Thursday, September 24, 2009

Libs Struggle As Kevin Struts The Stage

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is undoubtedly enjoying strutting the world's stage. Having had breakfast with former US President Bill Clinton on his (Mr Rudd's) birthday, he has bathed in the compliments of both Clinton and current US President Barak Obama, while being a co-host of the plenary meeting with world leaders. They will meet in Copenhagen in December where it is hoped that leaders will commit to some action on climate change.

Meanwhile Liberal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has been relegated to speaking to conservative organisations, where he has been preaching to the converted about how the Labor Government's stimulus packages are not the reason Australia has done remarkably well in the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). This flies in the face of the opinions of Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry; Reserve Bank Governor, Glenn Stevens; myriad respected economists and business commentators; and voters. It was, according to Mr Turnbull, the (former) Liberal-National Government's "four pillars policy" about no mergers between the big 4 banks. He forgot to mention that this had been a "6 pillars" policy - 4 big banks, and Life Insurance companies AMP and National Mutual - instituted by then Labor PM Paul Keating, but unilaterally downgraded to just the 4 big banks by then Treasurer Peter Costello in 1997.

Mr Turnbull, and his Liberal Party, are also under pressure on Labor's proposed bill on Climate Change. The party is riven with disagreements, and has been challenged by Labor to come up with workable amendments by the end of October, before Parliament resumes for a short time in November. Kevin Rudd, and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, know that the Liberals will not be able to achieve this. If they vote down the bill, Kevin Rudd will have a reason to call a double dissolution election.

Such an election, if held in the first 6 months of 2010, could see The Greens, and Labor, improve their numbers in the Senate, with the Greens possibly holding the balance of power. The Liberal and National Coalition parties, and their conservative independent supporters, could be reduced to Senate also-rans. This is a real dilemma for the Liberals: risk losing Senate seats and Senate power and relevance, or vote for a climate change bill which is divides their party. Oh, what a feeling - not!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Libs Remain Confused

Federal Liberal Party members remain confused. Last week Malcolm Turnbull refused to rule in or rule out a return to WorkChoices. His fence-sitting was driven by two opposing forces: his innate recognition of the injustice that drove the WorkChoices policy of reducing the wages of ordinary Australians, while executives reaped double-digit rises in their salary packages; and the more extreme right wing of the party that still beats the WorkChoices drum, and whose support he needs. His leadership is simply not sufficiently strong to properly bury WorkChoices, or any other euphemistic name that the party cares to use.

Brendan Nelson gave his valedictory speech to Parliament this week. In it he again voiced his opposition to an emissions trading scheme (ETS). Malcolm Turnbull, his successor as Liberal Party leader, could not get to the backbenches quickly enough to shake hands and finalise Dr Nelson's departure. Imagine, then, the Libs' surprise the following day to see Brendan Nelson being appointed as Australia's ambassador to the EU and NATO. He becomes the latest example of former Liberal Party MP's and Senators to be appointed to Labor Government positions. His ambassadorial role will see him argue Australia's case for an ETS! No sign of an appointment for ex-Prime Minister John Howard, though.

Internally, the Liberal Party remains divided on WorkChoices, an Emissions Trading Scheme, leadership, the need for and size of an economic stimulus for Australia. In short, they remain a rabble, led by a man who cannot improve his electoral approval, where all but one of the women have been pushed into the background, and which cannot seem to agree on many policy matters with their Coalition "partner".

Malcolm Turnbull has not shown sufficient leadership to draw together the different elements in the Liberal Party. He seems to be there under sufferance, in which case he will likely be replaced when those elements congeal after the next Federal election in 2010, whereupon he will be replaced, possibly by Joe Hockey.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Women for the Front Line?

Federal Defence Personnel Minister, Greg Combet, has indicated the Federal Government wants to break down military gender barriers in the Defence Forces. The intent is to attract more women to the forces, and allow them to join combat units. Mr Combet wants physical capability, rather than gender, to be one of the determining factors. Women currently make up 13% of the forces, not in combat roles, and the Government would like to increase the proportion of women in the defence forces.

But Liberal backbencher and former infantry officer Stuart Robert thinks the idea is "outrageous". He went on to say "My concern is that really only Israel and a handful of countries whose very existence is threatened have gone down this path - the rest of the Western world hasn't" . He forgot to mention women in the Chinese and Russian military; hardly nations facing extinction! Also, his statement, per se, is not an argument for not allowing women in combat roles. Just because we, and others, haven't done it before, doesn't mean we shouldn't.

There will be women fitter than many Australian men. The criteria should only be whether service personnel can do the tasks required of the job. There are men who want to join particular combat units, but who are rejected. Just ask anyone who wanted to be a submariner, or join the SAS.

The Defence Forces should not lower physical and mental standards for combat units. That would be embarrassing, even humiliating to the men, and women, who joint the unit. But gender is not an argument for denying anyone the opportunity to train and be assessed.