decry his actions while environment minister, but he did generally keep environmental issues off the front page which is something other portfolios in the Turnbull government can’t seem to achieve:
Having been environment minister in the Abbott government, Hunt is used to difficult portfolios. In that role he oversaw the abolition of the carbon tax and the creation of the government-funded Direct Action scheme that pays polluters to reduce their emissions.

In 2016 he was named "best minister in the world" by the World Government Summit — an honour recognising his work to protect the Great Barrier Reef and his contribution to the Paris climate talks.
Ley has taken a bullet for the team and the world rolls on. Other ministers, including Bishop and Cormann, are also being questioned on travel expenses incurred on official business at what seem to be exclusive social events. Clearly there is more at play here than the ill-advised purchase of a unit on the Gold Coast.

Not being an insider, how does that work? Is there somebody somewhere who trawls through the workings of government looking for potentially embarrassing material that can be released at the opportune time to make a political point; is it sheer incompetence; or, worse still, is it a belief in one’s own importance so great that somehow thousands of public moneys used ‘on official business’ when you happen to go along to a property auction in your private capacity ‘while you’re there’ is acceptable practice?

In all probability, it is one of the latter two possibilities. Just before the 2015 ‘silly season’, you might remember that Treasurer Morrison announced that he was to delay the release of a taxation discussion until 2016. He would not rule anything in or out of the discussion paper which led to every interest group in the country urging the priority of their special interest as being more important than others’ special interests. The inevitable debate went on so long and hurt the government’s standing rolling into 2016 to the extent that they nearly lost the double dissolution election.

The Abbott/Turnbull government has been plagued with stuffups. From the NBN fail where the second rate hybrid system promoted by Turnbull (while communications minister) as cheaper and quicker while delivering slower and no cheaper service to Australians; through to the inhumane treatment of humans at detention centres owned and managed by the Australian government — where even the government Audit Office has reported that political expediency has overruled good governance in the supervision of the contractors engaged to do the work:
Out of $2.3 billion paid over 40 months, $1.1 billion was approved by officers without the appropriate authorisation and another $1.1 billion was paid with "no departmental record" of who had authorised the payments.

The ANAO also concluded the contracts themselves lacked effective guidelines and management mechanisms, owing partly to the "great haste" with which the detention centres were established in 2012‒13. Many faults persisted in later contracts, the ANAO said.
And to prove that this government will commit the same errors again and again, it appears that the current Centrelink debt collection system will be expanded to include those on disability, age and family related payments.

The Abbott/Turnbull government is out of touch with the reality of Australian life. The continual scandals, the exorbitant waste of money on things like detention centres and travel expenses while sending out debt letters to those who have needed to use their entitlements under the welfare system, while embroiled in continual argument over which faction of the Liberal Party should be running the country is unedifying at best. No wonder the Hansons, Xenophons and so on are getting some political traction.

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

Recent Posts
The barbie bigot looks back on the year
Ken Wolff, 18 December 2016
G’day ev’ryone. Welcome back to the barbie. The big news of the year has been elections, both here in Oz an’ in septic-land.

I’ve been a bit quiet since the election ‘cause, after all, the result was a bit hard to …
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In 2017 – let’s be the change we want to see
2353NM, 1 January 2017
Well look at that. 2016 is finished and 2017 has arrived to present us with more challenges. To be brutally honest, 2016 wasn’t the best of years for those who prefer progressive policy, equality and fairness for all. Later this month, Donald Trump becomes president of …
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Watch this space in 2017
Ken Wolff, 15 January 2017
As with most political issues, the following few questions are inter-related: Turnbull’s future may well depend on the economy, on whether or not a new conservative party forms and whether there is a Trump-inspired trade or currency war between China and the US; our economy may well depend on …
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In 2017 – let’s be the change we want to see


Well look at that. 2016 is finished and 2017 has arrived to present us with more challenges. To be brutally honest, 2016 wasn’t the best of years for those who prefer progressive policy, equality and fairness for all. Later this month, Donald Trump becomes president of the USA; at the time of writing Malcolm Turnbull still survives as prime minister of Australia; and the likes of Cory Bernardi and George Christensen seem to be in charge of the LNP’s policy settings, probably in spite of what Turnbull would like to think. In the past, articles at this time of the year have suggested that no one really cares about politics because the beach, tennis and cricket are too appealing. While the beach hasn’t lost its charms (depending on the weather and the crowds), the tennis has the same identities as 2016 and the test cricket is a matter of concern as 2016 concludes.

If it makes us feel any better, it seems that as 2016 ended, Turnbull was under the pump with the state premiers openly critical of Turnbull’s backdown on looking at pricing schemes to limit carbon emissions. Probably even more surprising was the Business Council of Australia slamming the government for ruling out such a scheme. It’s not often that ALP premiers and the Business Council agree on something so fundamental. On top of that, there are outbreaks of logic about the emptiness of Turnbull’s 'Jobson Grothe' (sorry, that should read ‘Jobs and Growth') slogan that nearly lost him the election held mid-year. While there have been 25 years of economic growth, the September 2016 quarter resulted in a 0.5% contraction, the first for 5 years. As the 'leftie elites' at the ABC reported:
The only way for millennials to save, for households to pay down their debts, for all of us to have good job prospects and more security and to avoid that credit crunch, is for the Government to go back on everything they have been saying for years, and to increase its spending.

An increasing number of experts are now going against the mainstream, and making the point that for the rest of us to save, the Government has to borrow.

"Voters have been force-fed this neoliberal line that is without foundation in theory, history, experience or practice," said Professor Mitchell.
Australia’s treatment of refugees is now an international talking point. The New York Times recently published a feature article on the issue noting that:
In Peter Dutton, the immigration minister, the country has its own little Trump. Last May he portrayed the asylum seekers as illiterates bent on stealing Australian jobs, and he has suggested “mistakes” were made in letting in too many Lebanese Muslim immigrants. His soft bigotry resonates with enough voters to sway elections.

At the same time, Manus and Nauru are a growing embarrassment to Australia, a party to all major human rights treaties. “There is an increasing realization that this is unsustainable,” Madeline Gleeson, an Australian human rights lawyer, told me.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull knows this and needs a way out. After Omid Masoumali, a young Iranian, burned himself to death on Nauru this year, a cartoon by Cathy Wilcox captured Australia’s shame. Above a man in flames was the caption “Not drowning.”
Before we all decide to give up amongst the doom and gloom, there are a few things we should try. According to Jay Rayner’s article in The Guardian, a tub of Haagen Dazs salted caramel ice cream may help. While I can’t offer any personal experience, it might be worth a try.

Or we can take the example of some notable Australians who have suffered greatly at a personal level and turned the suffering into a positive message for the greater good.

Daniel Morcombe was waiting for a bus on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in December 2003. He was going to a shopping centre to buy Christmas presents. He never made it to the shopping centre or home afterwards. Daniel was 13. For eight years, his whereabouts were unknown. In August 2011, a person who used to live on the Sunshine Coast was charged with Daniel’s abduction and murder and he was convicted in March 2014.

Bruce and Denise Morcombe are Daniel’s parents. They had every right in the world to retreat into their remaining family and mourn Daniel’s disappearance but they didn’t. In 2005, they set up the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, and pledged:
The Foundation's key role in the community is the education of all children about their personal safety. By directly assisting educators and parents through the funding and development of child safety educational resources as well as assisting young victims of crime, the Foundation continues to empower all Australians to make their local communities safer places for all children.

The Foundation is strongly committed to the development and education of Respectful Relationships for children and teenagers in our schools and communities and also assisting in reducing the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the Child Protection sector.
The Foundation has developed and made freely available a number of resources and phone apps that target school children across Australia. Most of the material is free. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation also raises awareness through activities such as the 'Day for Daniel' where schools are encouraged to discuss 'stranger danger' and similar issues with students. Bruce and Denise Morcombe’s list of achievements is extensive and ongoing, with seemingly no chance of slowing down in the near future:.
The Daniel Morcombe Foundation remains committed to Child Safety Education and developing Harm Prevention resources that help educate children, teachers, parents, carers and their families to 'Keep Kids Safe'.

In addition, the Foundation now has a strong focus on building Respectful Relationships within our schools and communities through proactive education. Coupled with our core messages of Recognise, React, Report, this will enable children and young adults to act positively and appropriately while staying safe.

The Foundation continues to develop new cutting-edge resources that are required in our ever-changing cyber and physical world. We are committed to fund new projects and initiatives in partnership with Universities, Police, community and educational organisations to ensure an on-going commitment to child safety and respectful relationships. These resources will continue to be made available and accessible to all communities (free of charge) throughout Australia.
Clearly the Morcombe family made the decision to tell Daniel’s story rather than bottle it up. They had the good sense to gather people around them who knew how to get a story out, and publicise the story relentlessly. Like a lot of public good programs, no one can really say how many kids’ lives have been saved by the work of the Morcombes in the past 11 years and how many will be saved in the future, but the real point is this: instead of asking why it happened and blaming the bus company (the bus Daniel was going to catch broke down and a replacement one was full prior to getting to Daniel’s location, so it didn’t stop); the police for not finding Daniel immediately; themselves or any one of the other thousand or so coincidences that could have saved Daniel, they resolved to do something to 'fix it'. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation is successful and rightly so. I know my kids have been exposed to the 'Day for Daniel' message and are well aware of some protocols that may help them to escape a similar fate to Daniel’s — as are thousands of other school aged kids around Australia. Rather than being consumed by it, the Morcombes turned their grief and agony into a movement that clearly makes the society we live in a better place to be.

Rosie Batty was the 2015 Australian of the Year due to her work in countering domestic violence in Australia. Unfortunately, Batty has personal experience of domestic violence as well as witnessing her son being murdered by an ex-partner at Tyabb, Victoria, during 2014. As the website for the Luke Batty Foundation states:
Everyone in Australia was hugely affected by the manner in which Luke was killed and communities from far and wide responded generously by sending to Luke’s mum Rosie, hundreds of cards, an abundance of beautiful flowers, and donations, both large and small
The Luke Batty Foundation website and Batty’s telling of her story has certainly brought awareness of issues around domestic violence against both women and men in this country. Once there is awareness, there is the opportunity to take action to hopefully eliminate the problem from our society. Batty’s ongoing work will continue to promote solutions to the issue of domestic violence.

Like the Morcombes, no one would have blamed Batty if she had withdrawn into an environment where she had caring people around her and questioned how and why the events surrounding the murder of her son occurred. She hasn’t — obviously deciding that her suffering can be better used in creating a public good.

The Morcombes, Rosie Batty and others who have turned adversity into good can teach us all a lesson in relation what looks like the rebirth of the ultra-conservative/alt-right/delcons or whatever terminology you want to use.

There is a version of an old saying that suggests that if at first you don’t succeed — don’t try skydiving. While flippant, the answer to the excesses of those like Bernardi, Christensen and Dutton in pushing Australia into being a mean and dispirited collection of minions is to keep pushing the case for the alternative. You too are perfectly capable of writing an email or letter to a politician that is party to something that offends you. You too can write a post on a blog. There is no magical formula that is shared by 'the elite'. Should you choose The Political Sword as your media of choice we’ll even help you (just click on the 'Contact' link at the top of this and give us an idea of what you want to write about). You too can 'like', 'share' or post something on your social media account. A ground swell of support can work miracles.

Marketing experts tell us that personal recommendation has far more influence than advertising or statements by those who are not trusted as highly (such as politicians). The same people will also suggest that emails and correspondence critical of the actions of public figures and companies are read and if there is a sufficient volume, action will be taken to address the concerns. Some will tell you that you have no idea: ensure that you have some facts to back up your argument and be prepared to lay the facts out calmly and logically.

Bloggers and social media posters do get noticed. Greg Jericho enjoyed a quiet life blogging as 'Grogs Gamut' until Mark Scott, then managing director of the ABC read something Jericho wrote on his blog about the quality of journalism during the 2010 election. Scott used the comment in a missive to his staff about the quality of the election news coverage. Jericho now writes for The Guardian and the ABC websites after The Australian outed him claiming 'the public interest'.

So, in 2017 don’t just sit there and yell at the TV when Turnbull or his minders put yet another nail in the coffin of the society where people are supposed to be equal, where we care about each other and those who are not as well off as we are, and we care about the quality of life of those that follow us — do something about it.

Apart from being part of the change you want to see, you’ll feel much better if you do try to change the world.

If issues discussed in this article have affected you or those close to you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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

Happy New Year from the people behind The Political Sword. The site is being regularly monitored so please keep it clean and play nice or we will be forced to use the delete button. Apart from an article scheduled to appear mid-January, our regular commentary recommences on 29 January. We look forward to your readership and active participation this year.

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The real bullies
2353NM, 4 December 2016
A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how …
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Ken Wolff, 11 December 2016
The old adage says 'the buck stops here' and it applies to managers, CEOs, government ministers and similar people when they take responsibility for what happens in their organisations, including mistakes. When applied in full it leads to people …
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The barbie bigot looks back on the year
Ken Wolff, 18 December 2016
G’day ev’ryone. Welcome back to the barbie. The big news of the year has been elections, both here in Oz an’ in septic-land.

I’ve been a bit quiet since the election ‘cause, after all, the result was a bit hard to …
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The real bullies


A Brisbane 13 year old committed suicide last week because, according to his mother, he was being bullied. He identified as being gay and apparently was being bullied at school. Rather than join the chorus of those who instantly know what was going on and speculate for a week or so until something else comes along, how about we look at the culture that seems to be genuinely regretful when a tragedy such as the death of a Brisbane school boy occurs but votes for and allows much greater crimes against our society to be celebrated.

Prime Minister Turnbull appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 a few weeks ago and left no one in doubt that in his opinion the ‘elite media’ at the ABC was keeping the issue of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in the public view. Now Section 18C is the bit of the legislation that doesn’t allow you to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ someone based on their race or ethnicity . The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) has been a leading light in the calls for this section to be repealed since radio announcer and newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of an offence under the section in 2013 in regard to two articles he wrote in 2009. The IPA claims that Section 18C restricts ‘freedom of speech’. According to the IPA:
First, it has become a major touchstone for a growing debate about freedom of speech in Australia. Since the Bolt case in 2011 there has been a sustained campaign in favour of repealing 18C. This campaign was partly born out of the deep concern about the provision being used to silence a prominent and well-respected columnist in a mature liberal democracy such as Australia.

But it also brought to the fore the idea that governments have passed laws which restrict this most fundamental human right, and that something must be done to turn back that tide.

Second, political activists and their lawyers have come to realise that section 18C can be used to aggressively pursue political goals.

The case against Bolt was not merely a group of offended individuals making a legal complaint in an effort to remedy personal loss. It is possible that the complainants could have made out a defamation suit against Bolt. But the case was pursued using 18C as a battering ram because of the negative perception that would be created by a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The problem with the IPA’s (and by association Turnbull and his conservative LNP colleagues) argument is the existence of Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act. According to the Human Rights Commission website:
Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act contains exemptions which protect freedom of speech. These ensure that artistic works, scientific debate and fair comment on matters of public interest are exempt from section 18C, providing they are said or done reasonably and in good faith.
In the same week as the schoolboy died in Brisbane, Australia’s Immigration Minister claimed that his predecessors (ironically from the same side of politics) in the 1970’s did the wrong thing by allowing refugees from Lebanon to enter the country because some of their grandchildren were now radicalised Muslims. According to news.com.au, Dutton made the argument:
Australians were “sick” of over the top political correctness, the Minister told media after a Greens Senator said his comments might be factual but they weren’t “productive”.

Mr Dutton rejected suggestions his comments were whipping up racism.

Instead, he blamed the “tricky elite”, Opposition leader Bill Shorten and Greens MPs for making the remarks a big deal to win political points.

“I want to have an honest discussion,” he said.
Dutton may have evidence to back up his original claim:
The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second and third generation Lebanese-Muslim background …
But he conveniently overlooks the fact that every person charged with a crime in Australia since 1788 is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants. As news.com.au reported:
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten issued a statement calling on Mr Dutton to apologise for his remarks.

“Enough is enough,” Mr Shorten said.

“Our hardworking migrant communities shouldn’t have to tolerate this kind of ignorant stupidity and he needs to immediately apologise.

“It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to show some leadership and pull his Immigration Minister into line.”
Shorten is right to a point: enough is enough and Turnbull should pull his Immigration Minister into line; however, Shorten’s political party still supports the indefinite detention of refugees in sub-human conditions, or their refoulment to their original country, contrary to the 1951 Refugee Convention (to which Australia is a signatory). Shorten is sitting on both sides of the ‘barbed wire’ fence here.

What is really interesting, however, is Turnbull and Dutton using the term ‘elites’ as an insult. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, elite has two definitions, although it is doubtful if Turnbull and Dutton are referring to the one involving typewriters. So we are left with one definition — broadly, the best part or the socially superior. Others have already done the Turnbull is ‘more elite’ than you or I thing seriously or in fun than it’s possible to do here, so it’s not worth repeating the blindingly obvious.

While Dutton may not as be as well off as Turnbull, he’s not going to be ‘short of a bob’ as he gets older — unlike a lot of those in Dickson he claims to represent. Dutton will be sitting on a parliamentary pension when he leaves parliament as well as his superannuation as a police officer (for which of course he has to wait until his late 50s or 60 to access, along with the rest of us) rather than eking the increasingly hard to get pension out until the next payment.

Paul Bongiorno, writing in The Saturday Paper suggested:
Whatever way you cut it, Australian politics in the past week travelled further down the low road of ignorance, prejudice and bigotry. It’s the new fashion propelled by the extraordinary success in Britain and the United States of politicians who push these buttons.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, already a practitioner in the dark arts, quickly took his cue in an interview with Andrew Bolt on Sky News. Bolt suggested that former prime minister Malcolm Fraser got the Lebanese refugee program wrong in the late 1970s. Dutton agreed “mistakes were made”. When parliament resumed, Labor wanted to know what these mistakes were. The answer was profoundly jarring.
Of course Dutton’s response was that a number of the people most recently charged with terrorist related offences were Lebanese Muslims, a failure of the Fraser Government. Bongiorno went on to suggest:
What should be remembered is that Dutton, who is fast becoming the leading conservative voice in the Liberal party, is a Queenslander. A clue to his approach could be the alarm at the spike in support for One Nation of which his fellow Queenslander, Attorney-General George Brandis, speaks. A hot microphone picked up his frank conversation with Victorian Liberal party powerbroker Michael Kroger this week. In what he thought were private remarks, Brandis revealed support for One Nation is already running at 16 per cent in the Sunshine State. He is convinced it will win seats at the next state poll.

In 1998, One Nation peaked at 22 per cent to capture 11 seats in the state parliament and deny the Nationals and Liberals government. Adding to the alarm is the Palaszczuk Labor government’s reinstatement of compulsory preferential voting. According to the sotto voce Brandis, this could lead to a split between the merged Liberal and National parties that form the LNP. The ABC’s election analyst Antony Green believes that had preferential voting existed at the last state election, Labor would have won a majority on Greens preferences.
Politicians playing politics is to be expected and both Turnbull and Dutton have been around long enough to be ‘good at their game’. However, as the leaders of the country surely they should be the moral elite as well as the financial elite. As Shorten suggested, Turnbull should have pulled his immigration minister into line. As Bongiorno wrote:
Fraser’s immigration minister, Ian Macphee, was scathing in his reaction to Dutton. In a statement released through the Refugee Council, he said the attack was “outrageous”. He said: “We have had a succession of inadequate immigration ministers in recent years but Dutton is setting the standards even lower. Yet Turnbull recently declared him to be ‘an outstanding immigration minister’. The Liberal Party has long ceased to be liberal.
From Turnbull, all we heard was crickets (nothing).

Not that the politicians are the only ones who seem to be practicing the ‘game’ of kicking groups of people while they are down. Fairfax reported in the last week of November that a number of Caltex franchisees seem to be paying their staff considerably under the award rate of pay for working all hours of the day or night in an environment that has a number of hazards to the physical and mental well being of the employees. Caltex isn’t the only organisation that has been accused of underpaying staff with, according to Fairfax:
One in four Australian workers who checked their pay through a union-run online wage calculator found out they were being ripped off, with staff in the restaurant business the worst affected.

Based on nearly 20,000 workers' pay details entered into the Fair Pay Campaign Calculator over three weeks, more than half of all restaurant industry submissions (60 per cent) showed staff were being denied minimum rates of pay.
And it gets worse:
"It's horrifying," said Maurice Blackburn employment principal Giri Sivaraman.

"It's horrifying to think that so many people across a wide variety of industries are getting underpaid.

"This isn't a case of a few bad apples — you can't isolate it to one type of job, one industry, or one employer — this is systemic wage theft, and it's just so widespread."

Another troubling result from the data related to employment in Australia's pubs and clubs, where nearly 92 per cent of casual staff who used the calculator to check their wages found out they were being underpaid.
Sivaraman is already assisting a number of people who were underpaid by 7-Eleven franchisees in the related scandal earlier this year.

It’s probably unfortunate for Caltex that they are a public company and under Australian listing laws, they operate in an environment of continuous disclosure. So we know their profit for 2014 was $493 million and the 2015 ‘record’ profit was estimated to be between $615 and $635 million at the time the Sydney Morning Herald reported in December 2015. Their franchisees and other smaller businesses (along with the corporate structure of 7-Eleven) have considerably fewer requirements for publicly reported financial results.

While Caltex is probably not responsible legally for the actions of its franchisees, it is responsible for the contracts it has with the franchisees and, as they have been in the industry for a long time, they should by all rights know the costs involved in the 24 hour a day operation of a petrol shop. In a similar way, 7-Eleven corporate should know the costs of running a corner shop or petrol shop. It seems on the face of it that either Caltex and 7-Eleven both charge the franchisees too much or the franchisees are greedy. Regardless, if you were a small shareholder in a large firm that was involved in underpayment of wages, you would have to be concerned at the senior management of the company who stood by and watched the business’s name be trashed due to taking advantage of those who could least respond to bullying and intimidation.

So how does all this relate to a Brisbane schoolboy who committed suicide?

According to the boy’s mother, he was bullied because he believed he was different to the ‘ordinary’. Regardless of the matter of the school knowing about the claims or acting on them, some of the students at the school seemed to think that it was acceptable practice to tease or bully someone who was ‘different’. Do you wonder where they got the idea that their actions were acceptable behaviour? Could it be they were following the behaviour of Turnbull or Dutton (or Abbott)? Surely the actions of big business of imposing conditions on contractors that conspire to ensure they cannot comply with Australian laws for the payment of staff while making a profit is also bullying.

It is a sad indictment on Australia, if at the same time as we rightfully decry bullying at schools and similar institutions, we allow our political and business elite (in the true sense of the word) to get away with bullying consumers of a certain media channel, grandchildren of migrants from the 1970’s or those who have to work in lower paying and (let’s face it) rather insecure employment.

Teenage boys who suicide should be mourned – and those that victimise or bully anyone should be called out. Pity our national elite seem not to think so.

If you or someone you know is suffering distress, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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

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Let’s welcome President Trump


Yes, you read the title correctly. Donald J Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America after amassing more ‘Electoral College’ votes on 8 November 2016. It doesn’t matter that Clinton won the popular vote as the ‘Electoral College’ is where you need to outperform. The reality is that close to 45% of the population used their democratic right (in the US anyway) of not voting for any Presidential candidate. It’s easy to make the assumption that a lot of people either didn’t care, didn’t like the candidates or just couldn’t be bothered. Some of those may now be regretting their choice.

The internet is awash with articles by full time and citizen journalists telling us why Clinton lost or Trump won. To be honest, there is probably a grain of truth in a lot of the discussion. This isn’t another ‘we woz robbed’ or ‘wot went wrong’ monologue, history is history and Trump may last as President from 20 January 2017 to 20 January 2021 or beyond. Despite the apparently common theme in Australia that Trump is not a good thing, are we not seeing the wood for the trees here? Michael Moore of Bowling for Columbine and other documentary movies’ fame actually tipped not only that Trump would win the election last July, but which US states Trump would pick up:
You need to stop living in denial and face the truth which you know deep down is very, very real. Trying to soothe yourself with the facts — “77% of the electorate are women, people of color, young adults under 35 and Trump can’t win a majority of any of them!” — or logic — “people aren’t going to vote for a buffoon or against their own best interests!” — is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from trauma. Like when you hear a loud noise on the street and you think, “oh, a tire just blew out,” or, “wow, who’s playing with firecrackers?” because you don’t want to think you just heard someone being shot with a gun. It’s the same reason why all the initial news and eyewitness reports on 9/11 said “a small plane accidentally flew into the World Trade Center.” We want to — we need to — hope for the best because, frankly, life is already a s**t show and it’s hard enough struggling to get by from paycheck to paycheck. We can’t handle much more bad news. So our mental state goes to default when something scary is actually, truly happening. The first people plowed down by the truck in Nice spent their final moments on earth waving at the driver whom they thought had simply lost control of his truck, trying to tell him that he jumped the curb: “Watch out!,” they shouted. “There are people on the sidewalk!”
Moore suggested:
I believe Trump is going to focus much of his attention on the four blue states in the rustbelt of the upper Great Lakes — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four traditionally Democratic states — but each of them have elected a Republican governor since 2010 (only Pennsylvania has now finally elected a Democrat). In the Michigan primary in March, more Michiganders came out to vote for the Republicans (1.32 million) that the Democrats (1.19 million). Trump is ahead of Hillary in the latest polls in Pennsylvania and tied with her in Ohio. Tied? How can the race be this close after everything Trump has said and done? Well maybe it’s because he’s said (correctly) that the Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest. Trump is going to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade policies that have royally screwed the people of these four states. When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and Trump walked away with a big victory that should have gone to the governor next-door, John Kasich.
Moore also talks about ‘angry white men’ who can’t adjust to equality of race or gender, Clinton’s negatives, the Democrats who supported Sanders not necessarily supporting the Democrats eventual nominee with the same gusto as ‘their’ candidate and those who were always going to vote for Trump because doing so gives the royal finger to established politics.

And you know what, Moore is right. If you are a factory worker in Michigan who no longer has a job because the cars you used to make are now imported — or even a mining worker in the Hunter Valley or Central Queensland who has lost their job because of global markets either not requiring or finding a cheaper alternative to ‘their’ product — you too would think about destroying the system that on the face of it looks after itself, but not you.

Rightly or wrongly Clinton wasn’t a great candidate. Sure, she knew how the system worked and had the experience, as she has been a part of the system for a long time. Unfortunately, she also had made some decisions in the past that were marketed as demonstrating Clinton didn’t follow the rules when it didn’t suit her. The perception therefore is that she is there to look after herself, rather than the unemployed labourer or farm worker suffering because of changing economic circumstances.

So if you think that Clinton could refute Trump’s appeal, in the words of Moore:
… you obviously missed the past year of 56 primaries and caucuses where 16 Republican candidates tried that and every kitchen sink they could throw at Trump and nothing could stop his juggernaut.
Yes, from the other side of the Pacific, Trump is a xenophobe, narcissistic and seemingly will do what it takes to gather popularity. However, how about we look at this strategically?

Trump (and Hanson/Abbott in Australia, Farage in the UK and La Pen in France amongst others) is telling voters that if you vote for me, I will ‘fix’ your individual problem, be it health care, education, jobs, commodity prices or whatever else is the reason you are disaffected with the ‘political’ class. Trump has made that implied promise to something like 380 million people. Before he starts campaigning for his Presidential re-election campaign somewhere around 2019, he has to deliver on a lot of promises made to a lot of people. Given that it would be well-nigh impossible to understand the problems of a lot of the US population inside two years, there is Buckley’s chance of a solution being delivered. Let’s say that Trump ‘fixes’ imports, giving jobs back to the ‘rustbelt’ states that effectively elected him. Apart from the domestic replacements being more expensive and/or of lesser quality than the current import, imported products also have a supply line of distributors and resellers who would conceivably be worse off if the tap on imports is turned off. In a similar vein, a lot of those who rely on what are claimed to be ‘undocumented Americans’ to do the menial work around the home and so on would probably find themselves either doing the work or paying a lot more for a ‘documented American’ to perform the same tasks.

Trump has by implication promised to ‘fix’ the perceived personal problem of every person that has voted for him, as well as those who didn’t. It really doesn’t matter that there are a multitude of problems and, given all the good will in the world, some of the problems are so entrenched in the global economic system that they will never be ‘fixed’, Trump’s implicit promise is to ‘fix it’ and benefit all those US citizens who voted for him. When it comes time for other Republicans to challenge him for the 2020 nomination sometime in 2019, a lot of the disaffected that voted for Trump this time around will look at their individual circumstances and decide whether they are either worse or no better off. While Trump may not necessarily follow the usual political protocols, he can’t ‘fix’ everything he claimed to be able to manage in under 24 months. He is already ‘talking down’ his promise to cancel Obama’s Affordable Health initiative. Will these people (probably numbered in the hundreds of millions) accept Trump’s inevitable line that he is gradually turning things around? Or will they, to paraphrase a former Australian politician be waiting on the porch with a baseball bat?

We do have a precedent here. Campbell Newman came to power in Queensland promising to fix the state, and the people gave him a wallopingly large margin to do it (the Official Opposition, led by Annastacia Palaszczuk, could hold meetings in an eight-seater people mover and still have a spare seat). Newman instituted his vision of reform and not only did Palaszczuk form a minority government at the next election some two and a half years later, Newman lost his seat in the 89 seat Queensland parliament. You could also argue that the 2016 federal election result was a result of Abbott’s claims prior to 2013 that he would ‘fix it’ with a similar lack of actual ability to do so.

The beauty of Trump’s election is that from 20 January 2017, he is arguably the most important person in the world. The common belief is that if the US President says jump, the expected answer is ‘how high’. If Trump can’t make everyone happy in the next couple of years, do the Hansons and Farages of this world have any chance of doing so? In reality — probably not. Probably the easier question to ask is will every other political party in the world (apart from the ultra conservatives such as One Nation, UKIP, etc) be reticent about pointing out that Trump couldn’t fix it — so how on earth will Hanson, Farage or whoever else do better?

Trump in the view of a lot of people doesn’t deserve to be President because he worked outside the traditional rules of engagement. Rightly or wrongly, he convinced enough people in the right areas to trust him to deliver. While the jury is still out on the delivery of his promises, Trump is highly susceptible to claims that he is no better than the rest if each one of the implied promises he made to make things better for every American citizen isn’t happening by 2019. Trump will soon have in his command the established forces of the largest and most well-resourced democracy in the world to make the changes he considers necessary to the world’s political and economic systems. If Trump can’t do it (and the chances are he won’t in the minds of a lot of Americans) people like Abbott, Hanson and the other ‘like-minded’ people around the world have even less. Trump’s probable failure also should be concerning other political players who have been using similar arguments for a number of years — including Hanson’s One Nation Party.

Michael Moore managed to blitz the field with his tips for the 2016 US Elections. He still has one tip in play. As reported by Paste magazine, Moore appeared on American television on November 11, 2016:
During the sprawling 45-minute discussion, Moore said that he didn’t think Trump would last his whole term of office. Moore said:

This is why we’re not going to have to suffer through four years of Donald J. Trump, because he has no ideology except the ideology of Donald J. Trump. And when you have a narcissist like that, who’s so narcissistic where it’s all about him, he will — maybe unintentionally — break laws. He will break laws because he’s only thinking about what’s best for him.
In some ways, impeaching Trump would be a tragedy.

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

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Housing affordability is perceived to be an issue in Australia. In some areas of Australia, the median price of a house is in excess of $1million and there is some justification in the common questions around how on earth can a young couple ever be able to afford a house in that market. There are a number of answers to the question and there are also a number of inequities that are assisting to take house prices in ‘desirable’ areas out the reach of those who are not on a well above average income.

Most would attest that the choosing of a home either to rent or buy is not the stress-free experience that is portrayed in advertising for various real estate agents. For a variety of reasons, I have recently sold and purchased a home, which apart from the angst over someone paying me as much as possible and my payment of as little as possible, gave me a few insights into the current state of play in the residential real estate market.

In short, it is easy to believe that the real estate market is loaded against those who are younger, not earning that much (when compared to those who have been in the workforce for a while), with little or no deposit to contribute to the purchase of a house to call ‘their home’.

Generally, in Australia, the suburbs closer to the CBD in each capital city receive better services. There is a better variety of shopping centres, the public transport is usually better and more frequent, healthcare and education facilities are closer and accordingly easier to get to and so on. On the downside, there is a higher chance of living in a noisier environment with closer neighbours, more traffic and congestion.

Each member of the finance industry collectively spends a lot convincing you to borrow money from them rather than the mob down the road. What they don’t tell you in the glossy advertising is that if you have less than 20% of the purchase price of your future home, you will be required to pay mortgage insurance.

Normally an insurance policy paid for by a particular person will benefit that person. Mortgage insurance doesn’t. The ‘logic’ behind mortgage insurance is to pay out the financier of the home loan should the loan default. While the lender may get all their money back, the mortgage insurer is then out of pocket and chases the borrower. The insurance premium is frequently in the tens of thousands.

While there is probably some statistical reason for the requirement for loan insurance for those with what the finance industry considers to be a low deposit, it effectively penalises those who can’t for some reason save the ‘reasonable’ deposit for the area where they would like to live. The purchaser is then forced to live further away from the CBD, in an area with less services. Sooner or later pressure is applied to all levels of government for the services to improve further out from the CBD, applying upward pressure to taxes and charges so the improvements can be funded.

According to Realesate.com.au, the time it takes to save a deposit to purchase a ‘median priced’ house in each capital city varies according to the city, number of incomes and the earnings capability of the people involved. It could take in excess of eight years to save the 20% deposit to avoid the mortgage insurance. Don’t forget that while you are saving for the eight years, the house prices will go up as will your income. However, with housing prices in some areas rising faster than salaries and wages, is it any wonder that people decide that the occasional $22 smashed avo on bruschetta is more attainable? If you follow the advice in this ABC website article, you might actually have your avo while saving for the home of your own, but it isn’t guaranteed.

A considerable number of people saving for a house are renting somewhere while they ‘save the deposit’. Realestate.com.au listed the ‘cheapest five’ rental suburbs within 10km of the respective capital city CBD during October. Looking at the Brisbane suburbs listed on the website, the latter three generally have much better access to services than the first two, which probably accounts for the difference in price. So while paying generally in excess of $300 a week to rent a place to live, people have to find a way to put a similar or greater amount away to eventually buy a house.

Unfortunately the area with the cheapest rentals is not necessarily one of the cheaper areas to purchase in, leading to people either having to save a higher deposit or accept a reduction in nearby services when they choose to commence the process of buying a house.

That’s when you meet the real estate agents and the house sellers (better known as vendors). Real estate agents generally are paid on a commission basis. The seller of the property generally pays a certain percentage of the eventual purchase price to the real estate agent for the work they have put into introducing the purchaser to the property. In the past few months I have met some really nice people working as real estate agents and some that would sell their mother for five cents.

Observation would tell you that most real estate agents work out of offices with a number of other agents. As a result, you would think that if a customer of real estate agent ‘A’ is looking for a particular type of house that real estate agent ‘B’, who works in the same office had just been employed to sell, ‘A’ and ‘B’ would talk to ensure that the property owner and potential purchaser would be given an opportunity to sign a contract of sale. You might think it, but there is no guarantee of it happening as the usual arrangement would be that real estate agent ‘B’ would have to share his commission and may not want to do so.

Vendors have expectations of the price they want for their properties. These expectations could be related to what is needed to ‘move on’, what they have seen the house next door sell for, what the estate agent tells the seller the place is worth or some other completely rational (to the vendor anyway) process. It stands to reason that vendors want the highest price they can get as do the real estate agents (to maximise their commission payment). The next group don’t.

Purchasers are the people who drive around the area they intend to live in, traditionally on a Saturday morning, looking at houses that they can ‘live with’. Purchasers are usually limited by some financial impost, either the deposit they have available, ability to make the repayments on a loan or the need to keep some money aside to pursue some other goal.

The vendors employ the real estate agents to sell their property with the expectation that the agent has the requisite skills to achieve the highest price. The agent also wants to achieve the highest price, as it maximises the commission paid. Unfortunately, the purchaser wants to find a house for the lowest price. In an economic sense, the real estate market cannot be a completely transparent market as the agent and vendor are both attempting to achieve the highest price — only limited by the purchaser’s negotiation skills or the need of other vendors with similar homes who also want to sell their house at the same time.

The purchaser who is attempting to buy their first home is also up against the investor. Peter Martin, the Economics Editor for Fairfax’s The Age recently looked at what could be considered to be the constant battle between owner-occupiers and investors, noting the Reserve Bank’s comment in evidence to a recent enquiry: ‘It is a truism that if an investor is buying a property, an owner-occupier is not.’

According to Martin:
What matters for a tolerable retirement (far more than superannuation) is owning the home in which you live. If you do, the age pension is enough to get by on. If you don't, you have to pay rent. Morrison's own figures show we are condemning more and more Australians to retirements burdened by rent.
Liberal MP John Alexander started an enquiry into housing prices back in the day when Abbott was the prime minister and Hockey was the treasurer. The enquiry was allowed to lapse after the recent election but Alexander was moved on about a year prior to that.

Hockey’s Treasury Department made a submission to Alexander’s enquiry. In the words of Peter Martin:
Graph 13 in its submission shows that up until the end of the 1990s the median dwelling price stayed in a tight band of 2.5 to 3 times household after-tax income. Then in the space of three years it shot up to near four times after-tax income and has stayed there ever since.



What happened at the end of the 1990s? In September 1999, the government halved the headline rate of capital gains tax, making negative gearing suddenly an essential tax strategy. Whereas before, renting out a house at a loss for tax purposes had been mainly an exercise in delaying tax because the eventual profit made selling the property would be taxed at close to the seller's marginal rate, afterwards, with the profit taxed at only half the marginal rate, it became an exercise in cutting tax.
So those with a desire to cut their tax took the opportunity given to them on a plate by the Howard government and negatively geared a house. Howard used to claim that rising housing prices were a sign of a good economy. The problem is that the investors (and more recently those from overseas) are in a position to squeeze owner-occupiers out of the market by bidding up house prices. The vendors and agents are happy — they are getting more money at the time of sale; the investors are effectively and legally writing off tax they would otherwise have to pay; and those who are trying to get their foot in the door are priced out of the market. After all the areas that are attractive to owner-occupiers because of features such as services or the natural surroundings are also attractive to investors, as the same attractions are also valuable to renters.

Take it from me, buying and selling houses is not the easy process that is commonly suggested in the advertising from real estate agencies and financial institutions. It is apparently worse for someone who is buying a house for the first time — as discussed by Erin Munro on the Domain website.

Current treasurer Scott Morrison made a speech to the Urban Development Institute recently where he called on state governments to reduce artificial constraints on housing supply. While there are probably some constraints that do require attention, maybe Morrison should take care of his own backyard first. The ALP had a policy at the last federal election to reduce the benefits of negative gearing and capital gains tax for those who invest in residential housing — maybe they were on to something.

Peter Martin suggests:
Reinstating capital gains tax and imposing a land tax would help, as would building more houses. But there is something in our psychology that's doing it as well. We seem to want to push up the prices we complain about. Adding "supply" might do no more than give us something else to bid up.
Until some rationality is restored, if someone in your family wants to buy a first house, best of luck.

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In the past fortnight, the Turnbull Coalition government announced proposed legislation to ensure that each person on Manus Island or Nauru sentenced to the cruel and unusual punishment for no legal or moral reason since an arbitrary date in 2013, will never come to Australia. That’s never ever; doesn’t matter if they want to visit the Great Barrier Reef before government lack of policy on climate change kills it off; doesn’t matter if the person is a famous actor, musician or movie star in their future life; doesn’t matter if the person is representing a country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast; and it even doesn’t matter if a current refugee on Manus Island or Nauru is a head of state in the future — they won’t be allowed to visit Australia (or only allowed to visit at the absolute discretion of the minister for immigration at the time).

Blatantly unfair, unreasonable and un-called for? — certainly. Unfortunately, we should be used to the Abbott/Turnbull government doubling down on the nastiness and sheer hate defined by their policy on refugees. The Abbott/Turnbull government will tell you that they are stopping the people smugglers from sending people on dangerous open sea voyages using equipment that is clearly not designed for the purpose. Immigration Minister Dutton claims:
What we don't want is if someone is to go to a third country, that they apply for a tourist visa or some other way to circumvent what the government's policy intent is by coming back to Australia from that third country.
The Abbott/Turnbull government has a problem. After being given a lesson in humanity by the Papua New Guinea High Court when it ruled that the detention camp on Manus Island breached PNG law, Turnbull has to find a place to house the 1200 or so people we as Australians have illegally imprisoned by various governments going back to the Rudd ALP government. Politically, the government can’t let these people come to Australia as the neo-conservative right wing of the Liberal and National Parties will head further towards the divisive policies of the ultra-right wing parties such as One Nation. As well as that, if the refugees were housed in (say) New Zealand or other countries in the South Pacific, the argument could be made that refugees could simply board a plane to Australia after they had residency in the third country. Logically you would have to ask why anyone that had been treated so poorly by others would ever want to ‘darken the door’ of their oppressors, but according to Dutton it is a concern. While yes, that is a hole in the current arrangements if those on Manus Island or Nauru are successfully integrated into a third country’s society, they might want to come to Australia at a later date, has anyone stopped to think what we are potentially losing by not standing up to the vindictive and xenophobic policies of successive Australian governments?

The Political Sword looked at the contributions made to our society by refugees in March 2014. We looked at Michael Gawenda, the ‘ten pound poms’ (which include Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, the Gibb Brothers (aka The Bee Gees), Noni Hazlehurst, Alan Bond, Frank Tyson, Harold Larwood, and the parents of people such as Kylie Minogue, Al Grassby and Hugh Jackman), Tony Le Nguyen and Munjed Al Muderis. All the people listed in this paragraph have made a wonderful contribution to this country, and if the governments that supported and encouraged the immigration of these Australians had the same racist policies of the current government, we would live in a much poorer place.

This isn’t solely the view of this admittedly left of centre political blog, this letter was shared around on social media in the few days after Turnbull and Dutton announced their draconian policy.



Clearly, Dr Al Muderis makes a significant contribution to Australia and the world — as people fly to Australia from around the world just to see Dr Al Muderis.

Noni Hazelhurst, the Bee Gees and even Gillard and Abbott have also made a contribution to this country in their own sphere of influence. So why are we persecuting those that are attempting to become refugees in Australia in the twenty teens? While many were ridiculing (probably with some justification) ex-Prime Minister Rudd’s contribution to the debate at the beginning of the month, Rudd does have a few points that are worth considering. Rudd claims:
This is both bad policy and bad politics: on policy, the far right in Australia represent the worst of the xenophobic, nationalist and protectionist wave that we now see raging across Europe and America; while on politics, appeasement of political thugs like Abbott, Dutton, Abetz, Andrews and, depending on which way the wind is blowing, Morrison, only embolden the far right to demand more, not less.
And:
This measure is about the politics of symbols, designed to throw red meat at the right, including the Hansonite insurgency, and to grovel to the broad politics of xenophobia. Turnbull, once an intelligent, global citizen, knows better.
Rudd claims that Gillard (his successor and predecessor) changed his policy.
It sought to negotiate offshore processing arrangements with East Timor and later Malaysia. These failed. Then in August 2012, the government announced the reopening of offshore processing in Manus and Nauru. The government also increased the number of refugees we would take from the UNHCR "global pool" of refugees from 13,000 to 20,000. Nonetheless, in the first half of 2013, the UNHCR delivered reports criticising the treatment of refugees, which the government sought to respond to.
It is also claimed that when Rudd regained power he made significant changes to the agreement around refugees that Australia had signed with PNG, including a clause that the Manus Island camp would only operate for one year. Rudd’s opinion article concludes by stating:
I have kept silent on Australian domestic policy debates for the past three years. But this one sinks to new lows. It is pure politics designed to appease the xenophobes. It is without any policy merit in dealing with the real policy challenges all countries face today in what is now a global refugees crisis. And it does nothing to help those refugees left to rot for more than three years, who should be resettled now.
While a lot of the article by Rudd is an attempt to justify his own past deeds, he is correct to suggest that refugees are not solely an Australian ‘problem’ and, to be realistic, Australia’s ‘problem’ is insignificant on a global scale. Rudd is also correct that far right political groups around the world are attracting votes using issues such as protectionism, isolationism and blatant racism. The Guardian runs a series called ‘The Long Read’. Co-incidentally, on 1 November, it published an article in the series titled ‘The ruthlessly effective branding of Europe’s far right’.

As The Guardian suggests:
They have effectively claimed the progressive causes of the left — from gay rights to women’s equality and protecting Jews from antisemitism — as their own, by depicting Muslim immigrants as the primary threat to all three groups. As fear of Islam has spread, with their encouragement, they have presented themselves as the only true defenders of western identity and western liberties — the last bulwark protecting a besieged Judeo-Christian civilisation from the barbarians at the gates.

These parties have steadily filled an electoral vacuum left open by social democratic and centre-right parties, who ignored voters’ growing anger over immigration – some of it legitimate, some of it bigoted – or simply waited too long to address it.
The move to the far right is not just a problem in Europe or arguably part of the reason for Donald Trump’s nomination as President by the Republican Party in the USA. The New Yorker recently published a stinging takedown of Trump and the ultra-conservatives noting:
Trumpism does not seek simply to make a point and pass on its genes to more politically palatable heirs, nor is it readily apparent why he would need to settle for this. When George Will announced his departure from the G.O.P., last summer, he offered a modified version of Ronald Reagan’s quote about leaving the Democrats—“I didn’t leave the Party; the Party left me.” But a kind of converse narrative applies to Trump; he didn’t join the Republican Party so much as its most febrile elements joined him. Trump is partly a product of forces that the G.O.P. created by pandering to a base whose dilated pupils the Party mistook for gullibility, not abject, irrational fear that would send those voters scurrying to the nearest authoritarian savior they could find. The error was in thinking that this populace, mainlining Glenn Beck and Alex Jones theories and pondering how the Minutemen would have fought Sharia law, could be controlled. (For evidence to the contrary, the Party needed look no further than the premature political demise of Eric Cantor.) The old adage warns that one should beware of puppets that begin pulling their own strings.
Australia too has its extreme right wing claiming far more influence that they deserve.

Pauline Hanson stood as the Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Oxley in Queensland at the 1996 election and was dis-endorsed two weeks prior to the election due to some extremely ill-advised remarks made in the campaign on Aboriginal welfare. In her 1996 maiden speech in the House of Representatives, Hanson claimed that Australia was being ‘swamped’ by Asians. On the morning of Hanson’s maiden Senate speech last September, the ABC looked at her claim from 20 years ago and looked at the immigration figures from the 2011 census. It found:
By 2011, the proportion of people in Australia who were born in Asia had almost doubled to 8.08 per cent.

The proportion of people born in Australia fell from 73.93 per cent to 69.83 per cent — more than eight times the proportion of people born in Asia.
In addition, the ABC reported that:
James Raymer, head of the School of Demography at the Australian National University, said the incidence of Asian migration to Australia was hardly surprising, given our geographical location in the region and the sheer size of the world's Asian population.

"The whole Asian population represents 60 per cent of the world's population … Europe only represents 10 per cent of the world's population," he said.

"There's a lot of Asians in Europe, there's a lot of Asians in North America, a lot of Asians in Canada, and they've all been increasing."
Undeterred by her previous prediction falling somewhat short of the mark, when Hanson made her maiden speech in the Senate in September 2016, she warned Australia was at risk of being "swamped" by Muslims.

As far back as 2011, Fairfax media was questioning the racism of politicians such as Cory Bernardi:
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie should be applauded for his stand against racism in the Liberal Party and, in particular, the recent comments by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, singling out Muslims for denigration.

Does Bernardi think that by demonising Islam he will win votes, and is Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tacitly approving this latest attempt to play the politics of hate so he can watch where it goes?

This is a disturbing insight into the thinking of some senior Liberal figures. It comes from a party that has, in turn, used fear of Muslim extremism to lead us into two wars and then used that fear to prevent the victims of those same wars coming to Australia.
The current hatred of refugees isn’t logical, moral or ethical — it is a part of a political race to the bottom of the ocean. Ultra-conservatives such as Hanson, Bernardi, Trump, Le Pen in France and so on are using the misery of fellow humans to improve the prospects of a political career and are manipulating the vulnerable and hard done by to do so.

In the 1970’s, Coalition Prime Minister Fraser and the ALP both supported the arrival of hundreds of thousands of South East Asian refugees who came to settle in Australia. While the policy at the time was not universally popular, the benefits to Australia in the long term have clearly outweighed any problems. On a logical basis, the policy was fair enough — we had been part of a coalition of armies that had bombed much of South East Asia in an attempt to stop the expansion of communism. It is now history that the Vietnam War was unsuccessful, communism didn’t expand and the refugees that came here have largely integrated into our society. So why the difference with those from the middle east? We are a part of coalition of armies that are bombing that area of the world to stop the rise of ISIS. Don’t we owe something to those that are the unintended victims of having their homes bombed back to the stone age?

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, successive Coalition Australian governments, with support from the ALP, supported the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Europeans who were displaced before or during World War 2. The photos at the top of this article are not recent, they are from social media and portray Europeans using whatever they can to emigrate to North Africa prior to Hitler’s Germany taking over parts of Southern Europe. What goes around comes around apparently. And as The Political Sword observed in September 2014, Jesus was a refugee.

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

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The problem with conservative warriors

[The bookcases that were too big to move]
A lot of employers place significant levels of trust in their employees. Retailers trust their employees to charge the customers the correct amount for the products they sell and put the money into the register; airlines trust that their employees are fit and mentally capable of servicing or flying the plane they are assigned to fly; bus and truck operators trust that their drivers will drive the vehicle along the assigned route; while health care workers are trusted to look after those in their care.

At times, employees have to make decisions that may have an inimical impact on their employer’s business. The retailer’s staff usually have a mandate to deduct a percentage of the price of an item if there is some imperfection. External factors may delay the arrival time of the plane in Sydney or the 456 bus to the City. Obviously a number of 737s can’t land on one runway at the same time and if the 456 bus is caught in a traffic jam, the bus can’t push other vehicles out of the way. This in turn affects the operation of the other services as transport operators tend not to have a spare 737 or commuter bus sitting around at every terminal ‘just in case’ something doesn’t turn up on time. This is the greater good in operation, it is better for a plane or bus to be late than for the system to fail completely because of the actions of one person who was following their employer’s requirements regardless of the outcomes.

At times there are those who try to beat the system and there are probably a set of checks to ensure that the trust is respected and the cash register takings balance the amount of stock that has left the store; the pilot for the 8.30 plane to Sydney isn’t enjoying the free drinks in the Business Class Lounge with the passengers before the flight; the heavy vehicle driver hasn’t found a nice shady spot beside a creek and decided to wet a line and so on. The number of trucks and buses in the streets of our major towns and planes that arrive and depart about the right time would demonstrate that most employees demonstrate that the trust their employers show is not misplaced.

Just about everyone who works in a shop, flies a plane or drives a heavy vehicle is paid significantly less than Justin Gleeson, Australia’s Solicitor-General and second ranking ‘law officer’ in the land. Gleeson is a ‘Senior Counsel’ — the latter-day version of a ‘Queens Counsel’. Gleeson is having a very public argument with his supervisor, Attorney-General (and Senator) George Brandis who is the nation’s ‘first law officer’. Brandis is a ‘Queens Counsel’ — better known as a QC. Apparently, the issue at the heart of the argument is Brandis decreeing that Gleeson’s office will not offer advice or counsel to anyone in the federal government (political or public servant) unless the request comes through Brandis’ office.

The ABC’s website has given us a four-act play (probably generous, it seems more like a soap opera) that describes the situation to date. At a meeting between Brandis and Gleeson, Brandis apparently said:
… there had been a lazy practice within the Government and the public service to approach the solicitor-general requesting legal advice directly, and that his office should act as something of a gatekeeper.
Apart from the implication that a senior public servant and lawyer can’t manage his workload, why would Brandis want to know what other politicians or senior public servants need legal advice about?

It’s not the first time Brandis has attempted to influence the work of public servants in his employ. Human Rights Commissioner, Professor Gillian Triggs, conducted an enquiry with less than flattering findings for the government into the children Australia holds in detention camps in PNG and Nauru. Brandis, through a government official, asked Triggs to resign (thus reducing the ‘severity’ of the findings) at a meeting on February 3, 2015. Triggs, when recounting the matter in a Senate Estimates Committee hearing, advised that she had rejected the overture:
"My answer was that I have a five-year statutory position, which is designed for the president of the Human Rights Commission specifically to avoid political interference in the exercise of my tasks under the Human Rights Commission Act," she said.

Professor Triggs also testified that the secretary, Chris Moraitis, told her she would be offered another job if she did.

She described the offer as "entirely inappropriate".
Brandis claimed that he had lost confidence in Triggs as in his view:
… she had made a decision to hold the inquiry after the 2013 election and had spoken during the caretaker period, quite inappropriately, with two Labor ministers, a fact concealed from the then-opposition — I felt that the political impartiality of the commission had been fatally compromised.

"The Human Rights Commission has to be like Caesar's wife, it has to be beyond blemish."
So Brandis is suggesting because Triggs discussed a relevant issue with two politicians from the other political party during an election campaign, she should be sacked. Those of a somewhat cynical bent might suggest that conversations between senior public servants and politicians occur all the time during election campaigns despite the ‘caretaker conventions’ that are put into place: the real issue here was something else — potentially the contents of a report that rightly gained some publicity at the time for its criticism of the government’s policy. To be fair to Triggs, her office isn’t the only human rights organisation critical of Australian government refugee policy. Rationally, if the ALP government had been returned in the 2013 election, the Human Rights Commission enquiry into detained children would have reflected just as badly on the ALP as it did on the Coalition government.

In the 2014 Federal budget, Brandis oversaw significant cuts to the community legal sector. When asked if he had consulted with the sector, he claimed he did. Others in the sector claimed he didn’t. Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus effectively invited Brandis to ‘put up or shut up’ by releasing his diary for the period where the consultation was supposed to have occurred. Brandis chose not to, so Dreyfus made a Freedom of Information request. As the ABC reported:
The FOI was originally blocked by the Attorney-General's chief of staff, who claimed it would take hundreds of hours to process because Senator Brandis would have to personally vet each and every entry before they could be released.
Dreyfus appealed the decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and won. Brandis appealed the appeal decision to the Full Court; which eventually found in Dreyfus’ favour. While Dreyfus (who is also a QC) represented himself, apparently at no cost to the taxpayer, Brandis’ legal fees came in at over $50,000 according to Dreyfus, as reported by the ABC. Even after that, the Freedom of Information request has to be reconsidered rather than released immediately.

Brandis was also the one that couldn’t move his $7,000 bookcase to hold his $13,000 worth of taxpayer-funded books and magazines from the office he was in prior to the 2013 election into the ministerial office. So a $15,000 bookcase was custom made for his new office.

As well as being Attorney-General, Brandis has been the Minister for the Arts; maybe he likes attending the first-night performances. The Australia Council (for the Arts) was formed under the Holt Government in 1967 and has been traditionally the vehicle whereby the Australian government funds artistic and cultural endeavours across Australia. In the 2015 federal budget, Brandis, as Arts Minister, oversaw a $110 million cut in the budget of the Australia Council to create a new arts funding body called the National Program for Excellence in the Arts. While some who have had funding applications rejected by the Australia Council in the past may argue that that body wouldn’t know ‘arts’ if they fell over it, there is a probability that in some cases the claim is fuelled more by hurt and anger than any valid criticism of the Australia Council. Like all funding bodies, there is also potentially some internal politics to overcome that could conceivably increase the chances of a successful application ‘should the game be played correctly’.

The ABC reported at the time:
Senator Brandis said there is a widespread perception that the Australia Council is 'a closed shop'.

'We would be blind to pretend that there aren't complaints from those who miss out, who have a perception that the Australia Council is an iron wall; that you are either inside or outside,' he said.

'I've heard that from so many people. That is particularly a perception held outside Melbourne and Sydney.'
Having said that, Brandis was proposing his new arts funding body was to be run by his ministry office, rather than by arts funding professionals. The logic that supports taking arts funding away from professionals in their field and handing it to a potentially highly politicised minister’s office is dubious at best.

What is it with Brandis? We have a person who isn’t afraid to spend taxpayer money on Quixotic endeavours such as custom made book shelves and legal appeals costing the best part of $75,000 while cutting the funding to those that assist those on little or no income through the legal system. When the funding was provided, it allowed the community legal providers to run on the proverbial ‘smell of an oily rag’. The government rightly employs experts in their field such as Gleeson and Triggs to manage difficult and sensitive responsibilities within the government. The government also has an established bureaucracy that has significant knowledge and experience in ‘the arts’.

Yet Brandis believes that he needs to manage the Solicitor-General’s workflow, publically suggests that the reason the Human Rights Commission brings down a report challenging the government’s behaviour was to discredit the government of the day and believes his ministerial office knows more about ‘the arts’ than those with considerable demonstrated experience.

While it is a legitimate action for a government minister to make the final call when it comes to determining policy within their department, there is a difference between policy and implementation. It’s probably fair to suggest that a number of politicians on both sides of parliaments (at all three levels of government) are factional warriors; at some stage they have pledged complete loyalty to what they see to be the objectives of the political party. Rather than seeing the world through ‘rose coloured’ glasses, the world has a deep blue, red or green hue.

The problem with these people is that criticism of their chosen position is a problem. Brandis shows this by his treatment of Triggs and Gleeson – both of whom have criticised Coalition government policies or practices, Triggs with the report on children in detention camps and Gleeson has obviously given advice contrary to the wishes of Brandis. Conservatives seem to have no problem with demonstrating double standards in cutting services to others while improving their lot in life at others’ expense.

Brandis frequently chooses in media interviews to assume the ‘conservative warrior’ persona, and while his personality is not the problem of his political leader, his actions as a minister of the crown are. Setting himself up to muzzle independent experts within his department primarily because the advice doesn’t fit the Coalition’s view of the world is a dangerous precedent — and you would think that Australia’s first law officer would have a better idea of the importance of precedents. If he doesn’t, Turnbull, who is also a lawyer, should be in a position to see the problem. This article started by looking at how sometimes various employees have to make decisions that adversely affect their employer and determined that at times these decisions were made for the greater good. It’s a pity that political warriors seem to have little understanding of the greater good.

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

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Let’s talk about ‘traditional’ values


Donald Trump, in his mind anyway, is the next President of the United States of America. Last week, he was in deeper hot water than usual when a tape of a conversation between Trump and a reporter from Access Hollywood regarding his sexual exploits with women, made a decade ago, was released. Trump released an apology around midnight on 7 October (US time) and where he did state
“I’ve said some foolish things,” Trump said in a taped apology posted on his Facebook page. “But there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women.”

Turning to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Trump accused her of having “bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated” her husband’s “victims.”
It’s a classic ‘look over there’ approach, that demonstrates that while there is an apology on record, it’s a pretty safe bet that Trump’s campaign team told him he had to do it, rather than some intrinsic understanding that the original conversation was just wrong. The apology went for 90 seconds and the text is available on the CBS News website here.

While Trump’s supporters are also apparently ‘looking over there’, some Republicans are less convinced. According to CBS, his choice for Vice-President, Indiana Governor Mike Pense,
was “beside himself” and his wife was furious, according to a person familiar with their thinking. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to share the private discussion.
CBS also reports the head of the Republican Party was, if anything, more direct
“No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever,” said Reince Priebus, who had stood by Trump through his past provocative comments.
According to the CBS report, Trump’s justification for his actions in the original interview was “When you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says. "You can do anything."

So Trump is a misogynist. At the time of preparation of this article, Trump is refusing to stand down as the Republican Party’s nomination for US President. It’s not the first time that Trump has made derogatory comments about women, immigrants foreign countries, welfare recipients or the current President, just to name a few. The actor Robert De Niro was asked to film a spot for a ‘get out to vote’ activist group in the US, which contains a really interesting Trump character assessment:
"I mean, he's so blatantly stupid," the Academy Award winner, 73, said of Trump, 70, in the clip. "He's a punk, he's a dog, he's a pig. He's a con, a bulls--t artist, a mutt. He doesn't know what he's talking about, doesn't do his homework, doesn't care, thinks he's gaming society, doesn't pay his taxes. He's an idiot. Colin Powell said it best: He's a national disaster. He's an embarrassment to this country. It makes me so angry that this country has gotten to this point that this fool, this bozo, has wound up where he has."

De Niro continued, "He talks [about] how he wants to punch people in the face. Well, I'd like to punch him in the face. This is somebody that we want for president? I don't think so. What I care about is the direction of this country, and what I'm very, very worried about is that it might go in the wrong direction with someone like Donald Trump. If you care about your future, vote for it."
In 2012, Prime Minister, Julia Gillard rightly called out then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on misogyny



The speech reverberated around the world. It’s probably fair to suggest that Gillard’s speech was not just a reaction to Abbott’s claim that Gillard was supporting then Speaker of the House Peter Slipper (who probably wasn’t the most moral character in the house), it was a reflection of the years of continual sniping at Gillard’s gender and her ‘lack of fitness’ to be Prime Minister as a result. Abbott’s wife runs an apparently successful business and he has three daughters. He obviously supports and respects his family’s successes and supports their endeavours. What Abbott didn’t and probably still doesn’t realise is continual sniping of a person based on their gender (as Abbott did to Gillard) is not fair game because the victim has differing opinions, it is as Gillard suggested – misogynisy.

Both Abbott and Trump are extremely conservative political leaders. While Trump could claim that he has reflected on his 2005 comments and knows better and Abbott did suggest that Gillard over reacted, is there a common theme here?

Prime Minister Turnbull committed to retaining Abbott’s plebiscite on marriage equity when he rolled Abbott in 2015. While the contents of the 2016 Coalition agreement are secret, is widely believed that the commitment remains – as Turnbull has brought the legislation to Parliament and if it was passed, the plebiscite would have been held on 11 February 2017.

Those who populate a number of religious organisations around Australia as well as organisations such as the Australian Christian Lobby will tell you any family that doesn’t consist of a husband and wife in a deeply committed loving relationship will lead to problems for the children later in their lives. In some cases, they are probably right; however, there are plenty of people with problems later in life that came from married couples with deeply committed and loving relationships as well.

In a perfect world, it would be wonderful if every person was valued for their potential contribution to the world and treated accordingly. Apart from creating ‘ideal’ families, this ‘perfect’ view of the world would also close the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, stop the bombing in Syria and provide food and shelter for those who are incapable of supporting themselves across the world. No Virginia, the world is not perfect, and those who are proclaiming the need for ‘ideal’ families are not similarly vocal about the conditions on Nauru, the various wars and human emergencies around the world.

This is where the moral and ethical problem is. For example, the top of the Australian Christian Lobby’s Home webpage looks like this:

Given that most religious groupings, be they Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Jedi (it was accepted as a choice in the last Census) probably desire a compassionate, just and moral society through having the tenets of their particular religious text reflected in the political life of the nation, it would be seemingly obvious that ethical and moral issues such as treatment of refugees, treatment of young adults in custody and attempting to assist those around the world would be amongst the issues at the top of their mind, after all most of the religious texts request their believers to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. None of those issues make the ACL’s ‘hit list’ contained on the 377 pages of ‘latest news’. Unfortunately, the actions of people like the Trump, Abbott and conservative groups such as the ACL do not reflect their claimed values. Unsurprisingly most of the ‘hot topics’ on the ACL’s list relate to marriage equity or sex education in schools.

Trump and Abbott clearly do not actually give women the respect they have claimed they do. The ACL has a very narrow view of Christian faith if it just stands by without calling out the Australian Government’s actions in regard to refugees, detention centres and recurring efforts to further marginalise those who can least afford private health care, private schools or even private rental homes. When others called out Trump and Abbott on misogyny, Trump’s response was to suggest that the husband of the Presidential candidate was worse than he was and Abbott suggested that Gillard ‘over reacted’. The ACL’s CEO, Lyle Shelton will make whatever claim he believes will further his argument such as
“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.”
to argue for his preferred position of the ‘ideal family’. Shelton’s Lobby group is also potentially one of the beneficiaries of the $7.5 million Turnbull would have given the “NO” case should the plebiscite legislation have passed Parliament. As it seems that his public utterances have no factual basis, as there is certainly no collaborating evidence for the issues they claim others are going to implement made in the “Latest News” section of their website (although to be fair the entire 377 pages of items were not checked), and while Trump, Abbott and the ACL are entitled to believe they have done the right and honourable thing, the reality is somewhat different.

There are numerous reasons why a child may not grow up with their biological mum or dad. One parent may have died, the parents may have separated, a parent may have to work in a different town, be in jail or even stuck in a detention centre operated by the Australian Government. Logically, most of these kids will have mental and physical issues to work through as a part of that process. Shelton’s comments (and a large proportion of the anti-marriage equity advertising that has already gone to air) giving the ‘traditional’ view of marriage will not assist the mental health of those kids who have a different reality – regardless of the reason for that reality.

Trump, Abbott and groups such as the ACL all claim to be good Christians who are upholding the values of society. Yet, Trump admits to abuse of women physically and mentally, Abbott certainly treated Gillard (and other women) as second class citizens and conservative groups such as the ACL seem to feel that there is no need for the facts to ruin a good story. If the values of society are those that suggest that the actions above are acceptable, let alone desirable attributes of ‘traditional’ society, we should be re-imaging society so that all people are equal, regardless of their gender, beliefs or attitudes.

In addition to the cost of a plebiscite that isn’t binding (estimated to be $160 million), Turnbull has decided to gift $7.5 million to both the ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ cases for the plebiscite, allowing further attacks on the mental health of those kids that don’t live in the conservatives’ ‘traditional’ families and their caregivers. According to news.com.au, the ACL has already planned to use some of the funding to widen the argument to include sex education in schools.
Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek today said she had concerns about “the idea that we’ll have a $15 million publicly-funded battle, when we’ve already seen the sort of material that’s been put out against marriage equality”.

“And we’ve got organisations engaged in this debate saying anti-discrimination law and rules around advertising should be suspended,” Ms Plibersek told ABC Radio.

She wanted to know what they intended to say during the campaign that currently was illegal.
It is a truism that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Political leaders legitimising abuse of other people, advertising legitimising only certain forms of family life and so on creates victims. While abuse of women, discrimination based on gender, preferences or beliefs may have been acceptable in the ‘good ole days’ of ‘traditional’ families, victims have to know firstly that they are victims, secondly there is help available and thirdly how to access that help. If conservatives try to push these issues back into the closet, they are deterring those who are having problems from putting their hand up and asking for help. World Mental Health Day is 10 October and in Australia, the week including that date is Mental Health Week. It’s a shame and not healthy for our society that Turnbull is again being held hostage by the conservatives on his side of politics and plans to fund advertising around a non-binding plebiscite that effectively seeks to de-legitimise a number of loving and sharing families around Australia.

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,”
And
“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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Are governments ready for the coming economic and social changes?
Ken Wolff, 28 September 2016
In 1930 John Maynard Keynes predicted widespread technological unemployment ‘due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour’.

In the decades since …
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Do politicians make you sick?
Ad astra, 2 October 2016
I expect most of you would answer with a resounding YES. They make us sick when they lie, break promises, assail us with mendacious rhetoric, engage in adversarial behaviour, fail to recognise this nation's problems, seek to blame their opponents for any ills we have, and exhibit incompetence in doing …
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The neo-liberal execution of democracy
Ken Wolff, 5 October 2016
In my inbox each day I get an e-mail from The Washington Post called The Daily 202. This year it has been, as is to be expected, mostly about the American Presidential primaries and forthcoming election but, in reporting Bernie Sanders’ primary win in West Virginia back on 10 May, it stated the win was not really about …
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It’s all about me


At the risk of earning a Godwin Award in the first sentence, according to those who staffed his office, Hitler was a kind and paternal man. Apparently Goebbels was kind to his family as are no doubt most of the world’s leaders today.

However, the same people who make sure they are kind to their staff, helpful for their friends and make sure they have a positive influence in their children’s lives can make the lives of people more distant from their immediate family absolutely horrific. It is history that Hitler and Goebbels were two of the leaders of a regime that murdered millions of people based on racial stereotypes, plunged the world into the second World War and left their country far worse off than when they came to power. It could be argued that there are leaders of a number of countries who are committing similar atrocities today. It is always good, however, to remember that one person’s ‘freedom fighter’ is another person’s ‘terrorist’.

A few months ago, SBS screened a documentary from the UK titled Troll Hunters. The narrator of the documentary is a young woman (Em Ford) who owns an internet beauty blog, giving other young women tips on how to dress according to the current trends and apply makeup. Like a lot of young people, Ford at times suffers from acne and part of the make-up tips she shares on the internet are methods to hide acne. Em Ford’s blog is located here. Unfortunately, and probably unsurprisingly, some of the comments Ford receives on her blog, YouTube videos and so on are less than complementary on her appearance, personality and taste in clothes and fashion. Some of those who comment are persistent, insulting and use copious amounts of foul language. So she sets out in this documentary to find her ‘nemesis’ and call that person to account.

So the search begins. Trolling is basically illegal, as it is using a ‘carriage service’ to harass and cause harm. As you would expect, most ‘professional’ trolls don’t leave much information behind to identify them, however there are people who can sometimes discover the identity of the ‘troller’.

Here’s the spoiler alert as the end of the documentary is the relevant section for the purposes of this article.

While Ford doesn’t find ‘her troll’, with help she locates a troll who was uploading pornography to the social media feeds of a woman who was a former British Conservative Party MP. Ford and the former MP confront the man outside his house and as you would expect the former MP has some interesting observations on the man’s behaviour and can express those views with an interesting variety of language. By arrangement, Ford interviews the ‘troller’ who is not sorry for what he’s done and, despite meeting his victim, doesn’t believe she is real. It appears there is a disconnect with the reality that every ‘cyber person’ with a social media account is somehow related to a real person with a right to be treated with courtesy and respect. He admits he uploads pornography to people’s social media accounts for the fun of it! He also gets a (perverse) victory out of being blocked from someone’s social media accounts.

Let’s put that into perspective. The ‘troller’ enjoys that he can apply increasing pressure to selected victims by use of words, pictures and so on which invokes potentially a police complaint (for which there is little or any evidence available for a conviction) and certainly blocking from the victim’s social media feeds. When this happens, the ‘troller’ believes they are victorious against a ‘cyber-person’ who has no basis in real life and probably moves on to harass someone else.

So how does this relate to Australian politics? Despite what you think of their policies, it is evident that Malcolm Turnbull loves his family (including the often mentioned and photographed grandson, Jack), as Tony Abbott loves his wife and daughters and Bill Shorten loves his ‘blended’ family. It’s probably fair to suggest that Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton, Sam Dastyari and George Brandis love their families as well. In each case, it would be pretty certain that each politician would do whatever it takes to look after their family and have a pretty good stab at teaching children not to steal or cheat, as well as giving them the skills to ‘play nicely with others’.

So why would the same people act so differently when it comes to running the country? Dutton, in response to leaked reports of over 2,000 cases of abuse and humiliation of refugees (supposedly) in our care on Nauru, claimed there was nothing new to see here when it was first reported; and subsequently claimed he was the victim because he was being verballed by the media. This is despite evidence showing that Dutton had been given extensive briefings about the actions of the contractors he employs on our behalf. Dutton was attempting to shift the blame to everyone but himself and the government for the problem caused by his government’s unbending harshness as discussed by The Guardian here a few weeks ago. Maybe it is a coping mechanism. Assuming Dutton’s claim of a ‘fit up’ are true, Dutton claims there are a number of exaggerated and made up claims (by inference not all the leaked claims are incorrect), and there are obviously some incidents that bring discredit to Australia and Australians. According to his website, Dutton has a family. Even one case where a person is treated less than well is one too many and diametrically different to the care and love Dutton probably shows to his family.

The Sam Dastyari donation issue is equally as instructive here. Fairfax media reported:
It is worth noting Dastyari had broken no law, no regulation, nor even a norm in Australian politics. Technically he had not even taken a donation, but a gift. He had even properly declared the gift. He was determined to ride out the scandal.

Last Friday though, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, piled on, pointing to quotes in Chinese media suggesting that Dastyari had advocated China's position on the South China Sea dispute, a position contrary not only to Australia's stance, but that of our key ally, the United States.

‘Cash for comment’, said the PM.
The claimed difference between this ‘gift’ and other ‘gifts’ and donations is that Dastyari is supposed to have publicly contradicted the ALP’s policy on the current South China Sea issue where China is apparently attempting to exert more influence than it currently does.

Dastyari fell on his sword early in September and resigned from the position of Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate. Turnbull’s ‘cash for comment’ claim is full of faux outrage. If Turnbull is claiming that Dastyari’s opinion was changed by around $6,500 (in two individual ‘gifts’), it is worth asking why Turnbull and his Liberal Party colleagues’ opinions are not influenced by the 89.56% (or $9,315,505) of ‘non-individual’ donations above the reportable ‘cap’ received during 2014/5 by the Liberal Party. The Nationals seemingly are more resilient to being influenced by ‘non-individual’ donations — 100% of their donations (above the reportable ‘cap’) were not from individuals; the ALP comes in at 90.22% and the Greens rate the least affected, if you can call 89.19% of their donations coming from ‘non-individuals’ as significantly better than 100%, 90.22% or 89.56%! Fairfax reported:
There is still a large portion of donations in the system falling below the $12,800 threshold required for disclosure, many of which would be small contributions from individuals. Labor's figures include all donations above $1000 as they have put in practice their proposal to legislate a lower threshold.

For the purpose of this analysis, Fairfax Media also counted only the AEC "donation" category and not financial benefits reported as "other receipt".
So it is debatable if the million or so dollars in Liberal Party income from Parakeelia, the provider of the customer relationship software mandated for use by Liberal Party politicians, wholly owned by the Liberal Party and funded by parliamentary services electoral office budgets (aka your and my taxes) is included in these figures — it could have been listed as a dividend.

Dastyari has done some good by focussing the national headlines onto the donation issue for close to a week and weathering the storm of faux outrage generated by Turnbull and a few of his ministers. Should donation reform be on the agenda? Almost certainly, yes it should. But the major political parties are so reliant on the donations received from ‘non-individuals’ there is probably no real appetite by the politicians to really do anything as they rely on the funding to the political parties to gain and retain their seats.

It’s not the first time that political donations have undone a political career. Former Premier of New South Wales Barrie O’Farrell’s career fell apart over a bottle of (supposedly quite nice and definitely expensive) wine. O’Farrell did try to limit donations to individuals in New South Wales, but the law was overruled by the High Court.

The interest in political donations here is similar to the interest in refugees on Nauru as well as ‘trollers’ on the internet. There is a disconnect between our reality and theirs.

Em Ford’s interview with the ‘troller’ shocked her — not for what you would assume but for the reason that firstly the male ‘troller’ was an articulate person who seemed to be a normal member of society who just couldn’t understand that behind each website blog (such as this one), YouTube channel or social media account was a person who has probably tried their best, with feelings and an expectation that people should treat each other with respect, recognising that at times people have a right to express different experiences and values politely. The ‘troller’ just didn’t ‘get it’.

If you meet Peter Dutton (or Scott Morrison, the previous Immigration Minister responsible for the indefinite and proven — in PNG at least — illegal detention of refugees who asked Australia for protection and a safe home), you would probably find a person who treats you with respect. They both also have families and you would have to imagine they would do anything to protect their family from hurt and keep them safe. It seems they just don’t ‘get it’. Refugees are people who by circumstance have been forced to leave their homes and livelihood. They are families as well and deserve to be treated as well as the families of Dutton or Morrison.

Turnbull attacks Dastyari over donations of around $6,500, claiming that the cash influenced his opinion, while saying nothing about the almost $10million the Liberal and National Parties received from ‘non-individuals’ in 2014/15 (later figures are not available). It stands to reason that Turnbull just doesn’t ‘get it’. Somewhere around $10million would purchase a lot more influence than $6,500 or thereabouts. Is Turnbull upholding a principle or ‘playing the man’ for political gain?

The real problem here is that there is a disconnect. At what point do people just become numbers, or customers, political enemies or voters? It stands to reason that everyone has people they care about more than the person sitting in the car beside them in the traffic jam, however those who make the decisions in Australia seem to forget that they and their loved ones are a very small proportion of the 24 million plus people who live in Australia or the 7 billion plus people who inhabit the earth. While their job is not to ‘tuck each individual into bed each night’, those who are placed in positions of power need to remember that they are dealing with people’s lives, and act accordingly. Clearly, the Coalition government isn’t. Are they any better than the anonymous ‘troller’ who posts pornography to people’s social media accounts for the fun of it, or those past and present world leaders who carry out genocide for some warped idea of racial purity, without a care in the world about how the victims feel?

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.
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Our Government is morally bankrupt


Recently on this website, we discussed the nastiness of the conservatives that currently inhabit the halls of power in Canberra. Ad Astra’s article gave a number of examples that demonstrated the point and you can read the article here rather than have me go over the fertile ground yet again.

To paraphrase a sacked host of an extremely popular BBC television program loosely based on cars when talking about their ‘tame‘ racing-driver; some say they reached a low with treatment of refugees, others might suggest that the blatant disregard of human rights was worse — all we know is that the government allowing these things to happen is morally bankrupt. How about we look at the claim of moral bankruptcy in the cold light of day. There are a host of examples that could be provided.

Example 1: Offshore detention

We’ll start with offshore detention. During August, The Guardian came into possession of over 2,000 claims of mistreatment and abuse perpetrated on refugees held at a Detention Centre on Nauru funded by the Australian government and staffed by contractors to the Australian government. A significant number of the subjects of the reports were children. The holding company currently contracted to provide management services to the offshore detention centres was recently bought out by Spanish interests and —
… has been warned by professors at Stanford Law School that its directors and employees risk prosecution under international law for supplying services to Australia’s camps on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
“Based on our examination of the facts, it is possible that individual officers at Ferrovial might be exposed to criminal liability for crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute,” said Diala Shamas, a clinical supervising attorney at the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School.
They will not be extending their contract arrangements.

Dutton seems to have no problem in continuing to justify the obscenity perpetrated on refugees immorally held on Manus Island in our name. Dutton’s response to the (embarrassing to the government) release of the documents was to downplay the seriousness of the accusations, suggesting ‘Most of this has been reported on before.’

While Dutton may be correct in his assertion that ‘asylum seekers are … setting themselves on fire, deliberately self-harming, or making false allegations of sexual assault in order to come to Australia’, it is beyond comprehension to believe that every one of the 2,000 reports originally authored by Save the Children (who had a contract with the government to provide humanitarian services on Nauru) was false or exaggerated. When challenged, Dutton doubled down on the insults telling 7.30's Leigh Sales : ‘I think the situation is that people have paid people smugglers for a migration outcome.’

Dutton is a proxy for all Australians. We pay him to represent our standards, traditions and moral standards when the Coalition government is dealing with immigration matters. So his (as well as the actions of immigration ministers back to the days of the Keating government) actions are the actions of all of us because we elect the government. The current prime minister and most of the country were disgusted with the reports of abuse that occurred to children at the Don Dale Centre in Darwin. Yet the same government sees no problems with similar claims coming from children that this country put on Nauru on indefinite detention. At least those at Don Dale had a date they would be released.

Example 2: Changes to the Racial Discrimination Act

Senator Bernardi is canvassing support for a private members’ bill that will allow for discrimination to others based on race. While it could be argued that someone else’s opinion could be considered to be risible, their religion, gender, race or ancestry is not a determining factor in why their opinion or statement is what it is. Nevertheless, Bernardi claims every Liberal Party Senator bar one has signed a petition supporting the change.

Clearly we should not ‘offend’ or ‘insult’ anyone. Bernardi wants to legalise it, while not allowing intimidation and humiliation. That would be a fine line.

That the law was felt necessary in the first place is a sad indictment of Australian society as it demonstrates that a number of Australians believed they could insult and offend people based on their religion, race or ancestry. It is even a greater stain on our society that politicians are now actively campaigning to allow it to reoccur.

Example 3: The same sex marriage plebiscite

Since the election of the current parliament, there has been a continual debate about the necessity for a $160million plebiscite to ask Australian voters if the government should legislate to allow same gender marriage.

Let’s get something out of the way first up — there is no need for anyone outside parliament to do anything to make ‘same sex marriage’ legal in Australia. The Howard government inserted the ‘man and woman’ clause into the Marriage Act in 2004. According to Howard at the time:
(It should) not over time be subject to redefinition or change by courts, it is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.
So why can’t the elected representatives of the country change the law now?

According to The Monthly’s political editor Sean Kelly:
For a start, Turnbull accepted the plebiscite as a condition of becoming prime minister. We will never know if this was unavoidable or if, given the choice between losing government under Abbott and accepting a free vote under Turnbull rather than a plebiscite, the Nationals and the conservatives would have backed a strong-willed Turnbull anyway. Certainly Turnbull’s negotiating hand within the Coalition has never been stronger than it was then. But the lure of power can be hard to resist, and at the time the compromise would have seemed like a small thing to give away.
At the end of August, Fairfax’s Matthew Knott suggested that the brutal reality is there will be no free vote on marriage equity, although more recently apparently there have been discussions to make the plebiscite ‘self-executing’ (if the plebiscite is successful, it doesn’t need a vote in Parliament to become law).

The morally bankrupt issue here isn’t who sleeps with whom in the marital bedroom, it is the double standard that allows one conservative prime minister to engineer a change to an act of parliament to ensure that Courts do not have the powers to change or redefine the participants in a marriage, and when it comes time to reassess the action some 12 years later, the same process is determined to be insufficient by another Conservative government to make a change should it be deemed necessary. Instead the country will be forced to the polls in an exercise expected to cost over $160million (while we have a federal budget expenses problem) solely to shore up the credentials of the current and immediate past prime minister in the eyes of his own side of politics. To add insult to our injury here, one of the talking points with the ‘self-executing’ option would be:
… that no taxpayer money be given to either side. That would delight the "yes" camp but anger conservatives, given the Australian Christian Lobby has asked for $15 million in public funds.
Given that some of the same people that want no change to the Marriage Act want to change the Racial Discrimination Act Section 18C to allow offence and insults, opposition leader Shorten’s comment that the plebiscite will be ‘a taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia’ is probably closer to the truth than Turnbull’s claim that ‘Australia is capable of having a respectful debate on same-sex marriage’.

Example 4: Political donations

Senator Sam Dastyari resigned from the ALP ‘front bench’ last Wednesday night over the acceptance of an amount of around $1600 from a Chinese company to repay excess travel claims as well as around $5000 from another Chinese company to settle a legal case. While Dastyari was apparently compliant with federal law as both amounts were declared, he may have been in breach of ALP policy. Either way, why a Senator who receives around $200,000 in salary per annum needs assistance to pay his expenses is a matter for concern.

While the Coalition was claiming that he must go immediately, Deputy Prime Minister Joyce was far less damning regarding his own future last Tuesday night on ABC’s 7.30 current affairs program when asked why he received and kept donations from Mining Magnate Gina Reinhart. Is it splitting hairs to be able to justify some donations while decrying others?

The initial claim here is that our government is morally bankrupt. Surely the government’s treatment of refugees, changing legislation to allow offence to be legal, generating the conditions that will ensure homophobic behaviour is considered fair and reasonable as well as the splitting of hairs around political donations demonstrates the point.

Members of parliament are our employees. It is time for us to tell our politicians that we expect morals, ethics and consideration of the rights of others (regardless of their gender, religion, ancestry or sexual preference) to be more important than political point scoring, looking after mates (who probably donate to re-election campaigns) and the smell of ministerial leather in Canberra.

Jobs and growth as well as 100 positive policies are useless to Australia without the moral and ethical background that is necessary to implement these policies equitably.

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

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Bring out your debt


After a year of saying that he could get the Federal Budget back into surplus, seemingly by just cutting support to the less well off in our society, Treasurer Scott Morrison finally realised something any school child who has started business studies classes would be well aware of — a balance sheet comprises debits and credits.

Morrison was speaking to the Bloomberg Economic Summit in Sydney last week. Apart from the usual claims of deliberate obstruction from the Opposition, there was an acknowledgement that ‘Deficits have proven difficult to shift in recent years, despite applying significant expenditure controls’. Taxing more, which is apparently different from ‘protect[ing] the revenue base from structural weakness’, has been ruled out. That still allows measures such as enforcing GST payments on low value imports (such as the shopping you and I do over the internet), attempting (apparently again) to ensure that multi-nationals pay tax before shipping profits overseas and looking at ‘the way generous tax concessions are provided in the superannuation system’.

We even got a new (sort of) three-word slogan to illustrate how serious Morrison is: the ‘taxed and the taxed-nots’. Morrison correctly makes the claim that a lot of Australians have not experienced a recession in their adult lives or unemployment rates of over 10%. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of the ‘taxed and taxed-nots’. Probably the gold standard here is now Ambassador Joe Hockey’s ‘lifters and leaners’: while it was an effective slogan as people remember it, Hockey’s period as treasurer was noted only for an increase in the government’s debt and the infamous 2014 budget which still hasn’t passed parliament in its entirety.

Hockey and Morrison point the finger at the ALP for holding up savings measures in the Parliament. Most of the measures held up in the Parliament are spending measures because as Peter Martin reported:
As he [Morrison] puts it, "you don't encourage growth by taxing it more". Of course, withdrawing spending doesn't help much either, but to him it's a lesser evil.

Of the $40 billion in budget measures yet to be passed, more than 60 per cent constrain spending. Only a third, $15 billion, boost revenue.
The two big claims are that more Australians receive more in government benefits than they pay in tax and Australia (the government) will owe $1trillion to others in the near term should action not be taken immediately. Let’s look at the claims.

It’s probably a fair statement to suggest that about half of the population pay no nett tax. At least it was a couple of years ago. The architect of the current taxation and welfare systems, Howard era treasurer Peter Costello wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph a year or so ago which to an extent justifies his reasons:
Sometimes tax reforms involved lower income earners paying more — like the introduction of the GST — but we were always clear that the welfare system could be used to compensate for that. The welfare system is the way to redistribute income. That is not the role of the tax system. The tax system is there to raise revenue at the lowest cost in the most efficient way doing the least damage to the economy.

If you try to use both the tax and the welfare system to redistribute income you get punishing rates of income withdrawal as a person’s income rises. This is called the effective marginal tax rate (EMTR). As people lose benefits and pay higher taxes they can lose 60, 70 per cent, sometimes 100 per cent of every extra dollar they earn. This creates a huge disincentive to work. It creates poverty traps. And, it heightens the incentive to “hide” additional income.
And Costello has a point — the tax system is there to raise revenue at the lowest cost and do the least damage to the economy. If there is a need to return funds to a section of the community due to adverse circumstances, it is far easier to do so using targeted welfare, rather than arranging for exemptions and conditions in the taxation system. We could discuss the inequity in Costello’s targeting until next week if we wanted to but the professionals, such as The Australia Institute might have a better understanding.

According to The Australia Institute, Peter Costello’s actions during the ‘once in a lifetime’ mining boom was to:
… cut taxes so far and so fast that they forced the Reserve Bank of Australia to rapidly increase interest rates.

While countries like Norway took the benefits of resource price booms and banked them in their sovereign wealth fund, Peter Costello chose to cut taxes for the wealthy instead. He knew at the time that his populist generosity to the highest income earners would force future treasurers to choose between budget deficits or cutting spending on the sick, the poor and elderly. No prizes for guessing which our former treasurer prefers.

The only thing Peter Costello hates more than budget deficits is collecting the revenue needed to fix them. Just as his government did nothing about the long term challenge of climate change, his government did nothing to set up Australia's long term public finances.
If you want to, you can wade through the IMF’s report of government waste and profligacy released in January 2013 here or you can just take The Saturday Paper’s word for it that generally Australia was judged well except for four periods — the two largest under the stewardship of Howard as prime minister and Costello as treasurer (partial paywall). Howard and Costello were buying votes. It’s an easy sell to suggest that if you support my re-election campaign, I’ll give you money back in additional benefits or reduced taxes. As The Australia Institute suggests:
For the record, here are 5 of Treasurer Peter Costello’s most ‘profligate’ and inequitable decisions, which created the structural deficit inherited by his successors;

1. Income tax cuts, primarily for the rich, during the boom. Worth $37.6 billion or $26.4 billion if you exclude bracket creep in 2011-12

2. Capital gains tax discount. Worth $5.8 billion in 2014-15

3. Got rid of fuel excise indexation. Worth $5.5 billion in 2013-14

4. Superannuation tax cuts. Worth $2.5 billion in 2009-10

5. The decision to convert 'franking credits' into cash refunds for shareholders
They have given an explanation why each of the cuts has been incredibly bad value to the economy — go to the article to see them.

In some ways it is a delightful irony that the Coalition treasurers of the ‘twenty teens’ are having difficulty in politically justifying the spending cuts they believe are necessary to achieve their economic aim. Which leads us on to ‘message two’ as recently promoted by Morrison — Australia’s debt will hit a $1 trillion if nothing is done.

news.com.au breathlessly reported last week that Morrison’s statement to the Bloomberg Economic Summit would blow out to $1 trillion within the next 10 years if the government doesn’t get its budget savings through the parliament. Of course, according to Morrison anyway, this is the ALP’s fault and, while it is admitted that the figure is the ‘worst case scenario’, the implication is that Keating’s ‘Banana Republic’ would have nothing on the resulting recession.

Apparently, a trillion looks like this; 1,000,000,000,000. Australia’s annual GDP (our income before expenses) is currently around $893billion (or $893,000,000,000) according to the Parliament of Australia’s website. While all debt does have to be repaid at some point there is bad debt and good debt — a nuance that seems to be lacking in the current political debate.

Bad debt in the case of the government is where they are borrowing money to pay for recurrent items such as wages, the cost of stationery or similar items. To bring it back to a domestic level, if you were to go to the supermarket and petrol station each week and get your groceries and fuel on the credit card while only repaying the minimum amount due, two things would eventually happen: the first is that you would hit the credit limit of the card and the retailers would not accept any further charges; and two, the cost of the groceries and fuel you had already consumed would rise exorbitantly as the usually high interest on the purchases made on a credit card would continue until the debt was repaid in full (together with the interest).

Good debt is something else again. Governments borrow money for capital works and long term investments. Again bringing it down to a domestic level, if you borrow money to purchase a home to live in, depending where you live in Australia you are entering a contract with a financial institution for them to loan you considerably more than you can possibly earn in a year. Here’s an example using Westpac’s ‘How much can I borrow’ calculator for a couple with two dependent children.

Borrower 1 earns around $60,000 per annum and Borrower 2 earns around $45,000 per annum and they have some expenses. If you assume that they have a 20% deposit they would probably be in the market for a property priced around $800,000 to $900,000. To save time, we’ll leave the discussion on what they can/should buy and where to the property websites and TV shows. The point here is that between our two borrowers, their joint income is around $100,000 per annum. The Westpac borrowing calculation is really saying that to purchase a home, they can borrow about seven times their annual income and in parts of Australia, they will need every cent of it.

If our mythical borrowers were contemplating borrowing up to seven times their annual income no one would blink an eyelid, as buying a home is ‘good debt’ and the ratio of around 7 to 1 hasn’t changed for decades.

What we have yet to establish is if the potential government $1 trillion debt is good debt or bad debt. Last Sunday on our website we observed that of the $37 billion in additional debt Australia had placed in the 2016 budget, $36 billion of it was for capital works. Generally capital works are an improvement to a particular site that generates income in some way — either directly (say the construction of a new factory to house a production process) or indirectly (improving people’s quality of life by putting a roof over their head for the long term). Just like buying a home, capital works is generally good debt for government, provided we can meet the repayments, as it improves the amenity of our society through more efficient transport connections, better communications or increased services to the community.

Morrison’s recent speeches on debt and disaster therefore are duplicitous on two levels: while the ALP certainly didn’t clean up the overly generous welfare system, neither did they create it (if anything the ALP and the Greens are trying to inject some fairness into the changes blocked in the 2014 and subsequent budgets so the better off ‘feel the pain’ as well); and if a bank will lend our hypothetical ‘borrower 1’ and ‘borrower 2’ nearly seven times their annual income to purchase a capital item (a home to live in), why is there so much concern about Australia’s borrowings potentially getting to a value slightly over one year’s income or GDP (prior to deductions) in around 10 years’ time?

The problem with all this is that Morrison is claiming a debt of $1 trillion will send this country into a recession like we have never seen before. Who knows, it may — but the chances are pretty remote. The more probable alternative is that our society shares the output from the borrowing by our government and the resultant economic benefits. The economic benefits of the better road, rail line or telecommunications infrastructure makes money for the businesses and individuals who use it, who then earn more and pay more tax giving the government the resources to repay the original debt.

Morrison is half way on his ‘road to Damascus’ in that it recently seems to have ‘clicked’ that alterations to the revenue side of the Australian budget are just as necessary as his and his immediate predecessor’s fixation with the expense side of the ledger to the detriment to those on lower incomes. Now he just needs to understand that there are different types of debt; and some of them are actually good for our society.

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

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Rethinking our priorities
2353NM, 28 August 2016
Some believe that those who purchase Lotto entries, play pokies or Keno or participate in other forms of gambling are effectively paying an idiot tax. On a purely rational level, they may be right as there is a significant chance that the few dollars you give to the Lotto machine operator or similar is wasted money — albeit a small proportion goes to the government in some form of wagering tax.

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Rethinking our priorities


Some believe that those who purchase Lotto entries, play pokies or Keno or participate in other forms of gambling are effectively paying an idiot tax. On a purely rational level, they may be right as there is a significant chance that the few dollars you give to the Lotto machine operator or similar is wasted money — albeit a small proportion goes to the government in some form of wagering tax.

There are of course, many that disagree and happily put their money down to have a chance of winning considerably more than they started with. It doesn’t matter if it is pure luck or there is some skill involved in the wagering process; each time the money is gambled there is a small hope that the gamblers world will get much better financially very soon. Gambling companies have to publicise the chances of ‘winning big’ these days, and it’s on their website (albeit right down the bottom of a menu).

Despite the miniscule chances of winning a life changing amount, we all at some point have wondered what it would be like to be able to afford anything we wanted to do. Well, Steve Colquhoun probably couldn’t afford it but he hasn’t had to wonder either. You see Colquhoun up until recently was a writer for Executive Style on the Fairfax Media websites and the list of what he has done to file his stories is awesome. Despite seemingly having it all (with the added bonus of not having to pay for it), he’s giving it up to spend valuable time with his ‘long suffering’ family. Maybe you can’t have it all.

Sadly, most of us will never win a substantial amount of money gambling or have a job reviewing ‘experiences’ for Executive Style. That’s why financial institutions were invented — to lend money.

Provided you meet some criteria, there are any number of financial institutions that will lend you money for all sorts of things. Running a bit short until next payday — there are organisations that will lend to ‘tide you over’. Is your TV too small? — there is a lender for that as well. It’s the same if you want to buy furniture, cars, holidays, houses or pretty well anything else that takes your fancy; ‘come in and talk to our friendly and helpful staff and you can walk out with the item of your dreams’. Lenders are there to sell money. Interest on the money they sell is the cost to the purchaser of buying the money now rather than waiting until the consumer can walk in and ‘write the cheque’ (which these days is usually ‘do a bank transfer’ — which is a completely separate can of worms to talk about another day). The lenders take a risk in lending for periods of up to 30 years (for a house) based on the financial affordability that you can demonstrate today and they price the risk in, making the loan according to the facts they have at their disposal. Financial institutions like to get their money back. If the loan is secured (you pledge that they can get something of equal or higher value if you choose not to pay the lender’s money back), the lender will price the money accordingly.

So, for example if you are looking for a few hundred to tide you over until payday, the facts a lender would consider include why you only need money for such a short term and the chances of you not being able to be found when it’s time to repay the debt; and charge you a high cost (interest rate) for the use of their money. Traditionally, people borrow money for a home, assets that appreciate in value or a tool of trade (a machine of some sort that generates more income than it consumes). Without trying to be flippant, it is the bread and butter business of the financial industry. Assuming you have the income and can demonstrate you fit the criteria for security and repayment capability, there are hundreds of lenders around Australia that will lend you the money now to fund your purchase if you promise to repay the debt over a specified period. Generally, houses increase in value, which means that while you are paying a fee to use someone’s money, the increase in value of the house will over time probably exceed the interest you pay. Tools of trade generate more income than they cost — a plumber would find it difficult to get to their next job with all their tools if they relied on public transport and a machine that can double the output of a product will generate cash for the business that buys it. You could say everyone’s a winner.

Some loans don’t make as much sense. If you borrow money to purchase a personal use car or consumer goods, you are paying a higher interest rate and generally the item you are purchasing doesn’t appreciate in value as a house does. A ten-year-old car is worth far less than a new one, while a house that you have lived in for ten years will probably be worth more than what you paid a decade ago. The car or other consumer item you are purchasing is also transportable, you can drive a car across the country; you can hide an expensive watch in your pocket and so on. Accordingly, the lender will charge you a higher fee for the privilege of using their money.

Borrowing to purchase a home, an asset that should appreciate in value or a tool used to produce income is an accepted part of Australian lifestyle, so much so that when the Commonwealth Bank recently announced a $9.45 billion profit claiming the bank's flagship retail business underpinned the profit growth, the media reports suggested:
Investors were underwhelmed by the result from a bank that trades at a premium to peers, with CBA shares falling 1.3 per cent to $77.40.
In fact, one of the points of difference between the two major political parties at the last federal election was the future treatment of ‘income losses’ produced by taxpayers negatively gearing investment borrowings. Neither party was suggesting that borrowing money to fund the purchase of income producing assets was a bad idea: the ALP claimed they were attempting to reduce the heat in the property market in some of Australia’s large cities (and gain revenue) while the Coalition wanted to keep the status quo.

Yet at the same time as the Coalition is suggesting to you and I that if we can demonstrate to a financial institution that we can afford the repayments we should be able to purchase all the houses we like (and the subsequent increase in prices pushing first home buyers out to areas where services such as shopping, transport and so on are either not provided or far more expensive), we have former Treasurer Peter Costello on ABC’s Four Corners claiming:
PETER COSTELLO: Superannuation changes aren't going to balance the budget; that's obvious. The only way you'll balance this budget is if you get spending below 25 percent of GDP, right? We're at about 25.8 percent now. Um you cannot balance a budget on that. Until such time as you get your expenditures below 25, and preferably well below 25, you won't balance a budget. Super won't do it.
Yes, this is the same Peter Costello who introduced a number of expenditure measures (tax relief to companies and subsidies to average and higher income earners) while Treasurer during the period that Australia was in the fortunate position of higher than traditional revenue due to the mining boom. His ‘profligacy’ has been a problem for all the governments that followed him. As The Saturday Paper observed in December 2014:
Profligate is not our word. It was the word used by the International Monetary Fund in a major report it released early last year, that examined 200 years of government financial records across 55 major economies, identifying periods of government prudence and profligacy in spending.

Overall, Australia was judged very favourably. For most of the country’s history, governments of both persuasions had been prudent economic managers. The IMF identified only four periods of profligacy. The two biggest were during the Howard–Costello years. They were in 2003 and then between 2005 and 2007, and they accompanied the mining boom.

On its face, the IMF assessment might seem harsh. After all, before they were voted out in 2007, Howard and Costello had delivered six budget surpluses in a row.

But they also seriously undermined the structural integrity of the budget by making big spending commitments and giving huge tax cuts, on the basis of a flood of revenue that would inevitably dry up.

“You can sum it up in four words,” says Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics. “Temporary boom, permanent promises.”
Whether Costello or Treasury were responsible for the permanent spending caused by a temporary boom is not the issue. The issue is the consistent bashing over the head we receive with the claim that the budget must balance and government debt is bad. At the same time, the government of the day and Treasury are encouraging the Australian population to assume debt in the form of home loans, through processes such as the ‘First Home Owners Grants’, the ability to claim losses from investment properties as a deduction on tax returns, as well as the capital gain being halved prior to the tax calculation if the appreciating asset is held for a period in excess of one year, they are telling us that all government debt is bad. On a logical basis, it just doesn’t make sense.

While most Australians would prefer not to incur debt on recurrent expenditure, such as fuel for their vehicle or the weekly trip to the supermarket of their choice, it is probably fair to assume that governments would prefer not to pay for wages and subsidies from debt funding as the costs are recurrent in both cases. But, just as it makes sense for Australians to incur debt to purchase appreciating assets or tools of trade it is probably just as valid for the governments around Australia to incur debt for infrastructure that will either appreciate in value or produce income in excess of the costs of the debts (especially when interest costs are so low at the moment). After all, if there is benefit in a concept that benefit should accrue regardless of the corporate status (individual, company or government) of the ‘person’ that will benefit. When someone spends money, the whole economy benefits, through people receiving wages and then creating demand in the economy. Governments are the financial industry’s ultimate safe borrower — there is almost no chance that the government will renege on the agreement and they almost invariably repay their debts to the cent at the required time. Ross Gittens recently wrote in Fairfax media:
Treasury wants little old ladies to feel as guilty about borrowing to improve the Pacific Highway as they do about borrowing for "routine government expenses".

So, let's worry about getting the recurrent budget back to surplus (as most state governments did long ago), but not about borrowing for infrastructure. Agreed?

Except that when you read the budget papers carefully enough to find the info Treasury has hidden on page 6-17, you discover that the expected underlying cash deficit for this financial year of $37 billion includes capital spending of $36 billion.

Get it? We're already back to a balanced recurrent budget. So why so much hand-wringing? And why aren't we getting on with planning the infrastructure pipeline we could expedite "in the event that we were to need a big demand stimulus"?
So much for the debt and deficit disaster that Australia will inevitably face. It seems most of the debt that Australia is going to incur this year is for capital expenditure such as upgrading the Pacific Highway. Whatever happened to the country that completed the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the water pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie and the building of thousands of kilometres of railway lines, then roads, all paid for at least in part with borrowings?

Australia as a nation can’t wait until we get ‘lucky 7’ on the roulette wheel, the winner in the third at Moonie Valley or win the lotto to justify spending on improvements to our infrastructure that will improve our way of life well into the future.

And to prove you can’t have it all, it seems that winning the lotto is not all it is cracked up to be.

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

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Rudd and Abbott: saviour of their parties


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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