Blog Archives

A Look at Queensland’s New Ministry

Two weeks have passed since the shock result of the state election in Queensland. The Electoral Commission of Queensland has declared all 89 seats and confirmed a surprise Labor Government, just three years after the ALP were spectacularly turfed out of office. On Sunday, new Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk unveiled her first ministry to the waiting public.

Unsurprisingly, given the turnaround in electoral fortune, it contains a significant proportion of inexperienced ministers, with a few old faces returning to the frontbench. There are some good choices and some bad ones and also some lost opportunities.

The new ministry also rewards those who claimed big scalps at the election.

The ministry is slimmer this time around, with 14 personnel making up the frontline of the Palaszczuk Government as opposed to 19 in the former Newman Government

 

Premier, Minister for the Arts: Annastacia Palaszczuk:

The accidental Premier. Someone many thought would lose the Opposition Leader job to a returning heavy-hitter such as Cameron Dick.

The excitement of becoming Premier is still there to see on Ms Palaszczuk’s face. Premier Palaszczuk did not have to do much work to earn the title, so will she grow into the role?

The new Premier will have to learn the ropes quickly or the ALP could very easily be a one-term government.

 

Deputy Premier, Minister for Transport, Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, Minister for Trade: Jackie Trad

A rapid rise to prominence for the MLA for South Brisbane. Just three years after replacing former Anna Bligh in a by-election, the former opposition’s spokesperson on Transport and Main Roads, Environment and Heritage Protection, Small Business, Consumer Affairs and the Arts becomes Deputy Premier, coupled with a big portfolio.

Annastacia Palaszczuk aside, Ms Trad was definitely one of the better performing of the ALP’s 9 parliamentary representatives.

The role of Deputy Premier might have been better suited to an MP with ministerial experience like Curtis Pitt who is the new Treasurer or Cameron Dick.

The combination of portfolios is a little strange and is an unnecessary result of the smaller ministry. It would have been ideal if the new Deputy Premier simply had the additional ministry of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, with Transport tacked onto the end. After all, transport is a vital form of infrastructure. The trade portfolio should have been given to Treasurer Curtis Pitt.

Will the diversity of responsibilities be a hindrance?

 

Treasurer, Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships: Curtis Pitt

Unsurprisingly, Curtis Pitt moves from Shadow Treasurer into the Treasury Portfolio.

For someone in such an important portfolio in opposition, he was not seen and heard as much as he should have been over the three years of Campbell Newman’s Government. This could have been a product of the fact that there was no anticipation from the ALP that they would be in government in 2015, or that he would have been replaced in the portfolio by a returning MP.

Employment and Industrial Relations is quite a natural match for the Treasury portfolio, so it is a good move from the ALP Government to link it with the treasury portfolio.

While it can easily be argued that there is an important relationship between employment and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships portfolio, that is not all there is to the latter portfolio. This responsibility should have been given to the Minister for Communities or the Attorney-General.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships portfolio should have gone to one of the two indigenous MP’s who won seats at the election. It beggars belief that this did not occur.

The salient question here is, will we see the modest spending commitments made by Labor in opposition carry through into government? History says no.

 

Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services: Cameron Dick 

It is entirely unsurprising that an MLA with ministerial experience like Cameron Dick was given the health portfolio. The former Attorney-General and Minister for Education has 3 years’ experience in senior ministerial positions.

It is also not a big secret that the MLA for Woodridge was seen as a leadership contender leading up to the election and what better portfolio to give someone with leadership aspirations than the poisoned chalice of the health portfolio? Trouble is, he could shine at the role, repairing relationships with the sector which were broken by the LNP.

While this portfolio is often used to temper the leadership ambitions of colleagues, it should have been given to someone skilled in areas related to the portfolio. Doctor Anthony Lynham would have been the ideal person to take on this job.

The question is whether or not the new minister can get on top of important issues relating to prompt care of patients who present to health facilities?

 

Minister for Education, Minister for Tourism, Major Events and Small Business, Minister for Commonwealth Games: Kate Jones

The MLA for Ashgrove, who took on Premier Campbell Newman and won back the seat she lost to him in 2012, has been rewarded with a plum role in the form of the education portfolio. Ms Jones brings some ministerial experience to the cabinet table and should again be one of the better performers in the ALP caucus.

Kate Jones has also been given a variety of other roles in what can only be described as a bizarre mismatch of portfolios.

Tourism and Major Events belong together, and should also include the Commonwealth Games portfolio. These responsibilities should have been given to the Minister for State Development. The Minister for Sport and Racing should have also shared in the Commonwealth Games portfolio. Quite clearly, Small Business should have been included in Minister Pitt’s portfolio.

The question here is will the people of Ashgrove like that their returning local member will be busy with such a large portfolio of ministerial responsibilities?

 

Minister for State Development, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines: Doctor Anthony Lynham

For winning back Stafford for the ALP at a by-election brought on by the resignation of Dr Chris Davis, then of the LNP, Dr Lynham has been given a very important portfolio.

This portfolio combination is sound. As mentioned above however, Dr Lynham should be in the health portfolio.

A question people will want to know the answer to, is just how much development will be allowed by the new minister? Over the last three years the ALP has railed against some key development projects.

 

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Minister for Training and Skills: Yvette D’Ath

Yvette D’Ath, another by-election winner has been rewarded with a senior role in the government.

The former federal MP takes on another oddly shaped portfolio. What kind of logic was used in separating the Training and Skills portfolio from either the education or employment portfolios? Terrible logic.

Yvette D’Ath is not the best choice for this position. There are at least two members of the ALP caucus better suited to this position. The Premier should have chosen former Attorney-General Cameron Dick, or high-profile lawyer Peter Russo.

One question with regard to this portfolio is whether the new Attorney-General and the ALP Government will show due deference to the rule of law and principles of justice? Another essential question is will the government be able to swiftly regain the confidence of the legal fraternity?

 

Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Minister for Corrective Services: Jo-Ann Miller

The combative member for the safe ALP seat of Bundamba, who has sat in the parliament since 2000,  picks up a portfolio which was front and centre of the last 3 years in the Newman Government’s response to criminal gangs.

A question on everyone’s lips is how will Jo-Ann Miller deal with the outlaw gang issue? It looks certain that a softer approach is on the way. The rule of law and principles of justice have to be front and centre, while at the same time making sure that the public continue to feel safe.

 

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Minister for Sport and Racing: Bill Byrne

Bill Byrne is now in his second term as the MLA for Rockhampton. He picks up a ministry different to the one he held while in opposition.

The member for Rockhampton has also been awarded a strange portfolio mix. Agriculture and fisheries go well together, but sport and racing is a strange addition. The latter should have been included in the Tourism and Major Events portfolio as sporting tourism is an important drawcard for visitors to and within Australia.

It was a smart decision to make Bill Byrne the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. His electorate is well-known for agriculture, especially beef production and is in close proximity to the coastline.

A crucial question is how will this minister assist his colleagues in ensuring the ongoing viability of our fisheries as climate change hits and mining impacts take their toll?

 

Minister for Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports, Minister for Energy and Water Supply: Mark Bailey

Mark Bailey is a brand new MP, having beaten former LNP MP Carl Judge in Yeerongpilly. He takes on a large portfolio for a parliamentary newcomer.

Mr Bailey’s portfolio is also a hodgepodge of seemingly mismatched responsibilities. Main Roads should have been kept with Transport, along with Road Safety. Ports should have been included in the Infrastructure or State Development portfolio and those two areas merged into one ministerial area of responsibility.

There are two important questions in this space: What will happen on the ports front? And how well will Mark Bailey work with the self-appointed ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’ on what may well be competing priorities?

 

Minister for Housing and Public Works, Minister for Science and Innovation: Leeanne Enoch

The story of Leeanne Enoch is one of the best to come out of the 2015 election. The new minister and equally new MLA is one of two indigenous MP’s who were elected to the Queensland Parliament – a first for the state.

But yet again we have a case of confused ministerial priorities and missed opportunities.

The Housing and Public Works portfolio should be closely associated with either the Community Services, Infrastructure or State Development portfolios. The Science and Innovation responsibilities should be wedded with either Education, Employment or even State Development.

While housing is a big issue for indigenous Australians, it is a missed opportunity that Ms Enoch was not appointed to a broadened role relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island affairs, or even Community Services.

A question which has barely been countenanced in this area in recent times is what will be the strategy in relation to homelessness? This appears to be a forgotten issue in Australian politics.

 

Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef: Steven Miles 

Yet another first-time MP straight into a ministry. The new member for Mount Coot-tha has been rewarded for unseating Saxon Rice in the inner-city electorate. Over the next 3 years this portfolio will be one of the most widely mentioned in the political arena.

This is the best constructed portfolio of all fourteen ministries. Every aspect of it is interconnected.

People will be wanting an answer to the question of how much this portfolio will focus on the reef and also around Gladstone?

 

Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Seniors, Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland: Coralee O’Rourke

Coralee O’Rourke unseated a Newman Government Minister in David Crisafulli on January 31 and has been rewarded with what is a vital portfolio, given the aging population and the NDIS, which is in the important trial phase.

The North Queensland focus, while clashing with what is a social policy portfolio, will suit the Townsville-based MP. The North Queensland part of Ms O’Rourke’s responsibilities could however have been given to the state development minister if the Premier had chosen an MP from North Queensland to fill that role.

This is yet another case of picking the wrong candidate. Rob Pyne, a quadriplegic, was also elected to parliament on the 31st of January and given his personal experience with disability, would have been the ideal candidate for this ministry.

A topic of consideration will be what issues the NDIS trials raise and how the government works with other state governments and the federal government to ensure the NDIS becomes fully operational.

Also under consideration will be what additional government support is required in North Queensland.

 

Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety, Minister for Multicultural Affairs: Shannon Fentiman

Another minister, another rookie MP. Shannon Fentiman joins the Palaszczuk ministry after defeating Mike Latter of the LNP at the January 31 state ballot.

This is quite a large portfolio to start with but could have been even bigger if a streamlined version included disability and other areas of community services.

In the area of multicultural affairs, state governments do very little, especially when the Commonwealth Government has carriage of immigration policy. Nonetheless, making people from different backgrounds feel welcome and included in Australian society is a role state governments can play

There are a number of issues to consider in this area including: homelessness, getting more women and young people into the workforce and protecting children from online dangers.

 

Leader of the House, Assistant Minister of State Assisting the Premier: Stirling Hinchliffe

Stirling Hinchliffe returns to state parliament after losing his seat along with most of his colleagues in 2012. Mr Hinchliffe has effectively been demoted, given that his last role in government was the Minister for Mining.

Using his experience in key economic portfolios in the former Bligh Government, Mr Hinchliffe’s main task will be to help the new Premier behind the scenes.

As Leader of the House, he will also be both a general and guide to the whole ALP caucus.

First and foremost, we wait to see how well he negotiates with the crossbench. We know that most legislation is likely to be passed. However, it is unlikely everything will be smooth sailing.

Experienced, With Political Baggage

The political scene in Australia continues to amaze. We are ever closer to the motion to make the Liberal Party leadership positions vacant. That vote will come on Tuesday, or possibly Monday if a rumour doing the rounds is confirmed fact. And in Queensland we continue to witness the fallout from the extraordinary election result just one week ago. Peter Wellington has declared his hand and the ALP are ever closer to government – a situation barely even considered by anyone.

In the midst of negotiations between the two major political parties and Katter’s Australian Party, the LNP moved to elect a new leadership team.

This move was a necessity to give some clarity of direction and focus to the negotiations. A leaderless team cannot possibly be considered for office – especially one with multiple representatives seeking to put forward the case for the continuation of a LNP administration.

In any case that is likely a forlorn hope, even with the uncertainty of the Ferny Grove poll result. Negotiations should continue in good faith, but it seems the LNP may as well begin planning for the 2018 Queensland election. If anything has been learned in the last 5 years, it is that almost any opposition could find themselves in government. And those political parties may not even have to work hard for that privilege.

After a meeting lasting about three hours, the LNP Party Whip, Ted Sorensen, emerged from the caucus room to inform the waiting media and the public that the new leader was Lawrence Springborg and his deputy, John-Paul Langbroek.

Those who have kept up with Queensland politics in the 21st century, and the media today, will realise that the LNP have chosen to return two former leaders to the top two positions in the LNP caucus. On the face of it a good thing, but not necessarily.

In terms of the negotiations between cross-bench MP’s and the major parties, the new yet old leadership team is a sensible move. The Katter’s Australian Party MP’s have said this week that they are most comfortable negotiating with Lawrence Springborg. This is obviously a sign that he is one of the most rural-minded MP’s in the amalgamated Liberal National Party.

When speaking of the need for an experienced leadership team, it is also hard to go by a duo who have held the leadership three times between them. Contrast that with the ALP leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has been the Opposition leader for three years. However, Lawrence Springborg is also experienced in electoral defeat, having led the coalition and subsequently the amalgamated LNP to three poll losses.

This kind of experience in leadership and electoral defeats means less in political terms for the party though, than the political journey of Mr Springborg and Mr Langbroek over the last three years. For the entire term Lawrence Springborg was in the troubled health portfolio, and John-Paul Langbroek the Education Minister. To put it simply, the ALP will have a fine time with this right up until the next election. The Health portfolio was an absolute disaster for the new LNP leader. And education policy was not without difficulty either.

It is entirely possible that a rush to impress the KAP team of two will backfire on the LNP, or at least provide some serious discomfort over the next 3 years.

What is needed now is a sustained disavowal of elements of the last three years. This has happened to a degree, including today. However, actions, including a mix of jettisoning some policy and tinkering with others would be a far better way for the LNP to begin regaining the electorate’s trust.

Ideally though, the LNP could have gone with a different leadership team. Two of the candidates touted – Scott Emerson and John McVeigh – might have been a safer option. Both Mr Emerson and Mr McVeigh have some ministerial experience, and therefore some guilt by association with the former LNP Government. On the other hand, they are far less politically compromised than the team which the partyroom voted for today. Transport and Agriculture were never the cause of mass angst during Campbell Newman’s time as Premier.

The reality is that the decision was made to go with two different candidates. Whether or not they are there in 2018 remains undetermined.

Queensland Helps Break the Political Mould

In the world of politics there is a lot of talk about different eras. In most countries politics is referred to in terms of pre and post-war eras. In Australia we talk about pre and post war politics and even post-1975 Australia. And in the United States of America there is also discussion of a post-war era. Today in Australia, we can fairly comfortably talk of there being a post-2010 age of politics.

The Newman Government – and Campbell Newman himself – dramatically lost power in Queensland in what has to be one of the biggest shock results in politics, even eclipsing the hung parliament outcome in federal politics in 2010. To put it simply – nobody saw this coming, surely even the Australian Labor Party in Queensland.

A number of people argued after the Victorian election earlier this year and the hung parliament in 2010, that one-term governments could be the big new possibility in Australian politics. It was far from certain that it could be a new feature of Australian democracy on a semi-regular basis back when Daniel Andrews became Premier, but now it seems it can be seen that way. Barring drastic change in the fortunes of the federal coalition, it seems the Abbott Government will be a one term government.

The questions that will be asked a lot over the coming days and weeks are ‘what happened? And how/why did it happen?’. Without a doubt there were multiple factors, including things the LNP had control over and that they did not.

By far the biggest factor which the outgoing government in Queensland could control but failed to was how they governed the state. Campbell Newman and the LNP governed with an arrogance, surely in large part fuelled by the whopping majority handed to them by voters in 2012.But they also began governing without listening to voters. It is one of the simplest rules in democratic politics that you must listen to the public.

Even in conservative Queensland, it is hard to deny the fact that federal politics played a role. A number of state and federal Coalition MP’s admitted as much, including Jane Prentice in a most dramatic fashion on the ABC election night broadcast. Long gone is the time when you could safely say that federal issues had little or no bearing on state results. In this space, it has come very quickly to a point in time when most people are asking when Tony Abbott will lose his job as Prime Minister rather than if he will.

The assets question is an interesting one. It is a question that was put to Queensland voters by the LNP Government a while back and one the LNP thought they could build a case for on the back of deciding to lease some assets rather than sell them. However it seems that polling indicated it was one of the big issues on the minds’ of the voting public.

The cuts made by the LNP at the beginning of their tenure surely played a role in the devastating result too. Voters knew that the LNP had to make cuts and they always have to after a long-term Labor Government. It was the terrible and shady way this issue was dealt with which would have really annoyed the people of Queensland.

It is hard to argue that the ALP won this campaign, and therefore government. The whole campaign it felt like they were going through the motions. It was quite obvious that the only goal many in the party saw achievable was knocking over Campbell Newman in Ashgrove. To put it quite simply it was the LNP who lost government. They did so through a series of politically stupid decisions.

The LNP have to make some difficult choices now in order to become electable again in three years’ time. They have to pick a new leader and really think about which issues to keep on fighting on in the usual way and those where they need to have a different perspective.

In terms of the leadership question, it looks reasonably likely that the Liberal National Party will finally turn to Tim Nicholls. As far as experience in a key economic portfolio goes, he looks like the ideal candidate to replace Campbell Newman. The trouble with his candidacy will be the question of whether or not he is viewed by the public as damaged goods having been the Treasurer for Campbell Newman.

The LNP would really want to think long and hard about this very important consideration. The issue with John-Paul Langbroek and Lawrence Springborg, other than their ministerial association with the former government, will be their failed attempts at the party leadership in the past. However, working in their favour is the example of John Howard.

There is one other contender thrown up in the leadership equation, and that is Scott Emerson, the former Transport Minister. There is the ministerial association with the outgoing administration, however he has not been as heavily linked with a string of tough decisions as the other candidates have been. Mr Emerson would also be a lacklustre choice, but then so was Annastacia Palaszczuk and she will become the new Premier.

There are not a lot of certainties in Australian politics anymore. We will have to keep watching intently to see what else may happen and just what is possible the next time Queensland heads to the polls.

We Must Remain Vigilant

The National Disability Insurance Scheme, now renamed DisabilityCare is a step closer to becoming reality after the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman signed an agreement with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Brisbane. The agreement confirms the funding commitment of both levels of government to the disability scheme.

The deal will see Queensland contribute $1.9 billion dollars over the next decade and see the disability reform starting to emerge in 2016, before it is fully operational in 2019-20. In signing up, Queensland now joins New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory as signatories to the funding arrangements. That leaves Western Australia and the Northern Territory as the only governments still to put ink on the page.

Understandably, excitement is growing about the future of disability care in Australia and that has accelerated with each individual agreement reached between the state and territory governments and the commonwealth. People with a disability around Australia, their carers and families, are slowly rediscovering a long lost hope, that their needs might be sufficiently met by government. Of course there is going to be palpable excitement. Of course there will be some celebration.

But we need to be very careful about how we view recent events. As advocates and supporters of this much-needed reform we must not allow ourselves to get too swept up in the emotion of important days like yesterday. There is no doubt that commitments like that agreed to by Julia Gillard and Campbell Newman are a big step forward, but a lot can still go wrong between now and 2018-19. In fact, there is a need to continue to be cautious until well after the scheme is fully operational across the country. Things can still go a bit pear-shaped.

The first, but most surmountable roadblock is getting the recalcitrant state of Western Australia and the Northern Territory to agree to a funding commitment for the rollout with the commonwealth.

Western Australia wants to sign up but wants more decentralised control of the scheme in the state and that is fair enough, because service delivery should be based on a largely decentralised bureaucracy. Negotiations between WA and the federal government will continue and a resolution of some sort appears inevitable. But caution is still the order of the day here and both the state and the commonwealth must continue negotiations with an open mind and a desire for compromise on the specific issues WA has with the policy.

The Northern Territory will also need to get the pen out and sign a deal with Canberra for the full rollout of DisabilityCare. The NT Government just recently penned a deal to have their own launch site in the Barkly Region. In light of this, realisation of the funding for the full commitment surely cannot be too far away. But again, all possible eventualities must be taken into account, including the negative ones. even though 6 of the 8 states and territories have agreed to terms with the Gillard Government.

Bilateral agreements aside, there is still the issue of where the commonwealth, even the states, will get the rest of the money for the disability insurance scheme, despite the commitments to fund the scheme. At present the agreements are simply words between two parties and in the interest of making sure DisabilityCare happens, the positive developments must be viewed with the utmost wariness until the full policy has actually commenced.

The Opposition too, who will almost certainly be in government come September, will need to be pursued just as relentlessly over its commitment to the NDIS. There is bipartisan support but it means nothing until we actually see the policy up and running.

Finally, we must continue to run a critical eye over the policy even when it is operational. There may be shortfalls in standards of delivery and even funding and we should not be particularly surprised if either of these possibilities arises. In fact, it is completely within reason to expect that both problems may exist, though hopefully the  launch sites will allow enough time to remedy most, if not all potential issues.

With the agreements signed to date between commonwealth and state and territory governments, about 90% of Australians with severe and permanent disability and those that look after them can now have a little more hope.

We need to make sure over the coming years that the agreements are transformed from words on a page to deeds.

Queensland Seeking to Pay the Fare for the NDIS Bus

It appears, less than a week after the last Council of Australian Governments meeting, that Queensland has jumped firmly on the National Disability Insurance Scheme bandwagon. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman today announced a “timeline” for providing funding toward the NDIS. Premier Newman also confirmed that he has written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard with a formal bid for a funding split between his state and the federal government.

Mr Newman has written to the Prime Minister and is seeking a 50-50 funding split between Queensland and the commonwealth for funding of disability services under the national reform to the disability sector. The Premier flagged this offer last Friday while in attendance at the COAG meeting of first ministers.

Campbell Newman has however reiterated that his government will wait until the budget is in surplus. Therefore he has said that the decision to commit money to the disability insurance scheme will be delayed by two years.

A further element of the promises today from the Queensland Premier was a pledge to begin increasing funding of the disability sector from 2014, with plans to reach the national average spend on disability by 2018, the year that the NDIS will be fully operational. This will mean, in dollar terms, an increase of $868 million over the four-year period from the current levels, very low compared with other states, to $1.77 billion in the year that the NDIS is due to come into force.

The offer is similar to the deal reached between New South Wales and the Gillard Government, a which will see the national government contribute a little over 51% of the funds for the NDIS and the New South Wales Government over 48% of the shared contribution.

The offer of an even share from the Queensland Government will likely receive approval from Julia Gillard. However, this evening the ALP Government has responded to the offer from Queensland, saying the spending plan does not contain enough funds for the full implementation of the disability insurance scheme.

The Australian Capital Territory has also committed to the full rollout of the NDIS. Because of the size of the population in the territory, the ACT Government has been able to guarantee that, just a year after the launch site is established, approximately 5000 disabled Territorians will start being covered by the full national disability scheme. And by 2016-17, the scheme will be fully operational in the territory.

There is however one element of the NDIS rollout that the Newman Government has not committed to. From the start of the negotiations at COAG, the Liberal Government in Queensland has refused to commit to funding a NDIS launch site, a minor commitment which would have cost between $20 and $30 million dollars.

It is somewhat true that a launch site in Queensland is now redundant, with five already agreed to in other states and territories. Well, that is true at least in theory. Originally the Prime Minister had called for bids from four state and territory volunteers, but thanks to a somewhat joint effort from NSW and Victoria there are now five.

Queensland offering to establish a launch site however, would be an inexpensive symbol of their commitment to the future of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, above and beyond the political promise they made today. A launch site in Queensland would be priceless in terms of the information it would provide. Another launch site in Queensland would help ensure that the full implementation of the scheme is informed by the best, most robust data available.

The next move requires Queensland to come back with a higher offer.

1950’s Style Brain Farts Continue in Queensland

The Queensland LNP Convention has been and gone over the weekend, just months after the Liberal National Party in Queensland crushed the Bligh Government at the ballot box in an historic victory which saw the ALP reduced to just 7 seats in the 89 seat unicameral legislature. Since the electoral rout pundits have been saying that the LNP would have the ability to do pretty much anything and they have, with some of us, this author included, slow to realise just how far back the Newman Government is prepared to wind the metaphorical clock.

So far, since gaining power the new government have moved to alter, albeit not completely, but 3/4 of the way the civil unions legislation introduced into the parliament by former Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Andrew Fraser.

The LNP administration decided to remove the similarity to marriage as well as the state-sanctioned civil ceremony. To be a little fair, we did expect worse as Queenslanders with the consensus being that a full repeal was on the way. But who’s been hurt by proper civil unions anyway? Certainly not me.

They have also decided to move to ban so-called ‘altruistic surrogacy’ laws brought in by the former Bligh Government which recognised surrogate rights of same-sex couples, single people and couples that have been in de facto relationships for less than 2 years.

And that’s just a start before the over the top and censorial moves that the LNP State Convention agreed to over the weekend.

The first move was a motion put to the convention asking the Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek to ban what was termed as “post-normal science”, read climate science, from the curriculum and examination materials.

Government simply does not and should not have the right to decide what is right and correct science and individual MP’s and the government’s that they represent simply do not have the scientific expertise to determine what is correct and what is not.

Fair enough if the government simply wanted the raw science of climate change to betaught without it being coloured with some of the extreme predictions which have so far failed to materialise.

And then came that motion from Young LNP State Secretary Luke Barnes, who proposed an end to the Abstudy program for indigenous people. The motion narrowly prevailed despite vigorous protestations by LNP federal MP Paul Neville that passage of the proposal would lead to the LNP being labelled “bigots”.

It’s certainly the case that the motion will lead to the LNP being called bigots, but that is nothing new for the party, they’ve been labelled bigots at the state and federal level numerous times before, including for their stance on civil unions and the surrogacy changes.

The LNP in passing this motion, however marginal the motion victory shows a complete lack of understanding of the importance of the Abstudy program to the principle of equality of opportunity in education.

Indigenous students under the program receive an $8000 grant to assist with education, travel and accommodation costs which are quite high for rural and regional students having to travel large distances to have access to education, particularly at the tertiary and secondary school level.

Indigenous students travelling for study from areas outside the major cities and education hubs are often out of pocket even after having the grant, so any downgrade bringing it in line with similar programs would just make it all the more challenging for this group to be able to continue undertaking a basic level of education that is so important to future life opportunities.

Thankfully after the passage of the motion yesterday, it has been slammed by the federal indigenous affairs spokesperson, Nigel Scullion as an idea that nobody with “half a brain” would want to bring into effect, a glorious slapdown to the brain fart of a suggestion put forward at the convention.

Another positive, if it can be called such, is that the federal government controls the Abstudy program and so the Queensland LNP, whilst now being forced to call for the abolition of the grant is unable to touch the important and essential policy, especially after the glorious slapdown by their federal counterparts.

All of these moves are a sign of a party at least as far as Queensland goes and to a similar extent the federal party sliding to the right and further away from the ideology of liberalism that gives the party its name.

Yes, from the beginning it is true that the Liberal Party was founded on a combination of a liberal and conservative tradition, with the latter always particularly based around a form of religious conservatism and that still clearly holds true today.

However, progress should be toward more individual rights  and promoting more opportunities for all as well as less government intervention in the day-to-day lives of the individual and their relationships.

A very strong separation of church and state is also required where at present the collective church is wagging the government tail, more so at the Queensland state government level, but this observation also applies to an extent to the federal government and the opposition.

Of course too, as already highlighted, these moves are in large part a result of the unprecedented power that the LNP gained at the ballot box, especially aided and abetted without an upper house to put a check on extreme use of power to deny individual rights and progress.

It’s about time to head down to that op shop for some trendy 1950s garb, but at least one decision by the state party won’t take Queensland any further back in time despite strong efforts at the weekend.

Why Amend Civil Unions At All?

Today the Queensland Government announced something that Queenslanders and those interested in politics and gay rights were probably not expecting. The Premier, Campbell Newman was widely expected and feared to be about to say that there would be a full repeal of the civil unions laws instituted by former Treasurer and Deputy Premier, Andrew Fraser. This didn’t happen, though pretty much everything but a full repeal of the laws, a step toward marriage equality that the state finally took just months ago was announced today by the Queensland Premier.

It was identified before the March election that an incoming LNP government would look at repealing the laws introduced to the Queensland parliament by the former MLA for the electorate of Mt Coot-tha and it was, as said, pretty much viewed as a fait accompli by advocates, indeed just about everyone in Queensland you would expect.

Then today, we got a bit of a shock, less than a half shock, but a shock nonetheless. A full repeal is not going to happen, but the announcement has been a hollow victory for supporters of same-sex marriage and equal rights for same-sex couples with the announcement pointing toward taking a pretty big step back from heading toward marriage equality, a step which the commonwealth will inevitably have to take with marriage being within the federal jurisdiction.

What will happen now is that the Civil Partnerships Act will be amended by the LNP Government to remove the provisions that “mimic” same-sex marriage. Couples will still be able to register their relationships by signing documentation papers which will provide acknowledgement that their relationship exists but they will not be able to have a state sanctioned ceremony that was allowed under the provisions brought into law by the Fraser legislation.

Unfortunately, the Christian lobby saw it as an affront to have a special ceremony legislated for by the state which they saw as being akin to gay marriage even though people in these relationships surely have not seen it as such. Further, the ceremony itself was a voluntary act and out of the 609 civil partnerships registered in Queensland since the legislative change, a massive 21 (sarcasm fully freaking intended) opted to have that voluntary ceremony.

Did churches have to involve themselves in these ceremonies at all? No. Were those celebrants out there who hold religious views compelled to preside over same-sex marriage ceremonies? No.

So why does the Christian lobby fear something that isn’t marriage and isn’t foisted upon them by the state? The answer is likely just that, fear. A type of fear of love between a man and another man or a woman and another woman, not a scary concept at all, though perhaps it is to an institution that has continued to struggle for relevancy with declining levels of adherence.

The reality too is that same-sex marriage, though a while away yet is inevitable and that too is likely to not call upon churches to hold actual marriage ceremonies within their hallowed halls.

The government really shouldn’t have bowed to the church lobby when they were not being impacted on at all, but the outcome isn’t altogether awful and is at least a half-relief for people in these equally special relationships where their love is no different to your love for your wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Consistency on Rights Please

The Newman Government in Queensland is less than two months old, but already the hysterical claims of a return to the Bjelke-Petersen era have emerged. These loopy claims started just days a matter of a week or two before the election, when it became clear a landslide was on the cards, which did eventuate and was above and beyond the expectations of just about anyone, serious pundit or not.

Alas, these claims have again been unearthed over the last 24 hours with a furore over a tent embassy, this time in a Brisbane park- it’s certainly been quite a year for those types of establishments/protests.

The tent embassy, based in Musgrave Park has been established for just a couple of months and was began as a protest for the sovereign rights of the indigenous people

Today, Queensland Police were dispatched to the park in West End to evict the demonstrators who ignored an eviction order that was put forward by Brisbane City Council ahead of the Greek Panyiri Festival which has regularly been held in the same park that the protesters have occupied.

It is unclear what stance both parties are taking over the matter, the protest group and the festival organisers, with conflicting claims being aired over whether or not the Panyiri Festival administration were happy for the indigenous protesters to remain in the park while the festival goes ahead this weekend.

Like the protest on Australia Day, the demonstration, this time involving a short-term protest, compared to the decades long Tent Embassy in Canberra raises some questions about rights in Australia and whether or not they are or should be limited.

But first to the hilarious claims of a return to Bjelke-Petersen era politics in Queensland. This is utterly ridiculous and should be laughed at. In the Bjelke-Petersen era protesters were barely even allowed to organise before they found themselves the victims of completely abhorrent laws that were so draconian that Queensland, because of its history, has a terrible reputation around rights and freedoms.

Why are the claims of a return to the dark days of the Bjelke-Petersen era ridiculous in this case you ask? Well that has a lot to do with the fact that protesters in this case were free to commence their protest and have been allowed to since March. The protesters were also able to march on parliament, a n0-no under Sir Joh that would’ve attracted arrest.

What is different about this protest is that an eviction order was issued by the Brisbane City Council and this was flouted, regardless of what you think of the rights or wrongs of the lawful direction asking people to move on from the park facilities. Those involved defied those orders, again whether or not they are right or wrong.

This then still raises the question of whether or not rights should be limited.

We have found, particularly in recent years that freedom of speech in this country, an implied, not legally or constitutionally expressed right does have its limits and is at the whim of a subjective test in the courts.

There are many people that have supported the limited right to freedom of speech that we have in this nation. In this stand-off today, what we have are the same people who supported limiting freedom of speech, protesting against a limited right to freedom of assembly.

What this debate requires is some consistency across all fundamental human rights, whether they have been expressed in law or have been implied. If one right is limited, then we should not be surprised if others are too and should allow all to have limitations.

However, rights and freedoms should ideally be absolute or, where practically possible, with little or no limitation which impedes the rights and freedoms of the individual.

One right should not take precedence over, or be held to a different standard as other basic rights and freedoms accorded to the individual in a democracy. Can we please have some consistency on rights across all groups please?

 

The Difficult Art of Crime Reporting

Last night Q&A, the ABC panel show on politics and society broadcast live from Dandenong, a culturally diverse  area of Victoria, less than an hour from Melbourne. The city has a population of which approximately 56% were born overseas, from over 151 different nations. Further, just over half of the population that were born overseas hail from a non-English speaking background. So it was only natural that there would be some questions, aside from the usual talk of the major issues of the day about issues of ethnicity and culture and the intersection with basic  societal functions and phenomena.

How we deal with crime and the reporting of these unfortunate events is a very important issue and the Q&A discussion last night turned to the reporting of crime using the physically identifiable factors of those suspected of , or convicted of offences which we see daily in our news broadcasts.

The questioner last night asked:

I am an Australian citizen. Why is it that if I commit a crime the media identifies me by my parents’ country but as an Australian citizen?

Questions like this are often debated fiercely and are a polarising affair when talking about crime and those responsible for it and how it should be portrayed in the media.

Firstly, it is essential that there are different standards in the reporting of alleged criminal acts and of the criminals that are being and have been prosecuted by the courts.

Both of these parts of the process should not be held to the same standard, as being tough on the investigation and identification of criminals can impede the eventual prosecution of the alleged felon.

It seems reasonable and self-evident that the strict reporting of the appearance of a criminal suspect is an important way to aid the investigative process in the search for those criminals which cannot be captured while committing, or just after undertaking a criminal act.

To that end, journalists should be entirely free to report to the fullest extent possible, the colour of skin of a suspect in a crime and as much other identifiable characteristics as possible. This should include identifying possible ethnic backgrounds, providing that the information is based on realistic information and is applied to people of all skin colour, regardless of background.

Just as height, weight, eye colour, scars or other markings and clothing worn by alleged offenders matters in the investigation process, so too does the colour of skin and to not be able to freely report that would be a shame and hindrance to the resolution of criminal matters.

Where the ground is difficult in the reporting of crime is determining exactly what crimes by what individuals to focus on reporting. Balancing that depending on ethnicity and being proportional is difficult. Perhaps the best system for all media outlets to base criminal reporting on would be the seriousness and brutality of the crime as opposed to any other factor, while still again, in the investigative stages, being fully free to disclose identifiable characteristics.

Where the line should be drawn and where care should be taken to tread carefully is in mentioning the ethnic background or physical appearance of those who have been investigated and charged with criminal acts.

In this case, the skin colour or country of origin of the ancestors of an alleged criminal facing the justice process should not matter and does not need to be reported. Crime is crime and it transcends ethnicity and should not be used to unfairly single out any particular group.

So the reporting of crime is a difficult balancing act for the media, with the right to information in the investigation of crime being paramount. The identification of people charged with an offence should be where the background of the offender ceases to matter. It must be acknowledged that crime reporting is a difficult balancing act with limited time for news content to be determined based on the right of the public to know.

South Brisbane Set to Stay in Labor Corner

The ALP in Queensland were absolutely walloped in the state election held on March 24th, just weeks ago. Like a “dumper” wave, the ALP were tumbled and smashed against the stand and swallowed a lot of water whilst almost drowning electorally. The parliamentary Labor Party, led to the Queensland election by Premier Anna Bligh were reduced to a mere 7 seats out of the 89 seat unicameral legislature in George Street.

Shortly after the humiliating result, the outgoing Premier Bligh who led her team into electoral oblivion announced that she would be vacating the seat and leaving the ALP to search for a candidate to put up in a by-election.

On election night, for a short time the result in South Brisbane was in doubt according to voting projections displayed during the early part of the telecast. Like the statewide trend, there was a swing against Ms Bligh, the Premier in her seat, one which she held by a margin of 15%, a virtual mission impossible for the LNP to take.

But alas, the seat of South Brisbane, did prove beyond the reach of a resurgent LNP led by former Lord Mayor Campbell Newman and represented in the electorate by Clem Grehan. Anna Bligh did take a huge swing away from her of 9.8% but in the end nothing near the swing of 15.6% away from Labor statewide which if replicated, would have seen marginal victory for the LNP.

As we know though, by-elections can be a completely different story and the LNP would have definitely been rubbing their hands together in the anticipation of an entirely possible victory in the return to the polls. The public do not generally like having to return to the polls and have been known to deliver an emphatic electoral message to state their disdain for having to go back and vote again.

The situation though is different here, with the poll being held on the same day as the council elections around the state, saving the sometimes reluctant voter from having to hit the local school or community hall three separate times in one year.

For some time it looked a promising get for the LNP given the situation and the history of by-election results. But this has now seemingly all changed with  the most recent poll, conducted by ReachTEL for the electorate of South Brisbane indicating the ALP through their candidate Jackie Trad have managed to achieve a primary vote poll swing toward the Labor Party since the March 24 election of 5.3%.

The 2PP vote in the electorate according to the poll stands at 58% for the ALP compared to 42% for the LNP, a swing on this basis of 3% to Ms Trad.

Aside from the electorate being a very safe ALP division, it appears according to the same survey that the size of the majority that Queensland has delivered to Campbell Newman and his team is making voters in the seat reluctant to side with them in the vote on Saturday.

Asked if the LNP result at the state election made them more or less likely to side with the party in the by-election 45.2%, almost half stated that it made them less likely to vote for the LNP candidate Clem Grehan. A further 21.% of voters indicated that their voting intention was unchanged, likely pushing the Labor vote well into the 50s on a two-party-preferred basis, seeming to mirror the two-party results.

So tomorrow it seems, amongst all the pain that the ALP will have something to celebrate, even though the current margin sits at only 4.7%, no matter how small the victory in the scheme of an 89 seat parliament with the ALP forming a mere single digit Opposition.

%d bloggers like this: