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The Indirect Conflict to Try and Win the Electoral War

Julia Gillard has a plan for education – well sort of. The Prime Minister announced her intention at the weekend to implement a new nationwide reading program. But there’s a catch: the commonwealth government does not implement school education – the states do. And there are varying degrees of disagreement from state Liberal Premiers. The PM has been picking her battles of late, choosing to give it to the Greens and now a broader and more deliberate and utterly transparent strategy is quite clearly to take on the Liberal Premiers. It is an indirect battle in the war against the federal Liberal Party. But is it the right battle to pick? Are there other options at the disposal of the federal ALP?

The new nationwide program will form part of the plan to improve education results across the country. The Gonski report recommendations on school funding have also caused a battle between the state and federal governments. The review called for an extra $6.5 billion dollars to be contributed to the education budget. Of course that cannot come from the states alone – the commonwealth has to contribute a share of the funds and funding agreements at COAG are at best a long and laborious process and at worst, pointless.

It is quite a shame that there is such a war about school education. Improving literacy and numeracy should be based on expert advice and the Gonski review provided that. Competitive federalism in this area should give way to cooperative federalism. School management and oversight on the other hand is a completely different beast and providing it does not interfere with teaching and learning, is fine to be based around ideology.

Funding is a problem. There is absolutely no commonwealth money to go towards implementing the recommendations of the report. Any of it will be borrowed and that presents a budgetary dilemma. But the education of our children should be looked upon as an investment.  There are other areas in the budget which are far less important and where spending is actually wasteful. These areas of spending could and should be cut to give the required funds to education. And that is the case for the state governments too.

But back to the politics of the education funding wrangle. This battle is a purely political construct. It is an attempt by Canberra, or more accurately, the ALP in Canberra to paint the state Liberals as bad. And by doing this, the Labor Party is clearly hoping that the bad look translates to the federal Coalition by default, although it’s not exactly default as they support the status quo. It’s an attempt to vicariously land a blow, because whatever they try, Labor cannot take a trick and they are landing no blows on the political face of the opposition.

There are not many options left for the Labor Party in terms of an electoral strategy. At best they would hope to valiantly continue the electoral fight with as much vigour as they can muster. Even a significant error by the opposition would appear unlikely to lose them the election. So the ALP fighting the federal Liberal Party and the state arms is one of a very limited range of options which will be utilised by the Gillard Government between now and the election.

Regardless of whether or not a fight should be provoked by any given policy, the Gillard Government willingly pursued this particularly battle strategy, sparking this added conflict in the Gonski war for their own electoral gain.

But it will not matter at all for the election result.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

Another week in Australian politics and more sensational events which have overshadowed inter-party politics and policy for another seven day period. But this week has been different. A leadership challenge is now afoot

The week began with Kevin Rudd in Mexico G20 Foreign Minister talks followed by the now famous trip to the United States of America.

Little was said by Kevin Rudd about the G20 talks and the same went for his trip to the United States, though meetings he was there for were of a high-level nature, including meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

But then came that bombshell that changed the complexion of the rest of the week. Kevin Rudd called a late night press conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC with reporters over there covering the trip scrambling out of bed, rushing to get to what was sure to be a press conference of major significance, given the time and location. Kevin Rudd was resigning his post as Foreign Minister as the position had become untenable in recent weeks with colleagues openly and privately telling him to throw out his leadership ambitions and Rudd saying he did not have the support of his ministerial colleagues.

From the speech onward you knew that was far from the end of this epic story of a party in trouble not least because of leadership tensions in existence within the party- which usually do no de-stabilise this much. Kevin Rudd was to return to Australia on Friday where he would make a definitive statement on his future, which everyone knew, was almost certainly going to be a tilt for the leadership.

The Prime Minister then came out and announced that on Monday at 10am AEDT there would be a leadership spill and that she would be contesting that ballot. Senior Ministers then began filing out one by one in support of the Prime Minister even before Kevin Rudd confirmed he would contest the leadership vote.

That confirmation from Kevin Rudd came from the second press conference he held on Friday, after his return from overseas, where he outlined his vision for the future and canvassed some of the things he regretted from his past time in the Prime Ministership.

Prior to the official announcement by Kevin Rudd of his part in the ballot, ministers like Kim Carr and Robert McClelland gave their support to the former leader in the event he ran.

On another front, Chris Bowen, the Immigration Minister under Prime Minister Julia and Assistant Treasurer under Prime Minister Rudd indicated that he would encourage the former Prime Minister to run, all but indicating formally that he would support Mr Rudd in the ballot.

But it was Saturday that saw the Rudd camp attract its most high-profile Cabinet supporter, in one Anthony Albanese, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and the Leader of the House, a day which also saw Senator Mark Bishop, a Gillard backer in the last ballot, switching sides.

The battle looks set to be a win for Julia Gillard to continue her Prime Ministership, looking like polling about 2/3 of the caucus vote on Monday. Though how this could really be seen as a win for Gillard, 30 odd is still a significant number that just contributes to the already toxic image of the Labor Party and damage done to Labor that will just be made even worse when it comes to light during the parliamentary week ahead.

In other news the Gonski Report into education funding was released this week but obviously completely overshadowed by the leadership tensions especially because the Gillard Government has not yet even committed to anything recommended in the report.

The only thing the government has said is that independent schools will not lose a dollar of funding and this would certainly add to the budget woes of the government were it to take immediate action which they need to do at least in the area of disability and indigenous loading.

The week has been dramatic, certainly the most dramatic since the leadership coup in 2010 in my relatively short time observing and commenting on politics from Canberra. Even after tomorrow the story will be far from over with Rudd seemingly likely to continue his campaign to become Prime Minister. I can smell the Labor Party rot from here.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

It’s Sunday and that means that another hectic week in Australian politics has passed with all its highs and lows, its angry words and policy announcements and legislative discussions. The week was punctuated by two main events, the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, a legislative win at least for Labor and the ALP leadership tensions seemingly heading toward a booming crescendo. Parliament also sat for the week and also proved far from uneventful.

The Gillard Government and its Health Minister managed to negotiate enough votes for the passage of means testing for the Private Health Insurance Rebate. This issue has seemingly split sections of the community and the two major parties no less, with Tony Abbott pledging he would reinstate the rebate for all as soon as possible upon election of a Coalition Government.

Parliament sat for the second week in a row, the first sitting period of the year and has again proved to be a full on affair with some changes affecting the complexion of Question Time. Questions must now be 3o seconds and answers no more than 3 minutes, a helpful change that should be added to as parliament progresses under the new Speaker, Peter Slipper.

Regardless of the changes, the usual bad behaviour continued, with Ministers, including the Prime Minister repeatedly cautioned to be “directly relevant” to the question asked. There was also no let-up from interjections across the chamber and a number of Coalition MPs found themselves having a coffee break during Question Time. A few ALP MPs also faced the same early afternoon tea courtesy of the new lower tolerance for interjections from the new Speaker.

Questions over the Labor leadership also permeated the week and on Saturday reached fever pitch with allegations in the press that senior Ministers were actually testing the waters for a potential Rudd spill in the coming weeks. The longer the speculation goes, the more pain it will cause the ALP and the more terminal the government will become.

The week has undoubtedly been a dramatic one with both legislation and leadership tensions dominating the week in the parliament and outside of it. The leadership tensions are becoming all the more real and almost tangible and they will surely continue to play out over the coming week, even in the absence of the key player, Kevin Rudd who heads overseas again, though this could provide opportunity for supporters to do their work. The parliament has risen after two weeks, but there will be little cooling of the political discourse which has only really just begun for the year and don’t forget, the Gonski review into education funding will also be released this week, but likely overshadowed by terminal leadership tensions.

You get the feeling that the coming week will not be like an ordinary non-parliamentary sitting week and that doesn’t bode well for the Labor Government.

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