Green with Envy

Image

Christine Milne and Adam Bandt, the leader and deputy leader of the ‘third force’ in Australian politics, are learning that Kermit was right – it really isn’t easy being green. Especially when your primary vote has dropped by a third in the most recent federal election and six of your key staff have just quit.

Following a week of rumours and rumblings about the leadership of the party, Milne and Bandt held a joint press conference today to laugh off suggestions that the latter has challenged for the top job.

Image

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wasn’t laughing at the end of last week though when she announced to journalists that the party had just re-elected the leader who would march them to a slow death.

While Bandt’s recent success in the seat of Melbourne was truly stunning, the party’s performance as a whole was disappointing. There are many theories for this, one of the most obvious being that the party has suffered since the inimitable Bob Brown stepped down. There have also been plenty of suggestions that Milne’s leadership style has not been as inclusive or effective either. The Leadbeater’s possums think she’s pretty great though.

I believe that the most significant factor in the party’s demise has been the reality of the sort-of-pseudo-coalition with Labor following the election of a hung parliament in 2010.

One of the great strengths of minor political parties actually comes from their weakness. What I mean by this is that their policies can be incredibly grand and ideological, precisely because they will never be required to implement them. Protest parties use these policies as a platform from which to push for changes to legislation proposed by the two major parties.

Upsetting this delicate balance has led to all sorts of problems for the Greens. Expectations of what they could deliver were understandably high following the 2010 election. The clean energy scheme was the first indication that they were perhaps going to struggle to meet these expectations.

Milne herself has admitted that entering the deal with Labor hurt the party’s support, although she denies that it was a “fundamental strategic error”.

The Greens certainly have their work cut out for them to reshape the party in the post-Bob Brown and post-hung parliament era. Reshape they must though, because they will not be able to increase their primary vote as a protest party and that, at least according to Milne, is the goal. If the Greens do want to replace Labor as the major player on the left of the political spectrum, they will need to develop a series of policies that are both realistic (in terms of budget and implementation) while still being in line with the core values of the party and their supporters.

If Milne, Bandt and the green gang can pull this off – then perhaps Labor really will have something to worry about. Until then, it seems that they will have to compete for air time with the new Palmer United Party. And Clive’s certainly not someone who you would ever want to fight for space.

Magic acts and Latham spats

Tomorrow marks one week since Tony Abbott and his posse of chromosome Y-toting ministers were sworn in by our ever-so-stylish Governor General. In that week, it would appear that the Coalition government has spent its six years in opposition practicing various acts of magic to a level of proficiency that would make Hermione Granger proud.

So far, Scott Morrison has succeeded in making boats disappear and reappear at the drop of a hat. Malcolm Turnbull has managed to disappear his NBN board, but is yet to make it reappear (back to magic school with you, Malcolm). Tony Abbott himself has banished an entire commission and successfully released a number of senior Canberra bureaucrats back into the wild. Impressive.

They HAVE had some help though, in the form of constant leadership debate on the opposite side of the chamber. It has been this more than anything else that has allowed Abbott to get away with minimal media engagement.

Today has seen another handy diversion in the form of one of my favourite rogue loudmouths.

If there was one man within Labor’s own camp that was going to break the unspoken post-election rule of UNITY AT ALL COSTS (said with gritted teeth and clenched fists) it was going to be Mark Latham.

At the very least, he was the only man capable of beating Kevin Rudd to the punch.

Latham has penned a florid smack down published in today’s Australian Financial Review that has essentially labelled Anthony Albanese as a backward-thinking political Neanderthal who has got every major call over the last decade wrong. Ouch.

“In effect, Albanese’s political instincts are terrible. If he wins next month’s leadership ballot, he will be a case study in inner-city, left-wing bunkum … The caucus and party membership have no choice but to vote ABA: Anyone But Albo.”

For the full rant, read the article here: http://www.afr.com/p/opinion/albanese_threatens_labor_reform_JkHeipvxG2cRwCwzDD1GDJ

In fact, Labor’s hopes of a newly united party may be falling apart before they have even been fully realised.

Julia Gillard, whose popularity seems to be in direct inverse proportion to her power, has announced that she is writing her political memoirs. They will be published in October 2014; however I’d be very surprised if large portions were not released ahead of this time in weekend newspaper lift outs and so on. The publishers will not want us to forget about the last six years of tumult before then, that’s for sure.

This does not bode well for any those people who were involved in either of Labor’s most recent Prime Ministerial beheadings. And if the last three years are any indication, Kevin Rudd will probably remain stubbornly in Parliament until that time just to make matters even more interesting.

It may be that current caretaker Chris Bowen will find himself as the leader who presided over the most stable period the Labor Party has had and will have for years to come.

Labor of Love

The battle for the leadership of the Labor Party between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese could not be more different from that which raged between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard only weeks ago. If Rudd versus Gillard was pistols at dawn, Albanese and Shorten is akin to a polite argument over who should eat the last Tim Tam at afternoon tea.

Granted, there are a few key differences. Rudd and Gillard were fighting bitterly over the Prime Ministership of Australia, whilst ‘Albo’ and Shorten are vying for the poisoned chalice that is the leadership of a first-term opposition.

The other major difference is that, in the current round, the party faithful get their say. Those 40,000 bedraggled Labor members who have continued to stump up their annual fee, despite the fact that their political representatives occasionally appeared to be trying to drive them away, are now holding 50% of the vote in their hot little hands.

It’s fair to say that, while the caucus may continue to vote along factional lines and in accordance with certain backroom deals, the rank and file members feel no such pressure. Therefore, one could argue that 50% of the vote will be made up of people who are actually going to vote for the person that they want to lead their party. This is a crucial point – they aren’t going to vote for the person who they think will save them the most furniture based on polling (Kevin Rudd) and they aren’t going to vote for someone, anyone who isn’t Kevin Rudd (Julia Gillard, obviously). They are going to choose the person whom they believe will best lead the Australian Labor Party in from the cold and away from the land of faceless men, grandiose narcissists, forgotten moral challenges and remembered taxes.

Hence the reason for civility.

Albanese and Shorten are also very much aware that a bitter scrap over the remnants of the leadership would only prolong Labor’s voter-imposed stint in the naughty corner for demonstrating that the party hasn’t yet learnt its lesson. This is particularly important for Shorten, whose involvement in the previous two leadership changes is still fresh in the mind of the public.

The other reason that neither candidate is openly criticising the other in their attempt to get ahead is that I suspect neither of them will be terribly disappointed to not be chosen. The role is a very important one, as the leader will be responsible for some serious renovation work on the structure and integrity of the party – however, the very nature of the work will earn this person enemies within the party (reform is never easy and political apparatchiks have long memories).

With the first of two public debates scheduled for Sydney tonight, it will be interesting to see just how reluctant each of the candidates is to make definitive statements regarding their opinion of the other. I suspect that it will be something of a love-in, with the only distinctions being drawn along the lines of exactly how they intend to rebuild.

It’s a pity, really. I do love an Albanese rant. He’s rather good at them.

Image

Clive for Canberra

Well, it’s happened.

The Australian Electoral Commission has confirmed that Clive Frederick Palmer has won the Queensland seat of Fairfax by 36 votes.

Palmer, the mining millionaire (not billionaire – according to Forbes magazine), is perhaps most famous in the minds of the Australian public for his penchant for dinosaurs and an ambitious (albeit well underway) plan to build a replica of the Titanic.

I have watched Clive’s increasingly bizarre foray into Australian politics with fascination. The Palmer United Party’s campaign did not disappoint, with countless double thumbs ups, yellow ties, hilariously unintelligible press conferences and threats of legal action against anyone who flitted across Clive’s mind (including Rupert Murdoch and the AEC). Not to mention songs about pies:

The question I continue to wonder is why?

Why would a man with countless millions of dollars and an already hefty amount of clout in Australian politics (remember that anti-mining tax campaign?) deign to run for a single seat in the House of Representatives?

Despite all appearances, Clive is not an idiot. He studied Law at the University of Queensland (before dropping out) and served as the National Party’s campaign director during the 1983 state election and as media spokesman during its 1986 election campaign. Both were successful. He was also involved in the ‘Joh for Canberra’ campaign to get former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson elected as Prime Minister.

With this intimate knowledge of both politics and the media, surely Clive knows that he can have far more impact on the political debate in this country from outside Parliament.

For a similar example, let’s take a look at another colourful, divisive and occasionally incoherent conservative in the Australian media and political landscape – Andrew Bolt. Bolt originally sought a career within politics, but was unsuccessful in his application to work for Jeff Kennett in the 1980s. Nobody could now dispute the fact that Bolt is incredibly powerful, with a column in the Herald Sun (Australia’s highest selling newspaper), a television show on Channel Ten and multiple fake Twitter accounts (the surest sign that you’re a big deal). I would argue that this makes him far more influential than any state or federal backbencher. It’s unlikely that he would trade places, that’s for sure.

There’s no doubt that Palmer could have his pick of media commentary jobs if he wanted one. He certainly would not be required to make the same pesky declarations regarding conflicts of interest as he will have to as an MP. Also, the prospect of him battling it out on Insiders as a belated replacement for Bolt is strangely appealing.

I suppose that it is not entirely out of the question that Clive may harbour real desires to better Australian society. Or, far more likely, he may believe that the best position from which to lobby his own personal and business interests is from within Parliament.

Whether or not Clive will actually show up and take his place with the cross-benchers remains to be seen. I can’t wait to see what he says with the benefit of Parliamentary Privilege.

But first, an AEC recount. Bring it on.

Gender Equality

And Tony Abbott’s new Cabinet, which apparently has less women in it than Zoo Weekly’s staff meeting (and a million other variations on that general theme).

With the official swearing in of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister – debate has since swirled about the fact that Julie Bishop is the only female to be appointed as a Minister. Julie may be a formidable politician with a death stare that could stop Voldemort in his tracks, but even she should probably not be so noticeable in the standard post-swearing in photo op.

Image

I have watched the discussion with the curiosity of a person who has never experienced gender-based discrimination first hand (due to the amazing work of my bra-burning 1960s forebears – this is by no means an anti-feminist rant). I’ve never felt limited in any aspect of my life by the fact that I am a female. I have grown up surrounded by exceptional women who have made it abundantly clear that the most effective way of preventing this type of discrimination is to leave no one in any doubt that you are the best person for the role / job / whatever.

For these reasons, my first reaction to the suggestion of affirmative action is always to feel decidedly uncomfortable. I can’t help but feel that discrimination against an individual, in any direction and for whatever reason, is wrong.

A very interesting piece on the topic by Waleed Aly made me think more about this (and also had the side effect of concerning me that I appear to agree with Bronwyn Bishop):

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/learning-the-limits-of-small-lliberalism-20130919-2u2ec.html

Well played, Waleed. Well played.

But back to the topic at hand. Abbott’s decision to appoint himself as the Minister for Women is a tactically smart one – he is assuming responsibility for the decision to only include one woman in his Cabinet by taking on the responsibility for all women in Australia. He will certainly cop criticism for doing so, but probably only from the people who would have dished it out anyway.

The alternative, which would have been to hand the portfolio to Bishop, represented a token gesture so monumentally naff that it bears no further discussion. I can only hope that she would have responded to such a suggestion with this:

Image

Gun control. What’s the hold up?

A pun may be in poor taste given the most recent mass shooting in the US being reported today, but really – it couldn’t make things much worse.

It was only last night that I was discussing the Daily Show series of segments that explored gun control and Australia’s successful legislation, implemented by the Howard government in 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the full, three part series – do yourselves a favour immediately:

My truly Australian predisposition to cultural cringe aside, I can’t help but feel proud of the way in which politicians put aside clear differences and tendencies to placate their constituents to implement sweeping reforms that have COMPLETELY eradicated gun massacres ever since. Howard stared down a largely conservative and rural supporter base and was almost thrown from office in order to implement these reforms.

I’m sure at the time there were ugly moments and points at which the whole thing looked as if it would fall apart, but the footage of John Howard shouting “it’s the only way” to a crowd of booing protesters is nothing short of inspiring, knowing the result.

Granted, gun culture may be more ingrained in the United States psyche, but surely not at the cost of people’s lives. How have American politicians not done the same as their former Australian counterparts? How can the desire to remain in politics outweigh the desire to improve the society in which they live and are ostensibly there to serve?

Of course there are aspects of Australian politics that are very well deserving of our cringes, cultural or otherwise. Our elected leaders have certainly been on the wrong side of history on more than one occasion (White Australia, anyone?). Thankfully it didn’t take us too long to figure out that Pauline Hanson was a genuinely terrible idea. I’m sure that in the decades to come, there will be more instances.

The obvious suggestion is that it could be climate change.

The news of the last few days regarding Tony Abbott’s male-dominated Cabinet and Ministry would tend to indicate that it may be gender equality.

Perhaps it is obesity?

For all of my love of the nonsense that goes along with politics, the personalities, the meltdowns and the treachery in the name of improved polling results – I am genuinely glad to live somewhere that has the capacity to occasionally put the snarking aside and do something genuinely good.

Not about to get a Southern Cross tattoo to celebrate it, mind you. Ugh.

Hell hath no fury like a former Labor leader

Welcome back, Julia Gillard.

For those among us who love nothing more than to see a retaliatory slap from a scorned former politician, the news today that Julia Gillard has publicly criticised the new process for electing a Labor leader, post-election loss, as “a clumsy attempt” for bad leaders to hold onto power is very welcome.

You have to hand it to the former Prime Minister; her conduct during the recent federal election campaign was impeccable. The poor woman must have spent practically the entire five weeks indoors to avoid being questioned. A prospect made a little less unappealing given her most recent purchase.

Old house.

Image

New house.

Image

Gillard has been a woman of her word. She lost the ballot to Kevin Rudd and therefore packed her bags and left Canberra, never to return. She gave him clear air during the campaign, resisting all temptation to return the favour of leaking against him as he undoubtedly did to her in 2010. A task made easier by the fact that on some occasions throughout the five weeks, Rudd appeared to be leaking against himself.

Now that Rudd has lost the losable election and announced that he will not contest the leadership, more power to her (and any other former MPs who wish to stick the boot in). A call up that will undoubtedly be unable to be ignored by none other than the king of ‘I told you so’ on the topic of Kevin Rudd, Mr Mark Latham.

Latham is clearly unhinged and his criticism of Kevin Rudd as a “lunatic” who is “addicted to media attention” does tend to bring to mind pots and kettles. To his credit, however, he does stand by even his most outrageous assertions. Just ask him:

“In the months ahead, I plan to write extensively about the cultural decay of Australia’s oldest political party. Unlike Rudd, if I have criticisms to make, I put my name to them – a vital point of honour. I do not believe in off-the-record mischief and attacking people from behind.

This column, like every one of my columns in The Australian Financial Review for the past six years, has my name on it. It does not seek the snivelling anonymity of a Laurie Oakes leak.”

Excellent.