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Justice, Politics and the Royal Commission Show

Dyson Heydon’s deliberations on whether or not he should stay at the helm of the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) after claims of apprehended bias are over. The former High Court Justice has dismissed the application from union lawyers and will continue in the role the Abbott Government appointed him to.

But the story it would seem is not yet over. The unions will consider a court appeal. The ALP, who stand to lose some political skin from the TURC, though probably not enough to lose the 2016 election, have decided that asking the Governor-General to remove Heydon is the way to go. It has been foreshadowed that the Australian Labor Party will couple this with attacks on the Liberal Party for their part in this situation, when parliament resumes from September 7.

In terms of principles of natural justice it is quite clear what should have happened in this instance. It is clear to almost anyone, except for the most wilfully blind supporters of the right side of politics that former Justice Heydon should have recused himself from further hearings of this commission. This would have blunted any attacks from Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. That Commissioner Heydon cancelled his appearance at the fundraiser at a later stage is irrelevant. The decision to say yes to attending the function in the first place says more than enough.

However, there is absolutely no case to say that the Royal Commission should not go ahead altogether. This is particularly the case now that the inquiry has been running for a number of months and is doing vital work, uncovering just how murky the world of industrial relations can be. Renewed calls from Labor for a police taskforce instead of the Royal Commission are a bit rich, considering they announced a commission of inquiry the topic of which similarly could have been examined by a special police body.

Back on the justice side of the equation, the Abbott Government could have used this opportunity to widen the terms of reference to include all forms of corrupt practices across institutions in the industrial relations space. If this had been done, then any squealing from the unions or the ALP about the continuation of the royal commission could have been met with derisory laughter, from both the Coalition and the electorate.

With an election less than a year away, it is worth a brief look at what the current state of affairs means for both the Coalition and Bill Shorten’s ALP.

The Coalition may gain a small amount of much needed political traction from the findings of the Royal Commission, particularly if there are further discoveries made about union activities during Bill Shorten’s time as a union representative. But it will not prove an electoral game-changer. A shift in electoral fortunes could only come from more substantive policy and political narrative changes made by the Abbott Government. That would have had to begin well before the people stopped listening. This critical point was likely reached more than 6 months ago.

The ALP is likely to suffer mildly as a result of future TURC hearings. There will be some more unease about the leadership of Bill Shorten, but the polls and the new rules around leadership challenges will make a change on that front almost an impossibility.

The Trade Union Royal Commission will not feature high on the list of reasons the Abbott Government will probably lose power in 2016. In fact to say it will be a feature at all is nonsense. This area of politics is generally one where most have a worldview firmly locked in on one side of the debate or the other.

There will be some more noise on this issue over the coming weeks, but it will likely not last. It is hard to sustain attacks on things which do not have wide appeal.

Australian politics will meander toward the next misstep or missteps. With every day we will get closer to the 2016 election. And the show that is the Trade Union Royal Commission will continue, with Dyson Heydon likely to remain in the chair.

A Rollicking Speech But What of Expectations Management?

President Obama romped home in yesterday’s presidential poll in the US. It was a famous victory that most pundits had been unwilling to contemplate, at least as far as the extent of the victory for the incumbent yesterday. We were told it would be pretty close, even during the early part of the coverage, but in the end the result was quite comfortable for Obama. It was not of 2008 proportions, nobody expected that, but it was a good win, a strong win nonetheless.

At present Barack Obama has 303 electoral college votes, ahead of rival Mitt Romney on 206. After being behind in the popular vote early on Tuesday night, the President has pulled far enough ahead for any questioning of the extent of the result to be out of the equation. The President has over 59 million votes and his challenger, Governor Romney, over 56 million.

That means four more years as the chant went. Another opportunity to attempt to turn the American economy around and another opportunity to try to implement aspects of an extensive progressive agenda.

Of course there were mixed results during the first two years of Obama’s presidency. With control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the President largely failed to work towards implementing large swathes of his policy agenda. This was partly down to the state of the economy and also as a result of a much less partisan political environment. Some Democrats often vote with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Mitt Romney was gallant and gracious in defeat, wishing the President all the best with very kind words during his concession speech late yesterday.

But it was the President that stole the headlines with a rollicking victory speech, the kind of oratory precision that Mr Obama is well and truly capable of and some may have thought was lost after some of his performances during the election campaign.

The speech was on a par with those leading up to his becoming President at the 2008 election and with his acceptance speech upon winning the Presidency. Again the President spoke of hope and opportunity for all, much in the same vein as those now famous speeches.

The speech was a vision more than an action plan. It was a look at what President Obama would like to do, what he values. It appeared more of a speech that a presidential challenger or first-term President having just won election, would deliver than it did the work of a second-term incumbent like Obama.

Of course, it was lacking in concrete policies and had some wild claims of reforms that Obama would like to pursue during his second term, like electoral reform, which will prove a massive and probably insurmountable challenge.

The speech undoubtedly excited a large number of people and that was the intention. Even people who do not agree with Mr Obama or his policies were in awe of the strong performance from the newly re-elected leader.

The President probably thought, going into his final term, that he could afford politically to give a speech like that, raising the expectations of the masses again. But whether or not that is smart is an entirely different proposition.

There are three factors that he would have needed to consider before appealing to people’s emotions like that.

The first is regarding his legacy. Does President Obama really want to be remembered for setting lofty goals and then struggling to achieve the vast majority of those aims?

Setting ambitious goals is something that progressive candidates do all the time, often setting too many tasks, failing to have time for some and not being able to successfully implement others. It can often be a significant reason for the failure of progressive governments in an electoral sense.

Progressive government is not inherently bad, but you must be able to manage expectations rather than overly excite them. It is better to be both a bit progressive and a bit conservative.

The second thing that Barack Obama should be wary about is the effect that the speech and its highly ambitious tenor might have on the campaign in four years time. What harm might another term of over-promising and under-delivering produce for the Democrat’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

There is one final thing that the President should have had in mind before delivering the speech. There is no extra money in the budget for anything. The United States of America is truly struggling fiscally and that could become a much deeper problem in the coming weeks.

It was a good speech, even a great speech. However, good speeches do not always make or mean good leaders, but they do help us remember them.

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