The Greens Cross A Dangerous Line

It’s interesting what happens when the lunar fringe gets a whiff of power and begins to flex its muscles, isn’t it?

I don’t propose to chart the course of the Greens’ dizzying rise from irrelevance to balance-of-power holders in the Senate (except for saying that if the Australian Democrats were still available as a destination for protest votes, the Greens would still be polling less than 2% of the national vote) but I do want to make a few comments on their recent behaviour.

It’s not encouraging.

In the last fortnight, there have been reports across the mainstream press of Bob Brown complaining that he and the Greens have been receiving unfair coverage from the media.

Well, suck it up: the Greens wanted to be a major party, and now they’re being treated like one. Through their leader, Bob Brown, they openly have stated for a long time that they are “here to replace the major parties.” But media scrutiny is something they don’t want.

The rest of us — Liberal, National, Labor, or whoever else — understand that whilst media scrutiny isn’t always fair, sometimes it’s also favourable, but that in 100% of cases, it’s mandatory.

Without it, there wouldn’t be a functional democratic system.

The platform of the Greens isn’t an environmental program; it’s an ideological one, and one which rates on the political spectrum somewhere between socialism and communism.

We already know they don’t like the media scrutiny coming their way. I wonder why.

This is a party that wants to tax hell out of everything, remove cars from society, abandon use of all fossil fuels, disarm the defence forces, institute an “open border” policy on immigration, decriminalise all drugs, double foreign aid, redistribute wealth and kill private enterprise and capitalistic endeavour, and a whole stack of other stuff that is pretty scary to even countenance.

Today, however, they have crossed a line — and it’s time the people who vote for them took notice.

Bob Brown has been reported in The Australian this afternoon as saying that should Tony Abbott and the Liberal/National Parties win the next election on a platform of repealing a carbon tax, and should the Greens continue to hold the balance of power in the Senate, they would vote the legislation to repeal the tax down.

On one level, that’s fair enough: one of the many things politics is about is numbers, and if they have the numbers in the Senate, they have the literal right to vote things down as they see fit.

Indeed, the conservative parties did precisely that during the 2007-2010 parliament on selected bills, and were largely vindicated in the end by the fact that they failed to oust a first-term government at the polls at the first opportunity with a moderately large swing toward them.

But this is different, though: were Abbott to win, in the current political environment it would be inarguable that his policy to repeal a carbon tax was the galvanising issue.

On that basis, a decision by the Greens to block the legislation would be to deny a government’s mandate at the time it is strongest: at the point of its initial election.

Brown seems to think he has a mandate for a carbon tax — he doesn’t. 11% of the electorate voted for his party. It is pure ideological dogma on his part.

Another 38% voted for Labor, which promised not to introduce a carbon tax.

44% voted for the Coalition, which certainly did not offer a carbon tax.

So at least 82% of the electorate voted for parties explicitly not offering the tax Bob Brown now says he will never vote to rescind.

So much for democracy.

But it gets better. Brown wants to widen the mining tax to include uranium and gold, and claims that if a carbon tax is introduced “after all of our work on behalf of the Australian people” that he and the Greens would “defend that outcome.”

An outcome engineered by holding a minority Labor government — so very desperate to hold onto office at any price — by the balls and squeezing as hard as possible.

An outcome that would go a long way towards killing the mining industry in Australia at the cost of tens of thousands of jobs directly, as mining markets are lost to other countries, and at the cost of hundreds of thousands more jobs as a result of the economic slump it would lead to.

But the real issue is this: Bob Brown and his Green Party are happy for elections to happen and happy to abide by the result, so long as they get what they want.

It doesn’t matter what the majority of the public want: as Brown said today, “this is of course central to the Greens, so as long as we draw breath…we will defend it.”

So there you have it. If Brown gets what he wants from Gillard in her weakened, desperate and terminal position, it stands. It doesn’t matter what you, Joe Public, think about it. And it certainly doesn’t matter to Brown and his commie mates who or what you vote for.

I think it has a distinctly Stalinistic flavour to it. What do you think?

Newspoll Today: It’s The Coalition’s Game To Lose, Now

Today’s Newspoll in The Australian makes for some interesting reading, with the Coalition maintaining its election-winning, 55-45 lead on the two-party vote, but it’s the other numbers in the poll and some circumstances surrounding its timing that tell a story.

The Coalition primary vote, for most of 2011, has stayed resolutely in the 45-46% range; by contrast, the ALP vote has descended into the low 30s and stayed there.

Of the votes Labor has lost, some has gone to the Coalition and some has gone to the Greens and to “others.” We know from past elections that about 30% of the Greens vote (they’re on 11% in this latest Newspoll) will leak to the Coalition when preferences are counted. This means that as things stand, the Coalition is sitting on an increasingly solid 50% of what I call the “underlying vote” (its primary vote plus what will almost certainly leach out of the Greens’ tally).

To put this in perspective, John Howard’s last election win in 2004 — a thumping win over Mark Latham –was achieved with a primary vote of 46.6%. His smashing victory over Paul Keating in 1996, at a time when the Greens vote was still negligible, saw the Liberals and Nationals score 47.4% of the primary vote.

Clearly, on these figures, Gillard and the ALP are in trouble. Were I an ALP strategist I would be alarmed to see the Coalition consistently record 50% of the underlying vote; if replicated at an election, my “underlying vote” is effectively an aggregate primary vote, and a 50% primary vote in an era of political fragmentation and the emergence of splinter parties is increasingly difficult to ever achieve.

Where this is relevant in terms of this latest poll involves what has happened in the last fortnight and during the two weekends the poll was taken over. Labor made a lot of noise about Tony Abbott’s pledge to repeal both a carbon tax and any compensation package in place if he wins the next election; this was followed in the last few days with a promise from the Coalition to deliver income tax cuts (and, presumably, something for pensioners yet to be announced) which would effectively neutralise the act of repealing any ALP compensation package.

The sampling for this poll was also partially undertaken over the weekend just gone, after the much-publicised run-up to, and during, the unseemly brawl over the federal presidency of the Liberal Party. That episode does not reflect well on Abbott, and nor should it. But it hasn’t made any apparent tangible difference.

All of this tends to point, ever more strongly, toward the electorate having completely switched off from the message the government is trying to sell.

The same thing had happened to John Howard by early 2007, and we all know how that ended.

If that’s the case, it gets difficult to see how the Gillard government can get any bounce out of going firm on the details of their carbon tax or benefiting electorally following its implementation.

Newspoll records Gillard’s approval at 28% and her disapproval at 62%. It’s true that these aren’t the worst figures ever recorded by an incumbent Prime Minister, but it’s worth recalling that in a Morgan Gallup poll in December 1991, Bob Hawke recorded an approval rating of 26% and a disapproval figure of 67%. Then-Liberal leader John Hewson was preferred Prime Minister by a wide margin. It is that poll which is universally regarded as the final catalyst for Paul Keating’s second, and successful, challenge for the Labor leadership and thus the Prime Ministership.

The point is food for thought…

And finally, Abbott’s approval rating has increased (from undecided voters) and his disapproval figure has remained static. He has also now bested Gillard on the preferred Prime Minister measure for the first time (and the first time in the tenure of ALP government this has happened).

Given the apparent residual strength of the Liberal vote, the decline in both the Labor vote and in Gillard’s personal standings, and Abbott now leading as preferred PM, all of this tends to suggest Abbott really isn’t the issue for voters at the moment.

But when the harsh glare of their attention really turns to him, he’ll get one — and only one — chance to convince them.

All available evidence — this poll, previous Newspolls, all validated by figures from Galaxy and Neilsen — suggests the issue for voters, right now, is the current government.

The indications are that increasingly, people are gathering on verandahs, with the famed metaphoric baseball bats in hand, waiting.

However long away, the next election is now the Coalition’s game to lose.

It’s Not A Happy Anniversary, Prime Minister

Twelve months ago, Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister in a brutal and ruthlessly executed leadership coup. Was it worth it?

The thing I’ve been shaking my head about this week — when thousands of column inches have been expended on the subject of the first anniversary of Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership — is the proliferation of articles stating that Julia Gillard was elected unopposed by the ALP caucus as Labor leader and thus Prime Minister following the resignation of Kevin Rudd.

Presentation is everything.

These reports are factually correct, in that Rudd opted not to contest the Labor leadership ballot which consequently saw Gillard elected unopposed, but ignore the machinations and intrigue which left him no choice other than utter humiliation.

Prior to Rudd’s withdrawal, the consensus was that Gillard would have won at least 80, and likely more, of the 110-odd votes available in the ALP caucus.

I wanted to start with this; not to defend Rudd, but to illustrate just how divorced from reality some journalists are when it comes to the Labor Party and how, despite their best endeavours, the sins of Julia have found her out.

It’s no secret in political circles that Rudd is an arrogant, abrasive, noxious and periodically abusive creature. It’s no secret anywhere else that he is also self-obsessed, ruthlessly ambitious, and filled with rectitude in his conviction of the utter worth and value of his thoughts and ideas and of their superiority to those from any other quarter.

Yet he was a first-term Prime Minister who’d ended nearly 12 years of government by his opponents, and despite the poor government he ran was polling strongly enough at the time of his removal (five months from an election) to be re-elected with a barely-changed majority.

Still, it’s been 12 months, one year, or (frankly) a bloody long time. How has Julia Gillard done?

Her first task was to “fix” Rudd’s Resource Super Profits Tax (we’ll just call it mining tax); a “fix” that involved a deal with a few of the biggest mining companies and ignored the rest. And even now, the mining lobby reserves its right to fight the Labor government anew: the deal fixed nothing. And this is before we even discuss the lunacy of trying to cripple with taxation and sovereign risk the industry which is virtually the sole driver of economic growth in this country at present.

(Remember, the Canadians, the South Africans, the Brazilians, and anyone else with minerals in the ground are more than happy to take our export markets: and once those markets are lost, they’re very difficult — if not impossible — to win back).

Other “fixes” were orchestrated too, primarily on politically sensitive issues in which the government had already blotted its copybook. These were mere Band-Aid solutions, as had been her response to the mining tax issue, but with those fabric strips in place, she called an election…

…which nobody won. It is indictment enough that a first-term government elected three years earlier with a healthy majority was robbed of its majority, but the Liberal/National opposition won more seats than Labor and was denied government only on account of so-called “independents,” sitting in overwhelmingly conservative electorates, siding with Labor.

Gillard was meant to win in a landslide. After all, in her own words, this was a “good government that had lost its way.” She was its salvation.

Bollocks.

Nobody won. But Gillard profited, and was confirmed by the House of Representatives as Prime Minister. Many excruciating days after the election, and after many excruciating minutes of a speech by Rob Oakeshott, Gillard continued in government.

For some months, the Labor government ambled aimlessly on its way. One person who wasn’t aimless was Kevin Rudd: relegated to the backbench after Gillard’s coup, and installed as Foreign Minister after the eventual result from the election, Kevin 747 set about his job with gusto, and set about making mischief for the government he purported to serve.

Specifically, Kevin 747 has made it clear, since the first day of his tenure at the Department of Foreign Affairs, that he remains available. More on him later.

With the government already starting to list in the reputable opinion polls (and actually look like losing, as opposed to the convenient interpretations utilised by ALP apparatchiks prior to rolling Rudd), the real kicker came in February this year: despite a solemn and thoroughly unambiguous promise to do nothing of the kind, Gillard announced a carbon tax.

Immediately, the ALP’s ratings went into a tailspin, whence they have not recovered. Ridiculously, four or five months later, there is still not a shred of hard detail on record from the government in relation to what shape this tax might take.

But presentation is everything. Having pulled the trigger on her intention to break an election promise (and it was likely the promise which saved the ALP enough seats to negotiate government with), there has not been one iota of fat added to the bones of a motherhood statement on taxing carbon.

Yet for months Gillard and the ALP has allowed this to drag on, and to drag them into the sort of electoral territory which doesn’t merely indicate defeat, it indicates slaughter.

And all the while, this government has absolutely nothing to point to as a real achievement in terms of delivering practical and beneficial outcomes to the people who voted for it or, indeed, to anyone else.

Certainly, under Rudd the excessive WorkChoices laws were wound back…to an archaic extent more pro-union than at any time in more than 20 years. Those changes aided nobody other than unions.

Indeed, schoolkids who wanted to work for an hour or two after they finished school of an afternoon were denied jobs because shifts shorter than three hours were illegal. What a great message about work ethic to send to the upcoming generation.

Again, under Rudd, an apology was made in Parliament (and thus under privilege and therefore immune to legal proceedings) to the so-called Stolen Generation. Nice gesture. But I would ask what constructive difference that gesture made to the day-to-day life of Aboriginal people: how it helped them pay the rent or the mortgage, to feed themselves, clothe themselves, look after their children, get an education, and so forth.

Like the changes to industrial relations law, this was more about the sizzle than the sausage, and Labor knows it.

Yet these are things done on Rudd’s watch, and there are many more examples available. Yes, he and his agenda were misguided, tokenistic, sometimes malicious and usually plain wrong, but things happened on his watch, whether they were right or wrong.

The same can’t be said of Ms Gillard.

We do have Commonwealth debt at its highest level ever, and rising, with Labor seeking to raise the cap on Commonwealth debt by a further $50 billion. Does that qualify as an achievement?

And whilst debt to GDP ratios in Australia may be relatively low by world standards today, so were Britain’s before Tony Blair and Gordon Brown got hold of them. That dear country is on the brink of bankruptcy today as a direct result of Labour Party mismanagement. It took 13 years there; Labor here has had less than four so far. I shudder to think what the landscape might look like in ten years if they remain in office.

Accompanying Labor’s apparently terminal plunge in public opinion, the rattled government that has created, and a weak, directionless and reactionary Prime Minister unable or unwilling to get effective control over things, the spectre of Kevin Rudd looms large.

Those who read this column know my thoughts on Rudd, on Gillard, and the government they have so spectacularly and incompetently led since late 2007.

Yet with Kevin 747 refusing to accept his time is over, and with Julia Gillard refusing to run an accountable and honest government, the intrigue, the drift, the policy U-turns and the sheer political ineptitude we witness daily are unsurprising.

In this climate we have a government lurching toward defeat; its original leader, reviled by his party but engendering some sympathy from the electorate, hankering after his old job for purely selfish purposes; ad-hoc and dishonest government policy generating fury throughout the country and a clamour for fresh elections; a government nobody wants, a Prime Minister nobody respects or believes, and a parliament that has been rendered a farce.

It is one year today since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister: a sorry year indeed, in the context of the governance of Australia.

It’s not a happy anniversary, Prime Minister.

The legal requirements to the contrary might very well be inarguable, but morally, you owe millions of Australians a fresh election.

Do the honourable thing, and perhaps salvage some modicum of your reputation for having had the decency to respect the overwhelming weight of public expectation in the face of the shattering dishonesty and incompetence you have exhibited as Prime Minister of this great country, and resign.

It hasn’t been a pleasant year.

Road Management and Traffic Enforcement Policy

Having turned onto an 80kph road from a side street, I follow a small green car to a red traffic light, and sense something amiss. The green car is moving slowly; it stops five car lengths short of the barrier line, and in three hops, closes that gap out. When the car stops, I notice that the reflection of the young girl driving it, from her rear vision mirror, shows her looking at her crotch. The traffic lights turn green; after a delay of a few seconds, the green car starts moving, but something is still wrong: the car, so ever slightly, is swerving in and out of its lane. When safe, I change lanes and flatten it to get past the little green car…

…and as I pass and shoot a look at the driver, it’s clear she is sending an SMS text message on her mobile phone.

There is something seriously wrong with traffic enforcement policy (and driver skill generally) in Australia. The overwhelming focus of Police on speed, alcohol (and lately) drugs has undeniably been instrumental in cutting the road toll, but that focus can only go so far.

It’s likely a factor in the fact that results of road toll reduction strategies are beginning to plateau: the same foci (whilst ever-important) can only achieve so much.

I’m someone who spends a good part of the working week on the road in metropolitan Melbourne and have done for well over ten years; prior to moving here my work had me filling similar roles in Brisbane for a couple of years.

Additionally, as a domestic tourist, I have logged (literally) many thousands of kilometres by road in every state and territory (except in Darwin, where I haven’t needed a car the times I’ve been there) and thus have had a pretty good look at driver behaviour right across Australia.

And despite all the stereotypes (“Sydney drivers do this…Melbourne drivers do that…Brisbane drivers get up to such-and-such,” etc) I have to say all the state-based quirks cancel each other out and reveal us to be, frankly, a nation of fairly shitty drivers.

Who need to be snapped out of bad habits.

Speed and alcohol/drugs are great things to crack down on, but how about these?

  • Sitting in the fast lane (even on multi-lane roads in the inner cities) doing 10, 20, 30 kph below the speed limit;
  • Drivers who, turning left, swerve out to the right first, and those turning right swerving to the left (1. if you can’t control the car don’t drive, and 2. the practice is so dangerous it isn’t funny);
  • Failure to give way — for example, people pulling out of side streets and almost causing accidents by paying no attention to oncoming traffic;
  • Drivers on freeways who think it’s good to sit on 90 in 110 zones and in the fast lane;
  • Big trucks sitting anywhere other than the far left lane doing less than the speed limit;
  • An inner-city consideration: drivers who block CBD intersections knowing a red light is imminent, and thus prevent cross-flow traffic from moving through the same intersection;
  • Tailgating (or, as the law euphemistically calls it, “following too closely”) — hit the brakes by necessity in front of someone doing this, and there’s a good chance there’ll be a $10,000 damage bill to your car;
  • Double-parking in inner-city and suburban streets: not just stopping traffic flow but rendering it exceedingly dangerous to overtake given a clear view of oncoming traffic becomes impossible to get without turning into that same oncoming traffic;
  • Cars parked in clearways that once would have been towed away but instead now seem to be left where they stand with a parking ticket on them (and wreaking hell on peak hour traffic); and
  • Other offences I’m sure I’ve missed.

Cracking down on all of this stuff would go a long way to dropping the road toll further and generally improving driver behaviour.

It might also go some way toward eliminating road rage incidents; anecdotally, a lot of road rage stems from things incompetent drivers, or drivers breaking traffic laws, do.

These are all things that can be eliminated from road behaviour; by education, by enforcement, and in some cases, disqualification from driving.

In case anyone thinks I’m joking, my wife and I spent three weeks of a four-week holiday in Britain on the road a few years ago — and the contrasts between driver behaviour there and here could not be more stark. We put 2300 miles, or 3700 kilometres, on our hire car in those three weeks. Britain’s a bit bigger than it looks.

The UK is a country where the speed limit on highways is 70mph (that’s miles per hour, or 112kph) and the level of driver skill is far higher. It’s a place where, for example, drivers on freeway on-ramps are at speed when ready to merge and freeway drivers let them in; where three-lane each-way freeways never feature trucks in the right-hand lane; and where slow drivers keep left.

Even in inner London, there’s no hint of the type of inconsiderate and/or inept driver behaviour one finds in Australia: British drivers are simply far better than we are.

And the kicker is to see a double-decker bus drive into a space (not reverse-park, but drive in head first) that would barely fit my Camry, with traffic freely passing the bus by, and then the bus pulling out on a sharp angle but not once crossing the median line.

My point is that as road users we have a lot to learn here, and whilst there is a role for government — as the regulator — to play, its enforcement efforts are misguided.

Speed and alcohol enforcement are worthy, but there is so much more to traffic enforcement and it’s about time we began to implement it.

Oh, and as for the young girl in the green car, my response is brutal: kick her off the road. Seriously. Her and anyone else doing the same thing.

I believe sending text messages when driving is far, far more dangerous than alcohol or speed. Even if you’re going too fast, even if you’re pissed, chances are you’re at least looking out your windscreen. If you’re texting, you’re looking at the phone you’ve got in your crotch because you don’t think people will see it there. What about the road?

People sending text messages when driving ought receive an immediate licence cancellation for at least six to nine months. And I don’t care if that view is unpopular.

A few disclosures:

  • On 22 December 1993, I was arrested and successfully prosecuted for driving under the influence of alcohol with a reading of .069%. I had thought I’d been counting my drinks responsibly. I came unstuck by by overtaking an ambulance with a Police escort on Moggill Road, Indooroopilly, Queensland, at 2am, doing 97kph in a 60 zone. I was angry at the time after an unscheduled and unpleasant encounter with an ex-girlfriend.
  • I have had other speeding tickets, the two most recent being within ten weeks of each other in 2003-04 for doing, collectively, 16km per hour over the speed limit. It still cost four points in total and nearly $400.
  • On the other side of the equation, I have been involved in three major write-off car accidents — the last one in Brisbane in 1998 I was lucky to survive, and indeed got out with no worse than extreme whiplash and a cracked ankle — and none of these were my fault. One was caused by someone else’s defective vehicle and the other two by sheer driver inattention and incompetence. I’ve never caused an accident in my life.
  • I have also had two different cars I’ve owned since moving to Melbourne with wrecked front ends because of drivers not paying attention and effectively failing to give way.

So between the hundreds of thousands of miles I’ve driven over 21 years, my own mistakes, and the daily idiocy I see on the road, I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about here.

Doesn’t sound like a political article, does it? And if it doesn’t sound like that to you, remember it’s politics and politicians that set the type of laws I’m talking about here, and it’s politicians who can fix them.

To those who think this article isn’t political, just remember: politics is everywhere, and it’s more central to day-to-day life than you might think.

My post here tonight is hopefully an example of the practicality of that statement.

What do you think?

A Taxing Question: Should There Be A Plebiscite On Carbon Pricing?

I’ve started to notice a funny thing after a month or two of writing these posts. Political commentators — be it individuals in the mainstream media, or bloggers (like me, doing it so I can talk about politics, for example) — often “chase” each other with issues. Sometimes I’ve raised a subject and seen a column on the same issue in the press a few days later; at other times, something I’ve been meaning to talk about has appeared in the word count of someone else’s article and I’m the also-ran. And when an issue is being talked about, everyone seems to get onto it at the same time.

And sometimes issues just present themselves.

It was with great interest, therefore, that having devoted some space to what Gillard might do with her carbon tax in last night’s post — suggesting Labor defer it and seek a mandate for it at the next election — I found the morning media reports abuzz with a proposal from Tony Abbott to engineer a plebiscite on the issue.

This is a different approach again to deferral, or proceeding undeterred as Gillard seeks to do. I think it’s an interesting idea with merit.

However, as someone whose strong support for Tony Abbott, personally and politically, is well-known, it may surprise some to hear me attach some hefty caveats to my endorsement of his idea.

The first of these might be called a pie-in-the-sky wish, but if Abbott succeeds in getting his plebiscite, I would expect both sides to participate in the debate openly, honestly, in good faith and with plenty of detail about their respective plans.

This would require Ms Gillard outlining the hard facts of her proposed policy, and Mr Abbott in turn ensuring the fight is a fair one. Both could be expected, reasonably, to do so. Thus, we might end up in the absence of any bipartisanship with something that looks and feels like a real, genuine, robust debate, and not the sort of thing that unfortunately passes as debate on political issues these days — the spin, the dumb slogans, the flagrantly dishonest tactics, and so on.

And, Blue team and Red (and Green) team, I mean both of you!

It would also provide Malcolm Turnbull with one last legitimate forum from which to advance his own case in support of carbon pricing and emissions trading.

Abbott has said that should a plebiscite proceed, and the result show a “yes” vote for carbon tax, he would ignore that result if he wins government at or prior to the next election, and rescind the tax as promised.

Whilst I am flatly opposed to the idea of taxing carbon or any other euphemism for emissions trading schemes, I think it only right that any vote staged with the express purpose of gauging the public mood on a given issue, especially given the public expenditure required to hold such a vote, should be regarded as the generator of indication of the will of the people — and that such an indicator ought be heeded.

To do otherwise would be extremely poor form, and either leader who went down that track would likely be crucified for it.

Similarly, Julia Gillard has (predictably) dismissed the idea as a stunt, making the (normally reasonable) point that governments are elected to govern and make decisions, not to run off conducting taxpayer-funded opinion polling on a large scale prior to acting.

Ordinarily I would agree wholeheartedly with Ms Gillard on this point. The fact, however, is that this is no ordinary issue and no ordinary circumstance:

  • This government was not “elected” — its majority was cobbled together after an inconclusive election in which there was no winner;
  • Ms Gillard’s pitch for re-election was based squarely, among other considerations, on a promise not to introduce a tax on carbon;
  • Her concession on this issue to garner parliamentary support from the Greens does not alter that fundamental reality in any way, shape or form;
  • The issue of taxing carbon has become a quagmire of claim and counter-claim, of distrust and misinformation, and of vituperation and abuse of different shades of opinion whilst achieving absolutely no outcome in either direction; and
  • Something needs to give — I mentioned a “circuit-breaker” on the issue of carbon tax in my post last night. As things stand, the issue is paralysing the political process in this country, along with a swathe of other issues Labor seems unable or unwilling to bring to any meaningful conclusion.

The commonwealth parliament is able to legitimately bring about a plebiscite following the approval of a motion to do so by both Houses of parliament; such a vote does not mandate compulsory voting, and its result would not be binding on the government of the day to enact.

(As an aside, it would also be an interesting spectacle as a de facto trial of voluntary voting, but that’s another matter altogether).

Ms Gillard, I suspect, does not want the vote to be held as she knows the anecdotally probable result, i.e. that voters will say “no” to a carbon tax by a wide margin.

Yet such an outcome offers an even more expedient solution to her problem than simply deferring the policy until an election: it would allow her to legitimately, and once and for all, drop her slavish adherence to a policy that is pure electoral and political poison, and which has already strewn carcasses on both the left and the right of the spectrum across the political landscape.

Such a result would neuter any retaliation whatsoever from the Greens, who would for once be shown to be as inarguably and diabolically out of step with community sentiment as they really are.

Yet, if Ms Gillard’s arguments and her putative policy are sound, why wouldn’t she view a plebiscite as an opportunity to prosecute her case?

As someone who would vote “no” at 8.01am the day the vote was held, I can see the political risk to Abbott and the Coalition involved: were Gillard to secure a yes vote, it would effectively kill the carbon tax as an election issue favouring the Liberal Party, and fill the federal ALP’s sails with a momentum that would be very difficult to quell — even notwithstanding the litany of other disasters of governance over which Labor has presided.

Even so, and on balance, I think the plebiscite is an excellent idea. Should parliament set such a vote in train, both sides should treat it as an opportunity, and proceed accordingly.

Everyone Must Row With The Oars They Have…

…it’s an ancient old proverb, but so true; and very applicable to our Prime Minister as things stand.

For once, I’m not going to bag the ALP or hang shit on Gillard. Rather, a quick summary of what she’s into and a short-step bit of advice as to how to get out of it.

For what it’s worth.

We know the numbers from Newspoll are terrible, and we’ve been talking about them on this blog. The Neilsen numbers on Friday, which were far worse, confirm the Newspoll numbers and if anything, validate how bad things are for this government and this Prime Minister.

59-41 on the two-party vote, replicated at an election, equals Labor with 35 of 150 House of Representatives seats and at least three terms away from regaining goverment.

I don’t think their situation is as dire as that, but it is dire.

But it’s also a very fair assessment to say that as things stand, Gillard and the ALP are dead in the water. Under siege from Tony Abbott, the Greens, the mining industry, Kevin Rudd, taxpayers, voters, some voices in the union movement and some rumoured intending mutineers on the government benches…it’s clear Gillard has problems.

Rather than spell the problems out — again, in the case of most of them — I actually thought it might be a good idea to offer a road map, with some rationale, as to how the ALP and Gillard might get out of the hole they have dug for themselves.

Defer the Carbon Tax. That’s right — swallow the words and defer it. They should say they’ve listened, and considered what they’ve heard, and decided that the Carbon Tax will be an ALP policy put to the electorate at (what they intend will be) the August 2013 election.

This will allow them to

  • Actually develop the details of the proposal and more firmly establish the merits of them (if there are any) with a view to actively seeking voter endorsement.
  • Provide  a circuit-breaker in the context of the current debate over carbon pricing and buy room to constructively put the case and in a more advantageous context than the ill-fated announcement which has resulted in substantial charges that Gillard lied to the electorate.
  • Emulate what John Howard did with GST — he ruled it out before the 1996 election, but made the 1998 election a referendum on a policy he deeply believed was crucial to the reform of the country’s financial arrangements. If Labor and Gillard feel as deeply about their carbon tax, they should similarly allow the vote.
  • Allow the Australian public to vote on the proposal from an informed point of view, as opposed to the current position — the electorate has been shanghaied into something they were promised ten months ago would not occur.

Talk to Paul Keating. Seriously. Far be it for me to revel in the idea of the ALP getting its act together, but within their own ranks Keating was a genius as a tactician and so were people around him. Forget the insiderish apparatchiks; forget the imbeciles who’ve made a career choice to run ministerial offices; forget certain lobbyists and strategists and so-called think-tanks; go and seek counsel from people who, politically, really knew what the hell they were doing.

Apologise to people. Again, really. Tell them you know you’ve let them down; politicians are human. Peter Beattie used to make an artform of this sort of thing (“I’m sorry, it’s my fault, I’ll fix it”). John Howard did something similar in mid-2001, when it appeared he was sliding towards defeat, but instead added six years (or two terms) to the tenure of the Liberal Party in government.

Widen the agenda. Today, all Joe Public hears about is carbon pricing, the NBN, various ineffectual schemes for stopping boatloads of illegal asylum seekers from arriving, and lots of new taxes. It isn’t even the sort of “social agenda” Labor used to pride itself on — it’s doggerel and people can see it as such.

Look at what people really care about. Right now, that’s cost of living pressures, housing affordability, job security, and — like it or not — people coming into Australia through illegal boat arrivals. The ALP probably doesn’t like these realities, interfering with “the program” as they might, but the fact is that hundreds of thousands of votes are on their way into the blue corner if they don’t start looking at these things.

The price of petrol is a good example — oil today is well below its cost in late 2008 before the GFC struck; the Australian dollar is nearly 15% higher than it was at the same point in the cycle in 2008. Yet petrol prices are comparable. Perhaps the ACCC needs more teeth. But it’s clear that in this area Australians are being ripped off at the bowser.

It’s just one example among many. The ALP can do its own research on others.

My point is that by swallowing a bit of humble pie, talking to people like people as opposed to focus group junkies, being a bit human and a lot more realistic, even Gillard might find her way out of the effluent billabong she is sailing through without a paddle.

Even if all this were to occur, there is one other leap of faith federal Labor must take.

Sack Kevin Rudd.

The political and policy settings might yet be saved (unless people generally really have switched off — we suspect this is true but it isn’t yet proven) but the leadership speculation will continue for as long as Kevin Rudd remains in the ministry.

This is the big risk, and the one to be left until the end of any resurrection project; if there has been some political benefit from the rest of the resurrection agenda then the ALP might feel emboldened enough to do it.

As long as Rudd remains in the ministry, backgrounding journalists and foreign officials, and whipping the handful of loyalists he retains into a subterranean guerilla fury, Gillard will forever be haunted by the spectre of “Kev’s Comeback.”

In truth, Kevin Rudd is an embarrassment to Australia — running incessantly around the world, lecturing people with an inconsistent message determined at point-of-sale by consideration only of what might garner votes for the job at the UN he desperately craves.

He made a fool of Australia as Prime Minister and continues to do so as Foreign minister.

Sacking Rudd would take some balls, I’ll grant you; not least as it would lead to a by-election the ALP would almost certainly lose.

But if Gillard is fair-dinkum about survival, then the little road map outlined here might just be the ticket. If it is, you have to take a risk sometime.

In Gillard’s and Labor’s case, if nothing changes, they are going to be smashed brainless electorally, and much sooner than they think.

Everyone must row with the oars they have…

Does Gillard have the guile to try?

And would the cancerous strategy/intelligence network around her — for want of any other more suitable descriptive (read, they’re a waste of time and money) — even let her try?

As a conservative I crave the Labor Party’s defeat, but from a perspective of hard political judgement I simply can’t see how allegedly smart people have even let this situation occur in the first place.

These are my thoughts. What do you think?

An Early Federal Election? Some Logistical Considerations

It seems prudent to at least consider the possibility that there will be an early federal election, given the minority status of the Gillard government, the appetite among Liberal and National MPs (and among the voting public, if the polls, newspaper opinion columns and talkback radio calls are to be believed) for an election, and the apparently volatile numbers mix among the independents who sit in the House of Representatives.

Early this year I privately raised a scenario with a few of the political people I know: in the last 40 years, half-Senate elections have been alien to the voting public (the last being in 1973). House and either half-Senate or full-Senate elections have been held concurrently (which has sometimes necessitated early elections to keep the Houses in sync, in 1977 and in 1984).

Despite last year’s election, there was a window — now closed — for an early House of Representatives election only, that would not throw synchronisation with the Senate out of kilter. Such an election would have needed to be called on or about the second Tuesday in May, with a polling date in mid-June, which would have allowed for the necessary returns to be completed by June 30 — with the Senators elected last year taking their seats on 1 July. Both Houses would thus have three years to run.

That easy option — had the Coalition been able to force it, or had the independents withdrawn support from the government — is now closed.

But should Tony Abbott be called on to form a government, realistically, what would people expect him to do?

I believe, as do other commentators and political figures on both sides of the fence, that a collapse of this government within six to twelve months is a high-order possibility. Indeed, I think it almost probable. And probably before Christmas.

If we take the longer-term view however — that Gillard lasts the best part of another year — that will leave one year on her term but, more importantly, two years on the terms of the recently-elected Senators.

And if the government collapses on that timeframe — and Tony Abbott is commissioned to form a government — I’m certain the first thing he would do is to advise an election for the House of Representatives.

The argument to sell such a move would be fairly clear: the election would happen at some point within twelve months anyway, so let’s get it out of the way and get some certainty. The sticking point would be how long a re-elected Abbott government, in this scenario, would serve.

If the case were made openly and the constitutional reasons explained carefully, clearly and in simple terms, I think people would accept they were electing a government for two years rather than three so as to avoid the duplicate costs of separate House and Senate elections.

At the minimum, they would have to wait a year less than usual to pass judgement on such a government — perhaps a welcome scenario given, as things stand, there could be two years to go to vote out a government that a majority seem fed up with after one year following an election.

But what if the logistics were the other way around?

Say someone in a marginal ALP seat were to die or walk away from parliament in disgust (no, I’m not speculating as to individual seats or states 🙂 ) and Labor were to lose the resultant by-election.

The numbers in the House would then be tied 75-all, assuming the Independents held to their current favour. We’ll assume they would, and that the numbers are indeed tied.

Gillard has two choices: call an election (regardless of whether the polls remain as horrific as they do today) or resign and allow Abbott to attempt to govern.

In other words, stay and fight, or run. The ALP is not a cowardly beast. Gillard would call the election and fight.

I’d still think Abbott would win, but it’d be a much more colourful encounter. And the result would be far more unpredictable.

Of course, there could end up being an old-fashioned situation of double dissolution triggers being accrued followed by a censure or no-confidence vote in the Gillard government. That could happen at any time in the next 18 months, and in that eventuality a double dissolution to break the deadlock of a clearly unworkable parliament would be an odds-on certainty.

In that scenario I would expect the Liberals to win a landslide in the lower House, but with the reduced quotas that apply in the Senate in a double dissolution it could — as Reg Withers famously said in 1975 — be a bloody lottery. Anyone could end up in control of the Senate. And given, in such a scenario, it would likely be the Greens, God alone knows what would happen in the three years that would ensue.

POSTSCRIPT (23/6): The time remaining on Senators’ terms relates to those elected in 2007, not last year. I wasn’t smoking anything other than cigarettes when I wrote this article! Must have been a brain-fade…