Australian Labor Party, Australian Politics, Cabinet, Julie Bishop, Liberal National Party, Tony Abbott, Women

Week Two – The Cabinet’s Open but the Women are in the Basement

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Source: Tracey Nearmy: AAP, from The Drum (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-05/tony-abbott/4865344)

            Yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Elect Tony Abbott announced his cabinet and ministry. It was a triumphant conference; in fact his speech was so engaging I only needed 10 cups of coffee to stay alert for the full 15 minutes. Take that for inspirational speeches President Obama. For a man who was just reading a list, he should be nominated a Golden Globe for the number of pause utterances used in a single media conference.

My criticism of his media performance aside, the line up for the next LNP Government was well and truly less than inspiring. The first notable difference of Abbott’s Government was that titles for ministerial positions were much shorter. None of this “Minister of Education, Workplace Relations, Health Care, Shiny Shoes, Tea and Middle Australians for more Kevin Rudd” nonsense the ALP were apparently all about. No sire. In fact, I received an email this morning from the Excessively Long Business Card Association expressing dismay at the state of the new Government.

I am concerned in terms of what the contracted portfolios means for forging clear lines of accountability to ministers. For example, let’s consider the Government’s ill-advised decision to cut Science from the ministry.  The Minister for Industry, the Hon Ian MacFarlane, will subsume this position however this is not particularly clear. We live in a system which is reliant on an absurd notion called Government Accountability. The Executive is accountable to the Government and the Government is accountable to the electorate. Or at least, I think that’s how it works, I fell asleep during Public Law.

The Abbott Government’s ministry strongly sets the tone for the next three years. It is here to Govern with its shiny mandate, from the safe, conservative centre, with limited prospect for substantial reform. Abbott’s ministry doesn’t exactly scream a vision for the future, with science and research /development type portfolios making the cut. These structural changes are concerning for several reasons. First, my  concern relates to the economic viability of Australia in the future. It is anticipated that the Australian Economy will slow down further to reflect the global economic conditions and this will be compounded with the halting of the mining boom and uncertain consumer demand. Some guy called Keynes discussed the concept of counter-cyclical economic management – effectively  now is the opportunity to invest in capital which will put us in good stead to be leaders in the global economy. We need to start creating the jobs of the future and developing the infrastructure to ensure we grow for another 21 years. A government which is uncommitted to the structural reforms needed to ensure that growth will only create future stagnation.

My second concern is that this ministry will shape the type of Australia they hope we will become in the next three years and it looks remarkably like the vision Howard wanted in 1996 – 2007. I didn’t share that vision then and I don’t share it now. The Ministry suggests a strong return to nationalistic sentiment, a compelling example is promotion of Border Security to the cabinet and the elevation of sports in the ministry.

The Abbott Government has also rightly been criticized for the lack of women in Cabinet and ministerial positions. In the Cabinet, we have Julie Bishop and … well that’s about it really. I have tremendous amount of respect of Bishop, she is sharp, fierce and incredibly intelligent. But even this feels tokenistic. There is a stronger showing of women in the outer ministry, with Sen. Fiona Nash (great first name by the way), the Hon. Sussan Ley, Marise Payne and Michaelia Cash. LNP, give yourselves a pat on the back, 5 out of 30 is pretty much 50%. Good show old boys.

Much of the arguments used to counter claims of the poor female presence in cabinet are based on merit. I agree with this argument – to a point. It is hard to foster female talent when there isn’t a quota in place, as there is under the ALP or the Greens. It’s hard to foster that talent when the LNP operates like a glorified gentleman’s club. And it’s hard to foster talent when none of the LNP leaders has expressed any particular interest in bringing women to the fore and nurturing female talent. Of course, quotas and affirmative action policies aren’t the only way to help women make a positive contribution, it can also be attributed to the party’s culture and ability to be inclusive to new, key talent. The LNP has failed to demonstrate any of these attributes and continues to stay loyal to that particular tradition.

But it’s ok feminists – calm your farm. Tony Abbott expressed sincere disappointment about the lack of women in Cabinet. This is despite the fact that he more or less decided the list. It will just take time for the women to keep knocking on the door of cabinet until such a time they break the doors down.

If this were indeed the case, and it clearly isn’t, it would have been fantastic to see women in the role of Parliamentary Secretaries where they could gain the exposure and experience they needed to become fully fledged, Ministerial fighting machines. So far we have Sen. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Oh, and a few crickets in the mix. Yeah.

This is incredibly disappointing. It is clear that aside from the electoral buys of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme and Abbott’s daughters clinging off his arms at any available opportunity, we don’t have a government that supports women or the future of the economy. We do however, have a Government that is intending to slip underneath the radar, to bring sports to the front page and return to the idyllic age of the 1950s.  I hope the women that voted for the LNP and the people that wanted better services, better jobs for the future and a stronger Australia pause and reflect that the Government stands for. Remember, we had a woman Prime Minster, a government with the higher proportion of female representatives in our history, disability care, part of an NBN and potentially marriage equality.

What I’m getting at here is – don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

And on that note, I’m going to go flick through my binders full of women and knock on a few cabinet doors just to see what will happen. I might even plan a trip to Afghanistan, just to work out how they run Government.

For a full list of Abbott’s first ministry, check this out – http://www.scribd.com/doc/168478869/Tony-Abbott-s-first-Ministry

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Australian Labor Party, Australian Politics, Election, leadership, Uncategorized

Week One – The Mark of a Leader

Kevin Rudd’s failure to bring about a resounding election victory and a concise concession speech has meant it’s time to think about who will lead the fractured ALP. How long that battle will rage on for is reliant on the political ambitions of Bill Shorten,  the ALP Caucus and some guy by the name of “Tony Abbott” (not to be mistaken with internet ego, Tone Abet) . The ALP, under Rudd, have also allegedly reformed their ballot process to incorporate the members. We’ll see how long that lasts for. I’m giving it a week, and then people will get bored and go back to watching the true political contest – The Bachelor.

There have been three candidates that stick out in my mind who may be poised to take the lead. We’ll start with the most aspirational candidates.    

Tanya Plibersek – Member for Sydney 

Tanya Plibersek is the dream candidate for many Australians, particularly her inner westie, feminist loving fangirls  who drink too much tea in cafes and lounge around Surry Hills lamenting about the state of politics. In other words, people like me.

She comes from a background of student politics, so she’ll be well positioned to deal with the immaturity of the LNP.  I thought she was a fine health minister and she’s a consistent performer in parliament. She’s also a great supporter of women’s rights and she receives vocal support from some whacky group called “Women’s Agenda”, in addition to her raving fangirls.  I  suspect that her commitment to the feminist cause is something of a perplexing riddle to the LNP, who are secretly wondering why she isn’t in the kitchen and making more children for the good of the nation. She also apparently likes the gays and has worked consistently to eliminate discrimination. As a full time lesbian, this pleases me greatly.

This comes from a place of love and concern, but I just don’t think Plibersek has the stomach for it. But give her time. I think of her like a fine red wine – with time, she’ll develop into something really special. Perhaps I need to stop watching Q&A with a glass of wine while appreciating the fine form that is Tanya (and potentially stop being such a creep).

Bill Shorten – Member for Maribyrong

Bill Shorten is a policy powerhouse and is not only a heavyweight within the party, but also its kingmaker. But can the King Maker become King?  He has the backing of the right factions and the AWU, which makes him a formidable candidate however he has lacklustre support amongst the members. Despite his ability to articulate ALP policy effectively and not shying away from a fight, he represents the old order of Rudd v Gillard v Rudd. Whether he can become leader will depend on whether he can wash those bloodstains out. If I recall correctly, it worked really well for Lady MacBeth.

Shorten has officially thrown his hat into the ring (I wonder if Katter let him borrow his?). However, if he has any aspirations to becoming PM, becoming the opposition leader may cause him to become the next Brendan Nelson. And hey, whatever happened to that guy?

I couldn’t support a party who would elect Shorten as the leader. There are several reasons for this. To misquote Craig Emerson, who is famously the lead singer of Emo and the Wipeouts, the years of instability has broken the ALP. He’s absolutely right. Now is the time give Dr Phil a call and exorcise those nasty demons. Making Shorten leader is like taking several steps back – he will completely lack legitimacy and the support of future ALP voters. It will also give the right factions a bit too much influence within the party. I also think that it is remarkably hypocritical for people to call on the resignation of Rudd and then permit Shorten to become leader. I suspect it’s time for Shorten to take a sabbatical, and come back into the political front when people’s memories have faded a bit.

Anthony Albanese – Member for Graylnder

Anthony “You Can’t Spell Labor without Albo” Albanese is the frontrunner for the grassroots members of the ALP.  Albanese is part of the left faction of the ALP and was not only the Deputy Prime Minister for a few minutes but the Minister for Broadband, Communication and the Digital Economy despite having much in the way of a tech background. (Having  twitter or an Iphone doesn’t count, ok?) However, his previous portfolio would represent a stark contrast to Abbott, who is apparently content to stay in the 1950s where the women were in the kitchen, the gays were in the closet and the climate was doing sweet heck all.  He has apparently given notice to Shorten that he was intending to run for leader, but there may have been a game of Chinese whispers afoot. From what I can gather, he hasn’t make a public declaration.

I moved from the electorate of North Sydney to Graylnder, where Albo rules with a fair and steady hand, about a year ago. I have to say, I wasn’t particularly sold on him. But a good friend of mine told me that I had misunderstood him and that he represented the narrative of the ALP movement.  The more I saw him in the media, the more that I couldn’t help but agree with him. Albanese is well and truly loved in his electorate, which is impressive considering Graylnder is one of the most left leaning seats in Australia. In this election, there was a solid swing towards Albo and there are no signs that it will swing over to the Greens in the future. I firmly believe that Albo may be able to bring in the disillusioned believers who strayed into The Greens, provided he can articulate a well thought out, progressive vision for the country.  This remains to be seen, but I am hopeful.

On a personal note, I also owe a debt of gratitude to Albanese. He was part of a troupe of students at the University of Sydney who decided to barricade themselves in the Quad Clock tower to protect the Political Economy faculty. Twenty years on, I was able to study Political Economy, where Frank Stillwell would regale us with stories of certain political figures getting up to their usual hi-jinks. So, thanks Albanese. You’re alright.

There have been other candidate names that have been floating around. An honourable mention goes out to former QC Mark Dreyfus, who I think would also make an excellent candidate (apparently so does Mark Latham, which may be the kiss of death for Dreyfus’ political ambitions. Lolz.). Greg Combet also gets a mention, but I don’t think he’ll toss his hat into the ring. Chris Bowen fortunately bowed out a few days ago, causing a collective sigh of relief from pretty much everyone. Besides, he’s well suited to the position of Shadow Treasury. He seems to be okay with the numbers and stuff. There have also been a lot of speculation about trying to find a way to get Penny Wong to come into the lower house and take over as Leader. I personally would love to see that happen, just in case Abbott’s head explodes. But I don’t see the utility in speculating in hypotheticals.

The one thing I know for certain is that it could be a while until the ALP have a leader with the voting reforms. Some guy called “Conroy” thought it would be cute to publicly diss the the reforms. I don’t think he realises how attractive the idea is to potential ALP members who want to stop the backroom antics and have a say. To be fair though, I don’t think Conroy realises his head wasn’t quite screwed on correctly, so I’m quite comfortable in dismissing his opinion entirely. I think getting the members of the party to select the leader is a good move – so long as you don’t go the way The Democrats went and try to get membership participation into every facet of the party. People have lives you know.

In other news, the LNP have found a solution to the fiscal crisis and economic downturn – they were elected to office. So apparently we can now have a serious conversation about our strong economic credentials, steady employment growth and triple A credit ratings.

On behalf of all Australians, thanks Joe. Until next time,  if you can’t love yourself, love your local member

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Australian Labor Party, Australian Politics, Election, Kevin Rudd, Social Media

Week One – A few thoughts on the 2013 Election

Like many left leaning progressives, I’ve been living under a self imposed rock about the results of the Australian 2013 election. Last Saturday, the LNP managed a convincing electoral win, with Tony Abbott becoming the Prime Minster. Kevin Rudd successfully managed to bore our collective brains out with his concession speech (prompting the question “Does this guy ever shut up” to be answered with a resounding no). But now it’s time for the ALP to lick its wounds, the newly elected senators to read “Australian Parliament for Dummies” and the LNP to … govern I guess?
I am just a curious observer of the theatre of the absurd known as Australian Politics. But may I present my four pillar explanation of the election result. Or was it a six point plan? I know it had something to do with stopping the boats. Where’s Jaymes Diaz when you need him?

1. The Lackluster ALP Campaign –

I will admit it’s difficult to create an inspiring campaign when you consider the internal conflicts that ravaged the ALP for many years. You don’t need a politics degree to know that the byline “Vote for us, and this time, we might actually keep our leader for the full term! (subject to Bill Shorten’s temperament)” on political posters isn’t exactly a vote winner. Worse still, many of the accomplishments under Gillard couldn’t be referenced at all because, well, it’s Kevin’s party now.
The lackluster campaign also lacked a cohesive message for the country. There was something about a national broadband network, “jobs, jobs, jobs” and school kids getting an education. There was also some vague form of support for marriage equality, but not really. It had a strong vibe of “we’ll just introduce a bill into parliament and see what happens, lol”. It’s even more difficult to run an effective campaign when all the opposition needed to do was show up and disagree with anything the ALP were standing for.
The ALP made a considerable misstep in emphasizing the LNP costing issue.  Guess who finds the budget interesting? Unfortunate eople like me.  People with Arts / Economic / Law Degrees who watch so much ABC it constitutes a health hazard. The average punter is generally disinterested. It’s ok, I understand. Numbers really are hard.  The ALP weren’t as effective as driving the message of potential cuts home, as they were under the Keating campaign of ’93, where many swinging voters made the last minute switch to the ALP due to concerns of cuts to medicare.
And guess what – the cuts weren’t even bad. I mean, sure there were cuts to the Aid budget and other minor sources, but they weren’t as horrific as what Kevin Rudd, I mean, the ALP hinged their political hopes on. Plus, who really cares about aid anyway? Or the budget surplus for that matter?
Oh, and in case you didn’t get the memo, we’re no longer in a budget emergency. That’s another win for the LNP! Hurray!

2.     Kevin Rudd

I understand that blaming the leader of the ALP for the election result is something of a cop out. But, as a well renowned cop out,  I’m going to venture down that path anyway.
Kevin Rudd took the helm, it ceased to be the Australian Labor Party. Instead, it turned into the Australian’s for More Kevin Rudd Party. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly rushing out to get a membership form. I will generally consider myself to be a Gillard supporter. She had won me over with her dazzling red locks, her ability to negotiate a hostile parliament and a certain speech she made about sexism and misogyny. Julia Gillard, to me at least, seemed like a person of substance and embodied what the ALP could be. It was a shame the circumstances in which she ascended to power, but for those three years, I was still proud to call her my Prime Minister.
Everyone was triumphant when Rudd returned. He was the comeback king, the John Farnham of Australian politics. But our jubilation quickly morphed into cynicism – it was clear he hadn’t learnt from his previous time in office. The damage was done and the honeymoon was over. In the hearts and minds of the Australian people, the ALP were not only a risky bet, but so unstable you wouldn’t leave a schooey of Carlton Draught resting on it.

3.     Social Media

Believe it or not, most of Australia’s population are older than 40. At my age, being over 40 means you might as well fade away in a home somewhere to drink Earl Grey tea and crochet. But apparently these remarkable people find the inner strength to carry on. As people over the age of 40 generally aren’t the latte sipping, instagramming, hashtaging hipsters I affiliate with, social media is something of a lost cause for a large section of this demographic.
Rudd’s campaign was heavy on the social medial. He did an AMA or “Ask me anything” session on reddit a week ago, pledged to swing last minute undecided voters on twitter and instagram images of a certain razor cut I’m still trying to forget. Personally, while he was out kissing hip babies and taking #selfies with the “kidz”, his message seemed lost on those who were still committed to traditional media. He was preaching to the more or less converted.
Which brings me to another point. The reliance on social media by the ALP was primarily underpinned by the rampant editorializing in the mainstream stream media. But the topic of the media is too complex to deconstruct in my under-caffeinated state.

4.     It’s not the Economy, Stupid

When considering the defeat of the ALP, it’s quite remarkable to look at the economic conditions of the past year. Our economy, despite international volatility, has still be growing at a steady pace and has done so for a remarkable 21 years.
That’s right. 21 years. There are people in this country who have never lived through a recession.  Or VHS, cassettes and the Backstreet boys. Good God.
Contrary to popular opinion, our economy is relatively strong. This is despite the Global Financial Crisis, reconciliation, Industrial Relations reform, pink bats,  the school hall project, the lies and the carbon tax. We also have relatively strong employment growth, low interests rates and a triple A credit rating. The ALP also received broad sweeping support for the economic policies – even The Economist gave them the thumbs up as economic managers. The moral of the story is that Governments loose elections, even when said government has left a legacy of strong economic credentials.
Let’s not continual to swim in the perilous tide that is the collective failures of the ALP in the recent election. The ALP clearly need time to pick itself up, dust itself off, put the king maker aka Shorten, as leader, Albo as deputy and work out who they’re going to represent. Meanwhile, the next three years will be interesting under a Conservative, but not necessarily a Liberal Prime Minister with a micro-party lead senate.
Oh dear. In unrelated news, the stock value of various alcohol manufacturers has been on the up, with analysts predicting dramatic increases in alcohol consumption. Political satirists are also expecting strong economic growth, with the lowest rate of unemployment since the Howard years.
We’ll just have to wait and see what happens I guess.
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