Election 2013 Notebook: January


27 January 2013

Abbott courts Westies

Coalition leader Tony Abbott’s (Lib, Warringah, NSW) contrived mini campaign launch in western Sydney’s Auburn was a pretty transparent grab at legitimacy for his party in marginal electorates with large ethnic minorities.

The Coalition has traditionally been easy to paint as anti-migrant and anti-special interests while Labor attempted to claim a monopoly on a demonstrably failed social justice agenda we still pay lip service to as Multiculturalism, which has actually served more to ghettoise ethnic minorities than to integrate them.

The proof of that pudding for realpolitik might well be some damning recent findings about a rise in firearm offences, driven by young men of ethnic descent, precisely in Sydney’s western suburbs.[1]  Picking Auburn as the campaign venue was probably not entirely coincidental, given that it has the highest drive-by shooting rate in the city.[2]

Labor’s other claim to a social justice monopoly is its increasingly farcical anti-discrimination agenda, which attempts to impose a kind of sterile political correctness about ethnicity and gender that is lampooned even by Australia’s ethnic TV network, SBS, in comedy shows like Housos, The Wog Boy, and Fat Pizza [edit: and which wrongfooted the Prime Minister’s own consort in an embarrassing display of its overreaching ambit to create a politically correct culture of victimhood and paranoia (see below)].

Labor should have seen Abbott’s opportunism in his native Sydney coming from a long way off.  In fact, it might be said Abbott really had no choice but to exploit Labor’s pathetic ideological weakness and policy vacuum in this area.  The man who might have staved this off, Bob Carr, is too busy being courted by African nations since becoming a supremo of the UN Security Council, and just a little bit more concerned with the lofty affairs of the world than parochial politics in Australia, let alone his own native Sydney.  A telling reflection of the ALP’s lack of focus on NSW, which could turn into a decisive electoral weakness.

However, that’s where the good news for Abbott ends.

His message about fiscal rectitude was tale an unconvincing.  It is the same message that has been preached for 30 years now, and none of its supposed benefits have materialised for a large swathe of Australians.

Instead of the mythical trickle-down effect, it has instead encouraged an amoral corporate elite to slash and burn their way through the international economy, accumulating obscene profits at the cost of taxpayers and struggling middle class families.  The most tangible proofs of the failure of this policy orthodoxy are self-evident in rising unemployment and economic stagnation at home, which has always lagged behind the UK and US; if those economies are an indication of what lies ahead under more of the same economic rectitude, why would Australians vote for that?  How is that in the national interest rather than just the interest of private sector executives?  In what way is a more of the same approach going to address other real economic concerns, like the costs of climate change weather disasters?  How will more of the same do anything other than lead us all to another global financial crisis?

If Labor offers a recipe no different, but with more pork barrel perks, why not just vote that way if we’re all screwed in the longer term anyway?

It’s a shame that Abbott either doesn’t have the nous or the muscle to develop a vision for Australia.

29 January

Mathieson unfortunate piggie in the middle

In an ironic, though probably undeserved twist, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson, illustrated for us all just how ridiculous the ALP’s current draft anti-discrimination really is.

Telling a joke about a prostate exam, apparently to laughter from the audience, which included West Indian cricketing personalities, wrong-footed him for the tongue-in-cheek advice to have the rectal exam performed by an Asian woman doctor, presumably because of small finger dimensions.[3]

A bouncer for Mathieson.

It might be a boofhead joke, but what the hell is so politically incorrect about stating some facts that are reasonable, even if tied to gender and race.  On what basis is not probable that a woman, and one of slender Asian descent, might not in fact have smaller fingers than, say, a tall Norwegian man?  Or me?

So why should it be a crime for anyone to feel offended about such a metaphorical reference?  That’s the question Attorney General and the Prime Minister should answer, because their proposed legislation proposes that someone ought to be offended.  And that’s why Gillard got panned for the joke, and poor Mathieson was forced to make a stilted apology for a remark that needs no apology.

At what stage does legislated politically correct, automatic victimhood become counterproductive to any goal of curbing discrimination?  That’s a question voters ought to think about when considering the ALP.

Bernardi politically incorrect, but hardly corrupt

The big fuss about Senator Corey Bernardi’s (Lib, SA) membership of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is one of those contrived skirmishes about an imagined moral superiority that doesn’t exist.

The Council is said to have ‘financial ties with big tobacco, [and] sought to lobby the Gillard government against plain packaging laws. ALEC is also working with the National Rifle Association to block gun control planned by US President Barack Obama after the Newtown school massacre.’[4]

So what?

The game appears to be to oust Bernardi from his position as Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee of Senators’ Interests.  But the tilt at him is one of moral superiority, not pecuniary interest, and is therefore an obvious try-on.

Rabid right politics is not yet a crime.
Rabid right politics is not yet a crime.

He is charged with ethical failings in supporting an organisation that would not have backed John Howard’s gun laws or the scare propaganda packaging of tobacco products in Australia.  Two policies that I didn’t support either (being somewhat representative of the Australian public), though I doubt I’d join the ALEC.

However, how can he be deemed to be undermining Australian policy at all, even if that were a crime.  The Council is an American organisation with no more standing in Australia than any other lobby group with dollars to lavish on larcenous politicians.

Unless it can be demonstrated that Bernardi stood to gain advantage financially from his affiliation with ALEC, he has no case to answer.  To this point there was never any suggestion of that.

As for the non-existent moral high ground, it is well known that the Coalition accommodates elements of the extreme right.  If that is considered to be inappropriate, the ballot box is the proper test.

If Bernardi’s political orientation is considered odious by some self-righteous Labor and Green types, they ought to debate him into the ground about specific issues, and perhaps demonstrate that they are any less odious in their self-serving agendas.

However, playing high school morality prefects doesn’t serve any purpose except to waste time and confirm an already flatlined public opinion about the competence of our politicians.

30 January

Iemma a good choice for Labor

Quite apart from the acrimony within the Labor Party (ALP) that undoubtedly led to former Attorney General Robert McLelland (ALP: Barton, NSW) being pushed out … err … to ‘retire’, the idea of drafting another experienced State politician, former NSW Premier Morris Iemma,[1] would be a sound move, but at the expense of the power of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Victorian ‘Mousepack’ Left faction.

Following the drafting of another former NSW State Premier, Bob Carr, filling a front rank so obviously shy of real talent and experience was probably rightly seen as a priority for the ALP by its party machine (not just for Labor, but that’s another story).

Internal divisions within Labor have, however, led to Bob Carr being wasted on the ridiculous, extravagantly expensive preening of Australia in the UN’s Security Council rather than harnessing his street-wise instincts to revitalise the federal ALP ahead of what will be a bruising contest that many commentators think Gillard cannot win. I’m not yet sure that we need to bet on a Gillard vs Abbott contest, and I’m therefore not certain the ALP can be counted out just yet.

Iemma does not have the profile of Carr, nor his hail-fellow-well-met smarts. In other words, he could not expect to ascend to the leadership in the short term. But at least he would bring nous to a parliamentary party whose front bench is almost ephemeral in terms of performance and substance.

There’s a lesson in all of this … somewhere … for Tony Abbott.

A longer-term prospect for Labor might be that too much bloodletting to remove supporters of former Prime minister Kevin Rudd could destabilise a party facing an already difficult election. I’m not sure that Nova Perris isn’t a token candidate, but I’m also not sure she would do worse than the incumbent. I am, however, pretty sure that re-stocking ranks is necessary for both parties, who have, so far, said nothing that wasn’t in the playbook in 2010.

Looking at the same issues the same way doesn’t strike me as terribly constructive. Fresh talent might just infuse some new thinking. Maybe.

The glasses are fine; only an idiot would mistake the PM for a hipster. But Gillard looks even more stoned with them than without.

Election call to bore us to death … slowly

Australian National University PhD candidate Jennifer Rayner, at the Centre for the Study of Australian Politics, reckons the long lead-up to the 14 September Federal election is Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decency in sparing us … err … needless politicking. By letting us know right now that we can look forward to eight months of it … ?!!?[6]

I must bow to the superior expertise and wisdom that comes with PhD calibre judgements about such matters. And it is of course a complete coincidence that I started my election notebook a few days ago. That said, though, I had an inkling that calling a long election campaign was a way of desensitising the Australian electorate to actual issues rather than the daily grind of meaningless bullshit. By the time we all queue at the polling stations we will vote personalities, not politics, performance, or aspirations.

Gillard’s gamble is that she can beat Abbott hands down in that category within the eight months she has for that task. It’s doable, but I fear some dirty, guttersnipe politics are ahead for us all. It will give the amanuenses journalists something to do, I guess.

If I had to put on my Machiavelli robes, and my tongue between my teeth, I might be inclined to see a strategy to win an election on the women’s vote. The reasoning being that Aussie blokes would be too distracted by the final games of the footy season to pay attention.

On that weekend ‘Australia will take on England in the fourth One Day International in Cardiff following on from the end of the Ashes series, the Wallabies are due to take on Argentina in the Rugby Championship in Perth while the AFL Semi Finals will be underway and the NRL finals will also be in full swing.’[7]

An election strategy that might have come from Mr Wayne ‘it’s not cricket’ Swan himself! It hinges, of course, on Aussie blokes all being quite as obsessed with sports as some politicians, or at least as some of them would have us believe we are.

Would such a strategy make Gillard run afoul of her own anti-discrimination laws? You know, sexism on the basis of the implication of gender-based stupidity? Prolly not, ‘cos all the Aussie blokes would be too dumb to be offended or complain, right? Or maybe it would be me running afoul of the thought police by implying that women could possibly be so devious as to deliberately mess with sporting fixtures …

That earnest consideration aside, I think it is far too early to count on an Abbott vs Gillard contest in September. The appearance of certainty attached to the long lead-time notwithstanding, it could equally well serve as a handover period for one or more leadership changes.

As election announcements go, I personally don’t see that any other time would have been less inconvenient for someone somewhere. The September date has at least the virtue of letting a parliament run to near full term. The only other more suitable time would have been in 2010, after it became clear we would have a hung parliament.

POSTSCRIPT: It seems that The Prime Minister did not consult as widely on the election date as she might have, and journalists had no trouble finding sour voices inside the ALP to foreshadow, almost inevitably, another Ruddian tilt at La Mancha Canberra windmills.[8]

That Labor should be still so internally divided is quite ironic. In not telling her cabinet or wider ministry about the timing of the election, Gillard actually mirrors the perceived elitism and arrogance Rudd was accused of before he was purged, by his bestest buddy — Gillard.

There is one comment to emerge from the sour (but anonymous) Labor choir that bears consideration —

The benefits are illusory. Hawke lost the advantages of incumbency, he went from being a prime minister governing in the lead up to an election to being a caretaker prime minister going into an election.

Peacock went from being the opposition leader to alternative prime minister.

Unlike Hawke, though, Gillard was never, and will never be a charismatic leader, does not possess an imposing majority, and does not lead the opposition leader in a massive personal approval rating. In that sense Abbott might have been the alternative Prime Minister since 2010, no matter how much that thought may disturb the traditional opponents of anything Coalition.




[1] Olding, Rachel ande Ralston, Nick (2013).  ‘Fists give way to firearms’.  Sydney Morning Herald, 26 January, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/fists-give-way-to-firearms-20130125-2dc3l.html, accessed 27 january 2013; Bolt, Andrew (2013).  ‘Australians drive bored Muslim men to violence’.  Herald Sun, 26 January, http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/australians_drive_bored_muslim_men_to_violence/, accessed 27 January 2013.

[2] Kwek, Glenda and Ralston, Nick (2012).  ‘100 shootings and counting: Merrylands tops drive-by list’.  Sydney Morning Herald, 11 September, http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/100-shootings-and-counting-merrylands-tops-driveby-list-20120911-25psc.html, accessed 29 January 2013.

[3] Wright, Tony (2013).  ‘And the finger goes up as blokey Tim bowls Julia a googly’.  The Age, 29 January, http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/and-the-finger-goes-up-as-blokey-tim-bowls-julia-a-googly-20130129-2dhww.html, accessed 29 January 2013.

[4] Hurst, Daniel & Wright, Jessica (2013).  ‘Bernardi not fit to monitor interests, say Labor, Greens’.  Canberra Times, 28 January, http://www.canberratimes.com.au/opinion/political-news/bernardi-not-fit-to-monitor-interests-say-labor-greens-20130127-2df0u.html, accessed 28 January 2013.

[5] As discussed by Hurst, Ireland & Nicholls (2013). ‘Iemma in frame as McClelland decides to bring down curtain’. Sydney Morning Herald, 30 January, http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/iemma-in-frame-as-mcclelland-decides-to-bring-down-curtain-20130129-2diwt.html, accessed 30 January 2013.

[6] Rayner, Jennifer (2013). ‘In an escalating political arms race, Gillard blinks first’. The Drum, 30 January, http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/4491676.html, accessed 30 January 2013.

[7] Anonymous (2013). ‘Sports-mad voters face election day dominated by football final and cricket’. Herald Sun, 30 January, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/sports-mad-voters-face-election-day-dominated-by-football-final-and-cricket/story-fncynkc6-1226565145183, accessed 30 January 2013.

[8] Jones, Gemma (2013). ‘Labor MPs stunned by Julia Gillard’s announcement of election date’. News.com.au, 31 January, http://www.news.com.au/national/labor-mps-stunned-by-julia-gillards-announcement-of-election-date/story-fncynjr2-1226565375840, accessed 31 January 2013.

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