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Justice, Politics and the Royal Commission Show

Dyson Heydon’s deliberations on whether or not he should stay at the helm of the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) after claims of apprehended bias are over. The former High Court Justice has dismissed the application from union lawyers and will continue in the role the Abbott Government appointed him to.

But the story it would seem is not yet over. The unions will consider a court appeal. The ALP, who stand to lose some political skin from the TURC, though probably not enough to lose the 2016 election, have decided that asking the Governor-General to remove Heydon is the way to go. It has been foreshadowed that the Australian Labor Party will couple this with attacks on the Liberal Party for their part in this situation, when parliament resumes from September 7.

In terms of principles of natural justice it is quite clear what should have happened in this instance. It is clear to almost anyone, except for the most wilfully blind supporters of the right side of politics that former Justice Heydon should have recused himself from further hearings of this commission. This would have blunted any attacks from Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. That Commissioner Heydon cancelled his appearance at the fundraiser at a later stage is irrelevant. The decision to say yes to attending the function in the first place says more than enough.

However, there is absolutely no case to say that the Royal Commission should not go ahead altogether. This is particularly the case now that the inquiry has been running for a number of months and is doing vital work, uncovering just how murky the world of industrial relations can be. Renewed calls from Labor for a police taskforce instead of the Royal Commission are a bit rich, considering they announced a commission of inquiry the topic of which similarly could have been examined by a special police body.

Back on the justice side of the equation, the Abbott Government could have used this opportunity to widen the terms of reference to include all forms of corrupt practices across institutions in the industrial relations space. If this had been done, then any squealing from the unions or the ALP about the continuation of the royal commission could have been met with derisory laughter, from both the Coalition and the electorate.

With an election less than a year away, it is worth a brief look at what the current state of affairs means for both the Coalition and Bill Shorten’s ALP.

The Coalition may gain a small amount of much needed political traction from the findings of the Royal Commission, particularly if there are further discoveries made about union activities during Bill Shorten’s time as a union representative. But it will not prove an electoral game-changer. A shift in electoral fortunes could only come from more substantive policy and political narrative changes made by the Abbott Government. That would have had to begin well before the people stopped listening. This critical point was likely reached more than 6 months ago.

The ALP is likely to suffer mildly as a result of future TURC hearings. There will be some more unease about the leadership of Bill Shorten, but the polls and the new rules around leadership challenges will make a change on that front almost an impossibility.

The Trade Union Royal Commission will not feature high on the list of reasons the Abbott Government will probably lose power in 2016. In fact to say it will be a feature at all is nonsense. This area of politics is generally one where most have a worldview firmly locked in on one side of the debate or the other.

There will be some more noise on this issue over the coming weeks, but it will likely not last. It is hard to sustain attacks on things which do not have wide appeal.

Australian politics will meander toward the next misstep or missteps. With every day we will get closer to the 2016 election. And the show that is the Trade Union Royal Commission will continue, with Dyson Heydon likely to remain in the chair.

Spilling the Blood in the Nicest Possible Way

Things are hotting up on the Liberal leadership front. The backgrounding from disgruntled PM’s has now morphed into spectacularly public dissent.

Public statements from Abbott Government MP’s about Tony Abbott’s leadership began in a very dramatic fashion with Jane Prentice on the national broadcaster. And again today the ABC played host to an even more dramatic statement – Dennis Jensen revealed he had told Tony Abbott that he could no longer support his leadership. Throw in Warren Entsch calling for the issue to be resolved in the partyroom next week and Mal Brough giving qualified support for the leader and you have the beginnings of a very messy situation.

Australia has seen a lot of leadership change in the last 5 years. Governments have fallen and governments have imploded, with leadership contests becoming more common. Matters look certain to come to a head in the near future within the Liberal Party.

Because of the certainty of the impending events, some care must be taken that the party deals with this difficult situation in the least ugly way possible. The Liberals need to learn from lessons of the past and make the move as seamlessly as possible. That will probably be easier said than done.

The best option is no challenge at all. That does not mean that the situation should continue as is. That would be among the worst outcomes. Poll results of 57%-43% in the Labor Party’s favour would become the new norm. The no-challenge option means the Prime Minister resigning in the face of growing discontent among members of caucus. Given the Prime Minister’s defiance and rhetoric at the National Press Club on Monday, this is also the least likely eventuality. So the party will have to navigate the next best way forward.

Another terrible option would be waiting too long before a challenge or transition. The Coalition Government would be even further paralysed by the inability to perform the basic functions of government – much like the ALP were in the period between 2010 and 2013. The present situation should be resolved within a matter of days or weeks and definitely not months. The new leader needs more than a year to get people listening again.

In an ideal world, one leadership contest or a single transition to a new Prime Minister would make the best of a bad situation. That means going about the process in a particular way.

In the event of a leadership contest, all candidates should publicly pledge to leave politics – like Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd did in the last leadership spill of 2013 – if they lose the battle. But instead of pledging to leave politics at the next election which is about 18 months away, the losing candidate or candidates should pledge to leave politics immediately, forcing a by-election. This option might cause some voters to be a little angry in the short-term, but it would be the best way project an air of stability in the medium to long-term.

Even more important than the ease of the transition is the shift in policy and rhetoric. This has already commenced, though barely, under Tony Abbott, but needs to go further under his replacement. The party must realise that the the products need to be re-designed and the sales pitch altered. A fresh team in the problematic treasury, health, education and social services portfolios would help sell the message of change.

Tony Abbott and the Coalition face some difficult days and weeks ahead. But this issue needs a resolution and that solution has to lead to the best medium and long-term outcomes for the party. Egos cannot get in the way or the Liberal Party leadership issue will fester. And that is what really cooked the Australian Labor Party.

Just how quickly these events will reach a crescendo is yet to be determined. But this situation can be controlled and managed better than it has been so far.

Cooler heads must prevail.

Where’s That Button?

Calendars have only just been flipped over to February and already so much has happened in Australian politics this new year. In just a few weeks the government’s standing has gone from bad to worse. Many of the government’s woes over the last 18 months have been as a result of difficult policy decisions made in response to the less than ideal budgetary position. A lot of the government’s troubles are also down to Tony Abbott’s leadership and the style of governance he has allowed to linger. So far in 2015 all the missteps are down to Tony Abbott – and only Tony Abbott.

That brings us to today, the 2nd of February, 2015. The Prime Minister made a rare appearance at the National Press Club today in a bid to give the public a taste of a government finally engaging with the public and proving that they have begun to listen to voter concerns.

Election night in Queensland drew our attention to the address in spectacular fashion, with Jane Prentice nominating it as a forum at which the Prime Minister had to perform some kind of miraculous recovery effort – setting out a way to escape the doldrums.

Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Abbott was unable to perform this feat. There were ever so slight slivers of hope that the speech might give some kind of direction. At best it was a tired, spent leader trying to conjure up a final burst of energy, sprinting a bit, but wobbling at the crucial moment. At worst it was a display of arrogance and disdain for voters. Actually, it was probably a mix of the two.

The Prime Minister started by making some broad statements about what government should do and followed that with what his government had done and what it could both do, and do better.

In reality, what the Prime Minister should have done first was to move pretty swiftly into apology mode. Almost the whole speech could have been one long mea culpa, with a little bit of what he and the government were going to do for the next 18 months thrown in at the end.

Making broad statements about what governments should do is irrelevant when you have already achieved government. You draw attention to the fact that you are not doing those things if you need to spend time talking about them. Furthermore, it is the talk of an Opposition Leader and that is not a good look 18 months into office.

In other words, Tony Abbott had his speech in completely the wrong order.The resulting display was at least one-third waffle and two-thirds slight improvement.

The arrogance sprang from the way the Prime Minister took so long getting to what everyone was made to believe was the point of the speech – an apology for taking voters for mugs and a new way forward. In the case of a new way forward, we only got a brief glimpse of that, but again it was all vision and no substance. Again, something expected of Oppositions early on in a political term.

Shockingly, the Prime Minister also implied that voters were stupid and had encountered a “fit of absent-mindedness” in the Victorian and Queensland elections. Even a rookie politician knows that this kind of thought must not be put into words publicly, regardless of whether it is a correct observation or not.

It was tired precisely for the reasons mentioned above, in that there had been little thought and substance woven into the speech. And the Prime Minister looked tired too. There was very little energy put into the delivery, except when the PM mentioned the few things his government has actually done. The fact that came so early gave the address a valedictory feel.

Tony Abbott has spoken multiple times of hitting the reset button. On each occasion he has instead forgotten that the metaphorical button ever existed in the first place. Today was another one of those days for the struggling leader.

Today could have been Tony Abbott’s last chance to save his leadership and he did a very poor job of fighting for it . Or perhaps he knows that he is a spent force and today’s speech was simply going through the motions. He did however imply that his colleagues would have a fight on their hands to unseat him.

It is pretty clear from some of the facial expressions of his colleagues, captured on film throughout the hour, that they had noticed his suboptimal performance too.

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.

When the Debate is About Borders

Many of you will be aware of my relative social liberalism from some of my past work on this blog. I support social liberalism in a range of areas of public policy. I like to think of myself as very liberal – not to be confused with Liberal, when considering the plight of asylum seekers and refugees. Again, I have written strongly in favour of recognising and embracing these very vulnerable people in our society and in countries across the globe. To that end, it might surprise you to know that I am somewhat in agreement with the Liberal Party this week.

On Tuesday, an asylum seeker vessel carrying 66 passengers, reportedly bound for New Zealand reached the mainland of Australia at Geraldton in Western Australia. The ship, coming directly from Sri Lanka made it much further than a boat has for some time. And it immediately sparked heated debate, as the issue does at the best of times, as well as a review of our surveillance measures. Again, talk turned to the question of our “borders” and “border security”.

The arrival of asylum seekers in our waters is often considered a breach of our borders by the Liberal Party. We are consistently reminded that Labor has “lost control of our borders”. That happens even when Customs and Border Protection patrols intercept boats carrying asylum seekers well away from our shores and often, it seems, in the vicinity of Christmas Island.

It is not true to say in those instances that such a circumstance means we have a problem maintaining our borders. In fact it is wildly over the top and completely irresponsible to suggest as much. When our authorities are successful at intercepting boats, any boats which are foreign, they are in fact maintaining our borders in a successful manner. Any attempt to persuade us otherwise should be viewed with disdain.

On the other hand, if you have a vessel reaching the Australian mainland without being detected, then this is potentially an issue of border security. This somewhat unusual event is a potential issue of border security, not because asylum seekers are evil and must be stopped – they are most certainly not and should be received with care and compassion.

The reason why there should be concern is not necessarily about asylum seekers arriving on the mainland undetected. Some arrivals are inevitably deemed a security risk by the security agency ASIO, though unfortunately at this stage those assessments cannot be appealed. Rather, asylum seekers arriving on the mainland, as has been argued, shows a lapse in surveillance endeavours which could be exploited by people who wish to perpetrate real and actual harm.

It is important that we take that risk seriously. A review into our border security activities has already been ordered by Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare in the wake of the events in Geraldton, and that is the right thing to do. What must not be pursued are severe policy overreactions and dangerous displays of rhetoric which seek to blur the actual issue and incite unnecessary fear in the community.

There should be some limited concern about border security issues when there is actually a breach of our borders. Boats of any kind which are actually intercepted in the ocean are not and should never be considered a breach of our borders by any political party seeking to gain political capital.

Sadly, that will continue to be the case, as the race to the bottom will continue apace.

When Politics Gets Ugly

Parliament is often very loud. Parliamentarians are regularly seen raising their voices at one another across the floor of the parliament. But it is not very often that a lot of noise comes from the public gallery. But earlier this week that is exactly what happened. A group of protesters, as they have once or twice before in this the 43rd parliament, raised their voices and heckled and called the Prime Minister those most creative and under-used names which will not be repeated here.

This week’s interruption, as the last one did, raised two main questions. The first is all about the standards of the public discourse and any improvement it requires. The second question is the most important and that is who is ultimately responsible for the tone and demeanour of political communication – any communication for that matter.

The tone and manner of all forms of communication, especially that of a political nature actually matters. We the public get frustrated with the behaviour of our politicians, frequently referring to them as different kinds of animals because of their rambunctious and at times obnoxious behaviour in parliament, most notably during Question Time.

Parliamentary debate, even during the hot-headed hour and ten minutes that is Question Time should be much more subdued and civilised. Obscene statements and generalisations should be kept to a minimum. More importantly, name-calling, despite our larrikin nature as Australians simply should not take place.

Despite the poor behaviour of our elected representatives, we should not be engaging in equally poor behaviour ourselves. Parliament should be treated with respect, regardless of the political colour of the government of the day. That means no childish name-calling from the galleries, despite what’s happening in the chamber.

What happened the other day was simply too much. The whole spectacle was ugly. The way the protesters chose to interact with the Labor Government demeaned the parliament. More importantly, it made the protesters look just as silly as the politicians they dislike. The actions of the protesters also unfortunately and rather unfairly. tarred with the same brush, those who might have a similar view of the current government, but express their disquiet in a different manner.

That’s not to say that protest is not a vital part of democracy. It is. But as with protest elsewhere, it should be conducted in a sensible manner and in a sensible forum or it does the cause behind it much harm.

The response to the loud behaviour of the observers was both fair and unfair. The Speaker was right to chastise the rowdy actions which took place this week. There should be a zero tolerance approach to an interruption of the parliament that is loud like that. Very few people outside of those involved in or sympathetic to the particular cause involved, ever take such actions seriously.

What was quite unfair about elements of the response was the apportioning of blame for the actions of those in the public gallery. The Coalition were singled out and blame was apportioned. Yes, the Coalition have been responsible for some pretty ordinary moments during this minority government, as have the ALP. But that was their actions and again, a rational response from those which view such behaviour is not to repeat it.

There is also a very important concept in liberal thought which is completely ignored by this purely political accusation levelled at the Liberal and National Party Coalition. That concept is one of responsibility for one’s own actions. Despite the sometimes over-the-top actions from the Opposition, it is the protesters and only the protesters, who are responsible for their actions.

It is important that the standards of political communication improve. It would cut down on some of the cynicism which surrounds politics, though not necessarily the political process itself. Both politicians and the public need to improve how they discuss and engage with politics.

First and foremost, politicians and punters alike are responsible for their own actions, not one side of politics or another.

Going Too Far With Policy and Generalisations

The politics of the asylum seeker issue is back in the headlines. Earlier this week we learned that an asylum seeker housed at Macquarie University on a bridging visa has been accused of sexual assault. This shameful crime has led to the Liberal Party streaking away in the so-called “race to the bottom”. We have seen further moves from liberal ideals mixed with the support of generalisations which give rise to xenophobic tendencies in some parts of the broader public. There has been a gross miscalculation of the issue and a complete exaggeration of any so-called ‘problem’.

In response to the alleged sex attack, the federal opposition have proposed a mandatory behaviour code for asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas. The Coalition has also pushed for the government to suspend all current bridging visas which have allowed a number of asylum seekers to live in the public while their asylum claims are processed.

No crime is ever forgivable and should be prosecuted by the law. And in this case and others of a similar nature, it will be. The man will have his day in court and answer for his alleged actions. We live in a liberal democracy and have this process, along with many others where people are made accountable for their actions.

Some people seem to think that the response of refugee advocates has been to legitimise the alleged crime. This is complete nonsense. Not one person is for a second giving any support to one of the most heinous criminal acts imaginable. They are however trying to put the whole issue into a sensible context based on reality and not some issue confected from emotion and irrational fear.

The problem of crime, it may surprise some, is not unique to asylum seekers. Crime is perpetrated by all kinds of people and for a number of different reasons. The Oscar Pistorius case shows that crime is not an issue for one section of the community but for the whole of society. Crime is not an asylum seeker problem, it is a human problem and people would do well to put the emotion to one side and realise that for themselves.

A big problem related to the asylum seeker debate is the treatment of all asylum seekers as if they are criminals. We lock most of them up while we process their refugee claims, some offshore and some onshore as if they have committed some criminal act. They have not. And the two proposals from the Coalition in the wake of the sexual assault treat asylum seekers as if they are all criminals regardless of whether a criminal act has been committed.

It is dumb and illogical to suggest that asylum seekers be subject to a code of behaviour. Everyone that comes to our shores is subject to our laws. A code of behaviour would just be a reiteration of those existing laws. It is merely an attempt to look tough and to appeal to those who are at the least very sceptical about asylum seekers in Australia.

Calling on the government to suspend all bridging visas is an equally silly idea. Again this feeds the generalisation that all asylum seekers are undesirable which is, in large part what motivates the xenophobia that pushes this issue into the absurd depths of idiocy we have come to expect when the politics of asylum seekers is raised – and it is raised too often now.

When it comes to asylum seekers, we see the Liberal Party veering further and further from the liberal ideals they were founded on. It is fundamentally illiberal to treat people differently under the law. It is also fundamentally illiberal to be hostile with regard to immigration, especially in the way that the Liberal Party are prosecuting their latest demands.

The 43rd parliament has seen some lows in asylum seeker policy that few would have predicted. The trouble is that the debate keeps plunging lower and lower to the point where there is not much further to go before rock bottom.

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.

Britain’s Moving on Marriage, Why Can’t We?

A draft bill which aims to establish marriage equality in England and Wales  has passed through the House of Commons – their equivalent of our House of Representatives. The vote was won by a handsome margin – 400 votes to 175 in the lower house in Britain. The Conservative Party, governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, allowed a conscience vote on the same-sex marriage bill put before the House. And a majority of Labor MP’s and Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the bill.

Unsurprisingly, given the recent history of the marriage debate in Australia, after the proposition was voted down by a wide margin in the Australian parliament and how strong support for gay marriage still is in Australia – the discussion of the successful vote in the United Kingdom quickly led to a discussion of the consequences of the move for the Australian cause.

As it has been from the start, the big issue was the comparison between the stance of the Conservative Party in the UK and that of the Liberal Party in Australia. The former, David Cameron’s Conservative Party, gave their MP’s a conscience vote in the parliament. Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party, with a history of granting conscience votes, opted not to go down the route of a conscience vote, using the excuse of going to the 2010 promising to keep the marriage act unamended.

Many will say that it is the Coalition held back the cause of equal marriage with their decision not to hold a conscience vote. The Liberal Party should certainly have allowed a conscience vote, hoping to at least appear more liberal than they have been. It is however far from certain, even with a conscience vote, that the bill would have passed the Lower House. At the very least it would have been a close-run thing.

It has also been said that today’s win in the UK will put pressure on the Liberal Party when it comes to marriage equality. Will it? Not necessarily. In fact, probably not. The Liberal Party will likely decide, at least for the foreseeable future – not to take their cues from outside and foreign influences. The move toward marriage equality in the UK should, even though it will not – prove that legislating for same-sex marriage is not a scary thing and not a step too far for conservatives.

Perhaps the best thing for the cause of gay marriage, as far as the Liberal Party is concerned, would be for the remaining liberal forces in the party, though they are rapidly dwindling, to continue to try to muster the political strength to call on the party to adopt a conscience vote. This in itself will not be an easy task. But there have been branch wins reported and if these continued, then the pressure will continue to mount on the parliamentary Liberal Party to change their stance.

Where the argument will not be won is through trying to claim that the issue would be a vote-winner for the Liberal Party. There is no doubt that marriage equality is at its most popular as a concept and a future reality in Australia. Polls continuously show that a majority of respondents favour amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry. And that cuts across all political parties, even the Liberal Party.

But that does not translate into votes. On the face of it, it may seem like overwhelming support for an issue would equal votes if that policy direction was pursued. But contrary to what some appear to believe, most people do not vote on one single issue or even two or three. They might vote on the economy as a single issue, but very few would vote for marriage equality as a single issue. People voting for marriage equality are likely overwhelmingly vote for a political entity hoping to pursue a whole suite of progressive measures.

Really, what needs to be continually pointed out is that the demise of the sanctity of marriage will not come from gay marriage, but outside forces, more related to the way in which we live our lives.

The UK example should serve as a reminder to the Liberal Party that gay marriage is not an evil concept which conservatives must avoid at all costs. But minds will not be dramatically shifted because of what has happened in Britain.

The Liberal Party will however have to realise that a change to the Marriage Act is inevitable, even if they do not wish to go along with it.

A Gradually Building Election Campaign

The Leader of the Opposition has launched the Coalition’s so-called “mini campaign”, the setting being the outer western suburbs of Sydney. That western Sydney is the focal point so early in an election year should come as no surprise given just how crucial the area is in any election. A mix of polls have shown that the Liberal Party could pick up a number of seats in the area. Lindsay, McMahon, Barton, Reid, Parramatta, Greenway, Watson, Werriwa, Fowler and Banks are all in play for the Coalition according to internal Labor polling from November last year.

The new year in politics has already been conducted at a frenetic pace. Amid natural disasters, we’ve already had a number of issues play out. But it is the election that matters. The election is due any time from August onward, but the tactical moves and campaigning, sound or otherwise, have started early. That’s what we have come to expect from Australian politics.

Looking at the mini campaign itself has the right move been made tactically? And in terms of the election campaign as a whole, what are the political realities and what is required from the opposition now, and as the election day hurtles toward us?

In an election year, it’s too early even for a short, but clearly forensic and politically calculated bombardment of electorates. The week ahead is clearly about trying to reverse the negative perceptions of Tony Abbott. That is fine, but it is too early for a political blitzkrieg. It gives off the wrong vibes. A short burst of campaigning is usually something associated with the final days of a campaign, especially when there is a late surge required.

Instead, what should be favoured is, at the present time, a similar yet different campaign method to the one deployed almost from the 22nd of August in 2010, the day after the surprise election result. What should be similar is the constant campaigning. However, it should be different in that it must have less of a campaign feel about it. The campaign should be much more muted – campaign fatigue has well and truly set in.

This short burst of election campaigning too, because of how early in the year it is, must be more about Tony Abbott listening to the concerns of voters than preaching to them. Yes, broad themes must be sold, but now is still a time for Tony Abbott to lend his ear to the voters of Australia rather than chew it off. Both leaders have been doing a lot of the latter.

From a public relations perspective, it might well have been better too, if the term ‘mini campaign’ was jettisoned. To have rephrased it as a listening tour would have been better, though in politics, both have negative connotations.

In the prism of the broader campaign, there have been complaints, as their has been throughout Mr Abbott’s leadership, that he has not released much policy. In any case it is still too early to release a broad range of fully-costed policies. But there must be a drip feed of policies and the refinement or jettisoning of existing ones – think paid maternity leave.

There is another reason why complaints about dearth of policy should not hold much weight. Because of the nature of the budget, a campaign lacking in major policy commitments, other than pre-existing ones, is a political reality. So the Opposition Leader can be forgiven in that sense too. The election will be one where a measure of austerity is the norm, even though Labor have been trying to frame it as otherwise in order to try to dent Coalition prospects.

The campaign will continue to evolve over the coming months. It will be testy and it will be tough. You can expect that there will be further campaign fatigue suffered by the community and that’s why the mini campaign and the early part of this year needs to involve more listening to the voter than speaking at them. It needs to build gradually.

And ultimately, because of the fiscal situation, there won’t be much in the way of substantive argument dominating the political discourse.

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