Post Tropical Storm Sandy has now vanished from the skies above the United States of America. In its wake it has left at least 90 dead with the final death toll likely to be higher than that. The hurricane has also resulted in billions of dollars damage to cities along the east coast of the USA. Now that the storm has passed, attention first and foremost has turned to the recovery with FEMA and the US President hitting the ground running. The US President has toured areas hit by the natural disaster and FEMA have commenced their post-disaster efforts.
Despite the fact that a tragedy has just transpired, the US election, which has seen an intriguing campaign so far, is still going ahead. Polling day is now less than a week away and after a brief ceasefire, electoral hostilities have resumed in key swing states across the country.
Inevitably, thought has turned to the effects that the hurricane has had on the campaign and might have on the outcome on election day. Would the storm help or hinder Barack Obama and end Mitt Romney’s chances or would it end Barack Obama’s hopes for re-election? Or would the storm have left the electoral equation relatively unchanged?
It would appear that there are two main scenarios which could play out as a result of Hurricane Sandy. But there is also the possibility of a third effect brought on by the tropical storm.
The first is the really obvious one. This is the one that seems to be in the mind’s and on the lip’s of many political commentators. That is that the devastation gives President Obama a chance to appear presidential, an interesting conclusion given that President is exactly what Barack Obama currently is.
This theory holds that the President, through responding to the crisis, will gain electoral momentum thanks to the horrific events which have killed so many, not just in the USA, but also throughout parts of the Caribbean.
Whether or not this theory holds any credibility is largely down to the states involved in the hurricane, with the broader populace probably not as concerned about Barack Obama appearing presidential as a result of something that does not affect them. Most of the directly hit states are well and truly in the bag for either side, save for Virginia and North Carolina.
The theory of looking presidential with strong and swift actions after a tragic event could also be applied to Mitt Romney. It is somewhat arguable that appearing presidential as the challenger could have more of a benefit than the incumbent coming across to voters in the same way.
Governor Romney quickly hit the bellwether state of Ohio for what was termed a ‘ hurricane relief event’. At this outing, Obama’s adversary organised for donations of food and other goods to be sent to storm-hit areas of the country.
This event and others like it as well as Romney’s responses regarding the awful events of earlier this week mean that he could also appear presidential to voters. Again, whether this matters is debatable, though with Governor Romney enjoying most of the electoral momentum, small gains could make a difference.
The other theory is that Sandy might be responsible for halting the momentum of the campaign.
This theory offers more negative consequences for the President than it does for Mitt Romney. Effectively, if this was the case it would mean that two days were removed from Barack Obama’s last week and a bit of the campaign. This means two less days campaigning for votes.
The final effect is mostly a positive for the sitting President, at least for the period of time it was in play.
It is within the realms of reason, even self-evident, that the hurricane provided a distraction for up to almost a week from the real issue that Americans will be voting on when Tuesday next week rolls around. For that time, news of the economy and debate about it would have played second fiddle to the approaching winds and rain.
Whether or not two days of almost zero talk about the has resulted in a change of the complexion of the campaign seems unlikely. The storm is over now too and the focus of the campaign has largely returned to domestic issues.
It would appear that any benefit for either Republicans or Democrats, President Obama or Mitt Romney, derived from the storm that hit the east coast, is small or even negligible. Stranger things have happened though. Who would have thought that a debate would result in quite a dramatic shift in voter intentions?
With less than a week to go in a tough contest, the result is still anyone’s, even with a hurricane thrown into the equation.
Wayne Swan has opened his mouth again. It seems that just about every time the federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister opens his mouth it’s more often than not to attack particular groups in the community and in politics. More often than not, this year it has been to attack the federal Coalition, but also state Liberal Governments around the country. There’s also been the small matter of a concerted campaign of verbal barbs from Mr Swan, aimed at the mining billionaires, not all billionaires, just those that dig stuff out of the ground. The latest words attacking people coming out of the Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer’s mouth were aimed at certain members of the Republican Party of the United States.
These words, directed at certain Republican representatives were a very weird, obscure and politically dumb foray into American domestic politics from a senior politician that should know better.
This isn’t the first time that a political representative from Australia has lectured a foreign power or its’ parliamentarians. Indeed, this isn’t the first time a Labor Minister has tried to tell the Republican Party how to do politics, Bob Carr has also done this recently. If you’re looking for an example of someone from the other side of politics something bad about foreign political parties and their figures, look no further than Prime Minister John Howard prior to the election of Barack Obama as US President.
Essentially, at the heart of the comments is economics and the US budget which is in terrible shape with debt about 15 times the size of the Australian economy.
In a speech to the Financial Services Council, Mr Swan said, ”let’s be blunt, the biggest threat to the world’s biggest economy are the cranks and crazies that have taken over parts of the Republican Party.”
Basically, this was aimed at the Tea Party section of the Republican Party which exploded onto the scene with high political prospects, but failed to live up to electoral expectations. They also had little success in wresting a large number of Republican congressional and Senate seats which was expected of them. Their idea of small government even sees the majority of the Republican Party as champions of big government.
The state of the budget in the United States is in complete peril. Under both Republican and Democrat administrations, the debt has exploded, particularly since the presidency of Bill Clinton. This has been both through long, expensive wars and the subsequent costly foreign policy as well as in more recent times, increased social spending and a loss of revenue thanks to that large event, the GFC which still sees a large number of countries struggling financially.
The point is that both sides of the political fence in America will at present not be able to solve the huge problems that the US needs to deal with on the fiscal policy front. Neither side really has a solution to the debt and deficit problem and yes, it really is a problem there.
Yes, there are “cranks and crazies” in the Republican Party, that is undisputed, but there is a big difference between political extremists and working, in whatever way, toward eturning the fiscal position of the United States of America to a more sustainable position.
Wayne Swan if he was really being genuine and had to go off on a verbal rampage again, though still not wise for an outside power with a mutual political interest, he would have been best served in acknowledging that the American future isn’t particularly rosy whether there is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. Any solution, though that term is used rather loosely, would involve severe political and economic pain, it’s a matter of when the political leaders and the people decide is best to go through that pain, because really, it cannot be avoided.
Ideally, if Wayne Swan decided it was necessary to embark upon this not so diplomatic pathway, and he shouldn’t have in the first place in the way he did, it would have been best raised behind closed doors rather than for attention-grabbing headlines. Public lectures of foreign powers, no matter how strong our economic position, just look odd and arrogant, especially when it’s partisan attacks.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard formally announced today in Queensland that Brisbane had won the right to host the G20 summit in the year 2014. This was greeted with much appreciation and even gloating from Queensland politicians at different levels of government. Brisbane beat all other cities that put in a submission to be able to host this potentially very lucrative meeting of the world’s 19 biggest nations and the European Union. The event will have some definite positives for the Queensland economy when it is held in November 2014.
Brisbane won the event over the much bigger cities of Sydney and Melbourne, with politicians from both states and including Melbourne mayor Robert Doyle sticking the boot into the Gillard Government over the awarding to Brisbane of the summit.
Both states think that their cities have better facilities and they certainly do, with sizeable airports and convention centre facilities, not to mention terrific accommodation available.
That’s not to say that Brisbane doesn’t, it certainly does and the city has been working hard to develop world class facilities and attempting to grow a reputation worldwide as a true “world city”. The Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre facilities are not to be sneezed at and are well and truly capable of hosting such a large and important meeting of world leaders.
Politicians from both NSW and Victoria and many in the media immediately upon hearing of Brisbane being made the host of the G20 immediately put the announcement down to politics. The ALP Government are finished in Queensland in particular and will be, on recent poll results, all but wiped out if an election were held in the near future.
So, of course it follows that speculation would immediately turn to the move by federal Labor being a so-called “vote-buying” initiative before the next federal election due to be held some time around mid-to late 2013.
But is it really reasonable to assume that Brisbane playing host to world leaders for the summit in 2014 would actually win votes? The answer is almost certainly not.
The event will likely have economic benefits for the economy of the city of Brisbane, bringing in what is estimated to be $50 million for the local economy over the course of the visit by international delegations. Though at the same time, much of the city would probably be in lockdown for such high-level visits so benefits, particularly to retail might not be so high.
On the other hand, hotels will be rubbing their collective hands together with glee at today’s announcement, particularly with tourism, a usually strong performer in the state of Queensland having been hit so bad because of the floods and the Global Financial Crisis
Brisbane having world leaders, including the US President visiting will also possibly have some impact on the broader tourism market, spurring confidence that things in Queensland have returned to a more stable position, but this is less certain and probably of much less benefit than many have been quick to assume today.
The potential too for world leaders discussing possible future business investment in and trade with the Queensland and Australian economy is a very important long-term prospect.
But all this will count for very little when it comes to the ballot box. International meetings of world leaders, though great in their own special way have never actually stayed with the thoughts of voters as potential election winners, or at the very least as the ALP was probably hoping against all hope, vote buyers of some face-saving repute.
There will never be a time when the exit polls say that a summit was any kind of factor in the electoral success of a political party.
We’re just a day away from the end of another political week in Canberra and it has been a very predictable one as so many have been for as long as can be remembered. It’s also been a fairly tense week with the political tension building as the carbon price nears commencement and both sides dig in for what has been and will be the biggest political battlefield regardless of each sides respective reasons for fighting it. The week has even seen breakouts again of visible vitriol above and beyond the normal cut and thrust of politics and that is a shame.
It’s certain that the carbon tax will continue to be the main game until it is introduced on July the 1st and will continue to be at the top of the political agenda and discourse right up until the 2013 election in one form or another.
The Coalition as they have this week will continue to focus on reports from different organisations which point to differing cost burdens which happen to be above and beyond the Treasury modelling of the carbon price. Their questions will likely again cite reports from these different groups which include peak bodies and lobby groups as well as councils.
As it has since the announcement last Friday, the planned marine reserves announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke is also likely to draw at least a little of the focus of the Opposition, with the member for Dawson in Queensland having asked questions this week on the matter, citing a long list of groups unhappy with the moves.
Immigration matters around Cocos Island after recent arrivals as well as the case of ‘Captain Emad’ have crept into the parliamentary debate again over the first three days of this parliamentary sitting week and could again in some small part during Questions Without Notice.
For the government too it is almost all about the carbon tax, but for them of course it’s all about the compensation payments to low and middle income earners which are to make up for the expected price rise impacts around the carbon tax and the government are fighting a losing battle just trying to get that message out despite the specific focus during Question Time recently.
The ALP Government have also been focusing this week on the Schoolkids Bonus handout which removes the need to keep receipts for tax time and instead provides eligible families with a lump sum payment meant to help with the costs of education. This program has just commenced rollout so likely will result in some questions during the hour and a bit of questions.
The economy in a broad sense, both domestic and comparatively against other nation worldwide has also been a broad theme of Question Time for a while now and that broad theme will continue in an overarching narrative.
As it’s the end of the parliamentary week our politicians will either be too tired to cause much of a fuss or wanting to make waves at the end of a parliamentary week by being the loudest they possibly can, my money’s on the latter and that would be pretty smart money.
They say that politics is unpredictable and of late you could not disagree more with that statement, especially when talking about the Question Time strategy employed particularly by the Tony Abbott led Opposition, but also the plan of attack of the Gillard Government. But that all seemed to change for at least yesterdays hour or so of Question Time where the usual focus of the Coalition was turfed out for the most part and the issue of importing overseas workers for a mining project took centre stage in the political debate during Question Time in Canberrra.
This issue came to the fore because of the leadership tensions which it apparently stoked and will likely fizzle out as a story fairly quickly and as a major point of attack for the Coalition who will probably return to the usual suspects of topics if not today, then tomorrow or maybe later this week.
The Coalition may continue to attempt making some political mileage out of the leadership issue tomorrow in relation to the deal struck between Gina Rinehart and the ALP Government, but it will almost certainly be less of a focus than it was during Question Time today.
What seems more likely is a return to the script which has been performed to within an inch of its life and that is the Coalition returning to focus on the carbon tax which will play front and centre of the political strategy and be the major election issue that the Liberal and National Party will fight on during the (presumably) 2013 election campaign.
There might also be somewhat of a focus on the Craig Thomson/HSU debate which despite not being particularly evident yesterday, except for during Senate Estimates still bubbles along as an unresolved issue for the government even though they have ditched the Member for Dobell from the caucus. Pretty much every avenue of parliamentary attack and then some around this issue has been utilised.
The Murray-Darling Basin Plan which is currently being debated in Canberra may also be a subject of parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives, though this is much more likely to occur in the Senate and come from Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.
The government will likely again focus on the economy with the post-budget message still needing to be sold to the groups targetted in the fiscal statement just weeks ago.
The ALP will also focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on the Household Assistance Package which will provide compensation for the carbon price which will commence in just over a month on the 1st of July, with initial payments hitting the accounts of pensioners already this week ahead of the introduction of the controversial policy.
It could also be legitimately expected that the Labor Party focus their questions too on a wider range of issues with one or two questions possible about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and other issues not canvassed by the Opposition in which the government thinks they can get a good message out on.
Whatever tomorrow holds, you can be certain that it will be the start of a return to business as usual after some ever so brief respite from the one issue politics that has seemed to dominate political discourse in Australia in recent years and accelerated under this minority government.
All the Question Time action begins at 2pm though you will be forgiven if you decide it’s best to give it a miss.
The end of the parliamentary week is upon us and hasn’t it been an extraordinary one? The hostilities have persisted throughout the week, not letting up even in the days after the speech to parliament by the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson in relation to allegations of misuse of union funds. Indeed the week in Canberra is far from over though only a matter of hours remain in probably the biggest, most acrimonious week Australian politics has seen in a long while.
One more day of parliament for the week means another testy hour or so of Question Time ahead from 2pm this afternoon, perhaps even less if the now regular feature, the suspension of Standing Orders gets another run, which you’d have to say on the balance of probabilities is almost a sure bet.
The Coalition will almost certainly continue with their two-topic attack which has tended to be the way forward in Question Time for the Opposition for a very long time indeed. This strategy will see the Abb0tt-led Coalition almost certainly proceed full-steam ahead with questions surrounding the carbon price which with each day that passes nears its commencement date of July 1 this year.
The Coalition will also, despite moves this week to quell the matter, including allowing the referral of Craig Thomson to the Privileges Committee be likely to pose a not insubstantial number of Craig Thomson related questions to the Gillard Government. It is also incredibly likely that despite the Thomson matter being referred to the Privileges Committee that a further suspension of Standing Orders related to the matter (and it has been the subject of a few) will occur.
The ALP Government’s Question Time strategy is completely predictable too and has been regularly based around the same broad topic, albeit in different guises also over a significant period of time.
The overwhelming focus of the Gillard Government in Question Time has been the state of the economy, both in domestic and internationally comparative terms and that has been outlined and worked on over many months.
The current specific focus in relation to the economy is all about the budget and the spending associated with it that Labor says will assist low to middle income earners and their families particularly with the cost of education through the taxes reaped from the mining boom.
The government in also prosecuting a projected return to surplus of the budget that Wayne Swan handed down just over two short weeks ago amid what almost equated to acceptance that the government had already returned the budget to surplus when it has not in fact done so and will not in fact do so until the end of fiscal year 2012-13 on June 30 next year and we may not know for sure until even later than that.
There is also a very real possibility, with unforeseen spending requirements and further revenue write-downs among other factors that the idea of a $1.5 billion surplus a bit of a struggle.
Question Time as always begins at 2pm and promises to be a heated contest that will offer no respite until about 3:10pm when the Prime Minister will ask that “further questions be placed on the notice paper”, unless of course the suspension of Standing Orders has brought questions to an earlier close.
Australia, way back over 200 years ago from the time of the First Fleet literally grew as a nation “on the sheep’s back”. As a nation Australia began to grow a broader agriculture sector which included a diverse combination of crops across particularly along the length of the eastern mainland states of Queensland, New South Whales and Victoria. That sector also included other animals in addition to sheep, with cattle and dairy farming playing a crucial role in the early economy.
Indeed agriculture does still play a crucial role in our economy albeit a much diminished one in recent decades with our comparative standing in various exports dropping markedly in some cases.
In the global community Australia is among the biggest exporters in the world of wheat, beef, wool and dairy and our three biggest exports are grain/oilseeds, meat and dairy that has obviously been the case for a prolonged period of time, given the industries on which Australia established itself as a fledgling colony and then nation state in the 1900s.
Agriculture in Australia now sits at only a 3% share of GDP in itself and last night Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a speech to the Global Foundation conference in Melbourne where Ms Gillard said she saw Australia becoming a foodbowl power, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, where a rapidly growing population needs increasing access to a variety of different food imports.
The Prime Minister in her speech last night said that Australia should harness our potential in agriculture, like we did in the past and like the mining sector is now harnessing the potential of our vast mineral wealth.
There is certainly a space for Australia to grow its agriculture sector again, particularly when faced with an economy that at present is powering along on resources which are finite, but the way we do it and the markets and niches we seek to develop as a nation are a lot more intricate than just producing and distributing food across our region and the world.
Prime Minister Gillard in her speech to the foundation did acknowledge that Australia would have to focus its efforts, for the most part, on exporting food products which are value-added, rather than simply trying to up exports of foods that have not undergone the value-adding process.
Australia as a nation simply cannot compete with nations in the region on many basic fruits and vegetables which can be produced in similar climates around our region with much lower input and final product costs than we can achieve in Australia.
We would also tend to be seeking more niche and higher-end markets with our value-added production, thereby in a way limiting just how much we can grow the sector, but still an improvement.
We would have to focus on sending more goods from Australia to countries in our region like China, which is booming and will have a bigger middle class market, as well as countries like South Korea and Japan, even though the latter continues to struggle with economic woes both prior to and exacerbated by the horrific earthquake and tsunami event that destroyed so many lives and areas of the economy with it.
Far from just focusing on Asia, there is huge potential for our food exports to go elsewhere, particularly to the United States of America and Europe in a bigger way than at present and that is being worked on at present in a fairly big, if little discussed way.
There is also huge potential to continue to expand the market for our top class wine, with very few countries in the world producing truly exceptional wines, making this market a great hope for Australian producers. This market could be expanded and is beginning to be delivered to Asia and for that to continue would be a massive boon for the economy.
In a way, it seems that the speech the PM gave last night was a subtle way of saying, “hey, here’s a way that we can keep the decline of manufacturing somewhat at bay if we do more food processing in Australia”.
If we add the processing of food products to the agriculture sector of the Australian economy, we suddenly get a sector that is approximately 12% of Gross Domestic Product, a significant sector by any measure when the services sector takes up over 2/3 of the overall national economy on its own.
So Australia can definitely look to becoming a major food exporter to both the region and the globe. There are various challenges, not the least of which is a water shortage along the Murray-Darling Basin food bowl and this will mean that the challenge to grow our food exports will be a medium to long-term effort, rather than a rapid expansion, which would be difficult in itself anyway even if external factors didn’t exist.
The vision is there, but helping to move the idea to a reality will be a long and enduring process that will require the political will of governments of both political stripes to oversee its development.
It’s Wednesday and that means only two more days of the parliamentary sitting week lie ahead for our federal politicians in Canberra jockeying for momentum going into the May budget. Question Time is likely to be a loud, argumentative and at times farcical affair. Many eyes will be on the Senate where the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, sworn in as a Senator and Minister yesterday will face his first Question Time in the role.
The Opposition without any shadow of a doubt will continue to focus their Question Time efforts on pursuing the Labor Government over its carbon tax and Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT) which has a parliamentary report handed down today.
While the Fair Work Australia investigation into Craig Thomson still proceeds at snail pace, it can certainly be expected that there will be a question or two aimed at the Gillard Government over the issue.
The fallout from the Skype sex scandal in the Australian Defence Force may also get an airing in Question Time from the Opposition as it did yesterday in relations to comments from Major General John Cantwell.
Equally predictable is the government focus of their backbencher questions to Ministers, also colloquially known as the “Dorothy Dixer” or “Dorothy Dix”. Again these questions will likely focus on the economy through the spending related to the MRRT windfall as well as other spending allocations made by Prime Minister Gillard and her government.
In the Senate, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr will draw the most focus from interested observers, though not face the most questions as both the government and the Opposition are set to pursue different lines of inquiry. The new Foreign Minister is likely to get a question from his own side, but may also get a question or two related to the Defence Minister from the Coalition in the prism of overseas operations.
There is also a distinct possibility that the Coalition will attempt to suspend Standing Orders in an attempt to challenge the Government after not answering questions though that seems less likely than in recent days because of the exhaustion of content on that front.
Yesterday Question Time in the House of Representatives was quite feisty and resulted in a handful of ejections for one hour under Standing Order 94a, one of those being a Government MP. Two Ministers were also sat down for straying out of the ballpark of relevance in their answers and that is a positive development. So be watching today at 2pm AEDT where the drama that is the play called Question Time looks set to continue with loud interjections, irrelevant answers and plenty of name-calling.
Previous weeks in Australian politics certainly could not be topped, especially against political events in recent decades, but that doesn’t mean that this non sitting week of political debate was dull and boring, it had political debate and action that has been a not unfamiliar feature of this minority government.
The week in Australian politics contained two main events and the wash-up from both provided the most debate during this parliament free period before Canberra is back with a vengeance on Tuesday. They were the release of reports, redacted, some not at all into the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and ADF culture as a whole and the announcement by Tony Abbott that an incoming Coalition government would hold an audit of all government spending save for the promises that have been made by the current Opposition.
By far the biggest debate was spawned from the details coming out of reviews into defence force culture and the so-called ADFA Skype sex scandal which has landed cadets in court.
The commandant of the ADFA, Commodore Bruce Kafer was stood aside in response to allegations made against him after the allegations of the Skype affair came to light. At the time, Defence Minister Stephen Smith made scathing comments about Kafer’s alleged conduct at the time and one of the reviews released findings this week which cleared commandant Kafer of the allegations, triggering calls for Stephen Smith to apologise, even step aside.
Mr Smith of course did neither, fully standing by his comments and this sent the media into a frenzy, quickly forming into the apologise and/or step aside and the good on ya mate, keep it up camps. Either way it appears that there are divisions between the Defence Force and the Department and its Minister, but this is n0thing new in Defence.
One of the reviews also identified nearly 800 “plausible” allegations of misconduct of varying degrees of illegality and recommended setting up an independent body to investigate the allegations, dating back to the 1950s in a thorough manner. It also recommended the use of compensation and even an official apology from the government to those aggrieved by wrongs committed against them in the Australian Defence Force.
Also this week, Tony Abbott the Leader of the Opposition gave a speech to the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry in which he outlined some of the priorities of an incoming Coalition Government. In this speech Mr Abbott also announced that, if elected, his government would introduce an audit review committee of all government business, save for the priorities of the incoming administration. This announcement came at the end of the political week but did not fail to elicit a response from various quarters in the ALP Government and even the public sector union over the weekend.
Parliament resumes next week and the Gillard Government looks set to continue focusing their efforts on trying against almost all hope to sell a message based on the economy and its relative strength compared to other nations, particularly the US and Europe as the May budget draws near. This has been something that the government has failed to do since the overthrow of Kevin Rudd, combined with the continued deficits and further taxation.
The Opposition are likely to focus on the economy as a whole too, through the prism of the carbon tax and the mining tax and the perceived effects of such policies on the economy and the people. The Craig Thomson saga is also likely to get a look-in, remaining unsolved as it is to date.
It’s not going to be the biggest of weeks ahead as far as political noise goes, but it certainly will not be among the quietest and the return of Question Time we have to thank for that.