Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Greens

The Entitlement train is in

Peter Dutton is the Liberal Party federal member for Dickson, and Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing. His seat was re-jigged by the AEC recently and made nominally Labor (as it was Dutton only won it in 2007 by 217 votes). He then ran for pre-selection for the nearby seat of McPherson, and lost to a local candidate. And now he has officially spat the dummy:

LIBERAL frontbencher Peter Dutton is asking the Queensland Liberal National Party to deliver him a seat for which he doesn’t have to fight other preselection candidates.peter-dutton-200x0
This is likely to put heavy pressure on long-term sitting members, Alex Somlyay, the chief Opposition whip, and Peter Slipper, who hold Liberal seats. Both have said they want to stand again and under the Liberal-National merger arrangements, they are guaranteed the right to do so.Mr Dutton, defeated on Saturday for the safe Liberal seat of McPherson, said yesterday he had only ”one shot in the locker for a contested preselection”. His ultimatum puts the party organisation in a bind. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has said Mr Dutton, who won’t run in his electorate of Dickson again because it is notionally Labor, must have a seat in the House of Representatives.

Mr Dutton, who had stayed silent since his loss, told reporters yesterday he had never intended to ”seek preselection elsewhere in that sort of an arrangement”. He would not run for the new seat of Wright – there already are strong candidates for preselection there. He also ruled out the Senate. Mr Dutton, who reaffirmed he would not stand again in Dickson, which he won from high-profile Labor member Cheryl Kernot in 2001, said the LNP ”has some thinking to do”. He said he would continue to work not just with Mr Turnbull but also with the executive in Queensland. ”I believe I have something to offer the Liberal Party into the future,” he said.

Dutton here is betraying his lineage as part of the Peter Costello school of entitlement politics. The Liberal Party is seen to owe him a seat. Not even a good chance at one (he has the backing of Costello and Turnbull afterall) but an entirely uncontested run in a safe seat. Forget that to be in parliament is supposed to be an honour and an opportunity to serve the Australian public, Dutton feels entitled to be there by virtue of… well something. He won’t even stay and fight in his own seat which he has held for 8 years (meaning far greater name recognition than any other possible candidate-) and which without him guarantees the loss of at least one Liberal seat next election (Fran Bailey’s retirement in McEwan means the same thing). Dutton is seen by some (such as Costello in his memoirs) as being a future leader of the party, a line many in the media have run with. Honestly however, I just don’t see it.

Sure, Dutton is one of the more capable members of the Young turks who came in under Howard, but that isn’t saying much. I got a chance to see up close most of these new Liberals during my time working at Parliament recording the chambers and committees (I’ve since left). MP’s such as Ciobo, Johnson, Laming, Markus, Mirabella, and Smith. Mostly elected in the heady atmosphere of the 2001 election, they reek of a ‘born to rule’ attitude. None appear interested in actual debate. Their speeches, even when delivered to an empty House of Reps spill over chamber (the Committee of the Whole) were simply lists of slogans to attack the Labor party, repetitive figures mirroring the leaders recent talking points, and utter arrogance about their superiority. It bores to watch, and compared to Howard, Abbott or Costello they looked adolescent at best. Howard could be devastating with a good one liner (‘5 minutes of sunshine’, ‘doesn’t have the ticker’ etc), but his speeches were always a guilty pleasure of mine because he actually believed in public debate. He would lay out his views, the reasons for them, and why the other side had the wrong take. He would reason and marshal facts to serve his cause. But far too many of our modern politicians (and I’m including Labor here) see reasoned argument as almost an admission of weakness. Better to just bluster and abuse and hope to get on TV they seem to reason.

Not all of the 2001/04 class are a loss, Greg Hunt has started to impress me, not least with his clear knowledge and interest in Foreign Affairs, but in its period of utter domination during the 2001 & 2004 elections, the Liberal Party abjectly failed to bring in the best possible new candidates (save Malcolm Turnbull who had to fight a unholy branch stacking war in 2004 to get in). Turnbull, now leader, is having to deal with their lack of overall talent, inability to seriously contribute to new policy or political strategies, and now the stink they are beginning to kick up as it dawns that many will not make it through the next election. Expect more stories like Dutton’s in coming months, as many Liberal MP’s begin to decide their best chance of holding on is to publicly abandon their party, whilst still taking its advertising dollars and volunteers. It is not a strategy that usually works (unless you go all the way to become independent), but the media will lap it up. Labor meanwhile should take heed. Given the greater control head office has in the parties’ less-than-democratic selection process, Rudd needs to be ruthless to bring in the very best people, not just ones who are loyal and willing to kick the tories. As JFK said, the time to fix the roof is when it is sunny, not when the rain is already poring in.

Update As if to prove my point that some in the Liberal Party have an entitlement mentality, Costello is going to cost tax payers $500’000 so he can skip out early on his electorate. After having claimed he honours serving in parliament, he has clearly decided that even the 5-12 months till the next election is simply too much. Once more Costello shows his greatest gift is getting media attention, without doing anything worthwhile with it. Though interestingly enough, his former boss John Howard is much more gracious this time around. Incidentally Howard’s also in the news as a rumored NRL chief (could work, though remember the boos he got at the 2007 Grand Final) and as a target of Bob Brown’s (disorientated?) media team on more troops for Afghanistan – It’s 2009 guys, Howard’s no longer in power….) No wonder Labor has gone to ground recently, the rest of parliament is in full circus mode.

Cloudy Day Thoughts

A rainy, dark Sunday afternoon seems a perfect time to make a post and point I’ve been meaning to address for a while: Euthanasia should be legal.

Actually i’ll go further, the very fact that it is not, is the ultimate constraint on freedom in the modern world. More than the restriction of drugs, the prohibition of homosexuals from marriage, or the tax paid by each of us. By making Euthanasia illegal, we are day after day agreeing to the proposition that Government has the right to control our bodies even as we exit this world. It is morally no different to giving government the right to choose when and how each of us are born, and must be removed from our laws and protected in our constitution.

The damage which this law does daily can be no better seen than through a recent court case:

In a landmark decision, Western Australia’s chief judge Wayne Martin said the Brightwater Care Group would not be criminally responsible if it stopped feeding and hydrating severely paralysed Christian Rossiter, 49. Martin said Rossiter had the right to direct his own treatment, and that food and water “should not be administered against his wishes”.The ruling sets a legal precedent in Australia, where assisting someone to take their own life is a crime punishable by life in prison in some states

The judge found Rossiter was not terminally ill or dying and had the mental capacity to make an informed decision about stopping his treatment. Martin ordered that medical staff fully explain to Rossiter the consequences of ceasing nutrition and hydration through a tube into his stomach. In a statement read to the court Friday, the former stockbroker and outdoor adventurer said he was unable to undertake the most basic of human functions. “I am unable to blow my nose,” he said. “I am unable to wipe the tears from my eyes.”He made a public plea last week to be allowed to end his suffering, which he described as a “living hell”.

“I’m Christian Rossiter and I’d like to die. I am a prisoner in my own body. I can’t move,” he told reporters.

So long as Euthanasia is illegal we are as a society accepting the jail of the human body, as appropriate for the enslavement of the human spirit. We punish and decry those who act to imprison a fellow member of society, be it their family members or a random stranger. But when an individuals own body becomes that coffin, far more effective and painfully than anything man could think up, we witness governments and ‘moral’ societies lining up around the world to demand that individual endures and suffers as long as is physically possible. When nature makes the body a prison, we have somehow come to see it as moral to become its prison guards.

Rossiter’s case captures the horns of the dilemma for a society which grants the individual only partial authority over their body. We already accept that individuals can reject medical treatment. Your doctor can’t force you to take your flu tablets, your dentist can’t fill that cavity without your consent, no one can stop teenager boys breaking their arms by riding skateboards, and for those with religious objections (such as Jehovah Witnesses with Blood Transfusions) we will let people choose their type of treatment. Rossiter won on similar grounds, he is able to choose to reject a certain treatment (forced feeding) but is not allowed to choose an alternative treatment (assisted suicide).

And so he will starve to death. Slowly, painfully and with the tools for his desired release within meters of him but untouchable due to the law.

Death is of course a scary thing, and addressing the fear that Euthanasia will be used in a utilitarian or bureaucratic means to simply end the life of the disabled or elderly is central to changing the law. In the USA at the moment, critical health care reform is being dragged down with the suggestion (courtesy of the now unemployed Sarah Palin) that unproductive, disabled, poor or elderly members of society would face ‘death panels’ a claim which even the cowardly lion of the NYT has called ‘false’. That such an idea could gain leverage whilst plainly unrelated to the actual legislation on the table demonstrates the widespread social concerns and challenges that overcoming this great bondage on individuals would require in the real fight. The great unspoken fear is of course the return of society and government having control over life in the practice eugenics, as was seen in western society as recently as the 1920’s, and practiced under the Nazis regime (China and India’s overwhelmingly male next generation also suggests similar practices at work). And yet if we really were incapable of avoiding the past’s crimes, then no society at all would be possible. All democracy would become tyranny, all authority abused, all prejudices encouraged, all freedom revoked. And yet whilst relapse is always possible, that is plainly not the experience of human kind. Over the last 400 years much of humanity has come to fall within the bounds of the rule of law, directed at the protection of the individual, with the rest eager to catch up. In such tight confines and with oversight, what is proposed is as far from the social control of totalitarian regimes as is possible. For euthanasia is worthy only, i repeat only as a means of freeing the individual within that most private of private spheres: their own body. Indeed it is more correctly our current tortured half-way house that seems to accept the idea of society choosing how and when individuals die. Legal Euthanasia is not the beginnings of eugenics, but rather the final refutation of it and its barbarous principle of granting society and government authority for that which it does not and can never have: the individuals own body.

Others run the other way, suggest this is a question of nature’s authority and not to be interfered with. These same people however likely see nothing but god’s will and love at work in the great acts of nurses, doctors and medicine to fight back against death, to extend our lives, and enhance the quality of our time on this planet. These people are not hypocrits, but rather in their fear of the unknown they have tried to invest in an amoral environment virtues of good or ill. God may be loving, but bacteria is not moral, nor is the lightening strike or flash flood. Nature has no care for our life or death. Only human beings who have consciousness of others, and a sense of morality can recognize the issues. From the importance of life to the morality of a dignified death. Instead of championing this moral demand, those of this view seek to outsource their responsibility.

In light of this fear, Politicians, the so called leaders of our communities have also hastily retreated from addressing the issue. In 1997 the Northern Territory government passed legislation allowing for Euthanasia, but it was soon repealed by the Federal Government under a Private Members bill of Kevin Andrews. Half-hearted moves were made also here in the ACT, and in 2008 with new leadership of both major parties in place, Bob Brown announced the Greens would again be pushing to over-turn Commonwealth legislation in this area. However much as on the issues of drug prohibition and marriage equality, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has shown no willingness to move or even listen to argument on changes in these areas. Yet the polls seem to indicate that the vast majority of Australia’s support the individual having their control, with only some minorities such as Catholics or Aborigines rejecting the law on religious grounds. Indeed we are held by our politicians to be so frightened and incapable of discussing this that they lined up in 2005 to make it illegal to even discuss methods of suicide online.

Whilst Rossiter’s death (like that of Terry Schiavo in the USA several years back) is public, the elderly and infirm have been taking their own lives in indignity and humiliation for many many years. Once proud members of the ‘greatest generation’ have been found with plastic bags on their head, stomach’s full of pills, or at the bottom of staircases. Having sacrificed so much, having seen so much, having given all the strength they ever had, the government today stands between them and final control over the manner and timing of their final exit. And so, hiding from family members and the law they take their own life, becoming in their final act criminals of the state. Their crime is to want to have some control, some independence and dignity.

There are challenges to be overcome and safeguards to be put in place. Full legislation would require at least a few years open public discussion before it is comfortably accepted. But if we are to be a free society we must remove these abhorrent laws. We must accord all adult, mentally firm members of society both the freedom and the dignity to have final say over the way in which they pass into death. Anything less is to condemn our fellow citizens to pain and humiliation for an issue which we have no right as a society to interfere with. Just as human society today recognizes it wrong for one individual to take the life of another, we will one day come to recognize it wrong to give society control over the life of each one of us as to the time and manner of our passing.

The Politics of Climate Change #2

At the start of the week I talked a little about the Greens political strategy over the Emissions Trading Scheme, so with the Senate having this afternoon voted down the Government’s scheme, it serves to look at how this may all play out. (I also offer this because I don’t have the scientific knowledge to contribute anything beyond what has already proliferated online and in report after report, and because my own preference is for a Carbon Tax, so all the groups plans seem off kilter for my liking).

First, I think contra-common wisdom that this vote should be regarded as a defeat for the government. All governments like to see their legislation passed, and whilst this one faces a hostile senate it didn’t manage to convince any of the non-Labor senators to support the bill. Most of the public havn’t been watching the horsetrading, but they know Labor is absolutely dominating the opposition, is highly popular and yet must now square that up with an inability of the Government to get through what it promised. It also suggests the Governments legislative efforts such as combining the Renewable Energy Target Legislation with the CPRS hasn’t helped, nor their many many concessions to polluting industries such as coal and agriculture. Whilst these groups and the business lobby have accepted the need for such legislation and therefore been reasonably quiet in their complaints, expect some to demand a much better deal second time around.

For that reason, I think the Greens have probably helped their own cause at the expense of the environment, although that all depends on if they are able to fully capture the balance of power at the next election (DD or otherwise). They seem to have made the best the enemy of the good, and likely this vote will keep Australia at least a year if not 2 from getting through its legislation. Sure thats not a lot of carbon, but I’d wager even with the balance of power in the Senate the Greens could achieve more pushing through small (quiet) changes that steadily removed concessions and increased targets (and therefore carbon prices) would be an easier and more successful way to get the balance they desire than trying to get Labor to agree to it all at once. Already a number of environmental groups have voiced their dismay at the failure of the bill, and in part blamed the greens. It shouldn’t hurt the party, but it does show how varied the entire movement is and the difficult politics of leading it. Brown has gambled, first on the adds, now on the No vote, it may work but it depends on their success at the next election and if Labor feels a) more urgency b) more concilliatory towards Brown’s Greens.

For the Liberal Party this is also a bad result. Had the vote passed with independent and Greens support, most of the heat taken out and let them spend the next few years blaming the Government for rising prices and hurt industries. For now however as the old saying goes, sometimes the only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting it. The Government will do all it can to pin the blame of this squarely on the Opposition, and if its dominance inside parliament this week is anything to go by, it will absolutely savage the Coalition come election time. Until the Liberals get a policy they haven’t a hope. Their release of Frontier Economics Research was like a Ventriliquist rudely insulting passers by and saying the Doll said it. Either way it deserved and got a solid punch in the jaw from Labor this week and likely from the public come election. Turnbull especially for the image he brings to the role, and his former history as Environment Minister is well aware of this and yet clearly incapable of pulling his troops into line, only exacerbating the visible tensions in the party. If the Coalition passes something by the end of the year they may be OK come election, but the longer this goes on, and the closer it gets to an election (which must be next year) the fresher it will be in the public mind. The only alternative would be a radical new approach (such as a Carbon Tax) that could be simply understood by the public and supported by business and industry. Doubtful, but when your that far down a hail mary might just save a few people’s seats.

For the independents it’s a difficult business to work out. Fielding has proven himself way out of his depth here, and whilst never having a chance of retaining his seat anyway, has further cemented his loss. Who takes the Victorian senate place is tough, probably Labor in the climate (they should have had it by all merits in 2004) but it’s not certain.
Nick Xenophon wont be up for election (unless there is a DD) but I think the public (and indeed the press) are yet to make up their mind about what he’s up to. He’s beginning to be tarred with the Coalition, but can easily cut himself free as they sink. Maybe he is just playing hard to get and will place heavy demands before the government, but if fielding and the coalition remain opposed come December, he may not actually have much bargaining power.

So long story short: Everybody is going to look bad from this. Internationally it makes us look regressive, domestically Labor looks weak, the Opposition disunited, Fielding incompetent, Xenophon cagy and the Greens utopian. Not a good day for anyone (well except those few who think it’s all a big hoax, I guess they are celebrating.)

The Greens go white at Rudd

Whilst most attention has been focused on Rudd’s demands for an ETS bill, and the Oppositions confused but slowly emerging response, there is some more interesting politiking going on by the Greens going hard at the Government with this TV Advertisment:

Two points jump out: First the effort is a bold and timely step by the Greens. Whilst they are unlikely to force Rudd to shift to make the policy stronger, one of the strange feature of this debate has been the absence of Greens voices within their dominant policy area. This is in part the media bias that always excludes the minor parties, but also especially against the Greens as un-serious contributors. By reminding the public and forcing the press to take note (The TV news have been running small clips), the Greens are setting themselves up well for the election, particularly if the ETS is still yet to be passed. The traditional political wisdom is that cash spent prior to the immediate period before the election is wasted money, with most of the public (90%) assumed to largely ignore politics day to day. However this seems to over-estimate the cynicism and insularity of the public. Kevin Rudd proffered from a similar strategy during early 2007, running advertising introducing him to the wider public and showing some of his background and principles. It was bold and costly as ALP National Secretary Tim Gatrell later admitted to journalists, but it worked and took the Liberals by surprise.

So whilst I think it a smart move by the greens, what is with the washed out colour scheme? It makes Brown look like a zombie:Bob+Brown+CPRS+TVC+still

Unlike other adds that use a lack of colour to make a point before returning to full colour on conclusion/use of the product (ie “use X to bring your home to life”), the add stays white throughout. The greens attract a lot of the best and brightest who are attracted to politics and usually quite design conscious, yet this effort seems almost deliberately unattractive. It may catch your eye to see such a bright white screen light up your loungroom, (particularly on modern huge plasma tv’s) but it’s also just as likely to make people, pets and small children back away in fear from the grinning Bob Brown. An odd choice to be sure.

The work of Parliament

Rudd & Conroy’s Internet Filter costs finally come out:

The Rudd Government’s internet censorship policy will cost about $90,000 per blocked web address to implement and the Government has admitted it has not developed any criteria to determine whether trials of the scheme are a success.
The Opposition, Greens and online users’ lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia are concerned the lack of success criteria is a sign the policy itself has no clear goals and is instead being dictated by what the technology will allow. Greens senator Scott Ludlam said: “It sounds as though we’ll filter as many sites as the technology allows us to … that’s the reason I think people are so concerned about this in that it seems to be really open-ended.”
Based on the Government’s budgeting of $44.5 million to implement the filtering scheme, this means the policy will cost $90,000 per URL.

The list will obviously grow and shift regularly so the 90k is a cheap maths trick. But finally getting a bearing on the cost is a useful advance in making the public aware of the folly and waste of implementing a filter which will not stop the proliferation of illegal or obscene material online nor help us to catch those who commit or publish illegal material online. I’ve already said enough about the folly of the filter, so let me use this to make another point I’ve been wanting to for a while.

To wit, once again this shows the benefit of the Parliamentary committee system and in particular the Senate Estimates, which too many in the press and lazier members of the senate ignore. One of the great losses in the demise of the Australian Democrats was the efforts within the committee process by members such as Andrew Bartlett, Andrew Murray, Lyn Allison. scott_ludlamWhilst Greens like Bob Brown (and esp. former Senator Kerry Nettle) are very good at getting attention in the press, they had usually given committees short shrift and rarely attended estimates. For that reason it is pleasing to see the stepping up of Greens Senator Scott Ludlam who is proving a very good addition to the party. Not only has he been one of the key critics of the filter plan, but his name is popping up in a range of other key areas including uncovering that ASIO is bugging a lot of Australians. Possum was recently wondering why more left wing politicos don’t vote green. Personally I’d always been turned off by their lack of respect for Parliament as an institution. Sure the major parties do it too at times (as i recently whacked Rudd for) but for minor parties, Parliament is the basis of their power, and their most important role to society is not to advance their ideas, but to use the institution to hold the major parties, esp the Govt to account. That is a role only the minorities can play and a role played within parliament for hundreds of years. For all their desire for progress and change, the Greens too often forget what has already occurred and how to use that to help support and justify future change. Thus Ludlam’s positive use of the Estimates period over the last two weeks is a promising sign for the Greens transitioning to and establishing a post-Brown identity. Arguably he’s taken them about as far as he can, (and it’s a very impressive achievement), but if they are to have a significant policy impact in the future, or even become the third major party, then Ludlam may just be the future of the party.