Election Eve Round-up

September 6, 2013

With under 24 hours to go, pretty much all that can be said about this election has been said. The media know this; they’ve run out of new questions. They’re reduced to repeatedly asking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd if he’ll stay in Parliament after his apparently inevitable defeat, and how long before Abbott repeals the ‘carbon tax’. Oh, and how Margie will like living in the Lodge.

Of course, what they are not asking – and for the most part, have not asked – is how the Coalition can justify handing out middle and upper class welfare dollars to those who least need it, while cutting funds for vital public transport infrastructure and for indigenous legal aid. They’re not asking how the Greens plan to force a majority government of either stripe to go along with their policies. And – with the notable exception of the Wikileaks Party debacle – they’ve ignored the minor parties altogether.

Instead, the News Ltd media this morning gave us a full-page photo of Abbott in close-up with the Australian flag behind him. The headline? ‘IT’S TONY’S TIME’.

Nope. No bias there. It has to be said, though, that it’s one of the Murdoch empire’s milder headlines. At least they managed not to Godwin themselves.

One notable exception in the lacklustre media coverage was the revelation last night that the Coalition had a hitherto unannounced policy for an opt-out internet filter. Broken by the ABC’s Latika Bourke and ZDNet’s Josh Thomas, the news sent the Shadow Communications Spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull, into frantic damage control. Turnbull’s attempt to quash the story failed miserably when the policy was discovered on the Liberal Party’s website, Taylor published the audio evidence, and Bourke pointed out that Paul Fletcher (Turnbull’s junior) had walked her through the policy in detail. On The Project, Joe Hockey was blindsided. By 8.00 pm, the official line coming from the Coalition was that the policy – which was an old memo, never adopted – had been published in error by an unnamed staffer. An alternative version also popped up, stating that the policy had been ‘badly worded’.

Whatever the truth, the news was clearly damning. Whether that makes any difference to the vote, however, is another story. Arguably, the Coalition were never likely to attract many ‘net voters’, anyway – but at least it made the news.

Barring another such policy explosion, there’ll be little more coming from either major party before the polls open. With such a short time to go, however, there’s still time to read up on the parties, their policies, and some notable commentators in the independent media.

On the mythical beast that is the Coalition’s ‘costings’, Greg Jericho has a ripper of a piece over at The Guardian. Jericho points out what virtually no one in the major media has bothered to mention; what was released yesterday was not costings. It was a short document with few numbers, no detail and none of the bottom-line working-out that should be made available, presented to journalists ten minutes before the media conference. And we’re all supposed to take it on faith that the Coalition got everything right.

For in-depth analysis of the parties and group tickets, particularly in Victoria, Cate Speaks is your go-to blogger. If you can think of a party contesting this election, Cate’s put them under the microscope and turned the magnification up high.

Another very good site for summary and analysis, particularly of Senate candidates, is Butterfly’s Wings. Merinnan also looks into each party’s preferences, and where an above-the-line vote is likely to end up.

Over at the ABC, Antony Green’s Election Guide will take you around the country and show you every electorate in detail. (Okay, so it’s not independent media, but it’s an indispensable guide).

And for the policies themselves, here are the links to the websites, in alphabetical order. If I’ve forgotten anyone, please comment and provide a link, and I’ll update this post.

Animal Justice Party

Australia First

Australian Christian Party

Australian Democrats

Australian Greens

Australian Labor Party

Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party

Australian Sex Party

Australian Voice Party

Bank Reform Party

Building Australia Party

Bullet Train for Australia

Christian Democratic Party

Citizens Electoral Council

Country Alliance

Democratic Labor Party

Drug Law Reform Party

Family First

Fishing and Lifestyle Party

Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party

Katter’s Australian Party

Liberal Party

Liberal Democratic Party

No Carbon Tax Climate Skeptics

One Nation

Outdoor Recreation Party

Palmer United Party

Pirate Party of Australia

Republican Party of Australia

Rise Up Australia Party

Save the Planet

Secular Party

Senator Online

Shooters and Fishers Party

Smokers Rights Party

Socialist Equality Party

Stable Population Party

Stop CSG Party

Wikileaks Party

Finally, there’s Below the Line, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It provides a simple, user-friendly way for everyone to tackle those ridiculously long Senate ballot papers. In this election, with so many minor parties and with the looming prospect of both Houses being held by one party, voting below the line is more important than ever.

So that’s it, folks. Please, take some time, read up on the policies and some of the excellent analysis that is out there. Your vote is more than important – it’s crucial.

Tomorrow I’ll be live blogging and tweeting from early in the day. Please ‘call in’ with sausage sizzle reviews, dodgy tactics and dirty tricks (photos gratefully accepted), exit polls and anything else you see happening around town.

It’s all up to us now. Let’s do it.

UPDATE:

How could I forget the most crucial website of all? The Election Sausage Sizzle Map, for all your sausage, cake stall and school fete needs on Election Day – all those small, but necessary things that sustain us all. Where would we be without them?

Sausage sizzlers of the nation, I salute you. And I’ll have mine with onions and tomato sauce, thanks.


Q&A with Joe Miles, Pirate Party of Australia

September 5, 2013

With less than 48 hours to go before the polls open – and that may be a cause for relief or depression, depending on your political point of view – let’s step back from the major parties and take an in-depth look at a newcomer. The Pirate Party of Australia is one of a huge number of minor groups contesting this election, but it is far from the usual single-issue ticket.

The party has its origins in Europe, founded in 2006 and fielding successful candidates in the 2009 European Parliament elections. At the time of writing there are Pirate Party representatives in governments across Europe. The Australian branch was founded in 2008.

Through the wonders of the internet, I (virtually) sat down with Joe Miles, the PPA’s lead Senate candidate for Victoria.

CV: Could you tell us a little of your background, including why you decided to go into politics?

Joe: I’m a new dad, I’ve been working as a Welfare Worker since 2006 (ish) mostly working with people who have an intellectual disability and who are on their way into (or out of) prison. It’s work I’m proud of, and being able to look at myself in the mirror after work is a bonus too. Not realising it, I got into politics as a shop steward in my third job. It was the only good thing about that job. I began to read, and learn to speak up and speak out. I moved to queer politics somewhere around 2008 or 2009, and added deep-green to my pink flag-waving activities somewhere around Edinburgh in 2010ish.

Aristotle says we’re all political animals, and I think he’s right – we all enter politics in some way, I just decided to do it publicly and under the pirate banner.

CV: The name ‘Pirate Party’ opens candidates up to all sorts of lampooning and charges of being a single-issue group (as evidenced in the way the Sex Party has been treated); given that, why join and run for a party with that name?

Joe: I liken our name to “The Greens” – Green is a colour, not a political persuasion, but the name is the signpost to the idea. Any questions I get on our name get dealt with in around 6 seconds, especially on hearing about Pirate MEPs and Pirates in the Icelandic and German city governments.

To be honest, the name the perfect ice-breaker. No-one is guarded around people who call themselves Pirates – political conversation flows uninhibited, and conversations about solutions to problems are freer. This isn’t normal. The usual conversation is base and unhelpful, the name Pirate Party helps a lot in getting around this. I’ve had long discussions with people who wouldn’t call themselves ‘political’ about the types of decision-making they’d like to see.

CV: Let’s move on to look at specific policies. Your education policy would require a massive restructure for the tertiary sector, which is already overstressed in terms of teacher/student ratios and research/teaching balance. What is your timeline for that restructure, and how would you pay for these reforms, given your policy to reduce HECS-based funding?

Joe: The tertiary restructure is mostly to do with the third point; ‘Defund administrative functions and organisations associated with monitoring, surveillance, government reviews and data collection’. There’s a world of potential resources used for compliance that could otherwise be spent on instruction or research. These changes would provide savings, not more burden, and these savings could be unleashed.

There’s no rigid time-line for this, though there’s been consultation with ACT and NSW academia on this policy, and I’d suggest 3 years is the common wisdom. That’s for both the student-teacher ratio and the teaching-support ratio.

CV: On the subject of hate speech – many would say your policy allows an anything-goes approach not only in terms of speech, but also in terms of incitement to violence; how do you address that? Do you have a law enforcement policy that encompasses ‘hate crime’?

Joe: The policy covers speech that someone may be offended by, not speech which incites to violence. There are common law provisions against incitement, harassment, intimidation – that would stay in effect. Our policy is to remove an almost radical subjectivity from the system.

We propose repealing Part 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Apart from the last point of 1(a), it deals with being offended. The last point (intimidation) can be more than ably dealt with by preexisting legislation. Most intimidation is (I think, rightfully) viewed as a kind of assault.

‘Hate speech’ involves an incitement to violence, abuse, intimidation or other discriminatory action. Hate speech is already effectively illegal, without the need for part 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In fact, this Part adds absolutely nothing of value to public safety, but it does chill speech.

CV: You’ve called for a US debate style, which is arguably little more than a feistier version of ours. Often nothing is done to call candidates on their misinformation or failure to answer questions; how would the PPA ensure candidates are made to answer properly?

Joe: In US style debates the candidates are forced to talk off the cuff, they then can be followed up on and made to engage with each other. Good moderation and effective debate opponents would allow a kind of self-correcting that would incentivise answering questions well.

Though key here is an independent debate commission (or committee or whatever the name may be) – specific rule sets can devised and moderators can be tasked with things like keeping the candidates engaging properly.

CV: The Pirate Party says it supports Fibre to the Premises broadband; does this mean you support the ALP’s NBN project?

Joe: Yes.

CV: Your energy policy expresses support for the ZCA2020 Stationary Energy Plan; could you expand on that?

Joe: In short, we aim for 100% renewables inside 10 years, with a concerted program. It would be paid for by a partial sale of the project on completion, a levy and the fact it is a profitable exercise. We view it as not only an investment in our environment, but a quintessential financial investment – build this now to save both repair, maintenance and fuel costs in the future.

CV: Do you support an Emissions Trading Scheme? If so, what model?

Joe: A floating price doesn’t work, except for speculators. There’s been very little in the way of action in Europe considering the time an ETS has been running, contrasting with Australia – a flat price for a short period has solid results. It’s a cliché, but business loves certainty.

We support a carbon price until Australia’s investment in renewables is so great a carbon price (or any other mechanism, for that matter) is redundant.

CV: Your marriage policy calls for the Marriage Act to be repealed altogether. Such a move would likely be resisted by parliamentarians and by many sectors of the community, including those who advocate for marriage equality. Wouldn’t it be simpler to reverse the Howard era changes to the Act, rather than legislate an entirely new civil unions act?

Joe: Aiming merely to amend the Marriage Act is to aim to leave a loaded gun on the table – those amendments could be rewound easily by any theocratic-minded conservative government. As you’ve suggested, it would be simple to amend the Howard era changes.

That’s why we have as policy a new Act – any attempt at regressing would be obvious. Our societal view on the validity of romantic relationships (and which body defines ‘valid’) is evolving, this policy just keeps pace. There are always people resistant to change – that’s why people voted “No” in the 1967 referendum.

CV: Finally, if the PPA gains a seat in the Senate, it’s likely to bring with it a great responsibility in terms of balance of power. In those circumstances, would you go it alone or ally with a party with larger representation, such as the Greens?

Joe: We won’t join a voting bloc. We’ll vote according to our principles, with our goals being to get our policy aims realised, apply transparency provisions to all relevant legislation and make sure decisions of the House uphold human rights.

* * * * *

And there you have it. The PPA is no fly-by-night ticket; it takes its politics and its goals seriously, and it’s in it for the long haul. Its policies are more detailed than any I’ve seen published, even attempting to provide a general idea of costings. In terms of preferences, the party has achieved an unprecedented level of transparency, exposing to the public the internal workings of what can only be described as an exemplar of democratic process at work.

Whether the Pirate Party of Australia can secure a seat in the next Parliament will almost certainly depend on those preferences. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that there is real potential for the PPA to become a formidable force in Australian politics in time to come.


Party of no policy?

February 15, 2012

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking we’re in the middle of an election campaign. Between lobby groups buying up television advertising, drop-in visits from the Leader of the Opposition to every kind of business from dry cleaners to aluminium plants, and what seems like at least one opinion poll every freakin’ day, it sure seems like it.

There’s no election date called. There’s no election date even on the horizon. But the campaign is in full swing. Given this, I decided to take a look at what policies were out there from the ‘alternative government’.

Let’s see …

Repeal the carbon pricing scheme with all associated rebates, compensation and industry assistance. Presumably this includes the lifting of the tax-free threshold and pensioner allowances.

Repeal the Mining Resources Rent Tax.

Repeal the means test for the 30% private health insurance rebate.

Scrap the NBN. It’s unclear whether that includes ripping out the infrastructure already in place and returning those areas already connected to copper.

Close Trades Training Centres.

Rip up any deals that might be made with Malaysia regarding asylum seekers, discontinue community detention and reinstitute processing on Nauru and Temporary Protection Visas.

Well.

But surely there are actual, concrete, positive policies out there? Maybe the media just isn’t reporting them. So I swung by the Liberal Party’s website to take a look. And there they were. Policy documents. Policies on health, energy, transport, the economy … you name it.

But wait.

Every single policy document is from the 2010 election.

None of the mini-essays from the relevant Shadows date from later than 2010.

And the odd piece of writing from this year? Falls into one of two categories: either relentless criticism of Labor; or a promise to repeal, scrap or otherwise abolish nearly every major accomplishment of the government.

If Abbott wants an election so badly – as he claims he does – surely he should start releasing alternative policy? If it’s imperative to stop the government from implementing its policy, or – god forbid – being re-elected, why not show us a better option? Motherhood statements are all very well, but they are no substitute for concrete policy.

It’s really no wonder that the most common parody of the Opposition is that they are the ‘Noalition’.

And lest readers complain that I am unfairly concentrating on the Opposition, I’d like to point out that government policy is under constant scrutiny as legislation comes before the House and the Senate. Those policies can be thoroughly analysed.

It’s very, very hard to examine what amounts to nothing more than the word ‘NO’, repeated ad nauseam.

Perhaps we will get some real policy announcements from the Opposition when the election date is finally announced. But given their track record of refusing to provide policies that have enough detail to be verified?

I’d have to say … no.


Victorian policies, side by side

November 26, 2010

One day out from the Victorian elections, and – if possible – the level of ennui is even higher than during the Federal poll. Apart from a few committed pamphleteers and online trolls, most people’s attitude seems to be summed up in one word: ‘meh‘.

That could have something to do with the fact that both major parties and the Greens spent a great deal of time in this campaign simply attacking each other. The Labor Party is all about waste; the Coalition will destroy the public service; the Greens will make you take cold showers! (And no, I’m not exaggerating on that last one – it was part of an anti-Greens Twitter campaign that purported to reveal the ‘truth’ about the consequences of Greens policies on coal-fired power stations.)

Now I don’t know about you, but I like to make my voting decisions based on policy, not on who had the most ridiculous claims or nastiest insults. So with that in mind, here’s a quick-and-dirty comparison of some key areas of policy for most of the parties contesting the Victorian election. Let’s focus on Public Transport, Health and Education.

Policy statements are taken from the parties’ websites: Labor, Sex Party, Country Alliance, DLP, Family First and Liberals. I have not separately listed National Party policies, as they are in coalition with the Liberal Party and their policies are folded into the latter’s website.

Full disclosure: I’m currently volunteering for the Australian Sex Party. As such, while I’ll list policies, I won’t comment on them.

Public Transport

This is a huge area of concern for Victorians, to judge from questions directed at John Brumby and Ted Baillieu throughout the campaign. Metro Trains’ poor record, ‘black holes’ in Melbourne’s train system and overcrowding on some heavily-travelled lines (Dandenong and Pakenham being two of the most notorious) have seen most parties make highly-publicised announcements.

Australian Labor Party

Labor’s budgeted $432 million for public transport infrastructure and development. They’re promising more train services to Geelong, more bus services lasting longer into the night and a shuttle bus from Clayton Station to Monash University. In terms of maintenance and upgrade, Labor plans to make over train stations, buy new train carriages, and work on updating Melbourne’s ageing tracks and signalling system. The flagship policy is a pledge to establish a Safety Control Centre to monitor trains by CCTV and be in constant contact with stations which will all be staffed.

Australian Sex Party

The flagship policy for this party is a 24-hour public transport system on weekend, to be manned by security personnel. Other areas of concern are the Metro Rail Tunnel – with the Sex Party calling for stages One and Two to be simultaneously planned and delivered, upgrading Melbourne’s signalling system to take advantage of new technologies, and the separation of regional and metropolitan services to allow the regional network to be upgraded to a metro-style system.

Country Alliance

No listed policy.

Democratic Labor Party

No listed policy.

Family First

Family First has focused on encouraging more Victorians to use the metropolitan transit system. To this end they advocate implementing various (though unspecified) strategies, abolishing Zone 2 ticketing in favour of a single-zone system, conductors on all trams for safety and to reduce fare evasion, and guards on trains. They have also called for a feasibility study into the idea of building a tunnel to connect the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway, and for improvements to the most dangerous and congested intersections and railway crossings.

Greens

In keeping with a general focus on initiatives to help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, the Greens have set out a suite of policies. They have called for upgrades to Melbourne’s rail system (including the elimination of bottlenecks), more staff to improve passenger safety, revised scheduling to include more express train services for long lines, frequent and direct light rail, rail links to Tullamarine Airport, Rowville and Doncaster, improved disability access to buses and trams, giving traffic signal priority to road-based public transport and new trains with longer carriages to reduce crowding. Regionally, the Greens advocate restoring passenger train services (including direct services between Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo), estabilishing a feasibility study into location and costs for a very-high-speed passenger train service between Melbourne and Sydney, and investigating the feasibility of opening rural school bus services to the general public. Acceleration of construction of the Principal Bicycle Network, and increased road space for cyclists would be encouraged. A combined ministry for planning and transport would be established, and all proposed road network expansions would have to be valuated against alternative public transport solutions on environmental and social grounds.

Liberal/National Coalition

Running with the ‘safety and security’ angle, the Coalition have promised 900 Victoria Police Protective Service officers at train stations, as well as 350 Transit Police to ride along. They have also pledged to spend $130 million to build a Kilmore-Wallan bypass, and to construct new bus shelters in the Yarra Ranges.

Health

As in most elections, the Health policy tends to be diffused by including ‘social agenda’ policies such as those surrounding abortion, euthanasia and reproductive technologies. I’ve deliberately excluded these issues from this policy area.

Australian Labor Party

Labor has promised to boost numbers of medical personnel: 2800 additional nurses, doctors and other health professionals over the next two years to improve nurse-patient ratios. 200 more nurses will be recruited specifically for palliative care, cancer, geriatric and rehabilitation wards. Elective surgery operations are promised to increase by 50,000, and an extra 300,000 outpatient appointments created. Along with this, patients needing an initial appointment for treatment of hip or knee osteoarthritis will be seen within eight weeks. Labor has also promised to increase emergency department capacity to treat 315,000 additional patients, 70,000 more dental care places, 300 new specialist and GP training places and 50 doctor places in rural and regional Victoria.

Australian Sex Party

The Sex Party’s policy focuses largely on community-based initiatives. It has called for protection of community health services under the new, nationally-managed plan, for communities to be included in planning new initiatives, and resourcing for community health support for sex workers, culturally and linguistically diverse populations, HIV sufferers, indigenous people, rural communities, the elderly and those affected by age-related illness and the transgender community. Additional areas of concern are sexual health initiatives, including state-funded sexual health clinics and inclusion of a range of sexual health treatments on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme regardless of the age and gender of patients. On mental health, the Sex Party has advocated for ongoing funding and expansion for early intervention initiatives such as Headspace and ORYGEN, community education, social support services and funding for qualified, secular counsellors in schools.

Country Alliance

In keeping with its focus on rural and regional concerns, the Country Alliance has called for the establishment of basic standards for access to medical and dental care within rural Victoria and identification of those communities who do not meet those standards, and for 20 scholarships per Upper House region to be offered each year to attract doctors to regional areas.

Democratic Labor Party

The DLP’s health policy is entirely conflated with what can only be described as a ‘social agenda’ policy. Picking through it, there is one specific health initiative: increase in the allocation of funding for palliative care facilities for the terminally ill.

Family First

Family First has called for an increase in funded doctor and nurse training places, support for medical personnel who work in rural and regional communities – in the form of subsidised public indemnity insurance and reduced stamp duty to aid relocation, more acute and aged-care beds, and more respite carers. In other health areas, they have advocated more support for alcohol/drug rehabilitation groups, more detoxification centres, and more mental health inpatient beds.

Greens

The Greens have called for more community health centres (including co-location of GPs in those areas), nurse practitioners, increased access for concession cardholders to public dental care, improved integration between health services, better conditions for home care and personal care workers, and accreditation standards for ‘non-traditional’ practitioners, including registers and complaints procedures. They have pledged to reduce waiting times in hospitals and increase outpatient services and institute ‘healthy eating’ programs (including requirements for school canteens to provide healthy food choices). Maternal and Child Health Services would be expanded, particularly in the areas of midwifery and post-natal depression treatment.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition has promised new ambulance stations and a 50% decrease in ambulance subscription fees, upgrades and new hospitals in regional areas, and they have pledged to ban ‘bongs’ and related paraphernalia. In the area of mental health they have promised to set up a $10 million Mental Illness Research Fund, central co-ordination of inpatient mental health beds, and an education/employment program to increase workforce participation of those living with mental illness.

Education

The policies outlined vary wildly, from new national programs to smaller, individually-focused issues.

Australian Labor Party

The big announcement for Labor was the ‘Education for Life’ initiative. This program, aimed at Year 9 students, is budgeted at $208 million, and includes a two-week residential camp. It is aimed to teach financial literary, bushfire awareness, community service, public speaking, first aid, advanced water safety, self-defence, and alcohol/drug awareness. Labor has also promised $1.7 billion for school upgrades, provision of Primary Welfare and Home School Liaison Officers (the precise nature of which – psychologist, social worker, chaplain – would be determined by the school itself), rural ‘virtual’ classrooms and four new bilingual secondary schools. For non-government schools Labor has pledged to increase funding to 25% of that given to government schools, and to provide professional development for teachers and principals.

Australian Sex Party

The Sex Party has called for an end to the government school chaplaincy program, to be replaced by qualified psychological counsellors, as part of a general advocacy for a secular public school system. Special Religious Instruction programs would be replaced by curriculum-based comparative religion and ethics classes. They have also advocated age-appropriate sex education classes, beginning in primary years with safety, body image and self-esteem, and a program to educate students on the safe use of information/communication technologies. Private schools would be required to implement inclusive, non-discriminatory policies.

Country Alliance

In keeping with its focus on rural and regional concerns, the Country Alliance has called for the establishment of basic standards for access to education services within rural Victoria and identification of those communities who do not meet those standards.

Democratic Labor Party

The DLP has called for a voucher system so that parents may choose to send their children to non-government schools without financial penalty, at the same time advocating for redistribution of funding to allow government schools to compete on an equal basis. Government allowances for students would be rolled into a single, non-means-tested, Universal Living Allowance and tax deductibility for when deferred HECS fees are paid. TAFE courses would receive more funding, the Howard government’s ‘Voluntary Student Unionism’ legislation would be rolled back and a professional institute to oversee teacher performance would be established. Finally, the DLP has advocated ‘an education system based on the promotion of competence appropriate for the age and status of each student in a range of skills, including numeracy, literacy, social and civic participation, health skills and knowledge and an informed appreciation of the religious, moral and ethical codes to which the mainstream community adheres’.

Family First

Family First has a suite of policies: reduced class sizes, focus on numeracy and literacy skills, so-called ‘plain English’ school reports, financial literacy programs, relationship programs designed to promote marriage and family life, more TAFE colleges, promotion of the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) as pathways for students who do not want to go to university. They have also called ‘genuine choice’ for parents in selecting a school that supports their family’s values.

Greens

The Greens have called for two years’ free pre-school education for all children, no fees and charges for the public education system, a full range of education programs for compulsory schooling years including special-needs education, locally-targeted initiatives, optimum class sizes and implementation of education ICT including video conferencing. Assessment and reporting would be aimed at integrating and supporting learning rather than ‘competition’. All levels of education would be integrated into a flexible network to assist students throughout their learning periods. For educators, the Greens have advocated better remuneration, professional development and accountability, financial transparency and non-discriminatory staff recruitment and enrolment practices. Finally, all public schools buildings (renovated or new) would be required to achieve best practice Ecologically Sustainable Development standards.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition has promised funding for existing and new schools, including the establishment of Years 11 and 12 at Somerville Secondary College. Truancy laws would be enforced. The Victorian College of the Arts attracted particular attention, with the Coalition pledging $6 million to cover its current shortfall, as well as a return to its former independent status. The Rock Eisteddfod would receive $800,000. They have matched Labor’s commitment to raising funding for Catholic schools to 25%, and promised to make Victorian teachers the highest-paid in Australia. Finally, the Coalition would expand the powers of principals to ban ‘dangerous items’, and to search, suspend or expel students at their discretion.

*****

Phew. Well, there you are. That’s the Big Three this election. Of course, every party has a raft of other policies on everything from euthanasia to water to programs for specific regions, and I urge you to look them up. I deliberately did not include climate change initiatives, mainly because almost all the parties have no specific climate change policy, and their environment policies are often mixed up with regional initiatives.

Hopefully, though, you have an idea of what’s behind all those press conferences and jargon-laden rhetoric, and can make some informed decisions.

Don’t forget to vote tomorrow. It might ‘only’ be a State election, but many of these policies will directly affect us in a way that grand federal initiatives often don’t. It’s your democratic right and your responsibility – please use it.


Two households, not alike in dignity

August 26, 2010

Last Saturday Australia was unable to decide whether to vote in the ALP or the Liberal/National Coalition. As a result, we have a hung Parliament, with the balance of power resting in the hands of five, possibly six men – four Independents, a Green, and a maverick National.

Right now, it seems Australia is unable to decide whether that’s good or bad.

Some are rejoicing at what they see as a real opportunity for Parliamentary reform. This might be a chance for the backbenchers – the ‘little Aussie battlers’ of politics – to get a real say in what goes on. Maybe we can have fixed terms. What about putting a cap on donations, clamping down on election and government advertising, or even forcing disclosure on fundraisers? Way out at the extreme end is even the idea of a unity government, with ministers from both Houses or even outside politics altogether. The wish list goes on. With the balance of power being held by traditionally disenfranchised MPs, this might finally be a way to change what many see is a corrupt and outdated system.

But hang on a moment, say others. The majority of us didn’t vote for these people. Some of them only got elected on the back of preferences from the major parties. Why should they have the balance of power? Who are they to hold our entire system of government to ransom? Most damning of all, what if this were to happen with someone like Pauline Hanson or a Family First member in that position? What kind of terrible damage can be wrought here?

There’s merit in both arguments. It’s both startling and somewhat unrepresentative that our government for the next three years may well be decided by a handful of MPs whose policies – and names – most of us didn’t even know a week ago. To place that much power in their hands effectively makes both major parties hostages to their agendas.

As we saw yesterday, those agendas can differ wildly. Bob Katter really doesn’t want either a price on carbon or a mining super profits tax. He’s incredibly vocal on the subject. Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, however, support both principles. We can take it as read that Adam Bandt wants to see both ideas come to fruition in much tougher forms than have been previously proposed. Wilkie’s a little more cautious – he likes the idea of a mining tax, but not its current form, and wants a price on carbon. As for Tony Crook – well, that’s anyone’s guess. He’s still nominally a National, and therefore might be expected to follow the party line of no mining tax, no carbon price. His insistence on being considered a cross-bencher, however, could well signal a break with their policies.

How is any prospective government supposed to sort all that lot out?

Back up a second, though. We’re not talking about setting up a formal coalition to be in lockstep with either major party on all legislative decisions. At its base, this is just about getting enough numbers to defeat a no confidence motion, and to make sure the Budget passes through the House. Obviously the various stances on policy will be a factor in the decision-making process – five of the six have said their priority is stable, workable government – but it’s not necessary to meet every policy demand in order to form government. So we’re not really talking about ‘ransom’ here.

The six will have their own wish lists, of course. Oakeshott would dearly love to see more consensus politics in Parliament, for example, and Katter wants attention paid to areas of crisis in bush electorates. There’s no sense that they’re going to the leaders with a shopping list, though. On the contrary, what they’ve said so far indicates that they are focused on making the best possible choice for the country.

The three country Independents – Oakeshott, Windsor and Katter – presented seven requests to both Gillard and Abbott yesterday. Much of these requests are for access to information from various government departments, as well as a commitment to work for the national, rather than party, interest. They are after electoral reform – truth in election advertising, political donations and electoral funding – and are looking for a timetable to accomplish this.

One item is proving something of a sticking point with the Coalition, however – a request for access to Treasury’s costings for both the Opposition and government. If you remember, the Coalition flatly refused to submit their costings to Treasury under the Charter of Budget Honesty during the election campaign, claiming that Treasury was – at the very least – hopelessly corrupted. Instead, they submitted their numbers to an outside firm, resulting in a series of highly optimistic – and, apparently, highly inaccurate – figures.

Abbott has refused once again to give Treasury his costings so that the Independents can take economic advice about them. There’s a different reason this time, though. Now it’s because Treasury can’t understand Opposition policies. They are public servants, and it’s simply ‘not appropriate’. Instead, he says the Independents can have access to the firm that did their costings during the campaign, and the numbers themselves – the ones that received little scrutiny, and are still in question.

This is an extraordinary claim. Remember, Abbott was part of the government that instituted the Charter of Budget Honesty, designed to evaluate both policies from both major parties. There was no talk then that Treasury would only be able to understand those that came from the government of the day – nor did this turn up as a ‘reason’ to refuse submitting the Coalition’s costings during the campaign. It has materialised out of nowhere.

And to claim that Treasury – the body responsible for evaluating all economic policy, that routinely looks at costings from both sides when providing advice to a new government – is unable to understand the figures that the Coalition have come up with this time around? That’s so far beyond ludicrous there aren’t words to describe it.

The immediate question is, what have they got to hide? If they are confident in their numbers, surely they can only win by providing them to Treasury? They want to form government, and to do so they will have to negotiate with those who will hold the balance of power. Refusing a key request does nothing to improve their chances.

Perhaps the Coalition are gambling that the three country Independents, ex-Nationals, will run back to the fold. Perhaps they looked at Galaxy poll numbers today that suggest constituents of those electorates would prefer a Coalition government. Perhaps it’s simple arrogance, as we’ve seen displayed throughout this extended caretaker period.

What it looks like, though, is fear.

Gillard’s response to the requests was completely co-operative. She sounded only one note of caution, in that there may need to be changes to caretaker conventions in order for Treasury to release its documents, and that she would also need to talk to Abbott. She made it clear, though, that she was willing to comply with every one of the seven requests, including giving a commitment to a full term of government – even going so far as to promise to consult with them when the time came to set a date for the next election.

The two approaches could not be more different. One is co-operating, the other is drawing a wholly unnecessary line in the sand. Gillard is offering more than was asked (for example, a briefing with the head of NBNCo to explain the broadband roll-out), while Abbott is dictating terms. Abbott is giving every indication that he believes it is his moral right to rule, and that he should be accountable to no one – least of all three Independent MPs who he expects to fall into line and help him into government.

It’s not hard to draw the parallel between the country Independents and the Australian people. Towards both, the Coalition has acted in a high-handed, arrogant manner, giving the strong impression that they have the right to tell us what we need to know, when they feel like it. These latest actions only confirm what they’ve been signalling all along – some rules don’t apply to them, because they are above scrutiny or reproach.

As Bob Katter said today, ‘If you think the Australian people are going to put up with this sort of tomfoolery, you’ve got another thing coming’.

UPDATE:

Andrew Robb, appearing on Sky’s PM Agenda program this afternoon, dragged out the ‘we don’t trust Treasury because of the leaks’ argument. (Apparently, the Coalition realised that Abbott’s ‘Treasury doesn’t understand’ line was attracting nothing but scorn and disbelief.) He went further, though. If Treasury were to get their hands on the Coalition’s costings, he asserted, he believes that they would ‘fiddle’ with the numbers to give Labor the advantage.

This is completely outrageous. It goes well beyond the idea that there might be someone in Treasury who favours Labor, and leaked a document to ‘help’ them during the election campaign (not that there is any proof that such a person even exists). After all, it’s not inconceivable – remember Godwin Grech? What Robb is saying now, though, goes to the heart of Treasury’s integrity as the economic managers of the country.

The Coalition says it wants to form government. It says it wants to ‘pay down Labor’s massive debt’. To do that, it would have to work with Treasury – an organisation that it now alleges is so corrupt that it would falsify its figures in order to deny them the chance. At least, at this point, Andrew Robb isn’t suggesting that WHK Horwath take over the job.

Any way you look at it, this accusation doesn’t wash. If Treasury is corrupt, everything they’ve done for at least the last three years must be called into question. If Treasury isn’t corrupt, this is yet another transparent attempt to avoid public scrutiny – and Robb’s tactic is shameful. It attacks the central pillar of Australia’s economic credibility.

It appears Robb doesn’t actually care whether this affects the markets. or our standing with the rest of the world. It’s as though he’s focused on one aim – government by any means necessary.

I leave as an exercise for the reader this thought: if a party is prepared to risk destabilising Australia’s economic standing purely in order to gain political power, what would they be like if they actually held it?


Mental health, indigenous issues & the Arts – what you probably haven’t heard

August 17, 2010

The emails have been flying back and forth between the major parties today, wrangling over the finer details of a possible second debate or ‘People’s Forum’. It’s apparently such important news that it’s relegated the death of a surfer from shark attack to well down in the headlines.

Meanwhile, there are some glaring silences on certain areas of policy. We literally just don’t hear about some things. There is a huge amount of attention being given to the relative merits of the respective paid parental leave and climate change policies, so much so that anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Australians have little else to concern them in this election. But we know that’s not true.

It only takes a quick scan of Twitter, Facebook, or any one of a dozen online forums to find otherwise. A short trip to the shops, or a wait outside the school to pick up your kids, will hear other things being mentioned. Usually, there’s a tone of puzzlement in these conversations – why are the politicians talking about such a small range of issues?

There are three main areas I’ve heard discussed – mental health, the Arts, and Indigenous issues. (Admittedly, the first has been used as a weapon by the Coalition when talking to the media – we have a policy, they don’t – but it doesn’t go much further than that.) So I decided to go digging around and see what’s actually on offer from Labor, the Coalition and the Greens.

What I found was a comprehensive set of policies that should be subjected to the closest scrutiny. For the most part, though, they have not even been announced, or at least not at a time when they’ve been covered by television news. Given that most of us now get our information from 5 or 6 pm bulletins, that’s a real oversight.

I’ve collected them in an overview, presented without comment for now.

Take a look at what you’re not learning in this election while the major parties, along with the major news organisations, tell you that ‘Breaking News’ is where or when a debate might be held, and whether Julia’s had her hair coloured again.

MENTAL HEALTH

Australian Labor Party

You can find the policy document here. The entirety of its mental healthy policy follows:

* $276.9 million over four years will be invested in suicide prevention.

This is being spread across increasing places for psychology and psychiatry counselling, non-clinical support (social workers, relationship counsellors and the like) and carers. Some money will go to boosting Lifeline and other counselling services, and providing more services for men (statistically at greatest risk of suicide). Funds would be available to tackle the problem of ‘copycat’ suicides among younger people. The policy also mentions improving safety at suicide ‘hotspots’. It’s unclear what this means – nets around the Westgate Bridge, perhaps?

Part of the policy is aimed at helping existing organisations – Lifeline, beyondblue, and the like – with the work they are already doing. This includes tackling depression in the workplace, helping kids understand mental health issues that may arise in their families, and programs which help people suffering with mental illness to manage their everyday lives.

Other than that, Labor has said that mental health is a ‘second term’ priority for them.

Liberal/National Party Coalition

The policy document can be found here. In its nine pages, sprinkled liberally with criticisms of Labor, is the entirety of its mental health policy:

* $440 million to build 20 Early Psychosis Intervention Centres. (The bulk of this money will go into the initial setup of these centres – including staffing, while $40 million is set aside for ‘additional capital costs’.)

These centres would be targeted at young people (aged 15-24) who are deemed to be ‘at risk’ of psychosis, or who have suffered an initial psychotic episode. The emphasis would be on recovery and prevention of further psychosis.

* $832 million for 800 mental health beds.

These beds (20 acute, 20 sub-acute) would be placed in the Early Psychosis Centres.

* $225 million for 60 new youth headspace sites

This program, set up by the Howard government in 2006, is a system currently comprising a handful of centres and a website, aimed at educating young people about mental illness and providing them with ways to find help. It would be supported by the Early Psychosis Centres.

It’s worth noting that the Coalition has announced that this policy will be paid for by ‘re-directing’ funds earmarked by the current Labor government for GP super-clinics, e-Health, mental health and youth mental health programs.

Australian Greens

Since the Greens do not have access to Treasury’s figures, their policies can only be considered as intentional, rather than completely defined. (And just as an aside, this puts the Greens at a tremendous disadvantage, since they are automatically vulnerable to accusations of ‘you can’t pay for that’. Political parties of every stripe should know what government monies are available.)

You can find the Greens’ entire health policy document here. On mental health, the Greens propose:

* Increase funding to mental health services in collaboration with states and territories, particularly to prevention models, and hospital and community-based support, assessment and suicide prevention services.

* Establish 24 hour community mental health services in a range of locations, staffed by the full range of mental health professionals.

* Expand community-based support services and agencies to support suffers and their carers in the community.

INDIGENOUS ISSUES

Australian Labor Party

The policy document can be found here. It’s notable for the outline of what is currently taking place and has already been completed. New policies include:

* 36 children and family centres across Australia, from the end of 2010, and creches in the Northern Territory. Indigenous parenting support services, starting in 2011. Expanding playgroup and mobile playgroup services. New and expanded Maternal and Child Health centres, including greater access to antenatal care and reproductive health.

* $62 million over four years to fight alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence in indigenous communities.

* Inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in the forthcoming National Curriculum.

* Assistance with repatriation of indigenous human remains .

* Funding would continue and be expanded for existing programs such as language preservation, community broadcastings, arts centres, Stolen Generations family reunion, a Healing Foundation, early childhood education ($176 million) and safe houses and police in the Northern Territory.

* Constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples as the First Australians.

* $1.59 billion to improve remote housing.

* Streamlining the Native Title process.

* $967 million for health and to fight chronic disease.

* $467 million to improve school outcomes for indigenous children.

* $1.95 billion to assist indigenous people in finding work.

* $98 million to ‘improve services’ to remote communities.

* $438 million to improve communities in the Northern Territory, including teachers, community workers and family support workers.

Liberal/National Party Coalition

You can find the policy document here. It includes the following:

* Establish a Director-General for Indigenous Policy Implementation in the Prime Minister’s Department.

This person would act as a monitor and liaison across government department and non-government organisations to facilitate the development of policies.

* Constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples, to be put to referendum in 2013.

* $16 million over four years to support the Cape York Family Responsibilities Commission, aimed at helping community elders reduce school truancy.

The document also notes that Centrelink payment may be withheld if truancy continues.

* Fast-track the construction of boarding facilities to accommodate students from remote locations while they study.

* $8 million over four years to expand the Aboriginal Employment Strategy program.

* $8 million to support the Employment Covenant program set up by (among others) Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals.

* Abolish the permit system currently required to travel into indigenous areas in the Northern Territory, to facilitate tourism.

* Overturn the Wild Rivers Act, which currently protects Cape York rivers from fishing.

* $22 million over four years to improve dental health.

Australian Greens

The policy document can be found here. It includes:

* Increased funding to community health and children’s health.

* Assistance to remote communities in dealing with the effects of climate change, including mosquito-borne disease.

* Establishing a 10 year housing plan.

* Supporting networks and policing to address issues of domestic violence and community safety.

* Amendment of the Heritage Protection and Native Title Acts, to protect cultural heritage and consistency with international laws.

* Requiring regular reporting on all indigenous initiatives by the Equal Opportunity Commission.

* Compensation for people who have unfairly lost land or wages.

* Working to preserve indigenous languages and culture.

* Supporting sustainable fishing, hunting and gathering practices.

ARTS

Australian Labor Party

The policy document can be found here. It outlines current programs, and includes the following policies:

* $10 million for Australia Council funding.

This would allow the Australia Council to provide more grants for artistic projects of all kinds, as well as programs to encourage the Arts in young people and in schools.

* Move a series of programs under the umbrella of the Australia Council.

Programs such as Playing Australia, Festivals Australia and the Regional Arts Fund would be administered by the Australia Council and have access to Australia Council funds and corporate sponsorship programs.

* Investigate a new Arts funding model in conjunction with state and territory governments.

* Review the Australian film industry, with the aim of identifying areas of possible government intervention.

* Develop a plan to boost the Contemporary Music Industry.

* Continue to fund the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Indigenous Arts grants, preservation of indigenous languages and Artists-in-Residence programs.

EDIT (Thank you to Kat for the information)

* Joint funding with the Victorian state Labor government for the Victorian College of the Arts; an initial payment of $2 million, followed by $5.1 million each year.

Liberal/National Party Coalition

Try as I might, I cannot find an Arts policy on the website. All that I have been able to find is a few news reports such as this one. It summarises the following:

* $60 million into a loans fund to encourage local film development. Grants of $1-2 million would be given to match private investment.

* $14 million for regional arts, including grants of $100,000 for galleries that show local work.

* Loans for students who study music at institutions such as the Youth Chamber Orchestra would be eligible for a grant to purchase instruments, capped at $35,000.

Australian Greens

The policy document is found here. It includes the following:

* Support and fund the Australia Council and the Commonwealth Art Bank.

* Introduce legislation for fixed-income support for emerging artists, and access to small business grants for artists who wish to make a living from their work.

* Scrutinise all international trade agreements to ensure the provisions do not adversely affect Australian artists.

* Introduce intellectual property legislation to protect artists’ rights.

* Provide funds to state governments to help them purchase venues for local arts groups.

_______________________________

Made it all the way through? Surprising how much is there, isn’t it?

This is part of the real meat that gets buried under rhetoric and headline-grabbing stunts. This is what we should know.


Coalition campaign launch – out-Howarding Howard

August 8, 2010

Right now I have a song stuck in my head. It’s playing over and over and over. It’s the Coalition’s campaign theme song, complete with jingoistic lyrics that sounded a little like they were written by John Williamson’s less-talented apprentice:

“It’s the aussie way/ to see things through/ to get things done/ to be true blue … now’s the time/ to get things right/ shine on australia /let’s stand up and fight … so stand up australia and support real action’.

That song was played every single time a new speaker fronted up to the podium.

And they rolled them out from every level of government. First we had Campbell Newman, the Mayor of Brisbane, giving us the long list of his achievements – everything from a new bus depot to tree planting. He was followed by WA Premier Colin Barnett. Predictably, Barnett sounded the warning bell on the idea of the mining tax.

Warren Truss, Leader of the Nationals and aspiring Deputy Prime Minister, was next, as the voice of regional Australia. His speech was largely confined to motherhood statements on how people from regional Australia needed more support with study, internet access and transport. A promise of several four-lane highways was followed up by the remarkable observation that ‘every labor cabinet minister lives in a capital city’. The implication was clear: Labor doesn’t understand, and doesn’t want to know about the needs of rural and regional Australia. He didn’t spell it out, but then, he really didn’t need to do so. Everyone in the room understood what he wasn’t saying.

Following him was Julie Bishop, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. Fresh from her stare-off victory against Gerald the Gnome on ABC’s Yes We Canberra, she jumped straight into her designated role as the Coalition’s attack dog. Her speech consisted of some of the strongest vitriol yet heard in the campaign, mixed up with equal parts scorn and withering sarcasm. ‘Shallow end of the gene pool’ was one of her milder descriptions of the ALP.

She played the experience card, then. Government, she said was ‘not a job for amateurs’. The Coalition was made up of people who had ‘done it before’. The team was led by a man who had been a ‘competent’ health minister, who was particularly effective’ in women’s health. ‘People are alive today, and they thank Tony Abbott for it,’ she said, and proceeded to introduce him as everyone’s friend, an experienced politician and the man who would lead the Coalition back to government.

Abbott led off by praising ‘a deputy I can trust, a predecessor who’s a friend and a former Prime Minister who’s a hero’. The latter was obviously Howard, but commentators were unsure as to whether the ‘predecessor’ was supposed to refer to Malcolm Turnbull. As for his comments about Julie Bishop, Abbott might well have been hoping that the party faithful would choose not to recall how she has been the trusted deputy of no less than three Liberal leaders to date.

Accolades done with, Abbott settled down to the task of defining himself in opposition to Labor. It’s what he’s done all through this campaign so far – first a criticism of Labor, then a statement about how he’s not like that. All of that was fairly predictable – but he was just winding up. Invoking the spectre of 1975, he thundered, ‘Our task is nothing less to save Australia from the worst government in its history’.

In one moment, he managed to link the current election with one of the most infamous events in Australia’s political history, and attempt to paint himself as a crusading saviour appearing in its time of need to ‘restore honour and integrity to Australian public life’.

That hyperbole may well come back to haunt him, not least because the Liberal member most closely associated with the Whitlam dismissal, Malcolm Fraser, was conspicuously absent from the gathering, after having delivered a scathingly negative verdict on Abbott. Diehard Labor voters are still particularly bitter about 1975 – it’s a tale handed down to the next generation with an admonition to never forget what was done to Whitlam’s government. It’s just possible that Abbott’s attempt to scare the electorate could backfire, and send wavering Labor faithful rallying around the standard.

Abbott indulged in more criticism before giving us the timetable for his first few months as Prime Minister – something that even Sky News (normally very well-disposed towards the Liberal leader) called ‘an act of hubris’. It looked as though he was taking his election for granted.

Day 1 is going to be very busy for the putative PM. Abbott plans to be on the phone to Nauru to reopen its asylum seeker processing centre, discontinue Labor’s Building the Education Revolution program, and ‘safeguard those who make their living from the sea’ (in some unspecified way). Oh, and he’ll lift the mining tax – the one that hasn’t actually been levied yet.

Later that week he’ll call a meeting of the Cabinet and the National Security Committee, which he promised to chair and make sure all his ministers attended (a barely-disguised dig at allegations that Gillard had not done so). Presumably he’ll actually appoint the Cabinet sometime between stopping programs that don’t currently exist and phoning Nauru.

He’ll also be asking Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey to set up a ‘Debt Reduction Taskforce’ to prepare a plan to start ‘repaying the debt’. That’s a little confusing, since he has already been touting some $40 billion of ‘savings’ apparently designed to do what he’s now saying will need to be investigated.

While Robb and Hockey are busy with their calculators, Abbott will forge ahead for the next month preparing an economic statement outlining ‘risks and opportunities’, releasing the Murray-Darling basin plan, visiting countries in the region to ‘repair’ trade and alliance relations, reassuring ‘frightened householders’ that they’ll get reimbursed before their roofs spontaneously burst into flame, and changing Question Time rules to prevent ministers from obfuscation and filibustering.

After that he’ll settle down for a more leisurely two-month period of recruiting for the Green Army, having a COAG meeting that will not adjourn until all states agree on local boards and beds for public hospitals, miscellaneous small business reforms, preparing for the Emissions Reduction Fund, forming a National Violent Gang Squad (which is not as alarming as it sounds), and a side-trip to Afghanistan to ‘reassure’ Australia’s soldiers that they are supported.

If my tone sounds a bit flippant, well, all that’s about to change.

‘Those thinking of voting Green,’ said Abbott, needed to know that the Coalition would meet their 2020 emission targets – but not through taxes. Those targets will be met by buying soil abatements and tree planting (and see my earlier blog on the Coalition’s climate change policy for the potential problems there). To underscore the point that the Coalition is absolutely opposed to a carbon tax of any kind, Abbott added, ‘We will never damage our economy with futile gestures’.

Futile gestures. The party that claims it is the ‘only one’ with a climate change policy dismissed and derided the idea that is largely accepted as the only one – short of direct governmental intervention – that can push countries towards a lower carbon economy.

It got nastier.

On paid parental leave, Abbott extolled the virtues of the Coalition’s policy. The ‘most conservative instinct of all’ was to have a family, and there was a ‘natural instinct’ for women to have children – so the Coalition, by extension, was only helping what comes naturally. This is a statement straight out of the 1950s, right up there with ‘one for Mum, one for Dad, and one for the country). It implies that anyone who does not want children is somehow unnatural. It’s impossible to say if it was a deliberate swipe at Gillard (who has no children), but it would certainly be something that anyone hearing it could be expected to conclude.

Then Abbott sounded the dogwhistle that pretty much everyone had been waiting for – the imminent threat of asylum seekers on our borders, apparently the major reason that Labor is slipping in the polls. He’ll ‘stop the boats’. He’ll reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas for all asylum seekers. He’ll re-open Nauru and send all asylum seekers there. Convicted people smugglers will be sentenced to a mandatory minimum term of 12 months. Repeat offenders will be sentenced to 10 years.

But … the same penalties will be applied to anyone who ‘assists’ a people smuggler, or who ‘conceals or harbours a non-citizen’. Have a think about that. How is such a ‘crime’ going to be discovered? Where would you look? Obviously, you’re not going to go knocking on doors trying to find out if Auntie Flo from Birmingham has overstayed her visa. So how on earth could you spot these dastardly ‘non-citizens’?

Well, for a start you wouldn’t bother looking for Auntie Flo. You’d look for asylum seekers who’d arrived by boat – and how would you find them? You’d start by looking at refugee advocacy groups, who have a long history of non-cooperation with the idea of mandatory detention. Sounds a little like a veiled threat, really.

But here’s the real kicker.

The offence of concealing and harbouring a ‘non-citizen’ already exists.

Under S.233E of the Migration Act 1958, offenders are to be penalised with a prison term of 10 years, or 1000 penalty units, or both. So Abbott promised nothing new. He merely reminded people of what is already in place. Why do that? Why announce a policy whose previous existence can be ascertained with two minutes’ work on Google? Because he wanted to look tough and hoped no one would figure out he wasn’t actually promising anything? Because he was sending a warning to refugee advocacy groups? Because he didn’t even know that it already existed?

None of these options is at all palatable – and coupled with the re-introduction of the draconian measures utilised by the Howard government, it makes for truly disturbing news.

Abbott wound up by describing his political creed as ‘genial and pragmatic’. I’ll leave the judgment of ‘pragmatic’ as an exercise for the reader. But ‘genial’? After listening to all the criticism (both sly and overt) over the campaign, after hearing him employ xenophobic fear-mongering language on the subject of asylum seekers, and after seeing him apparently give carte blanche to his candidates to engage in inflammatory rhetoric aimed squarely at people rather than policies?

I’m going to have to disagree on that one. He’s out-Howarded John Howard at his worst.

And I still have that song in my head.


Passion and conviction – the Greens campaign launch

August 1, 2010

It wasn’t a slick, professional event. The lighting was bad, the sound quality patchy, the speeches unpolished and the video montage decidedly amateurish. It looked like something thrown together in a university Media Studies class.

But it had some things we haven’t seen in the campaign so far.

Passion. Conviction. And vision.

Forget about the dodgy cardboard lectern. Forget about the embarrassing acoustic rendition of ‘Great Southern Land’ by a visibly nervous Warren H. Williams. Forget that Bob Brown stumbled over a speech that was in dire need of a proofreader, and that Christine Milne appeared to have resurrected a twinset and pearls from the 1950s. All of these things are matters of style, window-dressing at best. I’m sure there will be any number of commentators making the point that it shows the great divide between ‘major’ and ‘minor’ parties (although I suspect what it mainly shows is the great divide between the financial resources of the parties).

Focus, instead, on what was actually said.

Right out of the blocks, Bob Brown moved to quell suspicions that the Greens would not negotiate if they held the balance of power in the Senate. He listed the stimulus packages, noting that the Greens had negotiated for changes to protect jobs and to boost infrastructure in schools before voting to pass the packages. Almost as an aside, he noted that the Coalition had opposed them.

That said, Brown was quick to criticise both the ALP and the Coalition, drawing the distinction between their ‘bickering, the shortsightedness, the leadership spills and the failure of vision’ with his own party. The Greens, he said, have demonstrated stability and look to the future. He managed to both praise and damn the government in talking about the proposed mining tax. Rudd’s government had a great idea to get money to the nation, Gillard was bullied by the Big Three mining companies, and Abbott rejected the idea out of hand. Any way you look at it, he said, the result was a loss of money for schools and health.

In what I am sure will be a well-quoted sound bite, he said of the government, ‘If you say you’re moving forward, you have to know where you’re going’.

Having dispensed with both the ALP and Coalition, Brown gave us details of the Greens’ policies. It should be noted that none of these were accompanied by costings announcements. At the same time, these were only a handful of a comprehensive policy package you can find on the website.

On health, Brown proposed a national dental scheme, ‘Denticare’, and an end to junk food advertising (see here for a perspective on this policy). He also suggested the formation of a task force to look at how technology now available to us could be used to assist older Australians in maintaining independent living as long as possible.

In terms of our political system, Brown announced that the Greens would seek a referendum on an Australian republic, an anti-corruption commission and lobby for above-the-line voting in the Senate. He also proposed to end a minister’s power of veto over legislation passed in the Northern and Australian Capital Territories.

Environmentally, national recycling laws, marine reserves and an absolute ban on any nuclear waste dumps were on the agenda, along with a pledge to protect native forests.

Brown interrupted the policy roll-out here to talk about why the Greens voted down the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. He claimed that the scheme would ‘give $22 billion to polluters over ten years, and fail to reduce emissions’. Australia does, however, need a carbon tax, in order to fund development of renewable energy – ‘let’s tax the polluters,’ he said.

By far the most popular announcements were on asylum seekers, high speed rail and same-sex marriage. Asylum seekers should be treated ‘decently’, sent home if not genuine but otherwise settled in Australia and give our wholehearted support. High-speed rail between cities was long overdue – there’s been a network in Japan since the 1960s, but Australia’s major parties had voted the Greens proposal down. ‘We won’t let that go,’ Brown stated.

Calling for an end to marriage discrimination, Brown displayed real anger. ‘If South Africa … Argentina … Catholic Spain can get rid of that discrimination, why can’t you, Julia Gillard? Why can’t you, Tony Abbott?’

There were also calls for a full parliamentary debate on the war in Afghanistan, flexible work hours for carers of all kinds, and freedom for Tibet.

Summing up, Brown said, ‘The coalition offers deadlock or dominance. Neither are good for democracy. We Greens offer a responsible review of every proposal put before the people of this country’. Australians had a choice: ‘vote for the last century with the big parties … or vote for us Greens, and bring this country into the 21st century’.

Without costings, it’s impossible to analyse the financial implications of the Greens’ policies. It also makes the Greens a target for the major parties, who can claim that anything proposed is fiscally irresponsible. (That’s a line that’s been working for the Coalition, certainly. If Labor is ‘incompetent with the economy’, the Greens are ‘dangerous extremists’.) The other problem with analysing policy from a campaign launch is that it’s necessarily light on detail.

There’s nothing in the announced policy positions that leaps out as immediately objectionable. Dental care is sure to be derided as financially unachievable (by the Coalition, at least), but it would be difficult for either party to portray dental care as undesirable. High speed rail is likely to be very popular, going by questions submitted to the ABC’s Q&A program, lobbying in Community Cabinets and various opinion pieces in regional media. It is also a point on which both major parties are weak.

Announcements about freedom for Tibet are unlikely to play well with much of the electorate, who tend to consider that local issues are far more important than the fate of a country that is neither a trading partner nor a military ally. It is a cause celebre for the Greens, however; they have been speaking out against the Chinese invasion for many, many years, and the party faithful may well expect to hear it again in this election – as a matter of principle, if nothing else. Similarly, the call for a debate on Afghanistan may well provoke criticism. Australia’s presence in that war has become an article of faith for the major parties. Unlike the invasion of Iraq, the public at large have accepted that we are justified in being there.

The real sticking points will be the mining tax, carbon tax and same-sex marriage. The Coalition is flatly opposed to all three, and will continue to use the Greens’ position (and their preference deals) to bolster a scare-campaign against voting Labor. The ALP has committed to a carbon tax ‘eventually’, and has brokered a deal on the mining tax. That deal, however, is one that the Greens do not accept, and Brown warned that they would be lobbying for a higher rate to be levied against the mining companies. This may hang up the mining tax in Senate negotiations, assuming the Greens do win the balance of power.

Finally, on the issue of same-sex marriage, the major parties are in lockstep. Both have absolutely ruled out any possibility of drafting legislation to remove or amend the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act (1961). The Greens have tried to introduce legislation before – most recently Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in February this year. You can read about how the major parties treated the proposal here. The Greens have virtually no chance of accomplishing this reform. It was important, however, for them to make the point – they are the only party likely to be represented in Parliament that supports removing all forms of discrimination based on a person’s sexuality.

All in all, it was a great relief to hear that much conviction stated without apology and without reserve. The Greens know many of their positions will be controversial, if not downright rejected. Knowing that, they stated them anyway.

The age of the conviction politician is not dead; they’ve all just moved away from the major parties. And that is a real tragedy for Australian politics, and the Australian people.

A final word: While both Sky News and ABC News24 promised to carry the launch live, only Sky covered the entire program. ABC News24 gave us a slick video montage of Tony Abbott while Lin Hatfield-Dodds and Warren H. Williams were making the introductory remarks, and only crossed to the Canberra Convention Centre for the ‘major speeches’. Once Bob Brown had apparently finished speaking, they cut back to the studio – leaving Sky to be the only channel covering his final remarks, and introduction of the Greens’ candidates and sitting Senators. If you didn’t have cable TV or the ability to stream Sky’s feed, you had no chance of seeing the entire event.

Had that launch been for the ALP or Coalition, I have no doubt that at least one free-to-air network would have carried the entire program without interruption. And since the Greens are likely to become major players in the new Australian government, I can only wonder at ABC News 24′s decision to relegate them to second place behind recycled Coalition campaign footage.

It’s something that the ABC might want to think about for the rest of the campaign, perhaps. People are interested in what the so-called minor parties are saying and doing – and surely it is the place of our national broadcaster to bring that information to us??


ALP climate change policy 1/2

July 24, 2010

Watching or listening to Julia Gillard’s first press conference at the University of Queensland this morning, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the ALP’s climate change policy began and ended with a twelve-month community kaffeeklatsch.

Apparently, that’s all part of the strategy. Rather than make a single announcement with details in media releases, the ALP is slowly doling out the policy in measured doses over several days. There are several reasons why they might be doing this. Multiple announcements can create the impression that an issue is a very high priority for Labor. New measures at every press conferences ensures more media exposure, which could hurt the Coalition (since not everyone watches ABC News 24 or Sky). It also gives them the chance to push any unpopular announcements off the news cycle by bringing in new content.

So yesterday, Julia Gillard made the first of several announcements, launching Labor’s climate change policy. The cornerstone was expected to be a carbon tax, or ‘price on carbon’. (In a nutshell, this is a way of encouraging industry and business to use cleaner standards of production by levying a fee against every tonne of carbon they produce over a ‘baseline’ amount. It’s usually accompanied by financial incentives to ‘green’ the business. The idea is that free market principles – notably, the idea of making bigger profits – will guide industry towards doing the clean thing.)

There was no such announcement. Instead, Gillard told us after the failure of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, that Australia needed to ‘rebuild consensus’. To this end, an independent climate change commission would be established, made up of respected scientists, economists and other experts. The task of this commission would be to convey the science and economics of climate change to the Australian people, to ensure they understand the issue thoroughly.

She also announced the formation of a ‘citizens’ assembly’ – 150 ‘ordinary’ people, drawn randomly from the electoral roll, who would spend 12 months examining the case for putting a price on carbon and the possible consequences of doing so. At the end of this time the assembly would make a recommendation to the government. If that recommendation was not wholeheartedly positive, Gillard said, it would indicate that ‘more needs to be done’ – presumably to build the consensus she is seeking.

These initiatives are projected to cost $9 million, paid for out of the Renewable Energy Future Fund.

It’s easy to see the rationale for establishing the commission. There is still considerable confusion about what exactly is going on with our climate. The science seems at times to be written in some strange alien language, people play fast and loose with the figures, and accurate reporting gets lost in scare-mongering rhetoric – from both sides. Having a commission that would just lay it out for us is long overdue. Of course, the obvious objection is that the panel will be ‘stacked’, but frankly, I think that would be said no matter who was appointed. There is a great deal that a commission can do to explain the situation to us without giving us a party line at the same time.

If the commission does its work well, it could go a long way towards informing and encouraging people to make changes to their lives that will help address climate change. It won’t just be a matter of letting someone change all the light bulbs in the house because it’s free, or complying with water restrictions because there are fines involved. I believe people are more likely to support something they understand, and they will be able to make informed choices as to what appliances they buy, how they regulate their electricity consumption, exactly what the hell ‘green energy’ even means on the electricity bill, and any one of a dozen other measures that have nothing to do with government policy.

But what, exactly, is the point of this citizens’ assembly?

It has no possibility of having a helpful effect, such as the commission could. Its job is, as stated, to report to government. It has no power, nor even any real influence. At best, it would recommend going ahead (‘moving forward’, perhaps) with a carbon tax. At worst, it would be completely ineffectual. Should they hand down a verdict of ‘we don’t like it’, Gillard has indicated she would simply press on with the issue. Just what that would involve, she did not say. Would she press on with a carbon tax anyway? Convene another citizens’ assembly? Or perhaps abandon the carbon tax idea altogether?

The citizens’ assembly appears to be completely useless, in practical terms. So what is really going on here?

I think there’s a clue in Gillard’s speech. ‘We ‘will not allow our country to be held to ransom by a few ppl with extreme views that will never be changed’, she said – but she does want to see a process with a ‘representative range’ of all views. Sound familiar?

On July 6 Gillard addressed the Lowy Institute on the issue of asylum seekers. At that time, she spoke of defusing the fear-based rhetoric that surrounds the issue, taking pains to point out the statistics showing how small the problem really was in Australia, and saying that nothing was helped by those who were ‘overstating’ the issue. Right on the heels of that, however, she gave tacit support to those very people by saying that she understood their ‘very real’ concerns, and that they should not be subject to labels like ‘redneck’ and ‘racist’. There was a very clear attempt to capture both sides of the argument.

I suspect the same thing is happening here. This citizens’ assembly is supposed to be made up of people who are chosen randomly. The obvious reason for this is to prevent any arguments claiming that she has ‘stacked’ the panel. These 150 people will be given a tremendous amount of access to paperwork, science and (presumably) experts. It almost looks like a citizens’ version of a Senate enquiry – and if you’ve ever watched one of those in action, you’ll know how broad its terms of reference can be. It’s not known whether the citizens’ assembly would have the same power to compel answers and documents, or even demand people to front up to be quizzed, though.

When you start factoring in all that access, and the idea of a so-called ‘representative sample’, and you can start to see a strategy at work. This is another attempt to encompass both sides of the issue. This is designed to make people feel heard.

Is that a bad thing, in itself? I’d have to say not. Anything that allows people to have a louder voice cannot be entirely pointless. Ah, but we have one of those in our elected representatives, right? I’d have to say no. How many times have people said, ‘They’re supposed to be speaking for us, why aren’t they?’ The complaint that our politicians ignore what we want is an old one, and not without foundation.

Is it a real strategy for addressing the problem of climate change, though? Of course not. It’s merely a very expensive way of stroking the collective ego of the Australian people. Ultimately, it has no practical purpose.

The citizen’s assembly and commission are not, however, the extent of the ALP policy. Quite a bit more has been announced over the last two days. I’ll be taking a look at that in my next post.


Flashback – the 2007 leader’s debate

July 22, 2010

Back during the 2007 Federal campaign, I decided to write a running commentary on the single leaders’ debate between John Howard and Kevin Rudd. It was an … interesting experience, and so I’ll be repeating that performance here on Sunday, July 25. Notes will be made in real-time, and the final piece published just after the first pundits’ decisions come in.

But first … step into the wayback machine with me for a while, and relive 2007 – the Rise of the Worm.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

2007 Leaders’ Debate – the Rise of the Worm

The stage is set. The Great Hall in Parliament House, Sky News’ political editor David Speers, five journalists, a split audience apparently picked 50/50 by both Liberal and Labor representatives … two would-be leaders of the country …

And …

Ladies and gentlemen – we have a worm!

Yes, folks, the plucky lad has managed to wriggle his way into the debate, despite a firm ‘NO’ from John Howard and several rounds of tut-tutting from the National Press Club. Responding to the twirling fingers of 50 voters (described by Channel Nine as ‘swinging’), Our Hero has defied PresidentialPrime Ministerial wrath and made an appearance.

(For them as doesn’t know, the worm provides a visual representation of approval/disapproval in a selected audience watching the debate, measured by turning a dial and displayed on the TV screen.)

Yes, I watched the Channel Nine feed. And I’m glad I did.

It was widely trumpeted last week that John Howard hates the worm. Last night, it became clear that the worm hated Howard. Both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald reported the worm’s verdict – Kevin Rudd was the clear victor, coming in with 65% of the vote, compared with Howard’s 29% (a drop from his Latham debate score of 36%). Tony Abbot was quick to pooh-pooh the result, saying that the worm was rigged to display only audience preconceptions, rather than a true reflection of Mr Howard’s performance.

But is that true? Let’s have a look.

Right from the beginning, Rudd came across as more comfortable, forthright and respectful. Howard looked grumpy – in fact, more than a little put out by something. Howard’s opening statement ran overtime and necessitated two warnings, but he seemed determined to get in every last word.

Running overtime became a recurring phenomenon for Howard. While Rudd went over time once, in a response to a question regarding the leadership of the Liberal Party (‘isn’t a vote for the coalition really a vote for the unknown’). Mr. Howard, on the other hand, ran over seven times, and o two occasions was verbally warned by the moderator not to do it again. Each time, he subsided with obviously bad grace.

Mr Howard made direct, personal attacks at Mr Rudd on several occasions, describing him as ‘dishonest’, ‘pathetic’, ‘hypocritical’, and an ‘appeaser’. Mr Rudd indulged only in one such attack – but it was a doozy.

The first round of questions came from the journalists.

Asked how he would manage the economy, Howard immediately went on the offensive, citing the Dread Spectre of Imminent 17% Interest Rates and making pronouncements of doom should a Labor government be elected.

Asked why we should change governments in the midst of an economic boom, Rudd pointed out that booms inevitably end no matter who is in power and suggested the real emphasis was on managing life afterwards. Howard attacked Rudd again, attempted to educate the public as to the ‘truth’ about fiscal conservatism, and brought up Peter Costello’s record as Treasurer.

Apparently, the worm hates Costello. Every time Costello’s name was mentioned by Howard, the worm dipped – in one case, ‘all the way to Antarctica’, as Tony Wright from The Age put it .

Curiously, an attack on Mr Howard’s record as Federal Treasurer was well received. Mr Rudd’s approval climbed to near the top of the chart for his entire speech, despite the fact that he pulled a fast one with the numbers.

On the vexatious issue of union representation (or over-representation) in the ALP, Mr Rudd fronted up to it – then got cheeky by suggesting the high number of lawyers in the Liberal front bench was similarly unbalanced. He followed it up with the recent James Hardie case, in which union representatives accomplished a good deal in terms of compensation for asbestosis sufferers among Hardie employers, and the approval jumped up. Not even Howard’s ‘scary unions’ riff managed to get much of a rise.

It was particularly interesting to see Rudd cop to the ‘70% of your front bench are union’ charge. Rather than downplaying or denying it, Rudd chose to make it a badge of honour. It seemed to work – a slight dip in approval came when asked how much the ALP owes the unions, but the reverent mention of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke (himself a former President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions) cancelled it out.

The issue of tax relief played reasonably well for Howard – he riffed on it several times throughout the night, to a fairly good effect. Rudd’s contention that tax relief did not address what he called ‘real costs’ in terms of day-to-day living was much more popular, though.

Interest rates have been a big bug-a-boo in this campaign (which only feels like it’s lasted several months already, honest). Last night, it seems that ennui had finally set in with the audience and the commentators. There were minor responses to Howard’s warnings and invocation of the ghost of Paul Keating, but for the most part, it looked like it was no longer an effective Coalition weapon.

When asked to apologise for recent interest rates, Howard said he would only apologise for things which he considered himself accountable. This, at least, is consistent with his stance on indigenous reconciliation.

Industrial Relations – which has played well for Kevin Rudd so far – surprisingly didn’t make much of an appearance in the debate. Rudd’s opening statement contained the unequivocal promise to ‘abolish WorkChoices’, but after that, it was Howard who brought it up several times as an example of successful policy. The worm, apparently, wasn’t listening to that – but it was listening when Howard was asked how he could guarantee no further changes to WorkChoices, given his own front bench had been supporting the idea. Howard’s reassurances that he felt there was nothing more that needed to be done for industrial relations reform were unconvincing, especially after Laurie Oakes (who did a splendid job as devil’s advocate for the night) pointed out he’d said something similar last election – and then ‘lo and behold’, WorkChoices appeared.

The one big stoush of the night came over OECD figures that showed Australia’s woeful record for education spending compared to similar countries. We are, in fact, the only such nation to have cut education spending, in a period when other developed nations rose by up to 48%. Rudd pounced on these, only to be slapped around by Howard – who, it has to be said, appeared petulant in his insistence that Mr Rudd was dishonest, had misrepresented the figures and was ‘pathetic’. Rudd’s response was to smile at the audience and say he’d stand by the OECD report.

Climate change was an area where Howard chose to make a policy announcement – the establishment of a ‘climate change fund’ which would run on the revenue from carbon trading permits, and financial assistance to low income earners who would ‘inevitably’ bear the brunt of ‘inevitable’ higher electricity charges. As policies go, it was pretty well-received. His refusal to ratify Kyoto or go any further than to say ‘we all accept that mankind has made a contribution to global warming’ but ‘must be sensible’ got a lukewarm reception, though.

Rudd didn’t fare much better on climate change. Although the promise to ratify Kyoto was popular, his repeated dodging of specific early targets on emission reduction clearly irritated the worm, and gave him his lowest ratings of the night. It’s a clear weakness for a man who describes himself as ‘passionate’ about addressing issues of global warming.

A supplementary question to Mr Howard asked if he felt it was possible to change President George W. Bush’s mind on climate change. (Let’s leave aside the apparent idiocy of asking this about a President on his way out for a moment). Howard asserted that Bush’s attitude was changing – and the worm expressed its most immediate response of the night. Straight to the bottom. The US President’s unpopularity at home seems to be mirrored here.

Iraq was a particularly telling issue. Asked whether he felt the threat to Australia from terrorism had increased or decreased since our invasion of Iraq, Howard made another policy announcement – this time, that our troops in Iraq would ‘evolve’ to take on a training-based role for Iraqi forces. Pushed on the question, he said things were getting better. Pushed again, he gave ground just far enough to confirm that terrorism was ‘still a real threat’. His failure to answer that question played very badly with the audience.

Rudd gave a firm commitment to bring home the troops, and (in the grab of the night) described the invasion of Iraq as ‘the greatest single error of Australian national security policy-making since Vietnam’. The worm loved him for it – as, no doubt, did the media for that sound-bite.

In follow-up questions, Howard went on the attack again, described Rudd as not serious about the commitment to withdraw from Iraq and calling him hypocritical. During this response he was warned for time twice.

Rudd suffered when trying to defend his record as a bit of a flip-flopper on issues like Commonwealth land for housing and the Medicare Safety Net. His firm statements on working to end capital punishment on a global scale, however, played well.

On the thorny issue of reconciliation, Howard got some approval for his Northern Territory intervention, but repeated that he would never say sorry. It was interesting to note that, for the most part, the worm was fairly content with this. Rudd, pushed on why he’d agreed to the NT intervention, responded ‘we backed it because of the kids’, and followed up with emphasising the value of an apology for bridge-building. This was warmly received by the worm.

The second round of questions were from the leaders to each other. The only real moment of note here was Howard’s continual refusal to answer the question of whether an employee, under WorkChoices, can be stripped of his right to redundancy payments.

By contrast, Howard’s attempt to poke Rudd about his commitment to climate change came off looking like something from the schoolyard. Why didn’t Mr Rudd talk longer to Bush (who he described as the ‘most powerful man’ in the world) about it, if he’s so all fired up, accused Howard. Rudd’s response – that Bush wasn’t about to change his mind – was clearly unexpected by Howard, and there was evident chagrin on his face.

Closing statements were pretty much a recap, and the worm’s responses stayed consistent.

In the entire debate, Rudd dipped just below the midline on only two occasions. Howard spent much of the debate there. At the top end, Rudd hit the peak – and went off the top of the chart – on several occasions. Howard almost got to the top once, but only for a few seconds.

Now, there’s a lot of talk about whether the worm is a true reflection of what happened. To read and listen to the commentators, however, the worm spake true this time. Sky News’ post-game show handed the debate to Rudd without even seeing the worm, and today’s media has been largely unequivocal in following that trend. It’s worth pointing out that, despite the poor showing Howard makes in these debates, he keeps getting elected. Rudd’s team, no doubt, devoutly hopes that is going to change.

Finally, an interesting little note about the worm in action last night. Howard had insisted that the worm not make an appearance in this ‘one and only’ debate – he won’t agree to any more, and he didn’t want the worm anywhere near it. The ABC was happy with that. So was Sky. Channel Nine took a feed from the ABC via the National Press Club, and used the worm with its studio audience. According to Channel Nine, they never agreed to do otherwise.

It appears someone at the National Press Club had other ideas. When it was discovered that the worm was in residence, the ABC made a decision to cut Channel Nine’s feed. An ABC technician with a sense of fair play warned Channel Nine, who went to their back-up feed when it happened. The back-up feed was then cut. Channel Nine scrambled around, and – through the use of a cable box not unlike the ones that sit on top of the TV at home – picked up Sky’s feed, and the worm moved house.

Mr Howard denies authorising any such move, and says no one in his party would have done it. Kevin Rudd wanted the worm – even to the extent of getting a petition going on the Kevin ’07 website to ‘Save the Worm’. Everyone is pointing the finger at the National Press Club, who are angrily saying that Channel Nine were ‘told’ not to use the worm.

Ray Martin summed up my feelings on the matter last night, in his wrap-up : ‘So much for free speech’.

My verdict? It was no contest. Rudd may have won the debate, but the Worm Conquered All.


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