Category Archives: Politics

Upper-class welfare

First, John Howard says:

“I want to complete the transition of this nation from a welfare state to an opportunity society”

…and then, in the same speech he offers non-means tested education rebates that cover not only tuition fees at private schools, but useless items like uniforms and school camps.

How is this not welfare? Or is it only welfare when you give it to low-income earners?

Senate Group tickets: Victoria

Earlier this week, the Australian Electoral Commission released the Senate group tickets – ie, the manner in which preferences are allocated, if you’re silly enough to vote above the line on the Senate ballot paper. I’ve analysed the Victorian group tickets below; please note that while I make every effort to be accurate, I don’t make any claim to be impartial in my commentary.

I’ll start first with the major parties. As announced last week, the Labor Party has given their immediate preferences to the Greens. This is followed by the Climate Change Coalition. Oddly enough, they’re preferencing the right-wing Liberty and Democracy Party (LDP), and the Shooters Party, above the considerably more moderate Australian Democrats. In the case of the Shooters’ party, this may well be due to some sort of deal, as they have surprisingly preferenced Labor over Liberal, but I can’t work out what the ALP thinks it is doing with the LDP. Fortunately they have learnt from their idiotic mistake in the 2004 election, and Family First is right down at the bottom of their ticket.

The Liberals and Nationals are running a joint ticket (three Libs and one lonely Nat), and their immediate preferences go to Family First, which might be off-putting to any small-l liberal voters still on the Coalition’s side – and more so given that the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) are preferenced next; this is particularly strange, as I can’t imagine that the DLP would be in favour of Workchoices.

Moving on to the not-so-major parties, the Greens have two group tickets, both of which are identical at the pointy end – preferences go to the Democrats, followed by the What Women Want party and the Carers Alliance, and eventually Labor above Liberal/National. The main differences between the two tickets appear to be the positions of Family First, the LDP and the Christian Democratic Party (CDP); presumably the Greens didn’t want to decide between the lesser of three evils.

Family First demonstrate their commitment to the so-called working families of Australia by endorsing Workchoices – they’ve preferenced the Liberals above Labor, although both well below their religious brethren, the DLP and the CDP. One Nation even rates fairly high on their ticket, which just about says it all for me. Not surprisingly, they’ve put the Greens in the absolute last spot, even below the lunar Citizens Electoral Council (CEC).

The Australian Democrats, in what is likely – and sadly – to be their last hurrah, are running two group tickets, with the only difference between the two being the position of the Labor and Liberal/National parties with respect to each other. In both cases, the Carers Alliance, the What Women Want party and the Greens are given higher preferences, and Family First, One Nation and the CEC are right at the bottom.

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have given the DLP‘s ticket a second (or even first) glance, but after their surprise win of a Victorian upper-house seat in the state election last year, once again due to ALP insanity, their newfound prominence might cause their preferences to be useful to someone here. They’ve billed the ALP above the Coalition – not a surprise – but both well below Family First.

Some other items of note from the smaller parties:

  • The Carers Alliance have given preferences to the Democrats and Greens, but have put Labor below the Liberals. Odd.
  • One Nation appear to be somewhat schizophrenic; there’s a One Nation ticket on the ballot paper, but there’s also a One Nation WA candidate in the independents section.
  • The Citizens Electoral Council appears to be disliked by almost everyone; the only parties that didn’t put them down in the lower 60s were the Non-Custodial Parents Party, the Christian Democratic Party and One Nation. Great minds think alike.
  • The Conservatives for Climate and Environment party are evidentally so committed to the environment that they’ve preferenced the Liberal Party, known climate change denialists, above the Labor Party.
  • The Socialist Equality Party has three group tickets, one preferencing the Greens, one Labor and one to the Liberals. I guess the Greens are just too bourgeois now.

This is why I love elections.

It happens, every time. What is it about morals-crusading right-wing parties that attracts them to such amusing incidents?

Of course, it’s not only the creepy political arm of Australia’s pentecostal churches that has, err, interesting candidates. The so-called Liberal Party has this fine fellow running for office in the Victorian seat of Lalor. I don’t think Julia has a lot to worry about:

“I would be very much in favour of intelligent design being taught in public schools,” Mr Curtis said.

Go ahead, but if you try to do that, I will insist that the Bible be studied only in the context of the fantasy and science-fiction part of the literature curriculum.

The debate…

I’m not generally one for watching political debates, because it seems fairly pointless to assess one’s voting intention upon an hour and half of two right-wing politicians answering questions from journalists who can’t ask anything difficult for fear of confusing Channel Nine’s audience, and of being black-banned in the future.

That said, I had nothing else to do at the time… and I noticed two things: one, the (apparently censored) worm dipped noticably every time Peter Costello’s name was mentioned; and secondly, Howard was clearly away with the fairies in his closing speech – teaching conservative-centric history in schools? Does he really think the Australian population cares about the Liberal Party’s Culture Wars?

Buying votes

$34 billion in tax cuts? Across a population of 20 million, that’s $1700 per person. Big deal.

I’ll take the badly needed infrastructure and services, please, rather than your irresponsible trinkets, Mr Costello.

Bring it on. Proportional representation, that is.

[Senate Smackdown]

So, Australia’s process of democracy has now begun once again, and those citizens who are lucky enough to live in a marginal seat will get to determine what government we’re left with, while the rest of us have to make ourselves content with deciding how much obstruction to give them in the Senate. Furthermore, those of us who vote for minor parties are even further disenfranchised in the House of Representatives.

Of course, I realise that there are considerably worse electoral systems around, but still, why should we be content with a system that is only barely passable? New Zealand had the presence of mind to introduce a proportional representation system in 1993 – despite both parties being opposed to it. This was brought about after a number of elections where the National party won government even though the Labour party gained a majority of the vote – as happened in Australia in 1998; Labor gained 51%25 of the two-party preferred vote, but the Coalition still won the majority of the seats, and hence the election.

Proportional representation systems have worked effectively in many European countries, including Germany and The Netherlands (although it is worth noting that Belgium has benn functioning quite well for several months without a government at all). It tends to produce coalition governments and legislation through compromise, reducing the likelihood of extreme laws like Workchoices.

This is the next reform we should be making to our electoral system. Not four -year fixed terms – a brazen attempt by politicians to reduce their accountability. Three-year fixed terms, however, would not be a bad idea at all.

Australia’s unhealthy obsession with sport.

I won’t beat around the bush: I have no interest in watching sport, whatsoever. Living in Melbourne, that can make one feel somewhat like an alien, as the media here is utterly obsessed by it (although, given that only 1.2 million people here watched the grand final on TV, it occurs to me that there are 67.6%25 of people who, like me, couldn’t have given a bugger about it).

Australia likes to project an image of being a country of sports players. I reject this image completely; we are, instead, a country of sports-obsessed couch-potatoes, with a minority of players who are given far more money and admiration than they deserve.

And like all obsessions, it’s getting rather unhealthy. This week, the federal government launched their
Guide to the Teaching of Australian History in Years 9 and 10
, a course that the government is saying must be taught in schools in order to receive federal funding.

So, what important Australian historical events does this 18-page guide document? The Eureka Stockade, which has been often cited as leading to the birth of democracy in Australia, perhaps? Australia’s shameful involvement in the second Boer War? No, on both counts. Cyclone Tracy? The 1999 republic referendum? Nope and nope.

What do we get instead? Cricket. 1868: First Australian cricket tour of England. 1932–33: ‘Bodyline’ cricket controversy. Listings of no less than three cricket players. Why is any of this even notable?

I was subjected to a documentary on the Bodyline “controversy” by my sports-obsessed school, back in the 80s. It was the most deathly dull thing I’ve ever had inflicted upon me and I distinctly remember being more interested in the carpet on which I was sitting than I was in watching the TV. It is of no more relevance to students today than would be an in-depth look at the history of the Russian republic of Ingushetia, and arguably, far less useful.

This booklet has the cricket-tragic fingerprints of the Prime Minister all over it. It’s highly likely that the election will be finally called, this weekend. Is it too much to ask for us to get a leader who, in the same vein as other notable politicians like Paul Keating, Bob Carr or Barry Jones, has more interest in art, science, music, literature or anything, other than sport?

Annoying voters by phone-spamming.

The Liberal Party was roundly criticised in 2004 for phone-spamming voters with recorded messages from John Howard, and rightly so. It’s bad enough that telemarketers exist and that politicians have granted themselves an exemption to the do-not-call register laws, but to call someone and play a canned message at them is the height of rudeness.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Labor Party haven’t learnt anything from that exercise and are now doing it too. They claim they’re adhering to the do-not-call register, even though legally they don’t need to, but I wonder how long that will last when the election is finally called.

I recommend that anyone who gets one of these calls complain to the party concerned, and newspapers, in writing. This sort of campaigning should be stamped out before an advertising arms-race causes it to be an essential feature of elections.

A vote for John Howard…

…is a vote for Peter Costello. John Howard has all but admitted this on tonight’s 7.30 Report, by stating that he is highly likely to stand down at some point during the next term, assuming he wins the election. No prizes for guessing what one of Labor’s slogans will be now.

The Prime Minister does have a point, however, in saying that he is at least being upfront with voters about his plans. I’m far from comfortable with the resignations of Steve Bracks and Peter Beattie (and Bob Carr before them), mid-way through their terms. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with quitting as Premier, but they really did owe it to their electorate to sit out their full term on the backbench.

The question is, though, now that the people of Bennelong know that their local member is unlikely to hang around for the entirety of the next term, if re-elected, why would they bother with him at all?

The Final Lie?

“I’ll remain the leader of the Liberal Party as long as my party wants me to, and it’s in the party’s best interests that I do so”

Well, that was then. In fact, it was only last night that John Howard repeated that phrase that we’ve all heard for several years.

Today, however, he has changed his tune:

“It is not in the party’s interest to revisit it. That is my position, my very strong position” … “And I hope people understand from observing me in 30 odd years of public life, that I have never run from a fight before and I don’t intend to do so now,”

That – and especially the tone in which he said it – sounded borderline megalomaniacal.

So, he’s lied to the country, he’s lied to his Deputy … and now, it turns out he’s been lying to the organisation that he values the most, his party.

Let this be a lesson to backbenchers: you’ve been too gutless to stand up to this man for a decade. Now, just as he’s taking you to the brink of destruction, you’re incapable of doing anything about it.