And that was . . . 2014

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Sunday, 4 January 2015 18:30 by TPS Team

Welcome to 2015. Happy New Year from The TPS Team.

Traditionally The Political Sword tends to avoid too much politics and media bashing in January as in reality Australians are more interested in the beach, cricket, being with friends and complaining about how hot/cold/unusual the weather is. While it would be easy to write a piece about the less than impressive record of the Abbott Government, there are other sites already expending much effort on this — some examples are here and here — and in any event Ad Astra foretold the reality in 2012 but boasting of TPS’s past achievements in the first post of the year is not a good look! However we digress.

It’s often said that a week is a long time in politics. While the daily news cycle gets faster and less detailed, let’s look back at 2014 and see if there really was that much change in Australian politics during the year.

The newly minted Abbott Government came to power late in 2013 in part by pointing out that the leader of the other side of politics was either a liar or so controlling his supporters had to sack him. The federal government opened 2014 having to put out a minor bushfire over who was really running the country, the elected politicians or the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.

Senator Abetz told a Senate estimates hearing last week: "At the end of the day it was decided by the Prime Minister as to who would be appointed to my ministerial staff and to the staff of my ministerial colleagues,"

As revealed by Fairfax, Ms Credlin has insisted that all 420 government staff appointments right down to junior electorate officers are approved by the panel.

The ‘axing’ of the ‘carbon tax’ was a work in progress early in 2014. Despite promising that the repeal of the carbon pricing scheme would be one of the first actions of the Abbott Government, reality hit when it didn’t pass the Senate. Abbott had to wait until the Senate changed to get a ‘watered down’ repeal of the necessary acts of parliament through with the assistance of Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party. Various utilities are now passing back the ‘savings’ that were made by the repeal of the ‘carbon tax’. When Ipswich City Council in Queensland recently announced that a refund to ratepayers would be paid just in time for Christmas and average $14.04, the response was rather underwhelming according to the Queensland Times:

Carla Kompenhans posted: "$14; early Christmas present? Are you serious? I don't know anyone who would be excited about that.

"What part of Christmas will that cover exactly?"

In 2014, Australia was the ‘Chair’ of the G20 Group of Nations; consequently the Finance Ministers’ meeting was held in Cairns and the Heads of State meeting held in Brisbane during the latter part of 2014. The leadership of the Australian government (Prime Minister Abbott) was also keen to keep climate change off the agenda at the G20 meetings — much to the concern of the Europeans. With China and the USA announcing an agreement to actively reduce carbon emissions by up to 28% below 2005 levels on the Wednesday prior to the G20 Heads of State meeting, the subject was never going to go away. Widely reported was Obama’s speech to University of Queensland students in suburban ‘Brisvegas’ where he discussed his, China’s and the United Nations concerns about climate change and carbon emissions.

He then described the impact of climate change on Australia:

Here, a climate that increases in temperature will mean more extreme and frequent storms, more flooding, rising seas that submerge Pacific islands. Here in Australia, it means longer droughts, more wildfires. The incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened. Worldwide, this past summer was the hottest on record. No nation is immune, and every nation has a responsibility to do its part.

Obama also called on the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions:

And you’ll recall at the beginning, I said the United States and Australia have a lot in common. Well, one of the things we have in common is we produce a lot of carbon. Part of it’s this legacy of wide-open spaces and the frontier mentality, and this incredible abundance of resources. And so, historically, we have not been the most energy-efficient of nations, which means we’ve got to step up.

Abbott’s response, as reported on the Mashable website, was less compelling.

In contrast, Abbott told reporters that the U.S. and China have a far greater responsibility to address climate change than Australia does. “China emits some 24% of global carbon dioxide,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Nov. 14. “The U.S. emits some 15% of global carbon dioxide. By contrast, Australia’s about 1%. So, I think it’s important that they do get cracking when it comes to this.”

Despite Abbott’s wishes, the final communiqué from the Brisbane G20 included some action on climate change. Turkey is the ‘Chair’ of the G20 in 2015 and has stated support for a number of climate measures in the past.

No recollection on political events within Australia in 2014 would be complete without a reflection on the life of Edward Gough Whitlam. It is claimed that Gough Whitlam made the ALP electable again. Geoffrey Robinson writing on The Conversation website suggested that the claim Whitlam was solely responsible for making Labor electable may be overblown:

The truth is more complex and interesting. Whitlam was a man for his time: his achievements were representative of new and old social movements, including the emerging progressive intelligentsia, feminists, non-Anglo migrants and the working class.

Robinson also observes

Like Keating or Julia Gillard, Whitlam has functioned as what cultural theorists call a “floating signifier” — a symbol whose power and significance is necessarily distantly connected to historical events. “It’s Time”, “the sweetest victory of all” and the “misogyny speech” exist in a world of symbols but are none the less real for this.

While there doesn’t seem to be a 1972 campaign advertisement for the Liberal Party online (if you find one, please post the link below the line), the performance of then Prime Minister McMahon on Mike Willesee’s A Current Affair is a stark contrast to the Labor Party’s ‘It’s Timeelection campaign and probably explains in part why the Liberal Party was not re-elected.

Fast forward to November 2014, and the Victorian state election. The Liberal/National coalition was removed from office after one term by the ALP, led by Daniel Andrews, who came from behind to win the fancy office in Spring Street. The common opinion at the previous election was that the ALP (then led by John Brumby) would retain Government with a reduced margin with the polls for the then state Liberal leader (Ted Ballieu) rising and falling in line with the corresponding falls and rises of Gillard’s ALP government in Canberra. Ballieu had won then but didn’t even last out the four year term as premier, being replaced by Denis Napthine soon after Rudd replaced Gillard. While Newman is still premier of Queensland, there seems to be a concern within the ranks of the LNP that Newman may also lose his seat and the LNP lose Government early in 2015 when the next Queensland election is due. The Abbott government is significantly less popular than the ALP or in fact themselves when elected some 18 months ago:

In opposition, Abbott liked to say that Julia Gillard was the most incompetent and untrustworthy prime minister in Australia's history.

The voters now have decided that they have found one that's more incompetent and just as untrustworthy.

"Only half of people polled said that Abbott is competent," says the Fairfax pollster, Jess Elgood of Ipsos.

"That's lower than for any prime minister we have figures for," a data set starting with Paul Keating in 1995.

Compared to Abbott's 50 per cent, the comparable figure for Gillard four months before she was deposed was 53 per cent.

Not a lot did change in the world of Australian politics in 2014. At the start and end of the year, we have the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff being the news rather than managing the PM’s office. At the end of 2014, there are claims of disagreements with Foreign Minister Bishop and of ruling the government with an ‘iron fist’.

The media is still leading discussion on climate change and how to manage it (with price signals — such as a ‘carbon tax’ being mentioned as an effective mechanism), and that Abbott either is changing or should change his view that ‘climate change is crap’.

Governments in various jurisdictions around the country are still not doing well in polling after they have been accused of lying or not being able to organise themselves — with Victoria changing government; Queensland’s Premier implying he will lose the significant majority won at the 2012 event at the next election; and the Federal Government some 10% behind the opposition after 18 months. Australians are still complaining about the ‘carbon tax’ — this time the small refunds that are gradually making their way onto invoices from its repeal; and the country has lost another ‘person of renown’ in the guise of Gough Whitlam.

Let’s hope that 2015 is another year of civilised discourse on The Political Sword and that the genuine nature of the discussions here spreads to other blog sites, the media and our civilisation in general. Prime Minister Hawke achieved more results through building a consensus than Prime Minister Whitlam did by trying to crash through. Please keep your hatred for the mozzie that bit you at the BBQ last week — we on this site and on this earth genuinely don’t need it.

A bit of housekeeping to conclude this piece. The TPS Team will be reducing our output for January. The ability to comment ‘below the line’ will be open all month and we invite relevant comment as usual. There will be some new commentary posted during January on an irregular schedule (so keep looking). We will return to our weekly (or better) schedule on 1 February 2015. Be aware it’s not all sitting by the pool in the banana lounge for The TPS Team, there is usually one of us sitting near the computer with our finger poised over the ‘delete’ button for those that haven’t yet lost the hatred.

Happy New Year and may all you wish for come to pass. We look forward to your continuing support and comments in 2015.

The TPS Team