Cut the waste! Stop the boondoggles!

Junction Oval

Junction Oval

Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine announces a “plan” to spend $20 million upgrading Junction Oval at St Kilda to accommodate the AFL team named after the suburb, even though it hasn’t played or trained there for decades. The plan appears not to have been checked with the local council or the AFL, and would apparently need another $37 million in infrastructure funding from the Abbott government.  At first glance it looks to be a complete waste of money with few if any redeeming features.

The Melbourne East West Link tunnel is a vastly more expensive but equally dubious project in cost-benefit terms that Napthine has rammed through despite very widespread opposition, including from the ALP which has said it won’t build it under any circumstances if elected.

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Calmly considering ABC cuts

abcThe announcement by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the ABC’s budget will be cut by $50 million per year for the next five years has generated predictable kerfuffle in mainstream and social media circles. Whether it will have any real effect on the broader voting public is much more questionable, but it’s still worth talking about in policy terms.

The predictable line by left-leaning commentators is that Tony Abbott has broken a promise, or even “lied” when he said before the election that ABC and SBS funding (along with health, education etc) would not be cut. In a tit-for-tat sense I guess that’s fair enough, because it’s exactly the same accusation that Abbott successfully prosecuted against Julia Gillard in relation to her backflip on carbon pricing.

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Embracing a mature tax debate?

abbott hockeyTony Abbott might well be the last bloke on earth who could plausibly demand a “mature debate” on tax reform. But that doesn’t deny the crying need for such a debate in Australia.

Nor does the fact that it’s the antithesis of what Abbott did in Opposition mean that Bill Shorten should necessarily emulate Tony’s tactics himself.  What won the last war won’t necessarily win this one.  Abbott didn’t win the 2013 election only because he relentlessly opposed everything Labor tried to do. That tactic worked because Julia Gillard had mortally wounded herself by the manner in which she seized the prime ministership, because that inevitably resulted in ongoing destructive disunity orchestrated by an embittered Kevin Rudd, and because her government consistently exhibited appalling administrative and policy implementation skills despite some excellent policy ideas. Without those self-inflicted wounds, Abbott’s “one trick pony” knee-jerk obstructionism might have failed.

Despite the fact that opinion polls have looked quite respectable for Shorten for some time, Abbott in government isn’t burdened by any of the handicaps that ensured Gillard/Rudd’s doom. Moreover, he now has the additional benefit of wrapping himself in khaki, which John Howard exploited with such great success in 2001 and 2004.

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From assimilation to Black Power to Gordon Gekko to where? (II)

closegapHEAD

This is the second of a two part article about Aboriginal affairs policy in the wake of Noel Pearson’s speech last week at Gough Whitlam’s funeral. See From assimilation to Black Power to Gordon Gekko to where? (I).  Then read on. NB A very long post. I hope at least some will persevere to the end

In the first part of this article I argued that the self-determination policies of the 70s, 80s and 90s were generally perceived to have failed. That perception, along with calculations of immediate partisan political advantage, led to the imposition of the Howard Intervention on Northern Territory Aboriginal communities from late 2007.

The Intervention policies drew on various strands of right-leaning thinking on Aboriginal policy (including the prescriptions of Noel Pearson) which I will outline below. Despite their cynical partisan origins, these policies met with bipartisan acceptance and were implemented enthusiastically by the incoming Rudd ALP government through Minister Jenny Macklin under the Abbott-esque three word slogan Closing the Gap. Seven years after their implementation, the kindest evaluation one can give to these policies is that they have met with very modest success.

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From assimilation to Black Power to Gordon Gekko to where? (I)

Noel Pearson delivers the Greatest Australian Political Speech in Recorded History

Noel Pearson delivers the Greatest Australian Political Speech in Recorded History

It didn’t take long for the Aboriginal knockers to start tearing into Noel Pearson in the wake of his delivery of the Greatest Australian Political Speech in Recorded History at Gough Whitlam’s funeral.

And Helen Razer (although not Aboriginal to the best of my knowledge) took the opportunity of tweeting a link to an old article about Pearson by 60s-70s wannabe Black Power activist Gary Foley.  It’s a fairly spiteful and juvenile effort in many ways  (I didn’t, for example, need to know that Pearson is allegedly known by “many in Aboriginal communities around Australia as the ‘Cape York Cane Toad’”), but nevertheless makes some points that are worthy of serious reflection and discussion:

 Noel’s speech launching Prof. Langton’s Boyer book was in part a reiteration of his assertions about what is the way forward for Aboriginal people. The familiar Pearson themes of the importance of individual home ownership and entrepreneurialism were there, as well as the tiresome chastising of those who don’t support these contentions as being ones who are tolerant of domestic violence and child abuse. This latter accusation is particularly disingenuous because it implies that the solitary way one can combat social dysfunction is through the path of individualism, materialism and free-enterprise entrepreneurialism. If that is the case, then it is clear that what Pearson’s ideas are ultimately about is pure and simple assimilationism.

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Dick Hamer: the liberal Liberal

Dick HamerScribe publishing occasionally sends me a catalogue of books it’s publishing asking if I’d like to have one to review. Looking through their long list I picked my friend Tim Colebatch’s biography of Rupert Hamer on which he’s been working for a good while now. It’s a very enjoyable book to read. Well organised with the strictly chronological narrative occasionally being interrupted for some analysis and/or a chapter or two on specific issues, it gives a great picture of an unusually accomplished person of decency, liberality and great, if somewhat aloof grace.

Hamer was a rat of Tobruk who was always a natural leader with a strong sense of noblesse oblige. He came from Toorak (St George’s Rd no less – one of the best for those who don’t know), though Colebatch tells us they were not rich or at least their wealth was earned, not inherited. Rupert’s mum, Nancy had been orphaned at a young age but spent many years as Vice-President of Victoria Women’s Hospital which the Hamer family had spent several decades the previous century helping to build though charity drives. It was the first hospital in the British Empire to be run by and for women.

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Trust me, I’m Scott Morrison …

We can be confident that Tony isn't demonstrating the size of Scott's heart, or his brain for that matter ...

We can be confident that Tony isn’t demonstrating the size of Scott’s heart, or his brain for that matter …

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago which inter alia condemned the drastic breach of Australia’s fundamental human rights obligations perpetrated by the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 (currently being considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee; Report due 27/11/2014).

The Bill has also been roundly condemned by numerous commentators far more eminent than me, including University of Sydney’s migration and refugee law guru Mary Crock, who referred to it as an “affront to the rule of law”.   However, perhaps the most devastating if unintended condemnation comes from Minister Scott Morrison himself, as quoted in the relevant bills digest prepared by the Parliamentary Library to inform MPs:

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The Peris Affair: perhaps ethically dubious but not legally

I don’t have a particularly high opinion of Senator Nova Peris. I certainly don’t think Prime Minister Julia Gillard should have effectively sacked long-standing and well regarded Senator Trish Crossin to get her into Parliament. Moreover, even if it was reasonable to aim at getting new blood into the Senate and do so by introducing a capable Aboriginal woman, retired Territory Minister Marion Scrymgeour would have been a much better bet.

However, none of those factors justifies publication of the story about Senator Peris’s romantic liaison with international superstar Ato Boldon, at least with the slant it was given. Let me be clear. I certainly don’t take the Pollyanna attitude that the salacious emails should not have been published at all. Whatever some may assert, I suspect there wouldn’t be a single newspaper editor anywhere in Australia who would have refrained from publishing those emails if he/she had them and had obtained them lawfully (or at least without any specific knowledge about how they were obtained).

If they had merely been published as an avowedly prurient exercise in boosting tabloid circulation (as gossip magazines do on a weekly basis), I would have no problem at all. However, the Northern Territory News attempted to dress up its publication with an element of “public interest” which is almost certainly spurious.

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It’s Time?

In the midst of all the Whitlam nostalgia over the last week or so I couldn’t help thinking of the contagious hope and excitement that was generated by the “It’s Time” campaign theme in 1972. It still sends tingles down my spine listening to it today.

The year of Whitlam’s election was my first year at the University of Sydney on a Commonwealth Scholarship. My parents certainly could not have afforded to send me there. By the next year it didn’t matter because tertiary education was free, at least for a while. That year I was also looking down the barrel of conscription when I turned 20 in 1973, with the strong possibility of ending up in Vietnam. That prospect also ended with Whitlam’s election.

Can you imagine running an election campaign for Bill Shorten and today’s ALP using the “It’s Time” theme?  Time for focus groups, expedient cynical policies; time for me-tooism on data retention and anti-terror laws, and sending the troops off to make a risky token gesture supporting the Americans fighting ISIL in Iraq. Time for tiptoeing towards supporting Abbott and Morrison on turning back asylum seeker boats. Time for doing a deal on a reduced Renewable Energy Target, while opposing essential tax reform because the focus groups dictate it.

Exciting, inspiring, no? I can hardly wait to rush down to Labor headquarters and renew my long lapsed membership.