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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.

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.

What to Look Forward to in Australian Politics This Year

Okay, so for some the title of this post will perhaps be a bit of a misnomer. There will be some that are really looking forward to what 2013 means in terms of Australian politics, and there will be others that have greeted the start of 2013 with a sense of dread. Regardless, it’s going to be an epic year on the frontline of the political battle, with the coming months a winner takes all period in politics.

So why will some think of politics in 2013 with a sense of foreboding, and others with a feeling of political glee? In short, it’s because of an event, an 8 letter word starting with ‘e’. Give up? Of course you don’t. You’re thinking, well duh, he’s clearly talking about the federal election. And you would be 100% correct.

Coalition supporters and those swinging voters that have long switched off Labor are itching to have their say at the ballot box. On the other side, you have some Labor supporters that think the job can still be done, who are relishing the contest. Then you have others who feel the election is lost- and it almost certainly is.

The election year will bring something that was conspicuously absent in 2012 and that is serious policy announcements and refinement of existing policies. The politics of personality will still be played and pursued with the same level of vim and vigour as it was last year, but at least there will be a much more positive side to the political discourse as the election- likely sometime from August, approaches.

But with the good of an election year also comes the not so good. Promises will be made and most kept. However, some will inevitably be broken. In years gone by, we had ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ promises, but this has been replaced. We still have policies readily announced, to be implemented as soon as possible, but now in the political lexicon we have a little something called ‘aspirational’ policies. The latter are policies that are usually big commitments and worth implementing, but because of fiscal concerns will be flagged as something for the future. But like non-core promises, surely some will never, ever be introduced.

This election year, do not expect big-spending promises- well, at least not new ones anyway. Expect the Opposition, as they have since the early days of the Labor Government, to spend a significant amount of time focusing on the budget position. According to the polls, good economic management is something strongly associated with the right side of the political spectrum, so why wouldn’t the Coalition take every chance to prosecute this?

Election years also bring carefully targeted spending commitments from governments struggling to maintain their grasp on power and that will not be any different, despite the poll result appearing to be a fait accompli.

Aside from the budget, expect taxation, chiefly the carbon price and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, to continue to be a major feature in the political to-and-fro. According to the polls, the former is becoming less of an issue for the government, though still it still at this stage presents a problem.

Budget and taxation aside, the election campaign, which feels like it has already been going for some time will largely be a case of both sides of the spectrum trying to position themselves as stable and able to provide effective government.

Like any given year, whether there is an election pending or not, parliamentary sessions take place. Expect the commonwealth parliament to be a slightly different beast, but not altogether foreign to those of us who observed parliamentary politics in 2012. Undoubtedly there will be much more substance in the parliamentary debate this year, but the same noise and antics will be an ever-present feature, with the theatre that is parliament convening for the first time this year in early February. But of course, the election is all that just about anyone in the general public cares about.

It’s only early January and things are yet to heat up, apart from the weather. But do not let the relative silence fool you, because 2013 is set to be one frenetic year. The election is the event to look forward to this year. Then again, maybe not.

Lessons Learned From Australian Politics in 2012

As if you didn’t already know, the year is fast coming to a close. A few weeks ago now was the end of a tumultuous year in the federal parliament which saw us experience more noise, more nonsense and more annoying antics than ever before, not to mention many new rules and regulations. As I remarked to someone the other night, politics is a continuous learning curve, even for those of us that observe it closely and perhaps a little to closely.

To that end, I thought I would share with my readers, some lessons that I have learned from Australian politics in 2012. And you, the reader, may have learned these lessons too.

CYNICISM AND POLITICS

Now, I know upon reading the title of this section, that you are probably thinking, but of course we should be cynical about politics. And you are right, we should, unfortunately, be cynical about politics. Politics for many, including seasoned observers, has an uncanny knack of disappointing, of making us feel like we should almost always expect bad things from our elected representatives.

What I have in fact discovered over the last twelve months, is that a little bit of cynicism does not go far enough. It has to be at the front of your mind at all times as you dissect what politicians say and do in the mad scramble to get power or to maintain dominance. And that is a shame, because politicians should always have the mantra of doing the right thing in the forefront of their minds, not how to continue to be politically dominant.

The cause for needing extra cynicism is probably largely down to the tight numbers in Parliament House, though you would have to argue that the starting level of cynicism required to view politics is already too high.

NEGATIVITY AND POLITICS

The year 2012 has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that negative politics works. We have also proved beyond any shadow of a doubt here in Australia, that it is much easier to engage in than positive policy discussion.

The polls have shown though, that there is such thing as too much and that has affected party votes and leader preferences.

But if there is one thing that political pundits are sick of more than anything, it is exactly the ridiculous level of negativity that infects the political debate. The broader population however have largely switched off from politics and did so a long time ago.

THE POLITICS OF PERSONALITIES

This year, above all others, politicians have spent a large amount of time attacking the character of each other and the way that each side of politics conducts themselves in the political debate. Politicians have done this at the expense of policy arguments, though hopefully, with 2013 being an election year, policies will be the order of the day.

The lesson however, is do not be too hopeful.

POLITICAL FATIGUE IS POSSIBLE

Of course the general public experience fatigue from the consumption of politics even after the smallest possible political meal on the nightly news’ bulletins. And the public at large has been subjected to chronic political fatigue syndrome.

But one thing I never thought possible, even at the start of the year after about one and a half years of minority government, was that I, a self-confessed political junkie would at times be too exhausted by our politics and that is a sad indictment on the state of the discourse.

PARTY NAMES AND IDEOLOGIES MEAN A LOT LESS

In 2012 we have seen, from time to time, more than I can ever remember, that party names and the political ideologies behind them are becoming even more redundant. In part this is because of the nature of the 43rd parliament and surely too, because of the increasing appeal of populism to political parties.

We’ve seen the Liberal Party become even less of a Liberal Party than under John Howard and have also seen Labor willing to ditch their core values more often than ever in the last 12 months. Both sides shifting has the potential to alienate people.

AND SO IT GOES…

The year ends in less than two weeks and after that same period of time an election year will be upon us. Soon, the year 2012 in Australian politics will mean very little, as the more important election year choices start being made.

Let’s hope it is a much more edifying spectacle.

Be Cynical About the Timing of Electoral Law Changes, Not What They Seek to Ensure

New electoral laws passed under the Gillard Government may well have a not insignificant impact on election results according to an examination of Newspoll surveys. Under the legislation, people who are not currently enrolled, but are, or become eligible to vote will automatically be placed on the electoral roll.

The new laws which would see approximately 1.5 million people, mostly new voters, added to the Australian Electoral Commission roll could change election results by up to 1.5%.

While 1.5% may not actually seem like a particularly large percentage, in politics it can mean the difference between a term or two, perhaps three in power. In close contests such a margin could easily mean the difference between seizing government and languishing on the opposition benches for three years.

Under these laws, those with the most to lose are the Liberal and National Party’s. It is a long-observed trend that young people generally vote for Labor, even the Greens. So of course, Liberal Party MP’s were yesterday quite concerned about the possible effects to their vote from automatic and compulsory electoral enrolment.

But is that discontent and anger justified in terms of the way the franchise is conducted in Australia?

In Australia, whether you believe in it or not, we have compulsory voting.

Every three years those of voting age are required to vote in the national poll. Most do vote, with a percentage casting informal votes. But all in all, most people vote and do so correctly. There is also a relatively small number of people who fail to turn up to their local polling place at all and a fine is imposed on them.

So, with this compulsory voting system there should be an understanding that you are automatically enrolled to vote.

Although in conflict with my generally liberal beliefs, I believe that everyone of adult age should be required to head to polling booths on election day to vote. I believe this because I see it as the best chance of electing a government that is generally representative of the people.

But of course I am firmly in favour of a secret ballot and if you are silly enough to use your opportunity to vote just to doodle all over the ballot paper or write silly names or words next to candidates, well, then, feel free to go ahead and act like child. In fact, bugger off.

Anyway, back to the crux of the issue at hand.

While the new AEC laws are not that dramatic in terms of enfranchising all that should be voting, there is an argument that could be sensibly made about the timing of the amendment.

The new clause comes in at a time when the ALP is struggling electorally. The Labor Party have been behind in the polls for a prolonged period of time and still, despite some narrowing in the margin, look set to lose.

So of course, there is scope, in that sense, for some cynicism.

The law should have been the same way from the beginning of the commonwealth, or at the very least, if Labor were so worried about people missing out on the vote, from the start of their administration which began in late 2007.  But no, full voter enrolment is apparently a newfound thing for the ALP.

Anger about the laws themselves is misguided unless the Liberal Party supports changing the electoral rules to allow for voluntary voting. It’s not “rorting” the system when the system is compulsory voting, it’s ensuring that all people of voting age will have the opportunity to vote.

Feel free, however, to be cynical about the timing. Ask yourself the following questions: Why now? Why not from the beginning of the federation? Why not from the beginning of this Labor Government?

A Response to an NDIS Opinion Piece

Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced the legislation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This Medicare-like scheme is a very important reform, a long time coming for people with a disability, who have suffered under inadequate and differing support regimes from state-to-state. The NDIS will create a national framework under which the needs of those with a severe and permanent disability will be met.

The introduction of the legislation in the House of Representatives is just the first step. NDIS trial sites will be launched next year, but there is still a need to keep the pressure on, to ensure that the fully-fledged system will be realised.

Up until recently, most of the negative debate around the policy has been about the cost. It is significant, requiring approximately $15 billion a year from the first full year of implementation in financial year. That time comes at the end of this decade. But the scheme can and must be funded. There are numerous ways to ensure that it is fully funded.

This week, in an opinion piece in The Australian written by Doron Samuell from SR2 Healthy, relatively new arguments came to light.

In the first instance, Mr Samuell argued that, “lured by the promise of taxpayer dollars, it is inevitable that disability services will come to be dominated by large, corporate players in the post-NDIS world.”

Later in his op-ed, Doron Samuell provides an argument which says that this is already occurring. So really, what we will have is the status quo. It is hard to envisage that smaller providers could be crowded out even more than they already are.

For equipment, like wheelchairs and other mobility aids, disabled people will most likely choose to use bigger organisations that might have the capacity to carry a broader range of stock and therefore, more cost-competitive products.

For services, users will probably choose to use a mixture of smaller, community-based organisations and larger “corporatised” ones. This will, again, at least maintain the status quo. There is also a strong chance that smaller organisations able to adapt to client needs under the NDIS will be able to grow if they can prove they provide good services.

The idea of the insurance scheme, as it will apply to many applicants, is to give users, capable of decision-making, the choice to pursue services from providers that they perhaps already identify with.

Also on the question of choice, Samuell made what amount to some pretty offensive, not to mention inaccurate comments about the capacity of people to choose wisely under the disability scheme. He actually claimed that the disabled were “often unsophisticated” purchasers and asked “these consumers going to make the right decisions?”.

Well, of course those who have a capacity to make decisions for themselves are overwhelmingly going to make the right decisions according to their needs. People with a disability are no less rational than ‘able-bods’ and nobody else knows their personal requirements better than people with a disability themselves. No doctor, no healthcare professional, no bureaucrat understands disability better.

Mr Samuell also appears to have forgotten a provision in the bill, which allows for funds to be provided to a carer or directly to a service provider in the event that someone eligible for NDIS funds is unable to make or communicate decisions for themselves on their own care needs. The latter is a worry because, again, bureaucrats should not be making these kinds of decisions.

Samuell also states that “the NDIS will need to ensure that buying decisions are scrutinised, audited and reviewed”. The legislation actually provides for this.

Doron Samuell does go to the question of funding. He does this from the position that Medicare, the system that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is based on, is under-funded and has a bloated bureaucracy.

There is a danger that the NDIS will be under-funded. There is always that danger when government embark upon significant reforms, that costs might be under-estimated. But what is clear is that the claim about Medicare only coping “by progressively lowering the standard of care to maintain its universality”, will almost certainly not apply to the NDIS.

A bloated bureaucracy is of some concern. There will need to be a significant number of  jobs created or filled across the states  and territories to oversee the agency. However, the bigger concern should be too much centralisation of the increased bureaucracy.

Finally, Samuell’s contention about the NDIS not being based on insurance principles is neither here nor there. What is important is that this landmark reform provides adequate support for those it is targetted at.Getting bogged down in definitions is pointless.

The biggest concern should be making sure the introduction of the full scheme occurs in 2018-19.

A Broad and National Royal Commission the Only Way

Finally, it seems that a significant national inquiry into what appears to be widespread abuse within the clergy is near. Calls  New South Wales has just announced an inquiry and Victoria has already set aside twelve months for an inquiry of their own. But these state-based inquiries are too limited in scope and there is little doubt that the problem crosses state borders. There has been so much focus too on the Catholic Church, the main source of such horrendous allegations, but a broader approach in that sense too is necessary.

Both the New South Wales and Victorian inquiries are incredibly limited. In the case of NSW, announced last week after a Lateline interview with a state police officer, the investigation will be limited to the allegations made by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox during an interview on the ABC news program. The events in question are limited to a specific region in the state and surround an alleged police cover-up of very disturbing incidents.

In the case of Victoria, their inquiry is wider in scope, but far from a powerful royal commission. Victoria’s sex abuse is being investigated by a parliamentary inquiry but is not limited in scope like the New South Wales’ iteration will be.

The parliamentary inquiry in Victoria covers abuse in all religious and non-government organisations, not just the Catholic Church or a specific region within the state. However, like the newly announced investigation in NSW, the committee inquiring into these matters does not have the extensive power that a royal commission commands.

There really now, more than ever, is a need for a full royal commission into child abuse and it must be a national one. We have passed the point of no return. There is not one option left to deal with a large number of alleged indiscretions except for holding a royal commission.

For some time now those calls have been met with resistance despite a significant number of cases coming to light where there was abuse, mostly within the Catholic Church, but also a wider array of religious and other institutions.

Most of that resistance has come from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the main denomination at the centre of the bulk of the allegations that have been raised in the public domain of abuse and inaction.

Worse still, it is also alleged that there has been a systemic cover-up, the active burying of cases involving incredibly devious acts of sexual depravity and violence against Australian children. All for the maintenance of power.

It is incredibly sad, indeed ridiculous and very concerning that the church believes itself above the law. Child abuse, any abuse is a crime and as such there should be absolutely no tolerance of reports that it is occurring. It absolutely beggars belief that anyone would not report alleged indecency, in favour of dealing with it in-house. Going to police is the one and only option.

Australia’s politicians have been way too slow to act. We have known about a number of cases of abuse and inaction on the part of the church for years and yet, until this year, little had been done anywhere in the country.

It would appear, on the face of it, that our politicians fear the influence of not just the Catholic Church, but also the wider religious movement. But that fear is incredibly ill-founded and terribly misplaced.

Religious movements are no longer anywhere near as powerful as they were. They would like to think they are and the impression of ongoing power remains. The simple fact, however, is that they are not.

In any case, politicians should not fear any real or perceived influence that religion does or does not possess in Australia. The lives of Australian children are far more important than any political benefit. Power should not corrupt to the extent that sexual abuse is ignored by MP’s across the country. Sadly, it just might, at least until the political pressure to act against these allegations becomes too strong.

People are experiencing more hurt suffering in comparative silence. The vast majority who have had acts of sexual violence perpetrated against them would want some form of closure, some acknowledgement that their pain and suffering is real and needs to be dealt with by a proper judicial process, not forgotten about or buried within an organisation.

It is understandable the visceral anger and hatred directed at institutions and the individuals that represent them, for having failed in the basic duties of a citizen, organisationally and individually when it comes to the law. People do deserve much better treatment at the hands of those caring for and providing guidance to impressionable and vulnerable young minds.

Unfortunately, some of those understandably outraged by the actions of the Catholic Church and other religious organisations have called for the tax exempt status of these organisations to be revoked as some form of punishment,

Any kind of remedy must be civil or criminal and should not extend to taking away the tax-free status of religious organisations that still, despite their massive and unjustifiable failings in relation to protection of children within the church, do extensive and helpful charity work.

What is abundantly clear is that a wide-ranging and national inquiry is needed into abuse within the church. The states have either failed to do anything at all or have not gone anywhere near far enough in prosecuting this matter.

A royal commission must now happen and should certainly not be limited to the Catholic Church. All denominations must be examined in a broad inquiry without fear or favour.

Support for the inquiry needs to be across partisan lines. As of this afternoon all political parties, except for the ALP and most Independent MP’s have pledged support for an inquiry. A large and growing number of Labor MP’s have however voiced support for a royal commission.

It would appear that the momentum towards a national inquiry into sex abuse within the church is now inexorable and that can only be a good thing,

Sadly though, a lot of pain has been endured during the unnecessarily slow process.

An Open Letter to State and Federal Politicians Regarding the NDIS

Dear state and federal governments,

I do not believe that all of you, despite protestations to the contrary, are actually one hundred percent serious about pursuing the implementation of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. Furthermore, I am concerned that the bipartisanship at the federal level may well be in name only.

Labor: You announced, with great fanfare as a result of work precipitated largely by Bill Shorten as Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities through the Productivity Commission, that a NDIS was needed. That report identified that the disability services sector is fragmented and under-funded. You pledged to work towards implementing such a scheme.

The Coalition: You announced swiftly, despite a perceived disposition towards opposing major reforms, that you wholeheartedly supported the idea to assist some of the most vulnerable Australians.

Since that wonderful day when you, our federal politicians gave a feeling of hope that many people with a disability and their carers have never experienced before, things have changed.

The future of the much-needed reform looks far less certain than it did this time last year and that worries me. I have no doubt it also worries many others with a connection to disability. We are used to disappointment and people with a disability are used to being largely left out of government calculations.

I acknowledge that the problem is not wholly because of you, the federal government. Blame for the uncertainty must also be laid squarely at the feet of some of our state governments. Yes, you did ignore, as governments generally do an important recommendation. This recommendation from the Productivity Commission said that you, the commonwealth should be the sole funding government of this important initiative.

To Tasmania, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and later New South Wales and Victoria: Thank to all of you for getting past the Gillard Government’s refusal to be the sole contributor to the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Your contribution is much appreciated, even yours NSW and Victoria. At least you were willing to remain at the negotiating table even if your government’s played it trickily for a while.

Queensland: Despite the dumping of the key recommendation from the report into the insurance scheme, you could have contributed a modest amount of funds toward a launch site.

You should have been able to get past that point and negotiate with the federal government from the viewpoint that they must be responsible still for the bulk of money contributed towards the establishment of a NDIS. We know and acknowledge that your revenue streams, as with all states, are limited. However, giving something was entirely possible.

To all the states: Please now operate on the assumption that the commonwealth government should provide the vast majority of the funds toward the NDIS. That includes you Queensland.

But back to you, the federal government: A half thanks for the $1 billion over 4 years in the May budget. You contributed something. But in the scheme of things it falls remarkably short of the mark. The meagre sum of $250 million a year for four years for a project that will cost over $13 billion in the first full year is a bit of a joke, especially considering how much more you like to waste in other areas.

To the federal Opposition: Thanks for what appeared, at least initially, to be earnest support for an essential new way of catering to the unmet needs of people with a disability.

Since that initial endorsement though, there have been mixed messages which make me and many others concerned that your professed interest in pursuing this in government might actually be a little on the fake side.

If this is a false assumption then please stop people like Joe Hockey from appearing to question the ability to fully fund the scheme years into the future. Please stop the Shadow Treasurer from referring to it in a negative light.

Contribution to the scheme will be more than possible by the time of implementation put forward by the Productivity Commission. Even the timetable of the ALP Government is within reason. It is only one year earlier.

Again to Labor: I hope you did not think that my concern over your actions, or lack thereof was limited to that already mentioned. It is not.

I am very concerned at your ability to appear to be doing something while actually doing little at all, other than mostly talking. You now say you will introduce legislation to establish aspects of the NDIS, including the transitional agency. That is great, but it is useless without money being funneled towards it.

You have said, or at least hinted over the past couple of days at more money being directed toward the policy, but only next year. If your hilariously small contribution in the May budget is anything to go by, then a contribution next year, keeping in mind the state of the budget and the fact that it is an election year, will either be inadequate or potentially peeled back upon change of government.

The disability community would appreciate it if all of you would address our concerns. Some of you are doing very well, some okay and one state, that’s you Queensland, doing terribly.

There are a lot of people now more cautious, some cynical and some even scared about the prospects of not having the NDIS going ahead. We need reassurance that our concerns are not based in reality. That can only be achieved through strong actions, not strong rhetoric.

Yours Sincerely,

A NDIS fan

Reason Excised From the Mainland

Reason and informed debate are both being used much less in politics than they should be. Too much time is focused on populist policies for political gain and not enough on well thought out ideas. The withdrawal of sensible thought has been accelerating during this 43rd parliament and it is a blight on both sides of politics.

There are two recent decisions in particular which best display the timidity of thought and action that now pervades our parliamentary process.The first is the “tactical withdrawal” from moving towards indigenous recognition in the Constitution in the preceding weeks. The second topical example is before the parliament at the present time and that is the decision to excise the whole of mainland Australia from the migration zone.

The former, indigenous acknowledgement in the Constitution received much more attention than the latter, the excision of Australia has. That in itself is a sad example, not just of the lack of reason and thought used in the political discourse, but also the wildly out of kilter priorities of those put forward by our political parties.

The excision of the mainland was not a policy advocated for by the government as part of the misguided response to asylum seeker policy. Instead, it was put forward by what was, in name only, an “expert panel”. However, it and all the other recommendations set out in the Houston report have been adopted wholeheartedly by a rapidly changing Australian Labor Party.

The ALP is a political grouping that appears to be doing its best, at least on asylum seeker and refugee policy, to appear a faction of the Liberal Party.  At the very least, they are playing wedge politics in an over-indulgent manner.

The policy of removing the Australian mainland from the migration zone defies all logic. As some have argued, it would be quite funny, if it were not sad and cruel, to believe anyone really thinks that pretending the mainland does not exist for the purposes of being able to send more largely desperate people for offshore processing, will help “stop the boats”.

Immigration detention is jail wherever it takes place. It is punitive and it is ugly. It is also something that should be beneath Australia as a mostly civilised nation. Funnily enough too, the spectre of detention has actually not deterred too many from risking their lives.

So why does the asylum seeker and refugee debate lack reason. First and foremost, because it appeals in some way to a fear of difference that some in our community hold onto. This area of government action also lacks commonsense because it is easier to appeal to fear, engage in knee-jerk responses and to punish than it is to invoke compassion and implement more comprehensive and sensible policies.

What of that much less discussed and debated issue, the one that should be of much more domestic concern than the over-inflated “boat people” “issue”? How about choosing not to pursue, for the moment at least, indigenous recognition in our Constitution?

The dropping of the process, the tossing of it into the too-hard basket is again a case of the easy way out.

Yes it is true that it would have been very difficult for the constitutional amendment to pass, especially when it was supposed to be posed at or before the 2013 election. The question would have required a majority of people in a majority of the states to say ‘yes’ to whatever the proposition put forward by the government and of course only 8 out of 44 referenda have successfully been prosecuted.

However, just because the circumstances are difficult does not mean that the process should have largely been abandoned. A smart approach would have been to acknowledge the difficulty in forging ahead with the vote on the timetable agreed on.

After doing that it would have been quite reasonable to say to the public and more importantly, our indigenous people, that we would like to forge ahead with the planned constitutional amendment, but in doing so would need more time to forge a strong consensus in the community.

The fact that we need more time to forge a consensus within the Australian public that indigenous people are indeed humans populating this country and did inhabit this country prior to our ancestor’s arrival is an uncomfortable thought too. It shows that perhaps some of the lack of reason it appears our politicians show might actually be more of a fear of losing power .

The apparent abandonment, or at least wariness  of the Coalition towards implementing the next best thing, a legislative instrument giving some form of recognition to indigenous people, gives pause for thought and defies sense.

Why would the Coalition give bipartisan support for constitutional change, including recommending a bipartisan committee, but then apparently baulk at the opportunity for an Act of Recognition, a meek and mild form of acknowledging a truth? Why seek a preference of separate statements to the parliament when the question of a statement proved difficult for some in the party back in 2008?  It just does not compute.

These are but two examples where logic and reason have been abandoned in Australian politics, both for similar but also divergent reasons. They are only two examples, others do exist and will continue to eventuate as a result of a number of factors, not the least of which are appealing to irrational fears and beliefs as well as a rampant desire, an uncontrollable lust for power and political dominance.

Crowing About Making Life Harder

It feels like a while since any substantial discussion has occurred involving policy and the business of government more broadly. Lately we’ve been stuck on constructing and deconstructing personalities and political parties. We’ve also been debating what should or should not be said as part of the usually robust, but recently vitriolic public discourse. Today is the day we must again begin focusing on policy and the business of government, looking above and beyond the easy analysis of people and personalities.

During all the hubbub a milestone went by almost undetected, with only a brief passing mention in the political media as the sexism and misogyny debate accelerated.

The Gillard Government, often wrongly accused of not getting on with the business of government, announced to the media that they had managed to have passed through the parliament over 400 bills. That much legislation passed over 2 years is certainly not, by any stretch of the imagination, not getting on with the business of government.

There was probably much back-slapping and the brief mention smacked of pride. Why wouldn’t the government be proud of that achievement? That much work making it through the parliament, a minority government occupying the benches, would not have been an easy task, made both easier and harder at different junctures since the August 2010 federal election.

But is all this work necessarily a good thing? Will all this work lead to less government and bureaucratic interference in the lives of individuals and businesses? Will it make life in Australia a smoother process? Finally, what is better, new rules and regulations and processes to follow or new or beefed up penalties for existing or newer forms of wrongdoing ?

The answer to the first question is an emphatic ‘no’. Having passed 400 bills is not something to crow about. Yes, there will be legislation now in force among the new laws which will be beneficial. But that does not mean the overall number of bills passed is a good thing, it is not. But of course, for a government struggling to be able to take credit for work they have actually done, well, you cannot really blame them.

The problem with passing over 400 bills through the parliament is that it inevitably means there will be more government, not less and that the level of bureaucratic interference in the lives of individuals and businesses will of course be higher. There will be more rules to follow, more forms to fill out in your personal life and in the life of businesses and that is never a good thing for time or money.

So life in Australia as a matter of course, with over 400 new bills passed will not be smoother in a broad sense. Again, there will be, in that immense stack of paper, some legislation that might serve to make life easier in some narrow sense. However, with the sheer amount of bills that have been made into law being so high, those act’s of parliament making life easier, will be drowned out but extra rules and regulations in other areas of life.

What should governments focus on when engaging in the business of lawmaking? Should they have a predisposition toward business and people going through more regulatory approval, having more forms to fill out? Should the focus instead be on increasing penalties for wrongdoing rather than more oversight aiming to stem bad behaviour? Or is it the case that administrations need to focus on repealing laws?

The answer is a combination of the above. What should be first and foremost when thinking of amending or even introducing legislation is a focus on the penalty side of the good and wrongdoing equation. This means that those behaving appropriately are rewarded with less time needed for bureaucratic nonsense and more to do the business, personal or otherwise that they need to do. At the same time it punishes those few that do the wrong thing.

There should be little or no focus at all on increasing rules and regulations. Extra rules, read for breaches of law, should only be introduced to deal with wrongdoing that evolves or emerges, whether that’s for new technology or new practices which develop.

More red-tape is, in just about every case, an absolute no-no. Bureaucracy must be avoided at just about any cost. Businesses and people, both time-poor, just do not need extra time and pressure to apply for or get approval for aspects of their businesses and lives. There will of course be times where it is necessary.

Ideally, there should be a predilection toward actually cutting approval processes, forms and other time-consuming activities where practical and that means actually repealing some legislation or parts thereof. Stupid offences too, and there are certainly plenty of those, should also be on the legislative chopping block.

So really, the ALP might be happy with their work and so too the cross-benchers closely linked with the government, but the question is, should we the people and should the businesses of this country be jumping for joy too?

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