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Reciprocating Hanson’s boycott

March 27th, 2017 80 comments

Apparently, Pauline Hanson and One Nation are refusing to vote for any government legislation until the government intervenes on the side of canegrowers in a dispute with millers and marketers*

Coincidentally, I was considering the question of how to deal with Hanson’s presence in the Senate and came up with the opposite way of implementing the current situation. The major parties should refuse Hanson’s support, and should show this by having four Senators abstain on any bill where One Nation supports their side. Obviously, this isn’t going to happen with the LNP. However rude they may be about Hanson and other ONP members when they say something particularly appalling, ONP is effectively part of the coalition and is being treated as such.

But for Labor, I think the case for shunning One Nation is strong. The arguments for a complete rejection of One Nation’s racism are obvious. The costs would be

(i) In votes where Xenophon went with the LNP and Hanson with Labor and the Greens, this would turn a win into a loss (I think – can someone check)

(ii) Open hostility to One Nation would probably shift some ONP voters to change their second preferences

I don’t think either of these points have a lot of weight. But the self-styled Labor “hardheads” whose brilliant moves have included putting Family First into Parliament and abolishing optional preferential voting in Queensland, just when would help Labor most, will doubtless disagree.

* These disputes have been going on for decades, reflecting the fact that, because sugarcane is costly to transport, growers are very limited in their choice of mills, and millers similarly depend on a relatively small number of growers to keep them in business.. I haven’t looked into the merits of this one

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Turning the corner

March 25th, 2017 57 comments

Obviously, climate policy in Australia is not going well. In the US, the Trump Administration is keen to reverse the progress made under Obama. Yet for the planet as a whole, the news hasn’t been better for a long time. And there is every reason to hope that Trump and Turnbull will fail on this, and on much else.

Two big pieces of good news this week

* For the third year in a row, global carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have remained nearly stable, despite continued economic growth.
* Large-scale cancellations in China and elsewhere have greatly reduced the number of proposed coal-fired power plants

A lot more needs to happen, but with the cost of renewables steadily falling and awareness of the health and climate costs spreading, there’s every reason to hope that the decarbonization of electricity supply will happen more rapidly than anyone expected. After that, the big challenge is to electrify transport. The technology is there, so this is mostly a matter of renewed political will.

Read more…

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

My resignation from the Climate Change Authority

March 23rd, 2017 45 comments

Earlier today, I wrote to Josh Frydenberg, the Minister for Energy and Environment, resigning as a Member of the Climate Change Authority. Mine is the third recent resignation: Clive Hamilton resigned in February, and Danny Price a couple of days ago. There’s a story in the Guardian here. My resignation statement is over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:

Minor parties?

March 19th, 2017 19 comments

Continuing on the coalition theme, there’s been a rash of articles (this is representative) worrying about the rise of “minor parties” to secure 25 per cent of the vote. All of these articles are premised on the definitional assumption that the Greens (a well-established party with about 10 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with Labor) are a minor party, while the Nationals (a well-established party with about 5 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with the Liberals) are not. In most of these articles, the Nationals are just lumped in with the Liberals (even though they have broken with them in several states at different times) but in some they are accorded major party status.

These articles reflect the longstanding prejudices of the press gallery in favor of majority governments their horror of “hung Parliaments” and their continued belief in a “mandate” theory of government. , Speculating a bit, I guess it’s easier to work on the basis of insider information from ministers, and to a lesser extent, shadow ministers than in a context where authority is much more widely distributed.

In any case, while the idea of an upsurge in “minor party” support is dubious, the gallery is right to think that something has changed. I’m planning a proper analysis, based on my “three party system” model, before too long.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Privatisation as electoral poison

March 15th, 2017 35 comments

Twitter is not a very useful medium for sustained debate. I’ve discovered this in the course of a rather strange interchange with Peter Brent (the psephblogger known as Mumble) and Piping Shrike, a pseudonymous blogger. These are both commentators I generally respect, but they are making a case that I find unbelievable. I made what I thought was the unexceptionable point that the proposed privatisation of Western Power was a central issue in the recent WA election, pointing to the polling evidence cited in the post below

In response it was claimed (if I’ve interpreted the tweets correctly that such polling evidence is useless and that privatisation has never been a central issue, not even in the Queensland elections which saw the Bligh and Newman governments successively turfed out with huge swings. Mumble asserted that these results reflected hostility to the national governments of the same party.

I’ll open this one up to readers, and invite comments from Mumble and Shrike.

What do people think about the substantive claim here. Am I wrong in thinking that, in the many election campaigns ostensibly dominated by privatisation, the fact that the pro-privatisation side has almost invariably lost is a mere coincidence. In particular, were the huge swings in Queensland mainly due to other factors?

What kind of evidence counts? I’ve cited extensive polling evidence on the unpopularity of privatisation, but Mumble and Shrike have both dismissed this?

I’ve said my piece, so I’ll sit back for a while and let others discuss this if they choose to.

Also, if someone knows how to storify the Twitter exchange and can be bothered doing so, I’d be very grateful

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

It’s Time?

March 13th, 2017 26 comments

One of the odder claims about the Liberals’ electoral debacle in WA is that the “It’s Time” factor played a major role. Readers of a certain age will recall that Gough Whitlam used this slogan to suggest that, after 23 years and (by my memory) nine election victories, the LNP Coalition had been in office too long.

The Barnett government in WA had served only two terms. There have been a fair few one-term and two-term governments in recent history, as you would expect on the general assumption that both parties in an election have some chance of winning.

On the other hand, there have been plenty of governments running four or more terms (Howard and Hawke-Keating at the national level, Labor everywhere but Victoria and NT (three terms in each case). The only time I’ve heard the It’s Time story invoked was that of Howard. In all the other cases, the incumbent government’s defeat has been attributed (correctly, I think) to specific causes, such as asset sales. Does the “It’s Time” explanation only work for conservative governments?

Update: Unusually, there is some polling evidence on this. Around 27 per cent of respondents cited “It’s Time” as a factor, slightly outnumbered by those who cited privatisation.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

How to get a nice, highly paid job in a bank

March 2nd, 2017 8 comments

In the last week or so, two former state premiers, Anna Bligh and Mike Baird have been appointed to highly paid jobs in the banking sector. In both cases there was some peripheral controversy. In Bligh’s case, some Liberals, including Scott Morrison, apparently felt that such jobs should be reserved for their side of politics. In Baird’s case, it was the fact that he took the bogus claim to be “spending more time with his family” to new extremes, giving lots of details on family problems and then deciding that six weeks was quite enough time to spend dealing with them.

These controversies obscured the key qualification held by Bligh and Baird for their new jobs; both had greatly enriched the banking sector by pushing through unpopular privatisations. Others enjoying similar rewards include Paul Keating (advisor to Lazard Freres), Alan Stockdale (Macquarie Bank) and Nick Greiner (too many to lost). By contrast, opponents of privatisation rarely find cushy jobs like this flowing their way. Of course, there’s no direct quid pro quo here. The banks and organizations offering the jobs aren’t, in general, the ones that collected fees from the particular privatisations in question. It’s rather that, politicians who are nice to the banking sector are well regarded, and eventually well rewarded, by that sector.

With such an incentive structure in place, it’s hardly surprising that privatisation is never far from the top of the political agenda, despite its extreme unpopularity with Australian voters.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Easytax redux redux

February 13th, 2017 29 comments

I got a brief run in the Murdoch press regarding Pauline Hanson’s revived proposal for a 2 per cent tax on all transactions (floated 20 years ago as “Easytax“). I was reported as follows: “University of Queensland school of economics professor John Quiggin said a 2 per cent tax would destroy small business and see a collapse in government ­revenue.” and the story was headlined “One Nation policy would ‘collapse the economy’” The headline is an exaggeration, but the quoted passage gets my opinion right.

Easytax is an example of a “cascade” tax, common in Europe a century or so ago. The point is that the tax rate is applied to the whole value of each transaction along the chain from primary producer to consumer. For a big firm, like Woolworths, the answer is simple: integrate backwards along the chain by taking over your suppliers. Then you pay the tax only once at 2 per cent. Small businesses, who can’t do this, end up paying the tax themselves, on goods that have already been taxed many times. So, they go out of business, and the total value of transactions falls far below the level used in the original calculation that a 2 per cent tax would be sufficient. Hence, government revenue collapses.

It was precisely because this process was happening that the French (the innovators in this field) dumped the cascade tax in favor of a value-added tax (VAT), the same model used in the GST. They were followed by the rest of the EU and then most of the world, except the US, which still relies on retail sales tax (levied only once, but still messy and narrowly-based).

The story also says “A spokesman for Senator Hanson said she had only advocated investigating the policy.” But the fact that such a nonsense idea is still part of One Nation thinking gives the lie to the suggestion of Hanson’s coalition partners in the LNP that this iteration of One Nation is different from the last. It’s just as racist and ignorant as ever. It’s not Hanson that has changed, but the LNP which is now indistinguishable from One Nation.

Trumpism in Australia (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

February 6th, 2017 37 comments

I’ve had this post in draft for a while, not entirely satisfied with it, but on the rare occasion of Australia making the front pages of US papers I thought I should post it on Crooked Timber ready or not. It’s for an international, largely US audience, but readers here might be interested. I posted it just before the apparent confirmation that Bernardi will Bolt.

After the cataclysm of Trump’s election, quite a few US-based friends asked me about moving to Australia. I had, as they say, good news and bad news. First, the bad news. Over the last few years, Australia has had no less than four Trumpist political parties, two of which currently form the government. We may yet get a fifth. The goods news is that, in most respects, they have been surprisingly ineffectual. That’s, partly because of constraints in our political system and partly because of the inherent limits of Trumpist politics.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

“White, heterosexual Christian” isn’t an identity?

January 30th, 2017 24 comments

At the Oz, Paul Kelly has a piece headlined’ http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/paul-kelly/donald-trumps-election-a-rejection-of-identity-politics/news-story/147b11c08b64702d3f9be1821416cb72. This is bizarre, given that Trump’s appeal was obviously directed at white, heterosexual Christians upset that the US is no longer being run entirely by and for people like them.

In a sense, it now is. Trump’s Cabinet, like the Republican party as a whole, is overwhelmingly reflective of the identity politics of a former majority unwilling to adjust to the reality that it is now a minority. The vagaries and the biases of the electoral system have given this minority a lot of power, but it is fragile and tenuous. It’s precisely this fragility that is giving Trump’s brand of identity politics its ferocity.

Of course, Kelly’s unstated premise is that “white, heterosexual Christian” isn’t an identity, it’s just the norm against which deviant identities are defined. This is on a level with the kind of low-grade bigot who uses the term “ethnics” to describe people of all ethnicities other than Anglo-Celtic.

Categories: #Ozfail, Oz Politics Tags:

The TPP fiasco

January 26th, 2017 19 comments

Until now, I thought of Malcolm Turnbull as clever but weak, unwilling to challenge the right wing of his party even as they drive his government into the ground. But his handling of the Trans-Pacific Partnership over the last week has left me with the impression that he doesn’t have a clue.

To recap, it’s been obvious for a long time that the TPP was in serious trouble. Both candidates for the US Presidency opposed it, and Trump was particularly vociferous in his denunciation. It’s also important that, within the US policy establishment, the most potent argument for the TPP was that it would cement US leadership in the region, and lock China out.

So, I would have imagined that the Turnbull government would have thought through the consequences of a US withdrawal from the TPP, even if they were surprised by the actual timing. In particular, I’d have thought that Turnbull would have discussed possible responses with Japanese PM Abe when he visited the other week.

So, I was pretty startled when Turnbull floated the idea of bringing China into the TPP to replace the US. At least from the viewpoint of the US and Chinese foreign policy establishments, that would amount to switching our support to China, or least shifting towards neutrality, in struggles about the future of the region. Given the risks posed by an alliance with the US under Trump, there’s an arguable case for that, but it would be a very big move. Turnbull’s floating of the notion seemed like a thought bubble, or maybe a thoughtless bubble.

Even more striking was Japan’s immediate rejection of the idea, accompanied by a repetition of the forlorn hope that the US might come back to the deal. Honestly, how could Turnbull have had a lengthy meeting with Abe and failed to elicit an indication that his proposal would be rejected out of hand?

Finally, as an aside, how about his churlish decision to give an AC to Julia Gillard but not (unless it was offered and privately rejected) to Kevin Rudd? At least Abbott was consistently tribal in his breach of the longstanding convention of making this offer to an outgoing PM (after they’ve left Parliament). With Turnbull it looks like personal vendetta.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Culture wars and smelters

January 21st, 2017 15 comments

The Victorian and Commonwealth governments have just announced a bailout of the Alcoa aluminium smelter at Portland, achieved primarily by pressuring AGL to supply cheap electricity. It’s unsurprising that a state government wants to save jobs: that is par for the course. The Commonwealth intervention reflects total policy incoherence. It’s entirely comprehensible, however, in terms of the culture war approach that drives the Abbott-Turnbull government. I have a piece on this at Crikey, reprinted over the fold.

Read more…

Categories: Economic policy, Oz Politics Tags:

Australia is naturally suited to a federal system

January 20th, 2017 17 comments

The age-old idea of abolishing the states has popped up again, this time from Bob Hawke. I’ve recycled some old arguments against this idea in the standard form where the states are to be replaced by regional governemnts. I’ve also added some new points, focused on the undesirability of a unitary state. The piece is at The Conversation, entitled If we scrapped the states, increasing Canberra’s clout would be a backward step

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The LNP-ONP coalition heading for a train wreck?

January 16th, 2017 25 comments

With a Queensland election due in the next 12 months and the usual journalistic speculation about an early election, the LNP will soon be faced with the decision of whether to formalise its coalition with the ONP. At a minimum, that would mean an exchange of preferences. But, given that the LNP doesn’t look like winning a majority in its own right it will be difficult to avoid the question of a possible coalition government. I’ll offer the LNP the unsolicited advice that it would be better, both morally and in terms of long-term self-interest to lose honorably than to win with Hanson.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

That was quick

December 22nd, 2016 47 comments

Not long after the election, I perceived the signs of an emerging semi-formal coalition between the LNP and One Nation. Less than three months later, here’s Jeff Kennett, generally seen as a relative moderate in the Victorian Liberal Party, endorsing the idea.

To repeat what I said then, I remain convinced that this will prove a path to disaster for the LNP in the long run. One Nation is already repeating the history of meltdowns we saw in its first big run, and making clear that it stands for nothing beyond incoherent gesture politics. That’s true of rightwing identity politics in general, which is why I think it can’t last. It can, however, do plenty of damage in the meantime.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Are young Australians (mostly) Christians ?

December 16th, 2016 24 comments

Regular readers will know that I’m not a great fan of analysis based on generations (Boomers, X, Millennials and so on). Most of what passes for insight on this topic consists of the repetition of unchanged cliches about the rigidity and hypocrisy of the old, the laziness and irresponsibility of the young, and so on, applied to whichever cohort happens to be old or young at the time.

But there are some genuine differences between cohorts, typically determine by the time they have entered adulthood. One of these is religion.
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Dutton, cringeworthy and (literally) un-Australian

December 15th, 2016 40 comments

Peter Dutton’s attempts to promote an “uprising” in support of Christmas, and against “political correctness gone mad” are un-Australian in all sorts of ways, but most obviously in the stunning cultural cringe they reflect. He’s borrowed the catchphrase of a British tabloid in an attempt to import a US culture war campaign that has been going on so long it’s a Christmas tradition in itself (I observed that it was old stuff, back in 2004). This guy is the best the Trumpist faction of the LNP/ON can come up with?

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, Oz Politics Tags:

Dragging the chain

October 17th, 2016 36 comments

Looking at the Abbott-Hanson government that is now taking shape behind the nominal leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, the dominant theme is one of pointless resistance to inevitable change.

The most striking instance of this is the plebiscite on equal marriage, dreamed up by Abbott as a way of dodging the issue of a Parliamentary vote. At this point, it is obvious that the whole thing is just an expensive and painful exercise in delaying the inevitable. Equal marriage is law throughout the English-speaking world, and is rapidly becoming so everywhere, as well as being supported by a majority of Australians. Even if the opponents could somehow carry the day in a plebiscite, the position couldn’t be sustained for long. And of course the Abbott group know this. As soon as Turnbull was locked into the plebiscite they started loading it up with everything they could to ensure it would never happen. Even from the most cynical viewpoint, this seems silly to me. They are going to lose in the end, and when they do, they will be wailing about freedom of conscience for cake-makers and so on. If they agreed to a Parliamentary vote now, they could make it a condition for Turnbull to include such clauses and reject any amendment. But in three years time, or whenever a parliamentary majority emerges, there will be no reason to appease people who have shown themselves to be bigots.

Then there’s climate change. Everywhere else in the world, things are moving fast. Country after country is abandoning coal, and the share of renewables is rising rapidly. Even England is generating more power from solar PV than from coal. But Australia is going backwards. Having dropped any idea of turning Direct Action into an emissions intensity scheme, Turnbull and Frydenberg have joined the science denialists at the Oz in a campaign against renewable energy. At least they have signed on to the agreement to phase out HFCs, an agreement driven by, among others, the US, Canada, China and Brazil (the EU has already legislated an early phaseout). It’s good that the government has agreed to do the minimum required for developed countries under this deal, but takes some chutzpah to say, as Frydenberg does that this makes Australia a world leader.

The only remaining item about which the government seems to care is Abbott’s vendetta against the unions, settling scores dating back to the 1980s.

Abbott and Hanson and are almost exact contemporaries of mine (as is Turnbull, though he scarcely seems to have any active role). But politically it seems to me that they have chained themselves to ways of thinking that were ossified even in John Howard’s generation.

Categories: Economics - General, Oz Politics Tags:

A small victory

October 5th, 2016 22 comments

As a social democrat in an era of market liberal dominance, I’m only rarely on the winning side of policy disputes (privatisation, where lots of privatising governments have been defeated, has been the big exception). But the Turnbull government’s decision to put an end to the worst of the rorts in for-profit vocational training is certainly a big win. Three main changes were announced
* First, for-profit providers will have to demonstrate in advance that they are capable of doing the job for which they are paid. Given the appalling record of the industry as a whole on measures like graduation rates, it seems likely that most firms will fail this test
* Second, courses are being restricted to those that have some possibility of leading to employment
* Third, fees are being capped in a three-tier scheme ($5k, $10k, and $15k) depending on the type of course and the cost of provision. That should wipe out more of the shonky providers.

I’ve been going on about this since 2012. Others like Leesa Wheelahan at Melbourne Uni have been on the case even longer. We copped plenty of flak for our pains (‘flat earther‘ was one of the kinder terms), but have now been vindicated. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the advocates of market-oriented reform will listen next time around.

Still, a win is a win. The big question now is whether the damage to the public TAFE system can be undone in time to prevent a future skills crisis.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The LNP/ONP coalition government: who’s in charge?

October 3rd, 2016 49 comments

I’ve found the reaction of Malcolm Turnbull to the South Australia blackout too depressing to discuss, but I suppose it’s time to talk about it. Turnbull was depressing for three reasons

First, there was the absurdity of failing to distinguish between transmission failures (pylons destroyed by storms) and intermittency. Reading the comments of Turnbull and others, it seemed as if the reasoning process was something like “wind bad for electricity system, so must cut back on wind power”). I gave up on expecting any substantive difference between Turnbull and Abbott quite a while ago, but this silliness coming from the alleged “smartest guy in the room” was depressing.

Then there’s the substantive political content. Turnbull and Frydenberg have already any ruled out kind of carbon price, even the emissions intensity mechanism proposed by the Climate Change Authority (of which I’m a member) as an evolution of Direct Action. When doing this, Frydenberg justified his position by saying that an energy transition, presumably to renewables meant that the government’s targets were achievable. Now, even this fig leaf has been stripped away.

Finally, and worst of all, it’s one more step in the capitulation of rightwing neoliberalism to the rising tide of tribalism. In the LNP-ONP coalition I described a month or so ago, it’s now clear that One Nation with its associated faction within the government (Bernardi, Christensen, Abbott and others) has the upper hand. ONP Senator Malcolm Roberts tweeted to Turnbull that it was “Good to see you coming around to One Nation’s position“, and he was spot on. Doubtless he’ll have many more occasions for similar tweets in the future

The polls suggest that the public reaction to all this is unfavorable, but unfortunately it’s a few months too late. We’re stuck with this for another three years.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Recognising racism (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

September 14th, 2016 93 comments

Back in 2004, I wrote that

There is only one real instance of political correctness in Australia today and that is that you are never, ever allowed to call anyone a racist.

This was one side of an unspoken agreement among mainstream politicians, the other being that no one would ever make a statement that was overtly and undeniably racist (this was the central content of “political correctness” in its normal usage). Both the use of overtly racist language and the use of the term “racist” in political debate put the speaker outside the Overton Window. The official debate was undertaken in terms of “dog whistle” coded appeals to racism on one side and euphemisms such as “prejudiced” or “racially charged” on the other. The peace was maintained by the fact that the political class as a whole shared a broad neoliberal[^1] consensus in which marginal differences over economic issues were central, and where social/racial issues were primarily seen as a way of motivating the base to vote the right way.

With the rapid rise of tribalism on the political right this tacit agreement is breaking down.
Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

No iceberg, no tip

September 10th, 2016 31 comments

When Dyson Heydon delivered the report of the Royal Commmissioner into Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, he claimed that his findings represented “the tip of the iceberg”. At the time, I commented that, given nearly $50 million of public money and lengthy hearings with the exceptional powers of a Royal Commission, the Australian public was entitled to expect the whole iceberg.

It turns out that I was too charitable. In the months since the Commission reported, a string of the charges he recommended have been thrown out or withdrawn In fact, six months later, there has only been one conviction, resulting in a suspended sentence. The only big fish to be caught since the establishment of Heydon’s star chamber has been the Commission’s own star witness, Kathy Jackson.

And the bills keep coming in. The last budget allocated $6 million more for the AFP-Victorian Police taskforce, which currently has outstanding cases against a grand total of six unionists. By contrast, taskforce Argo in Queensland, focused on child exploitation, has a budget of $3 million.

For another contrast, here are a few of the cases of alleged wage fraud, misappropriation of worker entitlements and so on that have emerged since Heydon’s Commission was launched: 7-11 ( million underpayment), Queensland Nickel, Pizza Hut, Myers and Spotless, and lots of small employers in the agricultural sector. That’s on top of the general run of sharp practive, environmental vandalism, market rigging, and dubious practices of all kinds.

It would be absurd to deny the existence of corrupt union officials and, though it is much rarer, systemic corruption, as in the case of the Health Services Union. But the continued failure of a massively expensive, politically motivated inquisition to turn up more than a handful of cases suggests that the problems are isolated, and that the real drive is to attack unions for doing the job of representing workers.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Abbott and Hanson reconcile

September 2nd, 2016 42 comments

Just as there are no permanent allies in politics, there are few if any permanent enmities, just permanent interests. The recent reconciliation between Tony Abbott and Pauline Hanson is a neat illustration of this. A decade or so ago, Abbott was the driving force behind the prosecution that saw Hanson imprisoned (wrongly, as I wrote at the time) for breaches of electoral laws. Now he is courting her support, coyly mentioning how useful it might be to a future government with an unspecified new leader.

What’s of more interest is Abbott’s observation that half a million people voted for Hanson and that “she would be a strong voice for their concerns”. (Turnbull has said something similar, though not quite as strong). The implication, presumably, is that those concerns are legitimate, and that Hanson herself is therefore an appropriate person to make deals with. Of course, we don’t know what motivates any particular voter, but Hanson has stood for racism and bigotry throughout her political career. Anyone who voted for her can be assumed, at the minimum, not to be concerned about opposing racism.

Equally relevantly, how does this square with the government’s attitude to minor parties in general, not to mention the Greens? The Greens got twice as many votes as Hanson, and I’ve never heard anyone from the LNP suggest that those voters should be treated with respect. Similarly with the other minor parties. The whole idea of the double dissolution was to clear out the minor party senators elected in 2013. That didn’t work, and the share of the minor parties rose even further. Far from celebrating this exercise of our democratic right to choose, the LNP and its cheer squad viewed this outcome as a disaster.

The only way to understand this is in terms of an emerging coalition between the LNP and One Nation, within which the Abbott-Hanson faction will drive most decisions, while Turnbull remains as a helpless puppet, holding on only because a government with a one-vote majority can’t afford to change leaders.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

The LNP-ONP coalition

August 31st, 2016 52 comments

After the election results came in, I posted about the implications for the Turnbull government of dealing with One Nation as if it were a normal and legitimate political party.

It seems likely, however, that Turnbull is going to treat One Nation, for the first time in Australia, as a normal political party, and to negotiate with Hanson as an equal. That would be a new low for him, and for Australia. And, sooner or later, it will come back to bit him and the LNP. For an object lesson in the dangers of courting racist votes while maintaining a claim to be non-racist, he need only look at the US Republican party,

It is already clear that this analysis fell far short of the mark. Far from being “just another minor party”, One Nation has become a semi-formal member of the LNP Coalition and part of the dominant rightwing grouping within that coalition. The two most striking developments, among many, are
* The decision of the Queensland LNP to preference One Nation ahead of Labor . This is unusual in itself, given that no election is in prospect any time soon and a radical reversal of the pre-election position of putting One Nation last[1]
* The alliance between One Nation and the LNP right to promote a change to hate speech laws, allowing racial speech that “offends” or “insults” the target.
I remain convinced that this will prove a path to disaster for the LNP in the long run, but it could do a great deal of damage to Australia while the LNP-ONP coalition remains in office.

Read more…

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

An offer he can’t accept

August 29th, 2016 41 comments

Now that the Greens and Xenophon group have rejected the idea of a plebiscite, the only chance of getting one through is if Bill Shorten agrees. Turnbull obviously hopes to wedge Labor on this, by saying that this is the only way of getting equal marriage through the Parliament, and that there is no way he will allow a free vote on the issue. What should Shorten do?

In my (not original) view, Shorten should announce support for a binding plebiscite beginning with a bound vote of both parties. That is, the Parliament should pass legislation stating that equal marriage will come into effect immediately on receiving majority support in a plebiscite. Labor’s support should be conditional on all Coalition MPs voting for the legislation.

It’s obviously unlikely that Turnbull would accept such an offer or that he could deliver on it if he did. So, the primary effect would be to point up the bogus nature of the proposed plebiscite. But, supposing he did accept, I don’t see that this would be a disaster. There’s no fundamental principle that plebiscites are a bad way of deciding things. And the whole idea of a splecial “free vote” makes it clear that this set of issues has always been regarded as exceptional,

It’s true that the campaign over a plebiscite would be divisive. But this has been a divisive issue ever since Howard ramped it up more than a decade ago. An outright win at a plebiscite might be a good way of silencing the haters.

To repeat, though, there’s almost zero chance of a plebiscite happening on these terms. For Turnbull, it’s an offer he can’t accept.

Categories: Oz Politics Tags:

Dealing with racism

August 4th, 2016 36 comments

The Senate results are in, and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has won four seats. That’s not a disaster in itself. The point of democracy is that everyone gets a say, including bigots and racists. One Nation members, including Hanson herself, have been elected to Parliament before now, without doing any great harm.

That’s because the major parties have, until nowl taken a principled stand against racism, putting One Nation last in their preference allocations and refusing to do deals. Tony Abbott took the fight against One Nation even further (too far in my view) pushing the prosecution of Hanson for alleged breaches of the electoral act (she was convicted and jailed, but ultimately freed on appeal).

Following the Senate election, however, it will be impossible for the government to pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens unless they have the support of the One Nation party. Already, the Oz is pointing out how convenient it will be for Turnbull to be able to bargain with Hanson for her four votes, as opposed to the splintered remnants of the Palmer United Party in the last Senate.

The correct response, advocated by the LNP in relation to the “tainted” votes of Craig Thomson and (in Queensland) Billy Gordon, would be to nullify One Nation votes by directing four government Senators to cast opposing votes. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Failing that, the only response that avoids complicity in racism is a refusal to have any dealings with One Nation. That is, the government while accept One Nation’s votes in favor of government legislation, they should not discuss it or modify it, let alone offer support for One Nation proposals.

Of course, the same applies to Labor on the handful of issues (such as a Royal Commission into Banking) where they might be in agreement with One Nation. If securing a majority on any particular issue involves making deals of any kind with Hanson, it would be better to lose.

It seems likely, however, that Turnbull is going to treat One Nation, for the first time in Australia, as a normal political party, and to negotiate with Hanson as an equal. That would be a new low for him, and for Australia. And, sooner or later, it will come back to bit him and the LNP. For an object lesson in the dangers of courting racist votes while maintaining a claim to be non-racist, he need only look at the US Republican party,

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Should the census be compulsory?

August 2nd, 2016 71 comments

There’s been a lot of discussion about the ABS decision to retain names and addresses in the Census until 2020 rather than deleting them more rapidly as in the past. Although the details differ, there’s been a dispute of this kind before every Census I can recall. Rather than debate the details, I’d like to think about the question: should the Census be compulsory, and if not what kind of requirement should there be?

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For his own self-respect, Turnbull should quit

July 29th, 2016 85 comments

As I mentioned in my last post, Turnbull’s narrow win has left us with a government standing for nothing but delaying various inevitable outcomes, including
* equal marriage;
* participation in global action on climate change; and, most notably
* Turnbull’s removal from office, whether by voters or, more likely, by his own colleagues.

The “economic plan” on which the government was supposedly elected consists of a single element, a cut in company taxes mostly deferred far enough beyond the forward estimates to dodge the question of how it will be paid for. In any case, it’s dead in the water, as, in all likelihood is the pretext for the double dissolution, the ABCC bill.

Turnbull’s lame duck status was made farcically clear by Cabinet’s non-decision on Kevin Rudd’s proposed nomination as UN Secretary General. The Right-dominated party didn’t even bother to overrule Julie Bishop (and, pretty obviously, Turnbull’s own inclination). Instead, they told Turnbull to make a “captain’s call”, while making it clear that the wrong call would be fatal.

If Turnbull had any self-respect left, he’d resign and let this crew sort out their own mess. Instead, he gets to hang on in office, at the price of being made a fool of on a daily basis.

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Crossing the floor

July 28th, 2016 16 comments

Back in the day, it used to be claimed as one of the glories of the Liberal and National Parties that their MPs had freedom to vote as they chose, while Labor MPs were bound by Caucus solidarity, except in the case of an explicit “conscience vote”, which has been traditionally confined to issues of (sexual) morality.

I had the impression that his freedom was now only a memory in the LNP, but this story has George Christensen threatening to cross the floor over the government’s superannuation reforms. The defeat of a key budget measure in the House of Representatives is (I would have thought) tantamount to a vote of no confidence in the government. Nevertheless, the story goes on to cite Barnaby Joyce as defending Christensen’s right to vote against the government and says that Joyce himself has crossed the floor 28 times.

I’m genuinely bemused here. If it’s OK to vote against budget policies, what can it mean to say that Liberal MPs are not free to vote as they choose on equal marriage? What is the penalty for doing so? If there is none, why don’t we see anyone willing to do so?
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We don’t need another Royal Commission

July 27th, 2016 20 comments

I haven’t had much to say about Australian politics since the election. That’s because I see the Turnbull government as a nullity, which will achieve nothing however long it survives.

Turnbull’s first substantive action since the election (in fact, since the election was called) only confirms me in this view. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a TV program, the Four Corners report documenting appalling abuse in a juvenile detention facility in the NT. Rather than considering any coherent attempt to consider and address the issues, Turnbull offered the most clichéd possible response “when in doubt, call a Royal Commission”. He made it lazier still, by proposing that the Commission focus on this single facility, and has now reluctantly agreed that it should look at the NT as a whole.

For once, I’m in agreement with the Oz. We already have a Royal Commission looking at institutional abuse of young people, which could easily have its terms extended to cover this.

More importantly, we don’t need any more Royal Commissions to establish that institutions are failing young people in trouble. The real issues are much more intractable than finding and punishing some abusers.

To start with, there’s the fact that, throughout the country, services for young people in trouble are chronically underfunded and overstretched. If Turnbull had announced that the money he was planning to give to corporations would be used to help young people instead, that would have been some genuinely decisive action. But that would be politically impossible.

Still, at least in the case of youth services, it’s obvious what needs to be done. The bigger problems of social breakdown and family crisis are much more complicated and difficult to handle. But these aren’t the kinds of question that can be handled by a press release or a Royal Commission.

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