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Change From Within Or Change From the Periphery? The Answer is a Matter of Degrees

Politics is at quite the low ebb at the moment. Most of us get pretty frustrated from time-to-time about the way in which the major political parties are heading. We even get frustrated about certain issues that we wish the political party we most identify with would deal with in a way that we and the public overwhelmingly want. Essentially, we choose one of the two main parties, Liberal and National (Coalition) or the Australian Labor Party. Most of us don’t overwhelmingly agree with the platform of the party we vote for, whether that vote is delivered by first preference or flow of preferences.

This raises the question of the role that we play in the political process. Do we play a role entrenched in one of the political parties as a rank-and-file member? Do we seek committee or organisational representation within a party?

Or do we influence the political debate from the periphery? Is this influence from the outer limits of the political process at the ballot box? Or is it closer to the political discourse in the form of representing sectional interests trying to influence public policy?

Most importantly, what is best and most influential, change from within, or attempting to affect change just a little step away from political machinations?

This is a debate than will again be raised as a result of the public discussion entered into recently, particularly over the last week, but also for some months prior by the always intriguing and never dull Clive Palmer.

In recent times, the outspoken billionaire has both spoken strongly in favour of the Coalition stance on government taxes and then, more recently, strongly against the stance of both sides of politics on the charged issue of asylum seekers. Then there is the small matter today of a donation to Together Queensland to compensate workers sacked by the LNP administration.

Now, Clive Palmer isn’t one to be reliably taken on his word. He promised us he would run for Lilley, Wayne Swan’s seat, then elsewhere in Queensland but has since reneged on both counts, the latter supposedly over asylum seeker treatment by the Liberal and National Party at the federal level.

But let’s think the best of him and take him on his word that this is the legitimate reason he chose not to seek pre-selection for a parliamentary seat in Canberra. It’s not the first time he’s made a foray into the often ugly debate over some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.

But is it best for him to not at least attempt to seek a seat in the parliament where he could have influenced the debate from within? Admittedly his stance over asylum seekers would have probably provided somewhat of a stumbling block, a big hurdle to get over in winning the chance to represent the LNP in the electoral race.

Put that aside for a minute. If there were enough like-minded people that chose to get so heavily involved in the process, and it’s a sure bet there would be a number of people, socially liberal in nature, then change could be influenced from within.

Even if it were just one person, Clive Palmer, or a small number of people, like in the parliamentary debate on refugees and asylum seekers at present, then engaging in the t0-and-fro with an honesty, forthrightness and passion would begin to influence change from with. Yes, the progress might well be slow, but it starts people talking.

But there is a role for those at the ballot box. More importantly in some ways there is a role for those organisations that directly engage in the political goings on.

Because people at the ballot box generally vote for a number of issues that a political party stands on, it often becomes blurred, even completely obstructed as to just how far that endorsement of the policies of any one political party goes.

Voters can attempt to force change by writing letters to their local MP or Ministers, can protest or can show their opinions on any particular issue through polls on topical issues. But these fora are not the best way to get involved in the change process. They are helpful but will likely result in even slower change than people massing from directly within.

Then there is somewhat of a middle ground of influence. That middle ground exists in engaging in special interest groups which often have direct access to politicians, bureaucrats and government and can therefore have a greater impact on the evolution of political debate. In truth, lobbying groups are much closer to having a direct influence on government policy than the middle ground on the scale between everyday voters and actually being in the parliament.

It’s clear that the closer you are to the political process, the more impact you can have on change. Mr Palmer, despite some of his failings, everyone has them, would have been best to continue his fight to pursue change from within. He undoubtedly still will, behind closed doors within the LNP organisation and through the media, but not directly through attempting to get into parliament. His independent voice, if it continues, might help attract more like-minded people into the party organisation and that is a positive.

Change from the boundaries while not the best, will still result in the shifting of minds over time, though the depth of this shift and the time taken to achieve change from this perspective is likely much shallower and will take much longer to foment.

We must realise as voters that our selection at the ballot box will likely be misinterpreted by government as a full endorsement of their policies. It is not and all possible action must be taken to let government know just what we think about everything that our elected representatives do.

To not engage fully is to be a passive participant and an enabler for the occasional, sometimes often, horrific decision which can be made by governments.

Channelling ‘The Boss’, But Still Bashing the Bosses, Well Some of Them

The rich person bashing seems to be coming in waves. First we had the phase of talking down the likes of Clive Palmer, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Gina Rinehart. This first particular episode of the politics of envy came from the moment Wayne Swan’s article in The Monthly made its way into the public eye.  The second wave, which we’ve been pre-emptively warned about will commence this evening with renewed attacks highlighted by the Treasurer as coming our way when he gives the annual John Button Lecture in Melbourne tonight.

Let’s be honest, it’s not about all billionaires and other extremely rich people, if it was Mr Swan would have targeted the likes of Frank Lowy, Kerry Packer, Harry Triguboff and others. He hasn’t, it’s all about the mining billionaires, the ones who’ve spoken out against the Minerals Resource Rent Tax. The others don’t even rate a mention. Does Swanny think that they pay enough tax? He clearly does, there’s no additional profit tax being proposed for them.

While we’re being honest, who wouldn’t complain about having to pay extra tax? Let’s face it, we’re all self-interested individuals, well most of us at least. I’m pretty sure that just about anyone, from the richest among us to the poorest among us would be uncomfortable having to pay extra tax. This is especially the case when the services provided with the money people already pay in tax aren’t exactly all glowing examples of efficiency and the smart use of money.

Is it really smart for the Treasurer of our nation to be publicly knocking someone for having an opinion? Why not knock the countless individuals that don’t want to pay more tax and in many cases want to pay less tax? We all know that happens too.

Let’s get serious again for a minute. Clive Palmer employs an estimated 3000 plus people across his businesses. Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest through his company Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) employs over 2000 people. Not only that, but Mr Forrest, through his Australian Employment Covenant has reached his target of finding 50,000 jobs for indigenous people a massive and very worthwhile initiative. Gina Rinehart, for her part employs and will seek to employ in the future a not insignificant number of people either.

Do we really want to bash Australians that create so many jobs? Do we really want to attack those at the head of companies which are involved in an industry which has played a major part in saving us from recession? Those who own companies in an industry that is currently still saving us from very poor economic results? I don’t think so.

Is Wayne Swan’s claim that these particular individuals are having too much of an influence on democracy actually true? Well actually no it isn’t. Pretty sure the Deputy Prime Minister has actually gone ahead with both the carbon tax and the mining tax despite the protestations which spawned the spending of millions of dollars on advertising campaigns against the two taxes.

The reality is they’re still going to pay them. That is, they’re still going to pay them until a Liberal Government takes power which you’d say is a dead certainty on the back of continued poor poll figures for the Labor Government. Yes, Clive Palmer is involved within the LNP in Queensland but at the same time I’m pretty sure a central tenet of liberalism is lower taxes and well isn’t that the result? Wouldn’t that play a part in making it easier to do business?

All this lunacy from a man that takes his inspiration from Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen. Springsteen is a guy who’s made millions of dollars from a music career in which some of his song bash the rich, all in the name of making himself feel better about his own substantial wealth, estimated at about $200 million. But hey, his music is brilliant.

The Palmer Intervention

Today, to the amazement, but apparently to many on social media not shock, the billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer announced at a press conference this morning that he would be seeking preselection for the seat currently held by the Gillard Government Treasurer, Wayne Swan. Many are treating it as gospel that Mr Palmer will be the one to take on Mr Swan in the Queensland electorate of Lilley, despite the fact that he has just self-nominated for the preselection race.

Those in the commentariat who have already conceded that any other LNP member who is standing, or will put themselves up for the party nomination would do well to remember a recent precedent that was set in recent history within the party.

Prior to the 2010 federal election the senior federal MP Peter Dutton, now Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing stood for preselection in the safe LNP electorate of McPherson after the retirement of Margaret May, doing so after his electorate of Dickson saw redistribution turn his seat won from Cheryl Kernot of the ALP, into a notional Labor division.

Despite his standing within the party, including his position and the support of the Liberal Party leader at the time and former Prime Minister John Howard as well as that of the retiring representative of McPherson, the senior Liberal lost the campaign to local businesswoman Karen Andrews.

Clive Palmer too, is considered a prominent LNP member and voice, albeit for different reasons to Mr Dutton. The mining billionaire Clive Palmer is the biggest single donor to the LNP, having given more then $3 million to the LNP. That sum has, rightly or wrongly led to complaints of Palmer “buying the party” and/or “buying influence” within the party.

Today, despite that supposed influence, the response from within the party at the federal level to the announcement has at best been lukewarm, with Liberal Party MPs probably cautious after the recent comments from Mr Palmer about the Greens and a supposed CIA link.

Like the McPherson example, the LNP in Lilley may well and probably should go for a grassroots, local candidate for the electorate, as opposed to a non-local. Yes, the margin is slim, sitting at only 3.18%, well within reach of a Liberal Party Opposition that seems all but poised to take government at the next election, whether it be in 2013 or sooner. It has been held by the Liberal Party before, as recently as 1996-1998.

The LNP, especially in an electoral division like Lilley, with a mix of middle and working class voters, would do best to have a candidate not just from the area but that whose background best fits the needs and aspirations of the voters in the electorate north of the Brisbane River.

But alas, again a warning. This is just an announcement of candidacy for preselection, it is far from a fait accompli that the colourful character Clive Palmer will be the candidate  for Lilley at the next federal ballot. Precedent stands in the way of a certain Palmer candidacy and there are still processes that need to be gone through before anyone can say, “I told you so” or  otherwise.

 

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

By far the biggest political action in Australia this week occurred in the state of Queensland, which overnight saw its majority eviscerated at the hands of a unified Campbell Newman led Opposition. But alas, this blog is about Australian politics and aside from some electoral implications for the federal Australian Labor Party and the change in complexion of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the events of the week in Queensland have little relevance when examining the events of federal politics over the past week.

Yes, the result is in many respects another stake in the heart of federal Labor which on results tonight would be all but wiped out across Queensland if swings were uniform statewide. When the Gillard Government is already in a minority government situation, the trend toward the Coalition in Queensland alone, if it were borne out at the next federal election would see the government fall easily, before even adding in New South Wales where there is potential for catastrophic losses.

An incoming Newman LNP Government means that another Coalition Premier has a seat at the COAG table, along with the Premier’s of Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. This probably will not have a major impact as COAG in recent years has tended to be fairly tame and “cooperative federalism” has reigned supreme. However from time to time issues may present themselves where the Liberal Premiers feel the need to join together in opposition to something that the ALP Government chooses to pursue. It would appear that the carbon tax is in the sights of the Premier-elect, so this and the MRRT appear to be at least two exceptions to the rule.

Julia Gillard and her government saw the passage of their Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), by the Senate this week which was alone in major events in Canberra for the week in Australian politics, the last sitting period before the budget is handed down by Treasurer Wayne Swan in May. Tony Abbott and the Opposition have vowed to continue to fight the tax after its implementation and to repeal it in government and their parliamentary strategy over that and the carbon tax in recent months have echoed those words.

The parliament shared its focus  in Question Time between the carbon tax, largely as a result of Opposition questions and the newly passed mining tax. The Opposition focused on perceived effects of the carbon tax on business and households and the revenue projections of the mining tax and the effect the tax  may have on the economy.

The government focused on the spending associated with the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the tax cuts to small and big business which the Coalition opposes because it opposes the tax.

Also this week, Canberra descended into gaggles of laughter which transcended political boundaries after a very strange speech from mining magnate Clive Palmer who has since tried to put distance between himself and his comments. Mr Palmer claimed that the Greens were funded by the CIA to wreck the Australian economy by destroying the mining industry which helped keep the nation afloat during the GFC.

As Australia continues to meander toward the May budget, the focus outside of the parliament will be on Treasurer Wayne Swan and the ability he and his government have to deliver the surplus they promised for fiscal year 2012-13. The focus  of the media will be on trying to get a picture of the extent of the task before confirmation of the severity of any further cuts and just how much the effort will rely on the sneaky deferral of spending priorities for the budgetary year. There promises to be much political fodder over the coming weeks and the political discourse will certainly not be dull.

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