What a week in Politics, South Africa Politics and Australian Politics

It has been another big week in politics both here in Australia and overseas particularly in South Africa. In this blog I will give my takes on now former South African president Jacob Zuma resigning as South African President and here locally the Murray Darling Basin disallowance motion and the Barnaby Joyce Political struggles.

On Wednesday this week embattled South African President Jacob Zuma resigned as president (1), this came amidst 18 fraud charges hanging over Zuma and with the ruling party looking to move against him with either a motion to remove him as leader or impeachment from Parliament. The fraud charges look worse for the former president when put into context of a poor economy with rising unemployment and real issues of water management with the ongoing Cape Town water crisis (2). Another story that shows the lack of empathy that Zuma had for the plight of his people is he spent six million dollars on the renovation of his house and his defence in part was his new swimming pool could be used to fight future fires. The interesting thing now will be will Zuma face any of the corruption charges labelled against him or was there a deal made as part of his resignation to drop those charges particularly as the ruling National ANC government has it’s own corruption problems.

The new president is Cyril Ramaphosa who as this article states (3) has links to Nelson Mandela and there is a spirit he can invoke to try and improve the living standards of the country. The key challenge for Ramaphosa as I alluded to earlier is the economy, as the article I have linked says South Africa have had their credit rating ranked as junk status, unemployment is at 27 percent and corruption is rife in all levels of government. South Africa also continue to be known for violent crime and have been labelled as the murder capital of the world. South Africa is meant to be the real jewel of the African continent so it is sad to see their struggles to get past the problems of apartheid and how to turn Nelson Mandela’s vision as president into a lived experience with better life outcomes. I also have seen their prowess as a sporting nation and they outperform in Athletics, Cricket and Rugby for example what their economic status might suggest so you hope they can have a leader who can bring some prosperity to the lives of their people other than looking to invoke the sporting heroics of a team.

Also on Wednesday but back here in Australia the Greens, Labour and crossbench members from South Australia combined to block a revision to the Murray Darling Basin that would see 70 gigalitres of water less saved from the north of the Basin (4). This would take the amount of water saved from 390 gigalitres to 320 gigalitres. This blocking of the plan angered farmers and Coalition members who said the move would open up more water for farmers and also would save irrigation jobs. Before I talk about why the Labor and Greens made this move I think it is worth reminding ourselves what the Murray Darling Basin Plan is. The link here (5) provides a good explanation of what the Murray Darling Basin Plan is but essentially it sets a limit to how much water can be taken annually from the Basin for Consumptive use, such as agriculture, irrigation, farming and other human use.The volume of water to be taken for consumptive use is set in such a way that there is not an environmental impact on the waterfronts such as our rivers, waterways and wetlands.

I think the key reasoning for SA being particularly anti moves to reduce the amount of water saved is because of the 4 Corners episode last year that put a blow torch on the theft of water from the Eastern States. This episode led to a quick move from SA Premier Jay Weatherill to call for a royal commission into water (6). There’s also a feeling from SA that as we are at the end of the river the rest of the states screw us over along the river and we get the leftovers at the end. The South also are just over a month from an election  and the need to get tougher on water to look good locally is also a factor. The Eastern states of Victoria and New South Wales have now threatened to leave the Murray Darling Basin plan as they think the water plan hurts their farming industry which places them in direct opposition to SA who believe that the Eastern States just want to make a better deal at the exclusion of SA(7).

The last issue I want to discuss in this blog post is Barnaby Joyce. Now this issue has been at large for a while now but I’ve been hesitant to discuss the issue as to me the affair is a personal matter and I don’t want to pass judgment on someone’s personal life. However as the issue has progressed there are now legitimate issues on a political front that may have broken the ministerial code of conduct and it has also influenced the relationship between the Nationals and Liberals which are issues that are worth writing about. So in Parliament this week Labor focussed their attack on two fronts. The first front focussed on the creation of jobs for Vikki Campion in Matt Canavan the Resource Minister and then when he was scuttled by Citizenship scandal a role was then created for her in the National’s whip office. I think the political attack on that front didn’t quite stick because there’s enough doubt as to whether Campion was Joyce’s partner at the time of the Canavan role coming up and then Drum wasn’t a minister so the ministerial code of conduct didn’t apply. There was another attack by Labor on that front that it’s unusual for roles to not have full application processes but having worked in government it’s not unusual for job roles to be advertised but the position is already filled by someone internally (8).

The second front of attack and I think Labor have better ground on this front is that Barnaby Joyce rented a house rent free from a business friend. Under the Ministerial code of conduct if Joyce approached the friend for a property then that is not allowed. Joyce claims that he was approached by his business friend Greg Maguire which is contradicted by a few journalism reports that said Barnaby Joyce approached Maguire. The further issue with Labor’s attack is that Joyce took up this offer while out of Parliament contesting his by election for the citizenship affair. I think the optics of Joyce still renting a house free now is the issue, when you see how housing affordability is an issue for people in the general public and rent is also an issue for a lot of people week to week.

Lastly is the strain of relationship between the Nationals and the Liberal Party, last night Malcolm Turnbull announced a ban for ministers having sexual relations with staff members (9). As well as announcing that ministerial change which I will later say why I’m not in favour of, Malcolm Turnbull also had a decent crack at Barnaby Joyce saying that Joyce had made a shocking error of judgment and that he had caused the woman in his life a world of woe. He also said that he hoped Barnaby Joyce used his leave which would mean he wouldn’t act as Prime Minister when Turnbull left the country (that role went to Senate Leader Mathias Cormann) to re-evaluate his future. That did not go down well with the Nationals as you could expect for a few reasons (10). Firstly the Nats as the junior coalition partner do not like being told how to run their party, they choose their leader not Malcolm Turnbull or any Liberals. Secondly Barnaby Joyce believes that there was nothing new in the comments from Turnbull last night and that it only hurt the involved parties more, indeed he said the comments were inept. These comments could without reconciliation cause a fracturing of the parties relationship to a point where the Coalition Agreement could become in jeopardy, now this is unlikely but such an occurrence would mean the Liberals would have to govern from vote to vote.

I said above I had reservations about the ban. I worry that if this ban occurs it will push a story hungry media to start making judgments based on gossip that may be unfounded and could lead to reputations being ruined for no reason. I think in these cases when an affair occurs in the workplace, it’s often the junior worker (often female) who is caused to lose their career while the senior worker still gets to stay in their workplace. Lastly I have heard too many stories of a corporate worker losing it all on a personal mistake and then committing suicide, I don’t think that’s a situation anyone wants to see.

References

(1): http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-43066443

(2): https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/02/14/water-crisis-cape-town-day-zero-june/337844002/

(3): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-15/cyril-ramaphosa-likely-to-be-south-africa-next-president/9452238?section=analysis

(4): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-14/senate-rejects-murray-darling-basin-changes/9447876

(5): https://www.mdba.gov.au/basin-plan/whats-basin-plan

(6): http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-26/sa-to-launch-royal-commission-into-river-murray-theft/9194368

(7): https://www.9news.com.au/national/2018/02/15/03/35/murray-darling-changes-shot-down-in-senate

(8): https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/live/2018/feb/14/politics-live-joyce-turnbull-shorten

(9): https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/feb/15/australia-bans-ministers-having-sex-with-staff-barnaby-joyce-malcolm-turnbull

(10): http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/nationals-mps-in-open-revolt-over-malcolm-turnbull-s-sex-ban-20180215-p4z0k4.html

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Bennelong By Election and other year end notes

The all important Bennelong by election was held on the weekend. In a result that I think both parties can claim to have had a win the Liberal Party were returned with a margin of 54.9 to 45.1 (1) which is a 2 party preferred swing of 4.9 percent to the Labor Party. Now the Liberal Party can claim victory because firstly they won the seat and most importantly polls throughout the campaign were anywhere between 50-50 to one rogue 54-46 poll that was released through internal Liberal polling. In that sense to limit the swing to under 5 percent when the average by election swing is about six percent away from government’s. By the same token the Labor Party can point to a 7.3% swing to Kristina Keneally on first preferences and the turning of a safe seat to a more marginal seat although I would question whether this swing would be repeated under a less publicised general election campaign where the focus is on 150 seats rather than just on one seat. I think the Labor point is reasonable however the polls suggested this seat would be line ball going into the final days of the campaign and so they would be disappointed they couldn’t have done slightly better on the night. I think the Sam Dastyari incident (2) took some shine off the Labor campaign because it meant the focus was more on the impact of foreign donations and the influence of China in Australian Politics than on Labor’s campaign which focussed on Health and Education even if some of the claims made by Kristina Keneally were found to be untruthful or misleading (3) (4).

There are other impacts on this by election win that I think will play out in the new year. I think this win ensuring that the Government have 75 votes out of 149 again plus the speaker means that the citizenship issue will be brought up again when Parliament returns. Now Labor proposed a tit for tat we’ll refer four of ours and an independent to the high court if you refer four of yours which the Liberal Party rebuffed and without John Alexander the vote went 74-74 with all 5 cross benchers voting with the Labor Party. With John Alexander back the Liberal Party will instead focus on referring the 3 Labor MP’s and Rebekah Sharkie as they would now theoretically win such motion 75-74 (It’s 3 Labor MP’s now as the member for Batman David Feeney was already referred to the High Court by Tony Burke as his case seems a lot more straight forward (5)). I think the majority returning gives the government a chance to become more disciplined in 2018 and possibly start building a case to win re-election in 2019, something that looks unlikely at this stage as the polls have stubbornly shown the Labor Party leading the Coalition 53-47. I would also be very surprised if Kristina Keneally doesn’t now end up in Federal Politics at some stage, for the most part her campaign was impressive and the Sam Dastyari Senate spot now being vacant would be an obvious landing spot for her.

The other big news to come from this week is the Cabinet Reshuffle by Malcolm Turnbull (6). The biggest change to come from the reshuffle was not surprising, it has been long thought George Brandis would take over from Alexander Downer as the High Commissioner to the UK. This meant the cabinet position of number 1 lawmaker Attorney General will go to Christian Porter, this is a logical step as Porter has already been Treasurer and Attorney General of Western Australia and for a future leader of the Party it made sense to move him to a more public role. This is particularly the case as Christian Porter is in a marginal seat and so he could lose his seat at the next election because the Liberal Party are particularly travelling badly in WA. Barnaby Joyce moves across to the Infrastructure Ministry which seems to be the cabinet position of choice for the Nationals leader. The role of Agriculture goes to unknown backbencher David Littleproud and the new National Deputy gets a raft of Regional ministries as well as sport. Peter Dutton who is the Conservative powerbroker in the Liberal Party and possible Opposition leader if the Liberal’s lose the next election becomes the Home Affairs Minister which is the big joining of some of our national security portfolio’s. Most of the other moves are shuffling the decks with some ministers moving around portfolio’s but as with all reshuffles there are losers. The big loser from the reshuffle is Darren Chester who goes from being a Minister who was doing a great job to the backbench. Now this move was not popular amongst the National’s and continues a bad end of the year for the National’s (7). While the official line of the decision to drop Darren Chester was because he is from Victoria and with Bridget Mackenzie joining cabinet from Victoria there needed to be a rebalance to ensure Queenslanders were represented more accurate to reflect the fact that there are more Nats MP’s and Senators from Queensland. This would be a bit more believable if Keith Pitt a Queensland MP wasn’t also demoted to the backbench and indeed there have already been some rumblings that he would join the cross bench (8). It would seem much more believable to believe the alternative line which is that their demotions are linked to Darren Chester and Keith Pitt backing Bridget Mackenzie for the role of Deputy Nationals leader over Barnaby Joyce’s choice which was Matt Canavan. The National’s really need to work on their discipline because they were the chief reason for the Royal Banking Commission backflip and they also had George Christiensen threaten to jump ship if Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t replaced as Prime Minister.

 

References

(1) http://www.abc.net.au/news/elections/bennelong-by-election-2017/results/

(2) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-12/sam-dastyari-resigns-from-parliament/9247390

(3) http://www.news.com.au/national/breaking-news/hunt-questions-keneally-medicare-claims/news-story/4638d61ca01baf367fe82cbc5f5b5779

(4) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-13/fact-check-kristina-keneally-education-spending/9228574

(5) http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/pm/david-feeney-referred-to-high-court-over-dual-citizenship/9233236

(6) http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-19/ministerial-reshuffle-announced-five-new-faces/9271198

(7) https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/commentisfree/2017/dec/19/barnaby-joyces-shoulder-charge-spoils-turnbulls-pre-christmas-parade

(8) https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/dec/20/keith-pitt-nationals-defection-rumour-fuels-queensland-lnp-split-debate

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