Just a matter of weeks after the Newtown massacre in which twenty young children and six members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School staff were shot dead, the President of the United States of America has now announced a number of measures that his administration will pursue. Some will require legislative approval and a number […]
Monthly Archives: January 2013
The allegations surrounding Craig Thomson have never been far from the headlines. In fact the Thomson saga has been one of the most constant topics raised during the 43rd parliament. Today, the long-running investigation took a dramatic turn, as we all know, with the Member for Dobell arrested by New South Wales police on 149 charges of alleged fraud. The former Labor MP was arrested at the request of Victorian police and was today bailed before being required to appear next week in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.
Of course today’s events triggered a flurry of discussion about just what the arrest and charges will mean, not just for Craig Thomson himself, but for the Labor Party, the parliament and the election. Much of this debate has played out in the past, particularly after the Fair Work Australia report was released and when the police investigations commenced. But it does seem that some of us have forgotten the state of play.
First and foremost it is extremely important to reiterate that today the NSW MP was charged, and, like every Australian, is entitled to be subject to due process. That means that the Member for Dobell is innocent until proven guilty, regardless of what our personal opinions and political predilections are.
There were two common questions being asked today as the debate ensued after Thomson’s arrest. The first was: ‘what will this mean for Labor now and in terms of the election?’ The second questions was ‘hmm, is it just a coincidence that Julia Gillard called an election yesterday and now, today Craig Thomson is facing criminal charges?’.
The answer to the first question remains exactly the same as it was when it was first raised as the investigations into the matter began. The Australian Constitution has this to say in s44 (ii):
“Any person who –
(ii.) Is attainted of treason, or has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer…
shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”
So that makes things pretty clear for those who have missed the point again today. A conviction needs to be recorded against Craig Thomson first before his parliamentary future is affected in any way. Further, the offence has to be punishable by imprisonment for one year or more. Well, there is no problem with the latter if the MP is convicted.
In terms of the election, Craig Thomson’s arrest is likely to mean absolutely nothing except, as you would imagine, certain electoral defeat. It is extremely unlikely that any trial involving the now Independent MP will be concluded before the 2013 election which we now know will take place on September 14th. The only way it would be possible for action to be required under the provisions of s44 is if Mr Thomson were to plead guilty and he has already indicated that will not happen.
In terms of the election and Labor’s prospects, even the charges alone will surely prove to be yet another nail in the electoral coffin for Labor. They will add to the narrative, already well constructed, of distrust.
Above all, Labor will survive until the election.
The second question is an interesting one. It posits that the Prime Minister knew of the impending arrest of Craig Thomson and therefore decided it would be best to call an election.
It is entirely possible that the Prime Minister knew that Craig Thomson was going to be arrested. The media were indeed tipped off so it is understandable to question whether or not the PM was aware of the imminent charges against Craig Thomson. Julia Gillard denies that she was made aware of the arrest before it happened.
Even if Prime Minister Gillard was aware that charges were about to be laid against Mr Thomson, and then decided to call an election as the conspiracy theory posits, one simple fact remains – there is absolutely no benefit, political or otherwise, to be gained from the PM calling an election early because of the Craig Thomson matter.
The charges are a sensational development, but frankly, almost nothing changes.
Today at the National Press Club the Prime Minister revealed something quite surprising and very rare in Australian politics. An election has now been called – well unofficially, but official. Not since Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister has an election been called so early. In fact today Julia Gillard broke Menzies’ record. Robert Menzies, on three separate occasions, informed the voting public of his intention to have an election in 3 months time. Today Prime Minister Gillard bettered that mark by more than double the time.
We can now look forward, or perhaps not, to an election on Saturday September the 14th after the longest campaign in Australian political history. In 225 days we will know the exact results of the 2013 election, seat by seat.
Out of the announcement today and the ensuing robust and at times acrimonious discussion, particularly on social media, arose multiple myths which need busting. False assertions were made. Of course, you are saying ‘well that’s politics’, but the realities of the political situation are what they are underneath all the spin.
The first myth is one perpetrated by the Prime Minister. In making the unexpected announcement of the 2013 election date, the PM asserted that it was not to kick off the world’s longest election campaign.
The Prime Minister is right in a sense. Julia Gillard has not kicked off the world’s longest election campaign with her announcement today. The campaign effectively began way back in 2010 after Australian’s almost handed government to the Coalition. It has already been the world’s longest election campaign and we now have almost eight more months of it before the big day arrives.
But the Prime Minister is also very wrong in her assertion. Now that there is an election date, the campaigning will just continue to accelerate and become an even more regular part of our daily existence. Politicians will increasingly crisscross the country and seek out as much media attention as possible in the coming months.
The second myth was again brought to us by Julia Gillard. The PM contends that now the unofficial campaign which she did not want to commence has indeed begun, the opposition will now have to begin submitting their policies for costing. Ms Gillard could not be more hypocritical in this assertion.
The reality is that all oppositions, regardless of political hue will often delay submitting and revealing their costings for as long as possible. This is both a political move and a sensible policy move. The budget is an ever-changing and challenging beast, so political parties in opposition need to adapt their political priorities to deal with fiscal realities. In any case, to submit a wide array of budget items for review so far out from an election is, to be frank, unheard of.
Today a few MP’s have pointed out that the election day will fall on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. And they are not particularly happy with Julia Gillard for choosing the holy day for the 2013 election.
It is a myth that this will drive down the Jewish vote. Everybody has to attend a polling booth. People have been able to vote before election day in the past and will be able to again this year. And funnily enough, pre-poll queues are actually significantly shorter than those you can expect on election day. To top it all off, senior Jewish officials have today said that there will not be an issue with Ms Gillard’s choice of election date.
The situation does however get a bit tricky for Jewish MP’s and there has been a mixed reaction, with Michael Danby issuing a statement saying that in accordance with his faith, he could not take part in election day activities. Effectively this rules out a day on the hustings greeting voters at polling places. However, it is unlikely to make a difference to the vote of any member of parliament if they happened to not be visible on polling day.
Fans of football have raised similar concerns with the choice of election day. Preliminary finals will be on, both in the afternoon and evening. Suck it up football fans. You can vote early if you are concerned that you might miss out on attending your precious game of football because you are performing a much more important duty.
So there you have it, some election myths busted and realities revealed.
The path to the 2013 election has already been a long one, but now we know when it will all end.
Australia’s first man told a joke today and it did not go down at all well. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson was speaking at a function welcoming the West Indian cricket team to Canberra, the topic: prostate cancer. You could just how rapidly the Prime Minister’s facial expression changed. Very quickly Ms Gillard’s expression shifted from a wide smile and a twinkle in her eye to a look of ‘oh my this is going to create headlines’.
The so-called joke, went a little like this:
“Get a blood test for it. But the digital examination is the only true way to have, to get a correct reading on your prostate so make sure you go and do that and perhaps look for a small, female Asian doctor is probably the best”
What Mr Mathieson said was wrong on a few levels, but it is entirely possible that his ill-conceived joke may have drawn more attention to prostate cancer than if the speech had just reached its Canberra audience. At least in some oblique way, the topic of prostate cancer prevention has been aired in the general community. Perhaps the joke might have even made some men feel more at ease with the whole process and could lead to them having their prostate checked at the recommended intervals.
What was completely right about the short quip from the first bloke was telling the audience, and now Australia, just how easy the testing process can be. We all knew that a prostate examination is important, but perhaps fewer people would have been aware that there is a blood test for the cancer, though of course doctors already know that. But some men probably do not.
There are three elements of the gag which were wrong and completely unnecessary.
The first being the use of a stereotype: that women, particularly Asian women, are small. Not entirely untrue, but a needless generalisation.
The second unfortunate element of his public service message was the unnecessary reference to a particular gender: women. Male doctors can and do give prostate examinations if you are comfortable with that.
Finally, the gaffe would almost certainly fit into the category of casual racism. There was no need to single out a particular group of people. There are small people in all races.
What the Prime Minister’s partner should have said was something like this:
“Get a blood test for it. But the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on the health of your prostate. So make sure you go and do that and perhaps look for a doctor with smaller hands, because it might feel a little uncomfortable”
There you have it, a non-racist, non-sexist gag without any silly generalisations. Hey, the little joke at the end would have probably made the PM laugh a little.
Today’s blunder should serve as a reminder of the need for the spouse of our nation’s leader, whomever it may be in the future, to be a little more dignified in the way they approach speaking in public. Australia’s reaction was probably rather muted to what would have happened if the same tasteless and tactless verse was used elsewhere in the world.
But hey, if it got the message across then it’s not all bad.
The Leader of the Opposition has launched the Coalition’s so-called “mini campaign”, the setting being the outer western suburbs of Sydney. That western Sydney is the focal point so early in an election year should come as no surprise given just how crucial the area is in any election. A mix of polls have shown that the Liberal Party could pick up a number of seats in the area. Lindsay, McMahon, Barton, Reid, Parramatta, Greenway, Watson, Werriwa, Fowler and Banks are all in play for the Coalition according to internal Labor polling from November last year.
The new year in politics has already been conducted at a frenetic pace. Amid natural disasters, we’ve already had a number of issues play out. But it is the election that matters. The election is due any time from August onward, but the tactical moves and campaigning, sound or otherwise, have started early. That’s what we have come to expect from Australian politics.
Looking at the mini campaign itself has the right move been made tactically? And in terms of the election campaign as a whole, what are the political realities and what is required from the opposition now, and as the election day hurtles toward us?
In an election year, it’s too early even for a short, but clearly forensic and politically calculated bombardment of electorates. The week ahead is clearly about trying to reverse the negative perceptions of Tony Abbott. That is fine, but it is too early for a political blitzkrieg. It gives off the wrong vibes. A short burst of campaigning is usually something associated with the final days of a campaign, especially when there is a late surge required.
Instead, what should be favoured is, at the present time, a similar yet different campaign method to the one deployed almost from the 22nd of August in 2010, the day after the surprise election result. What should be similar is the constant campaigning. However, it should be different in that it must have less of a campaign feel about it. The campaign should be much more muted – campaign fatigue has well and truly set in.
This short burst of election campaigning too, because of how early in the year it is, must be more about Tony Abbott listening to the concerns of voters than preaching to them. Yes, broad themes must be sold, but now is still a time for Tony Abbott to lend his ear to the voters of Australia rather than chew it off. Both leaders have been doing a lot of the latter.
From a public relations perspective, it might well have been better too, if the term ‘mini campaign’ was jettisoned. To have rephrased it as a listening tour would have been better, though in politics, both have negative connotations.
In the prism of the broader campaign, there have been complaints, as their has been throughout Mr Abbott’s leadership, that he has not released much policy. In any case it is still too early to release a broad range of fully-costed policies. But there must be a drip feed of policies and the refinement or jettisoning of existing ones – think paid maternity leave.
There is another reason why complaints about dearth of policy should not hold much weight. Because of the nature of the budget, a campaign lacking in major policy commitments, other than pre-existing ones, is a political reality. So the Opposition Leader can be forgiven in that sense too. The election will be one where a measure of austerity is the norm, even though Labor have been trying to frame it as otherwise in order to try to dent Coalition prospects.
The campaign will continue to evolve over the coming months. It will be testy and it will be tough. You can expect that there will be further campaign fatigue suffered by the community and that’s why the mini campaign and the early part of this year needs to involve more listening to the voter than speaking at them. It needs to build gradually.
And ultimately, because of the fiscal situation, there won’t be much in the way of substantive argument dominating the political discourse.
In an election year there are a number of things that you can expect: promises,lies, aspirations, grand narratives, ho-hum narratives, pork-barreling, lies, lots of baby holding and frenetic campaigning, just to name a handful of things. But there is at least one other thing that is always present during election campaigns, and it’s a four letter word beginning with ‘f’. No it’s not that naughty word your parents told you never to say and then went ahead and used it themselves countless times. The word is fear and it will play a central role in the 6-10 months ahead.
But it would be naive to think that fear is simply a feature, perhaps even a creature born of elections. It’s not. Fear is an ever-present and mostly unfortunate reality when it comes to politics. It’s there, present almost daily in the political discourse in one form or another. And it will remain a major feature of politics, even if a slightly obscured one at times.
If there is anything of which fear is a creature, other than elections, it’s power. The overwhelming hunger for power has the ability to make politicians do a number of things and that includes creating and manufacturing fear. Fear is an all-powerful thing in politics. It can shift votes. Fear can sometimes mean the difference between taking government and staying in opposition or between staying in power and relinquishing the government benches.
The way fear is used during election campaigns is much the same as when it is taken advantage of in day-to-day politics. First and foremost, politicians want you to fear the opposition. So there is a relentless campaign from left and right to scare the pants off you, the undecided voter, because, well, clearly the rusted on supporters of a party are not going to be willingly sucked into believing the other side’s nonsense. And this is often done by political leaders asking you, attempting to persuade you, by cajoling you into to fearing the future under their political enemies.
There are also politicians, unfortunately, who want you to fear others – to fear the outsider. Interestingly though, most politicians will not illuminate that fear, will not advertise their attempts at this kind of fear-mongering to the world in black and white for all to see. Instead they will subtly prompt you in a slightly tangental way.
In one way or another, in 2013 we will be asked to, or it will be subtly suggested, that we need to fear where jobs and the economy are headed and what the other side of politics might well do to jobs and the economy. And we will be asked to fear other factors external to Australia. For instance, we might be prompted with such loaded phrases as “peaceful invasion”.
As a voting public, we really should know that our politicians are trying to appeal to human emotions. We should be able to realise when we are being fed fact and when we are being force-fed fear. Some of us do know and we go along with that fear. Some of us illuminate the fact that we are at different but often regular points in the electoral cycle, being subjected to scare campaigns. And there are some of us who are just plain naive and like to think the best of everyone, even politicians engaged in a game of power.
The good news is that fear, even subtle attempts to imbue it in us, can be countered with facts. This requires heightened political engagement and a little research.
Above all else, know that even when you think you are not being played, you may well have actually fallen into the trap of believing something that falls into the category of fear.
We all know it’s an election year. With an election year comes the introduction of some key candidates in the media. And don’t we know it after yesterday’s events. Yesterday we learned that the Prime Minister plans to ask the national executive of the Australian Labor Party to endorse sports star and proud indigenous Australian Nova Peris, for the Labor Senate ticket in the Northern Territory. The trouble is, the process wasn’t exactly clean, and the internal ructions in the Labor Party have again been given more than a bit of a nudge.
It emerged today that the Prime Minister last night asked Senator Trish Crossin, a fifteen year veteran of the Senate for the Labor Party, to stand aside for Nova Peris. And as you would expect, Senator Crossin is not the slightest bit at ease with the merciless decision. The Senator made those feelings clear too, in both a written statement and on camera.
There are many things that can be said about the decision taken by the Prime Minister. But first and foremost is that the move was handled abysmally by a Prime Minister who should know better, though Julia Gillard herself was a player in the unceremonious dumping of a sitting MP – a Prime Minister no less – so perhaps we should not be surprised.
At the same time though, in general, we should not be surprised. It is politics after all and reasonable processes are often shirked and politics played with the pre-selection of candidates. But this does not make this brain snap at all forgivable. How can we not continue to remain cynical about politics when such unsavoury acts continue to happen in politics?
But let’s get positive for a moment – just a moment. And only half positive. The idea to increase indigenous representation in politics is a good one. If this move succeeds, Nova Peris will become the first indigenous representative in the parliament from the ALP. The trouble is that the Prime Minister has still trodden all over a long-time servant of Labor.
Ms Gillard had a real opportunity after the February leadership spill last year to appoint the ALP’s first ever indigenous parliamentarian, Warren Mundine, under much better circumstances after machine man and apparatchik Senator Mark Arbib resigned from the parliament. Instead she chose a political has-been.
There has been speculation that the move may have been in some way, retribution for Senator Crossin’s forthright support of Kevin Rudd in terms of the Labor leadership. That argument is certainly not without foundation. One only needs to look at the way the careers of both Robert McClelland and Kim Carr, both ministers at one time, have suffered after being very public friends of Kevin Rudd.
But it’s also possible that it’s just a very badly thought out plot from the Prime Minister. Again, there’s a history there. So we could quite easily put this sorry excuse for process down to bad judgement.
Senator Crossin has made no bones about her intention to fight the move as hard as she can. But can she beat the machine?
There will be a ballot after nominations close on the 28th of January and Senator Crossin will nominate for that poll. But the National Executive of the ALP, who today approved Nova Peris’ membership of the party, will be the group that decides the outcome of this ugly affair and not the Northern Territory branch.
In the meantime, the spectacle will not become any more gratifying. The sniping will continue and the political benefits of the lack of internal cohesion in the Labor Party will continue to flow the way of the Coalition. The Coalition too will also be able to use this further example of internal division as prime election material.
If there is one key thing that can be taken from this whole mess, it is that Nova Peris was ‘selected’ as part of a dodgy process. And that is all that most people have talked about in the debate that ensued.
The actions of the Prime Minister have resulted in the Labor Party receiving a very public political drubbing. The vocalised discontent does not help paint a pretty picture of Labor in an election year.
The asylum seeker issue is never far from the headlines. And that has proven to be the case so early in the new year. Parliament has not even returned, and the full complement of political players have not resumed regular hostilities, yet refugee policy has again been raised in the media. On Friday we had Malcolm Fraser chastising both the government and the opposition over their treatment and demonisation of asylum seekers in an interview. And today we learned that the political opposition in Papua New Guinea launched a legal challenge on Friday to the immigration detention facility recently re-opened by the Australian Government on Manus Island.
There have been multiple challenges to elements of asylum seeker policy and practice over the last few years in Australia. But this is the first challenge launched overseas. The appeal was launched by Opposition Leader Belden Namah in the National Court and seeks to have the Australian immigration facility overturned on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.
In bringing this case, Mr Namah wants the imprisonment of asylum seekers on the island to permanently cease. While the case is being heard the leader of the opposition has also sought a temporary cessation of the transfer of asylum seekers to the Manus Island detention centre.
The PNG Opposition Leader has spoken out about the immigration facility before. He has made the point that asylum seekers have not broken any laws and as such, should not be imprisoned in the Manus Island complex. And so it follows that Mr Namah has brought this challenge because he believes the processing centre deprives asylum seekers of their personal liberties.
On this point, regardless of the legal outcome in the context of the legal system in Papua New Guinea, he is absolutely correct. Being detained and imprisoned for something that is not a criminal offence does deprive asylum seekers of their liberty. Such an act of unwarranted cruelty is in no way justifiable, especially when used as a political weapon by government.
Whether or not the challenge in a legal sense is successful is a completely different story and frankly irrelevant. Asylum seekers have been sent to Manus Island before, under the former Howard Government. This was not subject to a legal challenge from anyone in PNG so there is nothing to compare the present situation to.
And opinions on the merits of the case appear divided, though it must be noted that the probability of success appears more than even, with the Constitution of Papua New Guinea having a list of rights enshrined within it.
The government of Papua New Guinea has however said that the centre is being run within the laws of the country and that of international treaties. The former might be correct in terms of the asylum seeker issue and it may not be, but the latter most certainly is not.
But we know of course that the debate over the detention of asylum seekers involves more than just the deprivation of liberty and the breach of international law.
Detaining asylum seekers can both exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses and create new ones. Why would we want to be known to endorse a practice which results in diminishing the welfare of already vulnerable people?
Unfortunately there is an answer to that question and it is a disgraceful one: fear. For some reason there is an underlying fear of difference for which some trace the genesis back to the White Australia Policy. With the right checks and balances undertaken in a sensible manner by authorities, we have nothing to fear from people trying to seek asylum in Australia.
There simply is no valid reason for Australia to continue to embark upon such a barbaric course of action in trying to tackle a policy concern which, despite that barbarity, is still and will continue to be an issue.
A date has not yet been set for the hearing of this case. But we do not need a court case to tell us what we already know, and that is that people being held in immigration detention are being deprived of their liberty, whatever the courts may say.