Monthly Archives: July 2012

Engaging Again With Fiji Not a Case of Too Much Too Soon, Might Help Democratic Transition

Fiji is not a very stable country politically. The Pacific islands nation has endured no less than four coups over the past 20+. The ethnic divide in the country is stark with Fijian’s of Indian descent, Chinese descent and native-born Fijians living together in a nation in not so much harmony. But it is not just about the ethnic divide. Indeed the latest coup in particular, in 2006, when Commodore Frank Bainimarama wrested power stemmed out of a conflict festering between the then civilian government and the military which was not just about ethnicity.

This latest coup d’etat had its origins in the previous uprising, with Prime Minister at the time, Laisenia Qarase wishing to introduce legislation which would have pardoned the coup leaders involved. Frank Bainimarama was almost killed during that period of political instability.

Overnight Australia, New Zealand and Fiji agreed to somewhat of a restoration of ties between the three nations. The agreement will restore full diplomatic relations between the nations with the reciprocal reinstatement of each countries respective high-level diplomatic missions in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

Travel restrictions for members of the Fijian Government will also be eased and restrictions were lifted to allow a representative of the Fijian administration to travel to the meeting at which the change in policy was agreed to.

In 2009 our High Commissioner in Fiji was expelled by the Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama in a move that was closely followed by the Australian Government expelling the top Fijian diplomat.

It is an interesting move given that the previous deadline for free and fair elections, in 2009, was not met. Indeed since then, a further crackdown on the press and other authoritarian moves have pointed to a far from certain transition to democracy, due to occur in 2014. Indeed, such a positive step at this point seems almost fanciful.

Speaking on ABC News 24, the director of the Australian National University’s Centre for the Contemporary Pacific, Brij Lal said that “It’s important to measure words against deeds.” And this is a correct reflection of how to judge the political situation in Fiji at present.

The words coming out of the mouth of the Fijian Prime Minister’s mouth speak for great hope of a return to democracy and less internal conflict in the trouble-prone Pacific nation.

But Bainimarama’s deeds tell a different story. Freedom and democracy have been going the other way in Fiji since the 2006 coup when the Commodore took power from the civilian government of Mr Qarase. His deeds tell a story of grand but broken promises as well as a crackdown on those opposed to him from within and outside of the country he rules over.

But is the reinstatement of diplomatic relations a case of jumping the gun too early? Is Australia at risk of finding it “very difficult for it (Australia) to disengage and take a more objective stance”? Would it have “been prudent on the part of Australia to see some of the fruits of those initiatives (toward elections and democracy) before going as far as it has done”?

The answer on all counts is likely no. No material progress has been made toward democracy since diplomatic relations broke down badly in 2009. Australia and New Zealand while disengaged from Fiji diplomatically have been unable to, with objectivity, influence the transition toward an at least somewhat stable and democratic government. And if the two nations had waited before entering into political relations with Fiji again until they had seen some of the benefits of promises made by the Fijian Government, well, they would likely have been waiting a mighty long time. Chances are they still might, but frank yet friendly engagement is much better.

Helping the Fijian Government restore their economy which is heavily dependent on tourism and exporting sugar will be an important diplomatic step which could result in the knock-on effect of being able to persuade Fiji to return to some form of democracy.

While the economy is stalled it is the Fijian people, already under authoritarian rule that begin to suffer further from the political isolation of the Fijian regime. Combine that with the recent devastating floods and the level of hurt because of a weak economy is high.

Australia and New Zealand, in restarting diplomatic relations could place incentives for economic development assistance based on real outcomes in the transition toward democracy with more assistance provided as progress is made to free and fair elections and more democratic government.

It’s certainly not to early to again engage with Fiji and the re-engagement with the island nation may well help rather than hinder some form of transition toward democracy. But only if the relationship is managed with Australia and New Zealand offering help for change. The restarting of diplomatic relations does not automatically equate to too much too soon

A Slow Lead-Out, But It Just Wasn’t the Day For Our Men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay Team

The Australian Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team had an off day in the pool, no doubt about that. The team went into the race hot favourites after speeding into the final with the fastest time of all the countries contesting the event. They deserved their ‘favourite’ tag with former champion and world record holder Eamon Sullivan and current world champion and holder of the fastest time this year, James ‘Missile’ Magnussen in the team. The team also contained the not inexperienced Matt Targett and James Roberts who stormed onto the team for the individual event behind Magnussen with a time in the high 47 seconds.

But ultimately, the also fast and favourites until Australia stormed home in the heats yesterday morning, the French prevailed in a time of 3:09.93. They came home 0.45 of a second ahead of the United States of America (3:10.38) and the also speedy Russians who managed to edge out Australia for third in a time of 3:11.41.

It wasn’t poor preparation that brought the team undone. They’d had just as much time preparing for the race as the Olympic champion women’s team did the day before. They completely smashed it, with anchor Melanie Schlanger storming home for Australia to take the gold. They put a great race together with all firing just when they needed to and that translated to the first gold medal of the 2012 Olympic Games for the Australian team.

It was certainly not a lack of potential for speed with two of our swimmers, the two James’ swimming times of 47 seconds this calendar year. Both did that at winning the trials in Adelaide just a matter of months ago, with Magnussen finding himself just outside the world record. Eamon Sullivan too has shown himself capable of swimming a time in the range of 47 seconds. Sullivan broke the world record twice, first at 47.24 and then took it back from fast Frenchman Alain Bernard with a time of 47.05, the latter a time .05 seconds faster than Magnussen’s best time of 47.10.

The decision for Magnussen to swim both the morning heat of the race and the final was at the very least an interesting one. Usually the fastest in the team are omitted in the morning to save them for the evening, but James Magnussen opted to swim in the heats to “blow the cobwebs out”. Swimmer’s at the top level should be able to back-up and swim a faster time in the evening finals than in the heats.

Another interesting decision was for ‘the missile’ to lead out the team in the final overnight. The fastest swimmer in the team is often used to anchor the swim so that they can swim over the top of other competitor nations if they are ahead of them.

Instead the strategy was theorised as the fastest swimmer going out first and going out hard and getting the team a sizeable lead for the weaker swimmers to defend in the final three legs of the relay. But that lead never materialised and there were teams ahead of us with Magnussen swimming a very poor opening leg of 48.03, almost a second outside his best.

Australia was behind from the get-go and never recovered with the slower of the swimmers, not slow by any stretch of the imagination unable to cut the deficit left after the first leg.

But it would be wrong to think that the fourth place was because of those two decisions. It simply was not. While they were strange decisions, Magnussen could just as easily have swum the same time in bringing the Australian relay team home. We won’t ever know, but it’s entirely plausible.

It’s also wrong to focus all the blame for the race on Magnussen. Being about one and a half seconds off the pace it was more than down to the slow Magnussen swim. It would have been much closer were James able to swim at his best, with a medal a certainty had he swum his best time, but not the gold. The others were responsible for the remaining gap of about half a second from the gold medal time.

Put simple, it just wasn’t the day for the men’s 4x100m relay team. They were probably partly a victim of their own high expectations, but elite athletes can and should know how to deal with this, especially with the support staff on offer. The team just didn’t perform and James Magnussen should not be too hard on himself. We need him back and swimming like a torpedo for the individual men’s 100m freestyle.

But really, a key reason Australia didn’t do so well? France, the US and Russia took advantage of the situation and swam better than our team.

Harry Jenkins Leaving the House and Ending an Era

Henry Alfred “Harry” Jenkins entered the federal parliament in Canberra representing the electoral division of Scullin from February 1986. He replaced his father, Dr Harry Jenkins who served in the electorate from 1969 until his son replaced him in office. Today Mr Jenkins announced that his now 26 years in the parliament would be coming to an end at the 2013 federal election, one the ALP is almost certain to lose.

Harry Jenkins’ father after 14 years in the parliament rose to the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives under the former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, serving in the role for 3 years from 1983 until his retirement in 1986 when his son took up the role of MP for Scullin.

It (the Speaker’s chair) appeared a place that Harry Jnr was destined for. Seven years after becoming the member for Scullin, Harry Jenkins, in 1993 under Prime Minister Paul Keating was Deputy Speaker for 3 years until the 1996 election when John Howard won government from the longest serving Labor administration of Hawke and Keating.

After the election of the Howard Government, Jenkins enjoyed the support of the lower house to become the 2nd Deputy Speaker during John Howard’s government, a role he stayed in until the end of the Howard Government in late 2007.

When Kevin Rudd was swept to power in a crushing defeat for the Howard Government, in office for over a decade, Harry Jenkins was elected by the house as Speaker, the role his father had enjoyed. He stayed in this role under both Prime Minister Rudd and his successor, PM Julia Gillard. The MP for Scullin served in the role until he left under interesting circumstances, suddenly one morning late in 2011 informing the parliament he would resign from his role to become a regular everyday MP.

It is widely acknowledged by both sides of parliament, Labor and Liberal alike that Harry Jenkins was a good and fair practitioner in the role of Speaker, helped along in the later years by changes to the Standing Orders, the rules that dictate how House of Representatives process is undertaken and policed.

Manager of Opposition Business and Liberal MP for Sturt, who enjoyed a run-in or two with the long-serving Speaker Jenkins said today that Mr Jenkins’ retirement would be “our loss, but his family’s gain”.

In acknowledging the bipartisan respect for the role Mr Jenkins played as Speaker, Mr Pyne also said “I always found Mr Jenkins a fair Speaker. It is a tough job and he did his best to perform with dignity.”

Mr Jenkins was also a Speaker known to take little nonsense from misbehaving MPs, with a healthy appetite for the usage of Standing Order 94a which allows for naughty MPs constantly interjecting or calling other MP’s names among other things to be sent from the chamber for one hour in what should become known as the “coffee order”.

Life largely away from politics beckons, about a year from now should all go to plan, for an MP who is the longest serving Labor MP in the House and the second longest serving MP currently in the parliament, behind Phillip Ruddock.

May his future be bright and his future dealings be with slightly less boisterous individuals than the MP’s he presided over.

Games and More Games, But Where to Now for the NDIS?

The latest Council of Australian Governments meeting has gone off with a bit of a hitch. The National Disability Insurance Scheme launch sites were front and centre of the COAG agenda today with the states and territories coming together to try and win a launch site, well in most cases at least.

At the meeting today in Canberra a total of three launch sites were announced by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania managed to reach agreement with the Gillard Government to co-fund trials in their respective states and territories.

But alas, a fourth and final trial location could not be found. The states and territories who will be hosting launch sites are all Labor administrations. Those loudest in their criticism of the government over the project, from a positive interest in at least trying to find an outcome, to in Queensland’s case, not having an interest at all in contributing funds until at least 2014-15 are all Liberal state Premiers.

Western Australia a Liberal state, under Premier Colin Barnett will at least be trying out their own version of the scheme, ‘My Way’ which the federal government will have a look at to see how their experiment at a state-based scheme goes. But really, all states should just get with the same program, but points for trying.

New South Wales and Victoria, on the face of it, seem part of the way there. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced that his state had $570 million for the trial, a not insignificant amount, over half of the commonwealth allocation in the May budget which put aside $1 billion for the four initial locations for the disability scheme.

Together with Victoria, the two states with conservative Premiers put together a joint bid. Their proposal was to cater for 15,000 people with a disability with the New South Wales part of the two-state agreement to be put in place in the Hunter region.

But again money was the killer here. The Prime Minister wanted NSW Premier O’Farrell to contribute a further $70 million for the trial and the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu an extra $40 million for their states to be able to have one of the four initial NDIS service areas.

The first point is that the money that NSW were willing to bring to the table was an extremely generous sum for a scheme which the Productivity Commission recommended should be fully funded by the feds.

Second, surely each of the three parties in the negotiations for the joint bid had the ability to make up the $100 million funding shortfall between them, whether that be either of the two states or the Gillard Government, or all three sharing the extra burden.

As far as Queensland goes, with relatively new state Premier Campbell Newman at the helm, the whole situation is far from encouraging. The Queensland Premier, Mr Newman came to the meeting of Australian governments proposing to spend not a single cent on a proposal for a launch site. Interestingly though, Mr Newman brought a proposal to COAG today for a launch site to be held in the town of Gympie, north of Brisbane.

But that of course was never ever going to translate into the northern state being granted the right  by the commonwealth to enjoy the benefits of being one of the first four places in the country to see how the eventually national scheme will operate.

The overall point is that all Liberal states were playing politics. It (the funding job) could have been done. Surely too, the federal government, in the knowledge that in twelve months time they will likely not be in power and not having to stump up further funds for the essential disability policy. were also playing political games.

What was interesting today and in the lead-up to the crucial Council of Australian Governments meeting was that the Northern Territory Government, under Chief Minister Paul Henderson, a Labor administration appeared relatively absent from the debate and discussion. The motive likely the upcoming election in the Northern Territory.

So where to now for the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

While the federal government should have followed the Productivity Commission recommendation to fully fund the scheme it is clear that it will never happen that way.

But it is clear that the NDIS just has to happen. People with a disability have waited far too long for a serious attempt at a framework meeting their basic but diverse needs in a converted national approach.

Like it or lump it, the states have to alter their stance on the project to a standpoint where they are willing to contribute more whilst still pushing for the commonwealth to fund the vast majority of the costly policy.

With a likely Liberal Government at the federal level next year, it is important that their in principle support, which appears to be wavering quite strongly, is converted into real support for following the already embarked upon implementation process.

Lobby groups, the state and current federal government will need to continue to put the pressure on the current federal Opposition to make their uncertain bipartisan support a reality. Nobody wants to see an incoming Abbott Government in power suddenly baulk when faced with needing to implement a policy that the Liberal Premiers have all had varying degrees of difficulty acknowledging is important.

But again, at the same time, the current administration at the federal level must take their share of the blame for what is a very worrying juncture in the NDIS debate.

All states and the federal government need to work together more and be more willing to compromise. They all have the means to contribute something. People with a disability cannot afford to miss out with another failed policy.

The Will They Or Won’t They NDIS Game Rears Its Head

After a short period of time where discussion of the National Disability Insurance Scheme was almost completely non existent in the political discussion engaged in by the federal government we’ve seen in recent weeks a return to the discourse of the very important initiative. This is because the Council of Australian Governments, that’s COAG for the politically inclined, commences tomorrow.

Funding has been a key area of dispute between the states and the commonwealth and this has been telegraphed in the media ever since negotiations over the funding and implementation of the scheme began. This is set to continue in earnest at COAG as is competition over which states or territories have the privilege of hosting one of the four launch sites announced by the Gillard Government as part of the May budget. This announcement came with $1 billion over four years in federal funding for the scheme.

The states of course are crying poor, particularly Queensland, where the new Premier has inherited a budget deficit from the former Bligh Government of $2.8 billion and a debt of $64 billion for 2011/12.

The South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, whose state has agreed to put $20 million toward the policy but has said today “we don’t have the budget capacity to go further at this time”.

In Queensland’s case, the Premier will go to COAG asking for a launch site to be held in Gympie, north of Brisbane, but without a commitment from his state to put any money toward the launch site.

Premier Campbell Newman supports the scheme in principle but wants the commonwealth government to fund it and he is right with the latter part of the following comment where Mr Newman today said “we’re prepared to support the program, we’re prepared to support a trial site in Gympie, but they (federal government) must fund it and that’s what the Productivity Commission said”.

It is indeed true that the Productivity Commission in its advice to the government on the implementation of the important NDIS said that the commonwealth should fund the scheme.

But the commonwealth itself is limited to what it has available to allocate to the implementation of the policy. They’ve allocated that $1 billion over 4 years, that’s $250 million a year for the first four years.

That’s not to say they couldn’t have done much more, they could have. Instead of plunging more money into areas of spending that have had or will likely not have highly positive outcomes they could have contributed more of the billions of dollars they did allocate during the budget on a policy initiative that will help people with a disability engage in community activities.

Policy to help people with a disability has been chronically overlooked by successive governments of both political colours at the local state and federal level since de-institutionalisation. So the government must be praised for at least bringing this onto the agenda and trying to get outcomes in the area even though they’ve not exactly followed the policy prescription from the experts.

But back to the state governments and their response. They all want it, but some are much more willing than others, for differing reasons, to stump up funds for the Medicare-like project.

Regardless of what the Productivity Commission said about which level of government should fund the scheme and despite the wrong policy response from the ALP Government, all states do have the capacity to at least contribute some existing funds used for disability support were their respective states to win the right to host a launch site. The money would be going into providing the same services to the people in the areas chosen for crying out loud. Surely even Queensland could spare $20 million or at least something, a few million dollars perhaps.

It does appear increasingly like the federal government, aware that this time next year they may well be close to or have already lost government, are trying to look like they’re doing something on the issue while actually achieving much less than they’re capable of.

It’s also less and less likely a future Coalition government, who’ve announced strong support for the NDIS, but then had MPs unleash rhetoric which makes you question the sincerity of the bipartisanship will be willing to take up the political challenge and implement the National Disability Insurance Scheme. If not that, it is reasonable to at least question the cohesion and level of agreement within the party over such a big funding initiative. This would have the ability to collapse further once in government.

The important thing to note is that all levels of government do have the capacity to deal with the implementation of such a scheme. If governments didn’t waste so many millions and billions it could be done in a heartbeat. But the political games are now on and the political will of both the Labor Government and the Opposition are being and will be tested. So to the collective will of the states must be put under the spotlight. That first test has started and will accelerate tomorrow.

A Modest Proposal for Gun Control That Would Never Get Up

The latest gun massacre in the United States of America, this time in Aurora, Colorado has again sparked debate, within America and across the world about the sense or nonsense of the 2nd amendment right to bear arms. Twelve people were shot dead at a movie screening of The Dark Knight Rises and 58 further were injured by the gunman who burst into the cinema, let off teargas and began indiscriminately shooting at movie-goers.

The scenes of pandemonium that followed, including leaked mobile phone footage and the last tweets of some in the crowd will stick with people for a long time and must translate into at least some change in the gun laws.

Every year there are roughly 10,000 gun related murders in the United States of America out of a total number of murders close to 13,000 per annum. This is a truly horrifying statistic.

From the outset it is extremely important t0 acknowledge that no one “solution” to this incredibly difficult and fraught issue in US politics. Even a complete ban will not result in a massive reduction in gun-related deaths. People will do all they can to try and get their hands on firearms if they really want them and they will always exist in society.

There are two major problems that exist when thinking of gun crime. The first is that the right to bear arms applies to just about any weapon out there, in just about every state in the country. This access to an almost unlimited range of weapons includes some  capabilities that just about any military would be proud of being able to use.

The second major problem is that the ability to acquire weapons in most states in the USA is just way too easy and there are few checks and balances and the process to legally acquire a weapon is just too lax. There is just too little examination of people wanting to obtain a firearm, something that, while still a right, must be highly regulated.

While it is true that it is the person behind the weapon that does the damage, the damage done also has much to do with the types of guns that an American citizen has access to. Since when do everyday Americans need assault rifles and machine guns, even on properties used for farming? And tear gas? Please. Who on earth needs that? Nobody as yet over the years has been able to cogently explain and justify the need for the right to bear arms to translate into access to automatic and in most cases even semi-automatic firearms.

Gun laws, though regulated by the state, separate from the national constitutional right to bear arms need to be made more stringent, perhaps nationally consistent, though this may be constitutionally and politically impossible as any gun reform has proved to be so far.

So here’s a commonsense plan which would maintain the 2nd amendment rights of Americans, still keeping their right to possess such a deadly weapon while at the same time being realistic about the consequences of the more extreme weaponry around.

First, all states must at least ban access to all automatic weapons or guns that have the ability to operate automatically.

Second, access to semi-automatic weapons should at least be limited, though there should ideally be a strong presumption against people having or needing semi-automatic weapons.

A gun buy-back scheme, similar to the one instituted by the Howard Government after the Port Arthur massacre might be a way for honest citizens to hand over the automatic weapons that they frankly don’t need. Such a scheme would result in at least some of the weapons in circulation being taken out of the public and therefore away from the access of criminals.

As far as gun licensing and regulation goes, there should be a move to a stronger, more nationally consistent license and registration framework which takes into account the individual circumstances of applicants and makes purchasing a firearm a lot harder than buying a fast food meal.

But we must be realistic about things when it comes to gun control in the USA. First, it will never happen. The NRA as a lobby group just holds too much sway. Also, the inability of politicians to budge on such a wide interpretation of the 2nd amendment has hamstrung the prospects of any significant crackdown.

At the same time too, we must also be realistic then even the greatest crackdown on weapons will not remove the devastating consequences of gun crime, various examples of this exist worldwide, but it can be restricted.

The fact that even such a modest proposal like this one would never get up is a real shame.

Hey Guys and Gals, Don’t Worry About Your ABC

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is copping it from all parts of the political spectrum these days with regards “balance” as well as impartial reporting of news events, though much less the latter. But lately it’s been the left, the core constituency of the ABC that have been the loudest to decry the direction that the publicly funded news organisation is taking in relation to their approach to guest spots on the 6pm political panel show The DrumAll this has been happening while many on the right of the political spectrum still continue to amp up over what is still seen as a left wing bias of the entire news organisation.

The biggest complaint of recent months has been that the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), particularly through regular guests Tim Wilson, Chris Berg and James Paterson appears more than any other think-tank on the daily political commentary show.

It is a simple fact that the IPA has appeared more than any other think-tank that exists in the Australian political landscape. IPA guests have taken up  42% of the appearances of representatives of these organisations for the of the period between June 2011 and June 2012 according to an investigation by Andrew Kos for Independent Australia here

The investigation found that the next highest appearance rate for think-tanks was the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) at just under half the rate of the IPA (at 18%), followed by Per Capita with 16% of appearances and then the Centre for Policy Development responsible for 10% of the guest spots over the year examined.

So clearly the vast majority of think-tank appearances have been as a result of guests from the Institute of Public Affairs. An undeniable fact. But does this automatically translate into a right-wing bias on the part of our state-funded national broadcaster? Sorry, rhetorical question there. The answer is a clear ‘no’.

Sure the IPA and the other major right-wing policy body the CIS have dominated 60%, over half of thinky body spots on the show but to measure bias because of the higher appearance of one or two think-tanks over any other is a pretty ridiculous measure.

A much better way would be to measure based on political leanings of each individual guest, cumulative over each and every time that The Drum has aired.

Even without having done the raw numbers it is also an incontrovertible fact, that, like the IPA dominating the guest list, those that outwardly appear on the left of the political spectrum strongly outnumber those that identify with the right side of the political spectrum. You simply lose count of the times when two of the three panelists are of the left.

The very idea that you can have any form of political balance on a panel when a show, before it even starts has an uneven number of people as commentators, regardless of political affiliation is completely laughable.

The same goes for the other major free-to-air program in the realm of politics, Q&A and the Sunday program Insiders. With the formeryou have a regular panel of another uneven number, 5 guests where again people of the right side of politics are always strongly outnumbered. Sure, you’ll find your regular Q&A panel has a wider diversity of guests than The Drum, which usually leans toward those of the left that support Labor but there’s still not an overall balanced cross-section of views displayed due to the panel size and choices.

As for Insiders, again, like The Drum, you have 3 panelists, journalists from both Fairfax and News Ltd and the occasional freelance writer. Again too you have a political imbalance, always slanted to the left, partly because of the number of commentators on the show, partly because of the overwhelming number of writers who identify with the political ideology of the left.

So please, to my friends on the left, quit with the whingeing and whining about what you perceive as a right-wing political bias creeping into the political programs of your ABC. You have nothing to worry about, it’s still tilted nicely in your favour. You only need to start worrying if the number of guests representing your beliefs is tilted in the other direction. If balance is truly what you want, then call for an equal number of spots on each of the political shows. But I suspect that deep down you might just be complaining you don’t like what you’re hearing from a small number of people.

The fact that now everyone, left and right, are getting their knickers in a knot tends to indicate that maybe, just maybe, the ABC is heading toward less of a bias toward the left.

The Mad Scramble is On, But the Show Will be Good

There are now only 8, yes EIGHT days left until that massive sporting event the London Olympics kicks off with what is sure to be an amazing opening ceremony  followed by two weeks of great sporting feats. Moments of sporting brilliance and achievement will abound. Until recent weeks and months it has been a good lead-up with the Brits looking more than ready to host such an epic sized event.

But then in recent times we’ve seen basic security cock-ups, the acknowledgement that all tickets were not and would not be sold, including football tickets no less. The arrival of the first athletes has seen the operation of Olympic only lanes commence on the roads, complete with a lost driver and traffic snarls. Then just yesterday an acknowledgement that one part of the opening ceremony act would need to be dropped to facilitate spectators making the last transport services of the evening. Oh and then there’s the weather. Finally, overnight came confirmation that airport border security staff would strike the day before the games begins.

But despite the scrambling things will be fine, there might be some hiccups along the way but all in all the show, including the bookend ceremonies will go on and will run smoothly.

The venues for one are finished and will be able to house the sports and events trouble free for the entire period of the Olympics. There won’t be any holes in the track, bumps where there should not be bumps or poorly designed stadiums.

The security shortfall caused by poor coordination on the part of G4S, the company contracted to provide basic security in the Olympic precinct and event locations will likely be fully plugged. The shortfall will likely be made up by police and defence personnel who will be redeployed from their regular postings to make up for this awful mistake, but it will happen, it has to.

The customs strike will cause some serious gridlock and delays at the airport and is an arrogant and calculated move attempting to embarrass the government. Above all though, people will still get to the Olympic events even after annoying delays which could have been postponed to a time where it wouldn’t result in negative perceptions from the all important tourist market.

All tickets will not be sold, that is a given. There will be numerous venues operating below capacity. But this won’t matter too much, except for the bottom line of the organisation behind the games. More will be given away and there will be a mad scramble to sell as many tickets as possible, even to the bloody football in England for goodness sake. That will surely cause some embarrassment for a soccer, sorry, football loving nation like Ol’ Blighty.

Traffic snarls will cause some headaches for the English people and Londoners with athlete only lanes in operation around and between venues. This will also lead to increased pressure on the public transport network which will be at peak capacity, even overflowing from now until the last of the athletes and visitors depart the nation.

The organising committee can only hope that all other drivers other than one this week actually know where they’re headed, but surely they do and in any case that is a pretty trivial example of an “issue”.

An act was dropped from the opening ceremony overnight, just over a week from the extravaganza commencing. That will be annoying for that act, who were undoubtedly excited to be playing their part in such an historic event. It will also be a tad embarrassing for the artistic director and the organisers who will not have wanted to come to that kind of realisation so close to the beginning of London 2012.

The weather might keep some of the spectators away but the large international contingent and the absolute Olympic fanatics are likely to still want to venture to events. In any case, many events take place in covered facilities anyway.

But these issues, save for likely gridlocked transport for regular Londoners and the broader English population and the serious, but likely to be overcome security shortfalls will not impact negatively on the running of the actual events. There may well be some holes in crowd shots at some of the events because not all tickets were sold and the weather might be a bit shite, but all are likely to go ahead with a level of ease, even if some have to be delayed because the weather is a bit dreary. Embarrassment might just be the worst outcome, along with a bit of a hit on the bottom line.

Lessons in Reforming Education: Dealing With Disadvantage and Unintended Policy Consequences

Education is by far the most important part of our lives, particularly given the competitive world that we live in. So it immediately follows that a strong education system that gives every citizen equal opportunity to fully participate in and the opportunity to succeed is a prerequisite for a strong, healthy and prosperous society.

But alas equal opportunity in education and how the broader education system operates is something that needs much work in civilised society like Australia. Education in recent days and months has been firmly back in the spotlight, as it always should be with such an essential area of public policy development and transformation.

First it was the Gonski Review by eminent businessperson David Gonski which called for a significant  further injection of funds into the education system.

Then, earlier this week, Christopher Pyne the Shadow Education Minister in the federal opposition made somewhat of a foray into the education policy debate, outlining some key ideas that would go forward as Coalition policy in the area. Most notably this included performance pay for teachers, greater local autonomy for schools and the ability to move under-performing teachers out of the sector.

From the outset, it is important to acknowledge that all politicians, regardless of political colour do at least try to attack the issue of education with sincerity and a commitment to bettering the learning experience of our young minds. Both sides of politics may come at this area of policy from different ideological directions but it is very hard to say that either side want poor outcomes for some and continued good outcomes for those who do not endure disadvantage.

Education policy is a very hard area and there are no easy solutions or proverbial silver bullets. But of course, all policies, no matter how sound, have unintended consequences. The key is looking for the best outcome for all as far as opportunity and support goes and then trusting in the individual students to do their best, though ultimately, many will prevail, but others will not.

First to the Gonski review of education. The major recommendation from this report was that the government inject a further $5 billion into the education system. It proposed assisting students of all types, from those who come from privilege, to those who experience major disadvantage which can have a major impact on educational outcomes.

In particular, the detailed recommendations called on the Gillard Government to commit to “loading” payments for schools to attract and support children that come from a life of disadvantage, including importantly, extra funding for schools to cater for students with a disability.

As yet the Prime Minister has not committed to a full implementation of the Gonski recommendations, but Julia Gillard has committed to funding all schools regardless of need and her government are working toward legislation to deal with education which will be released in the coming months.

It is essential for equality of opportunity that, at the very least the ALP Government commit to fully funding loading payments for students with a disability and those from other lower socioeconomic groups. This is one part of the policy puzzle that simply has to be implemented by the government and without delay.

On Monday, the Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne journeyed into the education debate with a focus on how to deal with the teaching profession, class sizes and giving local schools more autonomy.

The Opposition Education spokesperson focused his comments particularly on the teaching profession, advocating for performance pay and removing poorly performing teachers from the profession.

Performance pay for improved outcomes rather than for overall achievement would be the most appropriate way to reward strong teaching efforts from our education professionals. It is simply impractical to expect that all students, regardless of background and circumstance are automatically going to succeed and excel because they had access to strong teachers.

Similarly, removing teachers from the profession who are “under-performing” is also a problematic equation. For the same reason that performance pay should be based on improvements rather than broad excellence it is impossible to say in all cases that “bad teaching” is responsible for poor outcomes in educational experiences. At some point it comes down to the individual circumstances and at times want of the students.

On class sizes Mr Pyne asserted that smaller class sizes do not automatically lead to better results and this is somewhat true. Again, outcomes are still sometimes down to reasons beyond the control of individual teachers in the system. On the other hand, smaller class sizes do allow for greater teacher concentration on individual students and this is certainly a positive that must not be overlooked.

Greater school autonomy regarding staff and budget arrangements would be a big plus for schools around the country. We have to get away from the idea that bureaucrats and politicians in our capital cities know the best way of dealing with all staffing and budget requirements of all schools under their control. Many frankly wouldn’t have too much of a clue of the local and school specific issues facing every single school under their purview and a much higher usage of local knowledge and experience in the mix is essential.

The policy debate is now out there, our politicians now need to get on with the job of plugging the gaps in the education system, particularly around disadvantage. Our legislators must also be mindful of the ways in which they go about reforming the sector from whichever political standpoint they embark upon the policy process from.

Fitzgibbon Airs the Obvious and Again Opens Wide the Leadership Question

Leadership rumblings: they’re like a perennial thing in politics these days unless it seems you’ve had the same Prime Minister or Premier in for more than a term or so and doing consistently well. Comments last night from Chief Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, whilst not explicitly suggesting or admonishing Julia Gillard to depart from the top job have added fuel to the leadership fire. This fire began smouldering basically on the day Ms Gillard snatched the leadership from Kevin Rudd 2 years ago with the public not taking particularly kindly, especially in Queensland, to the move to oust Rudd from office. Throw in an array of political and policy failures along the way, some neglected under Kevin Rudd and not dealt with or attacked in the wrong way by Julia Gillard and that inferno is now well and truly alight.

The appearance of Joel Fitzgibbon, a key Gillard-backer just months ago during the February leadership spill brought on by the Prime Minister on Q&A raised not just the question of who would be leader at the next election, Gillard, Rudd or a third candidate, but also exactly what qualities and appeal that leader would need to possess to be electorally enticing.

From the outset, it is important to point out that the next election for Labor, despite leadership choice will surely be a lost cause for the ALP. Not only will it be a loss for the government, but on polling numbers for months on end, it has the makings of an epic defeat where the Labor Party could be all but wiped out in Queensland.

To lose an MP or two in Queensland, without gaining any elsewhere would be a big enough worry for the ALP Government so on the nose with the public and enough to seal their fate. But the government also look likely to have trouble saving seats in New South Wales too which due to it’s population has a number of seats on offer that the Coalition failed to grab, but could easily have won in 2010.

Staying with Prime Minister Gillard will almost certainly lead to a massive defeat, with the current Prime Minister seen by the public as the face of the credibility crisis that the Labor Party faces at the present time. Out of the three leadership options of Gillard, Rudd or anyone but Rudd and Gillard it is the one likely to lead to the biggest electoral defeat.

Were Labor to go with the second option, a return to Rudd, they would need to mend the massive wounds caused by the Rudd-Gillard spat which has been continuing even since the PM secured 2/3 support of her party room in the February ballot for the ALP leadership. That would mean countless ministers either resigning their posts and as they said at the time, refusing to serve under Kevin Rudd or it would mean a reconciliation of sorts between these senior figures and the reinstated PM. The latter would be hard for the public to buy with the harsh words splashed across the news just months ago and the former would just add to the electoral rot.

That said, in spite of the immense problems a Rudd return would bring, it would serve at the moment as the best option that the ALP have to at the very least save some of the furniture and perhaps do a bit more than that. But it would also give the Liberal and National Party much more electoral fuel to run with and ultimately likely still end up with a Labor electoral loss.

This is where Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments about populism mattering in politics come to the fore. Kevin Rudd is by far the most popular person in politics in Australian in just about any poll that is realised and that is despite the Opposition under Tony Abbott enjoying such an extensive lead in the race for The Lodge. It is true though that a Rudd return has been shown to translate into a winning position for the ALP but this would have to be accompanied by policy backdowns and reversals at the very least.

The idea of populism mattering in politics doesn’t just apply to leadership too. Populist politics as far as policy development and implementation goes is also smart politically, at least in limited use over ideologically pure politics and is common practice of just about any democratic government anywhere in the world.

A third candidate would probably be the most disastrous option with none of the floated alternatives, be it Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten, Simon Crean or otherwise polling anywhere near competitive in preferred leader stakes. It would be best to save one of these candidates until after the election to lead the Labor Party in a process of rebuilding rather than to waste them on an election they would lose and not admirably.

All in all it looks at least for the foreseeable future that the government will persevere with Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, but you would have to think that Kevin Rudd or a third candidate, regardless of the pitfalls are still options that are being canvassed, surely with electability being foremost on the collective mind of the caucus.

Labor have a lot of questions to ask inwardly of themselves over the next 12 months before the 2013 election but basically every answer will be a completely negative one with the most important question then being “what do we do to help put us in the best position to rebuild in a fast and efficient manner”. Also, a little dose of populism despite the ugliness of the term in politics might just help a little.

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