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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.

The Latest Ruddvention

‘Ruddvention’- a word to describe the all-too-common intervention of Kevin Rudd in matters of national and/or international importance. These dalliances with the media, above and beyond those of any other lowly backbench MP, have taken place a number of times since the former Prime Minister was deposed. And the latest display of self-important politicking, surprise surprise, takes place just after Prime Minister Julia Gillard reached a rather uncomfortable milestone, perhaps for both of them- the same amount of time in office as former PM Rudd.

At least this time Mr Rudd picked an area of policy close to his heart and that is foreign affairs. The former PM and one-time Minister for Foreign Affairs today released a statement on the Syrian conflict, now two years old. Rudd believes now that the Syrian rebels must be armed in order to bring a more swift end to the internal conflict which has seen approximately 60,000 die.

The problem with Kevin Rudd coming out and pleading with everyone to realise just how smart he, in his mind believes he is happens to be two-fold. There is the policy-based disagreement with the official Labor line on Syria and then there is the distraction that it provides and the cannon-fodder it gives the Coalition, as if they were in need of any more election year ammunition. In the scheme of things both effects are minor. But the point is that in an election year, both impacts are unnecessary from someone who should release he needs to further the Labor cause, not his own selfish interests.

In terms of the policy itself, former PM and Foreign Minister Rudd, as stated earlier, believes that the Syrian opposition forces must be armed. Kevin Rudd has pointed out, quite rightly, that the situation in Syria is already far beyond a humanitarian crisis. The Assad regime has clearly perpetrated crimes against humanity, mind you, opponents of his regime appear to have engaged in much the same brutish and barbaric, downright inhumane behaviour too. This position is very similar to the viewpoint he pushed in the international community regarding the civil war in Libya, while Minister for Foreign Affairs

It is here where his position and the government’s are at loggerheads. With the UN Security Council unable to reach an agreement on any meaningful action, and with Australia no longer willing to get so involved in a far-off internecine battle- the Gillard Government, along with the rest of the world, is continuing to try to tread carefully yet meaningfully down the diplomatic pathway. Senator Bob Carr and the government want both the Syrian Government and the opposition to talk to each other. They want, in a case of vain hope, some kind of amicable end to the scenes of chaos and devastation.

This latest disagreement between Rudd and his party, though slight in the scheme of politics, will add to the library of election material that the Liberal Party has surely amassed over the past two-and-a-half years. Added to the litany of examples, it all amounts to a story of internal division. It’s the kind of thing the Labor Party do not need in an election year. Labor do not need distractions. The ALP need discipline and at least an air of togetherness and harmony, whatever the real story within the caucus.

It might be lucky for Labor that the latest Rudd flirtation with the media has occurred at the start of the year. All but the most politically attuned are paying attention to the political discourse at present. However, the story has already been written on the Rudd problem and any future Ruddvention, like that today, can easily be added to the election 2013 plot, no matter how insignificant. Any undisciplined and self-serving plea for media attention after the middle of the year would be a big problem.

A Way to Look at the Individual Ingredients of Political Parties

Every so often a show comes along that breaks the mould. Excuse the cooking related pun but that is exactly what the show Kitchen Cabinet, hosted by Annabel Crabb and aired on ABC2 actually does. It takes your regular political interview and turns it on its head. It moves the political discourse away from the rough and tumble of our institutions and places it in the home’s, temporary or otherwise, of some of our political players. Far from just bringing out some of the personal stories of our politicians, the show, with its second season about to start, exposes the ingredients of the party politics cake.

Kitchen Cabinet will return to television screens next Wednesday, October 10th and promises to unearth some more individual truths from our politicians which will shed an important light on just how varied opinions can be within any given political party. There will of course be some who do not reveal as much or anything compared to other guests on the show, but for the most part individual thought processes will be discovered.

Failing that, the show will be responsible again for unearthing or at least bringing to a wider audience, stories about our politicians, their lives, what makes them tick as people. This has a lot to do with the relaxed location, the home or the flat or house in Canberra. What emerges, even from our media savvy politicians is at the very least is a much more relaxed and at ease communication style closer to a dinner chat than a political interview, when in reality it is still a political discussion.

What the broader viewing public often fail to see with our politicians is that behind party politics, which relies on falling into line behind a party-room decision, there are individuals, putting forward slightly different points of view.

Those views are of course discussed and debated, sometimes at length, behind closed doors, occasionally spilling out into public view through leaks from MP’s or journalists in the right place at the right time. Occasionally, individual views will spout forth out of the mouths of politicians directly in the media spotlight in public- think Barnaby Joyce as a most prescient example.

But for the most part, our politicians stick to “party discipline” and don’t reveal their position or at least won’t put a name to it, instead being referred to as ‘a disgruntled MP’ or ‘an inside source’.

From the advertisements for the show, we can already see that Bronwyn Bishop, long-time Liberal Party MP reveals she would not have brought in the controversial WorkChoices. What other stories of individual argument will we discover through the work of Annabel Crabb? Barnaby Joyce we know too, will also be a guest on the show and surely the serial “freelancer” will not disappoint.

In a way these candid discussions also show the lengths that politicians will go to, what they will put up with in order to wield political power for as long as possible. Politicians will, almost without fault, accept party decisions. That is just as much about accepting  and maintaining political power as it is about accepting the collective decision of a political machine that has discussed and debated an issue in an exhaustive manner.

Of course, save for the likes of Barnaby Joyce, we will not see frank and open discussions about current policy debates and that’s to be expected as the collective need for unity trumps almost all other views.

However, we can learn what individual members of parliament might think about a policy issue from the historical tidbits they offer up. We can reasonably, but not always accurately do so by linking a previous policy stance to an ideology and then extrapolate that to present issues. However, that can be blurred by the increasingly common practice of populism which has been known to overtake ideological linkages in recent years.

Kitchen Cabinet is certainly different and through that uniqueness will be illuminating as we seek to understand the politics of our nation and our individual parliamentary representatives. It might also help us to realise that just like us, surprisingly, our politicians are human.

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