Some Final Thoughts — For Now — On The Qantas Dispute

Armed with the day off and the curiosity of a cat, I drove out to Melbourne Airport this afternoon to watch Qantas’ return to the skies, starting with a flight to Sydney — QF438, operated by Boeing 737-800 VH-VXI — which took off a little after 4pm.

Clearly the issues affecting Qantas in its dispute are far from finalised; indeed, there’s life in this story yet. But it seems that with the return to service of the Qantas mainline operation today, at least one chapter in the book draws to a close.

And of course — given The Red And The Blue is primarily concerned with Australian politics, it’s reasonable to assume other issues will present for discussion, although I will certainly be continuing to follow developments at Qantas and discussing these as indicated.

It’s with some apprehension and disappointment that I heard today that the TWU is considering appealing the decision to terminate all industrial action handed down by Fair Work Australia in the small hours of yesterday morning in Melbourne.

Such a move would hardly be made in good faith; whilst I loathe the idea of government intervention in industrial disputes (and said so here on Saturday) this is an exceptional case.

The intervention was warranted (however hamfistedly it was made) and the resulting process should be approached in good faith by all parties — including the TWU.

Grounding the Qantas fleet, quite obviously, was a measure undertaken to engineer (no pun intended) a resolution of the conflict with the three unions involved in this dispute.

I would have thought those unions would have welcomed the opportunity to finally, and belatedly, put these matters to bed.

But it seems the TWU at least isn’t happy that its ability to lead Qantas on a merry dance (and cause all sorts of disruptions in the process) has met with an abrupt end.

It seems the concepts of finally agreeing to a resolution, or of having an independent industrial umpire impose one, are not that union’s cup of tea.

Which is probably not much of a surprise when it is remembered that 20 years ago, the TWU played a pivotal role in the crippling tram strike in Melbourne that, quite literally, brought the city to a standstill, and which at the time was held up by anti-unionists across the country as a festering, rancid example of everything that was wrong with trade unions in Australia.

I don’t propose to go through the minutiae of the ruling by Fair Work Australia, although I gather there is a spirited debate going on between some of my readers in the “Comments” section of the previous articles I’ve posted regarding this issue.

But I do want, briefly, to talk about the Commission’s point that the industrial action undertaken by the unions, on its own, would have been unlikely to have been grounds for Qantas to obtain termination of those actions on “national interest” grounds.

Clearly, the planes had to be grounded for that to happen.

But virtually nobody involved in this dispute — including most of the union players — denies that Qantas has been losing money as a result of the protracted saga that has been played out.

One of the reasons I’ve been so quick to point the finger at the unions involved as ultimately responsible for the entire fracas is that they seem to think Qantas is a bottomless, endless pit of money.

I have also been emphatic that the pay rise given to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce on Friday was sheer stupidity in the context of everything else that has been going on.

The industrial action that has been undertaken against Qantas over the past nine months has cost it money; its international operation lost some $200 million last financial year; and a hefty portion of its fleet is in urgent and desperate need of replacement at a cost of some $10-$12 billion over the next five years.

Viewed that way, the pre-tax profit Qantas made overall last financial year of $500 million doesn’t look like a mountain of money given the capital expenses and structural problems the airline faces.

It underlines the lunacy of the Joyce pay rise.

And it means there is a limit to what the unions can “get.”

Were Qantas to go broke and follow Ansett into history, there would be no boss to screw, no pay rise to manipulate, no passengers to hold to ransom, no job security for rather obvious reasons, and no airline.

It’s true that Qantas has flagged possible retrenchment of up to 1,000 jobs in its coming restructure.

But the airline must change if it is to survive, and that change, inevitably, will hurt some people. But the overwhelming majority of its operations and staff will remain Australian-based, and whilst nobody likes job losses or firing people (and at times along the journey, in different roles, I’ve both lost my job and had to fire staff in the past), even if 1,000 jobs are lost, 34,000 Qantas jobs will continue.

I’m highly critical of the federal government’s handling of this matter: faced with Qantas’ high-stakes move in the dispute to ground the fleet, its own Fair Work Act equipped it with the power to circumvent the stoppage and issue a ministerial directive terminating all action on both sides and ordering the involved parties to conciliation and — if necessary — arbitration.

Instead, it acted under a different section of the Act, which meant the grounding — and the consequent chaos suffered by passengers around the world — ensued.

Having kicked that colossal own goal, it’s completely unacceptable for Julia Gillard and her ministers to now blame Qantas for causing the disruption in the first place; not least because the same outcome — conciliation and arbitration — has been reached, only with a lot more heartache in the process.

Once again, the incompetence of the federal Labor government has been writ large for all to see; this time, on this issue, it couldn’t even use its own laws properly; and this time, there’s not a Green or an Independent in sight onto whom responsibility can (or ought) be dumped.

And Qantas — a large Australian company and employer of 35,000 people — has endured the industrial mischief of some of its unions for the past nine months and took what it saw as the only measure open to it to resolve matters once and for all.

My hope now is that the four parties involved — Qantas and the three unions involved in the stoush — will recognise that a line needs to be drawn, and that they enter the conciliation process in the next few weeks in good faith and strike what should be a relatively straightforward deal in which everyone gets some of what they want, but nobody gets everything, and in which all parties have to give a little ground to make the whole damned thing go away.

On a final note, during the few hours I was at Tullamarine Airport this afternoon, I left the passenger terminal to have a cigarette; there were two Qantas workers there smoking also who belong to one of the unions involved in the dispute.

Eavesdropping (as you do when people standing right next to you don’t care who hears what they say) I ascertained that their view — and presumably those of their colleagues — was that given Alan Joyce had the termination order he sought, their union bosses would cave in to Qantas management (and sell everyone out).

Is it any wonder each side in the dispute has so little faith in the other, if that’s the way the union workers feel about their own union bosses, let alone about Qantas…

As I said, we’ll follow this and discuss it further as need be.

Keep the comments and opinions coming; and for the (vast, vast) majority of you who haven’t commented, please be assured that posting comments under a pseudonym will keep your privacy — and anonymity — intact.

Qantas Dispute: Now We Wait

Pursuant to my post last night, both the Gillard Government and Qantas have made application to Fair Work Australia for a termination of all industrial action in the matter of Qantas’ dispute with three of its unions.

The unions, in turn, have sought a suspension — “most likely” according to reports close to the proceedings until just after Christmas.

I’ve monitored coverage of this issue in the last 24 hours extremely closely; opinion in the mainstream media seems divided fairly evenly between favouring the union position or the Qantas position, as is reaction from directly affected people at airports around the world.

We’ll come back to that.

Fair Work Australia, having sat late into the night last night, resumed its hearings in this matter at 2pm AEDT today (3am GMT) and we wait with breath that is bated for a decision.

In the meantime, there are a few issues I want to address.

  • The Gillard government didn’t even use the right clause of its own Act in its application to Fair Work Australia; it has come to light today that a Ministerial Declaration terminating the action could have been issued; instead, the Government application was made under a different clause that allowed up to five days for a determination to be made. Given its desired outcome and the economic consequences of the alternative, the incompetence of the government — yet again — is on clear display.
  • Qantas management has stated today that the shutdown in operations is designed to bring the dispute with its unions to a head. I’m inclined to sympathise; the rolling strikes and industrial stoppages — some bordering on wildcat action — have been going on for months, and to continue is clearly in the interests of nobody associated with the issue.
  • TWU head Tony Sheldon appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 programme tonight, with the laughably misleading (but factually correct) claim that the campaign of the unions has thus far resulted in eight days of stoppages. That’s technically true, but many times in recent months, the unions have cancelled other scheduled industrial action at the last minute, after contingency plans (and flight cancellations) were already set in motion. Mr Sheldon, your eight days in effect better resembles two weeks.
  • Much has been made today of the pay rise Qantas CEO Alan Joyce received at Friday’s shareholders’ meeting, and quite rightly so. In my view, as I intimated last night, it was an act of corporate idiocy to announce that one day and to ground the airline the next. But that doesn’t alter every other aspect of this dispute, which boils down to union greed and industrial bastardry.
  • And, last, much has been made of the grounding of the Qantas fleet being a “premeditated act.” Well…Qantas says it had advice that a lockout was an option open to it, and to action it would never have been a decision made in five minutes flat. It would have been canvassed with Qantas’ economists, industry analysts, lobbyists and PR people at the minimum. If Qantas took ten days as some reports suggest to arrive at a decision to ground its fleet, then as far as I’m concerned Qantas has treated the matter with great care and diligence.

Returning to the experiences of directly affected travellers, it’s understandable their feedback is as varied as has been played out in today’s media coverage.

Some say they have been well looked after by Qantas, and some are scathing; some are philosophical whilst others are angry and/or upset.

My view is that Qantas probably took the best of a small number of equally unpalatable options by grounding its fleet.

This has already dragged on for months (and already disrupted tens of thousands of booked-and-paid airline travellers).

There was no guarantee, and no prospect, of any meaningful resolution other than Qantas management caving into union demands.

For reasons we have previously discussed on this site, caving in was no option.

A few days’ disruption now, rather than another year of industrial espionage by the unions (and a question mark growing over the viability of the airline), however unpleasant or inconvenient, would seem the best choice from a bad hand of options.

OK, it wreaks havoc on the Spring Racing Carnival here in Melbourne, but is there ever a good time to do these things?

Last month it was school holidays. Next month it’ll be nearing school holidays again, and Christmas, and New Year…

…and if the unions’ application for a suspension of action rather than a termination were to succeed, there’s no guarantee this crap wouldn’t simply resurface around Easter and Anzac Day.

Interestingly, I saw Dave Oliver — National Secretary of the AMWU, a union not involved in the dispute at Qantas — at the Fair Work Australia hearings, in media coverage of the dispute today across multiple media outlets.

I’ve met Dave and I think he’s a pretty good bloke, but in this case I’d wonder if the presence of such a senior AMWU figure — in a dispute the AMWU has nothing to do with in a direct sense — is indicative of a more co-ordinated union campaign against large employers in Australia, with Qantas being the bunny and the guinea pig.

It would certainly lend weight to my observation in last night’s post that “someone” was bound to try it on, under the Fair Work Australia regime, and that (surprisingly) it was the aviation unions who got in first.

The Qantas dispute involves the TWU, the AIPA, and the ALAEA…if anyone can see the AMWU in this list, please let me know so I can make an appointment at the optometrist.

But for now…we wait. I’d held off posting tonight because there were indications Fair Work Australia might have handed down a decision prior to this, but at 11.50pm (AEDT) I think it’s time to say we’re going to have to wait until tomorrow.

Keep your comments coming (and use the blog site if you can…no emails…let’s keep the discussion in one place).

The Qantas Issue: Something Has To Happen. Now!

I never — never — thought I would see the day that I’d advocate government intervention in an industrial dispute. But it’s here; the Gillard government must sort out the mess at Qantas, and quickly. The government needs to sort out the mess its own dumb laws created.

News this afternoon that Qantas is grounding its entire fleet in the face of the industrial action it is confronted with means that one of three things now happens: the unions back down, the government orders them back to work, or Qantas goes out of business.

Qantas management is unlikely to back down, and nor should it; the demands it faces from its unions are ridiculous.

Clearly, the time for screwing around and causing trouble for the sake of it is over.

But a finger needs to be pointed at the ALP and the current federal government which, ultimately, is responsible for the mess by creating the circumstances in which this could occur in the first place.

The Rudd/Gillard government, as we all know, came to power in 2007 with little real mandate (aside from slogans like “Education Revolution”) other than to undo the WorkChoices legislation enacted by the Howard government.

But rather than simply repeal those amendments to the Workplace Relations Act, it went further, and created the most pro-union legislative environment in nearly thirty years.

And that environment has come back to bite — at least insofar as the dispute at Qantas is concerned.

It was only a matter of time before someone in the union movement tried it on, and — a little surprisingly — it’s been the aviation unions.

Between the raft of protected strike action provisions conveniently afforded by the Fair Work Act, and its general allowance of a return to pattern bargaining, unions are holding Qantas to ransom by simply refusing to budge an inch on their stated — and generally unreasonable — demands.

Those demands include pay rises of 15% over three years; well above inflation, and on top of the already-generous pay conditions they enjoy compared to engineering staff at other airlines.

Compared to engineering staff at Virgin Blue for that matter, too, with which the very same unions made a deal that saw their members earn considerably less than their brethren over at Qantas.

Those demands include conditions for contractors being made the same as those of their members who are employees of the airline, and that includes guarantees of job security — something which, by their very nature, a contractor can’t be given.

And those demands include guarantees of job security generally for union members who are employees of Qantas well beyond what is reasonable to expect any employer to provide; not least in light of the restructuring that is to commence at Qantas and the changes to its labour requirements such a restructure will necessitate.

The unions also say their campaign is designed to ensure Qantas remains a fully Australian-based airline and that they will “fight” moves to relocate operations and/or jobs to bases in Asian countries.

Never mind that management runs Qantas — not the unions some of its staff belong to.

Now that Qantas management is parking its planes on tarmacs around the world, let’s look at what is at stake and what the lie of the land really is.

Qantas International is already running at a heavy loss; the figure (depending on the source) is between $150 million and $220 million each year.

Yes, the other arms of the business are holding the overall entity in profit; last financial year the Qantas Group posted nett profit of some $550 million. But any business with a division haemorrhaging $200 million-odd per year has a serious underlying problem that requires urgent redress before it infects and drags down the remainder of the company.

The aviation industry is one of the most sensitive in the world to shocks on the cost side; terrorism, economic downturn, rises in the price of oil, plane crashes, government policies and taxes, and supply issues generally are all items on a much longer list of factors that can destroy airline businesses and send them into history.

Qantas has thus far made one major, major strategic blunder in its fight with its unions: the rather large pay rise its board endorsed yesterday for Chief Executive Officer Alan Joyce.

Not a good look, not smart timing, and damned silly tactically.

Still, the airline has lost $68 million so far from the present protracted industrial dispute, a figure widely accepted by economists, industry analysts, and aviation industry journalists.

It probably wasn’t smart for the unions, yesterday, to assert that this $68 million had been spent “on advertising.”

Indeed, it was probably the final wave of the red flag at the bull.

The 15% pay rise claim over three years mightn’t be so obscene if it weren’t for the fact that many of the engineering staff in question are already paid several times the average weekly wage of about $60,000 per year; factor in that the claim is for double the inflation rate, pressures in the aviation industry generally and problems in segments of the Qantas business specifically, and it’s outrageous.

One of the things Qantas management has said in the course of this dispute is that its engineers want to hold jobs and to be paid for maintenance work that no longer exists.

A process which has already — and belatedly — started is the retirement of Boeing 747-400s, Boeing 767-300s and older Boeing 737-400s from the Qantas fleet.

These planes represent half of the 200-odd units in the Qantas fleet, and those retiring planes have an average age of 20 years.

They are being replaced with brand new Airbus A380s, Boeing 737-800s, and the soon-to-be-introduced Boeing 787 Dreamliner — all of which will require little heavy maintenance for 6-9 years.

That’s the market law of supply and demand; if Qantas doesn’t need to maintain the workforce it has because fleet renewal makes positions redundant, it has no obligation to keep staff on its books just to be nice.

On the other side of the coin, the skills these engineering people have are not only prized, but sought around the world; indeed, given the exponential growth in the aviation industry expected in the next 20 years — not least in the Asia-Pacific region — those portable skills offer licensed engineers and other engineering professionals the opportunity to work across the world.

Not, perhaps, in Australia, at least not in the immediate future; and not, indeed, in a regime where they can regularly tell their boss — to put it indelicately — to bend over.

They wouldn’t get away with it in Dubai or Singapore, for example.

And any industrial claim to put contractors on the same level of entitlements as permanent, long-term employees is so offensive (and abusive of process) that it doesn’t warrant or merit response.

Any airline business operating today needs to find cost savings; it’s the nature of the industry, the world over.

It’s why half the airlines in the US are in government bankruptcy protection; it’s why, for example, airlines in the UK (one of which Alan Joyce once ran) are looking at things like charging for use of toilets, or silly ideas like flying twice as many people standing up to maximise flight yields.

None of this has even been hinted at in Australia.

But if the price of maintaining Qantas as the Spirit of Australia (or, indeed, the living spirit of anything) involves some operations in Asian countries, then that’s better than the alternative.

Indeed, former CASA head Dick Smith — who ought to know about these things — was broadcast on Melbourne radio today, saying that if the current industrial action against Qantas doesn’t stop, the airline will either go broke or become a purely domestic carrier.

Just think about that…if Qantas goes broke, 40,000 people instantly lose their jobs; and air travel in Australia becomes something you save up for over a period of months or years like it was 15-20 years ago.

I can remember saving for six months for my first airfare from Brisbane to Melbourne as an 18-year-old in 1990…some people couldn’t even afford to do that.

This dispute is already affecting hundreds of thousands of travellers; it is placing tourism-based businesses under great strain; it is diluting what inbound international traffic is still coming here despite the high dollar and economic problems abroad; and it is impacting businesses across the country who require access to reliable air travel at short notice in the daily course of their operations.

And were the end result simply to be that Qantas became a purely domestic operation, every foreign carrier would look at us here, and say to anyone wanting to fly much further than Auckland or Bali — again — to bend over. The price of flights would rocket.

The economic damage to Australia of a partial or full collapse of Qantas would be horrific.

This isn’t Ansett, where a poorly run (and much smaller) parent company presided over a subsidiary in which management standards were abysmal and aircraft maintenance, service bulletins and compulsory fleet inspections were routinely and systematically ignored.

No, this is a business being held to ransom by a militant, unionised minority, endangering the whole business in the process, and potentially inflicting incalculable economic damage on Australia generally if it all goes pear-shaped.

It’s well-known that as a rule I’m generally contemptuous of unions, largely as a result of the type of thuggery and bastardry we’re seeing played out here.

But from a philosophical point of view I think workers are entitled to this type of representation if they want it — provided the organisations offering that representation don’t abuse it.

And they are here.

Completing the circle, Julia Gillard and her government need to intervene in this immediately.

It is ALP-sponsored law that has emboldened the unions down this path, and it is now incumbent on the government to shut this down.

It goes against every fibre of my being to advocate a government intervention, but in this case the government is as much at fault as the unions trying to put Qantas over a barrel are.

Neither side is perfect, but on a “points decision” or balance of probabilities or whatever euphemism you like, Qantas is right and the unions are wrong.

Now it’s grounded.

The longer it stays on the ground, the more it will cost the economy generally; and if this isn’t cleared up quickly — and once and for all — there’s a real danger of vast and permanent damage not just to the Australian economy, but to international confidence in Australia.

And that’s a hell of a price to pay for union thugs trying to hang “the boss” out to dry.

Shut it down, Julia.

This is a chance for the Prime Minister to deliver something other than rhetoric, or policies people despise and never voted for.

It’s time for the Labor Party to put the labour movement in its place. For the national good.

And for God’s sake, be quick about it…

Constitutionally Possible: Getting Rid Of The Carbon Tax Without An Election

If the Gillard Government’s so-called “clean energy bills” pass the Senate, and if the Prime Minister refuses to call an election before the resulting carbon tax is implemented next year, is the hoodwinked Australian public bound to cop the fruits of an election lie? Not necessarily…

First, a disclaimer: I’m indebted to Tom Elliott, who is standing in for Derryn Hinch as 3AW Drive host, for the bones of this article; he pointed out on his program this afternoon that sections 58 and 59 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act — the Constitution, in short — still provide for the Queen to disallow any bill passed by both Houses of the Australian Parliament.

I’ve done a little digging around in the hours since Elliott led his program with this; not only is this true, but those sections of the Constitution are unencumbered.

And this got me thinking about our system of government within a Constitutional Monarchy, recourse open to our citizens within that system, and attempts to bastardise it by the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments — whilst keeping sight of the arguments of the republican movement from the corner of my eye.

It’s an irony, but no coincidence, that this subject presents on the day Her Majesty has been in Melbourne. Apparently a small band of noisy protesters attended one of the public gatherings with placards reading “Welcome, your Majesty, please dissolve parliament” and “Carbon tax corruption.”

Elliott joined the dots and dug out the relevant sections of the Constitution, and I thank him for that.

However, I’d like to go further.

Before I do, and so readers can see what I’m on about, here are the relevant sections 58 and 59 in full:

S58. When a proposed law passed by both Houses of the Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the Queen’s assent, (s)he shall declare, according to his/her discretion, but subject to this Constitution, that (s)he assents in the Queen’s name, or that (s)he withholds assent, or that (s)he reserves the law for the Queen’s pleasure. The Governor-General may return to the house in which it originated any proposed law so presented to him/her, and may transmit therewith any amendments which (s)he may recommend, and the Houses may deal with the recommendation.

S59. The Queen may disallow any law within one year from the Governor-General’s assent, and such disallowance on being made known by the Governor-General by speech or message to each of the Houses of the Parliament, or by Proclamation, shall annul the law from the day when the disallowance is so made known.

There are reasons — good reasons — why Australia’s founding fathers embedded so many checks and balances into the Constitution; succinctly put, one of these was to ensure that power in Australia was decentralised, and to ensure that each tier and institution in our structure of governance was accountable to another.

With the Monarch — in this case, the Queen — at the top of the structure.

The merits or otherwise of republican argument are utterly irrelevant to the discussion I’m putting on the table; as it stands, today, the present Constitution represents and underpins the laws of the land.

Mind you, I’m partially surprised to find these sections of the Constitution intact and unchanged; only partially though, which reflects the nigh-impossibility of enacting constitutional change by referendum — the only way that august document may be altered.

My surprise derives from remembering — before thinking the matter through fully — that previous ALP governments have already abolished the right of appeal to the Privy Council; passed the Australia Acts; abandoned knighthoods as part of the national honours; and removed many references to the Monarchy from government and institutional life. Just to name a few that spring to mind.

Yet at the end of the day, we remain a Constitutional Monarchy; the Constitution retains powers for the Queen or her representative to act; and some carbon tax protesters appear to have made the link.

And I think that power in the Constitution should be used in appropriate circumstances.

How could this mechanism be used to overturn the so-called “clean energy bills” once the Senate passes them?

To me it’s a question of making use of the provisions of the Constitution, an exercise in direct democracy, and a challenge for Tony Abbott to utilise his leadership of the Liberal Party to galvanise public opposition to these measures in a tangible and practical fashion.

In Britain, the current Conservative government has introduced a mechanism by which any petition bearing 100,000 signatures from registered voters (whose bona fides are validated against the electoral roll) automatically triggers a vote in Parliament on whether the issue in question ought be put to a referendum.

This happened just this week — 100,000 people signed a petition calling for the UK to leave the EU (something I endorse, but that’s another matter).

The government took the petition and instructed its MPs to vote against it to the man; it was duly voted down, but only after 30% of David Cameron’s MPs crossed the floor of Parliament to vote in support for the referendum.

I think that on the issue of carbon tax, a petition needs to be made, in the first instance, of the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, in her titular role as Head of State and Vice-Regal representative of the Crown.

There’s no point petitioning the Prime Minister, who’s beholden to the lie by her commie mates; nor is there any point in petitioning the Speaker (a member of the ALP) or the Clerk of the Parliament (a public servant).

There are 14,000,000 enrolled voters in Australia; of these, half cast a vote — after preferences — for the Liberal and National parties at last year’s election.

In the 15 months since, their ranks have swollen by as many as another 1.2 million, largely on the back of Julia Gillard’s broken promise on refusing to introduce a carbon tax.

Now, if 100,000 can sign a petition in the UK on an issue of governance, 100,000 signatures in Australia carries three times the weight — our population is 22 million; the population of the UK is 63 million.

But given the depth and intensity of community anger over this issue, the gathering of 100,000 signatures should be child’s play; indeed, I’d be unsurprised if there aren’t hundreds of thousands of people who would sign a petition for the G-G to intervene.

Let’s say half a million signatures are gathered…it’d be the biggest opinion poll ever conducted in Australia outside an election.

The petition would be presented to the Governor-General, who (in the proper execution of her duties) would declare a conflict of interest (her son-in-law, Bill Shorten, is a minister in the Gillard government and thus bound by government policy).

The appropriate course of action in such circumstances would be to send the petition “upstairs” for the Queen to consider.

At this point, the Monarch would be the arbiter. However, such a course of action would likely involve representation from both sides of Australian politics, and with advisors and equerries at Court to minimise the direct involvement of the Queen personally as far as possible.

Does this sound far-fetched?

Well, the Constitution confers the authority on the Queen; clearly, given her family relationships, the Governor-General would be compromised in ruling on such an issue.

In 1975 — when “Labor Man” Sir John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government to resolve a political deadlock (without consulting the Queen) — “experts” said that convention dictated he could do nothing of the kind; the law won the day, the deadlock was broken, Australia had an election, and Whitlam was swept into the dustbin of history.

I reiterate: the Constitution provides for the Queen to break the deadlock. Just as the “reserve powers” in the Constitution had never been used or explored prior to their employment in 1975, sections 58 and 59 need to be employed now.

This could take the form of a national campaign orchestrated by the Coalition and funded by its donors; backed by a significant media campaign (remembering trade unions threw $13 million at John Howard’s WorkChoices legislation) it could provide a singular focus point for Tony Abbott’s leadership of the Liberal Party — especially considering the fact that once the laws are passed, they’re likely to be forgotten for a while until the tax itself materialises.

This government lied to the people of Australia; its Prime Minister said — unambiguously — that “there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead” and then proceeded to introduce one.

It’s completely irrelevant as to whether it was an outright lie, or one told in the process of selling out to the Communist Party Greens, but the fact is that Australians were duped.

It’s made much, much worse by the Labor Party and the Greens already saying they will refuse to recognise any mandate obtained from the people by the Liberals and Nationals at an election to rescind the tax, and will vote any attempt to do so down in the Senate if they collectively retain the numbers to do so.

The Parliament should not be above the people; it should be answerable to them.

This is a special case; it’s been many years since such a flagrant lie was foisted on people, only for them to be told after the event that they would never be able to avail themselves of redress.

People want an election. The clamour for a fresh vote is virtually unprecedented in my own 39-year lifetime. If the government won’t give the people a say, then an appeal to another arbiter — any legal arbiter — must be made.

It turns out that the Constitution provides one.

The law is the law, and the Constitution the ultimate expression of it in Australia.

And if our system of government allows it, then it should be utilised.

God Save The Queen!

The Effluent Billabong: Last Stop For Oakeshott And Windsor

A Newspoll published in today’s issue of The Australian seems to confirm what everyone else already knows — that Independent federal MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are riding on a one-way ticket to nowhere.

Newspoll shows primary vote support for the pair has virtually halved since last year’s election: Windsor’s falling from 62% to 33%; Oakeshott’s from 47% to 26%.

Unsurprisingly, were Newspoll’s findings replicated at a fresh election, both would lose to National Party candidates — in a landslide.

Newspoll has specifically asked respondents how they would allocate preferences in the two seats; in both districts, people indicated they would preference away from the Independents, which would see Windsor lose 47-53 in New England to the Nationals, and Oakeshott by a whopping 38-62 in Lyne, after preferences.

If preferences were distributed as they had been at last year’s election Oakeshott would be gone in any case, whilst Windsor would quite literally be 50-50 and line ball.

It doesn’t surprise me Windsor’s position is less dire than Oakeshott’s; he is the more astute of the two, and his electorate has been showered with government largesse since he entered the agreement to support Gillard’s minority government.

And after all, since he came to national prominence, Oakeshott — with his penchant for making windy, wordy speeches that actually say nothing — is a stellar advertisement for pretty much anybody else standing in his electorate.

Oakeshott says he’s not surprised his support in Lyne has collapsed; Windsor says he’s “heartened” that more people in his electorate haven’t turned on him. That’s right, Tony: it’s heartening indeed when your constituents indicate your papers are stamped and that you’re involuntarily departing at the next stop. It’s so very heartening that so many more of them may yet decide to get in on the action.

It’s no surprise as to how this situation has come about.

Had these gentlemen been Independents elected in comparably safe ALP seats — say, off the top of my head, Blaxland or Batman — their constituents might be a little less unforgiving of their decision to prop up a Labor government which is determinedly  pursuing a decidedly left-wing agenda.

Instead, they hold two of the most conservative electorates in Australia, and rural conservatism tends to be a vastly more residual beast than its city cousin.

And rural conservative electorates, generally, are staunchly opposed to the carbon tax being introduced by Gillard and her commie mates — a tax both Windsor and Oakeshott voted to support.

If this sounds like two MPs with a political death wish, Newspoll can confirm that the carbon tax is opposed by 72% of electors in Oakeshott’s seat of Lyne; in New England, the figure is 71%. Approval for the measure stands at 22% in both electorates.

Even were the two MPs to do a U-turn and throw in their lot with Tony Abbott, engineering a change of government, the damage to their electoral prospects is probably irreversible.

There’s recent precedent, too — three Independents elected in safe conservative electorates put the ALP in power in Victoria in 1999, sealing the ouster of Jeff Kennett’s government.

Susan Davies in the ultra-conservative electorate of Gippsland West was thrown out at the 2002 election; Russell Savage survived in Mildura on the back of his personal vote for an additional term until 2006, when confronted with an extremely strong campaign by the Nationals; and Craig Ingram saw his seat of Gippsland East finally reclaimed by the Coalition last year. Davies was quite openly an ALP member and had stood in Gippsland West for the ALP prior to winning it as an Independent in a by-election.

The point is that Davies held a seat with great similarities to Lyne and New England; what happened to her in the end should serve as a warning to Oakeshott and Windsor.

But it won’t.

Indeed, I’ve heard reports (which I can’t confirm — I haven’t been to Port Macquarie in years) that there are businesses in that fine town, particularly light industries, with placards on their fences warning Oakeshott isn’t welcome. I stress I can’t confirm that but by the same token it wouldn’t surprise me.

But they don’t get it — they simply don’t get it.

I quote here Oakeshott, directly from The Australian: “I don’t know what will happen at next ballot (sic), but I will turn up and stand in front of my community and say Pacific Highway tick; hospital funding tick; university funding tick; regional development finally underway, tick; certainty from an emissions trading scheme, tick…”

Oakeshott goes on to say he is focused on making “good judgement calls” and that making difficult decisions doesn’t make those decisions “any less right.”

Well, one of his “good judgement calls” is obviously not an astute reading of his electorate — the people who voted for him — because any idiot with no political acumen whatsoever could see they disagree with virtually everything he has done.

Windsor, for his part, says he thinks his voters will “come to understand the importance” of things like the carbon tax, and that he will indeed stand for re-election whenever the next election comes up. Tony Windsor is a nice guy, but I think he’s kidding himself.

Unbelievably — given the Newspoll figures seeing him losing his seat — he even claims “not to be all that disappointed” with the result. Well, quite, but if I had a seat in Parliament that I wanted to hang onto, I wouldn’t be going about things the way this pair are.

From a general perspective, and in light of the malodorous nature of this matter, I could make some reference to heads up backsides — but I won’t.

No, the good ship Independent Denial sails on; crewed by Messrs Oakeshott and Windsor it sails, inexorably, up the effluent billabong, and runs aground.

And would you believe — there’s nary a paddle in sight?

Now you know what that stench is, don’t you…

Crawl Back Under Your Rock, Keating

It’s a new book providing the pretext for re-emergence this time…but for years, Paul Keating has behaved as if he was never booted from office. Reviled as Prime Minister, ultimately rejected by millions, it’s time for the “Lizard of Oz” to crawl back under his rock — and stay there.

Reading Paul Kelly’s interview with Keating in today’s Weekend Australian, it struck me that when it comes to the former PM, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mind you, unlike many conservatives — who regard Keating with visceral loathing and positive hatred — I have nothing against him personally, and whilst I’ve never met him, I’ve been assured by those who have that the published accounts of his personal warmth and charm are correct.

But his agenda is something I have a very large problem with — and so do those of our countryfolk who tossed his government from office in 1996 in one of the biggest landslides in Australian history.

And that agenda, it seems, is unchanged.

After the chaos of the Whitlam years, and after the patrician, right-wing authoritarianism that so coloured perceptions of Malcolm Fraser’s government (but infected few if any of its legislative achievements), the climate in Australia was ripe for the consensus politics ushered in following the election of the Hawke government in 1983.

Hawke was successful because he always sought to take the electorate into his confidence and to ensure that the majority in the political middle were carried with him.

I’ve always found it ironic that having been in politics throughout, and having witnessed these episodes in full — Keating was first elected in 1969 — that his government is looked back upon as one of the most divisive in our history, Whitlam’s own government (in which Keating was a minister) the only competitor for that dubious mantle.

Indeed, the agenda of Keating’s government was, in many ways, Whitlamesque.

Much of what Keating covers in his interview with Kelly I have no quarrel with, but eventually — and typically — the agenda resurfaces: the focus on the elites, the arts, the minorities, the republic, the insistence on Australia being an Asian country in preference to a focus on more traditional links…all the stuff that left the majority of Australians feeling alienated, overlooked, and forgotten.

The people who elected John Howard on slogans like “For All Of Us” and “Building A Better Australia Together.”

It might surprise readers to know that my objective is not to tear the Keating agenda apart — that’s no longer necessary, receding in the rear-view mirror of history as it is.

Rather, my point is to question the relevance and value of former leaders like Keating, who resurface at intervals to share the benefit of their “wisdom” long after they were despatched at the ballot box.

Bob Hawke and John Howard surface very infrequently; Howard’s messages are generally limited to the economic management credentials (or otherwise) of the ALP; Hawke’s typically limited to comment on issues facing his own party.

It’s a moot point these days when it comes to Gough Whitlam, now aged 95 and obviously in the twilight of his life.

And Kevin Rudd, still a serving cabinet minister — a vocation that will lead God alone knows where — is best overlooked in the context of this discussion.

But Fraser’s noblesse oblige-driven agenda since leaving office has seen him increasingly resemble an unreconstructed socialist more so than the small-l liberal he purports to be, and certainly more so than the right-wing authority figure he was characterised as in 1975.

And then there’s Keating, clinging determinedly to the minorities, the elites, the republican ideal, and to Asia.

It’s certainly true of Keating that he sees his place in Australian history and is prepared to fight for it; it’s also certainly true that he has — and had — a vision for Australia.

The problem is that his vision was not shared by the men and women of Australia, who terminated his tenure in 1996. The truth be told, they would in all probability have terminated it three years earlier, had Keating been faced by anyone other than the politically useless John Hewson at the 1993 election.

At what point does the relevance of an agenda such as Keating’s cease?

Malcolm Fraser these days is widely viewed as completely out of step with majority opinion in Australia; his party had moved on from him long before he moved on from it; and his views are hardly taken seriously in political circles today (except, perhaps, by the Greens).

It is well-known that Keating could never accept the legitimacy of Howard’s government or of his own defeat; whether through arrogance or denial, or sheer strength of conviction, he remains determined that he was right and that even now, more than 15 years later, that Australia should embrace his vision and his agenda.

The point is that I question how much value — if any — is added to political debate by beaten leaders endlessly trundling their wares in front of an electorate which has assessed their wares, and passed judgement on same at an election.

I will, in all likelihood, get a copy of the Keating book and read it, perhaps over Christmas.

But I do think that having made their contribution — the merits or otherwise not in question — the likes of Keating, Fraser et al should retreat from the field, and let the current generation of elected representatives get on with doing what they are charged with, and for the reasons they have been allocated those tasks by voters: running the country.

And so, to use the vernacular, I think Keating should crawl back under his rock; for the self-styled “Placido Domingo” of Australian politics, the show was over many, many years ago.

What do you think?

“I Did But See Her Passing By…And Yet I’ll Love Her Till I Die”

So said the Prime Minister of Australia; the official State visit of Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II of Australia, excited patriotic and nationalistic fervour and pride; and the country basked in the glory of the presence of its monarch.

I speak, of course, of Sir Robert Menzies; Prime Minister of Australia, 1939-1941, and 1949-1966.

And I speak of course of Her Majesty’s first visit to Australia in early 1954, nearly 60 years ago.

How have things changed?

It’s an odd issue; the concept of republicanism barely registered on the political spectrum prior to Paul Keating listing it as an agenda item in 1992.

Even following on from the Dismissal in 1975, based on reputable polling in the years afterwards, an overwhelming majority of Australians remained committed to the monarchy as a constitutional institution.

After Keating placed republicanism on the mainstream agenda, public support rocketed; it reached its zenith at the 1999 referendum on the subject, at which roughly 44% of the country supported change, and roughly 56% preferred the status quo.

And support for a switch to a republic has been slipping ever since.

A Morgan poll today shows support for a switch to a republic at 34%, with 54% supportive of the retention of the constitutional monarchy.

I too saw the Queen “passing by;” in 2006, when working in the advertising division at Fairfax, I’d gone for a cigarette outside our building at the corner of La Trobe and Russell Streets, Melbourne…

…and noticing the streets were clear, and seeing a lot of motorcycle Police and then a Police escort, I saw the Queen’s Rolls-Royce come up La Trobe Street.

I was the only person there; so when the Queen waved to me, I waved back.

I did but see her passing by…some 50-ish years after Menzies did.

And I liked what I saw.

I’m a staunch, committed, and died-in-the-wool constitutional monarchist; it might surprise people that someone from fairly pure Scottish stock would think that way, and I will come back to the point.

But the issue has become topical again, with the 85-year-old Queen Elizabeth on her 16th (and probably last) visit to Australia.

I believe in the monarchy through no particular loyalty to the royal family; to me, the question is constitutional, and not a judgement based on whether you like the family involved or not.

I actually do like (some members of) the royal family though; I’ve always especially had a soft spot for Zara Phillips — Princess Anne’s daughter — and I think Charles will make an excellent King, but I digress.

The problem with a switch to a republican system of government in Australia is that it would be — by necessity — very heavily politicised.

The so-called “minimalist” republican model — where someone is chosen and ratified by two-thirds of the combined numbers of both Houses of federal Parliament — is ridiculous, for the following (simplified) reasons:

  • A constitutional crisis will ensue whenever the 66.7% threshold cannot be met (which, politically, will be almost always based on election results over 110 years);
  • Constitutionally, some states in Australia are entitled to remain (and would choose to remain) sovereign with the monarch as their Head of State, irrespective of what transpires nationally; and
  • The “minimalist” republicans see the Head of State as a purely ceremonial figure, ignoring totally the requirement for an arbiter should something similar to 1975 ever occur again.

The case for direct election of a President is even worse — anyone who thinks such an elected office wouldn’t end up being a tug of war between (read: abused by) the Liberal and Labor parties is utterly delusional.

I’ve said it before, and will say again: I wouldn’t want a Liberal Party politician in such an office, and I’m a 20-year member of the Liberal Party. I certainly wouldn’t want someone from the ALP in the role either.

Sorry Malcolm; sorry Paul.

Plenty of people think like this. There’s no resolving this argument.

And for those who (naively) advocate that Australians would be on their best behaviour in any electoral dealings with a republican head of state, I have one word.


Politics is politics: there is no such thing as an office voted on by lemmings sitting on their hands, hoping against hope that all things good and nice will flow from their decision, and that everyone will simply play nice because the whole exercise is an effort in touchy-feely niceness.

That’s horse shit, people, and it doesn’t matter how any republican wants to interpret it.

By accident of history, we have a system of government that incorporates some hefty checks and balances; some of these derive directly from the Constitution, and some derive from the system of constitutional monarchy we enjoy.

There is an impartial apex at the summit of the structure: the Crown. Whether people like it or not, it can’t be replaced by an elected republican politician without destroying the integrity of the entire system.

I’d like to welcome Her Majesty back to Australia; it is known that the royal family generally harbours deep and genuine affection for this country, and indeed, many of them have spent protracted periods of time here.

I will see Queen Elizabeth II at a function next week, and I am very much looking forward to it.

And on account of my Scottish heritage — the Union (the real Union between England, Scotland and Wales, not some Trade Union consideration) has been better for Scotland than the alternative; separatist moves by the so-called Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, stand to rob that wonderful country of very, very much if they’re ever successful.

It’s a horrible example, but Salmond backed off during the so-called GFC when it became clear that whilst Westminster might be able to rescue Scottish banks that were in trouble, Holyrood couldn’t.

And of course, once the crisis passed, up came Salmond’s rhetoric yet again.

As someone who identifies as much as being Scottish as I do as a third-generation Australian, I have to say that people like Salmond are, in the big scheme of things, a gigantic red herring.

I did but see her passing by…I have done so already, as others have done before me; and metaphorically speaking, I look forward to she, her heirs and successors, doing so again.

No “royal bashing” folks, but the floor is yours — what do you think?

And if you want to argue for a republican system in government I’m happy to hear your views, but anything that boils down to “we need an Australian head of state” is old news.

We already have one: the Governor-General. There’s a separation already between the Crown and the functional head of state.

I’m interested to hear what people think.