Australian Politics, Climate Change, Greg Hunt, Liberal National Party, Tony Abbott, Uncategorized

Week Nine : Abbott and Hunt InDirectly Acting on Climate Change

Greg Hunt MPI decided to tackle the Coalition Government’s Direct Action Climate change policy for this particular blog post because it was an area of policy I lacked any understanding off. It seemed I was also not alone in my ambiguity – the Liberal National Party Website did little to furnish my understanding of something of critical importance. (LNP: 2013) Suffice to say, the LNP website didn’t provide any meaningful analysis or material as to what the Direct Action policy would entail, rather it was just a broad sweeping critique of the Carbon Tax and the Emissions Trading Scheme.

I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, but a clearly structured policy position wouldn’t go amiss on such an important issue.

The LNP’s position can broadly be described as building a fund of $1.5 Billion over a three year period to pay for a variety of greenhouse gas abatement strategies. It is anticipated that the “fund” will replace the Carbon tax controversially set up by the Gillard Government. (BS: 2013) The LNP are critical of Gillard’s Carbon Tax legacy as apparently it has caused a rise in cost of living pressures and has generally been ineffective, despite numerous reports demonstrating otherwise (SMH: 2013)

As a disclaimer, I thought it would be best to articulate my position on climate change.  To me, climate change represents the most significant economic, social and scientific challenge in modern history. My views closely align with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (affectionately known as the IPCC) who have conducted studies which have found that global warming has affected the way people live. Most importantly still, the IPCC has found strong evidence that the changes in climate are the result of human activity.

I find it incredibly frustrating when we elect to have “debates” about the existence of climate change, considering the strong scientific consensus. The debates between the “believers” and the climate change deniers presupposes that these polar views have equal merit and weight.

They don’t. We need to get our shit together, you hear?

To Quote Dr Ken Hentry, the decision to pursue a “direct action” policy which uses a green army to combat climate change is “bizarre” to say the least. (The Australian: 2013) The Direct Action policy is contrary to the well informed advice that has been provided to Government which explicitly states that an emissions trading scheme is the best way to reduce emissions. If 33 out of 35 of Australian’s leading economists agree that an ETS is the way to go, one would expect that a Government would take heed such learned advice. (AFR: 2013) Unfortunately, Abbott’s proclamations of governing for everyone sound remarkably hollow.

The ALP has recently pushed towards having an Emissions trading scheme as a central policy platform for addressing climate change. (ABC : 2013) It’s a move I generally support. However, Shorten has been criticized for not standing firm on the Carbon Tax and there are concerns within the ALP membership that this policy backflip is a poor move.

The reactions about Shorten’s decision to ditch the tax and support an ETS reflect a long standing ALP policy decision. The Carbon tax was constructed as a way to set up a Government created price on Carbon emissions which will be eventually moved onto the market. Therefore, Shorten’s position isn’t viewed as particularly forceful against the LNP’s direct Action policy, it doesn’t contradict with the traditional ALP position.

Climate change is a complex issue on both sides of politics. For some supporters, the answer seems clear – Just. Do. Something. However, that “something” still remains elusive, even with the widespread scientific and economic consensus. It represents a fundamental tension in modern day democracy, which is fuelled by election cycles, a lack of political courage and vision. The topic of climate change has also been a significant issue for the ALP, with Cassidy describing the issue as positively “diabolical”. (ABC: 2013). Seeing as the climate change issue has seen the political downfall of two Prime Ministers, a position needs to be found by the opposition and that a commitment to the position is unwavering.

Until next time, load up your books, the Direct Action Policy Green Paper comes out over the Christmas break. Don’t look too excited now.te Ch

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Uncategorized

Week 8: Tony Abbott and the Washington Post Interview

Australia has had a long standing (and very strong) relationship with the US, particularly under Gillard and Howard. My history teacher in high school attributed this to the US bailing us out during World War Two, after Britain conveniently stopped answering our calls for assistance. Or something, I didn’t pay close attention in High School History. Our relationship with the Us has strengthened over the past 70 years, with the passage of the Australian and US Free Trade agreement and our ongoing military support.  Our relationship with the US is so strong, we are being seriously considered as the 51st state and may rename our country to become “Ameristrarlia”.

Well, not really. But I hope you can understand how important our relationship with our big brother, US, is to Australia.

Evidently, Prime Minister Abbott didn’t have my superior knowledge of international relations and political etiquette  when it came to a Washington Post interview with Lally Weymouth. PM Abbott started off reasonably well, by saying “I will do everything I humanly can to work closely with the government and the people of the United States. Australia will be a good ally of the U.S. and a good friend and partner — strategic and economic — to the United States.”. He also expressed continuing support for the marine’s base in Australia and was hopeful for the opportunity to meet with Obama in the future, however understood how busy the President was.

As the interview progressed however, it became apparent that Weymouth is quite the skilled interviewer, because he is clearly a little too relaxed in his answers. After a while, he starts to gradually revert back to attack mode. Abbott was queried what he meant when he said that Australia was “open for business” once again, to which he responded with –

The previous government would often say the right thing but it would invariably do the wrong thing when it came to business. There was an explosion in red tape and green tape. There was a whole thicket of new restrictions in the labor market. There were big new taxes. It was a government which thought that there was no problem that more public servants, higher taxes and further regulation couldn’t fix.“.

He also suggested that he would do his darndest to shrink the public service and he was looking forward to having a bonfire of red and green tape. Sounds like a party really, I love a good old fashioned bon fire every now and then. The Prime Minister was then quizzed about the roll back of Labor’s NBN. He could have responded with something to the effect of “Considering the global economic situation and deteriorating fiscal outlook, we believed it would be inadvisable to pursue costly investment in infrastructure at this point in time. While we appreciate the former Government’s vision for a broadband network for the future, we believe it would be inopportune to consider such as venture at this stage of the game.”

But no. Abbott responded with this delightful chestnut in relation to the ALP’s fibre to the node policy –

Welcome to the wonderful, wacko world of the former government.” When prompted further, Abbott responded with ” I thought it was the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in modern Australian history.”

It was like returning to the wonderful world where Abbott was opposition leader and he was hurling negativities upon negativities in our general direction. But this time, he’s doing this as our elected representative on a well respected, US publication. Awks much? Of course, he gets better –

They made a whole lot of commitments, which they scandalously failed to honor. They did a lot of things that were scandalously wasteful and the actual conduct of government was a circus. They were untrustworthy in terms of the carbon tax. They were incompetent in terms of the national broadband network. They were a scandal when it came to their own internal disunity. They made a whole lot of grubby deals in order to try and perpetuate themselves in power.  It was an embarrassing spectacle, and I think Australians are relieved they are gone.

I just want to take a few moments to deconstruct that nugget of a quote. First, the reference to the great “lie” that was the Carbon Tax. The Carbon Tax became one of the most effective policies at reducing our carbon emissions. It was also a political necessity to get the Greens to form a temporary coalition with the ALP and help them to form Government.  Second, the reference to the great incompetence that was the NBN, that struggled to stay under budget and within the allocated time frame. Let’s cut the NBN a bit of slack here -this represented one of the most significant infrastructure investments in Australia’s history. I suspect the Harbour Bridge, or the Opera House, the Snowy River scheme and so on weren’t completely in a timely, fiscally responsible manner. Third, the ALP disunity. Well, I can’t argue with that one – it’s hard to have a unified party when your members are running around with knives and blabbing their deep dark secrets to the media.

The point is – he shouldn’t have made those remarks. That is not the conduct that befits a Prime Minister, irrespective of where in the political spectrum they lie. Sometimes, I wonder whether Abbott realises that he is actually Prime Minister, and he can take a small break with the electioneering.

The aftershocks of that interview have been felt in the media. Norman Ornstein, from the American Institute apparently “winced” when he read the interview, which he attributed to as being a bit of a “rookie mistake”. (SMH: 2013) However, like talking about your exes on the first date, talking about previous governments with disdain is also a bit of a diplomatic no no.  In an unexpected display of wit, our modern day Oscar Wilde, Doug Cameron, ALP Senator described Abbott as the “Wacko” and stated that he was embarrassed by the PM’s display. (SBS: 2013) It remains to be seen whether this will affect Australia /US relations, I suspect it won’t. But still, one should expect more from our elected leader, even if his mandate was the fact that his party wasn’t the ALP.

Until next time, brace yourself, climate change is coming.

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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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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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