The answer to the aforementioned question could easily be answered using anywhere from two words to a sentence – the answers ranging from ‘not much’ to ‘the new Deputy PM should not scare us much’. However, as is standard with political analysis, a few hundred words rather than simply a handful of words is necessary.
Barnaby Joyce, after 11 years in the federal parliament, was elevated to the role of National Party leader and therefore Deputy Prime Minister after the long-awaited resignation announcement by the incumbent, Warren Truss.
Since well before Pistol and Boo were smuggled into the country, the Deputy PM elect has been a polarising figure. The mere prospect of the knockabout Australian larrikin rising to the rank of stand-in Prime Minister frightened the living daylights out of the loud and opinionated.
It is impossible to ignore the fact that Mr Joyce is a bit of a rogue, and that both his mouth and his mind get him into a little bit of strife from time to time. However, it is equally relevant to note that this will not be exacerbated by the loftier rank in government he will now occupy.
A thorough understanding of how the cabinet process and government actually works should give cause for more optimism than is currently on display. Decisions by ministers are, usually, put to cabinet for discussion at least. Other policy ideas go to the partyroom for debate. Both fora can give rise to altered, even rejected policies.
To look at the impact Deputy Prime Minister Joyce will have on the political process, we must also consider those times when he will, for a time, be Acting Prime Minister. In this area there is also little need for concern.
Barnaby Joyce will only assume this role when Prime Minister Turnbull is away on holidays or on an overseas visit. Holidays and overseas visits are usually short, and the former tends to be at times when political decision-making takes a break, along with most of our politicians.
The far greater concern is the ideological direction of the entire Coalition, which is not quite as far right as Barnaby Joyce, but still worryingly socially conservative. The Deputy PM-elect is but one cog in this driving force.
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 National Disability Insurance Scheme, NDIS for short is the most promising policy idea relating to disability in some time, perhaps ever. It’s something that needs to happen, should happen and where politics needs to be put aside and has been. It’s a long-term project, meaning much time to prepare it well, but equally and with the history of the Gillard Government as much time for it to fail. The policy idea desperately needs the big guns of politics and society, past and present to keep their collective eye’s on the ball to turn this great idea into a political reality.
Today the NDIS lobby group, Every Australian Counts, headed by former NSW government MP John Della Bosca made a wonderful choice, naming former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer from early in the Howard era the campaign patron.
Tim Fischer, like many parents in Australia knows just how hard the lives of people with a disability can be. He left politics, citing as a reason the need for he and his family to focus on the demands of helping out their son, Harrison who has autism.
Mr Fischer has been a long-term advocate of doing more for people with a disability whilst in public life and post politics, involving himself in the disability cause with different organisations in the field.
As someone with a disability I have had the opportunity of witnessing just how committed the former Deputy Prime Minister is toward improving the lives of people with a disability and how interested he is in hearing the stories of people with a disability.
When I competed at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games the man himself was the Mayor of the Paralympic Village. I will never forget seeing him moving around the village, that trademark hat adorning his head, welcoming athletes and team staff from around the world, shaking their hands and having a bit of a chat to as many people as possible on his journey’s around the athlete precinct.
Often on my trips to the dining hall I would encounter the sight of him sitting down with athletes, Australian or otherwise sharing a conversation with many of the mass of athletes that gathered in Sydney to compete at the 2000 Paralympics. Indeed, I even had the opportunity, sitting with a group of athletes when the Howard Government Minister came to say hello.
Far from the obvious benefits of having someone whose experience with disability is both close and personal, the political benefits of having a former MP, diametrically opposed to the Government which has proposed the scheme is a very important factor.
It is important position, both to keep the Gillard Government honest with fierce, but diplomatic advocacy on behalf of the Every Australian Counts group, a skill honed overseas, as much as it is t0 keep the Coalition honest and on track with its’ commitment to bipartisanship on this most important reform. This is particularly important when the Abbott-led Coalition seems closer and closer to taking the reins of government at the next federal election with implementation and commencement possibly occurring somewhere in what could be a second term of a Coalition Government.
This policy at present is still just really a thought and no money has yet to be committed to the implementation of the actual scheme, though rumours abound that there will be an allocation of sorts outlined in the forthcoming budget, just weeks away on May 8th.
Having Tim Fischer in the role of patron for the campaign, starting in earnest with the rallies next Monday in capital cities around Australia is a big step forward in the campaign and will help to keep the campaign on track from political idea at present, to reality.
As speculation continues as to just how much support former Foreign and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has in the Labor caucus, the thoughts of some turn to what major portfolios may be granted under either the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard or perhaps Kevin Rudd.
It is increasingly likely that Kevin Rudd would not take back the Prime Ministership at the leadership spill which occurs on Monday. But it is still possible, were Rudd to pull around 40+ votes of the party room that a second later ballot could be successful a la Keating in the 1991.
Either way that will not stop me speculating just who might get some of the major portfolios vacated or made untenable in this ugly, toxic and likely terminal battle.
As already said, it seems very likely at this early stage, even before Kevin Rudd returns home to Australia that Julia Gillard will win the ALP leadership vote on Monday morning at 10am. That certainly leaves the vacated Foreign Affairs portfolio available to either a strong talent or a key factional backer or perhaps someone with experience in a similar area. Maybe all three.
I strongly believe, and have been stating on Twitter for days now, given his strong backing of the Prime Minister in the media in recent times, becoming the first to outwardly condemn the actions of Kevin Rudd, that Simon Crean will be the successful candidate for the position of Foreign Minister.
Not only do I base my views on that support, but Simon Crean is one of the most experienced members of the ALP party room, having even been one of the leaders of the party this millenium.
More importantly, the current Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts was Minister for Trade, ironically under Kevin Rudd. Trade is a very closely related portfolio to Foreign Affairs and indeed shares the same departmental home, so it wouldn’t be an unnatural step to make.
It is far from certain, with the Prime Minister calling for unity after a vote where she is expected to win, that those Ministers who spoke outwardly in support of Kevin Rudd would be dumped from their portfolios. Indeed unity would probably dictate that they were kept in those positions. However, in the unlikely event they are forced out, that would leave spots for junior backers, including parliamentary secretaries, to take their spots.
Speculation then turns to what positions would be gained by Rudd backers in the event of a successful spill now or in the future. I am not so sure there would be pardons for some of the key Gillard backers in the ministry were Rudd to become PM again.
I think Wayne Swan may be an immediate casualty along with Gillard who would return to the backbench of her own volition, though action against the former may not be a politically smart move.
Of the already announced key backers, I would not mind betting that Chris Bowen would be a candidate for Deputy Prime Minister and add to that the Treasury portfolio, mirroring the situation at the moment where Wayne Swan has both responsibilities.
There might also be some blood from some of the other portfolios, with Gillard supporters like Crean and Conroy possibly losing their responsibilities or being demoted.
Either way, Gillard or Rudd, it does not look like there would be wholesale changes as being so close to an election it would not give new ministers time to slot into roles properly in which they may not have had much background in their time in politics. Above all else, too much blood and collateral damage would not look like a party united.
It’s fun to speculate isn’t it?