Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Early Elections and Government Legitimacy

#Marchinmay down Elizabeth Street in Melbourne
The recent budget handed down by the Abbott Government has been poorly received by the Australian people and has resulted in an outpouring of community anger with up to fifteen thousand people marching in Melbourne. Similar protests were held throughout the country.

The breaking of several election promises was secondary to the anger over a raft of changes which undermine the universality of Medicare, restrict access to university education, impose draconian conditions on the young unemployed and cut $80 billion from health and education services.

During the rally, several speakers called for a double dissolution election. The Greens deputy leader, Adam Bandt, suggested that an alliance of the Greens, Australian Labor Party and the Palmer United Party could bring about a new government by Christmas.

Adam Bandt addresses the crowd
Bandt's call reflected an earlier sentiment by ALP leader, Bill Shorten, in his budget reply speech for  Tony Abbott to "bring it [an election] on" as Abbott had threatened to call a double dissolution election should elements of the budget be blocked in the Senate (a position he has since backed down on).

However, this sentiment has morphed into calls from twitter megaphones and sections of the Left for an immediate double dissolution or for the senate to block supply.

Double Dissolution

As has been pointed out by experts such as Anthony Green, there are a number of reasons why an immediate double dissolution election is impossible:
1. The elements of s57 of the Constitution have not been satisfied.
2. After s57 is satisfied, a double dissolution occurs on advice from the Government to the Governor General to dissolve both houses. Something which is extremely unlikely; considering the current unpopularity of the Government.

Blocking Supply

Blocking supply means blocking the government appropriations bill that appropriates money for the general running of government. Although  the appropriations bill contains some of the cuts to expenditure, new policies such as the ones which have elicited such community anger cannot be attached to this appropriations bill. It is likely that it is these new proposals are the ones that the Senate are likely to block - not the appropriations bill.

Blocking the appropriations bill will spark a constitutional crisis as the government begins to run out of money. It will not in and of itself spark an election. The only precedent in Federal politics is the 1975 constitutional crisis where the Governor General stepped in and sacked the Whitlam Government. The subsequent election was actually called by the appointed Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, using double dissolution triggers that had occurred in the Whitlam government's tenure. There was no constitutional reason why an election needed to be called - it was merely politically advantageous for Fraser to call an election at that time.

As can been seen, there were specific circumstances (and personalities) around the 1975 crisis. There is no reason why similar events would result in a similar outcome. A constitutional crisis is just that: a crisis which result in unprecedented and unpredictable actions  in our political system. They damage the political process and undermine our parliamentary system. It is for these reasons that they ought to be avoided (and are unlikely to be pursued by either the Labor party or the Greens).

The legitimacy of a government

The calls for new elections stem from questions surrounding the government's legitimacy. As with the Right's constant and unprecedented attacks on the Gillard government, the Left is focusing on the legitimacy of the Abbott Government, elected as it was on promises of integrity and honesty in its commitments. There are serious questions around the moral legitimacy of the Abbott government - considering it's central pitch to voters was one of trust. However, legally, the government was legitimately elected.

In the same way that the Gillard government was legitimately elected and even though the Right never accepted it, the government went to its full term. No matter how much the Left does not accept the legitimacy of the Abbott government, in the same way, it is most likely to go full term.

Protest

Protest at March In May Melbourne

Even though the Government will likely go to its full term, it does not mean that protest such as marchinmay are pointless. The use of public protest to continue to question the Abbott Government's moral legitimacy serve the same process as the campaigning by the Murdoch press on the legitimacy of the Gillard Government.

It is important to maintain the momentum that has built around the questioning of the legitimacy of the Government, however, calls for the irresponsible blocking of supply undermines the Left's message. It drags the Left to the level of the appalling action of the Right and their allies in rejecting the legitimacy of Australia's democratic system during the Gillard government.

The fact is that Abbott was legally elected and his government is likely to last until 2016. One Term Tony could become a reality if the Left stays on message about the legitimacy of a government that lied their way into office. It does not need to sink to the level of the Right with irresponsible calls to undermine Australia's democratic institutions by blocking supply.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Labor can't have it both ways on East West Link

The East-West Link is an $8bn proposal to build a major highway linking the Eastern Freeway to the Western Ring Road. Part of this extension will be a tunnel under Royal Park which will seriously undermine the amenity of the park, affect the zoo and create traffic problems in Moreland and surrounds. In addition the supposed benefits of the link are not expected to be sustained past twelve years. Despite these factors, and polling showing that the community does not support the building of this road, the Napthine government seems determined to push on with the project.

The Labor opposition, while ostensibly opposing the road, has said that it will honour any signed contracts. This is despite the tenders being received before the consultation period and various other issues surrounding the issue of these contracts.

On 30 March there was a rally against the East-West Link in Brunswick.

Rally against the East West Link
Approximately one thousand people marched up Sydney Road in Brunswick to oppose the project, demonstrating that there is significant community opposition to it. The march concluded at Warr Park, where several speakers took the stage.

East West Link protest marching up Sydney Road in Brunswick
The speakers included the local ALP member, Jane Garrett. In her speech, Garrett only obliquely referenced the East-West link, preferring instead to focus on the Abbott government's antipathy towards public transport.

Jane Garrett addresses the rally at Warr Park after the march

While this is worthy of criticism, the focus on the Abbott Government's failings was deliberately evasive - a vain attempt by Garrett to deflect from the ALP's equivocation on the East-West Link. Garrett was duly booed off to chants of "rip up the contracts".

Rally at Warr Park after the march
The ALP wants to have a bob each way - trying to gather votes in marginal Outer Eastern seats while simultaneously trying to keep the voters of the Inner North on side.

The ALP must make a choice on this issue or Garrett will not only be booed of the stage at a protest, she will be booed out of the seat of Brunswick by the electorate and replaced by the Greens.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Abbott government cares little for our sovereignty

Image source: www.dfat.gov.au
Sovereignty is the quality of having power over a geographical area. Traditionally, this has referred to governments being able to exercise political power and control over their jurisdictions.

In the recent election campaign, Tony Abbott made much of the supposed threat to our sovereignty from people seeking asylum in Australia. The Abbott government even went as far as to name its refugee policy "operation sovereign borders" and militarise the operation by appointing a 3-star general to oversee it.

However, while desperate people seeking asylum on leaky fishing boats are characterised as a threat to our sovereignty worthy of a military response, a true threat to Australia's sovereignty has quietly become government policy.

On the eve of the last election the Coalition quietly released its trade policy [PDF] which significantly changed the previous government's approach to investor state dispute settlements (ISDS) in trade treaties. ISDS' are clauses which allow multinational corporations to sue national governments that are signatories to a treaty for passing laws that are harmful to the interests of these corporations. These cases are not heard in national courts but in tribunals that are often presided over by representatives of multinational corporations - hardly independent arbiters.

This effectively allows multinational corporations to over-ride government's powers effect legislation without the threat of significant legal action. Already, Australia is being sued in Hong Kong by tobacco companies for passing a law to enforce  plain packaging of cigarettes. This law was passed by both houses of the Australian parliament and confirmed by the High Court, however, the ISDS in a bilateral treaty now has the potential to penalise the Australian Government for performing its democratic function.

The previous government rejected the use of ISDS' as not being in the national interest, however, the Abbott Government's trade policy remains open to the use of ISDS'. The Abbott Government has stated that it is keen to conclude free-trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - a treaty negotiated in secret that contains ISDS'.

Leaked sections of the TPP indicate it will potentially undermine fair access to copyright material and limit environmental protection laws, public health measures and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Governments will be limited to legislate in these areas by the threat of serious financial penalties - even if it is in the national interest to legislate.

At the recent APEC conference Malaysian Prime Minister Razak characterised the TPP as:
"impinge[ing] fundamentally the sovereign right of the country [Malaysia] to make regulation and policy''.
This curtailment of a government's sovereign power represents not only a threat to democracy, but a fundamental shift in political power from the citizenry to multinational organisations.

When the Coalition said that 'Australia was open for business' what they really meant was that 'Australian sovereignty was for sale'.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Pulled Pork


Ingredients

1 kg Pork Shoulder
1 Onion
1 Clove Garlic
2 tsp pickled jalepeno chilies
300 ml Dry cider

Spice Rub
2 tsp Smoked paprika
1 tsp Chili flakes
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Coriander
1 tsp Fennel
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
1 TBSP brown sugar

Method.

Take the skin off the pork shoulder (use it to make crackling!)
Rub the spice rub into the pork.
Slice the onions and place them in the pressure cooker
Add the garlic and pickled chili
Place the pork on top of the onions and add the cider and any leftover spice rub.
Pressure cook for 1 hour.
Once cooked remove the pork from the sauce and pull the pork apart with a fork.
Add the shredded pork back to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Add cornflour if it needs thickening.

Serve with a good coleslaw (on a bun or in a taco)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ministerial Responsibility

There has been much criticism of Prime Minster Abbott's assigning policy responsibility for the status of women to the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) portfolio. This is understandable considering Abbott's many sexist public statements. 

Abbott has gone on the record saying:
"I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons"
So it is unsurprising that there was a strong reaction to Abbott essentially appointing himself Minister for the Status of Women. However, it has been pointed out that the bringing of the Office of the Status of Women into a central policy making agency such as Prime Minister and Cabinet has the potential to make policies affecting women closer to the heart of the decision making process.

While this is true, the corollary of this is that now Abbott himself, as the Minister, is accountable for every sexist comment of his Government, sexist policy (in any portfolio) and his passive acceptance of any sexist comments from his cheerleaders in the media. So next time Abbott spouts his sexism, he cannot hide behind being a "daggy dad". Every time shock jocks spout their sexism, he cannot let it pass and every time his Ministers make gender based attacks on women in parliament it is Abbott who is responsible for holding them to account.

If Abbott was truly going to take responsibility for stemming the sexism that he himself unleashed it would be worth giving him the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately he has already shown his mettle.

In his first media interview since becoming the Minister, Tony Abbott, Minister for the Status of women said:
"I don't think women suffer legal discrimination and I don't think anyone these days sets out to do the wrong thing but it is very difficult for women to combine work and family if they don't have a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme and that's going to change very soon under the Coalition."
Legal discrimination? All discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal. Bringing the Office into PM&C may be a positive step for policy making but it is clear that the Minister to whom they report is sexist and unfit for the the office.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Occupy the narrative: winning the culture wars of the Right

"I certainly believe in her right to say what she said. I thought some of the things she said were an accurate reflection of what people feel."

These words are from former Prime Minister John Howard in 1996, failing to repudiate the independent (former Liberal) MP Pauline Hanson's maiden speech, in which she put forward the view that Australia was being "swamped by Asians".

This changed the political narrative in Australia. While under the previous Keating Government racism was called out, under the Howard Government it was carefully incorporated into policy that played to an undercurrent of racism that exists in Australia.

As Keating himself said: "you change the government, you change the country" and this is precisely what Howard's deliberate failure to repudiate Hanson's racism did. He had given permission for racism and elevated it to an acceptable view, a view which "reflected what people felt" and because it was what people "felt", it no longer needed to be justified. It gave permission for a type of cognitive dissonance that allows someone to spout racist views, but be good mates with their ethnic neighbours. Every challenge to this contradiction can be  met with an accusation of "political correctness".

Fast forward to the Abbott Government. Abbott, through his words and actions, has carefully crafted a similar story for sexism and a similar dissonance for those on the Right to hold those views while still believing themselves not to be sexist. To challenge them is to play the "gender card" or to be "politically correct". This sits nicely with the general conservatism of the populace, which does not see gender politics as any more nuanced than a simple matter of "equality". It is this simplistic view of feminism that enabled the effectiveness of the parade of "Abbott's Women", who by their mere presence proved that he could not be sexist. The more nuanced symbolic arguments of the Left failed to have the resonance of simplistic symbols paraded by the Right.

In his article for the GuardianJeff Sparrow argues that "The challenge for the left is not to abandon symbolism, but rather to fill symbolic reforms with real content" and argues that by doing this the Left will achieve the resonance with the populace that it needs to repudiate Abbott's sexism. Sparrow argues: "If [...] progressives can use debates over sexism in political life to discuss the oppression faced by women who don’t hold positions of prominence and power, Abbott’s persona suddenly pits him irrevocably against him the bulk of the population."

 Although it is true that the Left must "fill symbolic reforms with real content", the achievement of this is not, as Sparrow suggests, a matter of finding this resonance by using relateable examples. It ignores the relativism and cognitive dissonance of views that the Right has given permission for people to hold. If the Left wants to break this type of relativism, its leaders must challenge the contradictions inherent in the Right's ideological narrative.

The job of the Left is to call out these contradictions. For those calls to  resonate, it requires leadership that is not timid. The Left must articulate its own ideological vision.

This is the tragedy of the treatment of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's "misogyny speech"[video]. Here was an example of a leader repudiating sexism, denying permission, outlining an ideological view. However, by this time it was too late. The ALP was too timid to engage directly with the electorate on gender for fear of Gillard's gender being a defining feature of her Prime Ministership (which it was already). This re-enforced the Right's position and it was hardly surprising that a cynical media amplified the Opposition's "gender card" excuse to fit the narrative of the PM that the ALP had allowed to take hold.

The Left has been too timid to engage in this direct battle of ideas, preferring to console itself with symbolism - arrogantly assuming its symbols are too nuanced for the electorate to engage with directly - or expressing an incoherent middle-class dissatisfaction through movements such as 'Occupy' or disengaging entirely through clicktivism.

The Left must stop ceding ground to the Right and directly engage with the Right's contradictory ideological position. This can not be done by adopting the type of soft-liberal symbolism that divorces their position from the majority of the electorate but with a coherent ideological narrative that articulates the Left's position.

This goes further than Sparrow's "filling symbolic reforms with real content", it is a coherent ideological response to the Right. Sparrow's view encourages the sort of soft-liberal approaches that have been the very reason for the Left's failure to counter the Right's ideological position.

The Right is incoherent and contradictory and  its culture wars are a distraction from its incoherence. An  ideological narrative from the Left will expose the cognitive dissonance inherent in the ideology of the Right.

The occupation of the narrative is the goal of the culture wars and the Left must meet it head on, not through soft-liberalism but through hard-edged ideological vision. It is only then that the narrative can be wrested from the incoherence of the Right.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Moroccan Lamb Stew


Ingredients

500 grams lamb
2 Cns tomato
1 Carrot
1 bunch baby spinach
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 onion
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 cl garlic
1 pinch saffron steeped in hot water
2 bay leaves
1 dried chili
1 Tbsp olive oil

Spice mix

1 Tbsp Coriander powder
1 tsp Fennel powder
1 tsp Cinnamon powder
1 tsp dried Rosemary
1 tsp Cumin

Pearl couscous to serve

Method

Brown the lamb in oil and remove.
Brown onion, garlic, ginger, chili
Add chopped carrot
Add spice mix and cook until fragrant
Add saffron water and tomatoes (add extra water if needed)
Add salt and pepper to taste
Pressure cook for 40 mins

Once lamb is tender, add peas and cook uncovered until done then add spinach.

Serve over pearl couscous.