Monthly Archives: November 2012

What Happened, What Does it Mean and What Next for Palestine?

The United Nations General Assembly has now voted emphatically in favour of granting the Palestinian delegation to the UN, non-member observer status. This is a symbolic victory, not a material one, for the territories seeking to one day be recognised with official statehood by the United Nations

So what happened? What does the vote mean? And what is next for Palestine?

Leading up to the vote, the Palestinian mission to the UN thought that they had secured about 132 votes of the 193 nation-state members of the General Assembly. This in itself would have been more than enough for a ballot victory, with ballots in the UNGA only requiring a majority ‘yes’ vote of 50% of the member countries, plus one.

The Palestinians received 138 votes in favour of them reaching the status of non-member observer state. This means that just over 70% of countries on the floor voted in favour of the motion.

Nine UN members voted against the motion. Most notably, this included the United States of America and Israel, both firm allies on the other side of the long-running Israel-Palestine conflict. The other states joining the USA and Israel in voting against the resolution were Canada, Czech Republic, Panama, Palau, The Marshall Islands, Nauru and Micronesia.

There were also forty-one abstentions which included large powers, including the United Kingdom and Germany. Australia also decided to abstain earlier this week.

Germany had been planning to vote against the motion. The Australian Government through Prime Minister Julia Gillard had also planned to vote ‘no’ to the idea of strengthening Palestinian observer status, but in the end, the caucus decided that Australia should instead abstain.

In the end, because of the nature of the General Assembly, as opposed to the Security Council, the vote was soundly won by the Palestinian Authority.

The next important question is: What does the new non-member observer state vote mean for Palestine in terms of what the position offers?

Well, it is a tokenistic position in terms of territory.

The vote does however grant Palestine an implied recognition of sovereign statehood, the equivalent stature to that of The Vatican as far as the United Nations is concerned.

The new-found recognition also means that the Palestinians are now able to become members of all UN member organisations. This includes the ability to petition the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

The ability to join UN bodies and sign up to conventions and treaties are probably the two most significant aspects of the victory at the United Nations for the now implied state of Palestine.

Perhaps the most important question is: What comes next for Palestine?

In light of the UN vote, answering this question and charting a possible future for the peace process, perhaps becomes even more difficult than it was before the Palestinian victory at the UN General Assembly.

Israel and the United States of America are mightily annoyed. Officials from both countries are saying, as they did prior to Thursday’s vote, that it is a step backwards in terms of territorial negotiations and a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

Israel and the US are particularly annoyed that the decision now opens the door to proceedings of war crimes and broader crimes against humanity being levelled at the Israeli Government at the International Criminal Court.

The process required for charges to be brought by the Palestinians is prohibitive, even though they have flagged the possibility of referring individual Israelis to the ICC. Israel for one, along with the United States, does not recognise the jurisdiction of the court and would obviously not cooperate in handing over suspects.

Perhaps any intentions on the part of the Palestinian Authority to pursue Israel at the ICC should be immediately put off as an act of good faith. Proceedings could be instigated at a later stage, either if settlements in Palestinian territories continue, or the peace process becomes further intractable after a period of time.

Israel and the United States of America are also annoyed at the way in which the Palestinian territories have obtained the status of implicit statehood.

Really, both Israel and the USA should not be particularly concerned about Palestine now enjoying implied statehood. The change guarantees nothing in terms of actual territorial claims. That can only be determined by either a petition to the UN Security Council or by negotiations between Palestinian groups and the Israeli Government.

A direct petition to the Security Council by Palestinian representatives would never succeed. A similar petition last year by Mahmoud Abbas was never introduced because it was going to be blocked.

Official recognition of statehood at the Security Council would require 10 of the 15 member states to vote in favour of a resolution to create an official Palestinian nation-state. The USA, being a key and almost unwavering ally of Israel, even under President Barack Obama, have already indicated on previous occasions that they would use their veto power in the Security Council.

The best way forward is direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine, preferably with the United States of America involved as well as key powers in the Middle East. The key players have alluded to this, although their actions and words, particularly in the wake of the UN decision, seem to indicate little interest in strengthening negotiations over a two-state solution.

Negotiations too, have failed for decades. The recent increased tensions between Israel and Hamas, not just Thursday’s vote, have undoubtedly contributed to, at best, an even more protracted peace process.

The future of Israel-Palestine relations is at best tenuous. However, the present should be accepted for what it is and that is, in reality, a largely painless development.

If it’s not seen as such, then questions should rightly be asked about the actual intentions of Israel and the US, in terms of pursuing an enduring tw0-state solution.

A Response to an NDIS Opinion Piece

Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced the legislation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This Medicare-like scheme is a very important reform, a long time coming for people with a disability, who have suffered under inadequate and differing support regimes from state-to-state. The NDIS will create a national framework under which the needs of those with a severe and permanent disability will be met.

The introduction of the legislation in the House of Representatives is just the first step. NDIS trial sites will be launched next year, but there is still a need to keep the pressure on, to ensure that the fully-fledged system will be realised.

Up until recently, most of the negative debate around the policy has been about the cost. It is significant, requiring approximately $15 billion a year from the first full year of implementation in financial year. That time comes at the end of this decade. But the scheme can and must be funded. There are numerous ways to ensure that it is fully funded.

This week, in an opinion piece in The Australian written by Doron Samuell from SR2 Healthy, relatively new arguments came to light.

In the first instance, Mr Samuell argued that, “lured by the promise of taxpayer dollars, it is inevitable that disability services will come to be dominated by large, corporate players in the post-NDIS world.”

Later in his op-ed, Doron Samuell provides an argument which says that this is already occurring. So really, what we will have is the status quo. It is hard to envisage that smaller providers could be crowded out even more than they already are.

For equipment, like wheelchairs and other mobility aids, disabled people will most likely choose to use bigger organisations that might have the capacity to carry a broader range of stock and therefore, more cost-competitive products.

For services, users will probably choose to use a mixture of smaller, community-based organisations and larger “corporatised” ones. This will, again, at least maintain the status quo. There is also a strong chance that smaller organisations able to adapt to client needs under the NDIS will be able to grow if they can prove they provide good services.

The idea of the insurance scheme, as it will apply to many applicants, is to give users, capable of decision-making, the choice to pursue services from providers that they perhaps already identify with.

Also on the question of choice, Samuell made what amount to some pretty offensive, not to mention inaccurate comments about the capacity of people to choose wisely under the disability scheme. He actually claimed that the disabled were “often unsophisticated” purchasers and asked “these consumers going to make the right decisions?”.

Well, of course those who have a capacity to make decisions for themselves are overwhelmingly going to make the right decisions according to their needs. People with a disability are no less rational than ‘able-bods’ and nobody else knows their personal requirements better than people with a disability themselves. No doctor, no healthcare professional, no bureaucrat understands disability better.

Mr Samuell also appears to have forgotten a provision in the bill, which allows for funds to be provided to a carer or directly to a service provider in the event that someone eligible for NDIS funds is unable to make or communicate decisions for themselves on their own care needs. The latter is a worry because, again, bureaucrats should not be making these kinds of decisions.

Samuell also states that “the NDIS will need to ensure that buying decisions are scrutinised, audited and reviewed”. The legislation actually provides for this.

Doron Samuell does go to the question of funding. He does this from the position that Medicare, the system that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is based on, is under-funded and has a bloated bureaucracy.

There is a danger that the NDIS will be under-funded. There is always that danger when government embark upon significant reforms, that costs might be under-estimated. But what is clear is that the claim about Medicare only coping “by progressively lowering the standard of care to maintain its universality”, will almost certainly not apply to the NDIS.

A bloated bureaucracy is of some concern. There will need to be a significant number of  jobs created or filled across the states  and territories to oversee the agency. However, the bigger concern should be too much centralisation of the increased bureaucracy.

Finally, Samuell’s contention about the NDIS not being based on insurance principles is neither here nor there. What is important is that this landmark reform provides adequate support for those it is targetted at.Getting bogged down in definitions is pointless.

The biggest concern should be making sure the introduction of the full scheme occurs in 2018-19.

Fat-Fighting Mission Will Continue to Fail With Labels

It has emerged from a Lateline report last night that an agreement has nearly been reached between public health experts and food businesses for a new food-labelling regime. The system, if adopted, appears likely to be legislated by government in 2013 in a bid to arrest the growing obesity epidemic in Australia.

It had been hoped by those involved in public health that a s0-called ‘traffic light’ system would be adopted for use in the fight against obesity.

This system would have seen processed foods labelled with either green, orange or red dots. Under this scheme, if a product had a green dot it was perfectly okay. If food had an orange label it would have meant ‘be careful, this food is just a little on the naughty side’. Red would have meant, ‘danger, danger, you are clogging your arteries as we speak’.

Instead, the purported compromise would see a ‘star system’ pursued on labelling of processed foods. This idea would be much like the way that movies are often reviewed. There would be a five-star system and the more stars there are, the better the product for you in terms of health.

Ostensibly, both the star system and the traffic light solution are meant to be quick and simple ways of identifying foods that are good, bad or downright dangerous if consumed too much. Frankly though, neither of them actually understand the obesity problem and the reasons for it, nor will colourful marks or star-charts actually help the obesity problem.

Neither the stars nor the red, orange and green ‘lights’ would say how much of a product should be consumed. Of course, if you’re only eating foods with green and rarely orange or red, then this probably will not matter so much. It still is possible however, for people to become overweight through lack of exercise despite some pretty healthy choices.

In this way the Recommended Dietary Intake, or RDI labelling of foods clearly trumps the other two methods advocated by health lobby groups. This form of nutrition information shows the fat, salt and sugar content at the very least and gives a very handy outline of the proportion of these elements in terms of the recommended consumption of the average person.

It is the clearest way of labelling how much of a particular product the average person can consume before it becomes over-consumption and would not leave people confused as to how much food any given person could digest in a relatively safe manner.

But of course, there is a problem too with foods that have the RDI on the packaging and that is time, a point acknowledged recently in response to the fat tax in Denmark failing to work. This is not about how long it takes to eat food, but how long it would take for people to add up the numbers. People are time-poor, and because of that, any form of labelling will effectively be redundant.

Time is also an important factor in the sense that fast food, more often than not, unhealthy, is much quicker for people who are busy with work and other commitments.

Other issues relating to ease of access are also an important part of the equation when thinking about how to cut the fat. Both the prevalence of unhealthy foods and the low costs are significant impediments to a healthier Australia.

The time has come to think past fancy labelling and other government-imposed nonsense. Those kinds of policies, despite supposed research to the contrary, simply will not work.

However, if any food labelling has to continue to exist, then it should be based on the RDI of fat, sugar and salt in particular. This appears set to be superseded.

Symbolism and Statehood are Two Different Things

The Australian Government was reportedly engaged in an especially robust party-room debate today. The Labor caucus was discussing the position to take on the United General Assembly vote set to take place in the coming days. This motion, if successful, would grant the Palestinian territories non-member observer status in the UN. Currently, the Palestinians have observer status.

After looking like the ALP caucus might vote ‘no’ to the motion, it soon emerged that the party-room, in the end, voted in favour of the Australian delegation abstaining from this highly non-controversial vote.

Not surprisingly, the United States of America and of course Israel, have indicated they will be voting against the motion in the UN General Assembly.

Unlike in the Security Council though, the US and Israelis voting against the measure will not matter. There is no veto power in the General Assembly and 132 of the 193 member countries have pledged recognition of Palestine as a state. Despite this, official recognition of statehood has been blocked in the United Nations Security Council.

During the ALP caucus discussions this morning, members of the left faction reportedly indicated that granting observer status would provide some assistance in promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

This is an interesting concept. The position argues that by granting non-member state observer state status, the longstanding conflict would suddenly lurch closer to some form of mutually agreeable conclusion.

Clearly it will not. Hostilities on the part of Palestinian terror groups will not stop, at least until a broad solution involving Palestinian statehood is reached.

Terrorist acts on the part of some Palestinian factions would quite likely continue, even in the event of a negotiated peace between authorities on both sides of the conflict. They would however be more isolated and not necessarily linked with representative political organisations.

However, such heinous crimes would still not be tolerable, no matter how infrequent. The point must be made too, that both sides are and have been in the wrong on this issue, albeit in different ways.

The reluctance on the part of the Israelis and the USA to recognise Palestine as an official state would also continue, virtually leaving the situation at the status quo. Non-member state observer status will be a symbolic act.

Granting non-member state observer status is however one that the Israeli government should not be scared of. But they are and they will probably be annoyed. They need to realise, however, that there is a clear difference between a vote for non-member state observer status and a peaceful two-state solution. The latter should be negotiated outside the United Nations.

It is curious that Australia will abstain from the vote. Abstention, to some, gives the appearance that Australia is basically hedging their bets.

Abstaining from the vote will likely be seen by the representatives of the Palestinian territories as a vote against their motion, since the Australian Government does not feel a compulsion to vote for what is ostensibly a sensible concept.

This week’s vote is not about statehood and probably will not provide much of a catalyst toward the Palestinian territories becoming a recognised state.

So why such a fuss?

A Necessary Apology Delivered Too Soon

Today the Defence Minister Stephen Smith stepped up to the Despatch Box to apologise for decades of cases of reported abuse, mostly of a sexual nature, within the Australian Defence Force. The issue is as much about the fact that the abuse was institutionalised as it was about the response which has been found to have often been poor, even non-existent.

This morning too, in the wake of Stephen Smiths apology on behalf of the Department of Defence, the Chief of the Defence Force, David Hurley, made a similar televised apology.

In terms of significant political issues which have arisen, discussed or been implemented during this, the 43rd parliament, the response was sensibly bipartisan.

There was no questioning of the validity, the reasons and consequences of making the apology as their had been with the indigenous apology. The Opposition Defence spokesperson in the House of Representatives just rose and responded with an equally compassionate and heartfelt statement of regret for events that had transpired. That was followed by a pledge to stamp out institutionalised abuse and statement that all that can be done to cut down abuse will be done.

The apology itself was decades in the making. The delivery of the apology however, in the scheme of things, was swift. In fact the apology was made too fast. On the same morning the apology was announced, Mr Smith walked into the parliament to say sorry to those in the ADF that have been the victim of abuse over recent decades.

So often, issues around the timing of events and policies have plagued the Gillard Government. Again today, timing failed the Labor Party on this issue.

There is no debating  that an apology should not have been made. It is the least the government could do after a long period of institutionalised abuse that was either ignored or wrongfully accepted as part of the organisation’s culture. But that apology should certainly have not been made today, even though reports surfaced late last week that such a statement to parliament was firmly on the political agenda.

Victims and their families should have had days or weeks’ notice that an apology was being made, not just hours and an apology even later today should never have been contemplated. Those who have suffered should have been afforded the time to organise travelling to Canberra for the apology, just as those who have been apologised to in the past for other wrongs were.

If those who had endured abuse did not want to attend, they should have at least been given advanced notice that the apology was to be given, so that they could make arrangements to watch Stephen Smith’s speech at home or elsewhere or listen to it on the radio or internet.

Instead, numerous victims will arrive home today to find that their suffering was acknowledged without many of them knowing or having little time for necessary arrangements to be made in order to view Stephen Smith’s apology. Countless current and former members of the defence force will hear the words of Stephen Smith second-hand through sound bites or perhaps in full, though still in replay, on the news and on websites.

It is surprising too that the speech by Mr Smith came before all the inquiries into abuse in the Australian Defence Force had finished. We have already had three separate investigations into different yet related matters.

Today, the Minister for Defence announced that there would be an independent taskforce to investigate the 750 “plausible” claims of abuse which were made to the DLA Piper review. The review by the global law-firm was one of the three investigations set up in response to the Skype sex abuse scandal. The minister announced that the taskforce would investigate individual claims, including attempting to identify alleged perpetrators.

Compensation of up to $50,000 for each valid claim has been offered if claimants waive the right to pursue their claims through all other legal and judicial processes. If alleged victims decide not to seek compensation, the special group led by former WA Supreme Court judge Len R0berts-Smith would decide whether or not to refer individual claims to the authorities.

So the battle is not over for victims. The process continues, but is nearing an end for some. The emotional wounds however will remain forever more.

You cannot help think that an apology, at the very least should have been delayed for weeks, maybe months.

The one certainty is that apology was needed. It was however delivered too soon.

The Theoretical Budget Savings Proposal Capping a Week Of Shame

The politics of asylum seekers has been in the media a lot over the past 5 years, but has been an even more significant part of the political fabric during this term. Specifically, since August, the attention given to what should be a small issue, has accelerated beyond belief. It’s now as if both the major political parties are treating it as one of the biggest issues of the day. It’s simply not, especially in the way it is now being dealt with in a completely negative and dangerous manner by Liberal and Labor alike.

This week in particular has been the most toxic for the asylum seeker debate in recent history. Asylum seekers are now headed to Manus Island for offshore processing and languishing in tents so uncomfortable and so unlivable. To top it all off, asylum seekers that will be released into the community, as a result of the recent influx, will not be able to work.

To top it all off, the Opposition Leader today announced a backflip on asylum seeker policy and it’s not a positive one. Tony Abbott today announced that the Coalition would cut the recently increased humanitarian intake of 20,000 back down to 13,750.

The announcement today is a strange one, given that Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party, just months ago, put the offer of increasing the humanitarian intake on the negotiating table.

Despite the fact that both the Coalition and the ALP both do not understand people movements, let alone humanity, the announcement today shows not just a lack of understanding of refugee policy, but also a real disdain for some of the most vulnerable and desperate people.

The budget bottom-line was given today as the main reason for the policy change from the Coalition, saying that the measure would save the budget $1.4 billion over the forward estimates.

The Opposition, upon taking government would fast realise, having reduced the refugee intake so dramatically, that, at best, the boats will stop temporarily. At the  same time, pressure would be building up in refugee locations in the region, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia, but also Sri Lanka.

Ultimately, the change in policy would lead to these vulnerable people taking the dangerous journey. There is also a strong chance that asylum seekers would ignore the supposed policy signal that the Liberal Party believes the change would send to boat people and people smugglers.

So of course, many of the costs associated with the problem, including sending Navy vessels to intercept asylum seeker vessels would actually remain and even increase, seriously putting in jeopardy the theoretical $1.4 billion budget saving.

Really then, it is clear that the decision today is not about saving money. It is again about being cruel while this time not even pretending to be kind. There is no favourable outcome from this policy for either asylum seekers or for the government except in terms of winning the xenophobic vote.

Tony Abbott also argued today that lifting the humanitarian intake to 20,000 would send the wrong signal to people smugglers. Well, he is right about it sending a signal. The change will make it harder for people smugglers to justify asking for thousands of dollars when thousands more people will be accepted into the country under the increased humanitarian intake. This is one thing that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has been right about this week.

Again we have a case of a political leader focusing far too much attention toward domestic political expediency. In doing so, Mr Abbott and the modern-day Liberal Party display a distinct lack of understanding  of the broader refugee debate. In fact, there is a water-tight case that both sides are wilfully ignorant of most of the issues that contribute to irregular people movement. Populism has seen to it that the unusually emotionally charged issue will not be dealt with in a rational manner.

There are only partial answers to the solution. The issue is too immense for Australia to deal with on her own. It is both regional and global.

Maintaining the humanitarian intake at 20,000 under an Abbott Government would have contributed to cutting down the number of maritime arrivals.

Small Cause for Hope in a Grim Situation

Israel and Hamas have agreed to the terms of a ceasefire after over a week of rocket attacks perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. Hamas had been rocketing Israel and in return the Israelis sent missiles hurtling into Palestinian territories. Approximately 150 people died in the conflict, the vast majority being Palestinians.

Perhaps surprising to some, Egypt, now controlled by an Islamist government was crucial in negotiating the terms of a ceasefire agreement with Palestinian group, Hamas.

There are four elements of the agreement brokered between Israel and Hamas.

First, it calls on Israel to halt land, sea and air assaults and incursions in the Gaza Strip. This includes, as part of the deal, Israel agreeing not to target individuals in Palestinian territories.

The first part of the ceasefire agreement would appear likely to hold now, with the world’s attention, for at least as long as the Palestinians stop firing rockets into Israel.

Although Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories are a major factor in the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestinians, this part too seems likely to hold as long as rockets from Palestinian territories are not fired.

The second condition of the ceasefire involves all Palestinian factions. Under the ceasefire, they must not target Israel in any way, be it from the Gaza Strip or the border regions.

The second condition, largely the reverse of the first one, is less likely to hold. There are multiple groups on the Palestinian side with factions that will prove very difficult to control and there is the distinct possibility that possible militant attacks from outside groups might easily be mistaken as originating from Palestinian terrorists.

Ceasefires in general are tenuous and, as such, it will probably be just a matter of time before both the first and second elements of the accord are broken.

The third and perhaps most significant element of the ceasefire is an agreement to open all border crossings. This includes an understanding that the movement of both people and goods must be facilitated and must in all cases be free. Again, this involves an understanding that border residents not be targeted, this time when attempting border crossings. However, this clause of the ceasefire is not immediate. After 24 hours of the ceasefire have passed, this tenet will come into effect.

The third part of the pact is very important. However, if the ceasefire does not last more than a day, then Israel will again close her borders and the free movement of people will cease again.

If the ceasefire does hold and that is very unlikely, then Israel stopping incursions and allowing border crossings will be seen quite favourably by most factions on the Palestinian side.

The final clause is potentially important too in terms of long-term considerations in that it opens up the possibility of further dialogue. The fourth part of the ceasefire equation allows for the negotiation of further issues involved in the dispute between Israel and Palestine.

The fourth part of the ceasefire does provide the opportunity for ongoing dialogue which might lead to discussion of the important and substantive issues in the medium to long-term. However getting to that point would almost certainly hinge upon a well-maintained ceasefire between Israel and Hamas at the very least.

There are a number of small positives but it would appear that they are largely overshadowed by the likelihood of an enduring ceasefire being minimal at best.

The part that Egypt played is interesting and provides hope, but the assistance provided to Hamas from Iran would give pause for concern, over and above the usual fragility of ceasefire agreements.

Having so many disparate groups on the Palestinian side is also a challenge in terms of maintaining order in Israel and the Palestinian territories on any given day.

Add to that the realisation that the conflict involves far more than just territorial considerations, but also regional issues and extremism, and seeking a lasting peace becomes an even more challenging task.

The Asylum Seeker Issue and Small Silver Linings?

It’s a rare day in the Australian political discourse when asylum seekers in one way or another are not mentioned. Sometimes it’s to do with where or how to detain them or whether they should actually be detained in the first place. Sometimes it’s about whether the policy of the day is said to be “working”. Most of the time, unfortunately, the discussion is not about how locking them up is cruel and effectively criminalises seeking asylum which, newsflash, is not a crime.

Asylum seekers are again in detention on offshore locations. Nauru was re-established a matter of weeks ago and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea has just taken its first detainees, nineteen of them. The expert panel headed by former Chief of the Australian Defence Force saw to that, effectively making offshore processing the only option.

Over 7,500 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia since the government agreed to implement the recommendations of the Houston panel back in August. The immigration detention system is under huge stress and that includes both the domestic facilities and the offshore centres on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.

Domestically, the government will re-open the Pontville immigration detention facility in Tasmania to try and cope with the influx of asylum seekers.

In this lies the first inkling of the smallest of silver linings. More asylum seekers than expected will be processed onshore and less out of sight, out of mind than if increasing offshore processing was the only way to go. It is always a lot easier to get access to information about issues facing asylum seekers onshore than it is for those on Nauru and Manus Island, so far away from Australia.

However, that is as far as the positive goes in relation to onshore processing of refugee claims. It is still cruel and degrading to lock up asylum seekers, no matter where they are.

They will and have harmed themselves both onshore and offshore. Trauma does not discriminate between Australian and overseas processing centres. All immigration detention locations are hotbeds for either creating or accelerating mental health issues that are costly to both diagnose and treat.

The second positive out of the massive numbers of people seeking asylum is that it has now led to the Gillard Government, through Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, announcing that some asylum seekers will be moved into the community for processing.

This is a big win for a small number of asylum seekers. They will enjoy what most refugee advocates have been calling for and that is relative freedom.

Community detention means less prospect of mental health issues as a result of being locked up for a crime that does not exist, though of course, many may already, through what they have been through, have trauma based disorders.

However, the plus side is that any pre-existing conditions will not be exacerbated by cruelty, nor will new mental health issues be created for those being processed in the general community.

Who knows, if processing the claims of asylum seekers in the community works well it might actually be expanded, but do not hold your breath. The only likely reason for either side of politics increasing the use of community detention is not because it will work well and be much safer to the health of asylum seekers, but because there are simply no more places to put asylum seekers behind bars.

Many might also say that there’s a silver lining in the failure of the politics of being cruel to be kind and that can only be a good thing. The trouble is, both sides of politics will be too pig-headed to realise that and change their ways on this issue.

Perhaps now our politicians might realise that there is a lot more to asylum seeker policy than domestic actions.

The scenario is too difficult to ever resolve fully, but we really need to try. To try requires stronger regional and international co-operation. Unfortunately, that too will be lost on many politicians.

The Politics of The Stupidly Predictable: The ‘Ruddbull’ Q&A

In the week leading up to last night’s episode of ABC1 panel show Q&A, the instalment was billed as the Rudd and Turnbull show, the ‘two elephants in the room’, despite the fact that there was two other panellists, Judith Sloan and Heather Ridout. A new noun was spawned for the two former leaders, ‘Ruddbull’.

Despite the two female members of the panel, that’s basically what it was, the Rudd-Turnbull conversation hour with the occasional recognition of the other two guests on the show.

There were two questions you just knew were unfortunately going to be asked, either by a member of the audience or through a video question. After a good 53 minutes of intelligent questions and reasonable debate, a rarity for Q&A, those questions came.

The first question was along the lines of ‘Malcolm and Kevin: When will you take back the reins of leadership, reclaiming the place that rightly belongs to you in your respective political parties?’.

The second question that is usually asked when Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull are appearing publicly is equally as vapid, predictable and lacking in intellect. It is a question that, coming from a guest on a show about politics , actually reveals a distinct lack of understanding of both the ideological spectrum and the political realities of present day politics.

That question usually goes a little something like this- ‘Kevin and Malcolm: When are you two going to leave your respective political parties and form a third force in politics to conquer all evil in both the Liberal and Labor Parties?’

This might come as a shock to many, but both the Liberal and Labor Party dumped Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd some time ago now. Malcolm Turnbull was the first to go, dispatched in favour of the more conservative and anti-ETS  Tony Abbott. Then, half a year later, in the swiftest and rarest of prime ministerial coups, Kevin Rudd was gone in favour of Julia Gillard.

What may also surprise people is that despite the poll popularity of both Rudd and Turnbull, neither candidate can lay claim to the being the rightful ‘owner’ of the leadership. That is true of any candidate, despite popularity.

We know in theory that the polls say that is the contest people want. But the reality is different.

Rudd may be more popular with voters than Julia Gillard, but his popularity was sliding while still in office. Also, after having his reputation so heavily besmirched by his own party, by some of his own cabinet, there is absolutely no hope of him ever being returned. This is especially the case after being heavily defeated in the February leadership spill.

If Mr Rudd were returned, the Liberal Party would have a field day. As it is, their campaign strategy for the next election, in terms of targeting the ALP, has already been written.

The case for Mr Turnbull is slightly different.

It is true that under his leadership the polls were getting close and may have continued to improve for the Coalition as we neared the 2010 election, However, a first term defeat still would have been a very unlikely proposition, even though that nearly happened under Tony Abbott.

The simple fact with the Liberal side of politics is that Malcolm Turnbull was dumped in favour of Tony Abbott who managed to greatly excite the party’s base, increasingly conservative voters.

The positive for Turnbull is that the polls are narrowing and Tony Abbott continues to be an unpopular leader. Among Liberal voters, according to one poll, Malcolm Turnbull is preferred Liberal leader.

It is also the case that the carbon price, according to the polls, is becoming much less of an issue. If that trend continues, a pro-ETS leader in what was largely a pro-ETS party, but for electoral purposes, could again seize the leadership.

However, it is a case of ‘what-ifs’. It would seem that the polls are unlikely to change much more than they already have and if they do not narrow further in the coming months, the case for Turnbull leading the Liberal Party will again peter out.

But again, Turnbull is not the rightful heir of some kind of political kingdom.

In terms of the hilarious proposition that Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull hand in their membership cards and leave their respective parties to form a new political force, well, one can only laugh.

Of course largely, across politics, particularly in recent decades, there has been a significant amount agreement on policy grounds, over 80%, even during what is supposed to have been a destructive Abbott leadership.

Really, there should be more of a policy difference between both the Coalition and the Labor Party. There is however, in the real world of politics, the bane, many would say electoral reality, of populism.

What, in terms of major policy, do the two actually agree on? Very little actually. They may agree on outcomes, but as for the mode of getting there? Well there is clearly a difference.

Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull do both agree about acting on climate change, but so did most of the Liberal Party under Turnbull’s leadership and at least 44 Liberal MP’s in the leadership vote until the electoral popularity of the anti-carbon tax stance set in. So then obviously a number in the Liberal Party should actually leave it, not just Malcolm? I think not.

That really is the key similarity other than Kevin Rudd’s fake claim before the 2007 election to be an economic conservative. Malcolm Turnbull actually is one and has a history of economically conservative actions in an economically conservative government.

The only other key similarity is actually still a difference. Both Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull represent more of what their party used to be than what it is today. Kevin Rudd is a social democrat and Malcolm Turnbull a liberal conservative rather than a conservative liberal, some would even say a true liberal.

Of course populism means there will be other similarities between the two and between the political parties they represent, though they are not as deep and abiding as to allow for the formation of a political party with broad common interests.

Kevin Rudd is undoubtedly to the left of the current ALP and Malcolm Turnbull to the left of the Liberal Party. However, Turnbull is firmly placed on the right of the political spectrum and Rudd on the left.

Unfortunately, a show now more interested in the superficial, in personalities, or at the very least a narrow range of policy areas again strayed into the absurd.

What should be a serious political show must not indulge such strange, deluded and predictable thoughts and certainly not on a regular basis.

Hawke-Like in Appearance But Not in Reality

Last week the Business Council of Australia called for it and today Prime Minister Julia Gillard reached out and offered it. Today the Gillard Government wrote to the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Council of Trade Unions offering what at first glance has the appearance of an olive branch to the business community from the Labor Government. The Prime Minister has now sought to give business, the unions and community groups the chance to participate in a national forum, to be named the National Economic Reform Panel.

The proposal from the Prime Minister is an attempt to get business onside, or at least to get them in closer proximity to the unions on a more regular basis than is currently the case. At present, aside from issue-specific working groups and committees, the relationship is limited to largely informal communications between the two interest groups.

The idea of the National Economic Reform Panel is said to be in the spirit of the Hawke Government Accords which saw unions make concessions in order to benefit from other policy changes.

The reality is more than likely going to be quite different. The only likely similarity is the make-up of the panel. They may agree from time-to-time in certain areas but overall, little compromise, except perhaps on taxation, is likely to be achieved.

The idea that the Gillard Government, through this panel, can achieve trade-offs similar to the ones that characterised the agreements which Bob Hawke’s government reached is just fanciful. Prime Minister Hawke’s agreements between business and the union movement were much deeper and broader than any Julia Gillard and her government may achieve, both in theory and practice.

An important part of negotiating is that nothing, within reason, be left off the table from the outset. However, it appears that changes in certain areas of law, specifically industrial relations, will not be on the table from the outset. That’s all fixed according to the government.

Of course, the unions are unlikely to budge on industrial relations in any case, unless it results in significant new power for their side of the bargaining table. But law changes that do not impact negatively on wages and conditions for employees must have a place at the meetings of this tripartite group.

It would appear likely that most of the changes that the panel would find itself agreeing to would just tinker around the edges of existing policy. Some existing rules and regulations and government policy would undoubtedly remain untouched as a result of negotiations between the three parties. So then unilateral government action would be required from time-to-time, defeating the purpose of such a panel.

Instead of being more like the accords under Hawke’s Labor Party, it appears, according to the letter that talks between business, the unions and community groups will have a central focus around how to implement the key recommendations of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. To this end, the idea of the panel is, in a way, more issue-specific again than about the broader economic challenges in the future which involves much more than just looking to Asia and thinking about how it is we can best compete in our region, the Asia-Pacific.

While the Asian Century White Paper does allude to domestic decisions that need to be made and implemented to compete with Asia in the Asian region, some of these are quite Asia-specific and we cannot spend too much time as a nation focusing on one geographical area. Other areas of the world that we engage with have a diverse range of needs quite independent to that of the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions.

The timing of the announcement and what that implies suggests that the broader intent of the negotiating platform flagged by the Prime Minister has come too late, despite the fact that the BCA boss called for the panel as recently as last week.

The announcement of the reform group comes over two years into the second term of the Rudd-Gillard Government. Many of the key reform decisions have already left the parliament having been made into law. Some of these economic changes have had more business input than others, some with quite limited formal and direct negotiation with peak business bodies and company representatives.

Another certainty is that just about any agreed action in the near future faces the likely prospect of not being implemented. The budget is in a poor position and appears as though it will get worse before it gets better. So, in effect, business, the unions and community groups would be working towards having the government acknowledge aspirations in the near future at least, rather than implementing dramatic actions.

A nice symbol that gives the false impression of cooperation and a willingness to negotiate, but the reality underlying today’s decision is something almost completely different.

Perhaps it would have been better if the call to formal and ongoing discussions from the government had not come after five years of aggression towards certain areas of the business community from the same administration.

The likely outcome of discussions however, would probably be much the same.

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