Leave it at 0.05

Joel Silver A successful motion at the Victorian Liberal Party's 152nd State Council, which I put on behalf of the Young Liberals, commended the Baillieu Government for resisting calls to lower the blood alcohol limit from 0.05 to 0.02. I began by discussing the quintessential Australian corner pub, whose prevalence throughout this nation, in commercial and built-up areas, in the city and the country, and in richer and poorer suburbs alike, reflects our unity when it comes to a social drink.

That 0.02 would have such a fundamental impact on the Australian way of life, and on our social liberties, while doing little to enhance road safety, is of great concern. Nor do we believe any Government should pass a law whose target would be mum-and-dad drivers. Indeed, it would be irresponsible to implement such a policy before more pressing road reforms, such as an annual servicing requirement.

Alcohol is social, not a social evil. A lower limit would carry with it a presumption that dangerous driving results from dinner wines and cocktails, unfairly presuming that road users are naturally irresponsible. Consider a hypothetical husband and wife from Glen Waverley, out to a hypothetical dinner in South Yarra for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. The husband BYOs a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and they each polish off a glass for every three courses. A half hour passes between that last glass and the car starting, and 5 minutes before they get waved over on Alexandra Avenue. Hubby probably overdid it, but is under the legal limit at 0.042. The question we need to ask, in this and similar scenarios, is: should he be? Does the smallest amount of alcohol make him a road risk?

For those whose lives have been torn apart by drink driving, and who will take the pain of that moment to their graves, it is a supreme insult to suggest that their loss resulted from a social drink. The most horrific of drink driving offences are perpetrated not by mum and dad drivers, who are not, for want of a better phrase, drunks, for whom it takes more than a Carlton Draught. A drunk becomes a drunk out of irresponsible and excessive drinking. This is unlikely to be spontaneous; the person generally intends on getting "wasted" or "smashed" in advance. The blood alcohol limit stops those people getting on the road, and punishes them if they are juvenile enough to do so. It also represents the level at which a person's senses are deemed to become unsafely affected by alcohol.

Only a special kind of drunk becomes a drink driver. Such people will break the law regardless of the particular limit; it is naïve to suggest otherwise. Irresponsibility knows no bounds, nor is alcohol its only cause; many manage to drive far in excess of the speed limit without a drop of alcohol. Put simply, an alcoholic willing to drink-drive today would not think differently tommorow if we lowered that limit.

So what would 0.02 achieve? More drivers will get processed after breath testing (ie. more will need to step out for blood testing on a booze bus), resulting in a vast number of mum and dad drivers being penalised for drinking a glass of wine. That "new paradigm" will require a mass diversion of police resources, from areas such as patrols and on-call officers, to keep the system afloat. The number of road fatalities, however, will be unaffected; their cause is irresponsibility, not social drinking.

Joel Silver holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from the University of Melbourne. He is President of the Caulfield Young Liberals and member of the Victorian Young Liberal executive. This article draws on his speech to the Liberal Party State Council in Melbourne on May 29.

The Politics of Principle

Cory-BernardiSenator Cory Bernardi has applauded the decision by the Victorian Liberals to preference the Greens last in their recent state election.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the Victorian election result it must surely be that principle is still very important in politics.

It has been a position that I have been advocating since I entered the Senate nearly five years ago.

The decision to put the Greens last on the Liberal how-to-vote ticket demonstrated to an increasingly cynical electorate that the Liberal Party was more interested in good government, rather than government at any cost.

They were appropriately rewarded at the ballot box.

In advocating the importance of principle and conviction in modern politics, some have maintained that such a view is quaint and old-fashioned.

There is no doubt that you can't win elections with misty-eyed idealism and good intentions alone, but making sure a political party reflects its guiding ethos, rather than a grab bag of philosophies, is a key to electoral credibility and success.

One can link such sentiment back to the phrase many of us would remember from our school days: "If you don't believe in something, you'll fall for anything."

How can political parties expect to receive the confidence of the electorate if they aren't prepared to demonstrate and maintain a commitment to some core beliefs of their own?

The fact that the Victorian Liberals’ preferencing deal was forced by vocal grass-roots members suggests that even loyal party members want more conviction from their chosen team. It was reminiscent of the public campaign against the ETS that ultimately forced a change to Coalition (and government) policy and paved the way for the first minority government in 70 years.

A lack of commitment to principle (and terrible governments) is what has damaged the Labor brand so badly in recent years. As the NSW Labor model of spin, media management and lack of action was rolled out across successive states, Labor lost connection with its core values.

It became clear that their electoral quest was only ever about gaining power rather than wanting to do something when they got into government.

And that is why the Victorian election result is so important. With one decision, the Victorian Liberals demonstrated their integrity while exposing Labor's weakness through a lack of it.

It also increased public awareness of the real danger presented by the Greens and reduced their expected vote on election day.

No matter what their public image might be, the Greens are committed to radically changing our economy, our social fabric and cultural institutions.

They have repainted old fashioned Marxism with a green brush and convinced a section a trusting public that their agenda is cuddling koalas and saving trees.

But they are a force that can only exist with the support of the major parties. Every electoral triumph claimed by Greens leader Bob Brown was built on the back of the preferences of the Liberal Party.

Just why the Liberal Party would ever contemplate providing life support for a group that has a revolutionary leftist agenda and offers nothing in return beggars belief.

Liberal Party members knew this instinctively when they demanded the Greens go last. Now that principled action has met with political success, who knows, perhaps it might catch on. I certainly hope so.

Senator Cory Bernardi is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition and a Senator for South Australia. This article is courtesy of his personal blog which can be found at http://www.corybernardi.com.

A concerned Liberal writes…please don’t do it Ted!

Sebastian Tombs explains the dangers of a Liberal-Green preference deal.

Preferences are the bane of Australian election campaigns.  They’re great for democracy in giving voters the fullest possible voice.  But parties and candidates want other parties and candidates to give them their preferences, and parties and candidates need to decide who to give them to.  That leads to all sorts of interesting combinations, permutations and unholy alliances.

The federal election showed the huge power of preferences in our voting system.  There was a Green, Adam Bandt (who looks uncannily like 60s cartoon character Atom Ant), elected in Melbourne with Liberal preferences. Andrew Willkie, that left-leaning ex-Liberal ex-Green, was elected in Denison with Liberal preferences.  National Party preferences overwhelmingly favoured kingmaking rural independents Tony Windsor and Rob “I’ll never be a Trappist monk” Oakeshott.  What was the result of these guided preference flows?  Julia Gillard is prime minister and Tony Abbott isn’t.

The preference game hit hardest in Victoria.  Thanks to the Liberal decision to preference Bandt, Labor lost Melbourne.  But there was no quid pro quo in terms of Green preferences helping embattled Liberals, particular in Corangamite (narrowly failed to regain) and La Trobe (narrowly lost despite having a relatively Green-friendly local member in Jason Wood).  We gave all and got nothing in return.  If we had just held La Trobe with a Greens open preference how-to-vote card, that might have been enough to get us over the line in negotiating the final election result.

Now it’s the turn of the Victorian state election and we’re at the preference game again.  Polling shows that the Greens are doing well enough to seriously threaten Labor in four inner-Melbourne seats, and that Liberal preferences will surely get them over the line and into the Legislative Assembly for the first time.  The Victorian Liberals are more than playing footsie with preference allocation, it seems to be on the verge of inviting the Greens into a one-night stand in the hope that the Greens will favour a Ted Baillieu minority or small-majority government.

It may seem smart tactically to try and seduce the Greens, but strategically it certainly isn’t.  For most grass-root Liberals members, and certainly our National coalition partners, partnering up to these hairy-legged and cloven-hoofed spawn of Beelzebub goes against  everything we say that we stand for: smaller government, lower taxes, free enterprise, individuals know best, and choice.  What’s more, aspiring governments (and especially State governments) focus on practical ways of solving practical problems and running effective services, especially health, education, public safety and transport.  Practical solutions, not ideological fairyland.

Just look by comparison at the Greens’ way out front priorities since grabbing Gillard by the short and curlies – gay marriage and voluntary euthanasia. Personally, I’m not against gay marriage or civil unions, and I think it’s worth having another national ethical conversation about euthanasia, but using the balance of power to push these as pressing issues above all else?  I don’t think so, and I think that Liberals across the philosophical spectrum don’t think so either.  But as Helen Kroger bluntly pointed out in the Melbourne Herald-Sun, this is the sort of agenda we would be signing up to in letting the Greens through the preferential door in Victoria.

As John Howard has said, my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.  We may have to swallow hard, and risk falling short of winning government to take a stand on principle, but we must fight the siren call of the Greens.  We can remind ourselves that they stand for far more than protecting mighty trees and cute furry critters – the Greens stand for authoritarian, anti-free enterprise, high-taxing socialism.  I would rather have another term of a weakened Brumby Labor government than to have to deal with the Watermelons – green on the outside and deep red on the inside.  If this means that we can’t govern in a hung parliament, so be it.

The Labor marginal seat blitz strategy leaked in today’s Age shows that they’re worried over and above those four latte-belt seats.  Beneath the calm media-managing exterior they are running s***-scared, so much so that they are strategically leaking in week 1 of the campaign to scare their supporters back to the Labor fold.  The Liberals should be emboldened by this – it says that we would better be employed on concentrating our efforts on winning seats of our own than let the parasite Greens ride into real power on the back of Liberal preferences.  And if we do preference the Greens, Labor could get away with arguing to swinging voters that they’re the only sane alternative.

A lesson from British history should also be a warning to us.  In 1906 the UK Liberals ran dead in many Tory seats to give the then-fledgling Labour party a leg-up on the basis that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.  As a result Labour went from a handful of House of Commons seats to over 50, and its future as a party was assured.   So much so that less than 20 years later it formed its first government, and Keir Hardie’s Labour values and Labour’s nationalisation and welfare state agenda dominated the agenda of British politics until Margaret Thatcher came along in the 1980s: and the UK Liberals were all but wiped out.  Sorry to lay it on Ted, but it’s worth a read of that classic book The Strange Death of Liberal England – and I’m happy to lend you mine, but I’m sure David Kemp has one.

If Australian Liberals follow the same path, there is a real chance that we will entrench in power (if not necessarily government) a cadre of activists who will take the agenda of federal and state politics further and further to the Left in formal or de facto Coalition with Labor, so much so that the Liberal party could be marginalised for generations.  What that would do for the party of Menzies and Howard is to ensure that it withers and dies. Maybe not now, nor in the next few years, but die it will slowly and surely.

Sebastian Tombs is a long-term member of the Liberal Party.

[As always, the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MH]

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.

Victoria needs a serious look at Mixed Martial Arts

Clinton-Gale Legalising MMA is a good thing, writes Clinton Gale.

On Sunday February 21st this year Sydney hosted Australia’s first ever visit from American based institution Ultimate Fighting Championship, commonly known as the UFC. Drawing an attendance of 17,831, tickets for the Acer Arena’s show sold out within an hour, making it the second fastest sell out time for a UFC event. The sport known as mixed martial arts (or MMA) is sweeping the world in popularity. UFC President Dana White stated he wishes to bring the event to Australia annually after the highly successful Sydney event, but due to current state regulations Melbourne is unable to host the UFC. 

While the sport of mixed martial arts is permitted within the state, the Victorian Minister for sports James Merlino outlawed the use of cage type apparatus in 2007 for such sporting events. His reason for banning the cage was simply that he felt it didn’t meet community standards. So what is the rationale behind having fights in a cage as opposed to a boxing ring one might ask? Granted, aesthetics play a big part in why organisers would want to use the cage but it’s also for the safety of the fighters. Given the rugby style tackles they perform on each other the boxing ring presents the possibility of falling out or getting tangled in the ropes. In relation to safety it’s also worth noting that MMA fighters suffer less head trauma than boxers.  

To a first time viewer of the sport it may look like a no holds barred, anything goes style of street fight but it actually involves many fighting styles such as boxing, muay thai (kickboxing style from Thailand), wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu, just to name a few. And there are over 30 ways for an opponent to commit fouls, for example: strikes to the groin, head kicks to a grounded opponent and heel kicks to the kidney. The referee will also stop the fight if one of the contestants is bleeding excessively. 

Once a more comprehensive analysis is done on the sport rather than reactionary assumptions, it is not unreasonable to ask that the ban on cages be lifted so that Melbourne, Australia’s sporting capital, can host a UFC event in the future. Apart from the obvious economical benefits it would bring to the state it may also (like an invisible hand) guide young males into the gym to learn a martial art which provides them with the physical and mental discipline, which in turn boosts their self esteem and could possibly address the knife carrying epidemic the city is currently facing.  Do a web search and you’ll find many gyms in your area already providing MMA training but in your neighbourhood you’re not seeing people getting choked out or tied up in wrestling holds. I’d say the naysayers are running out of ammunition.

Admittedly this is a violent and often bloody sport which is not to everyone’s taste. But no one is forcing you to watch it just as no one is forcing me to watch Better Homes and Gardens. This is yet another prime example of the Victorian state government’s failure to grasp an issue to its fundamental premise and just spin off some feel good policy for face value instead.

Clinton Gale is a former Liberal Democratic Party candidate and is involved in the Victorian branch of the LDP.