Suspension of Standing orders and Quorums: A look into Political Skullduggery

In Parliament today the Labor Party moved for another suspension of standing orders, the 8th straight Question time interrupted by a call to Suspend Standing Orders. Along with an increased amount of calls for Quorums in the House of Representatives these Parliamentary tactics have again come into question as to how valid these tactics are. First of all it is worth giving a definition of both tactics.

A quorum (1) dictates that at any time in Parliament one fifth of the members must be present within the chamber, in the current Parliament of 150 members this means that 30 members should be present at any moment. Similarly in the senate (2) there are rules for a Quorum that require a quarter of senators present which in the current senate is 19 of the 76 members. The suspension of standing orders (3) is when the House or Senate has a member who seeks to alter the current order of business in order to debate an issue that is of national significance, be that a policy or political point. These are often moved by Opposition Parties to interrupt the government order of business of a sitting day to make a political or policy point that they feel is important. A more cynical person however would suggest that appearance of chaos in Parliament tends to hurt the Governing Party more and so suspending the order of the House leads to an appearance of chaos that reflects badly on the Government.

A lot of the public probably would not have heard about quorums as Question Time which is the main Parliamentary Debate followed by the public will be attended by most members of Parliament. However as members of Parliament MPs have a lot of work they are required to do outside of the House during sitting days and so it is usual procedure for MPs to let it slide if Quorum is not present. However an Opposition that wants to cause Skullduggery can move for a Quorum to be counted which then forces 30 Government MPs to get back to Parliament within 4 minutes. If Quorum is then not reached the Speaker can suspend the sitting of Parliament from anywhere up until the next sitting day which is an embarrassing look to any government. The Labor Party have carried out this technique at an increasing rate over the last few Parliament sitting fortnights especially on the Welfare Debate yesterday and it has the effect of ensuring the Government have to ensure MPs are able to quickly return to Parliament for counting. Now Labor Party followers would rightfully point to examples like the following (4) where the Liberal Party during the hung Parliament called two successive Quorums to catch out the Labor Party as revenge for Anthony Albanese using another political technique, namely moving a member be no longer heard. Now as I will say in the next section that’s a reasonable argument but it also is the sort of stunt that makes the general public continue to lose respect in Parliament and that is something that all politicians should be trying to respect.

The Labor Party on Wednesday moved their seventh straight suspension of standing orders during Question Time and then today moved their eighth straight suspension of standing order breaking Tony Abbott’s record of six straight suspensions of standing orders in the Hung Parliament period between 2010-2013 (5). All of Labor’s motions to suspend standing orders in the last fortnight have related to Barnaby Joyce and his citizenship status. Now this is an important issue but Question Time is an important opportunity for the opposition to hold the government to account and every suspension of standing orders cuts into Question Time and is less opportunity for the Government to be questioned on different policy issues. This is Particularly the case when the Labor Party focus on just one topic for now 2 weeks of question time straight exclusively and off and on in previous sitting weeks before that. At a time when we have North Korea possibly about to start World War 3, Power Prices being at punishing rates for families to contend with and an ongoing argument on the merits of economic policy direction, be it a more Social or Capitalist approach and marriage equality. It just beggars belief to me the Labor Party think that Citizenship is the only issue worth pursuing in Question Time.

Now again similar to the last paragraph the Labor Party will point to the Liberal Party moving such motions in the hung parliament of the 2010-2013 government and they are right to do so, but just because it gave the Liberal Party Electoral Success in the 2013 Election it then meant there was no Political free will given by the Labor Party when they hit opposition. With this cycle in mind there is a real concern that a Liberal Opposition Party in 2019 may try the same Parliamentary tactic. No one has yet to convince me while this following exchange makes good Parliamentary debate:

Tony Bourke: “I move that so much of standing orders be suspended such that the Manager of Opposition move the following motion forthwith. That the House censures the Prime Minister for continuing to accept the vote of Barnaby Joyce and keeping him in Parliament”. End Motion, start to debate motion and Suddenly:

Chris Pyne Leader of the House: “I move the member be no further heard”

Tony Smith Speaker: “All those in favour say I” I “Opposed say No” No; “the I’s have it” No “Is division required, ring the bells for four minutes”

Cue 10 minutes to divide and count the votes

Back to Tony Smith: “Is the motion seconded”

Joel Fitzgibbon: “I second the motion”,Shouting Barnaby Joyce should not be in….

Chris Pyne Leader of the House: “I move the member be no further heard”

Tony Smith Speaker: “All those in favour say I” I “Opposed say No” No; “the I’s have it” No “Is division required, ring the bells for one minute”

A few minutes later Chris Pyne moves the motion be put and the Speaker then repeats the procedure to eventually have the motion defeated. This is the procedure that has taken place at 2:50PM Eastern Time just as the main ABC channel is about to end their Parliamentary Feed and go to regular programming. Again Politically a valuable tactic but I will leave it to the reader to decide whether it’s a great showing of our democracy.

Lastly I just want to say that I hope that wiser heads can prevail with North Korea because I think we are nearly at the point where the best course of action to prevent extra casualties will be to take military action to avoid more civilian casualties from a North Korean Military test that if went wrong could cause a large amount of casualties.

 

References

(1) https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2004A03790

(2) http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/aso/so051

(3) https://questions.peo.gov.au/questions/under-what-circumstances-would-standing-orders-be-suspended-and-for-what-purpose/22

(4) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/coalition-catches-labor-short-in-parliament/news-story/0b3cbd139d36edb0a7a7bc728fbd9197

(5) https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/federal/parliamentary-chaos-labors-enthusiastic-embrace-of-tony-abbotts-destruction-political-playbook-20170906-gybuq5.html

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Marriage Equality – The Political Take on a social issue

Marriage Equality has been a policy topic that has been in the news for a while now and I’ve been reluctant to cover it due to the divisiveness of the issue with proponents on both sides of the debate taking stances that cross the line of civil debate. However with the move of several Liberal backbenchers moving to support a private members bill and before that a suspension of standing orders to bring on discussion on the issue I think it’s worth discussing the political manoeuvrings behind this issue.

In 2004 John Howard changed the marriage act to ensure that the definition of marriage was between 1 man and 1 woman. This was moved through Parliament in order to ensure that if a debate was to be had in the future on whether Gay marriage should be allowed then it would have to involve a law change. Now in a way that fact has been used by many to advocate Parliament being the vehicle to bring in marriage equality. Indeed that is the view of John Howard (1) who believes it should be the Parliament and not the public who changes a law like this. Now I will elaborate below the political issues with that but (2) shows that since the 2004 marriage definition change there have been 22 bills introduced into Parliament debating changes to the marriage act and none of them have even passed through the lower house let alone reach the upper house. This then acts as a big reasoning for a Plebiscite, if the Parliament can’t reach an agreement on the issue but the public want action on the issue then a Plebiscite can be used to vote on the issue and assuming it passes it would be a brave Parliament that rejects the voice of the public especially with the cost involved in running a Plebiscite.

I think the first point to make is where the major parties stand on the issue. The Greens and the Democrats Party when they were in Parliament are known supporters of Gay marriage and indeed a lot of earlier post 2004 moves for marriage equality have come from these members. The Labor Party are an interesting case for marriage equality because they have flown the Political stances on the issue. Before 2010 the Labor Parties stance on marriage equality was to oppose any bill that came into Parliament which ensured that any bill by the cross bench had no chance of passing. As of 2010 Julia Gillard announced that she would allow a conscious vote in Parliament on the matter despite personally being against the issue. Now she has changed her mind on the issue of Gay marriage since then but the number one argument I hear on Gay marriage is that only Christians and people of religion disagree with marriage equality and that clearly isn’t the case. (3) I think Julia Gillard and other people’s argument on marriage is that the act of two people getting married has a symbolic meaning to it that doesn’t blend with modern society as much, indeed there are a lot of Atheists who are moving away from being married and are instead opting for civil services outside of the church setting. It is with these positions and in attacking the Coalition’s policy on a forced vote that I found their conference position (4) reached in their 2015 Labor conference perplexing. Until the end of the current term of Parliament the Labor Party advocate a conscious vote on the issue but from next term onwards any MP or Senator must vote in favour of Marriage Equality, a rather hypocritical position if they continue to attack the Liberal Party on not having a free vote. Indeed this change in policy has already seen a Western Australian Labor Senator resign due to the policy position change (5).

The Liberal Party until 2015 had a straight binding vote on Marriage Equality that said they had to vote down any attempts to introduce legislation on Marriage Equality. Now in the Liberal Party there are supposed leniencies to voting against party policy so there has been the odd senator who has crossed the floor on marriage equality but not enough to influence any results. Now I’ll come back to the specifics on crossing the floor for Liberal Parties members on any upcoming policy but 2015 saw an important policy shift on marriage equality. In 2015 to placate more moderate Liberal MPS Tony Abbott suggested a Plebiscite(6). The idea behind a plebiscite was for the Liberal Party to hold their policy line on marriage equality until the 2016 election and then push for a public vote on Marriage Equality post election. If as many polls suggested the plebiscite passed then MPS would vote in the lower house and senate to pass a marriage equality act into law and as I commented above a free vote for both parties would ensure that marriage equality passed into law as I don’t believe enough members would want to vote against public opinion. When Malcolm Turnbull took the role of PM from Tony Abbott in 2015 this remained the policy much to the disappointment of some in the community who had hoped Malcolm Turnbull’s personal view of support would see a change in policy. This simple narrative that gets parroted a lot by supporters of marriage equality ignores two basic realities that I will touch on now and elaborate further later on. If Malcolm Turnbull changed policy then conservative would pull support from Turnbull and seek Peter Dutton out as leader in a leadership spill. Alternatively if as is widely reported Turnbull made a pledge to keep a plebiscite as party policy in part of the deal with the National Party to maintain their support post leadership change then them pulling their support would also see the Liberal Party lose the balance of power on the floor of the house which would lead them open to a vote of No Confidence.

So with the policy positions now established I will return to the issues of the last week. Gay Liberal MPs and Senators as well as Warren Entsch have looked to resolve the issue of marriage equality before the next election (7). In their views the Plebiscite is a failed policy that will not pass the Parliament and so isn’t a viable solution to resolve the matter, with that in mind a free vote where members can vote on their conscious is the only way to get marriage equality through. In their minds and it’s a sound argument marriage equality is clearly going to eventually pass into law and while it’s not the most important issue to most people it’s an issue that generates a lot of public debate and so it distracts from other issues being discussed. A clear example of this came this week when Tim Wilson was questioned on the marriage equality debate and when he tried to sidestep to another issue the interview was promptly ended. As a result of this renewed push Conservative MPs have tried to seek another vote in Parliament on the issue of a Plebiscite and in the case of that failing again they would then seek to have a postal vote on the issue (8). There are many issues with a postal vote and indeed the strongest argument against postal plebiscites came from Malcolm Turnbull when he was leading the case for the country to become a Republic. A postal plebiscite can be held with Parliamentary approval because it can use money set aside for Government assigned surveying, however it is not binding so MPS can vote against the result and it is not compulsory which I believe would mean it would be voted down as the largest demographic in favour of marriage equality tend to be the most disengaged in voting in elections. It would also be up for legal challenges about appropriate use of Government money akin to what occurred when a parent challenged the Government funding of chaplains in public schools. So that leaves the prospects of either staying put or having a vote on marriage equality in the Parliament however that has it’s own wrinkles. Firstly the Leader of the House is in control of what legislation goes before the house and so they can effectively push any marriage equality to the bottom of Government Business where it would then expire at the end of the current term of Parliament. The way around that is to suspend standing orders which then allows government business to be suspended in order to debate a motion that is not currently next on the notice paper. For instance parliament is flowing with it’s usual robustness and then at 2:45 AEST Bill Shorten gets up and goes I seek to suspend the standing orders to censure the PM for being a Toffee Nosed Tory (not far off an actual suspension order :P). The problem with this passing the Parliament is an unknown constitutional section. (9) suggests that a lost vote on the floor of Parliament could be considered as a vote in loss of confidence in the Parliament. This would then lead to the government potentially resigning and if Labor then couldn’t elect a speaker an election to resolve the impasse. Now the wording suggests that it has to be considered an important issue and the Government could spin that it isn’t, indeed both the Labor Party in minority and the Liberal Party already in this term have lost votes on the floor of the house and that hasn’t led to a change of Government, it does however mark a significant dent on the standing of the Liberal Parties grasp of Parliament and that could lead to recriminations against those who crossed the floor. Now that last part might cause confusion because didn’t you say that the Liberal Party allowed members to cross the floor. Well the truth appears to be mixed, certainly (10) suggests that because this issue is so divisive crossing the floor on this issue seems to be no go with threats of challenges to the preselections of said members at the next election. The other issue is would a vote on marriage equality then pass the lower house and senate? The analysis on the impact of a passing of the policy on Turnbull’s leadership has already been largely commented on and there appears to be an assumption the policy would pass both houses with a passing of the suspension orders. However even if no Labor MP in the lower house voted against marriage equality the Senate appears to be a different can of worms. Indeed (11) shows that both in the Lower and Upper House there are members of the Labor Party opposed to marriage equality and when combined with Jacquie Lambie, Pauline Hanson and One Nation and Bob Katter in the lower house it cannot be assumed that marriage equality would just seemingly pass if the rest of the Liberal Party vote against marriage equality.

 

I have gotten to the end of this post and my final thought is that marriage equality is still a way off because as I have mentioned above there are still a lot of hurdles to climb. To those who want to use this as a stick to smack the Liberal Party sure go ahead however as I’ve elaborated above it ignores a lot of grey areas on this political issue and also ignores that other parties are also divided on this issue. In my mind that’s normal with social issues, I think we need to be more ok with disagreeing on some issues and not be so quick to bash those who don’t agree with them on everything.

 

References

(1): http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/former-prime-minister-john-howard-says-politicians-in-fear-of-marriage-equality/news-story/d000c28a0d79c6e443353ef1ee73283b

(2): http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1617/Quick_Guides/SSMarriageBills

(3): http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/love-isnt-all-about-marriage-says-pm-julia-gillard-as-she-defends-her-same-sex-marriage-stan/news-story/2c2909cad241e29da5c17d1707bc832a

(4): https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jul/26/alp-conference-backs-binding-vote-on-same-sex-marriage-after-two-terms

(5): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-01/labor-senator-joe-bullock-quits/7212324

(6): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-flags-plebiscite-on-samesex-marriage-in-bid-to-defuse-anger-20150811-giwyg1.html

(7) http://www.skynews.com.au/news/top-stories/2017/07/31/liberal-mp-to-bring-on-same-sex-marriage-vote.html

(8) http://www.skynews.com.au/news/top-stories/2017/08/02/conservative-liberals-push-for-plebiscite.html

(9): https://www.buzzfeed.com/markdistefano/rules-glorious-rules?utm_term=.ey66M0MDW#.gfMNpxp45

(10): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/all-im-asking-for-is-to-have-a-bloody-vote-liberal-mp-warren-entsch-20170802-gxnomk.html

(11): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/the-labor-mps-who-could-blow-up-rebel-liberals-samesex-marriage-plans-20170802-gxnkp7.html

South Australian Politics – Are we about to go to an election?

My home state managed to break into the political news this week as a blocked budget measure by the Liberal’s and the Senate cross bench has left the budget potentially in danger of not passing. This would have significant impact as any public service worker is then in danger of not being paid. As a result of this breakdown in Parliament Jay Weatherill the premier has a few options (1). Option 1 is for the Labor party to do what they did in 2014 and scrap the bank levy; this would cost the budget 370 million dollars that would then have to be replaced in some form by another measure. The second option is to try and reintroduce the bill in the upper house and hope that they can convince the cross bench of the merits of passing the budget as a whole and not putting at risk the whole budget to oppose one measure. The last option is to declare the bill is a special measure and call something akin to a double dissolution election on the matter. This would then allow the Labor Party to try and get the measure through a special sitting post an election, this is a risky move given that the Weatherill Government has been on the nose increasingly in the last 12 months and there is no guarantee they would win the election leaving the comparisons to Theresa May or Malcolm Turnbull calling an early election. This option allows me to discuss below the recent poll that has come out.

(2) Suggests a very tight election race with a 50-50 2PP vote and when you consider that the Liberal Party lost the 2014 election with a 53 percent 2 Party Preferred vote one might assume that the Liberal Party are in some trouble. The elephant in the room however continues to be the Nick Xenophon SA Best Party. They are polling at 21 percent and so they will be in a position to determine the party that wins the election. The other interesting change from the last election is a large seat redistribution that has changed the landscape of the state. (3) Now has the Liberal Party with an election winning 27 seats as opposed to 20 notional seats for the Labor Party. Four Labor seats are notionally Liberal namely being Newland, Mawson, Colton and Elder. Now these seats are held by long term Labor MPs so incumbency will help those members out except in Colton where the member has announced they are retiring which probably makes that an easier seat for the Liberal Party to win. The Labor party have 7 seats under 5 percent including some in the North East of Adelaide and given the prosperity of these areas relative to most of metropolitan Adelaide is a concern for the Liberal Parties prospects of winning an election if they can’t grab a seat or two there. The Xenophon Party rather than the Labor Party might also make life difficult because as was seen in the federal election his vote travelled better in the country and the hills than the metropolitan area. Where his vote was in the mid teens for metropolitan areas, that vote increased to 30 percent in the country and hills areas and saw his party take the Federal seat of Mayo. This hurts the Liberal Party as most of their seats are concentrated in the country and hills areas. Indeed for all of the complaints I have heard about the Labor party winning the election unfairly and that the party who gets the highest 2PP should win the election they miss this basic point! South Australia has around 1.7 million people (4) of which 1.3 million people live in Adelaide and in metropolitan Adelaide the Labor Party won the 2PP vote 51.3 percent to 48.7 percent. That is the figure that the Liberal Party will have to improve on in the next election and with the Xenophon party polling at 20 percent if those numbers flow back more to the Labor Party then they may still hold on in a similar setup to the current Parliament.

The other important issue from this week is the official announcement of the Tesla company ran by Elon Musk to build a lithium ion battery to connect with a wind farm currently being constructed (5).  The battery is being made to try and ease the issues of blackouts and power shedding that have been prevalent in SA over the last 12 months. In the event of a significant outage the hope is that the battery would allow for backup power to avoid long lasting blackouts. The added bonus for the SA government is the announcement of Musk that if the battery is not built within 100 days then the cost would be free to the government. If this 3 months build target is met then the government might be able to avoid a repeat of the power losses that impacted the state over the last summer which would be a large political boost to the re election chances of the Weatherill Government.

 

 

References

(1) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-04/sa-bank-levy-budget-bill-explainer/8676140

(2) http://www.galaxyresearch.com.au/polling/

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Australian_state_election,_2018

(4) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Australian_state_election,_2014

(5) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-07/what-is-tesla-big-sa-battery-and-how-will-it-work/8688992

The Week that was in Politics – What were the Liberal Party thinking (Again!)

In last weeks blog I was rather scathing of the Labor and the Green Party, one week on and it’s the Liberal Party who have had a bad week. They say nothing good happens after drinking at midnight and Christopher Pyne may do well to heed that advice. Tony Abbott has been continuing to attack Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership openly and not so openly; and so Christopher Pyne’s late night admission that he wants to see marriage equality pass through the house sooner than later and that he never voted for Tony Abbott was just the opportunity Tony Abbott needed to come and attack the Liberal Party and it’s leadership under Turnbull again.

Earlier this year Scott Morrison would appear on Ray Hadley’s conservative radio program weekly to discuss politics however that appearance ended due to Scott Morrison appearing on a seperate ABC program to discuss the budget rather than to appear on his show. This opened up a slot for a Liberal MP to appear on the weekly spot and Tony Abbott happily accepted the opportunity to appear on the show. In a similar fashion to Kevin Rudd after the 2010 election Tony Abbott can now use that radio spot to advance his views on policy issues that are shaping the country and show how that differentiates from the leader, in this case Malcom Turnbull. The big difference between Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd is that Kevin Rudd held public support in the period between his first leadership loss and regaining the leadership whereas Tony Abbott has not had that public support. So when Tony Abbott came out this week with a new manifesto a lot of the political issues he raised are popular with his political base however they don’t have broad public support besides a tougher stance on national security and that already is a policy shift that Malcolm Turnbull has been making this year. You don’t fix national security issues however by getting up on a national platform surrounded by flags lecturing people, it requires a delicate nuanced approach.

One big claim by right wing commentators and Corey Bernadi/ Tony Abbott is that by moving to the centre on issues the Liberal Party have lost votes to the One Nation and Conservatives Party. As (1) shows this is a valid claim however it’s use is exaggerated in it’s impact on the Liberal Party vote share. I think it’s clear that Liberal are leaking votes to right wing parties like the One Nation Party and other conservative parties however if the Liberal’s move to far to the right then they risk losing votes to the Labor Party or the Greens particularly in more metropolitan seats. At first glance Wentworth, Bennelong, Higgins, Brisbane, Sturt and Reid are all potential greens targets longer term that the Liberal Party risk losing if they were to move to far too the right. The One Nation threat shouldn’t be an issue in a preferential voting system because most of the lost votes should come back to the Liberal Party through preferences, however this didn’t happen in 2016, the preferences split closer to 50-50 between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. This is the real problem for the Liberal Party, that unlike the Labor Party who receive about 80 percent of Greens preferences when disenfranchised voters are voting away from the Liberal Party they aren’t getting those votes back. This means you can’t just assume that taking on a more right wing approach will get you all of these votes back, because you are essentially chasing protest votes and they don’t split as logically to one particular party. I think it’s important to look at the polls going into Tony Abbott’s demise as PM; The Liberal Party were anywhere from 55-45 to 58-42 behind in two party preferred votes and were in real danger of losing all South Australian seats to match the wipeout that eventuated in NT and Tasmania. With this in mind it’s a bit disingenuous of right wing commentators to attack Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in the face of 53-47 polls because he won the 2016 election despite that looking impossible before the 2015 leadership spill and a lot of Malcolm Turnbull’s issues have come from needing to placate the party to avoid losing his leadership again. I know speaking to voters they say well Turnbull show just muscle up and show some leadership but this would then lead to captains calls and this was something that the public despised Tony Abbott for. There’s also no point taking a position on an issue that can’t pass the party room because all that will do is leave you without the leadership and with the issue then reversed to an even less favourable position. I also think the public share some blame for the paralysis on big policy issues. I remember when Mike Baird introduced the greyhound ban there was not much of a whimper from those who supported the decision but the opposition groups were very loud and manifested a strong opposition to the policy. As a result of this and an Orange By Election loss Mike Baird reversed his policy decision and only then did animal rights groups speak up about what a horrible decision this was from Mike Baird. Well if you had spoken up with your views earlier Mike Baird might of had a stronger position to defend his decision.

How do I think the latest Abbott vs Turnbull dispute will end. Well I think Malcolm Turnbull will continue to spin the line that he is only focussed on policy outcomes and not the distractions of the personal politics, this is evidenced by (2) however the last 7 years suggests that the media will continue to chase the sound bite and there are going to be a lot of these sound bites still to come. I don’t think Tony Abbott will return to the leadership, I think he only gets 10-15 votes now in a leadership spill however I don’t think this concerns Abbott. He has such a personal vengeance against Malcolm Turnbull that he would rather lose the next election than let Turnbull implement his chosen policy platform. The problem this has then is who leads the Liberal Party should they lose the next election, Malcolm Turnbull has pledged to leave Parliament if the Liberal Party lose the next election and Scott Morrison has lost a lot of his shine from his not so effective stint now as Treasurer. That leaves Peter Dutton who is a popular base candidate but who is very divisive in the public and holds a marginal seat, there is a possibility he loses his Queensland seat at the next election. After that your next candidates are probably still a few years off with Christian Porter probably the most likely to be the next Liberal Prime Minister when Liberal re take office.

Elsewhere in Politics the Greens have had another difficult internal week and would indeed be in some crisis if they were a major party with the increased media criticism. Senator Lee Rhiannon has been suspended from attending contentious party room meetings for the foreseeable future although has not been expelled from the Greens as some sources were expecting. This has led to an Insiders appearance by Lee Rhiannon this morning to reiterate her criticism on Richard Di Natale as party leader and an insistence that the Greens are a party for the members and not for the MPs. This statement is essentially why the Greens have split at the moment. As I have alluded to in previous posts Di Natale seeks to make the Greens more electable and be able to win seats from both the Labor and Liberals in metropolitan seats. This is opposed to Lee Rhiannon and the more left wing of the New South Wales division particularly who want to see the party reach it’s members and let policy be influenced by their base. This split became public when Lee Rhiannon supported the Greens Base members for their opposition to the Liberal’s Gonski policy while Di Natale and Sarah Hanson Young were working on amendments to support the governments policy. The fact that 9 MPs were in favour of this approach and 1 Senator opposing the deal stops any progress on the matter suggests to me that the Greens have some issues to deal with going forward.

 

References

(1) http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/2017-06-19/fact-check-did-the-coalition-lose-a-million-votes-last-election/8538370

(2) https://twitter.com/TurnbullMalcolm/status/881258930361344001/video/1

Education – I hope I spelt that right

This week in parliament the government were finally able to pass their school funding reform through the senate and then the lower house. For the government this helps alleviate an area of concern with the public being that Liberal governments look to cut funding in public services, particularly education and health. In order to pass the legislation through the senate the Government needed to do a deal with the senate cross bench/ the Greens and the backbench to ensure it’s passage. This essentially boiled down to the amount of money pledged to schools increasing by 5 billion dollars from the 18.9 billion dollars which helped get the independents on board particularly with the money being spent over 6 years rather than 10 years which meant the money would be spent sooner. To placate the backbench and the Catholic schools sector they were then promised to have their current arrangement of funding kept for an extra year. This was needed as the Catholic sector were unhappy with losing money from some of the richer schools which by nature of the needs based funding arrangement meant for schools to receive money some schools needed to lose money.

Sadly although not completely surprising under the current political environment the Labor and the Greens were both opposed to the measure, although in the case of the Greens this opposition came late. Now the argument the Labor party gave was that they were committed to the spending proposed under Gonski 1.0 and that the government were now walking away from a commitment to match the spending back in the 2013 election. Now that commitment from Tony Abbott was a mistake but the Labor party are also culpable because their plan of funding was over 10 years and what they don’t mention is that the Liberal Party only planned to match the first four years of spending. The other issue with the first Gonski deal was that in the dying days of the second Kevin Rudd government Bill Shorten the then Education minister made special arrangements with individual states to get the policy agreed too, this meant that only 4 states and the ACT agreed to the Gonski arrangements and the other states then had a seperate arrangement. This meant that Christopher Pyne the Education minister under Tony Abbot was able to claim that because the deal done by Bill Shorten was not nationally agreed by the states and territories the Liberal party could pull their support for the deal and implement their own policy that saved the government money to fix the budget issues that they claimed to have inherited. This allowed the Labor party to run the line then as they did with this version of the Gonski deal that the Liberal party were cutting money from Education. From (1) and (2) we see that these claims are slightly misleading, now the Labor can claim they are going to spend more money on Education however that does not mean the Liberal Party are cutting money from the budget, a cut suggests that the current amount of money given to schools will reduce in the next year not increase at a slower rate. The take away line from (2) was that the Labor party wanted to claim that the government had cut 22 million dollars from Education which would cause 22 thousand teachers would lose their jobs, this is not true, the correct phrase would be to say that because of the policy differences 22 thousand teachers could not be hired. The other flaw with the Labor policy is that they continue to offer budget figures for 10 years even though yearly budgets are meant to be forecast over 4 years only which means that funding amounts for 10 years are hard to project past the 4 years officially included in the budget. This is a growing trend by both sides of government on big ticket issues to plan spending over longer year amounts and then push a lot of the money into the latter years of the plan which allows them to save more money immediately and push out the higher spending to later on when the other side of politics might be in Parliament and have to wear the bill. A similar thing appears to have happened on spending on the National Disability Insurance Scheme where the big spending money in the budget was pushed out to the later years of the forecast amount when the Labor Party had a high suspicion they’d be in opposition. The Labor Party also made the strange move in Parliament of asking question after question of why the Liberal Party were cutting money from rich Catholic schools and not allowing parents to choose where they send their kids to school. This line of attack along with the Education Unions attack on this issue is strange because Labor parties tend to be pro public education and always looking to hammer home the attack that Right side of centre parties seek to be anti Public Education. Indeed over in the UK I was following a post 2017 budget attack by Jeremy Corbyn asking why more money was being pledged by Theresa May and the Conservatives on private tuition education instead of public school spending a complete opposite argument to what Labor appeared to be pushing in Australia, I might comment that at least in Australia public school spending is actually mainly done by state governments and then federal governments provide money to the Catholic and Independent schools as states aren’t generally responsible for these sectors. This fact is relevant because the government pledged to introduce an independent umpire to ensure states still provide adequate funding to public schools something that people were concerned might not happen under this Gonski arrangement. The Greens eventual opposition to this deal and I suspect at least part of the Labor’s disagreement with this issue was because of the Education Unions opposition to this deal. Again the Education Union don’t claim to be good friends of the Catholic and Independent schooling system but they seemed to not want to give the Coalition government a win on this issue because the appearance of the government being stuck on this issue allowed the Labor Party to run the line that the Government couldn’t achieve any big policy wins.

 

It’s that last line that sets up a lot of what I think will determine where this policy heads to now. It was clear watching the Parliament proceedings for the bill passing the lower house that the Labor Party will want to make this an election issue by claiming they plan to spend more money on schools. How effective an attack this will be now that the policy has passed the house will be intriguing to see, the Government remain stuck on 47 or 48 percent 2 party preferred which would see them comfortably lose the next election so if the Labor party attack does not work it might allow the Government to make inroads on those polling numbers (again it is my suspicion voters may have switched off this government despite not viewing Bill Shorten as someone they want to be PM). I am hoping that this issue along with some of the other big policy issues can become settled now because it is not a good thing that over the last 10 years Governments have passed policy through Parliament and then the opposition plays politics and runs a scare campaign on the issue and unwind that policy when they win office. I’ve thought for a while that Bill Shorten will win the next election but if he continues to play the negative politics game that Tony Abbott used from late 2009 to winning office in 2013 then he will find it hard to transition into becoming a Prime Minister that can govern for a longer period of time.

 

References

(1) http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/2014-07-02/kate-ellis-using-rubbery-school-funding-figures/5543330

(2) http://www.abc.net.au/news/factcheck/2017-06-05/fact-check-has-the-government-cut-22bn-from-schools/8526768

Climate Change Policy, A brief history and where we currently stand

Last week came the report of Dr Alan Finkel the Chief Scientist of Australia on how to transition from traditional sources of energy to a more modern renewable source of energy. This week as Parliament has returned the Liberal Party have once again shown signs of division on how to proceed on the issue of Climate Change and future energy security. The Liberal Party has had a number of positions on Climate Change over the last ten years and before discussing the current situation it would be worth re visiting how the Liberal Party has progressed on the issue over the last 10 years.

In 2007 with Kevin Rudd having secured an election winning lead in the polls for a sustained period John Howard released his plan to bring in an Emissions Trading Scheme (1). This policy was aimed at lowering the popularity of Kevin Rudd and Labour on the issue of Climate Change and was a practical measure investing money in incentivising Businesses to use lower emission methods for energy and water use as well as seek to invest in Nuclear Power. Given the announcement of the policy occurred so close to the election and given that Howard did not invest as much money as what the Labor Party proposed the idea was seen as not to go far enough. Indeed the Liberal Party went on to lose the 2007 election which led to his plan becoming redundant.

Post the election loss Brendan Nelson became the Liberal leader (quite the feat given video footage of him addressing a crowd saying he’d never vote Liberal in his life), under his leadership the Liberal approach to climate change appeared to be a wait for America or China to move on Climate Change to take a policy position. This approach was not popular with the Shadow Treasurer at the time Malcolm Turnbull and he would continually make visits to the oppositions office to call Brendan Nelson weak and useless. As a result it was with little surprise that in September of 2008 Malcolm Turnbull challenged for the leadership and won.

Malcolm Turnbull started his leadership well and was able to land some blows on Kevin Rudd for claims of going too far with spending in reaction to the financial crisis that had hit the global society. His leadership took a terminal turn however when a treasury advisor created a fake email that claimed electoral fraud on behalf of Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd that became known as Utegate, the fallout of the matter was that the public believed that Malcolm Turnbull had a tendency to react ferociously to policies without considering the impact of an issue rationally. The final straw on Malcolm Turnbull’s first leadership however was the issue of climate change and in particular his support for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. (2) The CPRS scheme essentially looked to place a cap on how much emissions could be released by businesses and then sets up a trading scheme for businesses to trade greenhouse emissions. How the trading scheme works is that if a business was at their cap for greenhouse polluting then they could pay money to buy more emissions from a company who were below their emissions cap. This effectively penalises companies who emit too many greenhouse gases and reward the companies that emit less greenhouse gases. When the government announced this scheme Malcolm Turnbull announced that he would support the scheme with some amendments which he was able to secure through the shadow minister Ian McFarlane for Agriculture sectors. However by this point the Conservative base of the leadership had grown tired of Turnbull’s leadership and spoke out against the issue. This led to a Coalition cabinet meeting that ended in Turnbull saying the issue had passed the party room despite their being clear opposition to the policy. This led to the famous quote by Peter Slipper saying that Malcolm Turnbull had acted like a Zimbabwe election being set up by Robert Mugabe. Shortly afterwards there was a three way contest between Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull and given Joe Hockey’s non committal view on the issue he lost in the first round of the leadership ballot which led to a shock Tony Abbott win by one vote.

Having taken the leadership and with the recent vote down of the CPRS issue by the Liberal Party conservative members and the Greens for the measure not being strong enough Abbott launched a strong negative campaign on the issue of the CPRS. With Kevin Rudd also not able to secure a global consensus at the Copenhagen climate change summit the Labor party walked away from their policy position that Kevin Rudd had once described as the biggest challenge of our generation. This combined with internal criticism about Kevin Rudd’s leadership style and poor implementation of the Mining Resources Tax led to Julia Gillard challenging for the Prime Ministership and after a night that saw the numbers drift away from the incumbent PM, Kevin Rudd chose to stand down as leader rather than lose comprehensively in the leadership ballot.

During the 2010 election Julia Gillard promised no Carbon Tax under a government I lead while Tony Abbott proposed a Direct Action policy. The Direct Action policy (3) aimed to incentivise businesses who reduced emissions as well as set up a Green army to have young people take part in conservation activities to help improve the environment directly. There was a lot of criticism of this plan for not doing enough to fight climate change and also that the cost to actually reduce emissions to the climate agreement level would be greater than what the level the Liberal Party were claiming. This scrutiny on the policy became less after the 2010 election because as a result of the Greens forming an official coalition with the Labor Party to help give Julia Gillard minority government the Liberal Party and particularly Tony Abbott could run the line that Julia Gillard had lied during the election and that this new tax would make energy prices rise through the roof and hurt several job industries. As with most political attacks there was a large amount of spin however with the Financial Crisis already having hurt Australian’s middle class society, the public were ready to revolt over this promise and Gillard spent the 2010 – 2013 period fighting off poor polling as well as an internal campaign from Kevin Rudd to return to his place as PM. With this is in mind even though the Carbon Tax was passed there was a sense that this would only be temporary as the public and businesses knew that the Liberal Party would win the next election and their first policy move would be to unwind the Carbon Tax. Indeed the Labor Party returned to Kevin Rudd just before the 2013 election but the matter of the leadership spill left him a bruised political figure compared to his first election campaign in 2007 and the Labor Party were comprehensively defeated by Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party in the 2013 Election.

On the eve of the 2013 election Tony Abbott made a promise of no cuts to the ABC, Health and Education. In the 2014 Budget Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott made a number of unpopular decisions in order to bring about budget repair and this combined with Tony Abbott already being a divisive figure to the public led to a significant drop in the polls, indeed there were significant concerns amongst Coalition MPS about the Liberal Party being a 1 term government. Before losing his leadership to Malcolm Turnbull Tony Abbott was able to get his Direct Action policy through parliament with the support of Clive Palmer (4) and his Palmer United Party senators. This was despite Clive Palmer earlier coming out to a press conference with Al Gore to present the merits for an Emission Trading Scheme similar to what Kevin Rudd had proposed back at the end of 2009. That press conference with Al Gore was a confusing one for many analysts given Clive Palmer’s history as a mine and Al Gore’s history with the environment!

With Malcolm Turnbull winning the leadership and Prime Ministership back in 2015 many members of the public hoped to see movement on climate policy. However that reaction ignored the practicalities of leading a party, having taken the leadership from Tony Abbott who was criticised for making “Captain’s Calls” and himself being criticised for doing as much in his first leadership tilt, any dramatic movement on issues would have seen a revolt from a large number of Coalition MPs and would have seen him replaced by another leader. This reality was only exaggerated by the 2016 double dissolution election where the Liberal Party suffered a swing against them and were left with a one seat majority. Now the argument should be that the Liberal Party were headed to a large loss under Tony Abbott and that Malcolm Turnbull deserved clear air to improve the electability of the Liberal Party but sections of the Liberal Right have shown that this is not possible and indeed the defection of Corey Bernadi to become an independent senator showed the tough balancing act that Malcolm faces now.

So that’s the 10 year history of Climate Change debate in this country, I think it speaks volumes to the divisiveness of the issue that so many politicians have lost their jobs over the issue and so many policies have been attempted to be implemented and yet we are still in the same place essentially as back in 2007. For this both major parties deserve criticism but for mine the Greens also deserve some criticism that they majorly seem to avoid on this issue. If the Greens had of accepted Kevin Rudd’s position on climate change in 2009 then the CPRS would have passed through the Senate and Kevin Rudd would have most likely won the 2010 election. Having won two elections Kevin Rudd may have then been more likely to smoothly transition to Julia Gillard at some point and given she was a popular politician before the 2010 coup she may have been a much better Prime Minister with the clear air of a united cabinet. Sometimes in order to get to the ultimate destination you need to accept a midway point and it’s then easier to negotiate to your desired position from the middle ground.

The Dr. Finkel review analysed an Emissions Intensity Scheme which is something closer to the Labor Party policy in that it penalises companies that emit too much greenhouse gas and would see coal generators and big greenhouse gas emitting companies close earlier allowing for a higher renewable energy target. This is not feasible for the Coalition Party who are against there being penalties for businesses that continue to emit at higher rates and also there is a concern about the transition from coal to renewable energy too soon. This worry is because something like solar and wind energy provide less reliable voltage and frequency than traditional energy sources then if something extreme happens weather wise power supply may be cut which leads to situation like in South Australia last year where a large amount of people lost power for an extended period of time. The bigger vote impacts of this transition are that if there is a switch to renewable energy sources too quickly then coal workers are suddenly left out of work and in a job market that has been unpredictable since the financial crisis there are worries for whether older workers will ever re find work. Also the price of gas has increased dramatically recently and the transitioning stop gap from coal to renewable energy has been gas and as the price of gas has increased it has led to price rises in electricity for public members. This has led to the government being able to run the attack that Labor State Governments are not supplying enough energy and transitioning to renewable energy too fast has led to increased power prices. With this in mind the Finkel report suggested a Clean Energy Target. This is a market initiative that sets a target on how much energy use should come from clean energy that encourages businesses to invest in cleaner energy resources. What makes this more sellable to the Liberal Party is that it does not favour one method of technology over another which means that as long as coal is used in a cleaner way that can still be used in the near future while eventually more renewable power sources are implemented. The report also ensures that if a Coal Power Plant is to close then there needs to be at three years notice which avoids a sudden gap in energy supply from an unexpected closure such as the Hazlewood and Port Augusta Power Plant. The problem for Malcolm Turnbull is that business will pass on the costs of using lower greenhouse gases to customers which then makes it another price on carbon. Given the legacy of Tony Abbott and his opposition to pricing carbon it has come as little surprise that he and other coalition members of his political persuasion have come out against the CET and Tuesday saw a heated Cabinet debate that saw the policy broadly supported by the party room but with a not insignificant amount of members opposed to the issue. If at the stage the reader is getting a sense of dejavu then that’s not surprising as their are more than a few similarities between this debate and the one that ended Turnbull’s leadership in 2009. The added difficult is that with the polls showing Turnbull behind Bill Shorten in the 2PP vote there is not the political capital to spend on this issue. In order to get this CET through Parliament Malcolm Turnbull will need Labor support and while Bill Shorten has offered some bipartisan support there is a temptation for Labor to play politics on the issue as a divided Coalition will only help Labor electoral position.

Lastly is the issue of Nuclear Power which continues to be the elephant in the room when energy supply is discussed. As I mentioned earlier when John Howard announced he would consider an ETS in 2007 part of his policy included funding towards nuclear power. This has been considered both by states and federal parties over the years however has never been implemented as any move has faced strident opposition. There seems to be general Scientific consensus that Nuclear Power is an important part of energy supply due to being able to supply a large amount of energy that will be required if we completely move away from coal in the future. This is something that is questioned as to whether renewable energy can do, can it be used as the sole energy source for a country. The Scientific argument against nuclear energy is as to how clean uranium mining is and whether there is a significant difference in emission rates for Nuclear Power considering the levels of uranium mining that would be required to provide sufficient energy. The publics concern seems to stem from issues of safety with Nuclear Power. The major concern stems from how nuclear waste will be stored and the nuclear weapon testing by the Brits in the 1950’s has led to medical issues for affected communities that rightly is concerning when any new plans for nuclear waste storage is discussed. The other main safety concern is the impact of a Nuclear Power Plant reactor spill and despite the evidence that suggests that Nuclear Power is indeed safe and that when there has been issues it been man made error, it’s hard to eliminate the images associated with the Fukushima and Chernobyl disasters that are used as evidence of the dangers of Nuclear Energy.

 

 

References

(1)  http://australianpolitics.com/2007/07/17/howard-commits-to-emissions-trading-scheme.html

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_Pollution_Reduction_Scheme

(3) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-20/coalition-climate-change-direct-action-policy-explained/5067188

(4) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/climate/tony-abbott-gets-climate-action-after-palmer-backflip/news-story/5ca32508ce77c10fbf93328e0eeac77c

Current Australia and US Political Rumblings

The big news from the last fortnight is Donald Trumps announcement to have the US withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. This was met with anger from both within the US as well as from the international community who see the move as a continued effort from Trump to undermine action on climate change. Indeed the Paris Climate agreements seeks countries to reduce emissions in order to keep the planet from warming to 2 degrees above pre industrialisation levels as well as funding less developed nations to fight the effects of climate change that they are already facing. It seems to be the financial contribution is the particular reason that Trump has sighted for withdrawing Americas support from the climate agreement as he believes countries are not using their financial assistance to help fight climate change. This is straight from an old playbook politicians use on withdrawing financial aid because they claim that the money is being misused by corrupt governments. However in too many cases this is just a fiscal decision because measures can usually be put in place to ensure money is going to targeted projects. Also on the wider issue of climate change and its effect on the planet there is still some question as to what humans should be doing to fight climate change as it is an expensive project to implement cleaner energy use, this is offset though by the fact that if the rest of the world decide to move to cleaner energy you then lose money from using energy sources that is no longer sustainable. A broader point to be made is around the fact that their is no forces to ensure that countries meet the targets set out in the climate agreement which leaves the agreement potentially being little more than tokenism as if countries don’t change their behaviour their are no tangible penalties.

Elsewhere Donald Trump continues to face potential issues relating to Russian interference in the election last year as well as continued calls from various quarters to impeach Trump due to his many policy and personal missteps since the last election. While there is the potential for the Russian spying issue to become a potential ground for impeachment, for many people just the fact that Trump won the election last year was such an atrocity that he immediately should have been impeached. This ignores the issue that for many people a vote for Trump was not a personal endorsement but more a vote for the ability to be heard again and anyone who had of campaigned on that platform would have been elected. This reasoning is not liked by those who are stridently left aligned who believe to have voted for Trump means you are a homophobic racist bigoted nazi who deserves to be physically assaulted and that even a vote for an independent candidate was a horrible political decision that deserves to have you personally insulted. Now I am by no means a Trump supporter and indeed I would have voted for Hillary Clinton if the election was held, but I could see why Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate and I think it’s a real shame that both Joe Biden or John McCain weren’t five years younger as they would have been admirable candidates who did not carry the baggage that both Clinton and Trump had. I think it’s perfectly ok to oppose and even to dislike Donald Trump, but there are plenty of policy issues to do that for, I think it’s wrong for people to only attack him and supporters on personal grounds and similarly the personal attacks on Clinton and her supporters were also disgusting in the election campaign. All these attacks on either end of the spectrum do is make consensus politics that much harder, indeed that was referenced in a book by Dr Andrew Leigh the other day who laments that politics has now become far more partisan and personal.

From a podcast with Bill Simmons and James Corden, James Corden made a few very good points on the current state of US politics. One is that for all the problems that the Republicans have currently with the poor standing of Donald Trump, there is a real issue of who the top Democratic figure is currently, the worse thing that could happen going into the 2020 US Election would be a divided Democratic Party who can’t work out who they want to take on Donald Trump which would increase the likelihood of him being able to win another term. The other point James Corden made related to the current consumption of Political news by the members of the public. Because of the large amount of Late Night TV shows available there is a need for hosts to be over the top in their presentation of current news to stand out from their competition on air. This means that their political statements are more outlandish than normal and shouldn’t be taken as considered factual accounts of the current political landscape, however the current landscape seems to suggest that the likes of John Oliver are political experts who should be the basis for reasoned political debate and that just isn’t what these show hosts are aiming for.

In Australia the biggest news in the last fortnight is the announcement of Indigenous leaders wanting more than just Constitutional recognition and something more in the form of a treaty. These terms are often used interchangeably however there is a important difference. Constitutional recognition is a recognition in the laws of the land that Indigenous people lived in Australia post European Settlement whereas a treaty would recognise this as well as then offer some compensation for the fact that Indigenous people have not been recognised in the constitution until this point. This compensation could be both in the form of monetary and land compensation and the amount of compensation that should be given is probably the main sticking point for progress on having a treaty over many years.

The concept of Constitutional recognition seems to have broad political support now, however it would need a referendum to pass into law and the concern has been that due to referendums tending to not pass in Australia it would be a bad look on our society if it was not overwhelmingly passed. With that in mind the extra step of wanting some form of compensation while being reasonable by most pundits opinion may have extra trouble in being passed in a referendum. This means that this important issue is probably still in a discussion stage and it may be even longer for tangible progress to be made. There is also more stronger opposition from more conservative figures like Barnaby Joyce and the Monarchy association who have an issue with the crossover of the constitution being a royal agreement and this being a seperate entity to that.