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Travel Ban Might be Just the Ticket

A Coalition meeting was today told by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that overseas travel is a no-no from now until the election. It is an interesting strategy and could tell us more about the political situation in Canberra than we think. It could also be just as much the case that the move is a prudent strategy in terms of connecting with the Australian electorate.

In announcing the overseas travel ban to his colleagues, Mr Abbott cited the possibility of an election at any time as reason enough to prevent his MP’s from  journeying around the world. Of course Prime Minister Gillard has already announced that the election will be on September 14, which leaves plenty of time for travel between now and polling day. So  it does appear a little odd, the alternative Prime Minister putting a stop to the jet-setting travel habits’ of MP’s.

But stranger things have happened. A Rudd return might actually have slightly more chance than Buckley’s. Kevin Rudd has ramped up the PR assault over the early part of 2013 and that has escalated spectacularly over the last 24 hours. Of course the chances are still remote, but it’s politics and a lot of intriguing things have happened over the last 5 years.

If there were to be a second stint from Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, Labor would want to make a quick transition from a Rudd return to a federal election. If a Prime Ministerial switch were to happen, calling an election would likely be an immediate move. In that event, the Coalition would want to have all MP’s ready and available to hit the campaign trail from the moment the election is called.

The move also has a not insignificant subtext. N0 overseas travel also implies a focus on promoting domestic policy concerns rather than “learning” about obscure nations that mean little to nothing for us in a diplomatic and political sense. Also, international travel is far from necessary for all MP’s. Indeed, most MP’s do not need to engage in travel.

Blocking overseas travel may be a prudent move, not just in terms of electoral readiness, but in terms of cutting down the potential for a public relations disaster which might annoy the public. The general public is at the very least suspicious, even downright against politicians embarking on ridiculously blatant junkets and so-called “study tours” overseas.

Okay, banning travel for a short period of time is probably not a massive vote winner, but it is a sensible move that might translate into some votes on election day.

A limited group of Liberal and National Party MP’s should however be exempt from any travel ban. Those in mind are the Opposition Leader himself, his deputy Julie Bishop who also happens to be Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, any other MP with a shadow portfolio which has an overseas focus, and parliamentarians on committees which require travel that would be in the national interest.

Restrictions on these representatives should still exist, but some reasonable leeway given.

In fact, while they are at it, the Coalition should plan to introduce tougher restrictions on MP travel. But of course they will not. The travel bug is a virulent thing. Politicians are struck down by it constantly. In many cases they could avoid the illness by not exposing themselves to so many perks. But why would they want to change that? The consequence is that they will continue to be infected.

We now see the underlying intent to focus on domestic issues. The next step is to put the policy meat on the bone. This should be a gradual thing as we move toward September.

That will be easier communicate with politicians’ feet firmly planted on Australian soil.

Appealing to Women a Game of Catch-Up

The public relations campaign to win over the hearts and minds of Australian’s for our various political parties continues. Today that PR battle accelerated with the all guns blazing entry into the political debate of the wife of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. This political intervention has come on a usually politically quiet Friday, a great time to get airplay. The purpose of this battle to win over the electorate, an attempt to alter a perception, some of which has been proved a reality, that Tony Abbott has a problem with women. So of course, it’s a logical step to have the number one woman in the life of Mr Abbott, his wife Margie, speak out about the man she knows so well.

The key long-term aim of the Margie Abbott media blitz is an attempt to shore up some support among women for the leader of the Coalition and the side of politics that he has represented since December 2009.

However, the main-game, as far as the short-term politics of the situation, is to counter the most recent of attacks that Abbott has faced over the way it is perceived he has dealt with women in light of recent events and unearthed allegations. This has been prompted by the s0-called ‘handbag hit-squad’, female Labor Party MP’s, who have used a situation involving the Acting Speaker, Anna Burke as well as recently unearthed allegations against Tony Abbott from his university days.

It is at this juncture that we reach the first problem. The Liberal Party, mostly through the women on the frontbench and other female MP’s, but also the wider caucus, have decided it is a good idea to refer to Labor women as the ‘handbag hit squad’.

Coming from women only the term, catchy, yet over the top, is okay, though not ideal as a catchphrase to be utilised. It demeans politics even further than politicians have demeaned the occupation before. However, women referring to each other in that way will have much less of an impact, perhaps none at all than if men were to do the same.

Unfortunately, there has been the odd instance where male Coalition MP’s have taken to using the phrase. That does not look good at all. That just reinforces perceptions and helps them evolve into further home truths. It is blatant sexism. Repel the attacks based on the latest perceived indiscretions, but especially from the men of the Liberal and National Party’s, sexist intervention is not needed.

But back directly to the issue at hand: Does Mr Abbott have a problem with women? The short answer is ‘yes’, but it is a little more complicated than just saying outright that Tony Abbott is not seen in a good light by women and that he has a problem with women outright. In fact, it is entirely arguable that Tony Abbott does not have a problem with women, but rather, a problem with women’s issues.

Tony Abbott has said some very stupid and offensive things over the years, from comments on women’s equality, to abortion and the want to deny reproductive rights. The majority of these came when a minister in the Howard Government, particularly around the time of, as well as before and after becoming Health Minister.

These beliefs, do they come from a purely deep-seated hatred of women or from a religious background, a freely chosen inculcation of outdated beliefs that should hold no relevance in a free society?

The answer is almost certainly the latter as David Marr has recently argued. Since his childhood, the Leader of the Opposition has been brought up to believe certain things. In adult life, he freely chose to continue his religious experience and held onto the perceived teachings of the Bible. But this does not make those beliefs ones that should be prosecuted by a political representative in a liberal democracy where individual choice is supposed to be a key tenet. Far from that, it’s just common decency to think of all being equal.

The attack against Abbott in relation to how he dealt with Deputy Speaker Anna Burke however, is just a convenient usage of some incredibly horrific remarks from the past. Old words have been used to artificially construct an argument that because he pushed the boundaries in parliament, his actions were because of a problem with the fairer gender. The accusation is so absurd as to be laughable. His recent behaviour is a product of many things, including a thirst for power and media attention, but it’s a real stretch to characterise being a bit obnoxious in parliament as disdain for women.

As for the alleged events in his university days? Well, they are just allegations at this stage that have not been proven one way or the other. If they were proven to be true, then that would change the ballgame.

The television and airwaves mini-blitz, because of the long-term and justified impression of Abbott as having a problem with women’s issues will probably amount to little benefit. It was slow getting off the mark, years too late. Instead, Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party will be playing catch-up and probably, if there is any actual gain, only achieve a small uptick in support.

But of course, the Liberal Party will continue to pursue this campaign. The Opposition have to at least try to appear as if they and Tony Abbott is speaking to a wide array of women that hold a wide array of beliefs, even if the reality is the opposite.

Those Two Words We Dare Not Speaketh Will Not Appear in Our Ads

The carbon tax, carbon price, whatever you wish to call it is now just a matter of weeks from fruition, coming into effect on July 1 at a starting price of $23 per tonne. This policy backflip has been the cause of so much poll pain for the Australian Labor Party under the leadership of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and sees the ALP trailing the Tony Abbott led Coalition by double digits.

With every major policy, especially the ones that cause controversy and are much harder to sell (think WorkChoices as a recent example) generally comes a substantial advertising campaign trying to bring the public around to what the government of the day thinks are the benefits of such a package and how these benefits will outweigh the much argued about costs.

That is no different than with the so-called “Clean Energy Future” policy package which has been legislated by the Commonwealth parliament and set to take effect in roughly a month and a half.

The Gillard Government has announced a $36 million advertising budget to attempt to sell the package to a wary and largely switched off public that didn’t particularly enjoy the change of mind brought on by the minority government situation.

In just the next 6 weeks, the government will spend $14 million of that total budget allocation in a likely wasted attempt to ameliorate concerns over the package. This amounts to a total spend per day of appromimately $270,000 over that month-and-a-half long period.

The media blitz focuses on the compensation packaged related to the carbon pricing legislation which totals $4.2 billion and makes the total spend on advertising the Clean Energy Future package $70 million dollars.

This in itself is a very high amount for a Labor Government that took office, under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, promising to reign in unnecessary government spending on advertising and public relations, particularly in the wake of the Howard Government spending an enormous $121 million dollars promoting the controversial WorkChoices legislation which played a significant part in the downfall of the Howard Government after over a decade in office.

Compared to the spending on WorkChoices advertising, $70 million dollars does seem small, but only in comparison. Advertising to attempt to change public perceptions on legislation seems a dubious idea and could be better spent on other policies.

What is most horrific about the current advertising package is not the cost, but the way that it attempts to sell the household assistance that will be received by millions in the very near future.

The latest advertisement, which has just started airing makes absolutely no mention of the fact that the assistance package is part of the response to the inevitable price rises which will be caused by the instigation of the carbon price. It is just referred to as the “household assistance package” and this gives the impression that the government are trying to sell the package to the unaware as effectively money for nothing.

There is no reference anywhere in the entire 30 seconds of any of the related ads, be it the ad targetted at seniors, singles or families of those two words that have become so dangerous for the government, ‘carbon’ and ‘tax’, that when put together, even as the “carbon price” iteration, spells disaster for the on the nose government.

So when you see those ads and think of the extra money you will be receiving from the government, remind yourself that you are not receiving money for nothing.

NOTE: Not referring to the Dire Straits song when I use the phrase “money for nothing”. Just to clear that up 🙂

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