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The Australian Gun Situation and America

Gun reform is again being talked about in the United States of America after a terrible year for mass shootings in that country. There was the shooting in the cinema complex in Aurora, the Sikh temple rampage and now, most recently, the tragic slaying of mostly young children in Newtown, Connecticut. But unlike those needless acts of gun violence before it, the Newtown incident has created a much larger noise about gun control.

Some of the increased support for gun control is coming from within the US, most notably with the President hinting at the possibility of some form of action. Barack Obama however is not giving any hints as to the nature of the action. There is as yet no substance, just calming rhetoric.

What has been interesting though has been the growing interest from across the globe in America reforming its gun laws. It has been an attention, a focus with its roots appearing to go deeper than after any of the massacres this year.

Of course that will ultimately come to nothing. What matters is what Americans think about the issue and the pressure they are able to exert on their leaders. The most important factor, however, is what their leaders are both willing and able to do under  legislative circumstances which are fairly unique to their country.

There is talk of a possible return to the Clinton era ban on assault rifles and this would be a sensible move. But it would only be a band-aid solution, not to mention that it would almost certainly be reversed or allowed to expire by an incoming Republican administration.

There is however a way forward which has been offered and has been given almost as much worldwide attention as the need for the gun law reform itself. And this pathway comes in the form of laws brought in by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard which have enjoyed remarkable success since being introduced in 1996.

These laws instituted a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons and were put in place after our own Newtown, the Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were gunned down. And these laws worked in Australia.

Of course, it is probably not within the realms of imagination to believe that the US would even consider remotely similar laws to those we have for guns in Australia.

In theory, similar nationwide laws could work in America. There would certainly be a marked decrease in gun violence across the nation. However the prospects of the same level of success that we had in Australia with the same laws in the USA are not good.

For a start, if, in the extremely unlikely event, the US and her composite states were able to agree on similar national gun control laws, the logistical task would be a massive challenge in itself. The sheer population of the US, at over 300 million, provides the biggest barrier to widespread success of the laws.

There would need to be a heavy reliance on honesty and the self-sacrifice of weapons as there was under the gun control laws in Australia. And of course US laws would also require the same combination of the financial incentives of a compulsory buy-back mixed with heavy criminal penalties for disobeying the law.

Policing the same kind of regime in the US would be a much more challenging effort. And any positive effects of the same type of laws would be more gradual and not as abiding as the Australian experience has proved to be.

But the change itself could be attempted if the political realities of the intersection between government and the gun lobby were not as they are, with the NRA holding so much sway and a gun culture  being so deeply ingrained in the national laws and psyche.

The reality however, is that for America, the gun control laws which Australia pursued provide the best and only way to seriously curb the number of gun related deaths.

The best part for a country of people worried about losing their right to bear arms is that Americans will not lose that right. Gun owners and many others will however think they are and that is part of the reason why a legislative change on the same scale as Australia will probably never happen.

A Romney Win and Another Magic Act

The first Presidential debate of 2012 has passed. Expectations were, with Mitt Romney behind in the polls so close to the election in early November, that the debates were make or break for Mr Romney. Still recovering from recent gaffes, Tuesday night in Denver had to be the start of a recovery for the Republican challenger. For at least the first half of the 90 minute to-and-fro, Romney had the upper-hand, clearly outplaying his usually suave and confident political adversary, President Obama. Overall, Governor Romney came out of the experience the winner.

The normal confidence of the President just wasn’t there. It was as if the roles had shifted. Mr Romney was the one that looked and sounded confident, maintaining eye contact and a confident stance throughout. The incumbent Obama, on the other hand, failed to keep eye contact with his opponent and the audience, constantly writing down notes, something he’s rarely relied on in the past. The only one with less control on the debate was the moderator, broadcaster Jim Lehrer, who may as well not have been there.

Just what effect today’s effective win will have for the Republican candidate is debatable. Most likely, this first debate will not dramatically alter the contest as it stands, it’s just the first outing. There will probably be an improvement in the polls for Mitt Romney and the Republican campaign, but this won’t be dramatic.  Likely, any improvement will be a matter of one or two percent, if that.

What today’s outcome will do is breathe some life into the challenger’s campaign. The stronger performance will give the Republican party some much-needed confidence that after a tough couple of weeks in particular. It will convince strategists there still might be a glimmer of hope for that one day in November when voters will be asked to vote for another four years of President Obama or entrust Governor Mitt Romney and his Republican Party with government. The performance today is much more a psychological win than it will be a dramatic vote-winner.

One of the most interesting elements of the contest today was the seeming abandonment of some political differences between the two sides of politics in favour of a degree of “me tooism”. In particular, the Republican nominee seemed to be making the case that he was not going to be embarking on some of the dramatic policy shifts he’s announced, that at worst in a few areas, he’d be taking Obama’s policies and tinkering with them.

In fact today’s performance from Mitt Romney displayed elements of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s so-called “Howard lite” campaign. For Americans, Howard lite refers to policy and political positioning of Kevin Rudd as basically John Howard, but with some improvements, meant to paint Kevin Rudd as a change to the former Prime Minister John Howard, but not a dramatic one.

The interesting thing about this posturing is the longevity of it. The pretend similarities, most of them, lasted until the election had been run and won in late November 2007. Fewer similarities remained from then on. That’s likely how the outcome in US politics too. This sudden need to appear only slightly different in terms of policy to the Democrat administration would be thrown away early on in a Romney administration. The similarities exist in words only, not in deeds. In fact, these likenesses are actually a politically constructed illusion.

If these similarities were to continue and actually be implemented as policy, then they would have a serious impact on the budget. But of course, cuts are and need to be, in reality, the order of the day. However debate over what is and is not cut should continue.

Mitt Romney clearly won the debate, but today was only a battle. The war for the White House rages on for another four weeks. Governor Romney can claim to have the upper hand today but he is probably still behind in the overall conflict. Maintaining belief in the so-called similarities? Well, that’s a completely different magic act altogether.

When Old Friends Collide and Don’t Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Peter Costello and Michael Kroger, probably the two biggest names in the Liberal Party in Victoria are now two former friends who have managed to cause a temporary rift in the Liberal Party the day after Tony Abbott’s budget reply. The largely behind-the-scenes falling out, in a somewhat dramatic and at least fairly unexpected manner emerged this morning in a radio interview with one of the protagonists, Mr Kroger.

We know that Peter Costello never got along with John Howard in a personal sense, famously never sharing a meal together at the Prime Minister’s residence in the entire time that Mr Howard was Prime Minister. So stories between and involving them were never a surprise, with the occasional breakout in basically muffled hostilities that were rarely, until the later Howard years, aired in public.

But this story is different. This is about a man, whom Michael Kroger (and probably many in the general public) sees as full of ego, a man that holds a grudge and just bloody well needs to get over it for the good of the parliamentary party and to simply heal old wounds.

But above all else, this is about, as Kroger alleges, the constant sniping at the leadership of Tony Abbott by the former Treasurer and could’ve/would’ve been Prime Minister. The claims of seeking a return to parliament should really be taking a backseat.

Why should the claims of Mr Costello wanting to make a return to the parliament not be seen as the main game in this whole debate? Well, simply because they have not, regardless of the level of truth to the allegations, come to fruition. Costello has not announced his intention to return to the parliament and indeed denied it in a statement released today on his website. When something doesn’t come to fruition why treat allegations that it was going to as the focus of attention?

What is relevant are the potshots being taken at the current leader by the former Treasurer Peter Costello. In the long run that probably won’t change much and evidently hasn’t given the consistently strong poll standings for the Coalition led by Tony Abbott.

But like it or not, the events of today are at least a minor ruction which must not continue to develop.

Michael Kroger has to accept some of the blame for the temporary public ugliness that has escalated today. At the very least, until recent days the idea of Peter Costello being around in the public discourse, whether in parliament or allegedly talking about a return to Canberra was so slim as to be completely non-existent.

If the reported outcome of a return to parliament didn’t transpire and as it turns out, it hasn’t, then why the need to air the dirty laundry in such a loud and public way? It could be that it was thought that bringing the matter to the public would terminate the matter in a prompt way and cause Mr Costello untold embarrassment. Maybe the matter threatened to explode? We’ll never know.

Peter Costello must though indeed cease for the good of the party from any future attempt at undermining the position of a leader who has for a long time maintained an election-winning lead. Of less importance is a reconciliation between Costello and Howard and even Downer who has also attracted barbs from Mr Costello.

What we do know now is that two friends are no longer and Peter Costello has not signalled a return to the parliament and that’s where it should be left, but it probably won’t be and may play out for a few more days yet in the media, even though the issue appears to have been exhausted.

A Republic: To Be Or Not To Be? The Right Question Is When…

There is no doubt that the impending visit of Queen Elizabeth II will on some level stir up debate on whether or not Australia should, in the near future, sever her ties with the Commonwealth and the monarchy. The republic vs  monarchy debate has faded into the background of the Australian political discourse since the 1999 referendum on Australia becoming a republic. Now, with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next week and the visit of Her Majesty the Queen, who may be coming toward the end of her reign, the debate has reared its head again.Since the republican referendum of 1999 under John Howard, there has been little or not forthright expression of the need to break away from the ties of monarchy. Indeed, at best in the last 4 to 5 years it has gained minor attention through the statements of our politicians, mostly paying lip service to the idea of Australia becoming a republic in the near or foreseeable future.

It is almost inevitable, that in the life-time of my generation, we will see Australia become a republic. This will not happen under the current Government and would likely not even figure in the agenda of a future Abbott Government, being the staunch monarchist that he is.

A reason for the status quo staying the way that it is at present, with a constitutional monarchy and a part in the Commonwealth, is that the situation at present is not altogether different from that of the situation Australia would find itself in as a republic. We are no longer a colony or colonies striving for at least partial independence from the United Kingdom, we have our own set of laws which we as a nation have made and a Governor-General representing the Queen. We also no longer have a final right of appeal to the Privy Council in the UK.

Furthermore, we do not just trade with Commonwealth countries. As a nation we have a wide array of trading arrangements with a variety of nations across the globe. So independence would not have any foreseeable fiscal benefits as such.

On the other hand, a republic could be the time and opportunity to bring in something that we do not have as yet, a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights would guarantee citizens have all the basic human rights enshrined in law, rather than for them to be implied in the Constitution or in our laws.

Further, becoming a republic would also be a good time to recognise our indigenous Australians, the first people of our nation Australia. Whilst symbolic, coupled with real policy work and assistance, this could help lift some indigenous people out of poverty.

It is probably the right thing to wait until the end of the reign of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth, to really discuss whether or not it is an urgent priority to become a republic. Limited differences between the status quo and Australia becoming a republic are what is holding the republican movement back. The republican movement need to begin to mobilise louder and stronger in selling the differences between monarchy and a republic.

It looks likely that a vote on a republic could be as long as 10 to 15 years away at the present rate of movement and taking into account the political realities at present in Australia. The reign of Queen Elizabeth also seems a major factor in the timing of a future referendum, with both sides seemingly shy now to debate the issue with vigour while the Queen remains in power. Having a republic over the status quo does have some major benefits for all Australians and specifically also for the forgotten minorities. It will not impact on the overall wealth of the nation or our trading relationships in a positive or negative way. The question remains, would you want to wait up to 10-15 years for a republic? Some time around then, it is bound to happen.

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