Sunday, May 29, 2011

Minchin–Party Over The People

In an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, 28-May-11, Senator Nick Minchin outlines some serious flaws in our party-dominated system. The first clause in the first sentence is:
“As I prepare to retire from 32 years of full-time service to the Liberal Party, …” (18 of those years was as Senator)
Nick Minchin:
worked for the party
It could be said by a retiring Parliamentarian from any major party. Nick Minchin was elected as a Senator to represent the Constitutional interests of South Australia on 1-July-1993. He has been a Senator for 18 years. From 1977 to 1993, he worked for the Liberal Party's Federal Secretariat; he was Deputy Federal Director of the Liberal Party in 1983 and held senior positions in the South Australian Liberal Party. In his public life, and his 18 years in the Senate, Nick Minchin has always worked for the interests of the Liberal Party.
Senator Minchin goes on:
(Party) “success really lies in getting the balance right between Principle and Pragmatism -between the pursuit of good policy and the need to retain popular support”
This is undoubtedly true, and Principle alone rarely leads to good policy. Even when policy is not good, Party Parliamentarians will still vote for the party, because it is in the Party’s interests. This is true of members from all major parties: Labor, Liberal, National; and minor parties like  the Greens. Consider the following:
  • the policy to deliberately breach International Law (the Tampa Affair) – Liberal Party
  • the Pacific Solution – using Nauru to hold asylum seekers, and to leave 1 person alone in detention for more than 2 years, and subject to UN criticism. Nauru is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees – Liberal Party
  • the (proposed) Malaysian Solution – using Malaysia to take 800 asylum seekers, in exchange for 4000 UN-determined refugees. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees – Labor Party
  • WorkChoices, a fundamentalist attack on the wages and working conditions on some of the very people the Liberal Party relied on to retain power - Liberal Party
  • Mining tax, which was poorly considered, and effectively gelded by a big-business-funded populism campaign – Labor Party
In each case the party members did vote, or would have voted, for the policy, based solely on their party membership.

This is where Independent Parliamentarians have a significant role to play. As much as the Liberal Party has tried to demonise Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, their role as Independent, non-party-political MP’s in a Federal Parliament with a minority government is invaluable. It makes the government, and to a lesser extent the Opposition, consider a position or compromise that will prevent or ameliorate fundamentalism and extremism. That is something members of the major parties rarely do on their own initiative.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

NSW Steps Towards Dictatorship

NSW Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell is trying to take NSW one step closer to being a dictatorship. He proposes to introduce legislation which will allow a Minister, under his direction, to introduce regulations that will determine the pay and conditions for public servants, including: public service staff; public teachers; nurses; hospital doctors; carers; public transport staff.

The previous State Government introduced legislation (so-called Part3A Planning Laws) that allowed the Planning Minster to introduce ‘regulations’ approving Development Applications above a certain value. The Minster was able to act as Legislature (instead of Parliament), Executive (Minister) and Judiciary. Those ‘regulations’ were used to allow:
  • multiple wind-farms around Crookwell, Lake George and Cullerin, close to people's houses.
  • the development of Barangaroo, which was allowed to bypass City of Sydney planning laws; and environmental clean-up laws.
  • an approved development at Catherine Hill Bay, again contrary to local council planning laws, and contrary to the Minister's own departmental advice. 
  • coal seam gas extraction without reference to other local or state planning, environmental or heritage laws in the Illawarra, Camden, the Hunter Valley. There were/are plans for drills in the Southern Highlands, near Bowral.
Many believe that "Government-by-Regulation" is wrong, including me. They are wrong because they diminish, or even reduce to zero, the Principle of Separation of Powers: that Parliament, Government and the Judiciary are independent. Especially the Judiciary.
The current State Government made much of undoing the Planning Minister’s ability to introduce such regulations, and returning planning powers to Local Councils, saying that such regulatory powers were wrong.

Now, it seems those same regulatory powers are OK! Mr O’Farrell intends to use the same “regulatory powers” again. Not for planning, but for Industrial Relations. Mr O'Farrell proposes legislation that will allow a Minister to be able to regulate the pay and conditions of public servants. That is, the Minister will introduce a regulation that effectively directs one or more judges of IRC to make a particular decision regarding pay and conditions. This removes the judicial independence from industrial court decisions. This “Government-by-Regulation” is exactly how the various contentious wind-farms were allowed, Barangaroo and coal-seam gas developments were allowed.

While there is no direct enshrinement of the Doctrine of Separation of Powers - that Parliament, Government and the Judiciary are independent - in NSW’s Constitution, it is worth publicly noting that there are long-standing conventions regarding the Separation of Powers in NSW. Queensland’s Joh Bjelke-Petersen was found to have no concept of it during the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and the corruption in the government he led, and the Police Force he controlled, is well documented. This proposed Act will weaken the Separation of Powers in NSW because a Minister will the Legislature, the Executive, and will effectively make judgements on behalf of the Judiciary, who will be required to ‘rubber stamp’ them. Again, this means that one person, under the direction of Mr O’Farrell and any future Premier, will effectively be Legislature, Executive and Judiciary!

Mr O’Farrell’s proposed legislation clearly breeches the Principle of Separation of Powers by action and intent, is unethical, weakens our democracy, and leaves open the opportunity for corruption by this, and future governments. It must be vigorously opposed.

“Government-by-Regulation” was wrong for wind-farms and other large developments, not because they are wind-farms, or large developments, but because “Government-by-Regulation” allowed at least some  inappropriate developments, diminished our democracy, and allowed for possible corruption in future. The same is true for Mr O’Farrell’s “Government-by-Regulation” for industrial relations.

The question for every NSW Parliamentarian is: will he/she be guided by good conscience and the interests of the people and of democracy, or will they let Mr O’Farrell take NSW one step closer to Dictatorship?

Contact as many MLA’s and MLC’s as you can. See


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gillard Defends Carbon Tax

Julia Gillard has defended the budget, and the proposed carbon tax. Her comments, though, came only at the Victorian Labour Party State Conference.

During her speech she attacked Tony Abbott’s credibility, and his thoughtless right wing agenda. She said:
“We know climate change is real.
We know we must cut carbon pollution.
We know the cheapest, most efficient way to do that is to make big polluters pay.
And we know that when big polluters pay that every cent of that money can be used to help families, protect jobs and fund programs to tackle climate change.
Friends, it’s been said before now but it’s never been truer than of the fight to price carbon:
This isn't a fight between right and left.
It's a fight between right and wrong.”
"We are fighting to price carbon to tackle climate change and to build a clean energy economy which is prepared and strong."
Ms Gillard’s attack on Tony Abbott’s attempt at a climate change populism included:
"We don't have time for politicians and shock jocks who deny the scientific conclusions of NASA and the CSIRO.
We don't have time for made-up figures and shameless fear mongering.
We don't have time to waste on a debate that lacks fact and reason.”
"Our national efforts and energies must be focused...
"We are a nation determined to do our bit to tackle climate change and urgently need to make a start to build the clean energy economy of the future."
The full transcript of Ms Gillard’s speech of 21-May-2011 is at
It seems to me that these are the types of comment that Ms Gillard, As Prime Minister of Australia, should be making often in the media. She might not like that Tony Abbott is effectively running his negative 2013 election campaign in almost daily press releases, radio interviews with largely conservative media and set-up TV appearances, but they have been effective in raising not only Mr Abbott’s profile, but his approval rating. Many unthinking voters will say he’s doing a good job, simply because they do not see Ms Gillard using the media in the same way, with the same frequency, or countering Abbott’s negativity.

Despite any, and all, governments saying they do not worry about the polls, they do. Their media advisers and their party strategists are all over the polls, and regularly and routinely use “focus groups”.

Tony Abbott does not argue policy deliberately – he doesn’t want any policy scrutinised. His campaign is based almost exclusively on negativity. He does not want public debate, he wants perception of a “good job” because he makes frequent noises. But this is not public debate on policy directions, and Ms Gillard does not help the government by not taking the debate to the media daily. She needs to show some passion, even crankiness at Abbott, during any such media grabs.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

2011 Budget

This past week, the Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, delivered his budget on Tuesday night. Traditionally, the Leader of the Opposition gives a Budget reply speech. By common agreement among journalists, Tony Abbott gave a pre-election speech.

In his 3rd paragraph he said:

Since December 2007, the price of electricity is up 51 per cent, gas is up 30 per cent, and water is up 46 per cent. Education costs have risen 24 per cent, health 20 per cent and rent 21 per cent. Grocery prices are up 14 per cent. Since the middle of 2009, interest rate rises have added $500 a month to mortgage repayments while wages have risen just 7 per cent.

This is spin and needs to be challenged, and questioned:

  1. electricity: for years, all state governments starved their still or then-owned electricity corporations of funds. Consequently, there was grossly insufficient investment in line maintenance and upgrades. Further, both state and Federal governments had an agenda to encourage and reward users who installed home-based solar panels. Some states paid up to 3 times the price for electricity fed into the grid. Increasing demand from new developments, rising population and increasing numbers of electrical appliances have all contributed to the price increases. The latter also applies to gas supply.
  2. Education costs: what costs? The cost of private education has certainly increased, as have their prices. Both public and private schools have had to upgrade IT infrastructure. Tony Abbott has not been sufficiently clear about what ‘costs’ he has used, nor those which he wants us voters to use for our own comparisons.
  3. Interest rates are still lower that when he was last in government. He was part of a government that splashed so much money that the Reserve Bank was forced to raise interest rates 11 times between 2001 and 2007. At the 2007 election when the government of which Abbott was a member lost, RBA interest rates were 2.00% higher that they are now!
  4. Wages: while wages growth has been slow, the wages of Abbott’s target voters were often savaged under the WorkChoices legislation he voted for, and defended, even while executive salaries ballooned.


Tony Abbott targeted the people whose votes he will need to win government: teachers, nurses, police officers. It is entirely reasonable to debate whether a family earning $150,000 per year is wealthy, it is also reasonable to note that the top 2% of income earners earn $150,000 or more; and the top 17% of households have that income or more. That’s 1 in 6 families. Five in six families earn less. The top 20% of people own 60% of the wealth in Australia; the bottom 20% of people own just 1%. Part of the problem for people is that, under the previous Liberal-National Coalition government, they became used to increasing amounts of money being handed to them by the Federal Government. People will adapt to the changes. That is human nature.

It is this type of voter attitude that is partly responsible for the financial troubles of PIIGS in Europe (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain). That is the voters don’t want to pay increased taxes, often actively avoid paying taxes, but still want government handouts, including a government pension.

Some have complained that there’s nothing in the budget for them. There is plenty, including:

  1. Government-subsidised health (Medicare, and other health programs)
  2. Government-subsidised pharmaceuticals (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, for prescription drugs)
  3. Government funding for social infrastructure, usually provided to the states (public hospitals, public schools …)
  4. Government co-contribution for low-income earners (it means they will be less reliant on government pensions in future). They will also get some of their rebate each pay period, rather than after submitting a tax return.
  5. The child care rebate remains, regardless of income
  6. The baby bonus, or paid parental leave, is still available

But it is not a perfect budget by any means. Some of the savings measures will affect consumer discretionary spending. Yet this includes the area of the economy that is in the ‘slow lane’: retail, entertainment, tourism & hospitality. Tony Abbott has previously said that a Labor Government will never return a surplus. There is no doubt the government will do all it can to return the budget to surplus: it wants to make liar of Tony Abbott. Abbott, meanwhile, will “do anything” to destabilise government in Australia. We will be in for a long 2 1/2 years of Government and Opposition spin.

Many, including the media are rather too focussed on asking ‘What's in it for me, me, me?’ Australian society would benefit from a more positive attitude, recognising that the budget does try to help those less fortunate, while still providing considerable funds for all, including “middle class” people. Like me.



Sunday, May 08, 2011

Australia's Asian Solution

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has announced a deal with Malaysia to receive and process 800 asylum-seekers. These asylum seekers have paid people-smugglers to send them to Australian territory by boat, and frequently travel illegally through Malaysia and Indonesia.

The 800 boat people will be processed by the UNHCR, but will join the end of the queue to be processed. In return, Australia will take 4000 refugees from the UNHCR in Malaysia.

The in-principle agreement is designed to
  • be a public deterrent to people arriving by boat, rather than through established UNHCR programs.
  • provide a partial solution to the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat that are self-funded, paying money to people smugglers.
  • improve populist public perception of the Government's policy on asylum-seekers. This is an important area for the ALP (in and out of Government), and one where it has historically trailed the Liberal-National Coalition.
  • avoid the Labor Government having to use Nauru, which was used by the former Coalition Government under John Howard, and about which the then Labor Opposition was very critical.
The Coalition has repeatedly called for Nauru to be used as an off-shore processing centre. Labor has consistently refused, but has not argued its case, apart from earlier statements about Nauru not being a signatory to UN Conventions on Refugees. Neither, though, is Malaysia. This gives Tony Abbott and the media the freedom to speculate and question why not, other than embarrassment such a reversal would cause.

Not that Nauru is an ideal country, nor was it ultimately effective for the Liberal-National Coalition government, which included Tony Abbott. ALL of the people they sent there were ultimately granted asylum in Australia, and it cost Australian taxpayers $2m /day even when empty!

Other reasons for it being less than ideal include:
  • it has had an ongoing history of corruption and incompetence within the government and public service
  • it had a reported history of allowing money laundering and tax evasion
  • it is not a party to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime 
  • it is not a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention
  • it is not a party to the UN Convention against Corruption
Julia Gillard's Labor Government learnt from its mistakes with its proposed East Timor processing centre, which was announced during the election without having consulted the Government of East Timor. This time, the Government has reached an in-principle agreement before announcing it. But it has not yet learnt effective communication and how to lead policy debate in Australia.

As with most Federal, and state, politics, there is no debate among the political parties; just press releases and spin from both sides, and negativism from Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National Coalition.


Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama Bin Laden Dead

This afternoon's breaking news story was about the death of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. The details - less important to many - seem to be:

 The US and Bin Laden had declared war on each other, particularly after the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Since August 2010 the US has been gathering, and verifying, intelligence about the whereabouts of Bin Laden. The US sent in helicopters and troops to Abbotabad, not far from Pakistan's capital Islamabad. Special Forces troops were lowerd to the ground, and Bin Laden, his son, and 2 other men were killed. Bin Laden has been buried at sea, in a method that conforms to Islamic custom. It was all over in about 40 minutes, according to some news reports.

So much for the facts.
  • Will Bin Laden's death make a difference? It has lifted the spirit of America & its people, many of whom rejoiced in New York, and Washington. To terrorism? Probably not, especially if Bin Laden had a succession plan. Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahri, reputed to have planned significant terrorist attacks could possible take over. Also, al Qaeda is not just one organisation - there are 'branches' in other Islamic countries, with their own leaders; it is known to have influenced other terrorist attacks, including the Bali bombings in Indonesia.
  • Will al Qaeda still be active? Yes. But despite the bleatings of leaders under pressure from popular uprisings in Egypt, Lybia, Yemen, and other Islamic countries, these uprisings are not al Qaeda's doing. No-one, in or out of, those countries beleives that. They are popular uprisings by people seeking freedoms, justice and democracy, all of which are an anathema to terrorists.
  • Did Bin Laden die a martyr's death? His followers and some analysts would have us believe so. But there is another possibility. Bin Laden could have realised the raid was likely to capture him, and determined that he would not be captured, interrogated, and tried for crimes against humanity. In effect, he could have decided to commit "suicide by cop". Islamic law, and Quranic writings, seem to say that a person commiting suicide cannot enter paradise! If Bin Laden determined to die, even by "suicide by cop" then he will go to Jahannum, Islamic hell.