Labor now does politics better than the Liberals – here’s why

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Happy days: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in parliament.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Geoffrey Robinson, Deakin University

The obverse of the current crisis in Australian conservative politics is the resilience of the Australian left.

The Labor Party has twice climbed off the canvas after dramatic political setbacks: the Rudd-Gillard civil war and the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull to the Liberal leadership.

Labor has found success despite a mildly unpopular leader in Bill Shorten and a frequently dysfunctional and self-indulgent political culture. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and now Turnbull have been constantly under pressure from Labor.

Why is this the case? One factor has been institutional change. In 2013, the Labor caucus resolved that in future, the party leader would be chosen by a combined vote of MPs and party members.

Read more:
View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull struggling to shore up his border

Yet this is only part of the story. These rules could not prevent a change of leader if Labor MPs were really determined to effect one. Before the recent “Super Saturday” by-elections there were clear signs of anxiety among Labor MPs.

If Labor had lost one of the four electorates in which it had had a sitting member, it is possible Shorten’s leadership would have ended.

More fundamental has been Labor’s successful adaption to modern politics during the 1983-96 Hawke-Keating years. In this period, Labor’s long ideological wars were resolved. The left of the party abandoned its socialist dreams and accepted capitalism, but the right wing of the party accepted social liberalism: gay rights, native title and an active role for government in social services such as education and health.

Part of this process was the emergence of formal factions. These parties within the party enabled durable deals to be struck – not just on ministerial positions and overseas trips but about the basic direction of Labor in government. Dissenters were disciplined by their faction leaders. The transition from the anarchic and rebellious caucus of the Gough Whitlam years to the loyalist cheer squad of Paul Keating’s prime ministership is a textbook example of how parties make a political system work.

Since the Hawke-Keating years, Labor has often been racked by internal conflict. But these battles have been around personality rather than policies, and it has been decades since MPs polarised on factional choices in a leadership ballot.

Political journalist Paul Kelly has argued the Rudd-Gillard war was uniquely self-indulgent because of its non-ideological nature compared to that between Abbott and Turnbull, but this superficiality meant it was a schoolyard scrap rather than a gang war.

Labor’s transformation enabled the party to adopt a particular political appeal. It saw itself as representing a coalition of social groups that sought government support. This contrasts with the Liberals, whose activists have increasingly defined themselves as the agents of an ideological movement – “conservatism”.

Liberal MPs now fret about “the base”, by which they mean voters who instinctively vote on the right – in other words, the party shouldn’t chase the middle ground.

The division between Democrats and Republicans in the US matches this distinction. In both countries, these appeals have political strengths and weaknesses.

American scholars have considered the paradox that although American voters tend to self-identify as “conservatives” they tend to vote for “liberal” candidates. Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections. One explanation is that voters are “symbolically conservative” on issues of national identity and limited government, but “operationally liberal” on government action that directly benefits them.

Read more:
Dutton v Turnbull is the latest manifestation of the splintering of the centre-right in Australian politics

This pattern is apparent in Australia as well. Labor found that voters preferred John Howard’s conservative vision of national identity and secure borders to Keating’s and the Greens’ vision of cosmopolitan republicanism.

The Liberals have found that voters like Labor’s advocacy of state intervention on their behalf: the success of [Labor’s “Mediscare” campaign]( in 2016 was an example.

If Labor overplays its group appeal, it can drive a defection of suburban outsiders to the right, as in 1996 when Howard campaigned “for all of us” in an appeal implicitly directed against Keating’s enthusiasms for Indigenous affairs and liberal cosmopolitanism.

Labor’s professionalisation and shift to a politics of interest group brokerage dissolved its old emotional appeal to class identity. A result of this was that Labor’s core vote steadily declined from 40% to well under 30%. Labor thus wins more elections than it used to, but suffers more truly catastrophic defeats such as Queensland in 2012 and NSW in 2015.

Yet Labor is usually able to recover rapidly from setbacks. Liberal governments have been prone to confuse the symbolic conservatism of voters with an ideologically conservative commitment to fewer government services.

Labor has to balance its appeals to different groups. Keating and Rudd emphasised an appeal to cosmopolitan professionals. Shorten, and even more so Gillard, wanted to appeal to union activists. Yet even if one group feels neglected by Labor, it is still likely to retain a faith that the ALP is preferable to the Coalition. Cosmopolitan professionals vote Green, but their preferences flow strongly to Labor. Unions and GetUp find consensus on “put the Liberals last”.

However, on the right, the flow of One Nation preferences to the Coalition is notably less that of Green preferences to Labor. “Identity politics” brings the left together, whereas on the right it inspires wars over who is the true upholder of conservative principle.

Gillard’s social conservatism and labourist rhetoric did not stop her working effectively with the Greens, whereas Turnbull has been torn down by his rivals over remarkably small policy divergences.

Labor has come to define itself as the party of policy and expertise, even if, as with Rudd, the party’s political practice in government has often failed to meet this promise.

Turnbull’s policy enthusiasm leaves much of his party cold, whereas Gillard’s legislative success enthused many on the left otherwise critical of her record.

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Labor now does politics better than the Liberals. This does not ensure electoral success, as the outcome of Labor governments are frequently disappointing to voters. But Labor does start ahead in the political race.

Geoffrey Robinson, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


View from The Hill: Malcolm Turnbull struggling to shore up his border

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He won. But will he win again?
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull is still upright, but he will have to be a miracle worker to survive to take the government to the election.

Peter Dutton’s 35 votes – to Turnbull’s 48 – is a solid base for a challenger to build on. That is the usual way it goes – wound the first time, kill the second.

But it’s not the inevitable course. In 1982, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser saw off Andrew Peacock, and there wasn’t a subsequent vote. But then the margin was a very healthy 54-27.

The many who voted against Turnbull on Tuesday have mixed motives.

Read more:
Your time starts now: how leadership instability and revenge became woven into our political fabric

The conservatives want to own the Liberal party – none of that old “broad church” nonsense – and turn it further to the right. They seek a prime minister who is “one of us”.

These include the revenge group of Tony Abbott and his small coterie.

Then there are the Queenslanders, from whom Dutton received substantial support. They have been panicked by the Longman byelection, when the Liberal National Party’s primary vote plunged.

In Tuesday’s Coalition meeting, Tony Abbott homed in on Longman, talking about inflated expectations and Turnbull making it a test of leadership. Turnbull defended himself, citing the difficulties of managing expectations, the headwinds, a popular Labor candidate, ALP money.

The Queenslanders’ panic is understandable. But while Dutton might save some seats in that state, it is not clear he would be a total winner there. Queensland is politically lumpy. Remember, the Palaszczuk Labor government has just been re-elected.

Others in the Dutton camp are those who have been offended by Turnbull in some way, who feel he hasn’t supported them, has demoted them or not promoted them.

Under questioning, Dutton did not rule out another challenge. Of course not. No one would have believed him if he had.

He gave his reason for running as believing “I had the best prospect of leading the Liberal party to success at the next election,” adding “that was not to be today”.

He’s now on the backbench, freeing him to speak out – and he listed the issues he considers important. “I would like to contribute to public debates”, he said.

“I believe strongly that we can win the election if we get the policies and the message right – about lowering electricity prices, about making sure that we can do more on infrastructure and in particular around the migration program, until the infrastructure can catch up in our capital cities.

“We need to invest more in water to get farmers out of drought so they do not go through what they go through at the moment. We need to invest record amounts into health and education, aged care and other areas as well.”

So he’s set himself up as the “go to” man for opinions, just like Abbott is.

Dutton will be now working assiduously to capture that handful of votes needed to swing the numbers to him.

While history and circumstances suggest the momentum is with Dutton, it is not necessarily an easy ride for him, if things drag on a bit.

Some in the Liberal party may start to ask, would someone else be better than either Turnbull or Dutton?

Unless a second strike comes very quickly, opinion polling testing Dutton’s acceptability, or lack of it, will also come into play. Usually challengers (Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull) are well-known. Dutton has a very narrow profile. He will now be illuminated by flood lights.

In trying to regroup, Turnbull will have to deal with some of the issues worrying his MPs that Dutton is exploiting. One is the gripes of the Catholic education section. Another is population and immigration.

Read more:
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He’ll deal with the first with some extra money. An inquiry into population might take off some of the pressure in that area.

While addressing these and other issues, Turnbull walks a fine line. What he shouldn’t do is try to cling to his job by selling out even more of his principles. It won’t work; if his prime ministership is to end, it is better for it to finish honourably than in unsuccessful grovelling.

But Turnbull’s central challenge – and his only real hope – will be to try to convince as many colleagues as possible that actually it is he, not Dutton, who has “the best prospect of leading the Liberal party to success at the next election”.

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Although, objectively, at least on the polls, neither is likely to do so.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dutton v Turnbull is the latest manifestation of the splintering of the centre-right in Australian politics

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Malcolm Turnbull has survived a leadership challenge from Peter Dutton – for now.
Glenn Hunt/AAP

Rob Manwaring, Flinders University

So, Malcolm Turnbull survives. In part, the trigger for the stand-off between Turnbull and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was Turnbull’s poor handling of energy policy and the flips flops over the NEG.

But much of the commentary on Dutton’s challenge thus far has focused on the issue of leadership.

No prime minister has seen out a full term in office since John Howard won the 2004 election. The vexed and sometimes opaque issue of “leadership” is clearly part of the story of the current restless nature of Australian court politics.

Prime ministers can be popular with the public, but oftentimes fail to land policy achievements (Turnbull, Kevin Rudd). Others can secure policy wins, but lack public rapport (Julia Gillard). Some fail to transition from opposition to government (Tony Abbott). In all these cases, managing the party dynamics proved problematic, at best.

Read more:
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While leadership is an important part of this story, there are perhaps wider structural problems in Australian politics that are fuelling Turnbull’s travails. The focus on leadership is deflecting attention from another issue: the fraying of centre-right politics.

Splintering on the right

As has been widely documented, the vote for minor parties has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2007, when Rudd beat Howard, the vote for minor parties and others in the Senate was 19.76%. In the 2013 election, it was 32.09%, and then in 2016, it was a record high of 35.03%.

Even in the House of Representatives, with its plurality electoral system, 13.5% of Australians voted for neither of the major party groupings in the 2016 elections – roughly 3.1 million voters.

What is striking is that, by and large, there is far more diversity on the centre-right spectrum of the ballot these days. For the most part, the Greens tend to swallow up the residual centre-left vote, for those disenchanted with Labor. But for the centre-right, the options are much greater.

On a rough count, of the 10 minor parties to perform well in the 2016 Senate elections, one could be categorised as centre-left (Greens) and one as centrist (NXT). The rest can be plotted along a spectrum from centre-right to right-wing (One Nation, Liberal Democrats, etc). Clearly, some are regionally specific, but it reflects a growing variety of the centre-right.

In recent years, we have seen Bob Katter leave the Coalition to sit as an Independent, and then establish his own party. Lest we forget, Clive Palmer also established his own party, disbanded it, and now promises to re-launch it. Notably, Cory Bernardi, the former lead candidate on the SA Liberal Upper house ticket, left the party in 2017 to establish the Australian Conservatives. Bernardi’s move prompted the Family First to join this new conservative “movement”.

Elsewhere, there has been evidence of disaffection with the Nationals, even if we put aside Barnaby Joyce’s troubled time as leader. Prominent former independents like Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott reflected a distancing of those with previous loyalties to the Nationals.

Added to this is the resurgence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, which swept up four seats in the Senate at the last election. One Nation also won 15.9% of the vote at the recent Longman by-election, which was also seen as a further catalyst for the leadership challenge to Turnbull.

A more vocal conservative opposition

This crowding of the centre-right is having profound consequences for Australian politics, and not just Turnbull’s troubled time as prime minister.

As we have seen in recent weeks, obscure peripheral politicians are clamouring for air space to outbid each other in offensive claims in their on-going war against “political correctness”. David Leyonhjelm’s baiting of fellow Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to “stop shagging men” reflects the changing and deteriorating parameters of public discourse.

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This competitive atmosphere on the right then helps us better understand the despicable comments made by Senator Fraser Anning. What is more interesting about Anning than his appalling speech, is that he reflects a restlessness and fracturing on the right to find a political “home”, leaving One Nation to join Katter’s Australian Party.

This smorgasbord of the right poses both a strategic and tactical dilemma for the conservative hub in the Liberal Party. For some, the space for conservative politics within the party is limited, so they choose to leave (Bernardi). For those who remain, the conservative wing is a sizeable and troublesome minority, but a minority nonetheless – as Dutton’s leadership numbers attest.

Moreover, even when the conservative faction secures policy wins (such as the dilution or abandonment of energy or climate policy), these do little to satisfy the clamour for a renewed conservative politics.

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Howard is often seen as the master in bridging the liberal and conservative wings of the party, yet to some extent, he never faced the wider structural problems that confront Turnbull. There have always been prominent and outspoken right-wing politicians in Australia, but the growth and fracturing is proving problematic and not just for Turnbull.

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Can Australian streaming survive a fresh onslaught from overseas?

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Marc C-Scott, Victoria University

Australia’s already punch-drunk streaming sector is set for even more upheaval, as CBS will launch its streaming service in Australia as early as October.

Disney is also set to launch its streaming service in 2019. Based on recent history, Australia will likely be first up when it goes global.

The question is whether Australian streamers can compete locally with the global mammoths. Doing so might require coordination the likes of which we haven’t seen before.

This will impact not just what media Australians have access to, but more than 31,000 people employed by Australian media.

Read more:
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We have already seen huge upheavals in Australian streaming.

Stan is the last remaining Australian streaming service from 2015, when I wrote about the official launch of Netflix in Australia. At that time there were two Australian-based subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) services, Presto and Stan.

Presto, a joint venture between Seven and Foxtel, was shut down in early 2017.

Foxtel then launched FoxtelNow in June 2017. It is already set for an overhaul later this year, to include 4K streaming, along with sports and entertainment streaming packages.

Aussie streaming services, more than just subscription

In addition to Stan, there are also transactional video-on-demand (TVoD) services in Australia, although these are discussed far less. A TVoD service is based upon a single payment being made to view singular content for a limited time, e.g. you have streaming access to the latest release for 48 hours.

One such Australian service is Quickflix, which launched in 2014. It went into receivership in 2016, before being saved and later relaunched.

Quickflix is still a streaming company, but retains the older disc mail-out service. This mail-out service could help Quickflix survive against global streaming services.

With the closure of video stores and retail stores removing discs from their shelves, a mail-out service still has value for Australians with poor internet speed and access.

The other Australian TVoD service is OzFlix, which some Australians may not be aware of.

Its differentiation is plans to source “Every Aussie Movie. Ever.”. A big task, but its specific niche may help it survive the onslaught of global media streaming services, while also giving local content a dedicated home.

Global media giants set their sights on Australia

Australia has been the first country that many media companies expand to when moving outside their own region. Netflix and YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium) are two examples.

More recently we have seen Amazon Prime Video launch in late 2016, although it is yet to have a major uptake locally.

The arrival of CBS All Access will impact Stan particularly. Stan features a number of CBS programs, so future programming will need to be from other distributors or through greater investment in original content.

Disney is also set to acquire 21st Century Fox. This will expand its catalogue on the new streaming service beyond its already huge catalogue. The Marvel movies look set to remain on current services, for now.

Australians and streaming…. what next?

A recent Roy Morgan report found over 9.8 million Australians had access to Netflix, with Stan at over 2 million. While Stan is clearly behind, it has had a 39.2% increase in the last 12 months.

YouTube premium has over 1 million subscribers, FetchTV 710,000 and Amazon Prime Video last at 273,000 (an 87% increase year on year).

The arrival of CBS All Access and Disney will make an already crowded market only more so. But is more choice a good thing?

A 2014 Nielsen report showed the average channels receivable by US households grew from 129 in 2008 to 189 in 2013. But the average channels tuned in remained at 17.

On top of larger content libraries, the global players also have deeper pockets. Disney looks set to spend US$100 million on a new Star Wars series for its streaming service. Netflix will spend more than US$8 billion on content in 2018 alone, and Amazon last year spent US$4 billion on content.

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With the rise of subscription and online TV, we need to rethink local content rules

Australian services will need to have a point of difference. Quickflix and OzFlix have their points of difference, but what about a larger service like Stan?

Stan can’t compete with the global companies on quantity of content, so it must, like others, have a point of difference.

Stan could become a premium platform for content of which some is broadcast on Nine later. That would be a similar approach to when Australian FTA broadcasters would buy US content months after it was broadcast in the US – to save on costs.

For an Australian service to compete, a better solution would be a combined approach, an all-Australian streaming service that combines the strengths and finances of the Australian media industry.

The Freeview app is an example of how Australian television has tried to work collaboratively but failed. The users can view all the catch-up content from Australian broadcasters, but to view it they are taken from the app to the specific broadcasters’ own catch-up apps.

This requires six apps in total to be installed to view all catch-up content.

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But is the Australian media industry willing to come together to fight against global streaming media companies, or will they continue to battle each other? Failure here could result in a further decline in Australian media.

Marc C-Scott, Lecturer in Screen Media, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

They shall not die in vain: how the Islamic State honours its fallen soldiers – and how Australians do the same

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The obituary of Jihadi John in Dabiq magazine.
Clarion Project

Mark Alfano, Delft University of Technology

The belief that we must not let our soldiers “die in vain” dates back to ancient Athens. During the Peloponnesian War, Pericles delivered a funeral oration in which he urged his compatriots to see themselves in the heroism of recently deceased fighters. Honouring these heroes, he argued, required continuing the struggle with Sparta. The living could prove themselves worthy of the sacrifice of the dead only by fighting for what they fought for and embodying the virtues (such as courage) they embodied.

In modern times, political scientists have argued that it is “important to say of those who died in war that they did not die in vain”. This notion was echoed by US President George W. Bush when he suggested that the people killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks “did not die in vain”.

And, just like Pericles, Bush suggested the best way to prove that deaths in the so-called war on terror were not in vain was to continue the conflict. In this way, war becomes an end in itself. The fighting may never cease because there is always one more soldier to honour, one more civilian casualty to avenge.

Through a glass, darkly

The way people talk about the dead and the traits they hope to manifest by way of honouring them tell us what counts as a virtue in their community. In my previous research, I’ve show that different communities celebrate their dead in different ways. Most of my work has focused on civilians, but I recently began to investigate what is said about combatants killed in action.

One interesting and troubling comparison is between the obituaries of Western soldiers who have been killed in the Middle East and those of Islamic State fighters.

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Here’s a little quiz: which of the following traits are associated with IS “martyrs” and which with Australians recently killed in action in Afghanistan, Iraq and nearby countries?

  • dedicated
  • steadfast
  • respected
  • patient
  • humorous
  • brave
  • a leader
  • humble
  • inspiring
  • loyal

The truth is that most of these traits are associated with both populations. To establish this, I coded every obituary published by the Islamic State in its two online magazines, Dabiq and Rumiyah, along with a matching sample of obituaries published in Vale by the Australian Department of Defence.

I then mapped out the patterns of co-occurrence among traits to see which virtues are associated with combatants in each community. Here’s what the Australian Department of Defence and IS have to say about their war dead:

Australia conflict obituaries.

ISIS conflict obituaries.

Both the IS and the Australian data are available for examination. What these texts tell us is that ISIS and the Australian government speak of their dead in similar ways. And both use the occasion of martial grief to motivate the continuation of conflict. In so doing, they place death in the context of an ongoing narrative or trajectory that points to further violence as the only acceptable option.

There are, of course, some differences. Australian soldiers are more likely to be remembered as professional, easygoing and larrikin. IS fighters are more likely to be remembered as ascetic, deceitful and harsh (towards enemies – not in general). Their obituaries tend to refer to religious concepts such as aqidah (adherence to correct creed), manhaj (theological insight), and taqwah (pious humility).

These terms refer to values of the local community just as much as “larrikin” does for Australians. And IS fighters are praised not just for their religious or theological virtues but also for traits we find more familiar and congenial. Even someone as the bloody-minded as “Jihadi John” (Mohammed Emwazi) was praised in his obituary for his sense of humour.

Moreover, just as the obituaries published in Dabiq and Rumiyah tend to call others to continue the struggle, so the obituaries published in Vale often include and even conclude with calls to action. In one, the deceased soldier’s commanding officer declares:

We will honour his sacrifice by finishing what he helped us to start.

In another, the decedent’s family concludes that he “would want his colleagues to keep fighting the cause”.

From monuments to memorials

The philosopher Arthur Danto has suggested we “erect monuments so that we shall always remember, and build memorials so that we shall never forget”. Monuments express a community’s pride and commitment to victory; memorials express a community’s remorse and commitment to redress.

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Monuments to those who die in battle also encourage and sometimes demand the interminable renewal of conflict. Even if it makes us queasy to recognise our shared humanity with killers as deeply evil as Jihadi John, perhaps a shift from monumentalising our war dead to memorialising them is necessary. Otherwise, we stand the risk of becoming what we rightly despise.

Mark Alfano, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Delft University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull holds off Dutton challenge – for now – by 48-35

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Malcolm Turnbull called on the vote in this morning’s meeting, and won.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has defeated Peter Dutton 48-35 after throwing the leadership open in a dramatic surprise move to catch his party enemies off guard.

Dutton, the Home Affairs minister, has resigned from the frontbench, which will trigger a reshuffle.

Turnbull called the vote at the Liberal party room meeting, declaring the leadership vacant, and Dutton nominated as the only candidate. While the margin was clear, Dutton’s numbers are strong enough to produce lasting instability and immediate speculation of a second challenge.

Given the short run up to this vote, the Dutton forces can hope to muster additional numbers now the battle is out in the open. Reportedly, the Dutton camp had not expected Turnbull to bring on a Tuesday vote.

The leadership crisis followed Turnbull’s Monday capitulation to the Coalition rebels over energy policy. But deep discontent has been brewing for a while, with Turnbull’s critics unhappy with him on a range of fronts, and the Coalition losing 38 consecutive Newspolls.

The dissent has been actively fomented by Tony Abbott and his supporters. The concerns have been fuelled by fear among Queensland seat holders, who have been thrown into a panic after the plunge in the Liberal National Party vote in the recent Longman byelection.

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There was also a vote on the deputy leadership but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was the only candidate, despite speculation that Health Minister Greg Hunt had his eyes on the post.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Your time starts now: how leadership instability and revenge became woven into our political fabric

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Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

Back in 2012, a major study on the selection and removal of party leaders in Anglo parliamentary democracies was published. The book contained a section with the inviting title of “Machiavellian tactics”. Most of the authors’ examples came from Australia.

That was then. Since the appearance of that book, Kevin Rudd has tipped out Julia Gillard, and Malcolm Turnbull dispensed with Tony Abbott. Now, Turnbull himself seems in difficulty, as rumours abound of a possible challenge from Peter Dutton.

If Politics at the Centre: The Selection and Removal of Party Leaders in the Anglo Parliamentary Democracies ever appears in a revised edition, William P. Cross and André Blais should thank their lucky stars for Australian democracy. Henry Lawson’s description of the Australian bush springs to mind – “the nurse and tutor of eccentric minds, the home of the weird, and much that is different from things in other lands”.

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The intensification of leadership churn in recent decades, and especially since 2001, is well documented. After the defeat of Malcolm Fraser at the 1983 federal election, the Liberal Party changed leaders six times, eventually settling on John Howard in 1995. He then led the party for almost 13 years.

Since Brendan Nelson succeeded Howard after the 2007 election, the Coalition has changed leaders three times, including twice between the 2007 and 2010 elections. Following the defeat of Paul Keating’s Labor government at the 1996 election, Labor has had eight leadership changes, a remarkable feat considering that two of those leaders – Kim Beazley and Bill Shorten – have between them tallied up almost 13 years. The rest – Simon Crean, Mark Latham, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – do not account for even a full decade between them.

Australia did not begin discarding party leaders and even prime ministers yesterday. Psephologist Malcolm Mackerras suggested during the peak Rudd-Gillard unpleasantness of 2012 that the phenomenon began with the rivalry between John Gorton and Billy McMahon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This contest – and the instability to which it contributed – stood in stark contrast to the somnolence of the post-war years, which included the lengthy terms of leadership served by H.V. Evatt (1951-60) and Arthur Calwell (1960-67) during the long Menzies ascendancy (1949-66). The turbulence of the Whitlam leadership was in tune with the post-Menzies times: the Labor leader only narrowly survived a leadership contest with the Left’s candidate, Jim Cairns, in 1968.

But even Gorton was not the first prime minister to win an election only to be discarded by his party. In Australian politics, that honour belongs to Billy Hughes. Forced to resign the prime ministership in 1923 at the instigation of Earle Page, leader of the Country Party, Hughes’s replacement was the wealthy patrician figure of Stanley Melbourne Bruce. Hughes spent the rest of the decade on the backbench, waiting for his revenge. That opportunity eventually came when Bruce tried to transfer most industrial powers to the states. Hughes and a group of dissidents crossed the floor and brought down the government. It’s hard to overlook one or two parallels in this scenario with the current state of play in Australian politics.

Hughes lost his job in large part because of a political realignment that had, in the first instance, placed the former Labor leader at the head of a non-Labor party and in the second instance, because a new force arrived on the scene in the form of the Country Party that was opposed to many of his policies. He might have been the classic “rat”, but even once he switched sides he remained true to many of the policies long favoured by his former party.

Again, it is hard to miss the present-day resonance. Turnbull leads a party with many members – both in parliament and beyond it – who do not see him as one of them. Some see him as Labor in Liberal drag. He has policy preferences that, at least for the right of his party, are as offensive as much that they find in Labor and the Greens.

There is also the cultural issue. Hughes still looked and sounded to many conservatives like the socialist demagogue he once was. Turnbull appears to his internal opponents as a progressive who should have joined the Labor Party, and might as well don his old leather jacket and go back to his friends at Q&A.

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From ‘Toby Tosspot’ to ‘Mr Harbourside Mansion’, personal insults are an Australian tradition

But leadership instability isn’t just about leadership. It is about how we do politics. Churn is the result of the potent combination of rolling opinion polls and, in the case of the federal Liberal Party, the sovereignty of the parliamentary party in leadership matters. One of Rudd’s parting gifts to the Labor Party was a change of rules that has greatly increased the transactional costs of leadership changes between elections. Shorten has been the beneficiary. But the Liberals have not travelled down this path, and the destabilisation of Turnbull is one of the results.

This also speaks to a wider crisis in conservative politics. The global populist revolt epitomised in the Anglo democracies by Brexit and Trump is having its effects here. It is doing enormous damage to the cohesion of the Coalition parties, but especially the still fairly broad church of the Liberal Party. News Corp papers are a major player in its internal factional manoeuvring and leadership destabilisation, and there is beyond the parliament a network of radio shock jocks, op-ed columnists, Sky News personalities and think tank “researchers” who have dealt themselves into the Liberal Party’s internal politics.

Ironically, it is starting to look a bit like the Labor Party of the 1960s, an outfit that allowed too many meddlers too great a say in its affairs, until Whitlam and his allies said enough was enough.

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For Turnbull, it is starting to look like it might be too late.

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Energy policy and Turnbull’s leadership plunge into debilitating uncertainty

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The most fraught day of his prime ministership has seen the implosion of one of Malcolm Turnbull’s key policy pledges – to deliver certainty on energy policy – that only weeks ago seemed on course.

As Turnbull threw everything at shoring up his leadership, business critics denounced the compromise he unveiled to appease rebellious backbenchers.

His energy policy rework placated some internal dissidents, but the capitulation has left his authority weakened and the issue itself back in confusion. Stakeholders have been left dismayed and bewildered.

After the announcement, the government was insisting the National Energy Guarantee policy was alive, as some of its backbench critics were pronouncing its demise.

Asked “is the National Energy Guarantee dead?” Treasurer Scott Morrison said on Sky, “No, not at all. It remains government policy.” He told the ABC: “The policy remains as we took it to the party room with improvements.”

But Kevin Andrews, one of Tony Abbott’s close allies, told Sky: “The reality is that the NEG, for at least the term of this parliament, is dead in the water. There is more chance of seeing a Tyrannosaurus in the local suburban street than seeing this legislation come into the parliament.”

Turnbull’s energy compromise has two parts.

First, legislation to set the 26% emissions reduction target has been shelved, on the ground that a bunch of Coalition MPs would cross the floor.

Turnbull didn’t dare to risk the hazardous route of negotiating the legislation’s passage with Labor, which might have come to nothing but an embarrassing failure, and anyway would have incited the hardliners in his ranks. And a brief flirtation with implementing the target by regulation was abandoned after that caused its own backbench backlash.

Second, a set of highly interventionist measures will be rolled out for use against recalcitrant power companies, including the possibility of breaking up those which abuse their market power.

The initiatives are based on the recent report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, but even the ACCC didn’t support divestiture.

“Requiring the divestiture of privately owned assets is an extreme measure to take in any market, including the electricity market,” it said.

It is certainly an extraordinary course for a pro-market Liberal prime minister to contemplate.

Notably, the Nationals were happy – they had been pressing for the government to take this route. As former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said with enthusiasm, it means “if you play up, we can break you up”.

So where is the great NEG adventure left?

Battered by political bastardy, with months of good work by Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg trashed. Without a legislated target. With less chance of an agreement with the states, which need to tick off on the mechanism. Throwing up fresh problems for investors and promising a continuation of the political climate wars.

As Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group put it succinctly: “Long-term investment certainty in the energy sector remains further away than ever. Despite the best efforts and goodwill of many, energy policy has again fallen victim to short-term political gamesmanship”.

And where is Turnbull’s leadership left, as backbenchers contemplate whether they would be better off under a Peter Dutton prime ministership?

No one quite knows.

Morrison told the ABC: “I spoke to Peter today in Question Time and he said his position hadn’t changed and he was fully supportive of the Prime Minster and the government’s policies.”

Just think about that. The Treasurer is asking (in question time no less) a senior cabinet colleague about his intentions.

Basically anything could happen, anytime.

On Tuesday morning, as chance has it, there is a separate Liberal party meeting, before the joint Coalition parties meeting. At the very least, it will be an interesting discussion. Whether more occurs, who knows?

On Monday night Dutton, the man on the leadership stair, was reportedly very angry after the Ten Network ran a story raising a question about his eligibility for parliament under section 44’s pecuniary interest provision.

Ten has said the story was not political leak, and the timing coincidental. But Dutton would naturally see it as a strike from the Turnbull camp.

If the next few days go quietly, Turnbull will live now from poll to poll, with enemies circling like crows over a weakened animal.

Those enemies could hardly have anticipated they would be able to do so much damage to him, in just a week, after a Coalition parties meeting that actually strongly endorsed the original NEG policy.

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They’re watching, waiting. If, or when they judge Turnbull is vulnerable – that he has lost his numbers – they are ready to strike. Now or later.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: is Peter Dutton ineligible to sit in parliament?

File 20180820 30596 1vhs9in.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
There is enough in the Dutton case to raise questions about whether disqualification has occurred.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Anne Twomey, University of Sydney

Section 44 of the Constitution has struck down many a politician in the past year – but is it powerful enough to take down the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton? This time it is not dual citizenship under s44(i) that is at issue. Instead, it is the more obscure s44(v) in the spotlight.

What is section 44(v) about?

Section 44(v) says that any person who “has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth” is disqualified from sitting as a member of parliament.

Dutton, as recorded in the parliamentary register of interests, is the beneficiary of a discretionary family trust. This trust, through its trustee, apparently owns two childcare centres in Queensland. The allegation is that since July 2, 2018, the trust, through its childcare centres, has agreements with the public service to provide childcare services in exchange for childcare subsidies.

Dutton may argue the childcare centres merely receive the subsidy on behalf of the parents and do not have an agreement with the public service. But if it is found there is such an agreement, it would appear Dutton has a beneficial interest in a trust that has an agreement with the public service, potentially triggering the application of s 44(v).

Last year, in a case concerning Family First senator Bob Day, a majority of the High Court held that the beneficiary of a trust which, via its trustee, is party to an agreement to which section 44(v) refers, has an indirect pecuniary interest in the agreement, and is therefore disqualified from sitting in parliament. If the facts set out above are correct, this would place Dutton into the realm of potential disqualification.

Exceptions for certain types of agreements

The key qualification is the reference to “an agreement to which section 44(v) refers”. Not every agreement with the public service will trigger the application of section 44(v). This is because otherwise ordinary agreements that everyone engages in, such as paying for a passport or a stamp, could cause disqualification from parliament.

In the Day case, Chief Justice Kiefel and Justices Bell and Edelman said there can be “no relevant interest if the agreement in question is one ordinarily made between government and a citizen”. But does an agreement between a childcare centre and the public service fall into that category? It is less ordinary than the purchase of a passport or a stamp.

Justices Gageler and Keane took the view that section 44(v) has no application to agreements entered into by the Commonwealth in the execution of a law of general application enacted by the parliament. As the provision of the childcare subsidy comes under a law of general application, which applies equally to all childcare centres, Dutton would not, on this basis, be disqualified from parliament. But two judges do not make a majority of the Court.

Read more:
Explainer: what is the challenge to Bob Day’s Senate seat all about?

Two other judges, Justices Nettle and Gordon, rejected the attempt to exclude agreements authorised by statutes of general application. In their view, the issue was whether the direct or indirect pecuniary interest in an agreement could conceivably influence a parliamentarian to prefer their private interests over their public duty.

A similar view was taken by the other three judges, Chief Justice Kiefel and Justices Bell and Edelman, who considered that one of the purposes of s44(v) was to ensure that parliamentarians do not seek to benefit from agreements with the public service or “put themselves in a position where their duty to the people they represent and their personal interests may conflict”.

In the case of Dutton, there is no suggestion of any attempt to use political influence or that the arrangements with the two childcare centres are any different from those applying elsewhere. It is therefore different from the Day case, where Day had asked the government to move his electorate office to a particular building, giving rise to an indirect pecuniary interest in the rent.

But it is still possible to argue that Dutton may benefit financially from these agreements with the public service. Is this enough to establish the kind of potential conflict of interest – where a person might prefer their private interests over their public duty – that concerned the High Court in the Day case?

Read more:
The High Court sticks to the letter of the law on the ‘citizenship seven’

This is a matter of judgment for the High Court. It would depend on how strictly it chose to apply the provision. But we do know from recent experience that the High Court has been particularly strict in applying section 44. So even though this case falls within the grey border-area of section 44, it is enough to raise a substantial concern that disqualification has occurred.

What are the consequences of disqualification?

Disqualification is not just an issue prior to election. It can arise at any time within a member’s term in parliament. Section 45 of the Constitution says that upon a senator or member of the House of Representatives becoming subject to a disqualifying disability in section 44, “his place shall thereupon become vacant”. This means that disqualification is automatic at the moment that a disqualifying agreement with the public service is made.

Let’s assume for a moment that an agreement that triggered the application of section 44(v) came into effect from July 2, 2018. That would mean Dutton’s seat was automatically vacated at that time (although to be sure this had happened, a Court judgment would be needed).

Section 64 of the Constitution also states that no minister shall hold office for longer than three months unless he or she becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. That means Dutton could remain validly a minister for three months from July 2. After that, if he was still not a valid member of parliament, he would cease to be a minister.

This would have consequences for the validity of any decision he made as a minister from that point on. It also raises another difficult question in whether or not the “de facto officer” doctrine would apply to support the effectiveness of those decisions.

Given that as Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Dutton makes many decisions that affect the lives of many people, his possible disqualification from parliament opens up a Pandora’s Box of litigation possibilities.

How to fix the problem?

First, the matter could be referred by the House of Representatives to the High Court, as the Court of Disputed Returns, to determine, as occurred in relation to Barnaby Joyce. The benefit of doing so would be to clarify whether such interests give rise to disqualification. But the disadvantage is that it would take some time to get a judgment, leading to ongoing uncertainty.

Second, Dutton could terminate his indirect pecuniary interest in the agreement, resign his seat and be re-elected in a byelection. This would resolve the matter more quickly, but it is unlikely that the government would wish to hold such a by-election at this time.

Third, Dutton could terminate his indirect pecuniary interest, and an election could be called later this year. This would avoid or reduce any period in which he was performing the duties of a minister while possibly invalidly holding that office.

Fourth, Dutton could resign as a minister once the three months expires, so that there are no issues of validity concerning his ministerial decisions, but remain in parliament as long as the House decided not to refer him.

Read more:
If High Court decides against ministers with dual citizenship, could their decisions in office be challenged?

Finally, the government could ignore the problem and tough it out, by not acting until an election was held next year, but risk a tsunami of litigation challenging the minister’s decisions.

None of these options is likely to be particularly palatable to the government, but nothing about section 44 has given the government great joy. However, it is another salient reminder of the importance of taking care to obey the terms of the Constitution.

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All MPs with family trusts need to be as vigilant about the agreements entered into by the trustee on behalf of those trusts as they should be about their citizenship status.

Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Malcolm Turnbull shelves emissions reduction target as leadership speculation mounts

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The government has shelved any move to implement the 26% reduction in emissions because it cannot get the numbers to pass legislation in the House of Representatives.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has announced the government will shelve any move to implement the 26% reduction in emissions because it cannot get the numbers to pass legislation in the House of Representatives.

The desperate attempt to quell the rebellion in his ranks comes as Turnbull’s leadership is under mounting pressure, with speculation about a leadership bid sooner or later from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Read more:
View from The Hill – It’s time for Turnbull to put his authority on the line

But Turnbull told a news conference that Dutton had been at Monday morning’s leadership meeting and “has given me his absolute support”.

“I enjoy the confidence of cabinet and of my party,” he declared.

In a package of changes to the National Energy Guarantee, Turnbull announced the government would move for extraordinarily strong measures to be available against companies that do not give consumers a fair deal, including ultimate divestment.

The government has retreated from Turnbull’s Friday compromise move of implementing the 26% reduction target by regulation. That idea, aimed at denying critics the opportunity to cross the floor, sparked a fresh backlash from Coalition MPs who thought it would make it easier for a Labor government to increase the target.

“Our policy remains to have the emissions intensity standard in the legislation,” Turnbull said at a news conference.

But “as John Howard said, politics is governed by the iron laws of arithmetic and in a House of Representatives with a one seat majority, even with strong support in the party room, if a small number of people are not prepared to vote with the government on a measure then it won’t get passed. So that’s the reality.”

He said the government would bring the target legislation forward “where and when we believe there would be sufficient support in the House of Representatives and obviously in our party room to progress this component of the scheme”.

Turnbull has been frantically seeking any means to pacify his critics, as Tony Abbott and other hardliners are determined to use the energy issue to try to bring him down.

However, it is unlikely his latest move will satisfy his most trenchant opponents. Critics such as Eric Abetz are broadening their attacks on Turnbull to call for government policy changes in other areas, including immigration.

Turnbull admitted he had not personally spoken to Labor to determine whether it would support the emissions legislation, which would give it the numbers in the House.

The shelving of the emissions legislation could cause the Labor states – yet to sign off on the National Energy Guarantee – to walk away from the broad NEG scheme.

Under the initiatives to try to drive down electricity prices announced by Turnbull, a “default market offer” would be set, from which all discounts would be calculated.

“Consumers will be able easily to compare offers from different companies and recognise when they’re being ripped off or when they’re getting a fair deal,” Turnbull said.

He said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission estimated that for average customers on an inflated standing offer, the savings on moving to a new default market offer could range between $183 and $416 a year. For the average small to medium business the move could save between $561 and $1457.

Turnbuil said the ACCC would be given new powers to “step in where there has been abuse or misuse of market power.

“In the most egregious cases of abuse, additional powers will be conferred on government to issue directions on operations, functional separation and even, as a last resort, divestiture of parts of the big power companies,” Turnbull said.

At his news conference, where he was flanked by Treasurer Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, Turnbull rejected a reporter’s suggestion that he had just delivered Tony Abbott’s policy. Abbott has wanted the emission target dropped and Australia to walk away from the Paris climate agreement.

“Our energy policy remains the same, but we are not going to present a bill into the House of Representatives until we believe it will be carried,” Turnbull said.

“We obviously need the support of sufficient of our colleagues to get it passed and that means, you know, substantially all of them.”

On Paris, he said: “We are parties to the Paris Agreement and the government has committed to that”.

The president of the Queensland Liberal National Party, Gary Spence, is urging MPs from Queensland – a vital state at the election – to replace Turnbull with Dutton.

Meanwhile, Western Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds strongly backed Turnbull, telling Sky she “absolutely” believed he would be prime minister at the election.

Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce welcomed the government’s crackdown on power companies saying it was a good outcome. He was particularly pleased with the divesture power, which meant “if you play up, we can break you up”. Turnbull had shown his “capacity to listen”.

Throwing his weight behind the revised package, Joyce said “it’s a great move today.” Asked on Sky about the leadership, he said “I don’t think changing prime ministers looks good.” He also dismmissed Spence’s call for a move to Dutton saying the parliamentary wing should not be confused with the branch members.

Monday 2:33pm

UPDATE: Nationals enthusiastic about revisions but energy industry is critical

The Nationals have swung in strongly behind the revised package.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and his senior ministerial colleagues held a joint news conference to back the enhanced measures to attack high prices.

Nationals who previously had been dissidents, including former prime minister Barnaby Joyce, made separate supportive comments.

The fact the backbench Nationals have been brought back into the tent is important for Turnbull, because it leaves the Liberal hardliners more isolated.

The Nationals are particularly enthusiastic about the commitment to embrace the ACCC recommendation for the government to underwrite investment in projects for new dispatchable power undertaken by new players.

Although the recommendation is technology-neutral, the Nationals see this as a pathway for new coal projects. Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie said: “I’m not afraid to say the C-word: coal, coal, coal is going to be one of the areas we invest in.”

Queensland Nationals backbencher George Christensen, said: “We have a new energy policy thanks to a band of ‘Liberal National rebels’ who stood firm and fought for common sense.”

Christensen said: “What has been announced this morning puts price reductions first and foremost, so pensioners struggling to pay their power bills come before the ‘feel good’ Paris Agreement.”

Another Nationals backbencher, Andrew Gee, welcomed “plans to abandon the National Energy Guarantee”. “It shows that if you stand up and be counted you can actually make a difference, but it’s disappointing that it took this long”.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten labelled Turnbull “truly a white flag prime minister”. “Every day it is a new policy
from the government, a new policy not designed to lower energy prices but just for Mr Turnbull to keep his job from his enemies,”

“Mr Turnbull has demonstrated that he is not the leader this nation needs. Real leadership is about fighting
for the principles you believe in. Real leadership is about not always giving in to your enemies every time they disagree with you,” Shorten said.

Labor states and the ACT were scathing.

Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said: “I’m not sure Malcolm Turnbull knows what the NEG is anymore – or if it still exists.”

“We’ll carefully consider whatever energy policy emerges out of the infighting going on up in Canberra.”

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said “what we are seeing today is energy policy in free fall”.

The ACT minister for Climate Change, Shane Rattenbury said the federal government had now completely capitulated on emissions and climate change, and abandoned the Paris Climate Change commitments.

“The NEG is dead. It was hailed as a policy to address the ‘trilemma’ of prices, reliability and emissions reduction. Instead, Federal energy policy is being determined by the worst, climate change denying elements of the Liberal Party,” Rattenbury said.

The Australian Energy Council’s chief executive, Sarah McNamara, criticised the government’s announcement, saying it “has left the most critical policy, the National Energy Guarantee, in limbo.

“Re-regulation of electricity prices and aggressive market interventions are not the long-term answer to high energy prices,” she said.

“The NEG and policy stability remain the long-term solution to bringing down prices.”

McNamara said that “replacement investment demands bipartisan policy and the lack of it remains the biggest drag on the energy market.”

“This is policy with no consultation,” she said.
“Re-regulation has the very real potential to damage competition and confidence.”

McNamara said increasing the ACCC’s powers to allow divestment of private assets was not supported by the ACCC’s own report.

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The Council represents 21 major electricity and downstream natural gas businesses operating in competitive wholesale and retail energy markets. They collectively generate the overwhelming majority of electricity in Australia.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.