There is a good piece in this mornings Canberra Times (no online copy) by the up & coming Australian academic Carl Ungerer arguing that the debate about foreign policy has effectively been forgotten, with even the arguments about boat people reduced to simply questions of Australian control, without international or regional reference.
Ungerer lays much of the blame for this at the feet of the Liberal Party, and it’s a fair cop. A look at the National Security page on the Liberal party homepage is almost exclusively focused on immigration and border protection (against migrants). Likewise when the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spoke before the Australian Parliament, the only topic the leader of the Opposition raised was that of asylum seekers. Obviously Indonesia is critical to that question, but issues such as when Indonesia will pass laws criminalising people smuggling (as the Howard government convinced much of the region to do in 2002-2006) were entirely absent.
The media must also wear some blame, given the way they let economics crowd out all other issues. Economics is critical, but every Australian government since time immemorial has said national security is the primary role of government.
While a February Newspoll showed that the Rudd government was slightly behind on national security, the latest Essential Report (PDF) presents a very different story) when people are asked specifically about foreign policy (H/T Crikey):
The Prime Minister scores strongly in terms of approval of his handling of foreign relations, with 50% approving and 32% disapproving, although the result tends to follow party lines. Labor also holds a strong lead (41-27%) over the Coalition in terms of who is trusted more on handling foreign affairs, with 22% saying no difference — suggesting the Howard Government’s strong record on foreign relations and national security has faded from memory…. Voters’ responses on individual countries also suggests why the Government has developed a strong reputation on foreign affairs. Asked how important relations with a number of countries were, 59% said close relations with the United States were very important, 56% said New Zealand and 51% said China. While the Rudd Government has had difficulties in its relationship with Beijing, it has also been associated with increased Chinese investment and the Prime Minister’s personal connections with the country. Rudd also quickly established a good relationship with President Obama, especially through the GFC and the establishment of the G20 as the primary international economic grouping.Moreover, 33% of voters actually want Australia to have a closer relationship with China
One explanation for this shift may be the loss of Malcolm Turnbull who had a much more worldly image than the more parochial Abbott, but primarily it seems the mere fact Rudd brings both experience and gets to daily implement foreign policy (even if commentators are only giving him about a B+), along with the noted gap in interest let alone policy by the opposition which have lead to this clear result. Labor will also be hoping that with Fitzgibbon’s resignation from Defence fading, and recent changes to slow the influx of boat people will further cement their dominance.
The only really odd part is that with such dominance and the coalition showing no ability to fight back, why isn’t Rudd doing even more to attack the coalition on such issues. Obviously he ought not go as far as Keating did to Howard in 1996 by claiming Asia wont work with Abbott, but he can suggest that only he would be able to extract the most benefit for Australia from our regional links due to his stronger knowledge of the region.
Meanwhile, Rudd is far from bulletproof on this. He hasn’t -yet-dedicated the resources to the role he has endorsed for Australia as a ‘creative middle power’, and his goals sometimes clash, His desire to stop whaling has hurt the relationship with the Japanese, which is crucial to help his vision of a new Asia Pacific Community; meanwhile his relationship with China is even harder due to his attempt to earn a UN seat. These are worthy goals, but his overall competence could be challenged. Let’s hope Abbott & Bishops policy boffins are paying attention and writing a policy displaying at least some level of overall strategic thought to deliver prior to the election (And with the highly capable former International Relations academic Senator Russel Trood in their ranks its a crime the Coalition has been so woeful and quiet on foreign policy issues). But they’ll need to hurry as time is surely running out and public perceptions solidifying.
It was expected but the departure today of Malcolm Turnbull from Australian politics is still sad. Whether you agreed with him, or if you think he would have been a good PM or not, he was a highly talented Australian trying to enter our turgid political world and make a difference. Unfortunately the legacy of this brilliant, optimistic, have-a-go characters time in office will be to entrench further cynicism. Politics in this country is being left to the political class. As one of them, I stand to benefit, but as a watcher of politics, and as an Australian, I’m far the worse off. So rather than turn over his chances of becoming NSW premier (as I’d once hoped) or debate who the winners and losers of this are in the eternal horse race, I want to post a highlight from Malcolm Turnbull’s time in politics:
In that speech you see all of the potential for a true leader. Rudd may rationally know the right thing to do, but Turnbull was able to feel and demonstrate it too. He was far too impatient, his judgement at times was horrible, but had he entered politics earlier, or taken more time to learn the industry, he could have been a great Prime Minister. Now he leaves to be simply an interesting, talented Australian. That’s not a bad legacy.
Seems there may be something afoot:
Samantha Maiden, Online Political Editor The Australian January 21, 2010
MALCOLM TURNBULL is being urged by supporters and business leaders to make a run for New South Wales premier in 2011.
“Everyone is telling Malcolm to quit federal politics and he think that’s the right thing to do. Everyone is telling him to have a go in state politics,” a Liberal supporter told The Australian Online..
“People are disenchanted with (New South Wales Opposition Leader) Barry (O’Farrell), they have reservations about whether he’s got the ticker. But there’s also a lot of rank and file anger about Turnbull’s behaviour. He would have to do a big mea culpa and apologise for his behaviour.”
Probably just summer speculations at this point, no figures openly promoting Turnbull, and Abbott & the federal leadership may figure Turnbull is too openly dangerous as a premier, even though they will still be in opposition come 2011. Still I liked the idea back when I proposed it on December 7th, and still like it now. If you want to see the arguments for & against, the post is here.
Would be a waste to see a capable guy like Turnbull leave public life so quickly.
In an otherwise interesting article on the role of new media and the Rudd Government, George Megalogenis (is there a better journalist working today?) writes:
To paraphrase Keating, when the media changes, so does the government. The wireless age marked the transition from Ben Chifley to Robert Menzies at the end of the 1940s. The colour TV age covered the shift to Gough Whitlam in the early 70s and, more tellingly, from Malcolm Fraser to Hawke in the 80s. The talkback radio age saw Howard eclipse Keating in the 90s. Now we are in the digital age, which began in 2007 when the young nerd, Rudd, trumped the old nerd, Howard.
That’s right, but precisely backwards. It is the leaders ability to utilise media that shapes its importance and their own dominance. Menzies was an undisputed king of TV when it first came in, just as FDR was able to make radio broadcasts his personal domain. Talk Radio wasn’t a new technology for the 1990′s, Howard simply returned to it as a medium in which his natural skills worked best, and that drove attention to it. Contra Megalogenis I don’t think that Rudd has made great use of twitter/blogs/websites, however he has at least done a damn sight better than the conservatives, and that matters (Obama’s advisors on the other hand made his website a key element of their electoral strategy).
There has always been a very strong link between journalists and politicians. Not in a biased way, but as a shared interest in the media and medium. Our second PM Alfred Deakin was a journalist & correspondent his whole life, as was Henry Parkes, Chris Watson, John Curtin, Malcolm Turnbull and his successor Tony Abbott. Our current PM wasn’t a journalist, but he spent his years in opposition being available for (if not inviting) media interviews at any time day or night. Just as you can’t be a good carpenter if you can’t handle a saw, or a good surgeon if you can’t weild a knife, a strength in using emerging media forms is critical to political success. I don’t see anyone in the current parliament who has a great handle on the new technology (here I think blogs have more potential than twitter), but Turnbull and Rudd both show at least a keen awareness. (As does Kate Lundy & Joe Hockey) Whoever does, is likely to become the dominant figure of the next 20 years. Let’s hope Abbott has some good new media advisors, but given his twitter account has only 7 (utterly boring) entries since becoming leader, it doesn’t seem likely.
Around the traps a new idea has begun to take root: How about Malcolm Turnbull runs for leadership of the NSW liberal party and come March 2011, become Premier of NSW.
While Barry O’Farrell is now owner of the closest thing to a Golden Willy Wonka ticket in politics (a guaranteed rise to the top job at the next election) his job has come under intense speculation. Whether for goals fair or foul, senior liberals were (off the record) touting the idea of Joe Hockey heading for NSW politics and O’Farrell’s job. However with his position now safely locked in as the default leader if Abbott falters at the election (or rather when) he is staying put. Turnbull however has nothing to lose, (he will never, ever be PM), enjoys excellent name recognition and an image that would appeal across the board if rightly managed. Voters may not have been willing to hand him the nuclear launch codes, but might enjoy watching him bring his iconoclastic style to the usually drab state level. Moreso it would appeal to Sydney’s ego to have such a Premier.
However this is more than just a question of jobs for the boys, it may be the only way to save the state. As John Birmingham demonstrates so eloquently in the latest edition of The Monthly (no online copy) the single biggest problem in NSW is not labor but a culture of corruption which has steadily overtaken labor. As much as a vote for the liberals (which I urged in 2007) would get rid of the worst problems, there is still a significant problem across the states industries, institutions and departments of governance and regulation that will remain. O’Farrell has taken the position of inevitable only because of the weakness of Labor. He has not been able to strongly force his will on his own party, or in the parliament, so his likelihood of taking on the developers, councils and moneyed interest is extremely doubtful. Birmingham argues that O’Farrell has probably also learnt the lessons of Nick Greiner who snared himself in his own anti-corruption efforts and so would be quite hesitant to try and do too much, lest it suddenly see his downfall after so long waiting for the prize.
Turnbull on the other hand would have no such concern. He has the independent wealth to be incorruptible, great knowledge and experience of the sydney business community, and having failed to be PM, being the man who resurrected the premier state of the country would be an impressive enough replacement (and sure to be climate martyr as his new blog post seems to position him). Like Obama his own story and image would instantly restore credibility and energy to the government, and he would be willing to fight till bloody end to win policy fights. Turnbull doesn’t need to be premier of NSW, if anything it’s a step-down, which is why he would be perfect to go in, shake things up, take on the corrupt and stogid elements and make the changes where weaker career politicians fear to tread.
Federal Labor would love it & assist it, for while Turnbull would be hard to bargin with, he is likely to be less parochial and more willing to find common ground with Rudd at COAG on issues such as Health and Water. The Conservative rump which now rules the Liberal Party might figure it would be a way to distract his prodigious energy, and keep him happy and away from federal issues. O’Farrell and his people would obviously fight like wild jungle cats to keep their golden ticket, but Turnbull has shown he’s not afraid of a fight and if he was willing to work with the rest of the NSW liberal party, could likely prise their support away.
So how about it? Turnbull for Premier? Sounds pretty good to me.
Former high-profile Howard government minister Kevin Andrews has confirmed he is prepared to challenge Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership of the federal opposition.”There is growing concern in the electorate that this is going to be a massive tax by Mr Rudd which we will be paying for, not just for years, but for decades to come,” he said.
“There has been no economic debate about the real impact of this on Australians.”Meanwhile, prominent Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott says he wants Mr Turnbull to remain Opposition Leader and that he won’t challenge him for the leadership.
“No, I won’t be challenging for the leadership,” Mr Abbott told the Nine Network.
It’s possible to see Andrew’s claim as a noble act. After all no one in the party wants to sacrifice their best candidates like Abbott and Hockey for what is a guaranteed electoral loss next year (Given that no one is allowed more than one election loss anymore, despite its historical absurdity). So Andrews could be a useful caretaker leader to try and limit the losses, esp to the more capable members left.
Thats perhaps the nicest spin you could put on it, more likely its pure vanity. Andrews might know he can’t be PM, but at a cost of major disunity to his party he is clearly willing to take on the job of opposition leader. Quite a stark comparison to Costello who wouldn’t challenge to be PM, Andrews is willing to challenge to never be PM, but I guess it helps his biography writers find something to talk about. Even Banaby Joyce at the Senator doorstops the moment wasn’t willing to say anything nice about Andrews, so no one is really taking him seriously.
Andrews would be an awful leader, having neither the respect of his colleagues or opponents, and he has a very poor image in the public if known at all. More likely people recall him as the one who has xenophobic views about Sudanese refugees
Andrews was also the minister for Workplace Relations, making him along with Howard a direct author of WorkChoices. So while the Labor party drooled at the thought of pinning Workchoices on Costello as treasurer who introduced it, Andrews would be a golden target to re-run the workchoices campaign. And with Andrews far less able to defend it than Howard was, which was why Howard took away responsibility in early 2007 and handed it to Joe Hockey.
I doubt we will see a spill on Thursday, however Turnbull’s leadership is clearly terminal. Abbott and Hockey are going to stay out of the fight, so he may well survive until the new year, but if Andrews, Tuckey and Jensen can add about 5 more members to their numbers in open rebellion, then he won’t be able to ignore them for too long. (The media will make sure of that!). Still if we discount the ‘elder taking the blows to protect the young’ thesis for Andrews run, this must be seen as one of the most vain and hubristic claims of any politicians in a long time.
One final point about yesterday’s entertainment, twitter really came into it’s own for me during these events. I had to carefully cull my list, but when it was just journalists on the ground who were tweeting, it was the closest thing to being there possible. I’m used to having journalistic friends send me txt’s about what’s going on, but twitter let me and millions others have access to the best people on the ground in just about every situation. So if one person was out for dinner or in a different area, others picked up the slack to ensure total coverage. Congratulations to Annabel Crabb, David Speers, Samantha Maiden, Latika Bourke, James Massola and others for having provided such great reporting during the days events. It’s not yet a substitute for considered reporting, and indulges some of the worst of the 24 hour news cycle, but for those of us stuck on the glass outside trying to peer in, its astounding.
Update: Turnbull called a vote on a spill, allowed a secret ballot, and won 48-35. In an interview immediately after, Joe Hockey said that the votes today were the same as yesterday. A statement he repeated twice.
That is, everyone who opposed the ETS, supported the idea of a leadership spill. So clearly the idea of loyalty to the leader wasn’t worth a single vote. Enter the summer of discontent for the Liberals. Just a matter of time until Hockey, Robb and Abbott decide to run, of which Robb seems most likely.
And thankfully that is as close as Kevin Andrews will ever get to being the leader of the country.
As I type, Malcolm Turnbull is probably sinking back into his office chair after just about the worst day of his leadership. Todays meeting was supposed to go for 4 hours, and sources expected he would get 2/3rds support. Instead it went on for about 10 hours, and he has gotten just half, if not having a majority oppose him in the party room. He has emerged battered and bruised, but at least has a deal. As he was at pains to remind everyone he is still the leader, but does he actually know how to practice politics?
Despite the fact that Turnbull has held the superior hand (the science, the polls, even Govt support) he has been consistently out maneuvered on this issue. He is being out played, if he does escape beyond this week it will have more to do with others lack of interest in his job(for the time being), than a sign of capability. (Word is that Tuckey and Jensen have written to ask for a leadership spill on Thursday morning) So why is it that a man who could outwit the intelligence services before the High Court, take on the Packers and Fairfaxes in the Business world, has crumbled before former real estate agents like Barnaby Joyce and cardigan wearing mofos like Minchin? Indeed only his decision to simply declare the discussion over tonight around 8pm has left him with any credibility, and seems his best move of the entire day.
The press like to think leadership is a beauty contest, with them able to define beauty, and the polls just the public endorsing their narrative. But it’s also about brains and using the system. To lead you need not be older, wealthier, more capable, more sucessful or even better looking, you only need to be able to consistently out politik your opponents.
Howard was a great politician not just because he could be populist and give the media/people what they want, but he also used the rules and settings to his advantage. In the republican convention he set up a fight between direct and indirect electionists to ensure the referendum failed. In 2007 whilst on the nose with the polls, media and colleague, having set up Downer to see if he should quit (the infamous APEC hotel meeting) he then turned and demanded that if he was to go they would have to force him. Though a majority were against him, he knew this would be too hard and he kept his job.
Obama is another one you see who understands the need for rat cunning as the basis of leadership. He won his first Illinois legislature seat by having voting registrations for his opponents tossed out, allowing him to be elected unopposed. It might jar with his rhetoric of hope, but his skills are the best hope progressives have for real change.
The ethics of this form of hardball are always of course debatable though hardball politics needn’t be wrong. More importantly however is that to do it you first need to be able to see it, imagine it. To be able to read the lay of the land, the personalities and circumstances and politik your way into a superior position.
What does this have to do with Turnbull ? Well, constantly we have seen him be out thought and out manouvered by his own party members, who are in many ways still playing soft on him. He faces an opponent in Rudd who knows very well how to play such politics, and there is no way he should be allowed to represent Australia to the world, facing the elite of the Chinese, Americans, or Indonesians if he can’t out think those around him in far easier domestic circumstances. We know he branch stacked like crazy to win his seat in Wentworth, but it must now be doubted how much of that was his own effort.
All this points to the fact that while we decry the lack of plumber/teacher/cafe owner turned politician, politics itself is a profession. It needs to be learnt, it needs to be experienced, it has its own norms, skill sets and oddities that have to become second nature if you are to obtain and weild power. If you cant, then you are just wasting everyones time.
This is why I’m not that concerned about the number of politicians who have never done anything else, and why though I like Turnbull, he has seemed headed for a humiliating defeat ever since thinking about running for the leadership. When Costello baulked on election night Turnbull began challenging for the job, finally rolling Nelson, all for the thankless task of being leader during a first term opposition. Since then, despite numerous government mistakes (groceries, nbn, school stimulus, debt, asylum seekers, utegate, cprs) Turnbull has failed to land a solid punch. All the pain for Rudd has been either self or media inflicted.
Politics is a skill that needs to be learnt, and Turnbull is proving the classic case of a man who didn’t respect this. Like many, esp from the business world he simply presumed that skill in other areas directly translates, or that sheer force of personality will get you through. He is clearly a brilliant man, but political skill has never been about just sheer intelligence, but out thinking those around you and using the circumstances to leverage the best outcome for yourself/your position. Turnbull’s learnt a lot very quickly, but it is not quick enough if he wants to remain.
That could mean he has only 36 hours to find a new way to control his party. It saddens me to say it, but I think it would be best he lost the vote (if it occurs). If he sticks around he could take some time to lick his wounds and re-run in 2012 for the leadership. If not, then best to go out now rather than leading to an election debacle. Its not a fun club to have been leader without ever going to an election (think Crean, Downer), but right now, Nelson seems the smarter (and happier) politician than Turnbull.
I have to be honest: I thought this apology was a bad idea from the start. It seemed to cruely mimic the one last year to the aborigines, and I could not see what it would achieve.
I was wrong.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an emotional apology today to half-a-million “Forgotten Australians”, including British child migrants, who faced abuse and neglect in care homes over decades.
Mr Rudd, echoing his historic 2008 statement to Australia’s Aborigines, addressed about 1000 victims of abuse in orphanages and institutions between 1930 and 1970 who packed Parliament House.
“We come together today to offer our nation’s apology. To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without their consent, that we are sorry,” he said.
I had the good fortune to be in the parliament gallery when Prime Minister Rudd gave his apology to Indigenous Australians. I could see some who were very moved by it, but on the whole it was a solemn, dry affair, more relief at its achievement, than anything else. Today was very different, and very moving.
The press gallery may have been wondering just who Rudd is, but his unvarnished nature was clearly on display today. Rudd clearly is very passionate about the basic issues of lodging and protection. This may spring from his own background in a family too soon without a father and with uncertain finances. He made homelessness the very first issue of his new government, and he clearly had been working on addressing this issue for some time. Rudd’s speech was low key, but finely tuned. Apparently written on the plane home, it was appropriate for the man, and the moment. As easy and tempting as grand rhetorical sweeps must have been, Rudd wisely kept his usual speaking style and allowed the crowd to deliver the emotion of the moment. When they cried, cheered, clapped or occasionally heckled, the focus was always on them, and their stories. I had at first wondered why the apology was not delivered in the parliament, but instead in the Great Hall, yet the choice to invite as many involved people as possible to participate in the event was an excellent one.
Of note were two important, yet unexpected applause lines. First was when Rudd apologised on behalf of the federal government for “denying you basic life opportunities; including so often a decent education.” This drew a spontaneous and strongly sustained line of applause from the audience. Their sentiments were not revenge or financial reparations, but this struck a core sentiment. The main desire was to move on, to say the greatest sin was simply the denial of the childhood that they deserved, needed and so desperately wanted after such a horrific start to life. For this was not just the institutionalization of abuse, it was the deliberate exploitation of that suffering in order to create a “better” generation.
One of the other most pleasing moments, was to see the recognition by both Prime Minister and Opposition Leader of former Senator Andrew Murray. Murray received generous praise, and a standing ovation. I do not know the particulars of Murray’s involvement, -beyond his membership of the forgotten Australian’s committee- but on a day when the national leaders spoke and espoused to nation, it was gratifying to see them both turn to a mere member of the legislature, and doff their hats to his moral leadership. Many members of the senate over its 100 years have worked without public praise or recognition, seeking a better country. In long and tired committee meetings they have toiled. Murray has toiled with them, and ought today to be seen as a representative of them. To see him praised in such manner, was very moving. This showed it was not just the leaders acting, but the entire elected representatives of the nation who participated in the moment.
All that said, the highlight was the speech by Malcolm Turnbull. Where Nelson was sanctimonious and missed the tone and meaning of the moment in 2008, Turnbull hit every note. He started ambitiously, going for the big rhetorical approach, and at first the audience was hesitant to travel with him. Turnbull is certainly capable of giving a great speech; where Rudd was homely, he was sweeping. The crowd was understandably not on his side as much as they were for Rudd, but he steadily won them over. His tearing up, twice, including at a moment describing a small boy, alone with his suitcase and neither mother or father around seemed utterly personal and real. His embrace of a man who was a victim of such abuse – mid-speech – was a truly moving moment. It may have been staged, and yet absolutely real. By the end many, if not most rose in standing ovation to Turnbull’s speech. If his path is as pre-destined to electoral failure as everyone else has written, then let it be said, this was his finest hour.
The apology also brings into stark light the Howard years. John Howard not only didn’t give such an apology (the Senate Report came out in 2004), he couldn’t have given it.
John Howard has many talents, but on the big cultural issues he never could find the words. Many have remarked on his focus on Gallipolli and mateship, seeing in it either good old fashioned conservatism, or a backward looking 1950′s mentality. It was more the former than the latter, but it really owed itself to Howard’s inability to move beyond what had been said and what he already knew on such issues. Howard introduced massive new immigration levels, and yet had neither the words nor sentiments to bring them into our community. As James Curran has documented in his book About Speech, every Prime Minister since Harold Holt struggled trying to give Australia a new rhetorical basis, after the old British-Australian one had slipped away. Howard however abandoned that quest, not because he thought it wrong, but because he had nothing to say.
He had no ways to include migrants, no sentiments to heal divided communities, no empathy to address societies failings, no vision or foresight to see where this country could saftly dock its identity from the storms of globalisation. Instead we were told to forget about it, put the problems aside and focus on our own stories. So we as a people did, and it has its merits. Yet for the new migrant who struggled to fit it, for the children of migrants born here and yet unsure of where home was, for the indigenous Australians, for those struggling to come to terms with their own identities, whether their sexuality, religion, or just what it means to be a man or woman in the modern world, for the young who had to move overseas to be listened to and taken seriously, and of course for those 500’000 who were left to suffer in institutions as children, they all suffered quietly in a nation unwilling to confront its past, or talk about its future. The Prime Minister is our communicator-in-chief. When their words fall silent, or worse, when they speak but can only find deaf ears, our society can not move forward, nor even get into gear.
Rudd will likely not solve that problem (perhaps it never will be solved), but he is at least trying. Instead of the neglect and awkward silence of his predecessor, he is bringing these issues out into the open. They can and must be discussed if we are to account for and understand ourselves and our history. Many cynics will say ‘But this apology saves no child’, yet the policy solutions they seek can only be found when we have as a nation discussed and accounted for this past. The Senate Committee’s did that, the many who have fought to raise public awareness have done that, and now, in two excellent speeches by our Prime Minister and the Leader of The Opposition our nation has done that.
This apology has seen our nation at some of its best. That said, I have to wonder, like Bernard Keane if Fielding’s timing on his revelation he was sexually abused is more about getting attention when our minds are on such matters, rather than empathetically reaching out to those who the apology was directed towards. At the very least he should have waited until the day after (and probably it would have gathered him more press)
For more, here are
Congratulations to them both.
If you are in need of a laugh, and your sense of humor tends towards the black, then you can’t miss Alan Jones interview last week with Malcolm Turnbull. You have to feel sorry for Turnbull given the squawking queen performance of Jones denying Climate Change, and demanding Turnbull adopt policies he simultaneously knows are impossible (such as forcing India/Pakistan to take the boat people).
That said, however much I feel sorry for Turnbull, his and the Liberal party problems are nothing compared to that faced by their Republican Party colleagues in the USA. This may be a strange thing to write just a few days after Republicans won Governor races in Virginia and New Jersey. But the real heat of the fight was always the congressional seat of NY-23. It’s a very instructive story for the problems faced by Conservatives in the US. They can’t control their base, they are now losing battles they thought comfortably won, and could even split in the face of an insurgent uprising from their right. But first to a small seat in upstate, rural New York:
NY-23 is a small congressional seat that has not voted Democrat since prior to the Civil War. The Local Republican party elected a candidate named Dede Scozzafava. Deciding she was far too moderate for their liking, party Right-Wing heavyweights such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Fred Thompson, Tim Pawlenty, Glenn Beck & Rush Limmbaugh endorsed the Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. That is, members & boosters of the Republican Party, including their former Vice-President candidate endorsed a third-party candidate in an ultra-safe seat. And they managed to lead the party to
Post-election coverage has naturally been spun to say state governorships are the important thing (they arn’t), but they were also very hum-drum affairs unreflective of the national debate. They featured unpopular local governors, poor economic times, and a tendency for voters to swing after big change elections. Not a good result for the democrats, but nothing amazing. Likewise Republican/Independent Mike Bloomberg scrapped back in as NY Mayor by spending about $180 per vote. Ie not a good time for incumbents.
In Australia Turnbull is threatened with the loss of 14% of his coalition at absolute worse should it split. However this would give his party many opportunities for picking up new seats and allow a re-forging of their image. Equally it would let them regain absolute discipline in the party, and improve the leaders image. Not the greatest but manageable with some opportunities included.
The Republicans in the US however have only just held off an insurgent attack from the right on their party, and in the processed sacrificed a safe seat for it in congress. Yet given the nature of the activists they face, the loss has instead encouraged the insurgents. Such is their close connection to reality. In turn the Republican party has responded by capitulating and agreeing not to get involved in or fund candidates in primaries. In Australia you almost can’t win a seat without the establishment pre-choosing you, in the US right, the establishment is afraid of it’s own base.
This is a party which lost both houses, in the Congress and Senate in 2008. Its loss on the presidancy was a virtual guarantee, with its former leader having some of the worst ratings of a President in history. Its chief opponent is smart, moderate, has a unique cool and symbolic status, and is putting electoral victory above ideology. He will be very very hard to beat.
Equally, whatever annoyance Turnbull may face from shrills like Jones, it’s nothing compared to the power of presenters such as Rush Limbaugh. GOP chief Michael Steel had to apologize for calling Limbaugh an ‘entertainer’, along with South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (of hiking the Appalachian trail fame), and congressmen such as Phil Gingrey and Todd Tiahrt all for offending the great Rush. Turnbull ridicules Jones to his face, US republicans grovel before Rush. The comparison is stark.
The only energy on the Republican’s side comes from the extremists of the party, who are holding their own rallies, and supporting extremist theories such as Obama wasn’t born in the USA or is a radical communist. Neither of which endears the public to support them nationally.
The one shining light the Republicans have this year is the heat and noise created by the fight over health care. This is a 60 years plus fight by democrats, that usually has died with a whimper in some congressional committee, and then is forgotten (that’s at best, at worst like 1994 it nearly killed Clinton’s presidency). The one big hope Republicans had was to defeat Obama on this score and prove he was a radical or couldn’t govern. Last night at 11:09pm the US House of Representatives passed their version of the Healthcare Bill. The bill now has to go before the Senate, which was always the real fight.(Actually the biggest challenge is to allow the bill to even be voted on, as I mentioned a few days ago, it requires a supermajority of 60 votes to stop delaying tactics and force a vote. Democrats have 58 members, with 2 independents who support them. But lax party discipline compared to what we see in Australia, or even their US Republican counterparts.)
Health care reform is not yet law, but it has gotten far closer than ever before. If it does pass, it will be with very strong public support, and show that Democrats can govern and deliver on their promises. And (as Republicans really fear) once the public get used to having some level of government involvement (though they already accept Medicare for seniors and veterans/congressional care by govt) then expanding it for all the working poor will be a much easier option than initially pushing through the legislation. So whilst things are pretty horrible for Malcolm Turnbull and Australian conservatives at the moment, spare a thought for their US counterparts. For all the heat and noise they’ve created, their support is cratering, and the insurgents are driving them to the fringe, and the leaders are afraid to fight them. It’s even plausible the party could split if this keeps up, with a “Conservative” Party offshoot.
The GOP is a party that lost the public’s faith in its conduct of War, Economics and Culture. It is being challenged by a President it still doesn’t understand, and is being pushed to the brink on a bill it thought it had defeated 60 years ago, certainly at least destroyed the rationality for 20 years ago with Reagan. It is in a primal scream of rage and impotence, right now, and deeply in pain. Worse, it is facing an enemy not comfortably coming from where the guns are faced, coast ward towards the left, but from the inland, the right. And it’s former hero’s such as Palin and Pawlenty are leading the charge against it. Unlikely, but something to watch. In many ways they remind me of the French revolutionary, who see’s a crowd flooding by and declares “I must find out where they are going so I may lead them”. The GOP leaders, freshly into the benches of opposition are desperate for any way back to power. They have tried to force their ways back into power, to demand it, to insist on it. Yet the public ends up disfavoring them far more thanthe hapless democrats.
So keep your head up Malcolm, in comparison you’ve got it easy.
A little tip to the Pro-monarchists today: Don’t look so smug. It doesn’t look good, esp as the public already have doubts about any group endorsing a foreign countries leader, and led by people like Alan Jones, Tony Abbott, David Flint and John Howard. Not exactly the most popular or down to earth group of individuals in this country.
Today, as in 10 years ago, around 60% still support a republic. Which is rather an odd measurement, given the more pertinent question is how many support the status quo of the Queen remaining our head of state, a proposition I would wager to get less than 20% support. The monarchists may crow today, but they all know well that the only reason the republic referendum failed was due to a split within republican ranks over which model, either a minimalist retaining of the status quo (my preference) or a direct election model. It was clever politics by Howard, but as Malcolm Turnbull perfectly said ‘it broke the nation’s heart’.
As Bob Hawke has proposed, and I wager Rudd will follow, the best way to proceed from here is to wait for the queen to pass on, then make the change. It’s rather an odd measurement historically (representing neither a military victory, or significant date) but it’s practical and in keeping with the general style of Australian’s political evolution. No bitterness, but a quiet and dignified change as represents a tidying of our affairs and formalization of the current practice.
Which is the other reason the monarchists shouldn’t look smug, for the change they have so resisted is guaranteed to come. And instead of managing that change as a sensible conservative would, ensuring the best possible reform (ie maintaining the way the system runs and making only editing changes to the constitution) we now face the very real (and I think slightly worrying) possibility of moving to a directly elected president (who may come to challenge the PM on issues, and change the way our legislature and parties operate). The voices for such a model are out there and growing. The introduction of such a model will in all likely hood be the real result of the monarchists actions 10 years ago. So not only will they have only delayed instead of preventing change, they will allow a system many of them will find far more unpalatable, and which represents a possibly fundamental shift in Australian politics.
Not quite so clever an achievement now, don’t you think.
Still, a sad day for all republican supporters. I never saw the issue as one of independence (if you don’t think we are an independent country you have a real lack of understanding about our system or a persecution complex), but rather as a way of writing in law what is already in practice. Unlike the American’s we haven’t tried to immortalize our constitution writers or the document they created. Most Australians recognise that it needs to be regularly returned to and improved to ensure the constitution of this country still suits our purposes and need. That it protects the citizens, restricts and accurately describes the governments operation (ie there is no mention of the PM in the document), and establishes its responsibilities (the entire problem of federalism from inefficent hospitals, a lack of uniform laws, and destroyed cross border assets like the Murray-Darling is due to the constitution).
Everyone’s first impression is a slap in the face for the Govt, and demand for a policy change on asylum seekers. (Which probably should happened anyway). Rudd really only has himself to blame for this, but whilst the Conservatives may be crowing in their champagne today, I think this poll actually represents a lethal threat to Turnbull’s position.
In politics, much of life is momentum. The only time it’s ok to be static is if you’re stratospheric (as Rudd has been). Turnbull thanks to this big swing in one poll (Essential Report, released Monday held steady) will now have a lot of expectations building in the backbenches and press by next fortnight. Unless Rudd makes an absolute shambles of the issue or does a nudey run and interrupts the Melbourne cup this afternoon, the Coalition is guaranteed to drop back down 3-4 points next poll, if not the full 7.
Add in a return to pressure on Climate Change with a vote due on the ETS (which the Coalition is still divided on), the threat from Joyce to quit the coalition, Turnbull’s anemic 19% rating in this poll and that November is the typical killing ground for wayward opposition leaders (Crean, Beazley (with Downer & Latham going early in the new year) and his rise today is sure to cause far greater grief down the track. Check out Possum for the wonky stuff
As they say in Pilots school, flying is perfectly safe, it’s the landings that will kill you.
As mentioned below, the Liberals had a press conference this morning on debt reduction, and released a shiny new policy document. Naturally the media ignored the policy for the horse race issue, so your dutiful blogger went through and read the proposal. One problem: It doesn’t actually say anything. Here is the sum total of the Liberals policy for debt reduction 6-12 months before an election:
1)The Coalition will do more with less by reducing waste and duplication throughout the Australian Government, and between the federal and state governments.
2)The Coalition will immediately upon coming into government establish a Commission for Sustainable Finances to report within three months on waste and duplication in every agency and program of the government.
3) The Coalition will not repeat Labor’s cash splashes. Handing out $23 billion in cash may be popular, but it recklessly adds to debt.
4) The Coalition will pursue a vigorous reform, infrastructure and innovation agenda to lift productivity and increase economic growth.
5) The Coalition will support small businesses, the engine room of the economy, through our Small Business Action Plan.
6) The Coalition commits to a responsible long term objective of returning government’s share of the economy to the level achieved by the previous Coalition Government…. The last five Coalition Budgets had spending of less than 25% of GDP. Only the Coalition can be trusted to return the government’s share of the economy to this level.
7)The Coalition is committed to addressing all of these problems (Complexity, time-cost,reduced incentives etc) in a comprehensive and principled program of tax reform.
8)The Coalition will establish a Parliamentary Budget Office, which will be independent of both the government and the opposition, to ensure the public and Parliament receive honest and timely analysis of the budget, financial results and specific programs.
9) Further, the public will be able to track government debt at a real-time website detailing the size and composition of borrowings, interest paid and projections into the future.
Putting it into a list makes it look far more substantial, but have a look again at that list. Only #8 & 9 deal with specifics (both are good ideas, though the website is more about advertising, as such figures are already on budget.gov.au) Numbers 1,4,7 have been promised by every single opposition since the beginning of time but dont matter at all without specifics. (Here is just one of dozens of press releases labor put out on the issue prior to the 2007 election). Number 5 is just a statement of support, and 3 is utterly redundant (of course they won’t repeat the stimulus given its already in place and the crisis is passed!). Only 6 seems new, though as I’ve mentioned before there is no logical reason why 25% is the ideal figure (indeed in early September Hockey was saying it must be “no more than 24%, but I guess round numbers rule).
Given the bad position the Liberals are in today, only a comprehensive, detailed policy will get them any attention. If Rule #1 of Federal oppositions is don’t repeat the Fightback mistake of 93 (with Turnbull eerily imitating Hewson), Rule #2 is don’t do invisibly small target’s (ala Beazley 98) either. There is a happy balance in the middle. Howard and Rudd both won by proposing a number of key, detailed area’s of policy in ground they wanted to fight on, and then obscuring the differences on everything else. Turnbull can’t win, but he can at least fight a respectable campaign for principles he believes in by being bold. Far better to be remembered for going out fighting for your ideas (that may one day become accepted wisdom as Hewson’s GST now is), than as a front man without the courage of his convictions. (Jason Soon on Crikey makes a similar point about Turnbull’s failure to live up to his hoped-for-liberal creed)
If the brain’s trust in Liberal HQ want some ideas, how about reducing the churn of taxes/welfare as John Humphreys advocates:
The Australian welfare system—including health, education and handouts—costs more than $250 billion per year. Some of this is redistribution from the relatively rich to the relatively poor. However, about half of the welfare is pointless ‘churn,’ where the same person both pays taxes and receives welfare benefits.
Some of this churn is ‘cash churn’ where people both pay tax and receive cash from the government. But the bigger problem is ‘services churn’ where middle- and high-income earners pay tax and receive government-subsidised health and schooling services.
By removing middle-class welfare in exchange for income tax cuts, the government could reduce tax and welfare by about $80 billion without leaving anybody worse off.
Such reform would be bold, enticing (everyone, esp the press would focus on the massive tax cuts this would mean), rally the base (cutting welfare/bureaucracy) and give a radical plan to pay down the debt in their first term, not to mention long term benefits to pay for healthcare (as Humphreys’ advocates). Hell I’d vote for it…
The idea’s are out there, the Government has massive targets that can and should be hit, but so long as the Liberal Party is serving up this shallow pap, the equivalent of a warm towel to fix a gunshot, they will be rightly ignored.
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.
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.
Both of the major party leaders are facing a challenge of leadership this week, that will in some ways define the rest of their careers.
More directly Malcolm Turnbull has appeared to stake his leadership on having the Liberal Party back him on a Carbon Trading Scheme. Turnbull was dying the deaths of a thousand cuts as outliers such as Tuckey, McGauren and the Nationals Joyce, Boswell et have been attacking the idea of such a scheme and making public the very clear divide within the Coalition. The temporary break for Andrew Robb seems to have actually served the party well with Ian McFarlane stepping into the breech, reading the party the riot act, and even emailing backbenchers with the Coalitions 2007 election promise to introduce a cap & trade system. (A fair sign of the way politics works, that fidelity to the leader is always greater than to actual individual belief)
Less pressingly, though of importance is how Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is seen to respond to the Tsunami and Earthquakes to our north. John Howard was at his best as Prime Minister when he was responding to a tragedy. A man normally bereft of any real ability to talk to Australians on social or cultural issues, he could be the father figure in times of grief (Port Arthur massacre,9/11,Bali etc). Rudd did a decent job during the Victorian Bush Fires, but unable to visit and console, he will have to use his language and authority to help guide the nation if there are indeed many Australian lives at risk. Rudd is riding high in the polls for how he has managed the economics, and he is starting to deliver (after much talk) on foreign policy. But in social or cultural issues he is largely untested and untried. This won’t change how he rates in the next election, but could in the long term be an issue of comparison between him and Julia Gillard who seems to have a greater common touch.
Finally, if you have a spare hour, go watch the latest episode (Season 2, Ep 27) of Q&A on http://www.abc.net.au/iview/. It’s an absolute ripper on the role of Religion in a modern society, featuring the irrepressible Christopher Hitchens. It’s rather timely (and deals with this question) that as potentially thousands lie dead to our north, of no fault or wrong of their own, religion still asks us to believe we are in the hands of a moral creator. I lost my own faith a long time ago(though I remain agnostic for reasons I explain here), but the 2004 tsunami where 230’000 died to me is the ultimate evidence that we live in an amoral universe. The world around us simply does not care about our welfare. Humans have always had to endure great struggle to survive. This is not evidence for or against a god, but rather the truth that in this life we are entirely on our own, we must make our own value judgments, based on the here and now and results as they affect other human beings.
A nice juxtoposition in this mornings paper:
What they Say:
MALCOLM Turnbull will base his push for the prime ministership in next year’s federal election on a promise to axe government spending by billions of dollars a year.
And the Opposition Leader will blame Kevin Rudd’s economic mismanagement for the need to take a razor to spending, proposing cuts that on current levels would be worth at least $14billion a year – the equivalent of 70 per cent of the nation’s annual defence budget.
Mr Hockey refused to nominate which services would face the axe, but said there was a strong argument that government spending as a proportion of GDP should be no more than 24 per cent.
This financial year, spending is worth 28.6 per cent of GDP, with the government’s budget forecasts reducing the level to 28 per cent in 2010-11, 27.1 per cent in 2011-12 and 26.4 per cent in 2012-13.
What they do:
THE Senate has dealt a $1.9billion blow to Kevin Rudd’s health budget by rejecting plans to means-test taxpayer rebates for private health cover and increase levies on the non-insured.
The Coalition, the Greens, independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Family First senator Steve Fielding combined to defeat the three budget bills, which would have raised health fund premiums for more than two million middle- to higher-income Australians.
Manager of Government Business in the Senate Joe Ludwig appealed to balance-of-power crossbenchers ahead of the vote to pass the savings measure, which the Coalition had long vowed to oppose.
“This is a hard decision and one that was not taken lightly, but it is the right decision for Australia’s long-term economic future,” Senator Ludwig said. But the government offered no compromises, which sealed the package’s fate.
It’s easy to say you will cut immense amounts, but significantly harder to actually do so. In this case the Coalition had a case of spending that could be reduced with the cover of the Labor Government championing the bill, and in line with their major principles of individual responsibility (Private health insurance is a benefit above and beyond the norm, so those who want it should pay for it) and reducing government dependence and spending.
But they have chickened out for short term and almost pointless political benefit. No MP will keep his seat next year because of this vote, but Labor will be able to cut holes in their claims to financial competence by putting up similar bills and watching the Coalition act to keep high spending levels in place.
There’s also an intriguing claim by Hockey that Government spending as a GDP ration should be at 24% (which seems both his comfortable norm and his “emergency maximum level”). Theres no real reason why 24% should be the magic figure. There is the obvious argument that lower is better, but why 24%. It was the most common figure during the last 32 years, but hardly tracks to economic well being. (1)
Personally I think big cuts do need to be made to our welfare levels, but that should be a question of total spending vs need, rather than based around trying to hit supposed magic numbers. As the chart shows, some very successful economy’s have significantly greater Govt spending as a % of GDP, and some have quite a bit less. What’s more important is where and how that is spent, and the capacity of the country to pay for that spending.
When the coalition starts supporting the simple introduction of means-testing welfare and benefits for the middle class we will know they are beginning to be serious about cutting spending (I’m not sure the ALP is either, so we shouldn’t yet take their support for the bill as evidence of it). Until then Hockey is just using bluster and bullshit. But lets leave the final word to his predecessor as Treasurer in the Liberal Party: Peter Costello
don’t think that reducing expenditure to GDP ratios is easy. Every pressure in a democratic system is to increase spending. Resisting calls for increased spending on worthy causes (and all causes are worthy in the eyes of those who want it) is a daily struggle – week in week out, month in month out, year in year out.
(1) Whilst trying to find a good graph illustrating the difference I ran across this 2006 speech by Peter Costello claiming that “In the OECD Australia has the second lowest level of government spending as a share of GDP at 35.7%, lower even than the United States.”. Whilst the 2009-10 budget records a level of Government Payments as % of GDP at 24.2 for that year (Which also matches the figures Hockey cites for current spending at 28%.)
Update: The wise and civil Sinclair Davidson from Catallaxyfiles suggests this may include state spending, or counting the GST as Federal rather than State spending.