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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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Congratulations Australia, we’ve almost made it through another week of parliament, and more importantly, Question Time. It’s not been the most rancorous, loud or boisterous of weeks, but nonetheless, it hasn’t exactly been subdued. We could hope that this is down to the words of caution from Malcolm Turnbull about how poor the parliamentary and broader political debate has been, but it’s more than likely that it’s just been a slightly nicer week of behaviour from our federal parliamentarians.

It’s also been a bit of a strange week in the way of the questions asked by the Opposition. For the most part, the Coalition, led by Tony Abbott has not prosecuted the case against the carbon tax. Most of the focus this week from the Liberal and National Party Coalition has been on the state of the budget. They’ve asked how, with lower government revenues and more high cost promises in recent weeks in particular, that it will be possible for the government to return to surplus in time.

The price on carbon though has repeatedly made appearances throughout the week so far. But the comparative absence of questions on the matter from the Coalition is very surprising, given that it’s been the central plank of Opposition attacks since the government got back in power under minority government.

There has also been a question or two from the Opposition over the week about asylum seekers. This has been in relation to the re-opening of the Nauru and Manus Island immigration facilities recommended by the Houston panel just a matter of weeks ago. They’ve also been centred around pushing the government to adopt other elements of the Howard-era ‘Pacific Solution’ which included Temporary Protection Visas, colloquially known as TPV’s and turning back the asylum seeker vessels when safe to do so.

The government again this week has been all about a broader explanation of government policies and promises. They’ve spent this week talking about education, health, infrastructure, jobs, skills, wages and vulnerable groups of people in the community.

It’s more than likely that the Opposition will continue to pursue the government over the budget and their spending priorities and whether or not new or increased taxes will be instituted to pay for the shortfalls in revenue and existing funds after these promises are funded.

They will likely again have a question or two, perhaps a number of questions, devoted to the carbon tax which no longer has a floor price and now won’t rely on the closure of the five biggest coal-fired power stations in order to reduce emissions.

Just as likely, but perhaps less prominent as has been the case this week, is the possibility of a question or two on asylum seekers and the now almost ready detention centres on Nauru and also the one on Manus Island.

The strategy of the Labor Party, through their use of the Dorothy Dixer has been just as predictable, though the mix of questions slightly uncertain. This however, changed yesterday. With the Queensland budget calling for big staff cuts and NSW also looking to take a slice out of education funding, the government used answers to warn that a Coalition Government at the federal level would do the same. These questions though will likely still cover the areas of education reform, health, infrastructure, communities, families, employment, wages and skills. 

This in some way, shape and form has been the way it has been all week and will likely continue to be until the next big issue comes along to steal some political thunder.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Another day of federal parliament and Question Time has passed us by. Tuesday was a bit of a noisy one, louder than Monday anyway. Tuesday’s session of Questions Without Notice saw the Member for Mayo, Jamie Briggs booted from the lower house under standing order 94a for abusing a point of order he raised in relation to an answer from the Acting Prime Minister, Wayne Swan. Despite that, a wide array of issues were canvassed from across the parliament, though the variety of policy areas was more diverse on the government side through the use of the Dorothy Dixer.

The Opposition spent the bulk of Questi0ns Without Notice pursuing the government over their spending priorities, in particular the so-called “big new spending” announced by the government this financial year. The questions pointed out the spending and revenue problems that the Gillard Government faces as they prepare to, most likely in vain, return to surplus next year. Most of the questions asked whether or not taxes would be raised in order to aid the government in returning to surplus.

Though there were a majority of questions focused on the budget, the price on carbon did make a much larger return to the Question Time arena on Tuesday, with questions about hospitals and the carbon tax and closing coal-fired power stations which will at this stage no longer occur as the government seeks to cut carbon emissions.

Oh, and there was the obligatory asylum seeker question from the Coalition at the start of Question Time.

The government again was much less focused on one or two issues during Question Time and continued using the Dorothy Dixer to ask a number of different questions on different policy areas. There were questions on the economy, supporting those in need, the so-called ‘super trawler’, schools investment, health, jobs, skills, wages and housing.

Because of the predictable nature of this, the 43rd parliament, it is almost certain that the strategy for Questions Without Notice for both sides of the political divide will remain the same, or at least largely identical.

On Wednesday, again the Coalition will most likely focus questions to the government around the budget. They will again ask how the government will return to surplus with new and continued spending commitments and whether or not this will require tax increases or whether or not it just won’t happen.

A second major focus may be the price on carbon again which was the focus of the second part of Question Time on Tuesday afternoon. This will likely focus around coal-fired power and businesses and organisations that are impacted by the carbon price but will not receive compensation from the government.

Of course, it being the Coalition, there is always the distinct possibility that there will be at least a question or two on asylum seekers and refugees as the government prepares to send the first boat arrivals to Nauru.

The ALP for their part will again try to prosecute their case for having acted in a wide selection of policy areas. This will likely include again, the comparative strength of the economy, schools investment, health, vulnerable people, jobs, wages, skills, housing and infrastructure.

The only unknown is how bad the behaviour will be, but we can all live in hope that it might just be a little more constrained and dignified than we have become accustomed to when it comes to politics.

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.

Question Time Ahead of Time

Day 3 of federal parliament is upon us and will bring with it another rambunctious hour and a half of Question Time from the House of Representatives. We know what the issues will be but not from what angle they will be approached by either side, but the lines are drawn and both sides firmly mired in their respective positions of attack.

The Opposition will again focus on the economy in their attacks of the Government, as they have in the two sessions previous, basing their interrogation around perceived impacts of the carbon tax and the Minerals Resource Rent Tax (MRRT), to not do so would work against much of the poll gains made.

It is also likely that events surrounding the Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson will be brought into question, again, as they have this week, not so much attacking the man, but attacking the glacial pace of the Fair Work Australia (FWA) investigation. It does so because FWA is the Prime Minister’s baby where under Kevin Rudd Prime Minister, workplace relations was in her portfolio, beginning the post WorkChoices era.

The Government will again focus on the economy from their viewpoint of comparative strength to other economies in relation to jobs, debt and deficit. The overwhelming percentage of Dorothy Dixer’s will focus on these areas from one angle or another.

The Government is also likely to take the opportunity through the Dorothy Dixer to talk about either the perceived benefits of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the NBN, perhaps even both as they try to establish credibility in delivery, albeit expensive action.

The new shorter questions, shorter answers, shorter Question Time has now been delivered thanks to Speaker Peter Slipper coming to the chair with his own thoughts on the way Question Time and the House of Representatives procedure more broadly should run. The much shorter questions and shorter answers are a good start but could be strengthened further as they have appeared to have little difference on the quality of Question Time, except to herd it into a slightly shorter package.

The final factor to keep an eye on for the final Question Time of the week will be the ever-present spectre of the censure motion being brought to bear by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott or perhaps Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne. With the almost routine manner  in which we have seen the motion appear it would be remiss of me to not include the eventuality, especially with the Gillard Government failing in so many areas.

Be listening or watching at 2pm AEDT to see what plays out in the theatre that is Question Time. Who will take the upper hand at the end of the first parliamentary sitting week, hoping to convert it into ongoing momentum for the political year?

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