Australia Loses World Cup Bid To Qatar

Menzies House Contributing Editor Terry Barnes writes in today's Age:

When the Australian bid crashed and burned at last week's FIFA vote to select host nations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the anguish of bid leader, Westfield billionaire Frank Lowy, was palpable.

Upbeat pre-vote comments of Lowy, Sports Minister Mark Arbib and even Governor-General Quentin Bryce weren't bravado. They appear to have believed genuinely that they had a big chance of securing a holy grail that has consumed $45 million of public money in pursuing support all over the world.

Yet for all the years and huge expense of courting FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the 22 "faceless men" of his executive, for all the knowing winks, handshakes, smiles and assurances of support that the Australian team were given, the payoff was just one vote and first-round elimination.

Lowy comes from a business world where a person's word and handshake generally means something. Perhaps his expectations would have been more realistic, and the final outcome better for Australia, if he had examined the experience of those around him such as Arbib and Football Federation Australia board member Ron Walker, who are steeped in the tribal culture of Australian party politics. For the FIFA voting process was uncannily reminiscent of a hotly-contested Labor or Liberal Party safe seat preselection. It featured similar twists in dynamics, loyalties, protestations and promises: it merely was played out on a different stage and a much, much grander scale.

Continue reading the full article at www.theage.com.au

Policy Can Help the Coalition

Menzies House Editor Terry Barnes writes for The Age:

The Coalition's revival under Tony Abbott has been a remarkable political success founded on wily tactics, a better reading of the public mood than his opposite numbers Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard, and his disciplined and indefatigable campaigning. Indeed, it's been said that Abbott is campaigning still.

This success masks the voter uncertainty about what policy alternatives the Coalition was advocating. This cost it support, and possibly seats, in the final election washup.  That partly was because in the last term widespread policy renewal was sidelined by circumstances: first by internal upheaval after losing office after 11 years of successful government, by wrestling itself into the dust over Labor's emissions trading scheme, and all this compounded by a sense that defeating a first-term Labor government was highly unlikely.

That's not to say there weren't major policy choices on offer from the Coalition: the Real Action Plan on climate change, debt reduction, turning back the boats, broadband without a nationalised National Broadband Network and Abbott's paid parental leave scheme were conviction-driven counters to highlight and attack major Labor weaknesses.

For many abandoning Gillard's Labor — bringing the Coalition close to victory and the Greens and independents real power — their vote was a protest against the government's performance.  Yet in hindsight it's clear that had more been done to fill out a Coalition policy manifesto beyond the political bullseyes, perhaps Abbott would be majority PM today.

via www.theage.com.au

There can be no complacency in the battle of ideas

Terry-BarnesThe Coalition must remain at the forefront of ideas and debate if it is to have any chance of winning the next election, writes Terry Barnes.

When I studied Australian Politics as a whey-faced undergraduate at ANU in the early 1980s, the sacred text was L.F. Crisp’s Australian Politics and Government.  “Fin” Crisp was a disciple of the Labour movement (no Americanised spellings for him), learning his political creed before the Second World War and was a disciple and biographer of the sainted Ben Chifley.

Crisp’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography notes: “Crisp spoke of how growing up in the Depression years shaped his world view, which included a lifelong membership of the Australian Labor Party.  Generations of students were told that the `anti-Labour’ parties (the `parties of town and country capital’) `lifted’ most of their social policies from the ALP, that the Australian federal system was a `constitutional confection’, and that a `formidable’ case could be mounted for the abolition of the Senate”.

In other words, Crisp believed passionately that the ALP is the intellectual and social driving force of our country, and that the anti-Labour Liberal and Country parties (he would have had no truck with the wussy label “The Nationals”) are the forces of reaction, counter-revolution and darkness.

How disappointed and shattered Fin Crisp would have been today after two successive federal elections where Labor was content to be out-thought by the very anti-Labour forces that he derided.  In so many areas – the economy, deregulation, border protection, workplace relations, and even health and the environment – at various times Labor either played me-too, kept most of what they pretended to oppose or tried to sound more hardline than their conservative opponents.  They who stand for nothing are nothing, as a diminished Julia Gillard is now finding out.

Now beholden to the Greens on the hard left and Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott on the (sort of when it suits them) right, Gillard Labor is the inverse of Tony Abbott’s commitment on becoming opposition leader.  It is an echo, not an alternative, not only of the Coalition but of the socially reforming Labor government of Whitlam (while we might often have loathed what they did, they undeniably did things), and the economically-reformist Hawke and Keating governments that were supported by John Howard in opposition and built upon by him in government in spite of Labor.

You could almost imagine Crisp as an Australian equivalent of Lloyd Bentsen sadly saying, “I knew Ben Chifley, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating.  They stood for something.  Ms Gillard, you’re no Prime Minister”. 

Undeniably the Crisp world view has been upturned, and the ALP is now the anti-ideas party.  But while this should gladden the hearts of liberals, conservatives and libertarians, the battle for the supremacy of centre-right ideas is far from over.  Indeed, at this point in the history of Australian political ideas the centre-right’s challenge is to avoid complacency.

We cannot allow our success in setting the terms of public debate to be squandered by flabby reasoning, lack of analysis and the happy feeling that the next turn of the political wheel will return us to government and long-term political dominance.  And we cannot afford to leave the job of thinking the future solely to the talented and committed intellectuals and analysts of the few right-leaning think tanks like the Institute of Public Affairs and Centre for Independent Studies. And, indeed, to the contributors and readers of Menzies House.

The lesson of the August federal election is that our ideas triumphed but we still lost.  By a hair’s breadth, but nonetheless we lost.  Unless the Coalition ups its pace, unless it keeps at the cutting edge of ideological debate and shaping practical “smaller government” policies for the social and economic future of our nation, we are likely to be doomed to perpetual opposition at the federal level as we now are at the state level, where it will take monumental scandal, incompetence and malfeasance from Labor to blast them from office. 

If we’re not careful the Liberals and Nationals in future will only get a periodic look-in to set things to rights and, like the Kennett government of 1992-99, sent on their way when the clean-up’s been done.  What’s more, poor but superficially competent Labor governments, like John Brumby’s in Victoria and Mike Rann’s in South Australia – and by extension Julia Gillard’s – will hold on when they deserve to be tossed out.

We cannot live in the anticipation of federal government falling into our lap hoping that, to survive in bed with the Greens in both houses, Gillard Labor will drive further to the Left and make the Coalition more electorally attractive.  Incumbents make their own luck (using your money to help them), and thanks to the fickle country Independents it is Gillard and not Tony Abbott who has that incumbency and everything that goes with it.  Despite an outstanding campaign we are still in the wilderness and, if we don’t strive to get back to government under our own intellectual steam, we will surely be condemned to stay there.  Just ask Arthur Calwell who adopted a do-nothing strategy after the 1961 election, allowing Menzies gradually to get back into the game and then go on to a convincing victory in 1963. 

To his great credit Abbott isn’t doing a Calwell, but astute parliamentary tactics alone won’t win government.  It is absolutely imperative that the process of Coalition policy renovation and renewal, that started before the last election with no expectation of winning, is continued much more urgently now that victory is tantalisingly close.  We must not be afraid to discard dud policies and build on good ones.  Above all, we must not be afraid to debate, define and declare what we stand for, what the core values of our policy and our political philosophy are, and not simply assume that to everyone else that these are self-evident.

There is a solid policy foundation to build on, both from the Howard years and what emerged from the last term, but much more needs to be done.  Whether it is the Independents crossing the floor or the electorate at the ballot box, there will only be a change of government if not only Labor deserves rejection, but that there is also a positive and inspiring alternative to jump to.

Terry Barnes is principal of Cormorant Policy Advice and a contributing editor of Menzies House: www.cormorant.net.au

Health can be Baillieu’s policy trump card – Terry Barnes

If Baillieu’s Coalition cannot break Brumby’s grip soon it risks more years in the wilderness. Whatever policies it releases before the election, it needs to have at least one barnstorming idea that Brumby can’t match, won’t steal, and will cut through to capture voters’ imaginations.

There is one such idea ready to adopt and simple to understand. That’s to do what Brumby eventually didn’t: stand up for Victoria and reject the Rudd health deal.

It’s generally thought that the Commonwealth and Labor states have entered into a binding and enforceable contract on the division of responsibilities, governance and funding arrangements for Australia’s public hospitals. Not so. What we have is at most a loose and non-binding statement of intent. There is no formal compact, and for the time being there is no federal or complementary state legislation to back the COAG agreement, including promised additional federal recurrent funding beyond 2013. Nor is there as yet any federal legislation to claw back one in three GST dollars to bring the federal share of public hospital capital and recurrent funding to 60 cents in the dollar to which Rudd committed what was then his government. Without these the deal’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

Baillieu is not bound by Brumby’s signature. Nothing prevents him promising that, if elected, his government will reject the inferior COAG outcome so meekly accepted by Brumby. His first move as premier can be to start fresh negotiations with the now prime minister (and fellow Melburnian) Julia Gillard to get a fairer go for Victoria and its public hospital system which, for all its many faults, is envied across Australia. This includes preserving Victoria’s activity-based hospital funding and local board governance that’s superior to anything proposed by Rudd, Gillard and federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

via www.theage.com.au

Terry Barnes is a contributing editor of Menzies House. Click the link above to read the full article at The Age.

Welcome to humbug country

Terry-BarnesHypocrisy is rife in the debate about parliamentary reforms, writes Terry Barnes.

In the current brouhaha about the content and interpretation of the Oakeshott Settlement, also known as the parliamentary reform agreement that we had to have, the focus has been on the speakership of the House of Representatives, pairs, deliberative votes and what constitutes an independent chair.

But as Federal Parliament is about to gather for its ceremonial opening there is one aspect that escaped notice, or perhaps has been deemed too politically sensitive to criticise or reject.  That aspect is Rob Oakeshott’s insistence that “At the beginning of each sitting day, prior to prayers, the Speaker will make an acknowledgement of country.”

This is the rite of obeisance to the local Aboriginal tribe – in this case the Ngunnawal – who are paid homage as the traditional owners or “custodians” of the land on which the building or event is located.  It, and other Indigenous ceremonial appearances, increasingly are a feature of our public life.  I was at a conference recently where an overweight Aboriginal man sat down on stage to play a digeridoo for half a minute for no discernible reason but to Australianise the international event and to make the mostly middle-class Anglo-Celtic professional audience feel good about themselves.  His performance certainly had no other obvious connection to the content of the conference itself, and it wasn’t particularly good either.  Now this sort of practice is being introduced into our national parliament on a daily basis.

Another common public event is the “traditional” smoking ceremony, where a group of Aboriginal performers wave smouldering branches to drive away evil  spirits from whatever the event happens to be.   On taking office Kevin Rudd ensured that both a welcome to country and a smoking ceremony were incorporated into the State Opening of Parliament.  This means that next week we again will see worthy Ngunnawals performing earnestly (and admittedly impressively) in the Members’ Hall of Parliament House.

A mini-industry has grown up around marketing, booking and staging these events.  A Google search shows that even Tourism Australia, the body that is helping to bring Oprah and her frumpy Chicago housewives to Australia at taxpayer expense, actively promotes the trade in welcome to country services.  There certainly does seem to be a circuit of performers going from one event or conference to another, and if they can make a quid out of other people’s guilty consciences, good luck to them.

Every society is entitled to its mythology, even if it is manufactured or re-imagined.  Even in Anglo-Celtic culture it happens – in 1911 David Lloyd George concocted an elaborate investiture ceremony for the Prince of Wales which had no historical basis whatever but supposedly made the ancestors of Julia Gillard and their fellow countrymen feel better about their economically depressed principality (and was revived by Lord Snowdon in 1969 for Prince Charles as a spiffing spectacle for telly and for The Australian Women’s Weekly which covered it lavishly at the time). 

If these gestures of acknowledgement and related “traditional” ceremonies genuinely have meaning for Aboriginal Australians, that is something other Australians should respect.  But it is another thing altogether for non-Aboriginal Australians to expropriate these events for no other purpose than to salve the Rousseau and Manning Clark-fed social consciences of inner-city latte sippers, many of whom would cross the street to avoid meeting an Aboriginal down on his luck if they ever saw one.  Little better than the concrete Aborigines that stood guard in countless front gardens in the 1950s and 60s, these gestures are tokenistic practices that are inappropriate, patronising and perhaps even offensive and humiliating to many of those who they are supposed to honour.

Unsurprisingly, this cant and humbug now is entrenched in our rainbow government.  Rudd-Gillard ministers routinely insert an acknowledgement of country into their speeches, presumably on instructions from central command.  Perhaps many of them believe sincerely that they are doing the right thing, but to their audience it usually looks smug, self-serving and perfunctory.  It’s hard to believe that it is an expression of genuine sentiment, and such shallow practices promote wider cynicism and dismissiveness about Aborigines and Aboriginal inequality, and of course do nothing to redress past wrongs or present indignities.  Real action and leadership, like the Howard government’s intervention in the Northern Territory, or Noel Pearson’s outstanding work in Cape York, is what does that.

To have our Parliament pay quasi-feudal lip service in the way that Oakeshott insists won’t improve the quality of life for Aboriginals, except those few whose livelihoods depend on the guilt-driven welcome to country industry.  It won’t improve the quality of our parliamentary deliberations on social inequality and injustice – that can only come from a warm heart and open mind, and fortunately most of our elected representatives havethese.  What’s more, this hooey is shown up by the simple fact that we now have our first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives, who can use the forum of Parliament to bring together his fellow Australians in a way that not even a million acknowledgements of country and smoking ceremonies will ever achieve.  Maybe, instead of adopting the hollow Oakeshott ritual, our elected representatives each follow the example of a handful of their colleagues and do a stint of work experience in a remote Aboriginal community.  Then they could see things for themselves and use that experience to make a real difference in their deliberations – and perhaps even do some good. 

Our federal political leaders currently are determined to show goodwill to all men, and to one garrulous but temporarily powerful man in particular.  But this particular bit of lip service is one symbolic part of the new paradigm that should be nipped firmly in the bud.

Terry Barnes is principal of Cormorant Policy Advice and a contributing editor of Menzies House: www.cormorant.net.au

Abbott needs fingers off the Tigger trigger

Terry Barnes writes for The Age today:

Much has been said about how Abbott has grown in stature as an alternative prime minister. Relatively little has been said about how Abbott would actually operate as PM if he gets the nod from the group of crossbenchers who now hold the key.

Abbott himself has given mixed messages. "I can't promise that everyone is going to agree with everything I say and do and I can't promise that I will never make a mistake, but I'll have a cabinet, a staff, a party room, a Parliament, a judiciary and a media to keep me on the straight and narrow. So I'm sure they'll manage one way or another," he told The Age. This is Careful Tony.

But earlier, Abbott had told undecided voters at the Rooty Hill RSL: "If I'm the prime minister, I don't get overridden by my cabinet colleagues." Like the hyperactive tiger in Winnie-the-Pooh, this is Tigger Tony.

Abbott's political life is an unceasing struggle between Careful Tony and Tigger Tony. Generally, Careful Tony wins out and in the campaign he triumphed remarkably, but Tigger is never far away.

via www.theage.com.au

Click through the link above to read the full article. Terry is an editor of Menzies House.

Is Victoria Gillard’s safe haven? Not necessarily…

Terry-Barnes Terry Barnes gives his election analysis and tips for Victorian seats at the election this weekend.

If on Saturday Labor wins the election, it may well be because they gain one or two seats in Victoria to offset against heavy losses in Queensland and New South Wales, and other losses in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.  Why is this?

Interestingly, Victorians have one thing that they share with their northern neighbours: they too have a Labor government that’s been there too long, lost touch with the community and has presided over fiascos that have ranged from the farcical – the Myki ticketing system that’s still not fully delivered years over time and billions over budget – to the unpreparedness and bungled management that helped make Black Saturday the tragedy it was.  Along the way the public transport system is in chaos, Victorian hospitals are choked and Melbourne’s streets seem to be the preserve of underworld and gang violence and hooligans.  The tide seems to be turning against the Brumby Labor government, but unlike further north it doesn‘t yet seem to have tainted the federal Labor brand. 

The fact that Julia Gillard is a Victorian by adoption is part of the reason.  Victorians are a parochial bunch, and having one of their own is important to them.  Even if, like Bob Hawke and Gillard, they have to be imported from elsewhere!  Gillard plays this in the local media to great effect, not least by wrapping herself in the scarf and the colours of the Western Bulldogs who “represent” her electorate of Lalor.  It would be interesting to see which team she supported before she was pre-selected: if it wasn’t the Doggies that might be enough to undo her entire campaign in AFL-mad Victoria, where the impending retirement of Ben Cousins this week is a bigger story than Labor’s campaign launch.

A deeper factor is that Victorian – or rather metropolitan Melbourne – politics is generally centre-left not centre-right.  An easy rule of thumb is the 1999 republic referendum.  Victoria, then still led by Jeff Kennett was by far the biggest supporter of the republic, just a shade short of a majority and only outpolled by the People’s Republic of Canberra. Similarly the published opinion polls running up to this election, when they give state by state breakdowns, show that Labor’s two-party preferred vote in Victoria is better than anywhere else.  In hindsight, in the Victorian political culture Kennett as premier seems to have been hired like a Korda-Mentha administrator to get the state’s books back in shape before returning it to its centre-left equilibrium.  Ironically, though, Kennett himself is and was – even as premier – socially progressive and libertarian while his economics were small government conservative. 

Demographically, the unduly high proportion of Victorians living in Melbourne are dominated by two Labor-leaning groups: the inner-city latte sippers of the likes of Fitzroy and Prahran and the middle and outer metropolitan young singles and families who depend heavily on government services like health and transport to live their everyday lives (although why the Liberals haven’t quite succeeded in turning young outer suburban Melbourne aspirational voters into the equivalent of Howard’s battlers as in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane is a PhD thesis waiting to be written).  Country Victorians turned against Kennett in 1999 but seem to be returning to the Liberals in 2010 – it’s they who hold the key to the next Victorian election.

In the last decade, Premiers Bracks and Brumby largely have coasted on the Kennett achievement in two ways – they started off and have been careful to keep his very sound economic legacy on the one hand, and demonised him for the drastic action Labor incompetence actually forced him to take on the other.  It’s amazing how often even now Brumby and his ministers trot out the Kennett Defence to cover for their own stuff-ups, and how often until now that it’s been believed.  Now the problems are mounting up, however, the future for Brumby is looking bleaker and the chances of a state Coalition win at the next Victorian election are firming.

Had the federal election been held this time next year (assuming that the Brumby government was narrowly returned this coming November), it’s likely that the result would be a 1990-style decimation of Labor in Victoria, because there would have been nowhere else for Victorians to turn to relieve their anger and frustration at emerging state Labor incompetence.  Unfortunately for the federal Coalition, however, it’s more likely that knowing the Victorian election is coming in late November has reassured enough Victorians that any ballot box message to the Brumby government will be given in the state election and can be kept out of the federal.  The Liberal federal campaign has been going all out to make voters connect bad Victorian and federal governments – after all Brumby is the sorcerer and Gillard (his once chief of staff) the willing apprentice.

Looking at seats with this admittedly broad overview in mind, Labor is hoping to hold Corangamite and Deakin and pick up LaTrobe and McEwen.  On current boundaries it will be a hard ask for the Liberals to hold McEwen, but there may well be residual goodwill for the magnificent job done by retiring member Fran Bailey in the devastated areas of the electorate following Black Saturday.  LaTrobe, held by former policeman and hardworking local member Jason Wood has been carpet-bombed by Labor but could well hold on thanks to his strong grass roots campaigning.  Of the two “recoverable” seats for the Liberals, Sarah Henderson in Corangamite looks very likely, but never write off dogged 11 year former member Phil Barresi in Deakin.  Such is his recognition factor there that most people think that he still is the member.  Beyond that, no change in Victoria is likely.  The only wild card is Aston left vacant by Chris Pearce’s retirement but his successor Alan Tudge has worked mightily to become known and offset the loss of Pearce’s strong personal vote.

My guess is that the Liberals will win Corangamite and just hold LaTrobe.  They also rightly have high hopes of winning Deakin, but Labor’s blatant pork-barrelling of will make Barresi’s task even harder than Sarah Henderson’s in Corangamite.  McEwen will be had to hold, but the good news is that the pending redistribution, if it proceeds, will make McEwen a rural Liberal seat again at the next election.  Even so, among Victorian Liberal ranks entering the next federal Parliament will be fresh new faces Kelly O’Dwyer in Higgins, Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, Dan Tehan in Wannon and Tudge in Aston – win or lose, this injection of potential frontbench talent will invigorate the parliamentary party.

There is just one other seat of interest, and that of course is Melbourne which includes trendy lefty haunts like Fitzroy, Carlton and Richmond.  Lindsay Tanner’s retirement has made it vulnerable to a Greens challenge from a weedy-looking lawyer named Adam Bandt, who’s backing up from 2007 when he did very well.  If the Liberals run third in Melbourne the Greens may well have their first MHR elected at a general election.  Whether a Green merits Liberal preferences is a matter of debate, and some true blue noses (including mine) may turn up at the thought, but with those preferences Bandt looks almost unassailable and Labor is left fighting on a front it desperately wanted to avoid.

On balance, Labor is pinning a lot of hopes on Victoria to counter the northern tsunami.  It may well be Labor’s best state, but perhaps adopted Victorian Julia Gillard should be careful what she wishes for.  I can’t wait for Saturday to see how it all turns out.

Terry Barnes is an editor of Menzies House.

Our men and women in uniform aren’t campaign props, Prime Minister

Terry-Barnes Australia's defence forces should not be used for political purposes, writes Terry Barnes.

As Julia Gillard’s East Timor solution unravels, it’s instructive to reflect on how the new Prime Minister sought to portray herself as she sought to flog her “Timor Solution”.
 
The day after her now highly controversial Lowy Institute speech, Ms Gillard took herself and her entourage (more of that in a moment) to Darwin, where she boarded patrol boat HMAS Broome (incidentally commanded by a very telegenic Lisa McCune-lookalike young female officer) to highlight the other side of the boat people equation – naval border patrol.  It was a beautiful day, cloudless sky, deep blue sea and the PM on the bridge, apparently in charge of the operation with the young lieutenant by her side.
 

It made for great television pictures and still photos (well, perhaps except for the one on the front page of the NT News showing the PM with right arm extended in what looked like a Nazi salute).  Julia’s looking after us, protecting Australia from the riff-raff, was the subliminal message – even as elsewhere yet another boat was intercepted.
 
All fair enough.  The Prime Minister visiting a Royal Australian Navy vessel and seeing our taxpayers’ dollars at work.  Can’t really complain I suppose, even if we grumble about the cost of getting her there and putting HMAS Broome to sea just for a media opportunity – even if the PM is trying to strike a pose as the ruler of the Queen’s Navee.
 
It’s only when we look at her entourage that it starts to stink.  Behind her aboard the HMAS Broome was the local Labor MP, Damien Hale – who incidentally sits on a wafer-thin margin.  Then again, it’s his electorate and the crew are technically his constituents. Fair enough.  But the other bloke that featured prominently, conveniently attired in a stand-out white shirt, was the Member for Lindsay, David Bradbury.
 
Lindsay? I hear you ask.  Yes, the seat of Lindsay.  In landlocked Western Sydney 1,500 miles away.  Which includes the State seat of Penrith where Labor was effectively wiped out a fortnight ago.  Where the handling of asylum-seekers is a hot-button issue.  Where the PM is desperate to show she is tougher than tough on boat people.  What else could Mr Bradbury be there for?  He has no ministerial responsibilities, he is not a member of the parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, nor does he have any direct connection with Northern Australia as far as I know, unless he’s holidayed there.  For him it was a freebie pleasure cruise to take in the sea air.
 
The only other reason Mr Bradbury was there was to dog whistle to his electorate, by way of the evening television news, that Labor is trying to show that it can be tougher on boat people than that nasty Mr Abbott.
 
In short this was not a legitimate Prime Ministerial visit; it was an electorally cunning stunt.  A stunt that made serving defence force personnel mere props on a political stage.
 
Politics is one thing, but the exploitation for base political purposes of the Broome’s crew, and the Navy more generally, is reprehensible.  Our defence forces – who serve in the name of Queen and country – should be above politics.  Our leaders should visit men and women in the field, but to encourage and support them on our behalf, not to exploit them.  While it could be said that any political leader’s visit to the forces – say in Afghanistan – inevitably is political, this particular event was to narrow-cast a particular ALP electoral message to a particular segment of the electorate.  To me, that’s wrong.
 
In the election campaign that’s about to begin, there will be lots and lots of picture opportunities and media events.  If people and organisations choose to be involved in them, so be it, that’s politics.  But our defence forces, who all the way to the Chief of the Defence Force serve under the orders of their superiors and have no right of opting out of such events, should be left alone to do their job.  A job, it should be said, that they do with great professionalism and at great risk.  They are to be respected, admired and supported, and they should never be exploited for base political purposes in stunts like the Prime Minister’s.
 
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott should take a lead and promise that he won’t use the defence force in the same way in the election campaign or as Prime Minister.  It would only gather him more respect, and incidentally keep the tone of the asylum-seeker debate higher.
 
In the meantime, though, perhaps the ALP should write a cheque to cover the day’s operation of HMAS Broome, and the cost of bringing the PM and her political and media entourage along.  Taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for this brazen and exploitative act of electioneering.

Terry Barnes is an editor of Menzies House.

In sinking the people smugglers, Abbott is back on song

Terry-Barnes Terry Barnes thinks that Tony Abbott is back on the track to success with his recently announced asylum seeker policy.

Conservative politics is all about standing up for what works.  That’s exactly what Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison have done with their decisive response to the insidious and evil people-smuggling trade.

By reverting to the successful anti-people smuggling measures of the Howard years Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison are reverting unashamedly to what works.  The flood of boats that threatened to swamp us before 2001 was staunched only by decisive action by John Howard and Philip Ruddock.  Offshore processing, removing incentives to manipulate appeals to avoid or overturn final decisions, Temporary Protection Visas and tough direct action against those evil men who trade in the misery of others send a very clear message: Australia is no soft touch, no open door you can just ram your shonky way through to the cheers of the trendy inner-city latte sippers – many of whom treat refugees as curiosities to patronise in the same way that two centuries ago European salon society treated indigenous Australians.
 

What’s more, the Abbott policy improves on the Howard original by allowing reasonable flexibility in the actual length of TPVs to remain sensitive and compassionate in relation to conditions in the asylum-seekers’ home countries, and by imposing mutual obligation on asylum-seekers in return for welfare.  We do it for Australian residents seeking unemployment and other benefits: it’s fair and right to expect those wanting acceptance to our society to do the same.
 
Each new boat arrival, as well as the Oceanic Viking fiasco that fast-tracked through our system the unfortunate clients of the people-smugglers whom she rescued, shows that the Rudd Government has got it woefully and tragically wrong.  Each flimsy boat that struggles to stay afloat on the high seas, each person whose life is tragically threatened or lost from trying to reach our shores in those leaky sieves (or is that SIEVs?), is an avoidable black mark on our government and the misguided good intentions of the intellectual Left. 
 
There will always be some people uneasy with hard but humane policy decisions of this nature, within the Liberal Party as much as without.  Those who were expected to oppose it did come out and do so, and agree with them or not their views should be respected as being legitimately and sincerely-held on a pew in the Liberal broad church.  Indeed their concerns should ensure that the policy, as it’s applied by the next Coalition government, will always give humane regard to the unfortunate victims of the people-smugglers’ evil trade.  But it’s also clear that Mr Abbott, Mr Morrison and the shadow Cabinet respect the wish of middle Australia that, while our country should welcome and embrace our immigrants from wherever they come, queues are not for jumping.
 
For Coalition supporters, it was also pleasing to see Mr Abbott back on song, clearly having learned from the avoidable political reverses of the previous week.  He was confident, strong, decisive and self-assured.  He was not only looking and sounding like a leader but he was acting like one.  Like it or not, Mr Rudd, you’re up against a bloke who stands for something. What do you stand for, Prime Minister?

Terry Barnes is an editor of Menzies House.

COAG: when a noxious nerd can bore hairy-chested premiers into submission

Terry-Barnes Terry Barnes reviews this week's COAG meetings.

You have to take your hat off to Kevin Rudd.  Deal or no deal he has pulled off a political coup in getting the premiers of the two biggest States to tap the mat after weeks of furious and ugly Labor Party brawling. 

Rumour has it that on mid-Tuesday afternoon the Labor leaders caucused, and they decided to give Rudd what he most wanted because the Prime Minister had threatened them with yet another tedious PowerPoint presentation.   

And how would you like to be John Brumby today?  Before COAG he was like the bully in those Charles Atlas ads in the comic books of my boyhood, kicking sand in the face of the Ruddy weakling.  But just as in those ads, the weakling had the last laugh and Brumby, having demanded an extra $1.2 billion a year, obtained barely 20 per cent of that before giving away everything.  And as in the ad Rudd walked off with the girl – in this case NSW premier Kristina Keneally.  The bullied has become the bully.

Rudd is now waving the 27 page COAG communiqué in the same way Neville Chamberlain (another nerd with an anachronistic dress sense) waved the Munich Agreement in 1938.  And as we now know Munich did not prevent a European war:  similarly, the COAG agreement will not end conflicts between the Commonwealth and the States on health funding.

Colin Barnett of Western Australia’s was the undoubted hero of this charade.  Unlike Brumby he held to his principles on State retention of GST against Rudd’s relentless pressure (not even allowing his State counterparts to have dinner out of his purse-lipped presence) and, as far as it appears, has kept the funding goodies for his State on the table for now at least.  He was the only person in the room who showed any real guts and conviction.

What has resulted is great pre-election politics for an increasingly desperate Rudd, who has deviously allowed the electorate to convince itself that he’s taking full control of public hospitals, when all he is talking about is “majority funder” status for Canberra.  But what has emerged from the Cabinet room with the battered and broken State and territory leaders from the Cabinet room is a sham of a plan:

  • It has substituted funding bribes (a journalist calculated that Monday’s goodies were showered at the rate of more than $200 million an hour) for sensible and coordinated approaches to unblocking the arteries of the public hospital system.
  • He has delivered a public hospitals and not a health policy.  So much money has been tipped into the public hospitals and related buckets that there will be precious little available for sensible and bipartisan moves in areas including primary care and general practice, preventive care and chronic condition management.  True comprehensive health system reform has been set back years.
  • To pay for it will involve another pile of new money that can’t come from a budget surplus – there will need to be a further surge of public debt and cuts in other areas of health  spending, let alone the federal budget as a whole.  If I was a private health insurer or a pharmaceutical manufacturer I’d be very nervous about the future – but Rudd knows that the public has little love for them and so can wear their anger as a result if he slashes and burns in their spheres.

But most importantly there will still be a blame game, there will still be cost-shifting, and the States will still be able to skim funds as they go to local hospital networks – for “overheads” no doubt.  And Tony Abbott, who has kept his powder dry over recent weeks, can now frame his own health policy on his terms, knowing that most of what Rudd has sought won’t start happening until well after the election.  In other words, there’s still time for the voters to overturn the COAG outcome at the ballot box.

This week’s result is politically savvy, no question about it.  Rudd wants a double dissolution on a friendly issue and seeking a mandate for this plan (whatever the immediate DD trigger) is his preferred fighting platform.  But what he’s delivered is bad policy, short-sighted policy and self-serving policy.  It will unravel and most likely collapse – Rudd just hopes it will wait until after the election to  do it.

Terry Barnes is an editor of Menzies House.