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A Royal Mess of Priorities

To say that Tuesday the 25th of March was an interesting day in Australian politics was an understatement. First up in the morning, we had the Attorney-General announce the long-awaited proposed changes to s18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. And, as if that was not enough fuel for thought, in the late hours of the afternoon, on the day Governor-General Quentin Bryce completed her appointment, the Prime Minister announced the reinstatement of knights and dames in the Order of Australia.

Throw in the sentencing of Craig Thomson over the HSU scandal and the developing story involving Senator Arthur Sinodinos at ICAC and today could hardly have given political pundits and the public anymore fuel for debate.

After making an election commitment to repeal s18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, the government released an exposure draft of proposed changes to the Act – changes which are remarkably similar to those I suggested last week. And of course that decision, which is to be debated before proceeding to the next stage, will be a heavily discussed and opined on topic in the Australian political discourse, particularly between now and April 30.

It was a government surprise coming in the late afternoon however, which really got social media talking. At 4pm, shortly before a farewell function for the outgoing vice-regal, the Prime Minister informed Australians that 2014 sees the return of knights and dames, albeit only four annually. Twitter erupted as those changes were announced. Jokes were rolled out thick and fast and the obligatory catchy hashtag was spawned.

This was a strange spectacle on Twitter. In the morning we had a very significant issue, in proposed changes to racial discrimination laws, given some substance by the government. Debate that, social media did – until about 4:01pm. Then it was all about Australia bringing back the Sirs and the Dames. And it continued in that fashion all night long. The s18c changes were paid scant regard, as with Craig Thomson’s sentencing and Senator Arthur Sinodinos’s ICAC hearing.

You are probably thinking, like me, that you know which issue was the most substantive, and which will have the biggest impact on Australian society and culture. Surely, for most reading this, it is not the return of an old titular honour which last ceased under Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Then again, I could be wrong. It all depends on whether the views of Twitter users as to what constitutes big news are reflective of that of broader society. If that is the case, then we are in a spot of trouble.

I am not entirely convinced that Twitter is always the best representation of society’s views. It is a mode for the loudest to express their views, however those with the loudest mouths often seem to express the most uncommon views in society. It is rarely a platform for the mainstream, more moderate of voices, though there are, as always, exceptions.

However, it does appear that the traditional media has taken notice of social media – as well they might when struggling to compete in a new media landscape. The major papers have, in varying degrees of absurdity, taken a stand on the smaller, more trivial issue of bestowing antiquated titles on people.

There was a theory being bandied about on Twitter, that the announcement on royally bestowed honours was used by the government as a distraction from the heat generated by the racial discrimination debate. If that is the case, shame on the majority of Australian’s for falling for it. We should have seen right through it as a non-issue and not been so incensed by what is a trivial matter in comparison.

The racial discrimination debate could change society. On the other hand, despite emotional protestations from republicans to the contrary, giving four people a year a title by appointment will have no impact on the Australian way of life. Making eminent people knights or dames will not create a renewed love for the monarchy. Only the sickening worship of these pseudo celebrities entrenches respect and admiration for the royal institution.

If republicans want a republic – and I consider myself one – we need to try much harder. If we think giving people titles will further entrench the monarchy, then perhaps we need to sharpen our arguments.

To be fair, our politicians need to learn how to prioritise better too. What was announced today was so inconsequential it should have been left off the government’s agenda for some time.

During the previous government, our political class spent a lot of energy on the often trivial nature of political debate. It seems there is a wish to continue down the path of being complicit in the dumbing down of debate and the avoidance of the hard issues.

The only question is whether we are being complacent, blissfully ignorant or willfully ignorant when it comes to deciding what matters most.

Applying a Key Policy Rule to Kevin’s Bid to Change Labor

The last three years in particular have been a time of much discussion and soul-searching within the Australian Labor Party. A little over three years ago a first-term PM was deposed with the aid of powerful factional forces and replaced with his deputy. The party vote plummeted not long after the 2010 election and after three years of internal chaos and division the vanquished Kevin Rudd was returned as Labor leader and Prime Minister by more than half the ALP caucus.

Upon his return – and leading up to it actually – the revived Prime Minister promised change. Kevin Rudd promised us that he had changed. He was no longer a micro-managing, frantic and overbearing leader of the Labor Party. Rudd also promised a slight policy shift in certain areas.

By far the biggest, most publicised element of Rudd’s change agenda is the internal reform proposals he has put forward since he was returned as Australia’s Prime Minister. These matters’ of Labor housekeeping include proposed changes to how the party selects and disposes of a leader and how a future Labor ministry will be picked.

There are of course changes which have been proposed as a result of the events in New South Wales, but this piece is not concerned with those proposed changes.

People in policy know of one basically universal rule which applies to policy decisions, and that is that there are almost always unintended consequences – pros and cons of almost every choice made. There are possible unintended consequences and negative outcomes from the ALP renewal proposals which Prime Minister Rudd will put to the party on July 22.

On the potential plus side, a PM free from the knife-wielding wrath of backbenchers with intense factional loyalties would ensure leadership stability and promote a feeling of certainty across the electorate at large – most importantly with the swinging voter who might have backed the party in at the ballot box.

On the face of it, it may not appear that there are downsides to Kevin Rudd’s announcement that a Labor Prime Minister elected by the people will not face the knife of backbenchers, except under extraordinary circumstances.

But there is a downside. A leader who becomes toxic to the party in an electoral sense would be next to impossible to remove as the criteria for removal is set pretty high. A leader would only face removal after having brought the party into disrepute according to 75% of the caucus.

It is also rather difficult to argue against the idea that the rank-and-file members of the Australian Labor Party have a fifty percent say in the election of a leader for the parliamentary arm of the party. The move is quite democratic and fair and rather unique in the Australian political environment, though whether or not it will result in more people rushing to join the ALP is less than clear.

On the downside, the process will be potentially expensive and would leave the party effectively leaderless for 30 days after a wrenching defeat.

With regard to the ideas put forward by Rudd on the leadership side of the equation, there have also been fears that branches will be stacked by unions trying to gain more influence under a slightly less union-friendly environment within the party organisation if these changes are successfully passed.

In terms of parliamentary reform, the other thing Rudd has proposed, which has been flagged for some time, is a restoration of the ability of the ALP caucus to decide who wins coveted ministerial positions.

With caucus able to determine the frontbench, there is the potential for less division within the caucus. Only those with majority support would be successful, leading to a stable team. At least that’s the theory.

With caucus again able to elect ministers, the factions are as important as ever. The powerful factions will dominate the ministry. Those with little factional loyalty, and even those more suitably qualified, may miss out on roles altogether, though the latter will happen regardless of the model for choosing the frontbench.

Kevin Rudd has probably moved as much as he could. What caucus decides will be keenly watched by political observers, though the whispers appear to indicate that the changes will be agreed to by the party room when it meets in a couple of weeks’ time. What the broader union movement feels and how they react will also be a point of interest.

Whatever the outcome, there are potential consequences, good and bad.

Sorry Mr Husic

Yesterday the Rudd ministry was sworn in by the Governor-General Quentin Bryce. It contained a number of familiar faces, and some new ones who made their way to the frontbench to serve under the returned Prime Minister. But yesterday was also notable for the presence of Ed Husic, a young man rewarded for his loyalty to Kevin Rudd. It was his faith (he’s a Muslim), that propelled him into the headlines as a positive display of Australia’s multiculturalism.

Today however, Mr Husic’s appointment was in the headlines because of the way some sub-optimal Australians responded to the way he chose to swear the oath of office. Some Australian bogans, no rednecks, chose to show their disrespect and toward the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister on his Facebook page.

You see, Ed Husic decided that he would swear the oath of office, not on the bible, but on the Muslim holy book, the Quran. And what a crime that turned out to be according to these small-minded pinheads who arced up on social media with all manner of hysterical, stupid and downright wrong and baseless claims.

Oh my gosh, someone of a faith other than Christianity decided that swearing on another religion’s book would be wrong and therefore decided that he would be true to his belief system. How awful that is? Not. Seriously. What a pathetic response from some people who would think pre-1960’s Australia would be a glorious era to relieve in the 21st century.

One of the most absurd claims from these douchebags is that the choice the Parliamentary Secretary to the PM made was “un-Australian”. Um, hello, multiculturalism has been an explicit government policy, largely supported by both major political parties, albeit in varying degrees and sometimes only if political expediency permits.

Okay, so some of you dimwits might not have been alive all that long, but hey now you know of this policy you can attempt to get your small heads around it. For the others, you’ve had decades to vote in people amenable to your beliefs but have not really managed to do so. I guess that’s just bad luck for you then.

Guess what – we decided very early on here in Australia to celebrate religious diversity too. Our founding fathers thought it so important, that religious freedom is one of the few express rights in the Constitution of Australia. That means that Ed Husic, that Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd and everyone else can place their palm on whichever religious tract they choose.

You might want to check out s116, then again, perhaps you will want to wilfully ignore it because it does not suit your narrow-minded, isolationist political beliefs.

Australians who reach high office can and should be able to take the oath of office holding any book they like. You could even extend it to include such examples of modern-day religion like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. And you can choose no book whatsoever and deliver the affirmation.

I want to say sorry to Ed Husic. Sorry that some noisy ratbags have put a bit of a dampener on your day. They do not represent me and I hope they do not represent the vast majority of us. I am pretty sure they do not, but sometimes I worry. Yesterday was your day Mr Husic and comments of the kind you were exposed to were completely unwarranted.

The way in which you responded to the comments on your Facebook page when you spoke to the media was full of class. They were indeed “extreme” comments. And the way you chose to refer to them as “democratic” is a measure of your maturity, though I would imagine they were deeply troubling to you. They were also dumbocratic, propagated by the dumbocracy which gets a little bit of oxygen here and there from some willing pollies.

Some of us need to grow up and get out more. A little bit of reading might help too.

You may not like other people for one reason or another, but you must respect them and their legal and constitutional choices.

DisabilityCare, Geelong and the Decentralisation of Public Services

Planning for the NDIS, now DisabilityCare is coming along quite well. The only state yet to sign up to the full roll-out of the Gillard Government’s new plan for disability services is Western Australia. And just a few short weeks ago, the legislation for the funding of the disability scheme was introduced into the parliament and swiftly passed through both the upper and lower houses of parliament.

And on Monday this week the government announced that the headquarters for the government program will be in the Victorian city of Geelong. The move to base the head office of the scheme in Geelong came less than two weeks after the city took a big hit with Ford announcing it plans to cease production of automobiles in the country, a decision which will cost over 1000 jobs.

As a result of the government’s announcement, three hundred jobs will be on offer in Geelong, in what is being pushed as assistance to a town which will be beginning the transition away from large-scale manufacturing, at least as far as cars go, over the next three years.

But here we reach the first question. Is it really of great assistance to Geelong, and in particular, workers who will be leaving Ford Australia? Potentially. Some may be picked up over time by the DisabilityCare agency as they try to seek work locally. Some will inevitably retrain in another area, perhaps in public administration or disability services. But others will need to look elsewhere in Geelong, or perhaps much further afield.

What the announcement really is, in the way it was framed, is a symbolic gesture by the Labor Government, meant to appeal to the heartstrings.

Another claim put forth by the government is that it is an example of a commitment to the decentralisation of the public service. And it is decentralisation, in the sense that  the top brass in the DisabilityCare bureaucracy will not be based in the traditional heartland of the commonwealth public service in Canberra. Having a number of staff in the states and territories is also an example of decentralisation.

What this policy needs however, is a more deeply decentralised structure. Rather than simply saying that the top end of the bureaucracy should be based in one city or town or another, we should be spreading it around Australia more, on the basis of the population of each state and territory respectively. We ought to have decision-makers much closer to “the action”.

This reform is about delivering the best we can to the most vulnerable in our community. This means throwing as much as possible into a number of local areas, including major players.

Of course the CEO and some staff are going to have to be placed in one location. That is not a problem, but more senior staff should be spread around.

There are still other issues to be teased out in terms of making sure that the funding commitments aside from the levy are maintained, regardless of who is in government. And we must make sure that Western Australia joins in with the disability insurance scheme, or worst case scenario, offers a policy almost identical to the national one, save for possible improvements on how to administer it.

There is a lot still to be discussed, but the die has been cast and Geelong has secured some employment opportunities. But all care needs to be taken and in particular, lessons need to be learned, during and after the trial phase which commences in just a number of weeks.

Hopefully there will be no hard lessons in the coming years.

We Must Remain Vigilant

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, now renamed DisabilityCare is a step closer to becoming reality after the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman signed an agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Brisbane. The agreement confirms the funding commitment of both levels of government to the disability scheme.

The deal will see Queensland contribute $1.9 billion dollars over the next decade and see the disability reform starting to emerge in 2016, before it is fully operational in 2019-20. In signing up, Queensland now joins New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory as signatories to the funding arrangements. That leaves Western Australia and the Northern Territory as the only governments still to put ink on the page.

Understandably, excitement is growing about the future of disability care in Australia and that has accelerated with each individual agreement reached between the state and territory governments and the commonwealth. People with a disability around Australia, their carers and families, are slowly rediscovering a long lost hope, that their needs might be sufficiently met by government. Of course there is going to be palpable excitement. Of course there will be some celebration.

But we need to be very careful about how we view recent events. As advocates and supporters of this much-needed reform we must not allow ourselves to get too swept up in the emotion of important days like yesterday. There is no doubt that commitments like that agreed to by Julia Gillard and Campbell Newman are a big step forward, but a lot can still go wrong between now and 2018-19. In fact, there is a need to continue to be cautious until well after the scheme is fully operational across the country. Things can still go a bit pear-shaped.

The first, but most surmountable roadblock is getting the recalcitrant state of Western Australia and the Northern Territory to agree to a funding commitment for the rollout with the commonwealth.

Western Australia wants to sign up but wants more decentralised control of the scheme in the state and that is fair enough, because service delivery should be based on a largely decentralised bureaucracy. Negotiations between WA and the federal government will continue and a resolution of some sort appears inevitable. But caution is still the order of the day here and both the state and the commonwealth must continue negotiations with an open mind and a desire for compromise on the specific issues WA has with the policy.

The Northern Territory will also need to get the pen out and sign a deal with Canberra for the full rollout of DisabilityCare. The NT Government just recently penned a deal to have their own launch site in the Barkly Region. In light of this, realisation of the funding for the full commitment surely cannot be too far away. But again, all possible eventualities must be taken into account, including the negative ones. even though 6 of the 8 states and territories have agreed to terms with the Gillard Government.

Bilateral agreements aside, there is still the issue of where the commonwealth, even the states, will get the rest of the money for the disability insurance scheme, despite the commitments to fund the scheme. At present the agreements are simply words between two parties and in the interest of making sure DisabilityCare happens, the positive developments must be viewed with the utmost wariness until the full policy has actually commenced.

The Opposition too, who will almost certainly be in government come September, will need to be pursued just as relentlessly over its commitment to the NDIS. There is bipartisan support but it means nothing until we actually see the policy up and running.

Finally, we must continue to run a critical eye over the policy even when it is operational. There may be shortfalls in standards of delivery and even funding and we should not be particularly surprised if either of these possibilities arises. In fact, it is completely within reason to expect that both problems may exist, though hopefully the  launch sites will allow enough time to remedy most, if not all potential issues.

With the agreements signed to date between commonwealth and state and territory governments, about 90% of Australians with severe and permanent disability and those that look after them can now have a little more hope.

We need to make sure over the coming years that the agreements are transformed from words on a page to deeds.

The Folly Revealed

Policies and promises, who would make them sometimes with all the intense pressure from different parties, interest groups and the broader society. And when would they, when should they make them? We seem to go through that debate every single electoral cycle. The discussion around policies and promises only accelerates as an election nears. This year is no exception. The Coalition has long held a surplus pledge and that is slowly disappearing as, it appears, is the pledge of a company tax cut of 1.5%. Reality is setting in for the Liberal and National Party coalition. But are they the only ones to blame?

It would appear that we are in some parallel universe. Many in the media, along with the Labor Government and their coalition partners, the Greens were happy to call on the Opposition to start releasing policy months, even more than a year ago. And now they react with surprise that the Coalition now appear to be looking at tweaking their long announced company tax cut and walking away from the pledge of a surplus in the first year of a Coalition Government, which is a likely proposition come September 15.

Okay, so these policies are not ones which anti-Coalition forces called on the Abbott-led Opposition to make. Both pronouncements have been long-held planks of Liberal Party policy, with the company tax cut an idea around since early 2010 and the surplus, well, that is just what the Coalition do when it comes to economic management.

But can you say the Coalition brought it on themselves, making these statements so early and holding onto them with such vigour. The answer yes and no. The budget is is a pretty ordinary state, partly due to global factors, but also due to the continued excess spending of the Gillard Government. Perhaps though, the Opposition should have realised that the budget would be in the position it is now, but you cannot really blame them for that.

The apparent need to crab-walk away from these two policies does however prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, the folly of adopting policy decisions so early on. Oppositions are too often pulled toward making early predictions of what they may and may not be able to achieve were they to find themselves in government.

The pressure put on oppositions is however an ongoing thing. It is an inevitability in politics that governments will do all they can to put pressure on and try to wrong-foot their political foes. The media will often be complicit in this ruse too.

This by no means excuses the all too often last-minute policy releases and costings submissions  made by oppositions. These circumstances have no place in a transparent electoral democracy, yet they will unfortunately continue to happen in politics. They are an unfortunate inevitability that you wish we could get away from.

A seemingly acceptable benchmark for the release of the majority of policies and costings would seem to be not too long after the budget which is in May each year,

For now, we wait to see just how different these policies may now look as September 14 nears.

Putting the Politics Into Public Appointments

The 2013 election result is almost set in stone. In that case, the Liberal and National Party coalition will form government after the September 14 poll, leaving the Australian Labor Party to do some soul-searching on the opposition benches. That means that from late this year, the incoming government would have the ability to make appointments to the various offices and positions across government and the public service. Almost on cue, debate has occurred over these potential appointments.

It has emerged that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott sent a letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard urging that she not announce a successor to Governor-General Quentin Bryce whose term concludes next March, about 6 months after the election. The letter also chastises the PM for the recent reappointment of the Australian Electoral Commissioner and other public service appointments made recently.

In the letter, the alternative Prime Minister writes: ”The decision to announce these appointments subverts the established convention that no government should make decisions that are legitimately the province of a potential successor”. Yes, that old nugget again about the caretaker conventions which we have already debated during this, the 43rd parliament. You would have thought that little debate was well and truly settled. It is quite surprising it is being raised again, albeit in relation to a different topic.

Under the caretaker conventions, appointments should not be made by a government during the caretaker period of government. Further, if it is necessary for there to be an appointment made once parliament is dissolved, then it should be deemed a temporary role where the person nominated is acting in the role for a short period of time, If it is deemed necessary for the government to make a permanent appointment then, under the conventions, it is agreed that the Opposition be consulted with on that position.

As there was with the earlier protestations about the government following caretaker conventions, there is a slight problem – they do not apply to the present political situation. The Prime Minister has still not visited the Governor-General to ask that parliament be dissolved and that writs be issued for a general election. We are however in the unusual position where we have an election date. But for all intents and purposes, it means nothing in this scenario.

Where there is scope for some debate, at first glance anyway, is around the rumour of a government intending to make an appointment at a point in time so far from the present date and one which would take effect after an election they are likely to lose. And that is what has apparently prompted the letter from Tony Abbott to Julia Gillard. There is also a rumour going around the political world that an incoming Coalition Government would seek to make former Prime Minister John Howard Australia’s next Governor-General.

Quentin Bryce was announced as Australia’s Governor-General approximately five months before replacing outgoing vice-regal representative Major Michael Jeffery in 2008. A rather lengthy transition period seems to be the norm and that is not particularly problematic, given that it often involves relocation, though people often move at shorter notice for employment.

It is strange, if true, that the government would seek to make an appointment to the office of Governor-General some time before the election in September. There is absolutely no reason for any government to need to contemplate making an offer of employment for a position which is not vacant until March 2014.

The potential future appointment and the response to the whispers about it point to a disturbing part of our political culture – the need to make senior public service appointments political. Who lands senior public service roles should never be the plaything of political parties striving to make a point and stamp their authority, but it is. The so-called ‘jobs for the boys (and gals)’ culture is an unfortunate blight which rankles with voters in the early months after each election, to the point where many of us now accept it as the norm. Unfortunately, it colours our altogether negative view of politics and politicians.

Who lands what role should be less, though preferably devoid of politics and more about merit. We are a meritocratic society elsewhere, and when it comes to the public service, even largely ceremonial roles should be filled by the best, most accomplished fit.

When will politicians learn that their search for power shapes the way we view them?

Here We Go Again

Julia Gillard has been Australia’s Prime Minister for nigh on 3 years. In that time, the Australian Labor Party’s poll numbers have been disastrous, to the point where a first-term government was reduced to a minority in its second term. Debate has raged about why the poll numbers for the ALP and the Prime Minister have been so poor since that swift leadership coup in 2010. The discussion has only become more frenzied and ridiculous since the 2010 election result.

Of course, many will have you believe that the poor numbers are down to sexism and misogyny, either in combination or separately manifesting themselves.

Speaking last week, the Prime Minister said that it has “not been ever the norm in our nation before for people to wake up in the morning and look at the news and see a female leader doing this job (being Prime Minister)”.

The Prime Minister went on to say  ”I am not a man in a suit and I think that has taken the nation some time to get used to – I think it is probably still taking the nation a bit of time to get used to”.

All things considered, three years is a pretty long time to get used to someone they see on their television screens almost every day. And it’s not like the Prime Minister was a stranger to TV and radio audiences while Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister. Julia Gillard did have a significant portfolio of ministerial responsibilities, including education, workplace relations. Julia Gillard was also Deputy Prime Minister, which made her Acting Prime Minister when Kevin Rudd was overseas.

So if it has nothing to do with lack of exposure, or with the unique situation of having a female in the most senior of public roles for the first time, then what might be a problem for the PM?

Well, first, as a direct result of the poor polling, it is the mostly male backbench, or part thereof which has seen fit to leak and background against the Prime Minister and her allies. Are they guilty of misogyny or sexism? No, they are just guilty of trying to do all they can to keep themselves in a powerful position when they are in threat of losing their electorates at the September 14 poll. The backbench MP’s, in doing so, have managed to continue the poor form of the government.

Believe it or not, the continuing poll woes are still, in part, disdain toward the Prime Minister for the way that Kevin Rudd was knocked off. The fact that Kevin Rudd still proves so popular with the public is as irrefutable evidence as the collapse of the vote for the ALP over the same time period.

Funnily enough, the poor showing of the Labor Party is also about policy. It is about both rushed policy and policy that is actually bad, or at least perceived to be substandard by the general public. The public have been lied to a number of times now and they are simply growing tired of it and the vote has collapsed as a result, just like it would take a hit if the Coalition failed to deliver on its promises.

In case the PM was not aware, both her ratings and those of Tony Abbott are not the best in terms of approval. With the personal approval ratings for both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott comparable, maybe Tony Abbott can claim misandry? Ahh, no. They are both unpopular for a mix of historical and policy-related reasons.

Very few people would doubt that misogyny does exist in the community. But there is enough evidence to point to it not playing a significant role in the political situation facing the Prime Minister and the Australian Labor Party and certainly not a vote-changing one. That does not mean we do not need to address it, but implying or flat-out stating that it is a significant stumbling block for the Prime Minister in terms of the vote is to be disingenuous.

It seems a pretty weird thing to tell the public that they are not used to you. But then, this 43rd parliament has been quite strange.

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.

Stopping the Stupidity on Boats

There has been another asylum seeker tragedy in Australian waters. In the latest incident, following an increase in the number of maritime arrivals, two people died and two were critically injured. A total of 95 asylum seekers were rescued off the ship which capsized near Christmas Island on Monday. The debate over the issue, never far from the headlines, has again escalated since the overturning of the vessel. The same lines are being trotted out and the race to the bottom is continuing over an issue which Australia can do little to solve. There needs to be a different way of thinking on the issue, but that is impossible while there is political capital to be gained from ‘talking tough’.

The Gillard Government has, in the wake of the deaths, called on the Opposition to work with them to pass an amended deal with the Malaysian Government so that asylum seekers and proven refugees can effectively be traded by the two governments in a vain attempt to stem the increased flow of maritime arrivals in Australia.

The trouble is that offshore processing has achieved nothing and the Malaysian swap deal will also fail to make an impact on the so-called ‘problem’. The whole ‘cruel to be kind’ policy mantra has been shown up as a failure. Offshore processing along the same lines of what was enacted under the Howard Government has not halted the flow of asylum seeker vessels.

The whole issue, including the unfortunate deaths of the two asylum seekers needs to be rethought. The realities of the situation need to be assessed and the emotional politics completely removed from what should be an issue that is centred around the idea that asylum seekers are human beings. An acknowledgement of the different roles of the different players in the policy puzzle needs to be made.

First and foremost, refugee policy needs to be thought of as an issue where there can be domestic policy settings which contribute to working towards a ‘solution’, but also that there are other considerations which need to be taken into account. In fact, regional and international processes need to be factored into the equation, because asylum seekers do not magically arrive in the Asia-Pacific region. Domestic policy has a role, but its significance is much less than our politicians would have you believe.

As Australians, from our politicians down to ordinary everyday citizens, we also need to rethink the asylum seeker conundrum in another important way. We must view asylum seekers arriving by boat as a problem which is based on desperation, for the most part, rather than ‘failed policy’. We have a strong policy now and still have a high number of vessels coming into Australian waters.

The “blame game” over asylum seeker deaths has to stop too. It goes back to the idea that domestic policy now has little effect when it comes to people arriving in Australian waters on dangerous vessels seeking asylum. So government is not to blame, especially when they are resorting to inhumane acts in order to try to deal with the issue. We have to accept that it is the waiting game played by asylum seekers and those already granted refugee status which feeds the desperation that leads to risk-taking behaviour.

And finally, it is the asylum seekers themselves who are ultimately responsible for the actions they take, even though such actions are fueled by the desire to be in a better situation.

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