In the thick of it

Fearless Leader is doing it again. In this case it is Mr Tony Abbott, Fearless Leader, PM of Australia, the Captain who seems unable to pick a winning team, the would be Catholic priest who went from aestheticism to materialism, from Seminary to Parliament.. I could go on, the contradictions just mount.

Let’s start by considering the first year in office by this Abbott government. They came into power on a huge landslide, carefully orchestrated media and massive support from the conservative community. Many had their doubts about what this government was about within days of being elected.

In the first year, almost every one of the election promises made were broken. “We’re broke! The former Labor Government wrecked the economy! The Carbon Tax is ruining us!” and much, much more.

The Murdoch Media’s love affair with the Government was in full swing. The media began publicizing press releases as factual evidence. Unashamedly conservative commentators made no attempt to maintain journalistic impartiality, rubbishing everything the previous government did and praising everything the Conservative Liberal Government was doing. [The Murdoch Media will, I suspect, pay a severe price for this, or we will, one of the two.]

The reality had to hit sooner or later, and it did. All of a sudden the economy contracted. Demand for our export commodities dramatically declined, China stopped buying iron ore, and a range of other exports declined.

Climate Change sceptics in the Liberal Government were faced with the awful, for them, truth that others nations are a lot more aware of the realities of climate change than they were. Even while out promoting the export of coal, sales continued a slump, but then went into free-fall.   Who would want to buy a coal mine now? As usual, the Libs were not paying attention.

[What started with Maggie Thatcher and the coal industry was seen here as an attack on Union power in Britain. The reality missed here, was that it was an attempt to set the stage for the widespread introduction of nuclear power. The coal mining industry was in the way, so Climate Change, Global Warming, was used as the tool, not to break the Unions, merely a side benefit, but to get nuclear up. Completely missed by both the American and the Liberal conservatives. The damage resulting from their obtuseness is incalculable.]

So, in their first year, the economy is on the slide, and then they bring their first Budget. What a mess that was. It did the exact opposite of what they were talking about during the campaign. The one thing they said they would do was to scrap the Carbon Tax. They did, and instead of garnishing funds from carbon “dirty” industries, they were setting up subsidies for them. Instead of being income generating, the new policy became an impost on a contracting Budget.

The Federal Government cut $80B from the States. You might think that this would be spread on a population pro rata basis, but no, it wasn’t. My State, South Australia, has only 7% of the population, but was contributing close to 13% of the cuts made. [The way in which the cuts were targeted affected SA more than other States. This has had an enormously detrimental impact on employment here.]

Another Budget measure was to  introduce full fee paying for University degrees.  Medicare co-payments for visits to a doctor’s surgery, based on the argument that too many people go to doctors, for no reason at all, which was costing the economy billions. There were other measures as well, ripping people off in the lower income brackets, pampering the people in the upper income brackets. Fortunately, these things, and many others, failed to get sufficient support from the Senate.

The Budget was simply mistimed. The world’s economy was, is still, in decline, and governments need to step up, but they are not. Let’s not kid ourselves, the General Financial Crisis of 2009 was another Great Depression. It is still going on. The major difference between the two has only been the Governments have not jacked up interest rates.

Franklin D Roosevelt delivered national projects like the Tennessee Valley Project, Boulder Dam and the like which helped the US recovery. There have been a few such initiatives from Obama, but not many. The former Labor Government introduced measures that kept our economy going, but all those still running, were scrapped by  the Abbott Government’s first Budget. The “Year of Hell” for us. Uncertainty capped with now growing unemployment.

The daily mess of this nation made by the Liberals has continued into today. The noises made by them, supported by the Murdoch Media, has made cynics of a lot of people. There has been one blunder after another, most of which have been covered up, or buried under some other, juicy story, usually involving bombs and war. The latest though was just too big to hide in the cupboard. 

The Speaker of The House of Representatives is a traditional post that purports to be balanced and fair. It never is, but the Speakers have at least tried, except one. That one was “hand-picked” by Fearless Leader, a “Captain’s Pick” it was seen as. Like several other “Captain’s Picks” this one, too, fell apart.  [Reintroducing Royal Honours, knighthoods, and the like, was one, making Prince Phillip a Knight of something Australia was another, both of which drew harsh criticism, even from within his own ranks, were two others.]

Bronwyn Bishop, Speaker of the house since , took her role as being important, and it is, but only to a point. Ms Bishop took it a whole lot further. Traditionally, Speakers do not attend Party Room meetings of Members, but she did. Speakers cannot help but be biased, but this too was taken to an extreme. The Speaker can throw Members out of the House for a period of time, under Rule 94a, unruly behaviour or some such. Members do get rowdy during debate, but Speakers are reluctant to throw people out. Not Ms Bishop.

Her statistics revealed, from 12th November 2013 to June 2nd 2015, she tossed out 5 Government Members and 361 Opposition Members. One Opposition Member has been ejected 48 times, just 9 short of the total ejections from 1996 to 1998. Her antics as Speaker protected Ministers, Liberal Members, and devastated the concept of parliamentary democracy. Her Speakership became farcical for defending a Minster’s right to abuse Members opposite by calling them “hypocrites”, but denied a Question from the Opposition because it asked if the Government was being hypocritical in withdrawing health funding. Admonishing the Opposition for laughing, ejecting a Member for “infectious laughter” is really not a good tactic.

Traditionally, Opposition ejections run about 9 to 1 government ejections. There can be a number of reasons for this, but the one most readily observable is that Opposition Members have much less to lose and a lot more to gain by attracting the publicity. Even so, a ratio more than of 72:1 is somewhat excessive.

All this pales into insignificance when considering the trouble she got herself into over her travel expenses. We are talking thousands of dollars at a time when the Government is wielding an axe to anything that remotely resembles “social spending”. Essentially the moment that brought her undone was a helicopter ride, from Melbourne to Geelong, at a cost of over $5000. At taxpayer expense.

Excessive? Certainly, but it was not on Parliamentary business, it was a Liberal Party Fundraiser. Sure, she wasn’t the first, and unlikely to be the last Member to abuse Privilege in this way, happens all the time, and somehow does not get caught until public scrutiny catches it. The public is scrutinizing it now – something neither Party wanted to happen, and they have brought it on themselves.

I have no issues with Members claiming recompense while on Parliamentary business. I have no issues with Members taking a few days off to have their families join them, when their Parliamentary business is done. A Member of Parliament is a 24/7 job, so give them a bit of time for themselves, please. But and a big BUT, Parliamentary business does not include wives, husbands, children, girlfriends, boyfriends, or any combination thereof. That cost should not be borne by the Parliament.

As an analogy, if I used the Company credit card to cover expenses for a road trip, but my family came with me, and I paid for them as well,  on the credit card, that is fraud. So that takes care of many of the claims made by Members on their expenses. Another part of the issue is the division of expenses between Parliamentary business and Party business.

As a second analogy, in a legal battle, costs are divided between a “Party-to-Party” cost, the costs incurred in an action, and a “Party-to-Client” cost, the costs incurred by the Client in retaining the Solicitors, the Barristers and the Senior Counsels. [How that division is made is a mystery known only to the legal profession, I suspect.] The same applies for the differences between Parliamentary and Party business where Members often have torn obligations.

Their first obligation is to Parliament, to act appropriately and so on, as a Member. The second is to their electorate, to represent their electorate. These are interchangeable, or can be considered the same thing. Then there is their obligation to the political party they are acting as a member of, and representing. This is where it all gets confusing. Which is the more important?

I would suggest that while they are interrelated, they cannot be considered the same. The business of Parliament does not necessarily represent the best interests of an electorate, an electorate does not always want an action in Parliament. Party business is a whole new world. The Member’s obligation to their Party stems from the fact the Party nominated support for that person to become a Member. They should not confuse these issues, but they are confused all the time.

Party fundraisers do not constitute Parliamentary business. Party fundraisers do not constitute electorate business. Party fundraisers are a Party obligation, not anything else. These should be covered by Party funds or the Member themselves, not by taxpayers.

To cut a long and tedious argument short, dismiss the need for Party fundraisers, and we dismiss the potential for rorting the system. If election expenses were publicly funded, then no real need for large fundraisers. If there are no large fundraisers, then politicians would not be beholden to large donors, which means politicians are more likely to become a lot less influenced by special interests.

Wouldn’t that make a difference!

About colinfraser

I claim the title of educator, because I want to be more than "just" a teacher.
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