Sabtu, 28 Februari 2015

Party room appears to have already decided Tony Abbott's fate


Tony Wright

Tony Wright National affairs editor of The Age

March 1, 2015

Bruce Billson, the Small Business Minister in Tony Abbott's government, inadvertently dropped a stink bomb among his tense colleagues during the last day of Parliament last week.

Answering a benign question about petrol prices, he took a swipe at the previous Labor government's attitude to the price watchdog, the ACCC.

"What we've found under the previous Labor Government, while they're changing leaders, changing ministers, five in 15 months, they actually forgot to actually give the resources to the ACCC to do its job properly," he said, though much of the tortured sentence was quite drowned out.

Is a nod as good as a wink? Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

Is a nod as good as a wink? Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

He had no sooner mentioned the words "changing leaders" than the opposition benches were consumed by an eruption of thigh-slapping, delighted howling and caterwauling.


Billson's colleagues on the government benches stared into space.

There wasn't a person in the chamber - MPs from all sides, spectators in the public galleries and journalists perched like crows waiting for a carcass, as the hapless Kim Beazley once observed of such a moment - who missed the grim irony.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Illustration: Matt Golding. Photo: Matt Golding

The Liberals, loath to breathe it aloud for attributed quotation, are preparing to do what they have not done since 1971 - unload their own prime minister (it was John Gorton back then). Just like Labor.

Tony Abbott's problem, despite his promise to recast his approach, is that a majority of members of his party room appear to have not only decided, but have moved beyond a decision, as if it were inevitable.

"We're trying to get our heads around what Malcolm will be like," said an MP who has never been a supporter of Malcolm Turnbull, but who is preparing to swallow past doubts.

The problem for those hankering for change right now is they don't have the mechanism or the trigger or declared contender in place to do it, even though the frenzied led a couple of news organisations to get ahead of themselves on Thursday, reporting that Turnbull had the numbers and a vote was days away.

Turnbull, a bruised veteran of party room spills over more than seven years - he lost to Brendan Nelson, won against Nelson, then lost to Tony Abbott - is not about to challenge outright, having offered studied loyalty to his leader. He clearly wants events led by others to deliver him the prime ministership, leaving him with clean hands.

Julie Bishop is also thought to be wearied of her long years as Liberal deputy to Nelson, Turnbull and Abbott and is seen as a possible contender for the leadership. She is attractive to those in the party not swept away by the prospect of the moderate Turnbull, who some fear could lose the conservative "base", despite his supporters speaking of him as offering a "sensible centre".

Bishop, however, is keeping her powder and options dry. She has much to consider. The previous assumption of a deal for her to be Turnbull's deputy should he become party leader is no longer obvious, and her continuing role as Foreign Minister could even be clouded as a Turnbull administration looked for a new Attorney-General to replace George Brandis, no favourite of Turnbull.

Even the newly minted Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, keen to show himself much more user-friendly since using his power as a blunt instrument to successfully "stop the boats", is being mentioned in the leadership mix.

However, he is considered more likely to emerge as Treasurer to replace the unfortunate Joe Hockey should Turnbull become prime minister. Morrison laid out his credentials clearly during his recent appearance at the National Press Club, pointedly declaring several times that his position as Social Services Minister made him steward of one-third of the nation's entire budget.

But without Turnbull, Bishop or Morrison prepared to declare and the backbench insisting it is up to ministers to either tap Abbott on the shoulder - a gesture certain to be rebuffed - or a party room spill, the mechanism for leadership change remains beyond immediate reach.

A "trigger" to force the ministers to act would be required.

That often means a particularly disastrous, attention-grabbing public poll.

Close observers have been holding their breath for significant movement in public sentiment in NSW, where the state government is to face electors on March 28. The state Liberals have long been expected to be returned comfortably against a raggedy Labor Party. The Liberals nationwide, thus, would be in flat panic if NSW were to become another Victorian or Queensland catastrophe, and the "Abbott effect" would get much of the blame.

But yesterday's Newspoll showed Baird is still tracking towards a victory, even though Labor's primary vote has struggled back from 33 per cent to a relatively respectable 36 per cent.

Not enough there to engender a trigger-pulling panic.

Nevertheless, the problems swirling around Abbott have become so numerous the arguments for retaining him - principally, that he brought the Coalition back to government after six years, slaying the Labor administration in the doing of it - no longer balance the ledger for most of his colleagues.

South Australian Liberal MPs are appalled at the government's failure to offer a clear future for Adelaide's naval shipyards; moderates are taken aback by the ferocity of the attack on Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs; a leaked letter from the party's treasurer, Phil Higginson, accused the party of allowing a conflict of interest because federal director Brian Loughnane was married to Abbott's chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Even more seriously, Higginson caused alarm among big donors to the Liberal Party when he declared he had been unable to get adequate information about the party's funds from Loughnane.

Abbott didn't help himself when, having faced down the party room revolt that threatened to spill the leadership, he promised no retribution - and then sacked his chief whip, party elder Philip Ruddock.

Much of the steam has even gone out of Abbott's best last plea - that the Coalition could not allow itself to replay the fatal leadership chaos of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years.

But now, the mere words "changing leaders" cause Labor MPs to fall about laughing, and Abbott's ranks can do nothing but stare into space.

"Tony said the people elected him and it's only the people who should decide whether he stays," a NSW backbencher told Fairfax. "But it was the party room that elected him as leader. It will be the party room that decides."

Only the when and how remain elusive.

Party room appears to have already decided Tony Abbott's fate

Jumat, 27 Februari 2015



lengkungan huruf bersajak
tegak dan serentak
menjadi arti setiap cagak
menghantarkan ke ujung tombak
dengan semua makna
dan terselimutkan duka
serta mata yang tertawa
menyiram tanah basah
tangan yang terbuka
bibir yang berbisik kata
hingga otak yang berjalan melangkah
tersungkur terbungkuk dengan isyarat

menghantarkan pesan kerapuhan jiwa
berharap menerima balasan
sejuta keindahan yang menyilaukan
pandangan yang hijau mengindahkan
ratapan wajah yang menyegarkan

Kamis, 26 Februari 2015

The real benefit of stripping citizenship


By Rodger Shanahan Thursday 26 February 2015

ISIS fighters Photo: We should look at the stripping of dual nationality as a military and intelligence targeting issue. (AFP: Ho/ISIS)

Stripping Australian citizenship from home-grown terrorists who are dual nationals would free our authorities from certain legal shackles and allow them to act against the radicals, writes Rodger Shanahan.

The Prime Minister's national security statement included a reference to the possible stripping of citizenship from dual citizens.

There has been criticism that such a move will be ineffectual. Peter Hughes said it was of limited use because, even though the individuals would be prevented from returning to Australia, they "would be free to pursue extremist causes and political violence elsewhere". And in the Sydney Morning Herald, Professor Matthew Gibney from Oxford University argued against the move from a civil libertarian perspective, saying that "denationalisation is thus open to the same criticism that Voltaire made of the practice in 18th century France: namely, that it simply constitutes throwing into our neighbour's yard those stones that incommode us in our own".

This largely echoed a piece from last year by Sydney University's Professor Ben Saul.

While I acknowledge these points, they would carry more weight if the proposal to strip citizenship rendered the person stateless. The subject's failure to renounce another citizenship they possess indicates that they must continue to hold some attachment to that country, and as a continuing citizen of it, they would continue to have an identity and the safeguards afforded by that country.

The civil libertarian argument, however, fails to address what I would argue is a more serious issue: the potential eradication of targeting constraints for Australian intelligence agencies and military forces in dealing with Australian citizens engaged in terrorist activities overseas.

The possession of Australian citizenship rightly imposes limitations on how much information Australia's spy agencies can collect, and perhaps more importantly who they can share it with. There have already been legislative amendments to strengthen the intelligence-collection powers of these agencies, but dealing with non-citizens gives them much greater flexibility in sharing information.

So, rather than dual citizens simply becoming someone else's problem or able to undertake violent actions elsewhere, such a move may actually free up Australian authorities to address the problem by sharing information on foreign fighters or terrorists who were formerly Australian citizens.

This may simply mean that the former dual citizen can be arrested and jailed, or deported to their remaining country of nationality. But it may also mean they are killed in a counter-terrorist military operation.

In fact, there has been criticism in the UK that people stripped of their citizenship have been killed in drone strikes shortly after, and that the information that enabled their targeting was only released to the US after they were no longer UK citizens. I think this is the more appropriate discussion to be having, rather than a civil libertarian one.

To take one possible example, would the Australian public be happy to see a former dual Lebanese-Australian citizen born and raised in Sydney, but now simply a Lebanese citizen because they are fighting for Islamic State, killed in a RAAF bombing mission in Iraq based on intelligence gathered by Australian agencies? I think the public would accept this.

None of the steps proposed by the Government represents a silver bullet, but incremental changes to our ability to respond represent an appropriate answer to a unique challenge. Radical jihadists are not Islamic nationalists; they recognise no authority but their interpretation of what God commands them to do.

They are by definition and by action intolerant and they are as far removed from the humanist traditions of the Western societies from which some of them emerged as it is possible to be. And while Australian dual citizens fail to recognise the authority of the Commonwealth and kill in God's name, they are protected by the fact that they are citizens of a Commonwealth whose authority they have plainly rejected.

For those relatively few to whom this situation applies, we should look at the stripping of dual nationality as a military and intelligence targeting issue rather than simply a civil libertarian issue.

This article was originally published by Lowy Institute's The Interpreter. Read the original article here.

Associate Professor Rodger Shanahan is a research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

The real benefit of stripping citizenship - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Malcolm Turnbull urged to challenge Tony Abbott in new leadership spill


Australian Associated Press Friday 27 February 2015

Seven Network and ABC report Coalition MPs have told Malcolm Turnbull he has the numbers to topple the prime minister

Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photograph: Mike Bowers/Mike Bowers

Less than three weeks after the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, survived a party room vote, leadership tensions at the top of the government have emerged yet again.

The Seven Network and the ABC have reported that Malcolm Turnbull, the minister for communications, has been told he has the numbers to topple Abbott.

But a government insider and Abbott supporter says Turnbull just doesn’t have the numbers.

He said this latest leadership speculation was down to the same few disaffected MPs as last time trying to beat up support for Turnbull.

“The vast majority of people know we can’t win the election with Malcolm as leader, because with Malcolm as leader we would lose a chunk of our base and no party has ever won an election without its base,” he told AAP.

This follows the unsuccessful leadership spill on 9 February when Liberal MPs voted 61-39 to defeat a motion to declare leadership positions vacant.

That was without a challenger to Abbott.

Turnbull, regarded as the most likely leadership contender, did not stand or even indicate where he stood on the leadership.

The vote did show that internal disaffection – stoked by poor polls and the rout of Queensland’s LNP government at their state election – was substantially greater than even many government insiders realised.

An immediate casualty was the chief whip, Philip Ruddock, regarded as having an insufficient grasp of party thinking. He was dumped in favour of Queenslander Scott Buchholz.

Assistant infrastructure minister Jamie Briggs said nothing had changed.

“The issue was raised in the party room a few weeks ago. The issue was resolved and the government is getting on doing its job,” he told Sky News.

Liberal backbencher Rowan Ramsey said MPs were falling in behind Abbott.

“We’ve had that day in the party room. Not everybody’s happy all the time but that’s life,” he told the ABC.

Liberal MP Russell Broadbent said Abbott had been given some time, although there was no deadline.

“He’s on a test at all times – so every prime minister is,” he told the ABC.

Turnbull declined to fuel the latest speculation.

“I’m a member of parliament so I talk to my colleagues all the time,” he told reporters.

“Really … I’ll leave you guys to speculate about all that stuff.”

Malcolm Turnbull urged to challenge Tony Abbott in new leadership spill | Australia news | The Guardian

Coalition under pressure as cracks appear


Daniel Hurst, political correspondent Thursday 26 February 2015

After denying any job offer was made to the human rights chief, Julie Bishop concedes that ‘a role was raised that related to international affairs’

julie bishop

Julie Bishop came under pressure during question time on Thursday. Photograph: AAP

The Abbott government has come under pressure over its account of a meeting with the Human Rights Commission president, Gillian Triggs, after apparent inconsistencies between Julie Bishop’s comments to parliament and earlier official testimony to a committee hearing.

A day after the foreign affairs minister made a definitive statement to parliament that “no such [job] offer was made” to Triggs, Bishop conceded on Thursday that “a role was raised that related to international affairs”.

But Bishop insisted there was “a world of difference” between discussions about a role and a job offer, and she reaffirmed her denial that the government offered any “inducement” to obtain Triggs’s resignation from the Human Rights Commission over alleged bias against the Coalition.

Triggs was attacked for defending the powerless – and one day another PM will apologise for it

Richard Flanagan

Years from now we will be told that we didn’t know then what we do now about our treatment of asylum seekers. But we did know. We just chose not to hear even when our human rights champion spoke up

Read more

The government faces ongoing scrutiny about a meeting on 3 February between Triggs and the secretary of the attorney-general’s department, Chris Moraitis, who delivered a message that his boss, George Brandis, had lost confidence in her presidency.

Moraitis told a Senate estimates committee on Tuesday that Brandis “was asking me to formally put on the table or mention that there would be a senior legal role, a specific senior role, that her skills could be used for”.

Triggs told the same committee hearing that she had immediately rejected the “disgraceful proposal” because she believed it would undermine the commission’s independence.

“To suggest that I should, in the light of the political environment and the concerns about the inquiry, quietly step down and take another position that might reflect my skills I thought was an entirely inappropriate offer to make to someone who has a position that is designed to prevent that kind of proposal,” Triggs said.

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, asked Bishop on Wednesday: “What was the alternative role the government wanted Professor Triggs to take?”

Bishop gave a one-sentence response: “I can advise that no such offer was made.”

Following up this claim in question time on Thursday, Labor asked Bishop to clarify the “specific role” that Moraitis had mentioned in Senate estimates.

“There was no job offer made to the president of the Human Rights Commission,” said Bishop, who represents Brandis in the lower house.

“There was no request for her to resign and there was no inducement offered. A role was raised that related to international affairs.”

Bishop declined to reveal what the role would have entailed. “As the secretary of the Attorney General’s Department said in Senate estimates, it was a sensitive matter that he did not wish to give details of in Senate estimates, so I don’t give details of it,” she said.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, then asked Bishop to explain “the difference between a specific role and a job offer”.

“There is a world of difference,” Bishop replied. “It depends who raised the issue of the role and no specific job offer was made.”

When Shorten said Bishop had “finally admitted” that a role was discussed, the prime minister, Tony Abbott, accused the opposition of “verballing” the foreign affairs minister in an “attempt to smear and character assassinate”.

“The minister for foreign affairs critically, critically … said it would depend on by whom it was raised,” Abbott said.

“While the leader of the opposition is engaged in character assassination and semiotic analysis of Senate estimates, this government is getting on with doing the right thing by the people of Australia.”

Abbott repeated his criticism of Triggs over her handling of the inquiry into the health impacts of holding children in immigration detention, saying the president “was incapable of appreciating the difference between starting the boats and stopping the boats, the difference between putting people into detention and taking people out of detention”.

“I stand by the attorney general, I stand by the minister for foreign affairs and I absolutely stand by the secretary of the attorney general’s department,” Abbott said.

Triggs issued a statement late on Thursday standing by the evidence she gave at Senate estimates, after some media outlets reported unnamed government sources as disputing her account.

A commission spokeswoman said Triggs “categorically denies any suggestion that the issue of a job offer and resignation came at her instigation”.

Brandis wrote an opinion piece for the Australian on Friday arguing the independence of the Human Rights Commission was “not absolute” and its members should not be “immune from criticism”, but the article did not include any commentary about discussions over another job for Triggs.

Moraitis, Brandis and Triggs spoke at length about the 3 February meeting when they were questioned by the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee on Tuesday.

Moraitis said he had authority from Brandis to mention his instructions for the secretary’s meeting with Triggs in Sydney.

“They were as follows,” Moraitis said. “Unfortunately, the attorney does not have confidence in Professor Triggs in her present role as commission president.

“Nevertheless, he retained significant goodwill towards Triggs and has high regard for her legal skills. In that respect, the government would be prepared to consider positively a senior legal role for her, which I specifically mentioned – a specific role, which I am well aware of.”

Brandis told the same committee: “It was my wish that Professor Triggs, having reflected on her position, would recognise that it was untenable and was doing the commission harm. However, it was not my wish that Professor Triggs be reputational damaged. And so, as a matter of goodwill towards her and in earnest of my good intentions towards her, I did say to Mr Moraitis that I hoped Professor Triggs could be encouraged or would be willing to serve the government in other capacities, and that, if she stood aside from the commission, that did not reflect a lack of confidence on my part in her ability as a lawyer and, in particular, as an international lawyer.”

Triggs told the committee there was “no doubt” in her mind that the pressure to resign and the job offer “were connected”, but she stopped short of describing it as an “inducement”.

“I prefer not to use that term, especially as it is a legal term of art,” Triggs said. “But I certainly, in a layman’s sense, saw it as a basis for motivation. It would be a reason that somebody might agree to resign their position – knowing that they would perhaps be secure in some other position.

“That was obviously running through my mind. But, again, for the reasons I have explained, the very idea of resigning would threaten the entire reputation and independence of the commission in a way which would have a dramatic effect not only on me but on all of the commission, particularly the place of the commission in the processes of human rights protection in Australia.”

Labor has referred the alleged inducement to the Australian federal police, which confirmed it would evaluate the issue.

Coalition under pressure as cracks appear in accounts of Triggs 'job offer' | Australia news | The Guardian

Ruddock asked me to do my job 'without fear or favour'


Graeme Innes Friday 27 February 2015

Graeme Innes AM was a Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission from December 2005 until July 2014

I was a human rights commissioner under five attorneys-general from both sides of politics. George Brandis is the only one to question my integrity

Ruddock asked me to do my job

‘Part of our democratic system, and the rule of law, provides that a key duty of any attorney general is to defend judges and statutory officers doing their jobs.’ Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

I was buying the family fish and chips when attorney general Philip Ruddock called to appoint me as human rights commissioner and disability discrimination commissioner in December 2005. One of the things he said to me, after informing me and congratulating me, was that I must do the job “without fear or favour”.

As human rights commissioner I reported on three inspections of immigration detention centres, two under the Howard government. I conducted the Same Sex: Same Entitlements inquiry, and the Howard government did not implement my recommendations. I supported Australia’s participation in the drafting of a Disability Convention, which was initially opposed by the Howard government.

I disagreed many times on policy issues with Howard ministers and staffers. Our discussions were sometimes “free and frank”, usually civil and never personal. My views were regularly questioned, my integrity was not.

When the Rudd government was elected and Robert McClelland became attorney general he said to commissioners:

Sometimes you’ll give us a kicking. Sometimes you’ll support us. That’s your job.

He took the Ruddock approach, sometimes questioning our recommendations, but never our integrity, as did attorneys-general Nicola Roxon and Mark Dreyfus.

Things changed in September 2013. My first sign was when a George Brandis staffer berated me for my criticism of Myer. I had called out Myer CEO Bernie Brookes for his assessment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme levy as being “money that could have gone through our cash registers”. The disability sector and others vehemently criticised his remark. When he made what I regarded as a “Clayton’s apology” the next day I joined the criticism and recommended that he rectify his error by committing Myer to hire more employees with disabilities and commit to a 10% target – a call to employers I made numerous times. The Brandis staffer questioned my judgement rather than my policy approach.

The trend continued with Tim Wilson’s appointment as human rights commissioner without a selection process and fresh from the Institute of Public Affairs, whose policy was to abolish the Commission. Until that point, both sides of politics, as well as the Commission, understood that the position of human rights commissioner was redundant. From the time I moved from that role in 2009, the president, Catherine Branson, and then Gillian Triggs, carried the role.

The ill-fated Labor bill proposed in 2013 to consolidate Australia’s human rights legislation abolished the position altogether. This part of the bill was not opposed by Brandis in opposition however it never came to the parliament.

Wilson’s appointment meant that the resources of the Commission were so stretched that when my term as disability discrimination commissioner ended last July the position was not filled. Susan Ryan got the job, as well as her full-time job as age discrimination commissioner. She had no lived experience of disability, although she is doing the best job she can.

The decision to conduct the children in detention inquiry was made when I was still at the Commission in 2013. All commissioners made it. Commissioners before me had inquired into the issue, I reported on three inspections of the centres, Catherine Branson inquired as well. The Commission has been concerned since the late 1990s that Australia has not been complying with its commitments under the Refugee Convention.

While the number of children in detention is less now than under Labor, those there have been there for much longer. Also, information about people in detention was significantly harder to obtain from the immigration department after the Coalition took power. In conducting the inquiry, the Commission was just doing its job “without fear or favour”.

The Forgotten Children report was received by the attorney general last October. The message to undermine Triggs clearly went out this January. It has happened ever since, climaxing when the government initiated discussions about her resignation and talked of other employment.

Triggs was hammered in The Australian, although supported in most other media outlets. It isn’t the first time The Australian has attacked the Human Rights Commission – let’s not forget the time they put Tom Calma’s Canberra house on their front page, questioning what he as an Aboriginal man (who happened to be an outstanding bureaucrat) would know about Aboriginal welfare in the Northern Territory. They ignored the fact that this was where he came from. There are other examples too.

Part of our democratic system, and the rule of law, provides that a key duty of any attorney general is to defend judges and statutory officers doing their jobs, because they are not in a position to easily defend themselves. Far from defending, Brandis has attacked. It is he who has made the serious error of judgement. He has “shot the messenger”. Triggs has advocated human rights compliance by Australia – she has done her job.

The “play the person, not the ball” approach was followed when Senator Ian Macdonald, chairing the Senate committee considering the report, admitted on Tuesday that he hadn’t read it because – he said – it was partisan. How “chicken and egg” is this – if he hasn’t read it, how does he know it is partisan?

But you know, I agree with Malcolm Turnbull. This is not the main debate. We should be debating why children are still in detention, as Gillian Triggs has sought to do.

Ruddock asked me to do my job 'without fear or favour'. Brandis ended that tradition | Graeme Innes | Comment is free | The Guardian

A pre-budget spill is on the cards


By ABC's Barrie Cassidy Friday 27 February 2015

Turnbull has in recent days pointedly contradicted his leader. Photo: Turnbull has in recent days pointedly contradicted his leader. (AAP: Lukas Coch)

The way ministers are now contradicting their Prime Minister indicates a more short term strategy for his removal. Can they really go on playing this game all the way through to July? Barrie Cassidy writes.

When the Prime Minister allowed his frustrations with the Human Rights Commission to career out of control this week, he got three ticks from his backbench ... tick, tick, tick.

Some of them, in conversations with journalists, started counting down his leadership, and suddenly they were musing about a pre-budget timetable.

The fact is that ever since the spill motion, Tony Abbott has made it too easy for his detractors: those on his own team as well as those in opposition.

That Abbott missed an opportunity to soberly and meticulously use the commission's report to embarrass Labor has been well documented on this site. By going in so hard against the commission president Gillian Triggs, he ended up embarrassing his own party.

Malcolm Turnbull then stepped into "the sensible centre" with a calm and reassuring message that the children in detention should not be forgotten in all of this. The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, ran a similar line on ABC's AM, saying that the stoush "certainly is a distraction from the issue at hand, which is the report on children in detention".

And when the Prime Minister followed the lead of the right-wing shock jocks and chastised Muslim leaders for not doing enough to condemn terrorists - indeed, questioning their sincerity even when they do - the Foreign Minister again delivered a different message.

She told AM that the Government was working very closely with the mosques around the country:

They (the Muslim leaders) are working hand in glove with the Australian Government to ensure that we can stop young people being radicalised and supporting terrorist organisations.

Turnbull has in recent days pointedly contradicted his leader on other issues.

Abbott described the leaked letter from the Liberal Party's honorary treasurer, Philip Higginson, as a "storm in a teacup". But Turnbull told reporters the central issue in that letter - the need to better manage the party's finances - was "absolutely critical".

"The more open and transparent you are, the better," he said.

"The best antidote to suspicion or anxiety, questions about propriety even, is sunlight. Just put the facts out there."

While Abbott thumbed his nose at the honorary treasurer, seemingly indifferent to his views, Turnbull said that Higginson was "a very experienced company director":

He is a corporate governance expert. He's regarded as an authority in that field, so I'm sure the federal executive will pay very careful attention to his proposals.

Turnbull spoke similarly of Gillian Triggs:

I've known Gillian Triggs for many years. She's a very distinguished international legal academic.

The contradictions with their leader are rolling off the ministers' tongues. These contributions don't have the feel to them of a six-month strategy. They seem more short-term than that.

Can they really go on playing this game all the way through to July? Can the Government really indulge Abbott and allow him to stumble on through yet another budget?

What if - as many of them expect will happen - they move against him soon afterwards? Wouldn't that simply be a vote of no confidence in a second budget, with just one left before the next election?

Can they really afford to have everything seen through the prism of a vulnerable grip on the leadership for months yet to come?

The latest Newspoll implied that brand Liberal is still in play even if the leader has lost the respect of the vast majority of voters. But can they go on until July exposing that brand to further ridicule?

These are tough questions for a party that innately wants to be above their more ruthless opponents when it comes to leadership; tough questions for a party that wants to give a man owed so much a fair go. The question is though, for how long can they postpone answering those tough questions?

If not next week, or the next sitting fortnight after that (March 16-26), then they are effectively locked in for many more months.

Barrie Cassidy is the presenter of the ABC program Insiders. He writes a weekly column for The Drum.

A pre-budget spill is on the cards - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Tony Abbott's leadership again under pressure


By political editor Chris Uhlmann and Sabra Lane 

Friday 27 February 2015

Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull Photo: Coalition MPs have told the ABC that Malcolm Turnbull has the numbers to oust Tony Abbott (AAP: Lukas Coch)

Related Story: Senior Liberal warns internal 'governance' problems must be resolved

Related Story: Turnbull distances himself from PM's 'captain's call' to sack Ruddock

Pressure is building in the Liberal Party for another tilt at removing Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Both ministers and backbenchers have told the ABC they believe Malcolm Turnbull now has the numbers to win a challenge and should use them, though the Communications Minister is not agitating for a spill.

But other MPs are playing down the tension, saying the Prime Minister has "strong" support.

Mr Turnbull deflected questions of another potential spill on Thursday, saying only: "I'll leave you guys to speculate about all that stuff."

Mr Abbott, who was in central Queensland inspecting cyclone damage, was asked whether he had any concerns that Mr Turnbull was being urged to run against him.

"We're here to look at the cyclone damage today, OK," he replied.

Mr Abbott survived a move on his leadership earlier this month, when a motion to spill the position failed 39 votes to 61.

After that party room meeting, the Prime Minister declared that "good government starts today" and promised to consult his colleagues more.

However, there is now open despair in Coalition ranks, even among those who supported the Prime Minister in the leadership spill.

Liberals talk of little else and worry that there will be permanent brand damage if Mr Abbott stays.

Backbenchers do not want to lead the charge this time, and instead want ministers to push for a change at the top.

Video: Sabra Lane discusses the leadership speculation (7.30)

Some argue that it should be resolved quickly to give a new leader the opportunity to re-frame this year's budget, which is just 12 weeks away.

There is also the view that NSW Premier Mike Baird should be given clean air to fight the state election next month.

The leadership talk has also been fuelled by Mr Abbott's criticism of Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs, with some MPs uncomfortable with the way she was treated.

This week in the party room Mr Abbott was asked about his tactics and whether he could have, for example, highlighted the positives of what the Government had done to get children out of detention.

Some MPs described the Prime Minister's response to their queries as a slap down and way too harsh, feeding anxiety about his leadership.

Mr Turnbull distanced himself from Mr Abbott's remarks, describing Ms Triggs as "distinguished" and saying the criticism of her "misses the point".

'Our party room is as placid as a lake by moonlight'

But not all are pushing for a new leader. One Liberal MP told the ABC the opinion poll figures this week were better and people should give Mr Abbott more time.

Another Liberal, Attorney-General George Brandis, was on Thursday questioned in Senate estimates about the general issue of "friendly fire" within his party room.

"Our party room is as placid as a lake by moonlight," he said in response to a question from the Greens.

Luke Simpkins, who filed the motion for the failed leadership spill, said he thought the Prime Minister was getting the Government in order.

"I think we just give the Prime Minister time, lets get back on track and everything will be fine," he said.

Dennis Jensen, one of Mr Abbott's most outspoken critics prior to the leadership spill, also praised the Prime Minister for his actions over the past few weeks.

"It's evident that the Prime Minister's heard the message and adjustments are being made," he said.

"It's very important that those changes are made and obviously it's an ongoing process."

Abbott 'continues on with support of party room'

Coalition frontbencher Steve Ciobo said he had not been hearing the leadership discussions within the party.

"Look I'm loathe to go into these types of things but in summary, no I'm not," he said.

"We had a vote of the party room in relation to a spill motion that has been decided, the Prime Minister continues on with the support of party room."

Frontbencher Jamie Briggs joined Mr Ciobo in his dismissal of another possible spill motion, saying the issue was resolved and the Government was "getting on, doing its job".

As he left Parliament on Thursday Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey was questioned about whether Mr Abbott would lead the Government to the next election.

"Who knows, I mean we are falling in behind Tony, we've had that day in the party room," he said.

"Not everybody's happy all the time, but that's life."

Another backbencher, Russell Broadbent, reiterated that Mr Abbott had qualified support.

"He's been given time, the time that he's been given is - he's on a test at all times - so every Prime Minister is," he said, adding there was "no deadline".

Tony Abbott's leadership again under pressure as MPs say Malcolm Turnbull has numbers to win challenge - Liberal Leadership turmoil - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Rabu, 25 Februari 2015

The Islamophobia stirred up by Abbott and Bolt is a bigger threat


Julian Burnside  Thursday 26 February 2015


We’re being asked to give up long-held principles of justice, fairness and liberty, not to mention social cohesion. Is there any threat big enough to warrant that?

‘Abbott’s recent comments about the threat of terrorism were plainly directed at the risk of Muslim terrorism.’ Photograph: Lukas Coch/EPA

I have been criticised by several people I respect (and a few I do not respect) for a tweet last week in which I said, “Sorry to see Andrew Bolt stirring up Islamophobia today on his blog. People like Bolt and Abbott are the real threat to our way of life.”

This has been taken by some people as me expressing support for jihadists. It was not. I detest Islamic extremism. Let me make it really plain: I detest extremism of any persuasion. One reason I think we should be less hysterical about boat people is that most of them are fleeing the same extremists we dread.

Perhaps it is a limitation of Twitter as a platform for non-trivial ideas, but my point was about people who stir up Islamophobia, and the risk they present to our way of life. I would make exactly the same point about people who stir up hatred of any other group. Right now, Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism, and it is dangerous.

Tony Abbott referred to Muslims a number of times in his speech on Monday, and he referred to the Lindt café siege in Sydney. It is important to bear in mind that the Lindt café siege was not a Muslim terrorist event: it was not any sort of terrorist event. It was the terrible act of a madman. The fact that he was a Muslim is utterly irrelevant. The fact that it is used, even indirectly, to stir up fear of Muslims is utterly disgraceful.

Of course, Muslims are an easy target: Islamic State (Isis) is doing a pretty bad PR job for Islam. But most Muslims do not support terrorism, either here or overseas. A small group of zealots support Isis and want to join its fight. If there are 50 jihadists in Australia who would fight with Isis (unlikely), that represents about two Australians in a million who are sharply at odds with us. Is two in a million really a big enough threat to encourage us to abandon long-held principles of justice, fairness and liberty?

Abbott has suggested that we should not give the benefit of the doubt when making decisions about bail. It is an interesting point. Bail exists to give effect to the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. A person charged with any offence (other than the most serious) is presumed to be entitled to bail, so they do not have to stay in jail until their trial. Those charged with, for example, murder, are presumed not entitled to bail. The presumption for or against bail can be displaced by evidence.

The possibility of bail is important, especially when the trial may be six or 12 months away. I wonder how many Australians would approve the idea of jailing a person pending trial “just in case” they might commit an offence. Especially as a person charged is presumed innocent, and may be found not guilty.

It is an essential principle of our system that a person should not be punished unless they have been convicted of an offence. The legal system has plenty of examples of people who are charged and then acquitted at trial. Bail is available so that a person who might ultimately be acquitted is not punished in the meantime. Equally, there are examples of people who are charged, acquitted and then go and commit an offence. It would contradict centuries of legal thinking and social attitudes to say that the person should have been held in jail “just in case”. Punishment in advance of an offence, or in anticipation of the possibility of an offence, is utterly inconsistent with long-accepted social norms.

Similarly, privacy is a widely accepted principle. The possibility that the movements and conversations of all citizens could be tracked by government agencies cannot be reconciled with accepted social values.

Abbott’s recent comments about the threat of terrorism were plainly directed at the risk of Muslim terrorism. Andrew Bolt’s writing frequently plays up the risk of Muslim terrorism. Both Abbott and Bolt have voices which are widely heard and uncritically accepted. They are both significant elements of an increasing anti-Muslim sentiment in the community. If Abbott has his way, that sentiment is going to be harnessed by the government to introduce laws which will cut down basic civil liberties, in particular by restricting bail and enlarging Asio’s powers to spy on the public at large by use of electronic data.

Before we are frightened into accepting the sort of legislation Abbott foreshadowed, it is worth recalling the sober warning of Benjamin Franklin, who said:

Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

In December 2004, the House of Lords decided a case about English legislation which provided for detention of people thought to present a terrorist risk if they could not be deported. In an 8:1 decision, the House of Lords determined that the laws did not comply with the UK Human Rights Act. Lord Hoffmann said:

… the real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its tradition laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.

The Islamophobia stirred up by Abbott and Bolt is a bigger threat to us than terrorism | Julian Burnside | Comment is free | The Guardian

Malcolm Turnbull defends Human Rights Commission president


By political correspondent Emma Griffiths 

Thursday 26 February 2015

Video: Turnbull says Triggs criticism 'misses the point' (ABC News)

Federal Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull Photo: Malcolm Turnbull has described HRC president Gillian Triggs as a "distinguished academic", despite the Prime Minister's earlier comments. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)

Related Story: Amnesty condemns Australia's asylum seeker policies

Related Story: Opposition calls on AFP to investigate 'inducement to resign' offer to Gillian Triggs

Cabinet Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed the debate about Gillian Triggs' impartiality as one that "misses the point", describing her as a "distinguished" figure.

The comments stand in stark contrast to those of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis, who have repeatedly declared the Government has lost confidence in the Human Rights Commission (HRC) chief.

The Government and the HRC have been at loggerheads following the release of the commission's damning report into children in detention, which was described by Mr Abbott as a "blatantly partisan, politicised exercise".

Both Senator Brandis and Mr Abbott have told parliament that they have lost confidence in Professor Triggs.

However, when asked about the furore on Wednesday morning, Mr Turnbull said he did not want to get into "personalities".

"This debate about Gillian Triggs misses the main point," he said.

Triggs takes punches meant for Labor

The Government's extraordinary attack on Gillian Triggs allows Labor to avoid scrutiny for its own role in allowing children to suffer in detention, writes Annabel Crabb.


"The main point is the children."

Mr Turnbull defended the Government's record in stopping asylum seeker boats from reaching Australia and in transferring children out of detention.

"I'm not going to buy into this discussion about Gillian Triggs," he said.

"I've known Gillian Triggs for many years. She's a very distinguished international legal academic.

"Obviously this has become a very controversial issue, and there's all sorts of allegations flying around. I don't want to get into that.

"Other people can do that if they wish."

Who is Gillian Triggs?
  • Attended University of Melbourne, earning Bachelor of Laws (1967) and Doctor of Philosophy (1982)
  • Earned Master of Laws from Southern Methodist University in Texas while working as legal adviser to Chief of Police
  • Joined law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques in 1987, working as a consultant in international law
  • Practised as barrister in Sydney and was Professor at Melbourne Law School (1996-2005)
  • Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (2005-2007)
  • Director of the Institute for Comparative and International Law at the University of Melbourne
  • Became Dean of the University of Sydney Law School in 2007
  • Retired as Dean in July 2012 to take up HRC appointment
  • Was Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner from July 2012 to August 2013
  • Launched National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention in February 2014

In Question Time, it became apparent that other people — led by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten — did want to get back into the debate.

Labor focused on revelations on Tuesday from Professor Triggs at a Senate committee that days before the report was released, the chief bureaucrat of the Attorney-General's department asked her to resign.

Department secretary Chris Moraitis said he did not ask for her resignation but that he told her Senator Brandis had lost confidence in her and they discussed the possibility of her taking on another government role.

Labor has referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police, which has confirmed it is investigating.

"The police will evaluate this referral as per usual processes," the AFP said in a statement.

Labor tried to pressure the Government over the matter in Question Time.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus asked, "What was the alternative role the Government wanted Professor Triggs to take?"

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's response — "I can advise that no such offer was made" — drew laughter from Opposition benches.

Ms Bishop added that she had spoken to Mr Moraitis on Wednesday morning and accepted his account of the discussion.

"He confirmed to me that Professor Triggs was not asked to resign, that she was not offered an inducement to resign and I would back the secretary of the Attorney-General's department over any one on that side," she told Parliament.

Video: Bishop denies HRC president Triggs offered different role (ABC News)

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten continued the line of attack, accusing the Government of playing "word games" and "bullying" Professor Triggs.

"This attack on the President of the Human Rights Commission is a new low by the most powerful man in Australia against an upright proper and decent woman," he said.

The Prime Minister dismissed the criticism as irrelevant.

"Well, I don't know what Shorten QC is trying to establish here, but all he is establishing is he is not interested in the real issues that concern the Australian people - yet again Canberra insider nonsense that's all this is," Mr Abbott said.

Gillian Triggs: Malcolm Turnbull defends Human Rights Commission president as 'distinguished academic', says criticism 'misses the point' - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Senin, 23 Februari 2015

Prime Minister Tony Abbott defends Peta Credlin


By Chris Uhlmann, Anna Henderson and Eliza Borrello

Tuesday 24 Feb 2015

Peta Credlin and Brian Loughnane Photo: Power couple ... Peta Credlin and Brian Loughnane. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

The Prime Minister has defended his chief of staff in the wake of a leaked internal letter attacking Peta Credlin and her husband Liberal party Federal Director Brian Loughnane, dismissing the criticism as a "storm in a teacup".

The ABC has obtained two letters sent from the Liberal Party's honorary federal treasurer Philip Higginson, an avowed long-time friend of Tony Abbott, to the party's Federal Executive.

One letter foreshadows Mr Higginson's resignation and criticises the conflict of interest he believes has been created by having two such crucial positions held by a married couple.

This morning Mr Abbott said he stood by both Ms Credlin and Mr Loughnane and said "it is no problem" that the two are married.

"If Peta Credlin was able to be deputy chief of staff to Malcolm Turnbull when Brian Loughnane was federal director, there was no problem then and there's no problem now," he told Macquarie Radio.

Mr Abbott was asked this morning if Ms Credlin's job was safe.

"I stand by my team, I stand by my cabinet colleagues, my parliamentary colleagues, I stand by my staff," he told Channel Nine.

"I certainly have full confidence in the party president, the party's federal director.

"Look, I'm aware of that particular storm in a teacup but the [Liberal party] treasurer signed off on the party accounts so I'm not quite sure what the fuss is over."

In his first letter, Mr Higginson, outlines his concerns.

"How this party ever let a husband-and-wife team into those two key roles, where collegiate competitive tension is mandatory and private consultations between colleagues to see that each side is served well, is a complete mystery," the letter said.

"The persons in our party's history that allowed it to occur should hang their heads in collective shame.

"The federal director has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the organisation at all times, repeat, at all times.

"How can this possibly happen when the COS [chief of staff] to the PM is his wife?

"It immediately brings about the cessation of open communication to the federal director, contributes to wooden and unreliable communication, and a reluctance towards open and trusting lines of communication and, dare I say it, retribution.

"In corporate Australia the chairman of the board would never allow his EA [executive assistant] to be the wife of the managing director, or the managing director would never allow his EA to be the wife of the chairman."

Mr Higginson's second letter is about the Liberal Party's accounts. He laments there was "a significant delay in obtaining the information I sought" on the accounts, which he and Mr Loughnane jointly approve.

Liberal Party president Richard Alston responded to both letters by writing to the federal executive saying he was not aware of any breach of duty by Mr Loughnane.

"On the contrary, I have always found Brian to possess the highest ethical standards, as well as being a devoted and highly committed servant of the party," Mr Alston wrote.

"In my experience he forcefully represents the interest of the party in discussions with the PM and his office. I have no reason to expect anything less."

Suggestions leaked emails designed to keep pressure on PM

Party sources told the ABC that the leaking of the letter was designed to keep up the pressure on Mr Abbott and Ms Credlin.

They said there had been a steady drip of leaks in the fortnight since the failed leadership spill aimed at getting the Prime Minister to sack Ms Credlin, or force him out of office.

Despite a messy fortnight for the Government, during which a spill motion was moved against the PM's leadership, the latest Newspoll has the Coalition's primary vote up three points to 38 per cent.

In the two-party preferred stakes the Coalition's gained four points but still trails Labor 47 per cent to 53.

The poll's margin of error is 3 per cent.

Mr Higginson's letter appeared to have been triggered by the belief that he was about to be replaced as honorary treasurer.

"I am reliably informed that the new federal president, Richard Alston AO, wants a new treasurer and that's the bottom line," his letter said.

Mr Alston denied the claim.

"This is the first time Phil has ever suggested I have asked, let alone demanded, that he move on," Mr Alston's response said.

"I have never raised his position with him, let alone asked him to stand down or sought a new treasurer."

In the letter about the party's accounts, Mr Higginson suggested an audit committee be created that included the treasurer, president and an additional independent member.

He said the federal director and chief financial officer should be able to "have a voice on all matters, but not vote" on the committee.

Mr Higginson did not indicate what that information he sought was or suggest any impropriety, and said only that he was "energetically inquisitive" about the accounts.

He said that he was finding it more difficult to "enthusiastically assure our donors that their monies was being vigorously and prudently cared for with strong internal controls".

"I was therefore convinced only a vigorous pursuit of facts would produce results.

"This pursuit has now produced them and I am confident that a new dawn will break with respect to future disclosures by the management of the federal secretariat, if the federal executive do not adopt a supine position."

Who is Peta Credlin?
  • Has worked for Tony Abbott since 2009 when he became opposition leader
  • Prior to 2009, was chief of staff to preceding opposition leaders Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull
  • In 2013, long-serving Senator Ian Macdonald criticised her and the PM's office for its "obsessive centralised control phobia"
  • In December 2014, Mr Abbott slammed internal critics of Ms Credlin as being sexist, a claim dismissed by Julie Bishop and one that prompted an official complaint from veteran backbencher Warren Entsch
  • In January, Rupert Murdoch called for Ms Credlin to be replaced
  • In June 2013, Clive Palmer accused her of masterminding the Government's paid parental leave scheme for her own benefit; he later said he regretted the comments
  • She spoke publicly in 2013 about her unsuccessful attempts to conceive through IVF
  • In 2013, she was caught drink-driving, blowing 0.075 when breathalysed on her way home from Mr Abbott's budget reply speech, but had no conviction recorded

Prime Minister Tony Abbott defends Peta Credlin after letters from Philip Higginson expose split in Liberal Party executive - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Minggu, 22 Februari 2015

So much for a more 'consultative' PM


By Paula Matthewson  Monday 23 February 2015

Tony Abbott Photo: Tony Abbott's detractors and supporters have taken to the media to fight it out. (AAP: Lukas Coch)

Despite promising to be more consultative after the non-coup two weeks ago, Tony Abbott is still making poor unilateral decisions and statements that are chipping away at his authority, writes Paula Matthewson.

Today marks a fortnight since Prime Minister Tony Abbott, reportedly shaken by the number of MPs who had voted against him in the failed leadership spill, vowed to his colleagues and the nation to be a changed man.

The chastened PM promised he'd be more consultative in future, would "socialise" policy decisions before announcing them, and swear off making captain's calls. But in the 14 days since then it's become clear Abbott either has no intention of keeping those commitments, or is simply incapable of doing so.

Even in the hours leading up to the spill motion, Abbott was still making unilateral decisions. Without consulting Cabinet or the leadership group he promised to open up the tender process for building Australia's new submarine fleet in order to secure the votes of wavering South Australian backbenchers. Unfortunately, this commitment held as much water as any other made by the PM, with Abbott backtracking on it ever since.

Since the vote Abbott has also continued to exercise his seriously defective political judgement, attacking the president of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, over the children in custody report, and sacking senior Liberal Philip Ruddock as Whip for being less than effusive during the leadership non-coup.

The PM's clumsy references to emergency aid previously given to help Indonesia recover from the Boxing Day tsunami have also potentially set back efforts to gain clemency for the Bali Nine prisoners facing execution. And then there's Abbott accusing Labor of a jobs "holocaust" or his dog-whistling xenophobes on the foreign ownership of properties and land.

In fact, pretty much very effort Abbott has made to portray himself as the tough guy over the past fortnight has backfired, robbing him of the best opportunity left to turn his approval ratings around.

And while the PM's poor political decisions and mis-speaks have continued unabated, Abbott's shown no inclination to curb the unprecedented powers of his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, in anything other than a cosmetic way.

As a result, the PM's supporters and detractors have taken to the media - particularly Abbott's principal cheerleader News Corp - to fight it out.

It's no coincidence that following on from Abbott choosing to ignore News Corp proprietor Rupert Murdoch's helpful advice to sack Credlin, she should be controversially denounced in a New Corp expose over the weekend. The report makes that same mistake as Abbott supporters, blaming Credlin for the PM's failures, and even going so far as to imply the PM's most senior adviser was negligent by failing to dissuade Abbott from wanting to invade Iraq to combat Islamic State.

Even more damaging is the article's conclusion, articulating the thought that no Abbott supporter dare speak:

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that dysfunction is entrenched in the highest office in the land - and that Abbott and Credlin will survive or crash together.

Meanwhile Abbott detractors are continuing to leak like an open fire hydrant, providing the News Corp Sunday tabloids with pointedly damaging information about the PM, including that he'd insisted on young unemployed waiting six months for the dole, and had refused to limit the aged pension for wealthy retirees.

Both the stories against Credlin and those against Abbott are particularly inconvenient for the PM, who has been trying for a week to create momentum for a statement on national security that he plans to make to the Parliament today.

Abbott has been telegraphing this speech for a week, firstly with a video statement on the Valentine's Day weekend, announcing that terrorists would no longer be given "the benefit of the doubt", bookended with last weekend's response to the inquiry into the Sydney siege.

This succession of statements would have been carefully staged to put the PM in the best possible light, as the "defender of the nation", while Newspoll was surveying voters late last week and over the weekend. The results of that poll will now be tainted by the News Corp attack on Credlin, and the past fortnight's damaging leaks against Abbott, which are contributing to a general sense of chaos in the Government.

Today's statement on national security is therefore the last desperate attempt by Abbott to show his increasingly disillusioned colleagues that he should be retained as PM, by demonstrating that voters turn to tough and principled leaders in times of national adversity.

But the PM may already be too late. As this week's Newspoll will likely show, the problem for Abbott is that his continued gaffes, stumbles and poor political judgement have already stripped away any authority or respect he might have once commanded as PM.

It's likely no one will listen to PM Abbott or take him seriously from now on, even if it is a matter of national security - for a prime minister without authority is in no position to protect himself let alone the nation.

Paula Matthewson is a freelance communications adviser and corporate writer. She was media advisor to John Howard in the early 1990s.

So much for a more 'consultative' PM - The Drum (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Sabtu, 21 Februari 2015

Senior ministers rally around Tony Abbott after more damaging leaks


Shalailah Medhora and agencies Sunday 22 February 2015

Coalition denies reports that PM suggested unilateral military campaign against Isis in Iraq, and plays down further revelations about pension changes

Tony Abbott speaking to media in Darwin.

Tony Abbott speaking to media in Darwin. Photograph: Russell Millard/AAP

Senior members of the government have been rallying around prime minister Tony Abbott as more damaging leaks on defence and social security put his leadership back in focus.

News Corp papers on Saturday reported that Abbott contemplated unilaterally sending 3,500 Australian combat troops to Iraq without the backing of key allies.

Abbott on Saturday labelled the report incorrect and “fanciful”.

“I read an article in the paper this morning and I must say I thought it was absolutely fanciful and I rang the Chief of the Defence Force to ask him about it and he’s as mystified by it as I am,” Abbott said. “The idea there was a meeting in late November where I formally asked for advice and formally suggested that a large Australian force should go unilaterally to Iraq is wrong – just wrong.”

Senior members of the government were in damage control on Sunday.

“I was on the national security committee at the time, I can confirm what the prime minister said. It is fanciful,” social services minister Scott Morrison said.

“These stories are getting ridiculous. What’s next? Will they suggest the prime minister had some plan to put a manned space mission to Mars or the moon? It is getting silly. The notion this was put about is complete nonsense,” he said.

Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce, a Nationals MP, said the report was “so out there it’s fanciful”.

He questioned the motive of the leakers and the reliability of the information provided to journalists.

“A story like that, even in the confines of the leadership group, I reckon we would have had a yarn about it. It never happened. So I’m flummoxed as to where this story emanated from,” Joyce said.

He said the question of leadership has been resolved.

“[The Australian people] don’t want a recurring soap opera, even though it’s fascinating to watch and it’s kind of intriguing and a little bit sordid. But it’s also rubbish and it doesn’t get the job done and we’re back to work doing our jobs.”

Greens leader Christine Milne said the report that Abbott wanted to send troops in unilaterally was indicative of Abbott’s “aggressive” leadership style.

“His leadership style has disabled the government, produced the most cruel and imbalanced budget in a generation, and now we know it also risks sending more and more Australian troops alone into dangerous quagmires.”

Abbott is also facing leaks in regards to social services, with a report in the Sunday Telegraph stating that the government’s budget razor gang shelved a secret plan to kick millionaires off the aged pension in favour of slashing the indexation of payments for every pensioner in Australia.

The razor gang was asked to consider slashing pension payments to wealthy seniors last year by changing the taper rate, the preferred option of the former minister for social services, Kevin Andrews.

This move would have reversed Howard-era changes that brought more high income seniors into the pension system.

Senior ministers had said they agonised over whether Tony Abbott would be accused of kicking seniors off the pension and breaking an election promise not to cut pensions, the report claims.

Instead, treasury proposed a change to the indexation arrangements for all pensioners, meaning the rate of increase would effectively be slowed, from 2017.

The change was announced in the May budget, with welfare groups and Labor arguing it would cut pensions by $80 a week within 10 years.

The treasurer, Joe Hockey, reportedly preferred treasury’s proposal because it would create larger structural savings and would not outwardly breach the government’s promise to protect pensions.

The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said that Abbott had “lied to pensioners before the election”.

“Now every single pensioner has to pay the price for that lie.”

“It’s ridiculous that while the pension is being cut, some multinational corporations are paying little to no tax, and multi-millionaires are receiving new tax breaks from the government.’’

Morrison played down the story as “the great revelation that the government decided not to do something”.

“This is a story about something that happened over a year ago. I think this story has a use-by date,” Morrison said.

Senior ministers rally around Tony Abbott after more damaging leaks | Australia news | The Guardian

Treating politics like a marketing exercise


Lenore Taylor

Lenore Taylor, political editor Friday 20 February 2015

Slogans and branding strategies are good at getting parties noticed, and even elected, but the gloss of the sales pitch quickly fades if not backed up by decent policies and sane political process

Turnbull Q&A

Malcolm Turnbull’s on Q&A: ‘What we, as politicians, have to do is treat the people with respect. Don’t slogan at them. Don’t pretend problems don’t exist. Lay out the problems.’ Photograph: ABC

Marketing manuals advise would-be salespeople to use the word “value” rather than “price” because it implies customers are getting something worthwhile rather than losing something, like money. Presumably we get so dazzled by the promised qualities of what we are about to buy we forget that we’ll have to pay for it.

Since we’ve been fed for years the depleting idea that political parties are like “brands”, it’s probably no surprise that the same slick linguistic tricks are inveigling their way into politicians’ language.

As we noted two weeks ago, the new health minister Sussan Ley says part of the problem with the GP co-payment policy was the very word “co-payment”, which was seen by the public as a “dirty word”. The minister, who seems to be doing her best to find her way through a somewhat confused policy brief, says she won’t even call it a “price signal” any more, but rather a “value signal” because that meant we “value the services our GPs provide”. (It is unclear how this reassuring message fits with the somewhat alarming image of Ley donning a single rubber glove on the front page of this weekend’s Australian magazine, even if it is good to know she has a sense of humour.)

View image on Twitter

When choosing between products, emotive words and images might change people’s minds. Who knows, maybe some parents do think a particular brand of washing powder will produce results so dazzling that teenage children will be happy and grateful for their laundering efforts. Maybe some coffee drinkers think a certain brand really might be so delicious it would override their interest in meeting George Clooney. But surely if these possibly delusional thoughts drove them to buy the washing powder or the coffee and it turned out to be no good, they wouldn’t buy it again, unless of course they couldn’t find a better alternative.

Which brings us directly back to Australian politics. Emotive words, slogans and branding strategies are getting political parties noticed, even elected. But judged against the reality of what came later, “Can Do” Campbell, “New leadership” Kevin and “Real Action” Tony were disappointing, to say the least. The snappy slogan quickly fades if it isn’t followed by decent policies and sane political process. Even reasonable aims, debatable propositions or good ideas get warped and confused by the positioning and the sales pitch.

Having failed to pass last year’s budget and having not yet settled on a clear direction for this year’s, the government is now going back to the drawing board with an advertising campaign, based on the soon-to-be-released intergenerational report, explaining why it felt it needed to either reduce spending or increase tax in the first place.

But when actual ideas for possible cuts (extending the pension assets test to the family home) or revenue-raising (changes to the GST) wriggle out into the public debate, they are squashed almost immediately. And it’s hard to advertise the problem at the same time as the policy “solutions” offered in last year’s budget (which Joe Hockey says are the only way we’ll ever get to a surplus again, even though some of them aren’t even directed to the budget bottom line) have already failed and appear likely to be abandoned.

Meanwhile Labor, while promising a bright new future of policy transparency sometime in the future, continues to oppose pretty much everything. So far it’s followed the same script, the same cynical small-target strategy by which Tony beat Julia, Annastacia beat Campbell – shallow victories based on the opposition being less unpalatable or threatening than the government of the day.

The government is now opening a new debate about childcare, based on recommendations in the final report by the Productivity Commission that should be the basis for very sensible policy changes. Social services minister Scott Morrison has said, not unreasonably, that he would like to work with Labor on the response. But he’s also said that Labor will have to agree to offsetting savings before he can offer extra money to reduce the number of families losing out under the changes, or improve on what the policy can achieve for its main goal of workforce participation.

Bill Shorten replied that Labor was more than happy to talk, but then went on to outline cuts the government has already made. Maybe they’ll surprise us, but it seems quite possible that once again political posturing around the budget will drive a sensible debate off into the same old, same old debate – Labor shouting about attacks on cost of living, the Coalition shouting about the fact that Labor has offered no alternative spending cuts.

Malcolm Turnbull promised what many voters want to hear when he appeared on Q&A last Monday – a sensible contest of ideas.

“What we, as politicians, have to do is treat the people with respect. Don’t slogan at them. Don’t pretend problems don’t exist. Lay out the problems. Explain what the problem is, as clearly and concisely as you can ... then you can have a debate about the options. And that, I think - that would then be an intelligent debate which respects the public.

“You see, you know, sometimes politicians think that they’re reaching out, you know, to the electorate by dumbing everything down. I think that disrespects the electorate. I think the challenge for us, as political communicators, is to take complex problems and then explain them in a clear way, not in a simplistic way ... then people will accept the need for a solution and then you’ll have a competition about what the right solution is.”

But of course, as things stand for Turnbull, that’s still just a marketing pitch.

Treating politics like a marketing exercise will only result in buyer's remorse | Lenore Taylor | Australia news | The Guardian

On asylum seekers, Malcolm Turnbull asks us to swallow the unswallowable


Richard Ackland Friday 20 February 2015

Turnbull’s supporters love his peacock performances. But his defence of Philip Ruddock and the government’s asylum seeker policy are no improvement on Abbott

Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull remembers his Duran Duran days.

‘Malcolm Turnbull’s peacock performance on Monday night’s Q&A kept his adoring audience spellbound.’ Photograph: STEFAN POSTLES/AAPIMAGE

Malcolm Turnbull’s peacock performance on Monday night’s Q&A kept his adoring audience spellbound. Surely, though, he was having a lend of us. In particular, he expected us to swallow two unswallowable assertions: Philip Ruddock was an outstanding minister of the Howard era, and it is the Coalition’s humanitarian policies that are rescuing hundreds of children from immigration detention centres. As Tony Hancock would say on Hancock’s Half Hour, “turn it up”.

Ruddock first. Tuesday’s decision by the Court of Military Commission Review to overturn the verdict and vacate the sentence in David Hicks’s case could not have been more apt.

Here was the final nail in the coffin of a carefully constructed “legal system” run by politicians rather than lawyers. The US’s military commissions flouted every convention of fairness and decency. They were designed to get convictions – read Michael Mori’s book, In the Company of Cowards, to find out how.

We know Hicks was stitched-up with a newly invented war crime that was retrospectively applied: material support for terrorism.

Ruddock insisted this was a valid offence, even though by 2007 the process and the charge were widely regarded in legal circles as illegitimate. In late 2006, then-prime minister John Howard admitted that he could have fetched David Hicks home at any time, but choose not to do so.

Mori, who was Hicks’s Pentagon-appointed Guantanamo defence lawyer, says this was a misstep by Howard, because it showed politicians had usurped the rule of law and had control of the situation.

Ruddock, with his gleaming Amnesty International lapel badge, refused to sign the Fremantle Declaration, a document signed by all the attorneys-general of Australian states and territories affirming the right to a fair trial, access to the Geneva Conventions, prohibition of indefinite detention and affirmation of commitment to protections under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

According to Turnbull, Ruddock is “esteemed by all of the Liberal party right across the country”.

Ruddock’s spiritual descendant, George Brandis, was doing his best on Thursday to keep the flame alive, issuing a statement on Hicks from Washington, saying: “The review was about the validity of the US law under which he was convicted, not about whether he carried out the activities of which he was accused.”

In other words, the charges against Hicks are the main game, forget the fact that his conviction is null and void.

As immigration minister, Ruddock was instrumental in the creation of the “Pacific Solution”, the dumping of asylum seekers on client states where their rights were abrogated.

He’s not only father of the house, he’s the father of this wretched “solution”. Thereafter he always had the look of a man who’d sold his soul to the devil.

Which gets us to Turnbull’s claim that it is virtuous Coalition policies that account for the rescue of children from immigration detention. This was raised in the context of the Human Rights Commission report on The Forgotten Children.

This is what he said on Q&A:

At its peak, under Labor, there were 2,000 children in detention. At the time of the election, when we came into government (September 2013), there were just under 1,400. Now there are 136. So we, with our policies, have reduced the number of children in detention by 90%.

Leaving aside the fact that there had been a 31% drop in the number of children in immigration detention in the last three months of the Labor government (excluding Nauru), if we drill down a bit we’ll discover the agenda behind the Coalition’s virtuosity.

There are a couple of factors at play. One of them was the government’s eagerness to secure passage of the amendments to the Migration Act and the Maritime Powers Act. These were the amendments that changed the definition of refugee and gave the minister extraordinary powers to hold, to refoule, to decide the outcome of asylum applications and, in the process, to shred Australia’s international obligations.

The other was the fact that the Human Rights Commission’s report on the way children were being treated in immigration detention was lying around the attorney general’s desk from 11 November last year, undisclosed to the public for three months until 11 February, when it was tabled.

Both these factors drove the government’s decision to accelerate the rate at which children were removed from detention facilities.

Between October 2013, just after the Abbott government took office, and the end of August 2014, the Coalition had removed 24.8% of children from immigration detention – a smaller percentage than Labor’s last three months in office.

What is important about August 2014? That is the time the Migration and Maritime Powers Act’s amendments were being planned, largely in response to high court decisions that went against the minister earlier that year. The legislation was introduced a month later, on 29 September.

As we know, former immigration minister Scott Morrison used the children as pawns to get those measures through a difficult senate. He said children would be given temporary protection visas if the legislation was passed – even though he could have released them on bridging visas the day he became minister.

This is why the last hold-out senator, Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiasts Party, voted for the amendments. Muir said it was a choice between a “bad decision and a worse decision”.

In the period the legislation was in contention and immediately afterwards the government released 651 children from detention. That was a reduction of 82.5% – not quite the 90% claimed by Turnbull.

This rapid response also enabled a chorus of government ministers to say the Human Rights Commission’s findings are “out of date”.

However, while the raw number of children detained in camps was going down, over the same period the average length of time they were being held was going up.

After the Abbott government came to office in September 2013 the average number of days children and adults were held in immigration detention shot up from 115 to 438 days (nearly 15 months) as at the end of last December.

In July 2013, when Labor was in office, the average days in detention was 72. Morrison was keeping adults and children in detention on average six times longer than the lowest average period under Labor.

The government is not reporting the release of any children from Nauru, probably because none have been removed.

It is not to be found in any departmental statistics, but refugee workers on the ground say that some of the children removed from Australian centres and Christmas Island have actually been sent to Nauru.

One thing we do know is that if someone goes to Nauru, even if they have to come to Australia for medical treatment, they will always wind up back on the phosphate outcrop.

Judging by the figures and the timing, the rapid removal of children from detention camps by the Coalition was much more to do with politics than humanity.

If this is Turnbull’s idea of progressive Liberal policies, don’t expect any serious changes should he ever steal the crown.

On asylum seekers, Malcolm Turnbull asks us to swallow the unswallowable | Richard Ackland | Comment is free | The Guardian