Monthly Archives: July 2013

Applying a Key Policy Rule to Kevin’s Bid to Change Labor

The last three years in particular have been a time of much discussion and soul-searching within the Australian Labor Party. A little over three years ago a first-term PM was deposed with the aid of powerful factional forces and replaced with his deputy. The party vote plummeted not long after the 2010 election and after three years of internal chaos and division the vanquished Kevin Rudd was returned as Labor leader and Prime Minister by more than half the ALP caucus.

Upon his return – and leading up to it actually – the revived Prime Minister promised change. Kevin Rudd promised us that he had changed. He was no longer a micro-managing, frantic and overbearing leader of the Labor Party. Rudd also promised a slight policy shift in certain areas.

By far the biggest, most publicised element of Rudd’s change agenda is the internal reform proposals he has put forward since he was returned as Australia’s Prime Minister. These matters’ of Labor housekeeping include proposed changes to how the party selects and disposes of a leader and how a future Labor ministry will be picked.

There are of course changes which have been proposed as a result of the events in New South Wales, but this piece is not concerned with those proposed changes.

People in policy know of one basically universal rule which applies to policy decisions, and that is that there are almost always unintended consequences – pros and cons of almost every choice made. There are possible unintended consequences and negative outcomes from the ALP renewal proposals which Prime Minister Rudd will put to the party on July 22.

On the potential plus side, a PM free from the knife-wielding wrath of backbenchers with intense factional loyalties would ensure leadership stability and promote a feeling of certainty across the electorate at large – most importantly with the swinging voter who might have backed the party in at the ballot box.

On the face of it, it may not appear that there are downsides to Kevin Rudd’s announcement that a Labor Prime Minister elected by the people will not face the knife of backbenchers, except under extraordinary circumstances.

But there is a downside. A leader who becomes toxic to the party in an electoral sense would be next to impossible to remove as the criteria for removal is set pretty high. A leader would only face removal after having brought the party into disrepute according to 75% of the caucus.

It is also rather difficult to argue against the idea that the rank-and-file members of the Australian Labor Party have a fifty percent say in the election of a leader for the parliamentary arm of the party. The move is quite democratic and fair and rather unique in the Australian political environment, though whether or not it will result in more people rushing to join the ALP is less than clear.

On the downside, the process will be potentially expensive and would leave the party effectively leaderless for 30 days after a wrenching defeat.

With regard to the ideas put forward by Rudd on the leadership side of the equation, there have also been fears that branches will be stacked by unions trying to gain more influence under a slightly less union-friendly environment within the party organisation if these changes are successfully passed.

In terms of parliamentary reform, the other thing Rudd has proposed, which has been flagged for some time, is a restoration of the ability of the ALP caucus to decide who wins coveted ministerial positions.

With caucus able to determine the frontbench, there is the potential for less division within the caucus. Only those with majority support would be successful, leading to a stable team. At least that’s the theory.

With caucus again able to elect ministers, the factions are as important as ever. The powerful factions will dominate the ministry. Those with little factional loyalty, and even those more suitably qualified, may miss out on roles altogether, though the latter will happen regardless of the model for choosing the frontbench.

Kevin Rudd has probably moved as much as he could. What caucus decides will be keenly watched by political observers, though the whispers appear to indicate that the changes will be agreed to by the party room when it meets in a couple of weeks’ time. What the broader union movement feels and how they react will also be a point of interest.

Whatever the outcome, there are potential consequences, good and bad.

Pondering What Was and What Lies Ahead in Egypt

There has been a swift end to Mohamed Morsi’s presidency. After just one year, the democratically elected leader in Egypt has been turfed out of office by the military after a groundswell of protest against his rule in the fledgling democracy. There are no ifs or buts about it, the events of the last 24 hours were nothing less than a coup. There was no negotiated transition, instead, as is common in these situations, the military stepped in to ensure that the increasingly unpopular leader was removed from power – and not in a particularly democratic manner. And now an Egyptian judge, Adli Mansour will be interim president.

The events were truly astounding and no doubt troubling, at least for the Western world and Morsi’s supporters. But the events appear to have been potentially positive, despite the unseemly way in which President Morsi was dispatched from office. On the face of it, it seems that the majority of Egyptians are just satisfied that Mohamed Morsi is gone, and that they are not troubled with the method of his departure.

When examining events such as this, it is important to determine the good moves, the bad ones and to provide thoughts on what perhaps might have been a better idea.

There is precious little, at least in terms of individual elements, which is positive about what occurred in Egypt.

The protests, at least initially, were peaceful. People gathered in Tahrir Square, as they did before Hosni Mubarak was deposed in 2011. The numbers grew as days went by. But the last days in particular were marred by violence which claimed lives. There was also a disturbing number of sexual assaults reported.

It is positive, judging by the general reaction, that Mr Morsi is no longer in office. It appears that it is what the majority of people wanted.

But we can also count this as a negative. The former president was not voted out at an election, nor did he resign the presidency after seeing the widespread opposition to his rule. This was a coup by the military, albeit apparently responding to the will of most of the Egyptian people. Regardless, it is far from ideal for a democracy, especially one so young, to see events like this only a year after an election.

The formation of a “grand coalition” appears to be a move that the Egyptian military is willing to help foster and that is certainly positive in terms of helping to aid the transition back to democracy and, if sustainable, helpful for democratic consolidation in Egypt. There also has to be a strong opposition willing to be constructive and to adhere to the rule of law and other democratic ideals.

The arrest of former President Morsi and other officials was unnecessary and inflammatory. This might well provoke significant backlash from supporters of Morsi and would make constructive dialogue across the political divide very difficult. It could be a factor in creating a disenfranchised group in Egypt.

That’s what did happen, what was good and bad about the military backed revolution. What might have been better?

Even though it would have been almost impossible to force, there should have been an election. Ideally, Morsi should have called one when it became clear that support for his regime was falling apart. Or the people could have waited for an election. but there could well have been a significant political and social cost involved and it is possible that it may have never eventuated.

The “grand coalition” idea might have been prosecuted better had it been something done while the status quo remained. At least though, it has a year to form and to attempt to find common ground across a range of different groups.

In moving forward toward elections in a year, proper attention needs to be paid not just to the future of Egypt, but also its history, both distant and the events of the last weeks and months.

Sorry Mr Husic

Yesterday the Rudd ministry was sworn in by the Governor-General Quentin Bryce. It contained a number of familiar faces, and some new ones who made their way to the frontbench to serve under the returned Prime Minister. But yesterday was also notable for the presence of Ed Husic, a young man rewarded for his loyalty to Kevin Rudd. It was his faith (he’s a Muslim), that propelled him into the headlines as a positive display of Australia’s multiculturalism.

Today however, Mr Husic’s appointment was in the headlines because of the way some sub-optimal Australians responded to the way he chose to swear the oath of office. Some Australian bogans, no rednecks, chose to show their disrespect and toward the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister on his Facebook page.

You see, Ed Husic decided that he would swear the oath of office, not on the bible, but on the Muslim holy book, the Quran. And what a crime that turned out to be according to these small-minded pinheads who arced up on social media with all manner of hysterical, stupid and downright wrong and baseless claims.

Oh my gosh, someone of a faith other than Christianity decided that swearing on another religion’s book would be wrong and therefore decided that he would be true to his belief system. How awful that is? Not. Seriously. What a pathetic response from some people who would think pre-1960’s Australia would be a glorious era to relieve in the 21st century.

One of the most absurd claims from these douchebags is that the choice the Parliamentary Secretary to the PM made was “un-Australian”. Um, hello, multiculturalism has been an explicit government policy, largely supported by both major political parties, albeit in varying degrees and sometimes only if political expediency permits.

Okay, so some of you dimwits might not have been alive all that long, but hey now you know of this policy you can attempt to get your small heads around it. For the others, you’ve had decades to vote in people amenable to your beliefs but have not really managed to do so. I guess that’s just bad luck for you then.

Guess what – we decided very early on here in Australia to celebrate religious diversity too. Our founding fathers thought it so important, that religious freedom is one of the few express rights in the Constitution of Australia. That means that Ed Husic, that Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd and everyone else can place their palm on whichever religious tract they choose.

You might want to check out s116, then again, perhaps you will want to wilfully ignore it because it does not suit your narrow-minded, isolationist political beliefs.

Australians who reach high office can and should be able to take the oath of office holding any book they like. You could even extend it to include such examples of modern-day religion like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. And you can choose no book whatsoever and deliver the affirmation.

I want to say sorry to Ed Husic. Sorry that some noisy ratbags have put a bit of a dampener on your day. They do not represent me and I hope they do not represent the vast majority of us. I am pretty sure they do not, but sometimes I worry. Yesterday was your day Mr Husic and comments of the kind you were exposed to were completely unwarranted.

The way in which you responded to the comments on your Facebook page when you spoke to the media was full of class. They were indeed “extreme” comments. And the way you chose to refer to them as “democratic” is a measure of your maturity, though I would imagine they were deeply troubling to you. They were also dumbocratic, propagated by the dumbocracy which gets a little bit of oxygen here and there from some willing pollies.

Some of us need to grow up and get out more. A little bit of reading might help too.

You may not like other people for one reason or another, but you must respect them and their legal and constitutional choices.

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