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Australia Has Voted

Australia has now been to the polls. And as predicted we have elected a Coalition Government, ending 6 years of ALP rule starting and ending with Kevin Rudd, albeit with a stint from Julia Gillard for 3 years.

Kevin Rudd has decided, not so gracefully, to exit stage left in terms of the Labor leadership and Tony Abbott is now PM-elect.

Whether Kevin Rudd decides to stick around for another 3 years on the backbench is another story. Going on history you would expect him to quit the parliament at some stage during this term – likely early on. A number of his current and former colleagues have less than subtly suggested he quit the parliament for the good of the party.

WHAT WAS NOT A SURPRISE

It was not a surprise that Labor lost and that the Coalition victory was significant. For most of the last three years the Liberal and National Party opposition have been ahead in the polls – at times way ahead. An Abbott-led opposition victory, apart from at the very start of Rudd redux and the very early stages of the election campaign, was a fait accompli.

It was not a surprise that the Coalition would pick up seats and that these would be mostly in the eastern states, Liberal and National Party seats were gained in all four eastern states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

With the retirement of the two Independent MP’s who delivered Julia Gillard minority government, the Opposition started the campaign assured of picking up two electorates.

It was also probably not so much a surprise that a poor campaign performance from Greenway candidate Jaymes Diaz saw the Liberal Party fail to gain the seat of Greenway. At the same time, it was probably somewhat significant that Michelle Rowland actually had a pretty significant swing in her favour which should help out somewhat in future elections.

WHAT WAS A SURPRISE

First of all, a significant feature of the results was that western Sydney did not bring anywhere near as much pain for the ALP as many of the polls had predicted. Western Sydney was largely expected to turn blue, well before the campaign even commenced. As noted though, it was not a surprise that Jaymes Diaz lost in Greenway.

It was a pretty significant surprise that Tasmania saw the biggest swing against the Australian Labor Party. It was also significant that other southern states saw a bigger swing to the Coalition than the more northern states of New South Wales and Queensland, where both the Liberal and National Party were expected to enjoy significant swings.

In Queensland, the LNP would have hoped, even expected to gain the seat of Lilley from former Treasurer Wayne Swan, but this did not eventuate. For much of the night it looked as if the LNP would not take any Labor seats in Queensland, but now it would appear they have picked up two. It would appear they have not gone too well in Fairfax, with Clive Palmer seemingly headed for a surprise victory.

WHAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE RESULT

It must be said that the result was probably closer than it would have been had Julia Gillard still been Prime Minister, The election results are still a disaster for Labor. But even party faithful would be pretty happy with the fact that they did not lose a number of seats which would have largely been written off by party tacticians.

So the Rudd return to the leadership was probably responsible for a minor improvement in the electoral standing of the ALP. However it was far from the political masterstroke that polls claimed it would be.

At various times throughout the night it was mooted by commentators, Labor, Liberal and those non-aligned, that a significant factor in the result was the instability within the ALP over the last three years. They would not be wrong on that assumption. Disunity is political suicide.

But those commenting, particularly from the Labor side, gave far too much attention to that one single factor. Few were able to acknowledge that the Opposition were a united force and sufficiently strong force. In doing so, the ALP implied that the collective electorate had made a choice to vote for an Abbott Government based on one factor alone.

There were not just chaotic relationships within the ALP. there was also chaotic administration. Too much was rushed and there was not enough caution in the way the ALP governed. Australians appear to love big government in some ways and not others and Australians also love a pretty conservative style of governance. Labor did not deliver on the latter. And unless they realise that they have to be more cautious and circumspect in the future, they will continue to lose public support pretty swiftly.

WHAT LIES AHEAD

The Coalition now has another three years to govern the country. And this new opportunity probably comes a term sooner than expected. The challenge will be to carefully set out and plan the agenda for the next three years and not repeat the same governance mistakes that Labor have. What will likely be the most conservative administration in our history, is unlikely to make the same mistake.

Sorting out the budget as soon as possible is also likely to be a major challenge. The Coalition has come to recognise this in recent weeks, changing its’ stance on the surplus pledge.

There are an interesting three years ahead indeed.

DisabilityCare, Geelong and the Decentralisation of Public Services

Planning for the NDIS, now DisabilityCare is coming along quite well. The only state yet to sign up to the full roll-out of the Gillard Government’s new plan for disability services is Western Australia. And just a few short weeks ago, the legislation for the funding of the disability scheme was introduced into the parliament and swiftly passed through both the upper and lower houses of parliament.

And on Monday this week the government announced that the headquarters for the government program will be in the Victorian city of Geelong. The move to base the head office of the scheme in Geelong came less than two weeks after the city took a big hit with Ford announcing it plans to cease production of automobiles in the country, a decision which will cost over 1000 jobs.

As a result of the government’s announcement, three hundred jobs will be on offer in Geelong, in what is being pushed as assistance to a town which will be beginning the transition away from large-scale manufacturing, at least as far as cars go, over the next three years.

But here we reach the first question. Is it really of great assistance to Geelong, and in particular, workers who will be leaving Ford Australia? Potentially. Some may be picked up over time by the DisabilityCare agency as they try to seek work locally. Some will inevitably retrain in another area, perhaps in public administration or disability services. But others will need to look elsewhere in Geelong, or perhaps much further afield.

What the announcement really is, in the way it was framed, is a symbolic gesture by the Labor Government, meant to appeal to the heartstrings.

Another claim put forth by the government is that it is an example of a commitment to the decentralisation of the public service. And it is decentralisation, in the sense that  the top brass in the DisabilityCare bureaucracy will not be based in the traditional heartland of the commonwealth public service in Canberra. Having a number of staff in the states and territories is also an example of decentralisation.

What this policy needs however, is a more deeply decentralised structure. Rather than simply saying that the top end of the bureaucracy should be based in one city or town or another, we should be spreading it around Australia more, on the basis of the population of each state and territory respectively. We ought to have decision-makers much closer to “the action”.

This reform is about delivering the best we can to the most vulnerable in our community. This means throwing as much as possible into a number of local areas, including major players.

Of course the CEO and some staff are going to have to be placed in one location. That is not a problem, but more senior staff should be spread around.

There are still other issues to be teased out in terms of making sure that the funding commitments aside from the levy are maintained, regardless of who is in government. And we must make sure that Western Australia joins in with the disability insurance scheme, or worst case scenario, offers a policy almost identical to the national one, save for possible improvements on how to administer it.

There is a lot still to be discussed, but the die has been cast and Geelong has secured some employment opportunities. But all care needs to be taken and in particular, lessons need to be learned, during and after the trial phase which commences in just a number of weeks.

Hopefully there will be no hard lessons in the coming years.

A Broad and National Royal Commission the Only Way

Finally, it seems that a significant national inquiry into what appears to be widespread abuse within the clergy is near. Calls  New South Wales has just announced an inquiry and Victoria has already set aside twelve months for an inquiry of their own. But these state-based inquiries are too limited in scope and there is little doubt that the problem crosses state borders. There has been so much focus too on the Catholic Church, the main source of such horrendous allegations, but a broader approach in that sense too is necessary.

Both the New South Wales and Victorian inquiries are incredibly limited. In the case of NSW, announced last week after a Lateline interview with a state police officer, the investigation will be limited to the allegations made by Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox during an interview on the ABC news program. The events in question are limited to a specific region in the state and surround an alleged police cover-up of very disturbing incidents.

In the case of Victoria, their inquiry is wider in scope, but far from a powerful royal commission. Victoria’s sex abuse is being investigated by a parliamentary inquiry but is not limited in scope like the New South Wales’ iteration will be.

The parliamentary inquiry in Victoria covers abuse in all religious and non-government organisations, not just the Catholic Church or a specific region within the state. However, like the newly announced investigation in NSW, the committee inquiring into these matters does not have the extensive power that a royal commission commands.

There really now, more than ever, is a need for a full royal commission into child abuse and it must be a national one. We have passed the point of no return. There is not one option left to deal with a large number of alleged indiscretions except for holding a royal commission.

For some time now those calls have been met with resistance despite a significant number of cases coming to light where there was abuse, mostly within the Catholic Church, but also a wider array of religious and other institutions.

Most of that resistance has come from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the main denomination at the centre of the bulk of the allegations that have been raised in the public domain of abuse and inaction.

Worse still, it is also alleged that there has been a systemic cover-up, the active burying of cases involving incredibly devious acts of sexual depravity and violence against Australian children. All for the maintenance of power.

It is incredibly sad, indeed ridiculous and very concerning that the church believes itself above the law. Child abuse, any abuse is a crime and as such there should be absolutely no tolerance of reports that it is occurring. It absolutely beggars belief that anyone would not report alleged indecency, in favour of dealing with it in-house. Going to police is the one and only option.

Australia’s politicians have been way too slow to act. We have known about a number of cases of abuse and inaction on the part of the church for years and yet, until this year, little had been done anywhere in the country.

It would appear, on the face of it, that our politicians fear the influence of not just the Catholic Church, but also the wider religious movement. But that fear is incredibly ill-founded and terribly misplaced.

Religious movements are no longer anywhere near as powerful as they were. They would like to think they are and the impression of ongoing power remains. The simple fact, however, is that they are not.

In any case, politicians should not fear any real or perceived influence that religion does or does not possess in Australia. The lives of Australian children are far more important than any political benefit. Power should not corrupt to the extent that sexual abuse is ignored by MP’s across the country. Sadly, it just might, at least until the political pressure to act against these allegations becomes too strong.

People are experiencing more hurt suffering in comparative silence. The vast majority who have had acts of sexual violence perpetrated against them would want some form of closure, some acknowledgement that their pain and suffering is real and needs to be dealt with by a proper judicial process, not forgotten about or buried within an organisation.

It is understandable the visceral anger and hatred directed at institutions and the individuals that represent them, for having failed in the basic duties of a citizen, organisationally and individually when it comes to the law. People do deserve much better treatment at the hands of those caring for and providing guidance to impressionable and vulnerable young minds.

Unfortunately, some of those understandably outraged by the actions of the Catholic Church and other religious organisations have called for the tax exempt status of these organisations to be revoked as some form of punishment,

Any kind of remedy must be civil or criminal and should not extend to taking away the tax-free status of religious organisations that still, despite their massive and unjustifiable failings in relation to protection of children within the church, do extensive and helpful charity work.

What is abundantly clear is that a wide-ranging and national inquiry is needed into abuse within the church. The states have either failed to do anything at all or have not gone anywhere near far enough in prosecuting this matter.

A royal commission must now happen and should certainly not be limited to the Catholic Church. All denominations must be examined in a broad inquiry without fear or favour.

Support for the inquiry needs to be across partisan lines. As of this afternoon all political parties, except for the ALP and most Independent MP’s have pledged support for an inquiry. A large and growing number of Labor MP’s have however voiced support for a royal commission.

It would appear that the momentum towards a national inquiry into sex abuse within the church is now inexorable and that can only be a good thing,

Sadly though, a lot of pain has been endured during the unnecessarily slow process.

Surveillance Cameras, Crime, Fear, False Promises and Assumptions

It is just a matter of weeks since the rape and murder of ABC staffer Jill Meagher, the truly saddening case of a young woman going out for drinks with colleagues, never to return home to husband of 3 years, Tom Meagher again. There’s a man before the courts facing charges over the assault and death, a swift end to the most difficult of investigations for police. It was CCTV footage that helped identify the perpetrator, not in the Brunswick street, but from a local shopfront. Inevitably, such a high-profile case has provoked some discussion, mostly sober, of the appropriateness or otherwise of the increased presence of these devices in our community.

Today Opposition Leader Tony Abbott pledged to spend $50 million over 4 years, via grants to local council areas, to be used for the purchase and installation of CCTV cameras in cities across the country. This reinstates a program of the former Howard Government, not the first planned resurrection of policy from the Howard years.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu though, as leader of the state where Jill Meagher disappeared, beat his federal colleague off the mark, in swift response to the heinous crime. Premier Baillieu has pledged $3 million for local councils, in an identical scheme to that of the federal Opposition Leader, again for local councils to procure more security cameras for the streets of Victoria.

The whole matter raises the age-old question: at what price do we diminish liberty?

To some extent that is a false question. Security cameras do not stop people from going about legal activities in a public place. Indeed, the presence of security cameras does not even stop people doing things that are illegal.

When looking at the privacy side of the equation, things get a little more blurred. There are some surveillance cameras in very strange places, locations which tread a very fine line and can stray into the territory of absurd over-utilisation. That in itself should be the biggest worry, rather than the simple existence of prying eyes in our streets and other public locations.

In the debate over whether or not to make use of, or increase the abundance of security cameras, there’s another interesting element. Avid supporters of increasing the saturation of CCTV cameras will say that they are a very good crime prevention tool. They will try to argue that the simple presence of these facilities cuts down crime before it happens there is simply little or no evidence of this.

What they are, as the Meagher case has proved, is a vital tool, when not overused and abused, for aiding law enforcement. They can capture illegal practices and aid in the identification of offenders. Sometimes this will lead to the quick apprehension of offenders, when manned by alert staff, usually of councils. Other times, they can lead to the arrest of alleged criminals days, weeks, months or years later.

Security footage also helps build a picture of events that may have preceded a crime. Referring back to the death of Jill Meagher, this is exactly what happened. The footage formed part of the story of the last hours in the life of the Melbourne resident. That narrative is crucial for investigators in filling in the blanks in cases that are tough to solve if a sequence of events is not established quickly.

Surveillance cameras and facilities do not make communities safer as you would be made to believe. In this sense, the use of them, the simple talk of beefing up capabilities is used to appeal to an emotion. Rhetoric about CCTV footage is successfully applied, appealing to the human need to feel safe and secure in our daily lives. Human beings are susceptible to being very passive and accepting when fears we have are harnessed by politicians.

The CCTV issue is a difficult one and there are no easy answers. There seems to be a right and a wrong way for governments to go about implementing further plans for the over-watch of the streets and public facilities of our towns and cities.

The highly publicised murder of Jill Meagher will serve as a catalyst for more surveillance cameras around our country and that’s not automatically a bad thing. At the same time, our politicians have a responsibility to not make false promises which appeal to easily manipulated emotions.

Games and More Games, But Where to Now for the NDIS?

The latest Council of Australian Governments meeting has gone off with a bit of a hitch. The National Disability Insurance Scheme launch sites were front and centre of the COAG agenda today with the states and territories coming together to try and win a launch site, well in most cases at least.

At the meeting today in Canberra a total of three launch sites were announced by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania managed to reach agreement with the Gillard Government to co-fund trials in their respective states and territories.

But alas, a fourth and final trial location could not be found. The states and territories who will be hosting launch sites are all Labor administrations. Those loudest in their criticism of the government over the project, from a positive interest in at least trying to find an outcome, to in Queensland’s case, not having an interest at all in contributing funds until at least 2014-15 are all Liberal state Premiers.

Western Australia a Liberal state, under Premier Colin Barnett will at least be trying out their own version of the scheme, ‘My Way’ which the federal government will have a look at to see how their experiment at a state-based scheme goes. But really, all states should just get with the same program, but points for trying.

New South Wales and Victoria, on the face of it, seem part of the way there. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell announced that his state had $570 million for the trial, a not insignificant amount, over half of the commonwealth allocation in the May budget which put aside $1 billion for the four initial locations for the disability scheme.

Together with Victoria, the two states with conservative Premiers put together a joint bid. Their proposal was to cater for 15,000 people with a disability with the New South Wales part of the two-state agreement to be put in place in the Hunter region.

But again money was the killer here. The Prime Minister wanted NSW Premier O’Farrell to contribute a further $70 million for the trial and the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu an extra $40 million for their states to be able to have one of the four initial NDIS service areas.

The first point is that the money that NSW were willing to bring to the table was an extremely generous sum for a scheme which the Productivity Commission recommended should be fully funded by the feds.

Second, surely each of the three parties in the negotiations for the joint bid had the ability to make up the $100 million funding shortfall between them, whether that be either of the two states or the Gillard Government, or all three sharing the extra burden.

As far as Queensland goes, with relatively new state Premier Campbell Newman at the helm, the whole situation is far from encouraging. The Queensland Premier, Mr Newman came to the meeting of Australian governments proposing to spend not a single cent on a proposal for a launch site. Interestingly though, Mr Newman brought a proposal to COAG today for a launch site to be held in the town of Gympie, north of Brisbane.

But that of course was never ever going to translate into the northern state being granted the right  by the commonwealth to enjoy the benefits of being one of the first four places in the country to see how the eventually national scheme will operate.

The overall point is that all Liberal states were playing politics. It (the funding job) could have been done. Surely too, the federal government, in the knowledge that in twelve months time they will likely not be in power and not having to stump up further funds for the essential disability policy. were also playing political games.

What was interesting today and in the lead-up to the crucial Council of Australian Governments meeting was that the Northern Territory Government, under Chief Minister Paul Henderson, a Labor administration appeared relatively absent from the debate and discussion. The motive likely the upcoming election in the Northern Territory.

So where to now for the National Disability Insurance Scheme?

While the federal government should have followed the Productivity Commission recommendation to fully fund the scheme it is clear that it will never happen that way.

But it is clear that the NDIS just has to happen. People with a disability have waited far too long for a serious attempt at a framework meeting their basic but diverse needs in a converted national approach.

Like it or lump it, the states have to alter their stance on the project to a standpoint where they are willing to contribute more whilst still pushing for the commonwealth to fund the vast majority of the costly policy.

With a likely Liberal Government at the federal level next year, it is important that their in principle support, which appears to be wavering quite strongly, is converted into real support for following the already embarked upon implementation process.

Lobby groups, the state and current federal government will need to continue to put the pressure on the current federal Opposition to make their uncertain bipartisan support a reality. Nobody wants to see an incoming Abbott Government in power suddenly baulk when faced with needing to implement a policy that the Liberal Premiers have all had varying degrees of difficulty acknowledging is important.

But again, at the same time, the current administration at the federal level must take their share of the blame for what is a very worrying juncture in the NDIS debate.

All states and the federal government need to work together more and be more willing to compromise. They all have the means to contribute something. People with a disability cannot afford to miss out with another failed policy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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