Australian Politics, Climate Change, Cuts, Greg Hunt, Kevin Rudd, Liberal National Party, Tony Abbott

Week Ten : Keating Versus Abbott – The ABC Interviews

Last Tuesday night was a particularly delectable affair on the ABC. Kerry O’Brien had the astute honour of interviewing former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, who is one of the most formidable political, economic and social minds of Australia’s history. Now, I may be prone to hyperbole every now and then, but Keating has long been my personal idol, a veritable intellectual behemoth and probably one of the best things to happen to this country.

During the interview with Kerry O’Brien, you got a real sense of where Keating came from, not only a politician but also as a person. He was clearly a man of conviction, vision and ideas. I was particularly impressed when he said “ Having enemies worries some people, for me it is a badge of honour”.  It seems to cut deep into the current polity, which is more concerned with polling than with what is actually best for the country.

Keating was also a man of class. He had the ear of the working people and the respect of the knowledge class.  Yet most importantly, he didn’t try to portray the illusion that he was just the “everyman”, who lacked an interest in cultural and intellectual pursuits like Howard did. No, here was a man with an appreciation for neoclassicism, a fondness for antiquities and clocks as well as a thirst for knowledge. His Prime Ministerial career was far too short, but his legacy in parliament was considerable.

If there was anything to bring me back into reality, it was a recent interview with Leigh Sales,Tony Abbott and the Prime Minister’s pause utterances last Wednesday Night on the 7:30 Report.  The interview kicked off with the apparent mandate for the Coalition’s electoral win – the repeal of the Carbon Tax.  Sales queried what Abbot would do in the event that the bill to repeal the tax is unsuccessful.

Abbott: Well, um, I won’t make the assumption that it won’t get through the parliament. The Labor Party are deeply divided on this Leigh. It said that Bill Shorten himself would prefer to let it through. Certainly, if you’re fair dinkum about supporting worker’s job security, about saving families $550 a year, getting power bills down by $200 per year, gas bills down by $70 a year, you will allow the Carbon Tax Repeal legislation  to go through.

Abbott continued to press the apparent mandate the LNP government has in terms of repealing the carbox tax, despite the fact that the true source of the Coalition’s win was that they weren’t the ALP and lacked their party politics that inflicted itself on Australia since 2007. The Prime Minister did provide assurances to the claim that the ACCC will act as a “price police” to monitor the ease of cost of living pressures. However, considering that the Carbon Price had a negligible affect on the cost of living, I find these claims remarkably hard to substantiate.

Perhaps if you say things loudly enough, the masses will believe it. It seemed to work while the LNP were in opposition.

Sales then addresses the topic of of the LNP’s direct action policy and whether it will be able to secure the 5% reduction in emissions. The Prime Minister was “very confident” that they will be able to achieve the reduction, even though Greg Hunt MP saying on breakfast radio that the 5% reduction will be unconditional. Abbott made no assurances that if the 5% emmissions cut wasn’t reached, that he would increase spending. Rather, the direct action policy is capped and fully costed and it will work. No. Matter. What.

The interview continues with the standard model answers – namely contingency plans are completely unnecessary because the plan will work. Furthermore, anytime the question was raised that the public would be interested in accessing information, which informs Government policy, Abbott responds with derision or pulls out his often quoted slogans of “Stop the Boats”.

I’ve watched the interview several times and quite frankly there isn’t enough wine in my house to dissect Abbott’s responses without falling into an alcoholic stupor. For the sake of my mental sanity, I will leave my analysis there. I do hope that as Abbott’s term in government continues, he will stop blaming the legacy of the ALP and actually start taking accountability for his actions.

Until then, this girl can dream. Oh wait, one of those dreams nearly came true – Kevin Rudd has retired from Parliament, which meant that any attention  directed at Abbott’s woeful interview performance went straight back to the Kevin Rudd for More Kevin Rudd Party. Well played, KRudd.

Next week, I look at the Coalition’s Government’s approach to the so called “asylum seeker problem” over several bottles of white wine while on a boat. I suspect the coalition’s approach to human rights will make me feel even more nauseous than the combination of wine and motion sickness. Wish me well.

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Australian Labor Party, Australian Politics, Cuts, Liberal National Party, Tony Abbott, Uncategorized

Week 5: Is that a wedding in your pocket, or is my expense allowance pleased to see you?

Believe it or not, Abbott has been our Prime Minister for a little over a month now. Potentially more frightening still, the ALP hasn’t decided who will be the next opposition leader and, like that  Arts student we all know and love, has requested an extension on the ballot.

Over the past few weeks, Abbott has slashed funding for anything to do with Science, making the decision to eliminate the science department or any other branch of Government that hints to the existence of climate change. Personally, I’m not shocked at all by these announcements and I continue to baulk at people who do so.

Politically Oblivious Friend: Did you know they were going to cut back the science department? I’m shocked and appalled. Plus what about climate change?

Me: Well, Abbott has held the view that, and I loosely quote, climate change is a lot of “crap”. So it’s hardly surprising that he would do such a thing.

POF: But … I voted for the LNP and I expected better.

Me: That’s your first mistake. Never mind. Take some panadol, have a nap. You can even cry into this framed photo I have of Turnbull when he was leader of the opposition. Remember those days? He stood for something, and not just on something or someone. Just think – this could be over in three years if you play your cards right.

POF: Thanks. I feel a bit better now. I’d better go, I think I hear the women knocking on the cabinet door again. God they’re persistent.

One area of political life which hasn’t been subject to budgetary thriftiness is weddings, also known as the great economic stimulant of the Abbott Government. It was recently announced that Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed $600 to attend Peter Slipper‘s wedding, the very man who holds the dubious honour of being a political pass the parcel that no one ever seems to want. Naturally, Slipper is flabbergasted at the flagrant hypocrisy of Abbott being able to repay the amount he was able to claim in 2006, an opportunity that was never afforded to him and he now faces potential charges for the misuse of cab charges. (SMH:2013) Apparently attending weddings are an expensive business. Attorney General George Brandis and veritable Comedienne of the National Party, Barnaby Joyce also claimed considerable expenses to attend Michael Smith’s wedding. It apparently costs a few thousand dollars in tax payer funding to attend the wedding of a shock jock. ( SMH: 2013 ) Prime Minister Tony Abbott also claimed thousands to attend Mirabella wedding, however in light of Ms Mirabella’s delightful reputation, he should have just kept the money as payment for a community service. ( ABC : 2013)

The scary thing though is not the fact that Brandis apparently dominated the dance floor, but the formerly loud voices of accountability aren’t being heard. I’m not one to say this too frequently, but where is Chris Bowen when you need him? He politely requested the LNP “come forth” and admit they were wrong. Christine Milne  has announced that the Greens will propose accountability legislation once Parliament resumes ( SMH: 2013) however I can’t imagine that would garner much support as both sides have shown how capable they are at helping themselves to the public purse.

There have been public calls to tighten the scope for politicians to claim back compensation. I understand that the Department of Finance and Deregulation specifies that expenses for official business such as “meetings of a Governent advisory committee or taskforce are permitted”. I also understand that claims can be made for “functions representing a minister of presiding officer”.  (I don’t really, but let’s pretend that I do) We should make things much more straightforward and eliminate the legalese – “if in doubt, there’s no pay out”. Therefore, any event that does not relate to the good governance of Australia is not entitled to receive tax payer funding, particularly times in budgetary distress. That’s right, I’m looking at you weddings.

Dr Hewson summed it up beautifully when he said that the LNP were at the risk of loosing their reputations as economic managers by retrieving funds from the taxpayers purse. Abbott will need to take swift action on the issue of MP expenditure in the same way Howard did in 1996-7. It will cost him a few ministers, but if history teaches us anything it’s that Australian voters have remarkably poor collective memories when sport is on the front page.

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AusAID, Australian Labor Party, Australian Politics, Cuts, DFAT, Liberal National Party, Tony Abbott

Week Two: The Marriage of AusAid and DFAT

The Abbott Government recently announced that AusAid will be subsumed into DFAT in a bid to reduce “duplication and waste” across the public service.

The decision to integrate AusAid into DFAT will have clear implications upon aid delivery. First, this represents a considerable cut to DFAT and AusAid.  The AusAid Director, General Peter Baxter has already resigned in response to the reforms. It is expected that the merger will affect 1300 AusAid employees, who will see their numbers dwindle by way of “natural attrition” (SMH: 2013) These fears are enhanced after the then opposition announced it could make cuts totaling $4.5 Billion over the next three years.

It is, however,  unclear what this means for Australian aid recipients. Some analysts are expecting that this will mean our aid delivery will become more closely aligned to our diplomatic objectives. Surely this can’t be a bad thing – aid has been traditionally been used to further diplomatic objectives and build relationships with key strategic regions. At least, this is how aid has been traditionally been used as a foreign policy tool. Consider the Marshall Plan, developed by the US after World War Two, which saw the rebuilding of Europe. Or the favourable trade and aid policies afforded to East Asian nations, such as Japan and Korea. That was a mutually beneficial relationship – The US gained access to invaluable growing markets and the recipients were able to benefit from favorable trade conditions and millions were lifted out of poverty as a result.

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Credit : AAP

Unlike many aid organisations, I’m not entirely sold that this is a terrible idea. But then again – this largely is dependent upon how you define “aid” and what its purpose is in the global economy.

You see, some hippies like the Chief Executive of World Vision, Tim Costello, believe that Aid is for the betterment of mankind. Costello has a tendency to go on about “helping the poor” or some other hippy nonsense about feeding the hungry.  (ABC News: 2013).  Generally, this argument is entrenched in the heats and minds of do gooders who believe that people shouldn’t live in absolute poverty. They argue that we have a duty, as members of the developed world, to help those in need.

If that warm, fuzzy stuff doesn’t get you, these Aid loving freaks also suggests that this severely undermines our credibility on an international stage. Archie Law from ActionAid is a proponent of this argument – that by linking aid with trade we are effectively lowering our reputation internationally. He bases this ridiculous assertion on a few telephone calls with key international players, and the way the UN treated him when we had this policy presumably under Howard. (Radio Australia : 2013) Sure, whatever Mr Law, you my good sir are a Law unto yourself.

Other players on the conservative side of the political fence view it slightly differently. Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor of The Australian believes that this represents the most important reform to aid since … well ever.  He believes that aid was being used as a political instrument to garner international support in the UN and a seat on the Security Council. Sheridan argues that alleviating poverty, promoting development and ensuring that this work is in accordance with the national interest is what good aid is all about. (The Australian: 2013)

Correct me if I’m wrong, Mr Sheridan – but isn’t landing a seat on the UN security council in our national interest? Isn’t it in our national interest to develop a benevolent reputation in the international community? To show that we have a commitment to improve the global economy and combat poverty?

Nah.

On a serious note however, I do agree that we need to refine how we distribute our aid. Big aid doesn’t always mean effective distribution and I concede he makes a valid point about needing to target where we allocate our funds. Perhaps we will be able to achieve greater economies by integrating AusAid with DFAT. Perhaps the Abbott Government will push for a stronger, regional focus where our money can be effectively monitored, managed and used to the betterment of the Asia-Pacific region.  As it presently stands, I’m not sold, especially with Abbott’s disappointing announcement of cuts to foreign aid. But that’s not to insinuate it might not happen, after all, I live in perpetual hope.

The central problem of these reforms is that the focus is not about making aid more effective, but about pushing aid further off centre stage, while blurring the lines of accountability. I for one am disappointed – Australia should have a positive role to play in the global community. I quietly hoped that Abbott’s catholic values of charity and loving thy neighbor would shine through.

I was wrong. But we have three years for me to be proved otherwise.

If you want to know more about aid and why it matters, be sure to check out organisations such as Oxfam, Care Australia, RESULTS Australia or ActionAid. If you don’t want to know more, be sure to read The Australian.

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