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Five Things to Consider Before You Vote

In under six months Australians will head to their local school, council building or community hall to vote in the 2013 federal election. Even at this early stage, the Australian Labor Party have been written off – their primary vote has been far too low for far too long. One poll has even suggested that about 80% of voters have already made up their minds about which political party they intend to vote for on September 14. The situation does not leave much hope for the ALP.

It is however very important to think about the impact of your vote and what it would likely mean for both yourself and for the country going forward. There are some absolutely crucial questions which you need to consider before casting your ballot in September and it pays to start contemplating them early.

Chances are that most of the politically engaged have considered at least one or two of these questions. Some have perhaps considered all of these important factors. But there will be some who have put little thought into their choice and why they have chosen to support that party and others who are among the undecided voters who have not yet committed to a decision to vote for a particular party at the election.

Perhaps the first thing to think about, the one question which encompasses all factors in the vote choice process, is which political party is the best fit for you?

That question involves thinking about how you respond to the different policy ideas and themes put forward by the political parties. It is entirely subjective and centred around your own needs and wants, but that is okay. You want to give your preference to a political party you feel comfortable with. You will almost certainly not feel entirely comfortable with all the decisions that political party makes, rather you will feel most comfortable with putting them first on your ballot paper.

Another necessary element to consider is similar in nature to the first and it is to think about which political party is the best fit in terms of the present political situation.

Basically, this asks us to look at the present time and ponder which political party is best equipped to deal, not just with the pressing concerns of Australians, but also which political party is best able to respond to external factors. Again this requires an examination of present policy, but a basic understanding of the way each political party has responded to certain situations is also beneficial.

You will also need to decide which political party offers sustainability.

Some people have probably ceased reading at this point at the mere mention of the ‘s’ word. But sustainability in this sense refers to two different things, depending on what you value the most. If you consider environmental sustainability the most important thing when you think of sustainability then your answer to who to support in terms of this question is pretty obvious. But then there is also budget sustainability. This refers to which political party you think is best equipped to maintain a sustainable budget position. Your answers here will be divergent. 

When we think of whom to vote for at the election, stable government should be something in our minds.

First and foremost, after the last three years, we should consider a stable government to be one where there is not minority government. Thankfully that is an impossible event this time around. Minority government gives oxygen to a scramble for power and that in turn promotes a greater likelihood of less than optimal outcomes from government decisions. A stable government is also one which is not spending its time fighting within itself and therefore provoking uncertainty.

Last and certainly not least is to contemplate which political party will do the most for our freedom.

When we think of freedom it is natural to think of our own freedom. However, we must also think about which party does the most to promote and allow freedom and freedoms for all members’ of society. For some this will mean ‘freedom to’ and others ‘freedom from’ and for some it will mean considering both concepts of freedom.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, but it should give you an idea of at least some of the essential questions which should shape your thinking at election time.

For many, September 14 will be an easy choice – we see that from week-to-week, with the poll results indicating a landslide election victory is well and truly on the cards. For others there will need to be some thinking done.

A Recipe for Chaos and Fatalism

The Prime Minister paid a visit to the Governor-General today for the swearing-in ceremony of her latest ministry. This is the second visit to Yarralumla in as many months for Julia Gillard and it comes just a matter of days after the ALP again found themselves facing a leadership spill, which this time did not happen. The election date was obviously firmly in mind in the ministerial considerations the Prime Minister again had to make ahead of the May budget session. The result – the continued perpetuation of some of the same issues which have plagued the Gillard Government.

Perhaps the most striking think about today’s announcement is the decision made by Julia Gillard to create multiple ‘ministers for everything’. Five existing ministers in the Gillard ministry now have extra portfolios.

Anthony Albanese has had Regional Development and Local Government added to his title, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus takes on the dual role of Special Minister of State and Minister for Public Service and Integrity and Craig Emerson snares Chris Bowen’s former role in Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. Finally, Greg Combet becomes Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation and Tony Burke adds Minister for the Arts to his already lengthy ministerial title.

Gillard backers have clearly been rewarded with the exception of Anthony Albanese, the conciliatory Rudd backer who has received the key portfolio of Regional Development which is a very neat fit with his existing responsibilities in Infrastructure and Transport.

There are just six months until the election. Obviously that has had a major impact on the distinct lack of change and renewal in the changes announced today at Government House. It would have been wise to promote existing talent, despite the electoral prospects of the ALP at the September 14 election. Some would consider that a waste of good people, but the best team should always be made available regardless of the state of play.

There were a number of new additions to the ministry, but for the most part they were underwhelming choices. Andrew Leigh and Gary Gray were the best appointments in the new ministry. Others elevated were Sharon Bird, Don Farrell, Catherine King, Michael Danby, Senator Jan McLucas, Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, Amanda Rishworth and Shayne Neumann.

If the Prime Minister was looking for a way to continue to foment chaos within her government, today she found it. Having so many ministers, already struggling with burdensome portfolios is not a smart political move at all. Yes, there is only six months to go until the polls and there will not be much more legislative work undertaken, but the policy effort must continue and will be stifled by the mega portfolios created today.

If ever you wanted a glimpse at the thinking of our leaders, without actually needing to hear an answer, you got it. Far from the bloated portfolios simply making policy work more difficult, the ministerial announcements also portray a fatalism within the Labor Party. That fatalism is obviously at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind, the reshuffle was designed by her.

If there was one strong positive about the announcement it is that there will apparently be a decrease in the size of government, or at least a bit of a streamlining of it. The Department of Climate Change will now merge with the Department of Industry and Innovation.

Like many problems, the solution to the personnel issue was rushed and ill-considered. There was a small amount of good done in the selections made, but it was cancelled out by the poor decisions.

Chaos will continue to reign and now the government quite clearly looks to have given up all electoral hope.

A Tale of Two Election Campaigns and What One Means for the Other

The Australian Labor Party in Western Australia were roundly defeated at the state poll on Saturday. It would appear that the ALP have been reduced to just 19 seats in the 59 member lower house of the West Australian parliament. The WA Liberals could govern in their own right after Saturday’s election drubbing, but will not. Despite the huge win, Colin Barnett’s Liberal Party will again join with the WA Nationals to form a coalition government in the westernmost state. Together they won an estimated 40 seats.

It was not as big a win as the New South Wales Liberals experienced, nor the Queensland LNP, but it was a very significant victory for the Liberal team in Western Australia and an extra painful loss for the ALP in the state.

After such defeats – in fact, after almost all election losses, the usual questions are asked. What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? Was the campaign strong? Were there external factors which influenced the result?

It is abundantly clear that there were a number of factors which, when put together, led to the election result we saw at the weekend. The electoral age of the Barnett Government was a factor as was the campaigns run by both the major political parties. The result was also undoubtedly influenced by the state that the federal ALP finds itself in.

We can learn a number of lessons from the WA result.

The first is that most political parties will almost automatically spend more than one term in government. That happened here after four years of minority rule by Colin Barnett and his team of Liberals and Nationals. But what might have shocked was the extent of the voters’ desire to see the Barnett Liberals serve out another four years in government. And in truth, the kind of result we witnessed cannot be simply explained as the electorate giving the government another chance. Voters clearly wanted to deliver much more than just another four years.

Both the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party ran strong campaigns. And both were praised in the media for their strong campaigning efforts. But obviously the Liberal Party ran the stronger campaign. It is impossible to argue against that assumption given the result. And both campaigns were also very positive and based around further developing Western Australia.

Since the results came in late on Saturday night, thoughts turned to what this meant for the Labor Party locally and nationally. Discussion, as it does after a string of poor poll results, also turned to the question of leadership. Funnily enough, there was no questioning of the suitability of the ALP leadership team in WA. Instead, talk turned to what the result might herald for the Gillard Government and its figurehead, Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

There is no doubt that the Labor brand is toxic. We discovered that pretty quickly after seeing Labor Governments fall around the country, in two cases, into a deep electoral abyss. But it is not WA Labor that is on the nose in a particularly major way, it’s the ALP in the federal parliament which people are particularly weary of.

Because it is the Labor name that is toxic, it really does not matter much about who the federal Labor leader and Prime Minister is. Even though polls say Kevin Rudd would win an election if he were to become PM again, realistically, the electoral prospects for the party are still dire. So if the federal parliamentary Labor Party heeded the calls of former WA parliamentarian Alannah MacTiernan, apart from an initial bounce and a prolonged narrowing in the election-winning lead of the coalition – there would not be the required poll surge past the opposition.

Perhaps the strangest part of the election result was the unwillingness of commentators to give much credit to the Barnett Government. The people are not particularly stupid. If they thought he was doing a terrible job they would never have given him as Premier, and his government, as much as an endorsement as they did on Saturday at the ballot box.

Saturday too was just another message for Canberra about what is coming their way in September. It has an inevitability to it. The result will cause further leadership rumbles, but whether or not the federal ALP go into a panic is yet to be seen.

It is however, unlikely.

The Recurring Questions About the Joint Strike Fighter

In 2002 the Howard Government made the decision to purchase up to 100 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) from the United States of America, making it the largest single defence purchase in the history of Australia. Now, a decade on, the JSF program is struggling to deal with major flaws in capabilities and the project is at least 5 years behind schedule. And to top it all off, the original cost of the jet has gone from $40 million each to almost $130 billion dollars per aircraft.

The troubled JSF program was the subject of a Four Corners documentary on Monday night which shows that the problems surrounding the construction of the plane are continuing. When it all boils down, the same questions are being asked about the program that have been for years now. But the questions become even more relevant with every mishap and every delay in the delivery of the Joint Strike Fighter.

The overriding question is: Should we have purchased the fighter jet when we did? But the situation involving the procurement of the JSF is far more complex. Another important question is: Should we have put the purchase of new aircraft out to tender? The final very important question is: Would a tender process have improved the situation?

There is absolutely no question that the decision is a budgetary disaster, with the cost per aircraft ballooning by about $90 billion dollars. We have had to purchase 24 Super Hornets as interim aircraft while we await the delivery of the F-35. Due to domestic budgetary constraints we have delayed delivery of twelve of the aircraft, but those delays will be trumped by the design delays.

In short, the government should not have made the F-35 procurement decision when they did. The decision to purchase was made too early and, according to a former Defence official interviewed by Four Corners, based on a reportedly persuasive conversation former ADF Chief Angus Houston had with a defence official from the United States of America. The government should have waited until there was more concrete information on the aircraft. Word of mouth is not particularly strong grounds for making decisions about buying new military capabilities.

The question of a tender process is both simple and complex. It is simple in the sense that a tender process would have been the most prudent option for what was the most significant single defence purchase made by an Australian government.

A formal tender process would have given Australia options, even if the JSF still turned out to be the most sought after option after competitive bidding. More importantly, there would have been greater oversight of the decision-making process. Competitive bidding would have also driven down cost somewhat and that would have been helpful given the cost blowout over the last decade.

But the shambles that is the F-35 purchase might not have been avoided under a competitive bidding regime. What we are dealing with is, above all, a manufacturing and design problem. There is absolutely no guarantee that competition in the bidding process would have meant the absence of flaws in the aircraft’s design. In fact, we can be certain that a bidding process would have had no impact on the design of the plane.

The distinct lack of process is striking when it comes to the Joint Strike Fighter. Even without knowing what the documentary revealed, we should acknowledge there have been problems with the procurement of the JSF. We should have started a tender process leading up to the 2002 decision which still could have been made. We would have saved some money, but could have easily encountered the same problems unless we had bought an aircraft already under production.

The funny thing is, for all the extra money and time, we should still end up with a very advanced air capability at the end of the drawn out process – providing the technology is not superseded.

A Not So Plucky Swan

Wayne Swan has had a bad year so far and so has the government he is a part of. Just one and a half months into an election year, the Treasurer in the Gillard Government looked uncharacteristically flustered, utterly chastened in Question Time today, especially after another faux pas at the despatch box in the parliament.

This week Mr Swan has copped it from both sides of politics, after late last week revealing that the Minerals Resource Rent Tax has raised just $126 million so far which is just a fraction of the full-year estimate of $2 billion. The opposition has chided the Gillard’s man in Treasury for getting the numbers so wrong and now members of his own caucus are openly pushing for an amendment to the tax. There is no doubt that political damage has been suffered.

Polls show that the tax is popular, so if the government chose to amend the profits-based tax it is unlikely to result in the loss of any political skin. An ugly battle with the mining companies would eventuate though

The problem would not be so terrible had the figures just been ordinary. The political damage has been compounded because the MRRT was supposed to fund a number of initiatives proposed by the government. Now, that revenue has to come from elsewhere and there is just no money to be found in the budget.

The mining tax problem gave rise to claims of another possible tax problem, but the confusion and uncertainty appears to be all the making of a Treasurer stung by the last couple of weeks in politics. Asked if the government would increase the personal income tax rate, Swan initially refused to rule it out on breakfast radio and this provided more than enough fodder for the opposition. Later in the day, the matter was cleared up, but the verbal diarrhoea had already done its damage.

The Coalition should however tread very carefully around the matter of tax increases. Perhaps they should not even bring it  up. There is a tax on the cards unless the Coalition ditch their expensive paid parental leave scheme or radically amend it before the election.

But Wayne Swan’s day did not end there. In Question Time the Treasurer miscommunicated the unemployment rate, falsely stating that it was 5.1% when it is in fact standing at 5.4%.

Such a mistake is relatively common in politics. But when a simple error like that comes on top of a couples of weeks of political hell, a small problem is easily magnified. And he was not helped by the lethargic performance he gave in correcting the record. He was not his usual overly confident, often cocky self. He looked downtrodden.

There have been calls for Wayne Swan to resign. This will not happen and it should not happen. Neither a resignation or a sacking would help the situation for the government, which has already subjected the voting public to enough confusion in the six weeks or so since the start of the year. A new face in the Treasury portfolio would not make a difference.

Anything the government does wrong now just feeds into the narrative of a government in chaos, hurtling toward an electoral drubbing. The best thing that they can do is try to appear as stable as possible and that will be very difficult, nigh on impossible.

Doing a Good Thing in a Terrible Way

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.

It’s Deprivation of Liberty Whatever the Court May Say

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.

The Trajectory of Politics According to Malcolm Fraser

The most recent episode of One Plus One, a one-on-one interview based program was thought-provoking and delightfully honest. It was all about politics, past and present- though it was mainly about the present day political situation. The whole half hour show was about politics in the Australian context and where it is headed. The guest on the show was a former Prime Minister, an outspoken former member of the Liberal Party- Malcolm Fraser. And as always he was willing to tread where few dare when it comes to commenting on and critiquing the political discourse.

The half hour program identified four key issues in the front of Malcolm Fraser’s mind when it comes to Australian politics. Two of these issues are policy-based concerns and the other two about politics in a broader context. In short, the former Prime Minister is concerned about the treatment of asylum seekers, Australia being a dependent nation, career politicians and  that the Liberal Party and the Labor Party are becoming closer. More specifically on the latter point, Fraser is concerned about the Liberal Party and their eroding liberal values.

Malcolm Fraser, as a former Liberal Prime Minister, is perhaps the most well-known in terms of support for refugees and asylum seekers. During his time as the nation’s leader from 1975-1983, Australia took in nearly 250,000 Vietnamese refugees during and after the Vietnam War in which Australia participated.

Since leaving the parliament, Fraser’s commitment to the refugee cause has been maintained, if not expanded. He constantly lambasts Liberal and Labor alike for their unfortunate and often inhumane convergence on the asylum seeker issue.

And he is right to do so. To put it simply, the asylum seeker ‘issue’ is not an issue. There is no “peaceful invasion” and we are not being overtaken by undesirables. What is happening is that we are dealing with a world where regions are in significant conflict. That conflict is either within or between countries. And people movement is an impact of that disruption to peace.

We should take more refugees and can afford to. In the long-run, taking in more refugees will prove a cheaper option than pursuing and locking up those that arrive on our shores, like they have committed some heinous crime- which they have not.

And we need to treat asylum seekers better. There should be no rubbish talk or actions involving turning boats around or issuing Temporary Protection Visas. And we should not send asylum seekers to foreign lands to languish in truly atrocious conditions. These are all concerns held by Malcolm Fraser and he is right to be worried. Australia too should be worried.

There is another policy that worries the former PM and that is what he sees as an increasing dependence on the United States of America in terms of security and Australia’s broader foreign policy. He is both right and wrong.

Australia has had a long-held relationship with the United States of America, dating back chiefly to the signing of the ANZUS Treaty. And we have had strong diplomatic ties since. Our relationship too has escalated, particularly since the September 11 terrorist attacks with our commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq and the recent move to station US Marines in the north of Australia.

But is this immediately a bad thing? Are we immediately, by extension, too dependent on the US? The answer to both questions is no, not necessarily. A number of nations enjoy similar relationships with allies. The trick here is that we not neglect our regional neighbours in the Asia-Pacific more generally and more specifically, in the Indo-Pacific. Australia can pursue an abiding relationship with the US and in our regional neighbourhood.

It is at this point where we begin to look at politics in a slightly broader sense, delving into the world of party politics and the modern politician, both of which Malcolm Fraser is wary of.

A significant concern of Malcolm Fraser’s, particularly in the last decade, has been the trajectory of the Liberal Party. Indeed it proved the catalyst for his resignation from the party he so proudly represented in the highest office in the land.

In short, Mr Fraser believes the Liberal Party is no longer the party of Robert Menzies. And he is largely correct. Over the last decade and a half the Liberal Party has become progressively more conservative in social policy, to the point of being regressive at times. Social liberalism has long given way to social conservatism and the remaining adherents to the former ideology are continuing to disappear.

The Liberal Party was set up, in the words of its founder, Sir Robert Menzies, “to be a progressive party, in no way conservative, in no way reactionary”. And indeed that is what it has largely become. There is still an allusion to individual rights and freedoms, but the conservative viewpoint within the party is clearly in the ascendancy. There needs to be a shift in the opposite direction, as the two theories are largely incompatible.

It is of not much concern that the Liberal Party are economically conservative. It is inherently sensible for government to live within its means and the Liberal Party has a long-established association with this particular ideology, most strikingly, in the Howard years.

Economic liberalism, in terms of support for public goods, is something that the Liberal Party should rediscover. The glory days when the Liberal Party were much more concerned about the provision of education and healthcare in particular have long passed.

The final concern Malcolm Fraser elaborated on during the interview with Jane Hutcheon was about the increasing prevalence of so-called ‘career politicians’. These are people who have little or no experience in the world outside of politics. These are people who have usually studied politics at university and gone to work as staffers of MP’s soon after graduation.

The ‘career politician’ Malcolm Fraser argues, is fast becoming a major issue for our democracy as political parties begin to favour party operatives more than talented candidates.

The major issue for present day politics however is the narrow skill set of our political representatives. Most are lawyers and former union officials and then business people. The latter is fine, particularly if they were small business owners in a previous life and so is a mix of former lawyers and union officials, but the point is that a broader skill needs to be represented in the parliament.

It is unquestionable that politics needs to be on a different trajectory. Right now we are headed even further toward rampant voter apathy and that is not healthy for a democracy such as ours, where to at least turn up to a polling booth on election day is compulsory.

A shift in ideology and in some public policy areas is also necessary.

Who Does Law and Order?

Tonight I sat and watched, as I always do, the nightly edition of The Drum. The topic turned to gun violence in our own backyard, with the Gillard Government foreshadowing plans to tackle the recent spate of highly publicised gun-related crime, mostly gang related, across Sydney’s west. It was an interesting discussion, coming so soon after the Newtown massacre in the United States of America and in the same week as a report which found that the level of gun ownership in Australia has returned to pre-buyback levels.

Ostensibly, what was actually announced by the Prime Minister today was an examination of what could possibly be achieved by the government under the present legal arrangements. Prime Minister Gillard has given Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare that task and has asked him to bring a list of options to the cabinet table.

Crime is an emotive issue. Talk about cracking down on crime and criminals plays to something deep in our psychological make-up. We as humans love to feel safe. We love to feel as if we are being protected not just by ourselves, but by others, by a sizable and powerful police force there to watch over us.

Now, we all know it’s an election year and law and order is often an election issue. The trouble is, that law and order, under the Australian Constitution, is a concern for the states to wrestle with. And state political parties do make battling crime a big focus at election time and throughout the electoral cycle. The commonwealth government does however have the Australian Federal Police and Customs under its purview, so in that sense, it is not strictly true.

There is something that the discussion seemed to forget and that is what John Howard did in the first year of his time as Prime Minister, after the indescribable horror of the Port Arthur massacre which saw 35 people gunned down. He was not a state Premier, but through discussions with his state colleagues, was able to secure a national ban on automatic weapons and a uniform gun buyback scheme.

By virtue of the fact that law and order and policing is largely a state issue, there really is little that can be done by the federal government on its own. The Gillard Government can however try to negotiate a package of measures with the states for them to implement in their own jurisdictions.

There is however one thing that the government can do unilaterally. They’ve cut funding to Customs and they can, since they no longer wish to return the budget to surplus, restore funding to the crucial agency. Alternatively, or at the same time, extra funds could also be directed to the AFP.

The question of what the states and the federal government can do in terms of powers in a more broad sense is interesting. It would appear that traditional state/commonwealth roles are becoming increasingly blurred, with the commonwealth appearing to want more power and resources at the expense of the states.

And that shift clearly extends to law and order issues, with politicians at the federal level wanting to affect change, or at least be seen to be trying to reduce crime.

Law and order will be an issue during this federal election year and beyond. We just have to get used to it.

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.

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