Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has now announced the ministry that will, hopefully, be taken to the 2016 election and beyond. That is of course unless there is more ministerial impropriety which takes place or is uncovered from the recent past. The new ministry is quite strong and relatively youthful, which suits the image, messaging and substance which PM Turnbull wants his government to portray.
A particularly brilliant choice was awarding the trade portfolio to Steve Ciobo, the MP for Moncrieff. By all reports, he has been a hard-working member of parliament and has excelled in his junior ministerial role in international development. Mr Ciobo is also a strong and confident when it comes to engaging with the media.
There were however some missed opportunities as a result of today’s reshuffle.
A few women were promoted, including new Deputy Leader of the National Party, Fiona Nash, and Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. However, there could have been promotions offered to more, including Senator Joanna Lindgren, and the Member for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro.
Today was also an opportunity to deal with the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, who is simply not across his portfolio. Mr Dutton is also trying very hard to pull the politics of immigration and citizenship even further to the right and that is not healthy.
It must be said however, that Minister Dutton was probably kept in cabinet to appease the Abbott-backers. Also, a new minister would only be able to make the language used around asylum seekers and immigration more positive, rather than any substantive policy change. But an improvement is an improvement.
Given the bipartisan push toward the recognition of indigenous people in the Constitution of Australia and the sentiments from the Prime Minister in his Closing The Gap update to parliament, perhaps the biggest missed opportunity was in the indigenous affairs portfolio.
Currently that post is occupied by Senator Nigel Scullion, who is widely respected and has been quietly going about his business. However, for someone in what is a very important policy area in terms of the current political discourse, his voice has been conspicuously absent from a lot of the debate.
If you couple that with the fact that the Coalition Government now has two indigenous members of parliament within their ranks, then it is easy to see that talent and experience has not been harnessed there.
Ken Wyatt has extensive experience in the area indigenous health and welfare both prior to and during his time in the parliament and he would be the perfect candidate for Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
Senator Joanna Lindgren, although she has not yet been in parliament for a year, would be an ideal candidate for the junior role in this portfolio area.
Shifting Senator Scullion from the role would have proved a bit of a complicated situation, given he has held the role since 2012 and that the process for constitutional recognition of indigenous people is well underway. But, a successful change would not have been impossible.
Today, Senator Matt Canavan was appointed Minister for Northern Australia and will assist Josh Frydenberg in this role – someone who lives just about as far south on the Australian mainland as is possible.
Senator Canavan is a satisfactory choice as assistant minister in this role, given that the north of Australia is close to his heart. However, given that the government wants development of northern Australia to remain a key focus, the ministerial experience of Nigel Scullion, who lives in the Northern Territory, should be utilised in the senior role, rather than Josh Frydenberg retaining it.
Rather than election-winning moves, the changes outlined above are simply minor improvements to better serve the people who are represented in these areas of society.
The votes are in and the Liberal leadership spill has been averted. Tony Abbott remains the Prime Minister after a party room meeting at 9am confirmed his leadership. The Liberal Party voted 61-39 against a spill of the Leader and Deputy Leader Positions. Just how far into this story are we? Is it a novella or a saga which will continue to play out before our already astonished eyes? Australian politics since 2007 has certainly been an epic tale and will likely continue to be a volatile environment for all of the players, from the voters to the politicians.
The first point to make is both an obvious and not so obvious conclusion. On the face of it the vote of the Liberal Party caucus was an emphatic one. More than half of the MP’s gathered voted at the very least to give the Prime Minister more time.
On the other hand, 39 members of his parliamentary team – over 40% of them and likely multiple ministers – delivered a vote of no confidence in his leadership. And it is a point made by many observers that this is an untenable position. Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke did not save his leadership from a very similar vote to that which the Liberal Party delivered today. And Julia Gillard did not recover from a much better position than the one furnished to Tony Abbott by Liberal MP’s.
It can easily be argued that the Prime Minister would not be able to recover politically if he received as little as 25 or more votes in today’s ballot. The public have largely switched off and that is largely because of Tony Abbott, but also Joe Hockey. It is not the fault of any backroom figures and any move to shift the blame to them is just ridiculous. Politicians make the final decisions and while it is the job of staffers to persuade against particular directions, it is not their fault if good advice is not heeded.
There can be little doubt that Tony Abbott’s leadership will continue to further implode. Prime Minister Abbott has had months to stop making mistakes, without the threat of a leadership spill and has not done so. In recent times he has even appeared to be making fun of his penchant for ‘captain’s calls’. Tony Abbott should be solemnly proving by his actions, at every opportunity, that he is no longer going to make these unilateral decisions. He has not.
The PM can continue to talk about getting himself and the party out of this invidious position, but it will likely be to no avail.
If there was any small skerrick of a chance of Tony saving himself and the Coalition, then the government would have to change or dump some of the policies. The overall narrative simply has to remain, and the public will accept that. Voters accepted the debt had to go under John Howard and Peter Costello – for 12 years. At the very least, the co-payment idea and knights and dames must no longer be countenanced, even at arm’s length or in consultation with others. Recent history shows any changes will be cosmetic.
The current Treasurer’s commission has to be terminated too, regardless of whether Tony Abbott wants to stay in the job or not. Joe Hockey has gone from a pretty good Shadow Treasurer to a hopeless and abrasive embarrassment in the Treasury portfolio. Mr Hockey lacks the temperament to be able to deal with difficult negotiations. He has been far too stubborn. The trouble here is that the best candidate for the job is also the ideal replacement to Prime Minister Tony Abbott – Malcolm Turnbull.
The Treasury portfolio does deliver a difficulty in terms of the leadership equation. If there is no change of the leadership of the Coalition and at the same time, the Treasury portfolio, within a month, any new economic team after that would have less than two months to prepare the budget.
If the Liberal Party were to give Tony Abbott a further 6 months as leader and keep the Treasurer, as has been reported, then problems would arise on that front too. An incoming leadership team and their likely new bean counter would have to sell or quickly dump elements of a budget delivered by a politically compromised team.
Obviously the situation is absolutely dire. The Coalition will be in an even worse position if a likely transition to a new leader is not handled well. Another spill would not look great, even thought it would almost certainly deliver a new Liberal leader. The Liberal Party will need to be mature and know that the best way forward, whether it be almost immediately or after 6 months, is an orderly transition. Tony Abbott will have to swallow his pride and resign when it gets to that point.
This is not an easy situation to be in. But it is a situation cultivated by less than a handful of people and allowed to continue by dozens more. The actions of a few in that handful of people could determine how the next 18 months plays out.
In the week leading up to last night’s episode of ABC1 panel show Q&A, the instalment was billed as the Rudd and Turnbull show, the ‘two elephants in the room’, despite the fact that there was two other panellists, Judith Sloan and Heather Ridout. A new noun was spawned for the two former leaders, ‘Ruddbull’.
Despite the two female members of the panel, that’s basically what it was, the Rudd-Turnbull conversation hour with the occasional recognition of the other two guests on the show.
There were two questions you just knew were unfortunately going to be asked, either by a member of the audience or through a video question. After a good 53 minutes of intelligent questions and reasonable debate, a rarity for Q&A, those questions came.
The first question was along the lines of ‘Malcolm and Kevin: When will you take back the reins of leadership, reclaiming the place that rightly belongs to you in your respective political parties?’.
The second question that is usually asked when Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull are appearing publicly is equally as vapid, predictable and lacking in intellect. It is a question that, coming from a guest on a show about politics , actually reveals a distinct lack of understanding of both the ideological spectrum and the political realities of present day politics.
That question usually goes a little something like this- ‘Kevin and Malcolm: When are you two going to leave your respective political parties and form a third force in politics to conquer all evil in both the Liberal and Labor Parties?’
This might come as a shock to many, but both the Liberal and Labor Party dumped Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd some time ago now. Malcolm Turnbull was the first to go, dispatched in favour of the more conservative and anti-ETS Tony Abbott. Then, half a year later, in the swiftest and rarest of prime ministerial coups, Kevin Rudd was gone in favour of Julia Gillard.
What may also surprise people is that despite the poll popularity of both Rudd and Turnbull, neither candidate can lay claim to the being the rightful ‘owner’ of the leadership. That is true of any candidate, despite popularity.
We know in theory that the polls say that is the contest people want. But the reality is different.
Rudd may be more popular with voters than Julia Gillard, but his popularity was sliding while still in office. Also, after having his reputation so heavily besmirched by his own party, by some of his own cabinet, there is absolutely no hope of him ever being returned. This is especially the case after being heavily defeated in the February leadership spill.
If Mr Rudd were returned, the Liberal Party would have a field day. As it is, their campaign strategy for the next election, in terms of targeting the ALP, has already been written.
The case for Mr Turnbull is slightly different.
It is true that under his leadership the polls were getting close and may have continued to improve for the Coalition as we neared the 2010 election, However, a first term defeat still would have been a very unlikely proposition, even though that nearly happened under Tony Abbott.
The simple fact with the Liberal side of politics is that Malcolm Turnbull was dumped in favour of Tony Abbott who managed to greatly excite the party’s base, increasingly conservative voters.
The positive for Turnbull is that the polls are narrowing and Tony Abbott continues to be an unpopular leader. Among Liberal voters, according to one poll, Malcolm Turnbull is preferred Liberal leader.
It is also the case that the carbon price, according to the polls, is becoming much less of an issue. If that trend continues, a pro-ETS leader in what was largely a pro-ETS party, but for electoral purposes, could again seize the leadership.
However, it is a case of ‘what-ifs’. It would seem that the polls are unlikely to change much more than they already have and if they do not narrow further in the coming months, the case for Turnbull leading the Liberal Party will again peter out.
But again, Turnbull is not the rightful heir of some kind of political kingdom.
In terms of the hilarious proposition that Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull hand in their membership cards and leave their respective parties to form a new political force, well, one can only laugh.
Of course largely, across politics, particularly in recent decades, there has been a significant amount agreement on policy grounds, over 80%, even during what is supposed to have been a destructive Abbott leadership.
Really, there should be more of a policy difference between both the Coalition and the Labor Party. There is however, in the real world of politics, the bane, many would say electoral reality, of populism.
What, in terms of major policy, do the two actually agree on? Very little actually. They may agree on outcomes, but as for the mode of getting there? Well there is clearly a difference.
Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull do both agree about acting on climate change, but so did most of the Liberal Party under Turnbull’s leadership and at least 44 Liberal MP’s in the leadership vote until the electoral popularity of the anti-carbon tax stance set in. So then obviously a number in the Liberal Party should actually leave it, not just Malcolm? I think not.
That really is the key similarity other than Kevin Rudd’s fake claim before the 2007 election to be an economic conservative. Malcolm Turnbull actually is one and has a history of economically conservative actions in an economically conservative government.
The only other key similarity is actually still a difference. Both Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull represent more of what their party used to be than what it is today. Kevin Rudd is a social democrat and Malcolm Turnbull a liberal conservative rather than a conservative liberal, some would even say a true liberal.
Of course populism means there will be other similarities between the two and between the political parties they represent, though they are not as deep and abiding as to allow for the formation of a political party with broad common interests.
Kevin Rudd is undoubtedly to the left of the current ALP and Malcolm Turnbull to the left of the Liberal Party. However, Turnbull is firmly placed on the right of the political spectrum and Rudd on the left.
Unfortunately, a show now more interested in the superficial, in personalities, or at the very least a narrow range of policy areas again strayed into the absurd.
What should be a serious political show must not indulge such strange, deluded and predictable thoughts and certainly not on a regular basis.
Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Communications in the Gillard Government yesterday announced that the Labor Party would not be pursuing a mandatory internet filter. The very proposal put forward by Senator Conroy back when Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister had always been a political problem for Stephen Conroy and now it has been resolved, but not without all that now unnecessary political pain.
Luckily for the Labor Senator, debate over the proposed mandatory filter has been absent from the headlines for some time. All the while, Conroy was still working behind the scenes with telecommunications companies on a solution to the complex issue
But was taking all this time really necessary?
In the first instance, the strong opposition to a mandatory filter should have been a big enough sign for the Minister of Communications to consider looking at other avenues for arriving at the same, or a similar outcome. Instead, the government decided to continue pursue a policy that has proved a long and drawn out problem.
The backflip performed by Senator Conroy has to be one of the longest backward steps taken by a minister that appears way out of his depth not just in the narrow area of internet regulation, but also his broader portfolio responsibilities.
After 5 years of both pontificating about the filter and working behind the scenes to achieve an outcome, Minister Conroy announced that instead of a mandatory internet filter, he had reached an agreement with internet service providers to block sites listed on Interpol’s ‘worst of’ database. That means that approximately 1400 websites monitored by Interpol will, once the policy is implemented, not be able to be accessed from Australian computers.
This seems like a much more sensible outcome, a much smarter approach than an Australia-wide internet filter which would have been much more widespread and at the same time a very secretive process with the list of blocked websites hidden from the public view.
It is very interesting how Mr Conroy has shifted from pushing a policy of wider censorship of the internet in a secretive manner, with no published list of banned materials for public oversight, to a narrower policy of just combating access to child abuse websites.
The fact that the new policy is limited to child abuse material is a victory for common sense with concerns around the barring of a wider array of websites actually amounting the censorship.
The problem with the previous policy was not so much about what would be blocked, but the fact that we would actually never know what the government would be blocking and even why.
At the same time, the ALP need to be careful that they do not think they can combat child pornography and exploitation material just by blocking websites.
As Shadow Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull made clear in an interview today, “[the filter] would have been quite ineffective in the battle against child pornography because people who trade child pornography and other material of that kind do so through peer-to-peer networks, they’re not posting it up on websites.”
Stephen Conroy and his party can now breathe a little easier, with a needlessly prolonged problem finally off the table, but the embarrassment will be experienced for a little while yet. Luckily, in the scheme of things, this issue probably has not leaked votes for the ALP.
It has, however, exposed a poor minister.
The Prime Minister and her government have been enjoying some improvements to their poll fortunes in recent times. The Labor Party have been clawing back ground, at least as far as the Morgan, Nielsen and Newspoll results have shown. The Essential Poll on the other hand hovers at around the levels we have seen from that survey for some time now.
While it appears that the Newspoll is mischievous, bouncing like a kid on a pogo stick and now showing the ALP and the Coalition level-pegging, it appears that the electoral reality lies somewhere between Essential, Morgan and Nielsen where the real electoral prospects for the Labor Party seem to lie.
However, the improvement, while much less dramatic than Newspoll would have you believe, should be pause for some thought. In the Labor Party caucus room they would be pondering mostly positive thoughts. The belief that they are done for, while not dissipating at a rate of knots within the party room, would be receding slowly in the mind’s of some MP’s.
For the Liberal and National Party coalition thoughts would or at least should be turning to what they can do now, to how they can shift strategy to arrest the decline in their vote instead of having to play a game of catch-up.
But let’s for a moment, in the spirit of mischief, contemplate the options that might lie ahead for both the Labor Government and the Opposition. What would they be thinking? What scheming would be happening?
If the result really was level on a two-party preferred basis the ALP would be incredibly buoyant. They would feel that a win at the 2013 election was within reach. Labor Ministers and MP’s think that now in the wake of improving poll numbers, though that belief is still somewhat delusional. The election is far from being lost by the Liberal and National Party coalition.
The Liberal Party would be, if they had not already as a result of the declining numbers, be seriously questioning what might be going wrong. They would be looking at changing tack, changing strategy where their efforts on specific issues are losing traction.
The Coalition would also need to look at beginning to both refine and announce more aspects of their policy agenda. At the same time, they would need to continue to explain that the budget situation is tight. To not continue to further prosecute this case would result in one of the remaining areas of some strength for the Opposition falling away. To not continue talking about it would look like backing away from the validity of their arguments about the budget position.
In terms of leadership, there would be even further clear air for Julia Gillard. The Prime Minister would almost certainly be safe in the run-up to the 2013 election. To come back from the depths of despair, from record low votes, would cement Ms Gillard’s leadership position.
Kevin Rudd, already out of the leadership equation for the most part, would see his prospects for a return to Prime Minister, even in terms of the way his ego allows him to see things, almost completely vanish.
The third candidate idea too would practically cease being necessary.
Leadership of the Liberal Party would also be affected in some way by even poll results. Malcolm Turnbull would at least have distant sight of the leadership, especially if it was the case that the arguments against the carbon price continued to fall away.
Were poll results to actually reach the stage of being level it would be important that the Liberal Party had learned the lesson of Labor. That very public education in the perils of leadership transitions should have taught all political parties that a knee-jerk reaction to poor polling could have long-term negative consequences. There is a possibility though that this argument need only apply to a popular leader and Tony Abbott certainly cannot be characterised in that way.
In terms of going to an early election, ordinarily that would be on the table. However, with a minority government situation, supported by MP’s that want the parliament to go full-term, the chances of that outcome are almost non-existent.
Even if an early poll was a possibility, the decision to go to one would be fraught with danger. Electors could view a snap poll as a move of pure political expediency and therefore not take too kindly to the idea at all.
The polls are undoubtedly getting closer, but how close and how real the narrowing of margins is remains unclear. It is still on the naughty side to be talking of leadership change in the Opposition despite results being less assured. What is almost without doubt is the need for a shift in the focus of Coalition strategy.
The vote on the private members bill from MP for Throsby Stephen Jones on gay marriage has now been seen through both houses of parliament and of course the result was never in doubt. With the ALP allowing a free vote and the Coalition voting ‘no’ there was never any prospect of the bill having success. Yesterday the same-sex marriage bill was easily voted down in the House of Representatives, with just 42 parliamentarians voting in favour of the bill and 98 against. Today, the Senate also emphatically rejected the proposition of marriage equality, 41 votes to 26.
First, had the Coalition been afforded the opportunity for a conscience vote on the matter, it would have been hard, even impossible to foresee a different outcome to the one arrived at both yesterday and today. There would have been just as many, if not more on the Coalition side voting against the bill as there was on the Labor benches of parliament.
Particularly in the last few weeks there have been talks of pursuing the path of civil unions, clearly because the result finalised today was foreseen and an appetite to “do something” exists in the minds of some within the parliament. This barrow has been pushed publicly by MP’s, most notably Chief Opposition Whip, Warren Entsch and Malcolm Turnbull. Curiously, both of these MP’s are from the Liberal Party and have been the most vocal supporters of pursuing civil unions as a step toward equal marriage rights.
There has been and will of course continue to be a number of those in favour of marriage equality who view an interim step toward the inevitable as a ‘cop out’, but it’s not as the Greens are calling it a step backwards, it’s plainly not. It is however, not equality and would entrench “two tiers of love” as Adam Bandt today said. Overall however, it is closer to equal rights in marriage than the status quo.
Of course, the prospects of that step look doomed before the bill, according to Mr Entsch ready to go, sees the light of day. Tony Abbott today said “we really should let the dust settle on these parliamentary votes before we rush off and do something else.”
Mr Abbott further said that the concept of civil unions was the domain of the states and that is traditionally the case. But all we need do is look at the history of civil unions, particularly of late in Queensland and realise that the states too find positive change a challenge.
So why not push for the national recognition of civil unions? Surely achieving that end, though seemingly impossible at the present time, effectively dragging all states into line on a rights issue, would be a good thing? Clearly there are some deeper divisions within politics, but not the wider community, stopping even such a small change toward what many in political circles view as the inevitable, same-sex marriage.
So, we’re at a stage where equal marriage has just been rejected. Even the prospect of civil unions at a national level seems equally despised and not wanted by just about all political parties in Canberra. The positive ideas of a few, whilst not great leaps forward, but still positive steps, albeit tiny ones, appear likely to stay just that, ideas.
Just as quickly as federal parliament rose, so it has come by just as fast. Our federal MP’s will return to Canberra this week after a brief break from the federal capital based hostilities, read for another parliamentary sitting week. Much has happened during the last few weeks in federal politics. In the last couple of weeks we’ve had a major new dental plan announced, the Gillard Government wanting to proceed with the Gonski reforms but not without COAG negotiations and of course the ever-present asylum seeker and carbon price debates, with the floor price now gone on the latter. Sadly too, over the weekend, the Prime Minister lost her father and won’t be present while her family grieves.
In light of the tragic passing of Prime Minister Gillard’s father, hopefully, in her absence we can expect to see a more subdued parliament that more than likely will pause briefly to reflect on the passing of John Gillard. Mr Gillard migrated to Australia with his wife and daughter whom he saw become Prime Minister of her adopted country.
One question that does remain, but will probably be answered in the negative, is: will the Tony Abbott led Opposition heed the words of their former leader, Malcolm Turnbull and diversify their Question Time strategy, becoming more subdued and asking questions of the government in a wider array of policy areas than in recent times.
The Opposition will more than likely stick to familiar territory, the carbon price, Minerals Resource Rent Tax and perhaps asylum seekers from time to time. Of late too, the Coalition has asked questions of the Treasurer, Wayne Swan about budget forecasts and priorities given new spending commitments like the dental health changes announced, all $4 billion worth, as well as reforming education which will also cost in the billions of dollars.
It might be reasonable to expect maybe a question or two on education, but that will more than likely be in the prism of how will the government fund it and/or work with the states to achieve the implementation of such a big reform.
The ALP Government as has become their practice particularly this year, will again use the Dorothy Dixer to canvass a wider variety of policy areas than the Coalition. So far this has included the carbon price, infrastructure, health, families, community services, disability reform and education in particular.
It is likely that both health and education will be a major focus of the questions that government back-benchers ask of their ministerial colleagues in light of the dental and education reforms announced over the past weeks.
It is also a distinct possibility that the Immigration Minister will be asked to update the parliament on the progress towards re-opening the immigration facilities on Nauru and Manus Island.
Question Time, as always begins from 2pm and can be seen live on your television or on the radio. Let’s hope its a more respectable week of parliament ahead.