Tag Archives: Turnbull

Grattan on Friday: What’s bad for Bill Shorten? Too much election focus on the unions

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten should be praying those pesky crossbenchers give in to Malcolm Turnbull and pass the government’s industrial legislation.

Unless they do – and so far there doesn’t seem much prospect – the bad behaviour of some unions, notably the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), will be right in the centre of a double-dissolution campaign.

That can’t be good for Shorten, who has been weak on the issue. While he insists Labor has zero tolerance for instances of union thuggery and corruption, he tends to minimise the problem.

The impression remains that he is too much under the influence of the unions generally and in particular is unwilling to robustly distance himself and his party from the CFMEU, which donates large amounts to the ALP and helped Shorten’s numbers on difficult issues at last year’s ALP national conference.

There is not just a matter of perception, but one of substance. Put bluntly, it is disturbing that the CFMEU would be well placed to influence a Shorten government.

Shorten should have confronted the excessive power unions have in the ALP’s structure. He should have taken on the CFMEU. He should not have as his workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor, brother of CFMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor.

Shorten belatedly put forward the opposition’s own proposals but Labor would be better placed if it had allowed passage of the government’s legislation toughening union governance. This is one of the bills that will be before the recalled Senate.

As for the legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) – also to be considered in the special sitting – the ALP argues it restricts people’s rights and breaches the principle of equality before the law by separating out one sector for special treatment.

But Shorten is unlikely to win the debate in the public arena, given what came out of the royal commission into trade unions and the large number of CFMEU officials and delegates now before the courts for industrial breaches.

Polling done by Essential published this week found 35% supported reestablishing the ABCC, with 17% opposed, 27% neither supporting nor opposing, and 22% “don’t knows”. In October 2013, 29% supported bringing the ABCC back; 22% opposed.

If the crossbenchers passed the bills in coming weeks, Turnbull would have a victory but there would not be a double dissolution, and industrial relations would not be so sharply profiled when the election campaign came. Labor would have more opportunity to find the government’s weaknesses, and to elevate its own issues, especially health and education.

Even in a double dissolution triggered by the industrial relations legislation, economic management and tax will be core issues. Turnbull, presumably assuming a double dissolution, has merged the tax package into the budget, now on May 3. This gives what otherwise could be an anorexic budget a centrepiece, and helps with the fact that the tax reform is less ambitious than once hoped.

Also, it fits the flagged company tax cut into a broader economic context. A poll done for Sky News underlined what every Coalition backbencher would know – a company tax cut is not something ordinary voters are hanging out for.

Asked to choose from a list of what the government’s highest priority should be, 46% said fixing the budget and returning to surplus, 27% nominated spending more on education, 25% said personal income tax cuts and only 3% opted for company tax cuts.

This is the Coalition’s third budget. The first deeply soured people’s views of the Abbott government and its treasurer, Joe Hockey, and also heavily circumscribed the framing of the following one. As he struggles with this last budget of the term, the pre-election one, Treasurer Scott Morrison is working against the background of a money tree with few leaves and a relationship with Turnbull that has become poor.

His colleagues and his boss will be closely watching how well he does in selling the budget’s tax and other measures. There won’t want to be stuff ups.

Politics is a competitive game, and Morrison has a potential rival sitting further along the frontbench. Former Western Australian treasurer Christian Porter gave up state politics to pack his bags for Canberra in 2013. Porter was on track to be premier; his eyes look beyond his present social services ministry.

As a member of cabinet’s expenditure review committee, Porter is, in the words of one source, “active without overdoing it”, and some Liberals are already speculating he would be a good treasurer for a re-elected Turnbull government.

Morrison is not deputy Liberal leader, a post carrying the right to choose one’s portfolio. His future, if the government is returned, would be totally in the hands of Turnbull, who has already shown a ruthless streak in dealing with ministers – ask Ian Macfarlane, who was dropped.

Morrison earned the treasury job because at the time he was seen as a good performer. Potentially, he has to earn that job all over again.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/ve99p-5d9281?from=yiiadmin

The ConversationMichelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Islamic State exploiting Europe’s porous borders and intelligence failures: Turnbull

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Violent Islamist extremism appears to have reached a crisis point in Europe with a “perfect storm” of circumstances, Malcolm Turnbull has said.

These were failed or neglected integration, foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria, porous borders, and intelligence and security bodies struggling to keep pace with the scope and breadth of the threat.

This combination had been described as creating a favourable ecosystem for an Islamist milieu, he said.

“For all intents and purposes there are no internal borders in Europe … and their external borders are difficult to manage,” Turnbull told the Lowy Institute on Wednesday night. Recent intelligence indicated that Islamic State “is using the refugee crisis to send its operatives into Europe”.

Turnbull contrasted Australia, which was “better placed” than many European countries to deal with the threat “because of the strength of our intelligence and security agencies, our secure borders and our successful multicultural society, one that manages to be both secure and free”.

Australia’s national security laws were regarded by its allies as among the world’s best, he said.

“The advantage of our island geography, our effective border protection systems and counter-terrorism agencies mean we have confidence that we know who is arriving.

“Strong borders, vigilant security agencies governed by the rule of law, and a steadfast commitment to the shared values of freedom and mutual respect – these are the ingredients of multicultural success, which is what we have achieved in Australia.”

Earlier, Turnbull said that while it was impossible to guarantee absolutely against a terrorist incident here, “I can assure Australians that our security system, our border protection, our domestic security arrangements, are much stronger than they are in Europe where regrettably they allowed security to slip”.

He told the Lowy Institute Australia was united with Belgium in the battle against terror. “Just as our forebears were 100 years ago on the fields of Flanders in the first world war, we are in the same struggle and we stand with you shoulder to shoulder.”

The scourge of terrorism was a global one, he said. In this fight, Australia was fully committed to playing a leading role in finding political and military solutions in the Middle East, working with our regional counterparts, particularly Indonesia and other ASEAN partners, and continuing to remain vigilant at home.

The terrorist attacks in Europe underscored “the importance of our military contribution against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, in which we have been the second largest contributor to the coalition effort.

“ISIL’s ability to inspire let alone direct terrorism around the world will be largely eliminated if its so-called caliphate is decisively defeated in the field. Its defeat requires military force and a political settlement. We are working with our allies to deliver both.”

Turnbull said that we must “take care not to view our strategic circumstances solely through the prism of counter terrorism.

“Terrorism is an example of the propaganda of the deed – it is designed to frighten and intimidate. It is designed to deter us from our normal way of life.

“That is why [Indonesian] President Joko Widodo was determined to ensure that Jakarta was back to normal within four hours of the terrorist bombing in that city in February, and why Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel is determined to return Brussels back to business as soon as possible.”

The ConversationMichelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Review: Political Amnesia – How We Forgot How To Govern

The Conversation

Nicholas Barry, La Trobe University

The importance of history and memory is at the heart of Laura Tingle’s stimulating new Quarterly Essay, Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How To Govern. Tingle’s central claim is that a lack of historical knowledge is one of the main problems in contemporary Australian politics.

This “growing political and policy amnesia”, Tingle writes, is a key reason for Australian politics becoming:

… not only inane and ugly but dangerous.

Why has this happened?

This amnesia is the result of a variety of institutional changes, including the declining influence of public servants on policy formulation and the increasing power of ministerial advisers.

Tingle points out that the presence of ministerial advisers is not in itself a problem. In the Hawke government, for example, advisers had an important role. But the relationship between ministers and the public service was more balanced and effective:

Hawke insisted his ministers should have bureaucrats in their offices, specifically as chiefs of staff. It kept open the links with the public service in both directions. Ministers’ offices understood the public service. The public service understood their ministers.

Black Inc

However, various other developments have upset the balance between ministers and public servants. Senior public servants do not enjoy the security of tenure they previously did. Tingle suggests that the Howard government’s “night of the long knives” – when the new prime minister sacked six departmental secretaries – was a crucial turning point.

In addition, public servants now more frequently face attack in parliamentary committees. The end result is a “toadying culture” in a “cowed” public service.

Even if public servants were in a position to be giving “frank and fearless” advice, though, it seems unlikely that ministers would welcome it. Tingle quotes a former senior public servant who describes the Howard government’s approach to the public service in its later years as:

We’ll do the thinking, you just implement it.

The result is that ministers make decisions without the benefit of proper advice.

These developments have been exacerbated by a loss of expertise and institutional memory in the public service as a result of cutbacks, redundancies and contracting out. One indication of this is that “the median length of service of ‘ongoing’ public servants in mid-2014 was 9.4 years”.

This means that governments – and younger and less experienced public servants – lose the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of senior figures who can remember what happened not just under the last government, but governments before that.

Changes in the media have also contributed to the problem of political amnesia. Tingle is at pains to emphasise that partisan coverage and populism are not new features of the media landscape. However, the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and the speed with which information can be communicated have led to a focus on immediacy and getting the “inside story” rather than in-depth reporting of policy issues.

This problem is exacerbated by the tendency for press gallery journalists to be generalists, rather than specialists concentrating on a particular policy area.

What effect has it had on politics and policy?

Many of the institutional developments Tingle highlights will be familiar to followers of Australian politics. But her essay demonstrates an impressive ability to tie these developments together to explain recent political events.

Kevin Rudd was criticised for a highly centralised policymaking approach.
AAP/Lukas Coch

One of the essay’s most welcome features is its focus on the deeper structural forces at work. It is easy to blame the leadership instability and sometimes-chaotic approach to policymaking in recent years on the personality faults of the key figures involved – Kevin Rudd’s focus on control, Tony Abbott’s unrelenting oppositional stance.

The greater worry, though, is that our leaders’ personalities are not solely responsible for these developments; deeper structural forces are contributing to these problems. That leadership instability has also occurred at state and territory level, which Tingle does not cover in her essay, seems to add support to this view.

As with any essay on contemporary political events, there are some points of contention. In particular, Tingle argues that commentators were misguided to draw parallels between Julia Gillard’s challenge to Rudd in 2010 and Malcolm Turnbull’s challenge to Abbott five years later.

Tingle highlights important differences between the two cases. This includes the role of relatively inexperienced factional chiefs in the move against Rudd and the speed with which he was replaced, in contrast to Abbott’s more drawn-out demise and that senior Liberal frontbenchers primarily drove his ousting. Turnbull was also able to explain immediately why he had challenged.

Nonetheless, there are also clearly important similarities between the two deposed first-term prime ministers. Given Tingle’s overall argument, these similarities may well be more important than the differences. Both Rudd and Abbott adopted highly centralised approaches to government and were criticised by colleagues for failing to follow proper processes.

These problems reflect the broader trends Tingle highlights, which pre-date both leaders. However, the problems seem more pronounced in the cases of Rudd and Abbott than they did with John Howard and Gillard.

This is not to claim that a thorough policy process was always followed under Howard and Gillard, or to deny that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) wielded enormous power under both leaders. But their approach to the procedural aspects of policymaking did not seem to attract the same degree of criticism as Rudd and Abbott faced.

This might be regarded as a small positive. It suggests that the personal approach adopted by individual leaders can still make a difference to the way government operates, despite the structural forces Tingle outlines.

The demise of Rudd and Abbott also highlights the political dangers facing prime ministers as a result of these structural changes.

Prime ministers now have the ability to dominate the government’s policy agenda in a way they previously did not. However, this power is highly contingent on their personal popularity. Colleagues are likely to put up with a highly centralised approach if a prime minister has recently led the party to a major election win and is doing well in the opinion polls.

Malcolm Turnbull has promised a more ‘consultative’
approach to governing. 
AAP

But once a leader’s popularity drops, this ceases to insulate them from their colleagues’ resentment. Their control over the government also means they are likely to bear the brunt of responsibility for major policy failures.

It is worth pondering whether the problems resulting from the structural changes Tingle identifies extend beyond political amnesia to a basic failure to properly think through policy in advance and expose ideas to debate.

The centralisation of power in the PMO, insecure tenure for senior public servants and increasingly superficial reporting in the mainstream media have made it easier for those in positions of power to avoid engaging in serious critical discussion and debate over the policies they are putting forward.

The problem is therefore not simply about a lack of institutional memory. It is a broader failure to recognise the value of debate and dissent.

Debate, serious discussion and deliberation are valued highly in a democracy not just for their own sake, but because they are considered essential to testing the quality of ideas and arguments.

Increasingly, decision-makers in Canberra and beyond seem to have forgotten this age-old lesson of democratic politics. The quality of policymaking in Australia may be strengthened if they begin to remember it.

The ConversationNicholas Barry, Lecturer, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Long live King Charles? An Australian republic is in Turnbull’s hands for now

The Conversation

Benjamin T. Jones, Western Sydney University

The first time a British royal came to visit Australia he was shot. Prince Alfred survived the assassination attempt in 1868 and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital was named in his honour.

It was an inauspicious beginning to royal tours of Australia but a century and a half later the nation is still constitutionally wedded to the British monarchy. Prince Charles – the future King of Australia – finished, on Sunday, his 15th visit to the country. While there have been no assassination attempts, nor has there been the outpouring of adoration that marked the Queen’s inaugural visit in 1954.

Why is Australia still attached to the monarchy? In his new book Australia and the Monarchy (2015) journalist and historian David Hill notes the seeming irony of a:

young, rebellious, egalitarian nation [maintaining allegiance to] an ancient symbol of power and social inequality.

Following the close but unsuccessful republican referendum in 1999, the notion of replacing the British monarch with an Australian head of state has fallen largely off the national radar.

How is it that Tony Abbott’s reintroduction of knighthoods was mercilessly lampooned and yet the equally medieval and anachronistic concept of hereditary monarchy is accepted?

The answer lies partly in cultural nostalgia. For much of Australian history Britishness and Australianness have been fused together in a dual identity. Australia’s most significant early prime minister, Alfred Deakin, articulated this nationalism as “independent Australian Britons”. Even in 1954, the Sydney Morning Herald declared:

Australia is and always will be a British nation whose greatest strength lies in the traditions she has inherited from England.

This collective nostalgia for the British connection was exemplified by John Howard, who argued passionately against Paul Keating’s attempts to cut the last remaining constitutional links and to reimagine Australia as an independent nation in the Asia-Pacific.

Keating’s now famous 1992 “cultural cringe” speech in federal parliament crystallised a larger national debate. Were the 1950s – with the Menzian attachment to monarchy – a “golden age” as Howard had claimed?

Paul Keating’s ‘Cultural Cringe’ speech, 1992

Cultural nostalgia certainly explains some of the modest enthusiasm for Prince Charles on this recent visit. Around 50 – 100 well-wishers attended most public events.

Renae Williams, for example, waited with her daughter for over six hours to see Charles and his wife, Camilla, in Adelaide last week. She told the Sydney Morning Herald that:

When I was little I met Diana [Princess of Wales] and that memory stuck with me forever. I’m hoping to do the same for my daughter.

Cult of celebrity

The royal appeal today has more to do with the cult of celebrity than reverence for the institution, built on a foundation of inequality that most Australians reject. This is particularly illustrated with the popularity of Charles’ photogenic children and grandchildren.

Even for those with no interest in the royals, there is a sense of constitutional stability, combined with a general mistrust of career politicians, that lends weight to the monarchical catch-cry: “If it aint broke, don’t fix it”.

Yet, the recent tour has provided some evidence that a future, un-elected, King Charles does indeed represent a broken system. Essential Research conducted a poll commissioned by the Australian Republican Movement that asked 1,008 voters:

When Prince Charles becomes King of Australia, will you support or oppose replacing the British monarch with an Australian citizen as Australia’s head of state?

51% of responders supported moving to a republic. Only Australians born before 1953 have lived under a different monarch, and it would seem much of the cultural nostalgia is tied to the Queen personally rather than the monarchy or a lingering sense of Britishness.

Malcolm Turnbull speaks after 1999 referendum defeat.

ALP Leader Bill Shorten and Greens leader Richard Di Natale are both firmly committed to an Australian republic. The Australian Republican Movement has had a membership surge following the appointment of influential writer, and former Wallaby, Peter FitzSimons as chair.

With Malcolm Turnbull — also a former chair — now prime minister, it would seem a perfect republican storm is building, but all may not be what it seems.

Turnbull’s first priority is to heal some of the fresh wounds from his recent coup that saw him wrestle Liberal leadership and the prime ministership from avowed monarchist, Tony Abbott.

He has reaffirmed his personal republican position, but has given no indication it will be a priority for his government. Senior political correspondent Sophie Morris suggested in the latest Saturday Paper that Turnbull has given up altogether on the issue that brought him such heartache in 1999.

Turnbull, as with Rudd and Gillard before him, has thrown the onus on the Australian Republican Movement and the people at large, suggesting there must be a public groundswell of support before he acts. History suggests this is unlikely with complicated constitutional debates and a topic that is crucially important from a symbolic point of view but has little bearing on everyday lives.

Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall hold boomerangs while visiting Kings Park on November 15, 2015 in Perth.
AAP Image/ Paul Kane/Getty Images

The 1990s movement was not the result of initial public enthusiasm. Of course, individual republicans played their part, not least Turnbull, but it was largely the initiative and leadership of Paul Keating which stoked the flames.

Using his clout as prime minister, Keating established the Republican Advisory Committee in 1993 and elevated the issue from niche lobby interest to national significance.

No referendum has ever passed without strong prime ministerial support. Arguably the Liberal landslide of 1996 that saw Keating, the most pro-republic prime minister in our history, replaced by Howard, the most pro-monarchy — until Abbott — was what really sunk the movement.

As things stand, despite the best efforts of FitzSimons and the Australian Republican Movement, Charles’ next trip to Australia may well be as its king.

Strong and consistent republican support from the prime minister is the missing ingredient to restart the national discussion. In his memoir of the failed referendum Fighting for the Republic: The Ultimate Insider’s Account (1999), Turnbull expressed confusion and frustration that Howard would not use his prime ministerial power to see in a safe, minimal change republic.

That power is now in his hands if he chooses to use it. One thing that remains evident is that an Australian republic is anything but inevitable.

The ConversationBenjamin T. Jones, Adjunct Research Fellow, School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.
 

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