“Just Think Of The Children:” Greens’ Swipe At ALP Defies Reality

THEY WON’T LEARN; Christine Milne has responded to hints that Labor may allow Tony Abbott’s carbon tax repeal bills to pass with a predictable tirade, ranting that Labor should stop thinking of itself. For once, the ALP may be coming to its senses. The same can hardly be said of the Greens.

The word “mandate” — just to be clear — would have to be one of the most misused, overused and abused words in the Australian political lexicon.

Yet if there is one thing Tony Abbott and his government have a mandate for it is the repeal of the Gillard government’s carbon tax, conceived in a shotgun policy tryst with the Greens, in direct contravention of an explicit election pledge in 2010.

For a party whose demands hijacked the Gillard government’s legislative agenda to the point it virtually destroyed the ALP’s political prospects, Communist Party Greens leader Christine Milne has too much to say given the time has come for the excesses of her party’s policy demands to be obliterated.

But the Greens — like lemmings — will never learn.

The Fairfax press yesterday carried an article (you can read it here) detailing an extraordinary attack on the ALP by Milne, in which she accused the ALP of putting “power ahead of future generations” as it contemplates allowing the carbon tax repeal bills to pass the Senate.

I find Milne and the rubbish she spouts tiring, and this is no exception; for once I am not going to dissect her mad ramblings in infinitesimal detail.

After all, we all know what the Greens really are: a mad, bad bunch of hardcore socialists, whose policy prescriptions mostly amount — figuratively speaking — to a turd rolled in glitter (to bastardise a phrase popular in the vernacular at present).

Amid all of the hotly contested science around climate change (or, more importantly, the resultant raging debate over whether humans cause it, or whether it’s part of a natural cycle) one thing is patently clear: Australians refuse to pay a carbon tax.

In fact, it’s doubtful whether Australians will ever consent to emissions abatement measures that entail monetary imposts on them after the Green/Gillard carbon tax debacle; the impact of the tax has been to turn gas and electricity into luxury items that some households have had to prioritise above food.

It’s ominous (and a warning to voters) that the carbon tax is mild indeed compared with the more savage blow to household budgets the Greens would prefer to have seen inflicted.

Labor lost last month’s election in a landslide, and has serious structural issues to tackle if it is to retrieve its standing.

But the pious, sanctimonious Greens — under their pious, sanctimonious leader — lost a quarter of their electoral support, and despite maintaining a record 9 Senators from 1 July (on account of the staggered terms of the Senate) will see that fall to just six if this year’s result is repeated in three years’ time.

Yet the Greens simply don’t get it. They’ll never learn.

Far from beating a speedy retreat to their bolt hole to analyse the reasons for their poor electoral showing this year, the Greens — if such a thing were possible — are increasing the belligerence of their rhetoric.

Unsurprisingly, though — having lost the politics of the carbon tax — their arguments are now infused with the sort of heartstring-pulling claptrap that really is the last resort of an outfit with nothing better to say.

Think of the children! Think of the future! Think of the planet!

If only the Greens heeded their own edicts. We’ll come back to that shortly.

But Labor has a responsibility, which we’ll call objectively: that obligation is to its members, its sponsors in the union movement and elsewhere, to its supporters, and to those who for whatever reason opt to exercise a vote for Labor on the basis of the platform the ALP takes to the people whenever an election is held.

The ALP is in no way obliged to consult, acquiesce to or satisfy the Greens in its efforts to discharge that responsibility.

Indeed, the terminal mistake committed by Julia Gillard in the aftermath of the 2010 election was to enter into a formal coalition with a Greens regime that was never, never, going to side with the Liberal Party over Labor in determining an election outcome.

Just as the Liberals under Abbott have won government on a platform designed to both satisfy their core constituency and attract floating voters, so too must the Labor Party embark on the long and arduous process of formulating its own manifesto with which to win government back at some point.

The tenor of the Greens’ fury with Labor reflects their newfound impotence: there is nobody to hold hostage any more who might inflict, in their own name, the lunatic socialist policies of the Greens on an unwilling and resentful voting public.

Those close to me — and many readers — will have often heard me say that whilst there are many ways to skin a cat, there must first be a cat to skin, and the issue of carbon taxes and the like neatly fit the analogy.

The carbon tax doesn’t and won’t cut it with the public; it’s a reality the Liberals have long known and which the ALP seems to be coming to accept.

I think it’s also likely that a market-based mechanism — read, an ETS — making similar imposts on consumers will ultimately face a similar judgement, but time will tell.

If the Greens really are serious about environmental outcomes, and in this case reducing emissions — as opposed to simply engineering a high-taxing socialist utopia that few normal people would want to live in — it must consider alternative options.

Not the alternatives that fill its manifesto of Communist policies, but real alternatives.

It is usually forgotten now that Milne’s predecessor — 30 years ago — was a devout advocate of a radical and exponential expansion of the mining and use of coal in Australia.

Why? Because it was central to his fight against the dam on the Franklin River.

If Brown can advocate for coal — bearing in mind that it represents virtually everything the Greens now oppose — from necessity, expediency and practicality, perhaps it’s time Milne and her band of fruit cakes embraced nuclear power as the clean, cheap, green path to steep emissions cuts globally, and a cleaner and healthier environment locally.

They won’t of course; more’s the pity, as more billions will be wasted on costly and inefficient so-called “renewables” that don’t and can’t replace the capacity to generate cheap and reliable baseload power that nuclear energy can.

But whether they ever do or not, outbursts and tantrums of the kind Milne indulged herself with yesterday will achieve nothing.

They do, however, allow her to blame someone else. There’s nothing new in that.

 

 

The “Maiden” Newspoll: Tony Abbott’s Thumping 56-44 Lead

THE FIRST NEWSPOLL since the September election is out, and it’s a ripper for Tony Abbott and his new Liberal government: leading the ALP by a 56-44 margin after preferences, the Coalition is building on its election-winning lead. Despite the honeymoon factor, the findings raise questions for Labor.

Since Australians went to the polls six weeks ago, two things — broadly — have happened.

The new government, headed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has quietly gone about the business of setting up its operation, and getting on with things; the ALP, meanwhile, engaged in a protracted and farcical leadership “ballot” that delivered the predictable result — albeit not the one in the best interests of the Labor Party, and certainly with considerable collateral damage done for the Liberals to collect on at the next election.

Amid all of this, a scandal erupted over expense claims, engineered by the ALP — and hurriedly dropped as its own MPs began to find themselves implicated in it as well.

Succinctly put, therein lies the backdrop to the “maiden” Newspoll for this term of Parliament; published in tomorrow’s edition of The Australian, it shows a swing of 2.4% to the Coalition since the election, after preferences, and finds the new government now ahead of Labor by a whopping 56-44 margin.

It goes without saying, of course, that this is just one poll; and in saying so, I should repeat my oft-stated mantra that the primary value in polling is to identify and monitor trends rather than placing too much stock in a single set of findings.

Even so, Newspoll was (again) the closest to picking the actual election result this year, and based on this first set of Newspoll numbers, the early signs for Labor are not good.

Newspoll finds primary support for the Coalition up 1.4% since the election, to 47%; ALP support has dropped in the same period by 2.4% to 31%. The Greens stand at 10% (+1.3%) with “Others” on 12%, down 0.4% — driven, perhaps, by the antics and bellicose rhetoric about blocking government legislation of Clive Palmer since polling day, although — as with everything in this poll — we will just have to wait and see.

Some of these movements are attributable purely to the “honeymoon effect” most new governments (and even most re-elected governments) experience; a bounce in the polls tends to reflect a reservoir of goodwill (and the obvious fact that little or nothing has yet happened that might cause the levels in that reservoir to drop).

Even so, if these figures were reproduced at another election this weekend, they’d be worth another nine seats to the Coalition on a uniform swing.

1975 territory, in short.

But it is on the ratings of the individual leaders that Newspoll’s findings are most telling.

This poll finds Tony Abbott — suddenly — reasonably popular; his approval rating rises by three points here to 47%, with his disapproval number falling a massive 16% to just 34%, with 19% of Newspoll’s respondents undecided.

It tends to lend weight to the theory I have been publishing all year that once ensconced as Prime Minister, people would realise Abbott is essentially a moderate and decent individual who thinks intelligently before he acts — and so it has proven thus far in the first six weeks of his government.

By contrast, new ALP leader Bill Shorten scores a first-up approval rating of 32%; 24% of respondents disapprove, with a huge 44% yet to make up their minds.

Obviously, we will need to wait for a bigger accumulation of findings about Shorten. But I tend to think he has inflicted enormous and unnecessary damage on himself by fighting the ridiculous campaign he did for the Labor leadership.

Pandering to minorities didn’t win him a particularly flash result in the ballot of Labor’s grassroots members, and it won’t cut it in the wider electorate either, where a large portion of the vote against Labor last month came from disaffected constituencies who believed they had been shut out of the government’s considerations, or simply ignored.

That leadership campaign will also come back to bite Shorten at the next federal election — if, of course, he is the Labor leader to fight it.

And on the “preferred PM” measure, Abbott, on 47% (+2% from just before the election) comfortably heads Shorten on 28% (-15% based on the final pre-election rating recorded by Kevin Rudd).

Whilst these are early numbers, they do tend to suggest that having struggled to mostly maintain a narrow lead on this measure, Abbott will now dominate it until or unless negative media coverage opens the door for Shorten to advance.

It is important to note — as I have also said previously — that the “preferred PM” figure is one traditionally difficult for opposition leaders to be competitive on, let alone lead.

Even so, Abbott managed it over three years, even if he had to fight and scrap to do so; it remains to be seen whether Shorten possesses the stomach to match his rhetoric about bringing Abbott down, and limiting the Liberals to a single term in office as he suggests.

My tip is that he doesn’t, and that Labor will lose the next election badly, but time will tell.

If I were Tony Abbott or one of his inner sanctum of advisers and strategists, I’d be delighted with this first Newspoll. It goes without saying, however, that the Liberals now have all the work ahead of them; to win the election was one thing. It is now time to deliver.

For Labor, though, this poll suggests that in the absence of a monumental cock-up by the Abbott government — and anything’s possible — the worst of its fortunes may yet lie in front of it.

There is mounting evidence since 7 September that the vote that day was no aberration; clearly there is no base of residual affection for the ALP to build on, the party having so thoroughly trashed in government what goodwill it once enjoyed.

Even, hypothetically, a recession in the next 12-18 months — properly handled politically by the Liberals — could send Labor into a nosedive, so compromised is its standing and so poor its recent economic record in office.

The stuffed suit/photogenic wunderkind/”Mr Charisma” that Labor has now saddled itself with as its leader is in danger of quickly slipping well behind Abbott on both personal approval and the “preferred PM” indices; the thing I would be worried about isn’t necessarily the low first-up approval number, but the fact the disapproval figure is already ominously close behind it.

Still, there is three years to go. Anything could happen. But for now, the Prime Minister and his government look to be hitting the ground in pretty good shape.

Media Circus: Fairfax Signals Start Of Anti-Abbott Crusade

IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG: under the dubious cover of its charter of editorial “independence,” the Fairfax press has been quick to start its nit-picking, niggling crusade against Tony Abbott; today, it’s an interview Abbott gave the Washington Post. As night follows day, there will be much more of this.

Article IV of the Fairfax Media Charter of Editorial Independence states:

“That full editorial control of the newspapers…be vested with the editors of the papers and that the editors alone shall determine the daily editorial content of the newspapers.”

Article II of the Charter speaks to the issue of bias and balance, stipulating its papers

“must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests.”

So it must be through some extraordinary confluence of editorial thinking that The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Canberra Times, and online-only portals WA Today and the Brisbane Times are all carrying the same story, verbatim, proffering dire warnings of the damage Tony Abbott stands to inflict upon Australia’s relationship with the US.

The reason? Abbott dared to criticise the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government in an interview with the Washington Post: a hanging offence, to be sure, if only a capital punishment remained on the statute books for such treason.

For context, readers should peruse both the Fairfax article and the interview from the Washington Post.

That this is indicative of the supposed “quality” journalism Fairfax prides itself on goes to the heart of why its publications are so out of step with mainstream opinion in Australia, to say nothing of detached from reality.

It’s also a clue as to why Fairfax Media is close to broke, and unlikely to exist in its present form in a few years’ time.

I have (obviously) read the Washington Post interview at the centre of the firestorm Fairfax seeks to whip up, and see nothing wrong with the remarks Abbott made in relation to the former Labor government.

That assessment has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I am both a member of the Liberal Party and a staunch supporter of Tony Abbott personally.

Rather, it is informed by a bit of perspective: a commodity, based on today’s piece, of which the Fairfax juggernaut has none.

To be fair — no pun intended — Fairfax has apparently gone to some trouble to find support for its contention that Abbott’s observations about the ALP “could affect US links.”

It cites Norman Ornstein, an author and political scientist with the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, as having ”winced” when he read the interview in which Mr Abbott “put the boot” into the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government.

”It really does violate a basic principle of diplomacy to drag in your domestic politics when you go abroad,” Dr Ornstein is quoted as saying. ”It certainly can’t help in building a bond of any sort with President Obama to rip into a party, government and — at least implicitly — leader, with whom Obama has worked so closely.

”Perhaps you can chalk it up to a rookie mistake. But it is a pretty big one.” Well, fine, but it’s a convenient argument.

It takes us back to 1992, when US President George H. Bush was beaten by Bill Clinton, despite the Conservative government in the UK of John Major doing everything it could, publicly, to send the signal that the continuity of policy and the trans-Atlantic alliance were crucial concerns — implicitly, an endorsement of the senior Bush.

That particular favour was returned — with interest — in 1997, when then-President Clinton all but campaigned for Tony Blair’s Labour Party to beat Major’s Conservative Party (which, of course, it did).

Neither bout in the tit-for-tat exchange caused any serious long-term damage to the UK-US relationship, and it is difficult to see how Abbott’s straight answer to a couple of straight questions could similarly affect Australia’s relationship with the US in this case.

And politicians have been talking about domestic political considerations internationally for years, a reality hardly groundbreaking for its appearance in Abbott’s latest utterances.

The Fairfax piece observes that Julia Gillard forged a “warm and constructive relationship” with President Obama, noting the scintillating detail that hers “was one of just 12 world leaders whose calls Mr Obama returned personally after they had called to congratulate him on his 2012 re-election.”

It’s heartwarming to know that an unreconstructed socialist and a former Communist had the opportunity to catch up personally, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with Tony Abbott and it misses the point.

At the time, the stationing of US marines in Darwin (to which the Fairfax article even alludes) was very much a topical issue: of course Obama was going to pay special attention to Gillard, given she had (correctly) agreed to a highly controversial US military deployment that the Obama administration had requested of her.

And Fairfax quotes the former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, John Menadue  — with no indication given of when the remarks were made, or whether they even relate to the Washington Post interview — as saying that “it remains to be seen whether make the transition from a critic in opposition and an attack dog to a responsible and constructive Prime Minister.”

All of this is well and good. But Fairfax is strangely mute when it comes to criticism of Julia Gillard, who today chided Obama for sending a “really bad message” for cancelling his appearance at the recent APEC summit on account of the government shutdown in Washington.

It seems that in the eyes of “Uncle Fairfax,” the fellow travellers of the Left can say whatever they like, especially about each other.

International ramifications? Of course, there are none of those in such utterances.

But as soon as the criticism comes from the Right — especially when it comes to Tony Abbott, destroyer of Labor’s two most recent Prime Ministers and the unquestioned darling of the hard Left in Gillard — well, that’s a gaffe, an international incident, and a catastrophe.

Let’s call a spade a spade.

For the fourth time in less than six years — and twice as a result of internal ALP machinations — this country has a new Prime Minister, and Abbott has been at pains since the instant he was elected to emphasise that Australia again enjoys a stable government, is once again open for business, and is looking outwards — rather than obsessing with itself.

In that context, his remarks that the previous government was “a circus” and “an embarrassing spectacle” were entirely appropriate — and entirely accurate.

It’s true the Fairfax article assembles a series of facts, quotes and events. But interjections such as the admonishing, tut-tutting paragraph that “politicians around the world typically refrain from engaging in fierce domestic political argument when they are speaking to an overseas audience” leaves little doubt about the response it seeks from its readers.

And in any case, the assertion that Obama and Gillard were “close” neither discounts the sheer ineptitude of her government, nor affords it any insulation from valid criticism — be that in Australia or elsewhere.

We all know the Fairfax press, figuratively speaking, will not sleep until the evil, sexist, misogynist, hero-slaying ogre Tony Abbott has been driven from office, and preferably in some demeaning and humiliating defeat.

In the meantime, perhaps it would better serve its readers — even those of the slavering, sycophantic Left — by practising what it preaches and presenting balanced journalism, rather than a convenient compilation of material with an unmistakable “Let’s Get Abbott” slant to it.

 

Should Foreigners Be Allowed To Buy Australian Houses?

AN ARTICLE appearing today in The Australian canvasses the prospect of increasing stamp duty on residential stock purchased by “foreign investors” by 5%; with house prices again nearing record highs and millions of young Australians locked out of a prohibitive market, the measure falls far short.

This contentious issue is one of a number of “agenda items” that — as a conservative — I would dearly like to see addressed by the Abbott government, but we’ll see.

In any case, calls by former Macquarie Group banker Bill Moss to add an additional five percentage points to the rate of stamp duty levied on purchases of residential property “by foreign investors” is welcome as a starting point, but is inadequate as a complete solution.

Readers can access the article in question here.

Just to be clear, this column has no problem with foreign investment per se; investment in our companies, infrastructure, and commercial and industrial sectors generally is welcome, and of enormous benefit to Australia’s economy.

I do have concerns about foreign investment — especially from China — in the agricultural sector; we’ve discussed this before, in reference to the “northern foodbowl” project that was developed by Trade minister Andrew Robb in opposition.

We can’t compete against their labour, but they can’t grow enough food; it seems perverse to sell control of one of Australia’s great strengths (and sources of income) to the exclusive benefit of the Chinese (and, of course, whoever pockets the windfall from the sale of the assets).

But I draw the line on houses, apartments and the like.

Chinese investment in Australian residential property “could increase tenfold,” according to Moss — who then goes on to cite the example of Vancouver in Canada, where Chinese investment in residential stock has been at least partially responsible for pushing average house prices over $1 million.

I have to be emphatic about this: housing in Australia must be the preserve of the people who live in Australia, and not form part of an investment asset pool increasingly acquired and controlled by offshore interests.

In case anyone thinks this position is motivated by xenophobic or racist sentiments, I should add that I have no problem with foreign nationals who are permanent residents in Australia owning houses here, or even acquiring investments whilst they live here.

But far from simply adding a “hassle tax” to the purchase price (and with the oceans of cash available to the increasingly wealthy middle classes of Asia, a rise in the stamp duty rate of 5% represents a drop in the bucket), I think non-resident foreign nationals should be barred from owning residential property in Australia at all.

It wouldn’t stop, for example, a Chinese property development company from acquiring land zoned for the construction of apartments, building them, and selling them: in terms of such commercial opportunities, what I am suggesting would make no difference.

But it simply isn’t appropriate for domestic housing stock to then be accrued and stockpiled by people in other countries, or — even worse — to funnel rental income streams out of Australia, whilst ordinary citizens of this country can’t afford to buy a house.

Some of the controls around foreign ownership of Australian residential property were abolished by the government of Kevin Rudd in 2008; soon enough, stories of vacant houses left empty began to emerge from suburban real estate agents, who speculated (no pun intended) about strategies to drive up the value of the investments by restricting the availability of supply in the areas in which the properties had been purchased.

I reiterate that I have no problem with Chinese people (or people from anywhere else, for that matter) buying a house whilst they live in Australia.

But once they leave the country, they should be forced by law to divest the asset within a reasonable timeframe — say 90 days.

There are, to my mind, two issues at play here.

The first is the obvious one about the affordability of housing, and it affects the rental market as well; by allowing foreign investment in residential stock, it restricts the supply for Australian citizens and residents, driving prices up and preventing rising numbers of Australians from becoming home-owners.

Consequently, more people are competing for that portion of the residential supply available to rent, driving rents through the roof, too — and perpetuating the cycle of housing unaffordability, because the higher the rent, the less disposable monies can be saved, and the harder it becomes for putative first home buyers to enter the market.

But the second issue speaks to those sections of the community who seek to avoid offending overseas interests at any cost: our national interest and our conduct as an international citizen are both extremely important considerations, but they are not the same thing.

The prospect of median house prices in this country hitting $1 million is unpalatable, and clearly far from ideal. But it is by no means unrealistic, given the overall skyward movement of property prices in Australia over the past ten years or so.

Should overseas investors be allowed to buy houses here if they don’t live here? Should they be able to stockpile residential properties and either leave them vacant to increase their value, or rent them out to take Australian monies out of the country?

Or are our apartments and houses the preserve of those who live there, with nary enough to go around as it is without external forces putting them further out of reach?

I’ll be interested to see what readers have to say.

Julia Gillard As Opinion Columnist?

SHE WAS  a terrible Prime Minister who led a fractious, chaotic, incompetent rabble in government, that lashed out spitefully at selected divisive targets to try to cover its shortfalls and her own as PM. But could Gillard find her niche as an opinion writer? Quite possibly.

Just a short post for now, although I will be back a little later to talk about something else; I’ve been reading an opinion piece from The Guardian by Julia Gillard, and whilst I (clearly) disagree with some of her perspectives, I wonder if this will be the shape Gillard’s ongoing contribution to debate might take.

It’s probably a fitting subject for her to write about; drawing parallels with her own experience governing after the technical election loss of 2010, Gillard opines expansively about the recent shutdown of the US Congress and the deadlock between the Houses of Congress — one controlled by Republicans, the other by Democrats — over that country’s debt ceiling and other budgetary and legislative considerations.

It doesn’t alter one word of the legitimate criticism aimed at Gillard by this column or by the plethora of other commentators who have pilloried her since her ascension to the Prime Ministership.

But the position of this column has always been that all strands of opinion have a right to be heard and the case of those advancing them propounded — even if they are, factually or subjectively, deeply flawed.

It’s not the first piece Gillard has published in The Guardian, and having read a couple of them now I think it’s worth flagging what she has been doing with our readers.

For the record, I actually found this latest Gillard piece quite interesting, notwithstanding the fact — again — that I can never brook some of her ideas.

Certainly, it was far superior to the sycophantic drivel her communications minder John McTernan saw fit to commit to print when afforded the opportunity by the Murdoch press shortly after her removal as Prime Minister.

And it goes without saying that were Gillard to use her column in The Guardian to revisit “issues” such as “misogyny” or the class-based war her government attempted to ignite, then the good burghers at The Guardian (and the reading public, whose opportunity to boot Gillard from office was stolen by Kevin Rudd) would be best served cancelling her spot and denying her to forum to pursue them.

For now, however, we’ll keep an eye on how she goes. And in the interests of balance — if and when appropriate — I will happily provide links for readers to follow her, whether the subjects she covers are worthwhile in their own right, or as one side of an argument in which the other is covered by different material we feature.

It’s Time To Overhaul Australia’s Voting System. And Here’s How

A SPEECH to the National Press Club by the federal director of the Liberal Party, Brian Loughnane, marks the resumption of debate over the voting system in the wake of tiny parties winning Senate seats last month with a sliver of the vote; reform is due, urgent, and must go further than the Senate.

I will level with readers at the outset, and admit I didn’t watch the Loughnane speech yesterday; I was too busy to take the time out to do so.

But I really didn’t need to: I’ve read the reporting on it and the points he made were perfectly sensible, and — in any case — this is one issue on which I think the more voices advancing the case for change from different positions and perspectives, the better.

What to do about the Senate is a problem that needs to be addressed, and that problem is becoming increasingly urgent; what is meant to be a “States’ House” and a chamber of review is to an escalating extent being abused as a sinecure, or an avenue through which to get into the gravy, or simply to obstruct an elected government for no better purpose or objective than obstruction itself.

It is beyond reasonable to accept that a candidate polling 1,700 primary votes — in a state with more than 3.7 million voters on the roll, and requiring a quota of 480,000 votes — could, by virtue of exhaustively stitching up preference deals, win election to the Senate.

Yet that is precisely what happened in Victoria last month, with Ricky Muir from the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party set to take his Senate seat on 1 July next year on 0.51% of the vote.

And in an utter further absurdity (although I am happy to be corrected if I’m wrong), Muir fell short of the 4% primary vote threshold to access public election funding, but was actually elected…it seems a contradiction too ridiculous to bother dissecting.

There have been other instances of the same thing happening, although not to the extreme of Senators being elected on half a percentage point. Steve Fielding from Family First, in 2004, was one recent example. John Madigan of the DLP, in 2010, is another.

Readers who have been following this column since its inception will know my personal preference — to abolish compulsory voting, and to re-institute the first past the post (FPTP) system used nationally from Federation until 1922.

I acknowledge such a reform trifecta is too drastic to sell, at least for now. But I point out that in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and in all of the states, FPTP was only ever abolished to suit the political purposes of the government of the day, and had nothing to do with the quaint stories about democracy and empowerment and inclusion that get bandied around nowadays by those who seek to evade its return.

Much has been made in recent times of the prospect of Optional Preferential Voting (OPV) — in relation to the Senate at least — as one way of updating the system by which the upper house is elected.

OPV is also the position I strongly advocate in the absence of an environment conducive to restoring FPTP at Australian and State elections. It’s a happy compromise; those who wish to “Just Vote 1” are free to do so, whilst those wanting to make a full or partial allocation of preferences can do so too.

In the states that use OPV at their elections — NSW and Queensland — the “exhaust” rate (that is, votes that are excluded during the counting process because they do not express a continuing preference allocation) ranges between 30% and 50%; this, logically, is evidence that 30% to 50% of voters do not wish to be forced to allocate preferences to candidates they are disinclined to support.

But it must go further than the Senate: what I will outline today is a proposal based on implementing OPV at federal elections for both houses of Parliament; it’s straightforward in the House of Representatives, of course, but the Senate is a different beast altogether, with its proportional voting method, and the proposal I outline here advocates the abolition of that too.

The House of Representatives

As I said, this is very straightforward: the system is simply changed from a compulsory preferential system to an optional preferential system.

The Senate

Recent discussion about introducing OPV to the Senate has focused on allowing voters to either cast a ballot for a party or group ticket above the line, as per current practice (which is then distributed based on the published voting card of the party or group) or allowing a partial distribution only below the line rather than the current requirement for below the line votes to number every box.

I agree that anything that moves toward an optional preferential system is an improvement. But this proposal seems unwieldy — to say the least — and in any case, retains the proportional system that to my mind is the real root cause of everything wrong with the way the Senate is elected.

I therefore propose:

  • The wholesale abolition of proportional voting in the Senate.
  • The division of each state into six upper house districts (or provinces, or constituencies, or ridings, or whatever name they are given).
  • Each of these districts — at a normal half-Senate election — to elect one Senator using an OPV voting system.
  • At any future double dissolution election, each district would elect two Senators rather than one, in the way Legislative Council members were elected in Victoria prior to 2001, only using optional rather than compulsory preferential voting.
  • The territories — whose Senators face election whenever the House of Representatives does — would return two Senators at each election using the altered voting method.

I propose two further reforms to apply to elections for both Houses of Parliament:

  • The threshold at which candidates become eligible for public election funding be raised slightly, from 4% to 5%; and
  • A threshold be implemented to bar candidates polling less than 5% of the primary vote in any electorate/upper house district from being eligible to be elected on preferences.

I would observe that at some point the House of Representatives is going to need to be enlarged: since its expansion in 1984, average enrolments for a lower house electorate have risen from about 65,000 to roughly 100,000 as Australia’s population has grown.

This is constitutionally relevant to the Senate: S24 provides that the number of members of the House of Representatives be roughly double the number of Senators, and if lower house seats are increased to allow MPs to service their electorates better by reducing the constituent to MP ratio, the number of Senators will need to be increased as well.

On the present system of Senate voting, increasing the number of Senators per state (say, from 12 to 14) would cut even further the quota required to gain election, and would make the likes of Family First in 2004 and the AMEP last month far more commonplace.

On the system I am outlining, all that would be required is to increase the number of divisions in each state from six to seven.

The changes I suggest here are constitutionally sound: indeed, the Constitution specifically provides that Parliament decides how elections are conducted, not the Constitution itself.

For those who have never done so, I strongly encourage readers to get hold of a copy of the Constitution and read it. An online version can be accessed here. Quite aside from its political relevance, it is a wonderful document from a historical perspective, and a damned criminal shame that more use isn’t made of it in our schools. But that’s another issue.

The Arguments For and Against

It might surprise some readers, but I’m going to be more circumspect on this: and blunt.

I have never been interested in the alleged merits of preferential voting, nor the justifications dressed up and trotted out as reasons to retain it.

Even so, it’s a damned side more palatable than proportional voting, whose only real purpose is to weaken an ascendant party under the guise of “inclusion,” “diversity of opinion,” and a slew of similarly quasi-emotive gobbledygook.

OPV was introduced in NSW and Queensland by ALP governments to disadvantage the Coalition, which regularly engaged in three-cornered contests that split their vote.

Its use in those states subsequently resulted in the near-wipeout of the ALP (NSW in 2011, Queensland in 2012) as the conservative parties — having mostly abandoned three-cornered contests, and indeed merged in Queensland — maximised the impact of the splintering of the vote on the Left.

It’s a valid point, but largely self-correcting; just as the Democrats (and more recently and markedly, the Greens) have split votes from Labor’s left flank, in recent years a similar phenomenon has started on the Right, with the emergence of parties such as Family First, Bob Katter’s crowd, and the Palmer United Party.

Critics will argue that the abolition of proportional voting in the Senate and/or the implementation of OPV will disadvantage the likes of the Greens, and make it harder for smaller parties to enter Parliament.

I simply say that such parties and candidates should get out and campaign to win their votes. All around the world, minor parties and independents have won single-member electorates; there is a Green in the UK’s House of Commons who won FPTP, for example, and Britain has always had a crossbench of micro-parties and independents.

The voting system shouldn’t be a ticket to easy street: if the likes of Muir can only rustle up 1,700 votes from 3.7 million Victorian electors, he shouldn’t be off to Canberra.

And if Nick Xenophon can poll so many votes in SA that he almost got a second Senator elected on his ticket — and would have, except for the vagaries of the proportional voting system — there goes the myth that independents can’t win too (and I can hear Brian Harradine’s name calling out from somewhere distant, too).

Tasmania

In closing, the Apple Isle poses a unique problem on account of its proportional Hare-Clark system, whereby the five House of Representatives electorates also form the basis for five five-member state electorates.

Just like everywhere else in the country, the Hare-Clark system in Tasmania has been bastardised by politicians chasing advantage; those five-member state electorates used to be seven-member electorates until the Liberal government of Tony Rundle reduced the size of the state Assembly in 1998 (also — surprise, surprise — for political reasons).

Constitutionally, and as an Original State, Tasmania is entitled to a minimum of five House of Representatives electorates, irrespective of its population.

Taking into account the Senate reforms I’m proposing, the inevitable need to enlarge the size of the House of Representatives (which would likely result in no increase to Tasmania’s lower House entitlement) and the fact Tasmania’s state elections concord with federal boundaries, the simple solution would be to increase the size of the House of Reps now (from 150 to, say, 180 seats) and increase the number of Senators in each state from 12 to 14 (bringing the Senate to a total of 88 Senators).

Should this be done, Tasmania would retain its five lower house seats; the division of the state into seven upper house districts would occur, as per my proposal; and those seven upper house districts could be used as the basis for seven five-member state electorates, restoring the Tasmanian Assembly to the 35 members it stood at before Rundle amended it 15 years ago.

I’ve said enough — that’s plenty for readers to digest.

We can discuss this further at length, and as much as everybody likes — this post is simply to lay the idea out and proceed from there, although I am debating whether or not to send it to various people in the Liberal Party for perusal and consideration.

First things first, however: my readers. What do people think?

NSW Bushfires: Irrelevant United Nations Should Butt Out

THE UNITED NATIONS today added two cents’ worth on the NSW bushfires, claiming “rapid cuts in emissions” would avoid “doom and gloom” events in future. The UN — already in ways a global irrelevance — should butt out rather than push domestic agendas on behalf of international communists.

I must begin, of course, with an apology: I’m well aware of the overvaluation I have accorded to the UN’s statement. It is not, of course, worth two cents; in fact, it is worth nothing at all. But it does warrant a response.

The declaration by Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, that rapid cuts in emissions could help to avoid the kind of “doom and gloom” events signified by the bushfires currently raging in NSW is perverse, counter-intuitive, driven by ideology, and patently offensive.

I’ll suggest readers take a look at this article from The Guardian, and in particular to watch the video presentation embedded in it. Very illuminating indeed.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the UN was set up (in short) to mitigate the risk of a third world war; there’s little doubt that much good has been done in its name over the years despite it being dominated by Communists and other Leftist movements, but the UN has overstepped its charter many times, and — in buying into the debate over climate change — is doing so again.

Needless to say, the contributions of the UN just happen to dovetail perfectly with the agenda of the international Left.

Figueres’ interjections were made in light of the pending abolition of Australia’s carbon tax, and whilst she conceded the Abbott government was not abandoning the objectives of the Gillard government’s so-called Clean Energy package, it was made very obvious that she disapproved of the means with which Abbott intends to pursue them through direct action.

It seems only a matter of time before her line “we need to put a price on carbon so we don’t pay the price of carbon” becomes an election slogan for the Greens and/or the ALP, so blatantly interventionist is its impact.

As usual, too, there is no advocacy or even mention of the one existing technology — nuclear — that is efficient, clean, cheap, safe, and could slash world emissions drastically.

And I would suggest — with some deference — that the “figures” at the OECD, IMF and the World Bank alluded to by Figueres should perhaps stick to economic matters rather than providing fodder for the environmental doomsday theories of rancid socialists.

Irrespective of whether it works in environmental terms, so-called carbon pricing — at least in the form in which it has been utilised to date in Australia — is a wrecker of economies, of livelihoods, and of living standards.

In the short time such “pricing” has been in effect in Australia, energy bills for  consumers and businesses have rocketed; left unchecked these will push households to the brink, cutting discretionary expenditure from the economy, pushing already stressed businesses into terminal territory through reduced demand, inducing economic slowdown and/or recession.

Destroying jobs and families in the process, and pulling living standards lower.

And let’s not forget: for all the macho rhetoric about “terminating” the carbon tax, Kevin Rudd and his cronies omitted the bit about the European price their floating mechanism was to be tied to; within five years projected to sit at almost double the rate of the carbon tax they so graciously pledged to scrap.

Too harsh?

Well, there are two — and two only — considerations that are of any relevance whatsoever; one leads directly to the other, and if they collectively draw a blank then listening to the likes of the UN and its edicts on carbon pricing should be the last of this countries concerns.

Firstly, is “climate change” indisputably proven, beyond reasonable doubt, to be the direct result of human activity? Clearly it isn’t, and as many observers have noted in media across the world, overall global warming stopped 15 years ago despite localised variations that occur, constantly, across the world.

Figueres is quoted talking about “…wildfires, … droughts, … all sorts disturbances to the hydrological cycle.”

Yet in a fashion typical of the most ardent climate change propagandists or their associates in the hard core of the global Left, there is no mention of record cold winters in the Northern Hemisphere or other variations in the opposite direction that are inconvenient to a highly dubious and debatable argument.

In fact, none of the so-called “settled science” is anything of the kind; it can’t conclusively rule out that global temperature changes aren’t part of a natural long-term cycle that has continued, listlessly, through millenia.

And secondly, why (for the love of God, why?) is it Australia’s responsibility to solve the world’s problems, when our emissions are a piddling proportion of the world total, and when the really big emitters (China, the USA, the EU, India, Russia) are laughing at us from behind their collective hand: how could any country be so stupid and gullible?

The United Nations does a lot of worthy work as a diplomatic forum, and in other areas such as with refugees and with children (although seeking to use UN treaties to override sovereign constitutions — as the Greens seek to on asylum seekers — is probably useful to provide a pointer to which of those treaties Australia should unilaterally repudiate).

Its involvement in the distribution of foreign aid from the free world to the oppressed and underprivileged is, in my view, an abuse of the pretext it was established upon, notwithstanding the fact I endorse the notion that Australia pays far too much money in foreign aid, and that much of what it does pay is misdirected.

But for the UN to be interfering, in an activist capacity, in the politics and taxation aspects of climate change is just not on.

Any input from the United Nations on this issue is irrelevant. It should butt out.

If the imperatives of carbon taxes, emissions cuts and turning cheap energy derived from coal into a commercially unviable proposition are so high, let it first try to bully America, China, and all the other countries whose emissions, annually, dwarf those of Australia.

It won’t, because the US isn’t interested in crippling its economy and will do little more than pay lip service in response. China — from a UN perspective — is off-limits.

And if the so-called principles at stake are so discretionary as to effectively leave the USA and China to their own devices, then we don’t need this rubbish peddled in Australia either.