View from The Hill: Senate decides Pyne and Bishop have a few more parliamentary questions to answer


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, has cleared Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop of breaching the government’s code of ministerial standards with their post-politics jobs. But it’s doubtful the average voter would take such a literal or generous view of their conduct.

Scott Morrison had flicked to Parkinson the row over the part-time positions the two high flyers have taken that clearly overlap their previous portfolios, when the rules provide for a longer separation period.

Pyne, former defence minister, is advising EY, which operates in the defence area. Bishop, former foreign minister, is joining the board of Palladium, a global group working in aid and development.

The code says:

Ministers are required to undertake that, for an eighteen month period after ceasing to be a Minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as Minister in their last eighteen months in office.

Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.

The government on Monday was quick to gag an embarrassing opposition move in the lower House calling for Parkinson to probe further into the circumstances of Bishop, who told him she didn’t have any contact with Palladium while foreign minister. A video had been posted by the company, labelled “Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, commends Shared Value and Palladium’s Business Partnership Platform”. (Government sources said later that the video – in which Bishop did not use Palladium’s name – was a congratulatory one about a Foreign Affairs initiative.)

In the Senate, the government lacked the numbers to prevent the conduct of Pyne and Bishop being referred to a committee. The motion from Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick won support from Labor, Greens and non-Greens crossbenchers, passing 35 to 29. The committee has three opposition members, two government senators and a One Nation representative. Pyne and Bishop will be invited to appear and could be required to do so.

The greyest area of the post-ministerial employment provision is the stipulation not to take advantage of private information acquired as a minister.

Parkinson says in his report to Morrison: “a distinction should be drawn between experience gained through being a minister and specific knowledge they acquire through performing the role. It is the latter which is pertinent to the Standards”.




Read more:
Why Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop fail the ‘pub test’ with their new jobs


In practice, however, this can fade into a distinction without a difference. As Parkinson also says: “It is not reasonable to think that former Ministers can or will ‘forget’ all information or knowledge gained by them in the course of their ministerial roles”.

Pyne initially said he would be “providing strategic advice to EY, as the firm looks to expand its footprint in the Defence Industry”. EY initially talked up his role but then quickly qualified it in the face of the controversy.

Parkinson spoke to both Pyne (who had already issued a long public written explanation) and Bishop.

In Parkinson’s account, Pyne seems to have done a lot of talking with EY about what he can’t do. EY is paying, of course, for what he can do.

Parkinson says he considers Pyne “has put in place mechanisms to ensure that, whilst his engagement with EY will appropriately draw on his 26 year experience as a parliamentarian, he will not impart direct or specific knowledge known to him only by virtue of his ministerial position”.

Bishop, who will have been out of the ministry for a year next month, has said little publicly about her non-executive directorship. She told Parkinson she had yet to attend a board meeting and that “Palladium does not expect her to engage on any Australian based projects”.

Patrick suggested the terms of reference given to Parkinson were limited – designed to fix a “political problem”.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: A kinder, gentler Senate – at least for now


This is not new ground. Former trade minister Andrew Robb took up employment (annual remuneration of $880,000) with the Chinese Landbridge Group soon after he was trade minister. He has strongly rejected criticism of his action (and since left the group).

Two former ministers with responsibility for resources, the Liberals’ Ian Macfarlane and Labor’s Martin Ferguson quickly accepted positions with the sector. Stephen Conroy, a former communications minister overseeing online gambling laws, came under fire on becoming a lobbyist for the gambling industry – he points out this was three years after he was a minister.

Going back further (when the ministerial code of conduct did not include a post-separation provision) Peter Reith segued from the defence portfolio into advising defence contractor Tenix.

The Senate inquiry, reporting by September 10, will look at “action taken by the Prime Minister and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to ensure full compliance by former Ministers” with the relevant section of the ministerial standards.

At the end of his letter to Morrison, Parkinson highlights the impotence of a PM once members of his team are out in the wide world.

“While there are certain actions available to you when considering the conduct of a current serving Minister, and a possible breach of the Standards, there are no specific actions that can be taken by you in relation to former Ministers once they have left the Parliament”.

Either some way should be found to make the code enforceable or, if that is too hard, let’s skip the hypocrisy and admit it is no more than an exhortation to departees to act properly – complying with not just its letter but its spirit.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop fail the ‘pub test’ with their new jobs



Questions have been raised about the new private-sector roles of former ministers Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop.
Lukas Coch/Mick Tsikas/AAP

Yee-Fui Ng, Monash University

Labor has criticised former ministers Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop for taking up new roles related to their government portfolios, saying these actions breach ministerial standards.

Pyne, the former defence minister, was appointed as defence consultant to consulting firm EY a month after leaving parliament, while Bishop, the former foreign minister, was appointed to the board of the private overseas aid consultancy firm Palladium, less than a year after quitting the ministry.

Following the threat by Senator Rex Patrick to call a Senate inquiry into Pyne’s new job, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sought advice from the head of his department on whether there has been a breach of ministerial standards.

What do the ministerial standards say?

Ministerial standards set out the standards of conduct expected of ministers. The principle underlying the standards is that ministers should uphold the public’s trust since they wield a great deal of power deriving from their public office.

Morrison’s statement of ministerial standards proclaims

All ministers and assistant ministers are expected to conduct themselves in line with standards established in this statement in order to maintain the trust of the Australian people.

In the cases of Pyne and Bishop, the standards further state that ministers must not “lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force” for 18 months after leaving parliament on matters they dealt with in their final 18 months as ministers.

It also prohibits ministers from taking personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.

Pyne and Bishop have both claimed their new jobs are consistent with the ministerial standards.

Pyne argued that providing occasional high-level strategic advice in his new role at EY does not equate to lobbying or involve the use of information he had acquired in his portfolio.




Read more:
Cabinet ministers Pyne and Ciobo set to head out door


Bishop, meanwhile, has defended her new role by saying

I am obviously aware of the obligations of the ministerial guidelines and I am entirely confident that I am and will remain compliant with them.

Regardless of their statements of assurances, it can be argued that neither of these new positions pass the “pub test.”

Why should we have cooling-off periods for ministers?

The Grattan Institute has found that one in four former ministers go on to take lucrative roles with special interest groups after leaving politics.

Likewise, as my co-authored discussion paper for the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption shows, more than one-third of lobbyists are former government representatives (that is, former politicians, senior public servants or ministerial advisers).

There is, thus, a well-established revolving door between government and lobbying due to the extensive and beneficial networks developed by public officials in the course of their duties.




Read more:
Will heads roll? Ministerial standards and Stuart Robert


The post-ministerial employment restrictions have been put into place to reduce the risk of corruption and undue influence by former public officials-turned-lobbyists hoping to sway their former colleagues and underlings and influence public policy for the benefit of their clients.

There are three main ethical and democratic issues underlying this phenomenon.

The first is the possession of confidential information by former officials.

Second, there is the issue of a minister-turned-lobbyist’s access to and influence over key decision-makers in government – connections that can be used to benefit cheque-writing interest groups.

And third, there is the risk that powerful industry groups may approach ministers while they are still in office with promises of lucrative positions after politics if their grants or applications are approved.

Despite these issues, the cooling-off periods for ex-ministers who go on to lobbying roles have been historically poorly enforced. As a result, former politicians are often able to take up roles in breach of these post-employment restrictions without any repercussions.

For example, former Australian trade minister Andrew Robb walked into a $880,000-a-year consultancy with Chinese company Landbridge five months after leaving parliament in 2016. The then-special minister of state ruled that this did not breach ministerial rules, claiming that someone with a broad portfolio like Robb should not be prohibited completely from work after they leave parliament.

How can we fix the system?

The post-employment separation requirements serve a legitimate purpose in reducing the risk of corruption and undue influence in our democracy.

The first step for the government to address the problem is to properly enforce the cooling-off periods. Having these requirements in ministerial standards does no good if prime ministers turn a blind eye to these kinds of appointments. We need to pass a law to give an independent commissioner the power to punish those who are in breach.




Read more:
The Barnaby Joyce affair highlights Australia’s weak regulation of ministerial staffers


For example, Canada has a law mandating a five-year post-separation period for ministers, MPs, ministerial advisers and senior public servants before taking up positions as third-party or in-house lobbyists. This law is strongly enforced by an independent commissioner of lobbying. Breaches are an offence punishable by a C$50,000 fine.

Second, the rules need to be tightened to avoid technical arguments about compliance. For example, laws are needed to explicitly ban former ministers, their advisers and senior public servants from carrying out lobbying activities for a certain period of time, whether as individuals, or on behalf of organisations or corporations, including consulting firms.

More broadly, there is also a need for greater transparency in the lobbying industry – specifically, what types of individuals and organisations are successfully gaining access to and influencing government.

Due to concerns over this, the NSW ICAC has launched a public inquiry into the regulation of political lobbying called “Operation Eclipse.” The outcome of this inquiry should provide many options for reform at both the federal and state levels.

The regulation of the revolving door between politicians and lobbying groups has been extraordinarily weak in Australia. The phenomenon of ministers taking up plum positions that create actual or perceived conflicts of interest has continued unabated for many years.

To restore public trust in government, it is time to tighten the rules and be serious about enforcement.The Conversation

Yee-Fui Ng, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Bishop’s boots were made for walking


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

As a parliament that will be unmourned winds down to the election, this fortnight has been the season for goodbyes from those departing (voluntarily).

The most dramatic was Thursday’s announcement by Julie Bishop that she isn’t running again.

Bishop’s claim she’d reconsidered her plans on the basis she believed the government will be re-elected doesn’t wash. She was always expected to bail out – it was a matter of when she’d say so.

Though anticipated, Bishop’s departure is another blow for the
woman-poor Liberal party – and another reminder of the costs of
tearing down Malcolm Turnbull.




Read more:
Liberals lose yet another high-profile woman, yet still no action on gender


If he had remained prime minister, the government would be going to the polls with Bishop deputy Liberal leader and foreign minister. The Liberals would still have a “woman problem”, but they’d also have a woman in their leadership team – she of those famous red shoes she dubbed her “comfortable work boot”.

Bishop still smarts over her colleagues, including those from her home state of Western Australia as well as the party’s moderates, refusing to support her in the August leadership ballot, when she was humiliated with only 11 votes. The moderates argued they were operating tactically, to stymie Peter Dutton.

Would the government have been better off electorally if the Liberals had chosen Bishop over Scott Morrison? If Morrison does badly in May, history will ask that question.

Bishop is not the street brawler Morrison is. But if she had won the leadership and gone immediately to an election, the result could have been interesting.




Read more:
Julie Bishop to quit parliament at the election


Among many others leaving parliament are cabinet minister Kelly O’Dwyer, former Labor ministers Wayne Swan, Jenny Macklin and Kate Ellis, and Nationals senator John “Wacka” Williams. “Wacka” never served on the frontbench but his dogged pursuit of the financial sector’s scandals gives him a legacy more substantial than many ministers leave.

In this parliament’s dying days a bow is due to Speaker Tony Smith. He’s not retiring but if there is a change of government, his speakership will be over.

When he was press secretary to then-treasurer Peter Costello, the joke about Smith was that he would say to media queries, “off the record, no comment”. As Speaker, Smith has asserted his “voice”; he has been fair and strong. On Thursday, he gave fellow Liberal Tim Wilson a rap over the knuckles for the highly political way he has handled a parliamentary inquiry into the opposition’s policy on franking credits.

It’s often said of organisations that the whole is greater than the sum of the individuals. With our parliament, the contributions of some (albeit too few) individuals outshine the impression voters have of the collective.

No one is sure if the political weather changed in this fractious fortnight, which has been chaotic for both sides.

Labor defeated the government in the House early last week over the medical transfer legislation, but since then has been trying to minimise the harm to itself.

So when the government declared sick transferees would be sent
straight to Christmas Island – a plan designed to trap the opposition rather than a sensible medical policy – Bill Shorten just agreed. He wasn’t going to let more political capital seep away.

Labor knows it has taken a hit among some voters with its support for the legislation, though this could be partly mitigated by the issue involving the role of doctors, respected in the community.

The Coalition grabbed the controversy as a life raft, but then found itself blown somewhat off course by the Helloworld affair.

That cluster bomb has managed to strike both a current and a former minister. It started with a story about Finance Minister Mathias Cormann booking flights for a Singapore holiday through a mate, Helloworld CEO and Liberal party treasurer Andrew Burnes, and the company failing to process his credit card for payment.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Minister who watches the nation’s credit card overlooks his own


It then spread to disclosures about Helloworld subsidiary QBT getting speedy access to the Australian embassy in Washington, allegedly courtesy of the close friendship Burnes has with ambassador and former treasurer Joe Hockey (a big shareholder in Helloworld.)

Hockey was frustrated that his travel arrangements were being handled unprofessionally, which provided a potential opening for QBT.

Whistleblower Russell Carstensen, formerly group general manager of QBT, wrote in a Thursday letter to a Senate estimates committee that in April 2017, when Carstensen was in Europe, Burnes had contacted him to say “he had arranged a meeting with Mr Hockey and I had to fly home via Washington to meet with him”, which he did.

According to Carstensen, when he asked Burnes how the appointment with the ambassador could be arranged so quickly, Burnes replied “Hockey owes me”.

Burnes late Thursday said he hadn’t organised any meeting, adding “I emphatically deny ever having told Mr Carstensen that Mr Hockey ‘owes me’ or any words to that effect”.

Wherever the story goes from here, the public’s take will be simply one of mates doing favours for mates, adding to people’s cynicism about politicians generally and the government in particular.

The mates affair is unlikely to have the same direct impact as the medical transfer controversy. The strength of that issue, however, will be determined by whether any boats appear. If there are none, Labor could dodge a bullet because the government’s rhetoric will start to sound hollow.

While this fortnight has had that “end of term” feel, of course there is the big test to go before the parliament finishes.

Just as in 2016, a budget will be used as an election launching pad. It’s a gamble for the Coalition. Last time – when the Turnbull government built the budget around company tax cuts – it didn’t end so well.

The Morrison government has to shape an April 2 budget that shores up its economic credentials as well as offering some voter bait – a budget that’s reasonably received on the night and can underpin a campaign.

Bill Shorten must produce a parliamentary reply two days later that mixes demolition with some positive initiatives.

No pressure anyone.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Julie Bishop to quit parliament at the election


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julie Bishop has announced she will retire from federal parliament at the election.

Bishop’s statement to Parliament late Thursday confirmed the widespread expectation she would not seek another term, although she had repeatedly said she planned to recontest.

The exit of Bishop – the best-known Liberal woman and highly popular with voters – underlines the Liberals’ “woman problem”. It comes after the decision of cabinet minister Kelly O’Dwyer to leave at the election.

Bishop told parliament she believed the Coalition would win the election.

“And on that basis, I have reconsidered my position as the member for Curtin.”

She said she had been contacted by a number of “talented, indeed
extraordinary, people, including women” who had indicated that if she did not recontest, they would seek preselection from her seat of Curtin. “It is time for a new member to take my place,” she said.

Curtin is one of the safest Liberal seats in the country. It has been said widely that Bishop wanted to delay an announcement about her future to give her maximum influence over who would be her successor.

She was known to want to keep Attorney-General Christian Porter from moving from his marginal seat, although he had said he did not want to do so.

Her speech reinforced the message that she believes the seat should go to a woman.

Bishop, 62, was Liberal deputy for 11 years, from 2007 until last year, and foreign minister for five years, from 2013 to 2018.

She was Australia’s first female foreign minister. In that role she travelled constantly and was a popular figure on the international stage. She was thrown into the international spotlight after the downing of MH17, in which 38 Australian citizens and permanent residents were killed. Australia was on the United Nations Security Council at the time.

After the coup that ousted Malcolm Turnbull, Bishop – who stood
in the leadership ballot but received only a handful of votes – told Scott Morrison she did not wish to serve on the front bench.

Bishop, who is very close to Turnbull – although they had some ups and downs in earlier years – is on the moderate wing of the Liberal party.

It was speculated after she went to the backbench that if the Liberals were in opposition after the election, Bishop could become leader, although this did not seem a likely prospect.

Turnbull tweeted: “Thank you @JulieBishopMP for your service to our nation and our Party and, above all, your friendship over so many years. You have been our finest Foreign Minister – eloquent, elegant and always courageous advancing our national interest in these challenging times”.

Since she left the frontbench Bishop has become quite outspoken, including saying there needed to be bipartisanship on energy policy.

Bishop told parliament she was “proud of the fact that I am the first woman to contest the leadership ballot of the Liberal Party in its 75 year history.”

In the House Morrison described Bishop as an “incredibly classy
individual”, and invoked the Biblical phrase “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In a statement, the Prime Minister said she was “a giant of the
Liberal Party and she has been a ground breaker for women in public life.

“Julie was one of Australia’s truly great foreign ministers. In the Liberal Party she will take her place alongside the greatest foreign ministers of our history: Casey, Hasluck and Downer,” Morrison said.

Bill Shorten said: “It is the end of an era.”

He paid tribute to Bishop’s handling of the aftermath of the MH17 downing – her calm, composure and kindness to the families.

“It was real. It was authentic. … I remember the service in
Melbourne at St Patrick’s and she really was a leader. But I also saw her steely determination in international forums to pursue justice and she was very strong”.

O’Dwyer tweeted: “@JulieBishopMP You have been an outstanding leader in our Party, an incredible trailblazer and a beautiful friend. You’ve made us proud for all you have done and all you have achieved. We are forever in your debt. With love.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: O’Dwyer’s decision turns the spotlight onto Bishop


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The political down time over summer can be something of a respite for
an embattled government. But for Scott Morrison, it has just brought
more setbacks. The weekend announcement by cabinet minister Kelly
O’Dwyer that she will leave parliament at the election is the latest
and most serious.

O’Dwyer says she wants to see more of her two young children, and
would like to have a third, which involves medical challenges.

Her decision is understandable. The first woman to have a baby while a
federal cabinet minister has been juggling an enormous load.

But with the general expectation that the Morrison government is
headed for opposition, many people will think (rightly or wrongly)
that O’Dwyer was also influenced by the likelihood she faced the grind
of opposition, which is a lot less satisfying than the burden of
office.

Bad timing for the minister for women

Her insistence at Saturday’s joint news conference with Morrison
that he will win the election won’t convince anyone.

If the Liberals didn’t have their acute “woman problem”, O’Dwyer’s
jumping ship wouldn’t be such a concern. She’s been a competent
minister, not an outstanding performer. She was not in “future leader”
lists.

But it’s altogether another matter to have your minister for women
bailing out when there has been a huge argument about the dearth of
females in Coalition ranks, damaging allegations of bullying within
the Liberal party, and high profile Victorian backbencher Julia Banks
deserting to the crossbench.

All in all, the Liberal party is presenting a very poor face to women
voters. It was O’Dwyer herself who told colleagues last year that the
Liberals were widely regarded as “homophobic, anti-women,
climate-change deniers”.

Anti-women climate-change deniers?

An effort earlier this month to have assistant ministers Sarah
Henderson and Linda Reynolds talk up the Liberals’ credentials on women looked like the gimmick it was.

O’Dwyer says she has “no doubt” her successor as the Higgins candidate will be a woman. Morrison also says he thinks there will be a female replacement.

But this just highlights how the Liberal party’s failure to bring
enough women through the ranks now forces it into unfortunate corners.

The candidate will be chosen by a local preselection. As one
journalist quipped at the news conference, is the situation that blokes needn’t apply?

And what if a man happened to win? Remember Morrison’s experience in the Wentworth byelection, where he wanted a woman and the preselectors gave him Dave Sharma?




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Wentworth preselectors’ rebuff to Morrison caps week of mayhem


Sharma was generally considered a good candidate – and Morrison is happy for him to have his second try against independent Kerryn Phelps at the general election.

Assuming, however, that Higgins preselectors heed the gender call,
it seems they will have some strong female contenders to choose from.

Paediatrician Katie Allen, who contested the state election, has
flagged she will run; Victorian senator Jane Hume is considering a
tilt.

There is inevitable speculation about whether former Abbott chief-
of-staff Peta Credlin might chance her arm for preselection.

But her hard-edged political stance would be a risk in an electorate
where the Greens have been strong – savvy Liberals point out a climate
sceptic wouldn’t play well there. And it would be embarrassing for her
if she ran for preselection and was defeated.

O’Dwyer rejects the suggestion she was swayed by the possibility she
might lose Higgins. Some Liberals were pessimistic about the seat
after the party’s drubbing in the Victorian election, and Labor was
ahead in two-party terms in a poll it commissioned late last year.




Read more:
Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer says Liberals were ‘subject to threats’ in leadership battle


But the government has a 10% margin in two-party terms against Labor, and despite the polling the ALP doesn’t expect to win the seat. (In 2016 the Greens finished second.)

O’Dwyer, who is also minister for jobs and industrial relations,
remains in her positions and in cabinet until the election.
Understandably Morrison would not want a reshuffle. But having a lame
duck minister in the important IR portfolio is less than optimal.

Attention turns to Bishop

Inevitably O’Dwyer’s announcement has turned attention onto the future
of former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop. Bishop has said she is
contesting the election but there is continuing speculation she might
withdraw.

While she has previously left open the possibility of running for the
opposition leadership this makes no sense.

Now in her early 60s, her chances of ever becoming PM would be
virtually nil if Labor won with a good majority and was set for two
terms. That’s if she had the numbers to get the leadership in the
first place.

It is assumed Bishop has said she’s staying so she stymies any replacement
she doesn’t want (such as attorney-general Christian Porter whose own
seat is at risk) and can secure a candidate she favours.

Even though she’s a backbencher now, it would be a another blow for
the Liberals if Bishop does decide to retire at the election.




Read more:
Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister


She was humiliated when she received only a handful of votes in the
August leadership ballot. Her treatment left her deeply angry,
especially because none of her Western Australian colleagues supported
her.

But out in the community she is very popular and many voters still
can’t understand why, when there was a change of prime minister, she
was not the one chosen.

If Bishop were to walk away, she would be making a rational decision.
But it would send another powerful negative vibe to voters about
the Liberal party and women.


UPDATE: Jane Hume, interviewed on the ABC on Monday morning, has
ruled out running for the Higgins preselection.

UPDATE: In reply to queries to her office, Bishop said on Monday: “I am pre-selected as the member for Curtin and it is my intention to run”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Hokey-pokey politics as the government is shaken all about


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the topsy turvy Liberal universe, just when the right is trying to
tighten its grip on the throat of the party, the government is haring
off to the left, with this week’s legislation to allow it to break up
recalcitrant energy companies.

As former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop – who as a backbencher
has become very forthright – said in the Coalition party room on
Tuesday, “this is not orthodox Liberal policy”. Bishop canvassed the
danger of sovereign risk.

To find a rationale for a frolic into what in other circumstances the
Liberals would no doubt denounce as “socialism”, one might see it as
driven by the veto of the so-called conservatives.

Those on the right (led by Tony Abbott and his band) have long stopped
the government putting forward a sound energy policy, despite the
strong pleas from stakeholders across the board.

Instead, trying to respond to the pressing electoral issue of high
electricity prices, the government has reached for its “big stick”
including the threat of divestiture – a policy that’s being attacked
by Labor as well as business.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen was correct on Thursday when he said:
“this is what we see when a government’s policy agenda falls apart”.

Having to defend this draconian policy, first from critical Coalition
backbenchers (who won some changes) and then in parliament, the
government found itself tied in knots.

Given this is such a radical proposal, it was also in an enormous rush with the legislation, introducing it on Wednesday and wanting the House of Representatives to pass it by Thursday.

But that timetable was stymied by Labor. Passage through the House
will have to wait until February.

Meanwhile there will be a Senate inquiry, reporting in March. This
puts off a Senate vote until budget week in April – ensuring a lot
of noise about this controversial measure just when the government
will want all the attention on a budget crafted to appeal to voters
for a May election.

Even if the divestiture legislation gets through the Senate next year,
a likely Labor election victory would mean we’ll probably never see
this particular “big stick” wielded. It’s highly doubtful the threat
will have been worth the angst, or the trashing of Liberal principles.

The final parliamentary fortnight of 2018 coincided with the first
fortnight of the hung parliament.

For Scott Morrison, it has been an excruciating two weeks, with the
backlash from the Liberals’ trouncing in Victoria, Julia Banks’
defection to the crossbench, Malcolm Turnbull’s provocative
interventions, and an impasse with Labor over the plan to protect LGBT
students.

The government’s stress culminated in Thursday’s extraordinary battle
to prevent a defeat on the floor of the House.

This test of strength was over amendments, based on a proposal
originally coming from new Wentworth member Kerryn Phelps, that would
make it easier to transfer people needing medical treatment from Nauru
and Manus to Australia.

As both sides played the tactics, a remarkable thing happened in the
House of Representatives. Behaviour improved one hundred percent, with
none of the usual screaming and exchanges of insults. This pleasing
development was, unsurprisingly, driven by self-interest – neither
government nor opposition could afford to have anyone thrown out ahead
of the possible crucial vote.

Earlier, Morrison had shown anything but restraint when at his news
conference he described Bill Shorten as “a clear and present threat to
Australia’s safety”. Once that would have been taken as a serious
claim, which a prime minister would have been called on to justify. In
these days, it’s seen as a passing comment.

In what was a highly aggressive performance, Morrison gave us another
foretaste of what he’ll be like on the hustings.

In the end, by its delaying tactics in the Senate, the government
prevented the amendments reaching the House before it adjourned, and
so avoided a test of the numbers.

Defeat in the House would not have equalled a no confidence vote, but
it would have been a serious blow for Morrison. Looking for a
precedent, the House of Representatives’ clerks office went back to
votes lost in 1929 (which led to an election) and on the 1941 budget
(which brought down the Fadden government).

But the government may have just put off, rather than prevented, the
reckoning. Phelps said on Sky, “I am sad that we didn’t get this
through today … because I believe it would have gone through on the numbers … But you know if we have to wait until February, at least I believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dodging this vote meant that legislation to give authorities better
access to encrypted messages to help in the fight against terrorism
looked like it would be delayed. Once the House had adjourned, any
Labor amendments the Senate might pass couldn’t go back there until
February.

The government had declared the encryption measure was urgent, and the
blame game started in anticipation of a hold up. Then, mid-debate in
the Senate, Labor abandoned its attempt to amend the bill, which
glided through. In an agreement which may mean something or nothing,
the government undertook to consider the ALP amendments in the new
year.

Shorten didn’t want to be open to the government’s accusations of impeding legislation the security agencies said would help prevent terrorist
acts. “I couldn’t go home and leave Australians over Christmas without
some of the protections which we all agree are necessary,” he said.

The events of this week show why the government decided to have
the minimum of sitting days before the election next year.

The new parliamentary session will open with a deadlock on the
protection of gay students, the divestiture plan up in the air, and
the Nauru-Manus vote hanging over the government.

And by that time Scott Morrison will have had his first and probably
his last Christmas at Kirribilli.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Julie Bishop will be open to post-politics offers


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julie Bishop’s farewell appearance as foreign minister set some hares running about her future, but the real message is that Australia’s highest profile female politician is ready to move on to a post-political life.

When she called a news conference on Tuesday, Bishop had been expected to announce she’d leave parliament at the election. But instead she said she was remaining the member for her Western Australian seat of Curtin. What she avoided saying was for how long.

Teasingly, she even indirectly left open the possibility of seeking the leadership post election. When she was asked about that, she said: “It’s far too early for me to even contemplate what I might do. But I will certainly have plenty of time to consider my options and reflect on what has been an extraordinary time”.

In reality, the chances of Bishop being in the next parliament seem minimal. As for the leadership – which would be opposition leadership because if the government won there would be no vacancy – that’s not a job she would want. Or indeed that, as a moderate, she would get, given the conservative direction of the Liberal party.

Bishop could presumably expect to receive some attractive job offers in the next few months, and if the right one came along, domestic or international, she would be taking it.

Her seat is safe as houses – she won more than 70% of the two-party vote in 2016 – so she mightn’t even feel inhibited about leaving before the election if the incentive were there. If she departed relatively close to the election, a byelection could be avoided.

With Governor-General Peter Cosgrove’s term due to end early next year, there has been speculation Bishop might be appointed as his successor.

This has prompted Bill Shorten to write to Scott Morrison asking that Cosgrove’s term be extended for six months, to September 2019, so that the next government appoints the new incumbent at Yarralumla.

Given the timing, Labor has a reasonable point.

But if we are talking appropriateness for the role, Bishop would surely have all the qualifications. And there is the precedent of Bob Hawke appointing Bill Hayden, who had been foreign minister.

In last week’s leadership ballot Bishop scored only 11 votes, and none of her fellow WA Liberals voted for her. Nationally, moderates were urged to vote for Scott Morrison in the first round, as the best tactic to defeat Peter Dutton.

When she saw Tuesday’s Essential poll, Bishop would have had her anger with colleagues fuelled. Asked who would make the best Liberal leader she was on 23%, followed by Malcolm Turnbull on 15%, and Morrison on 10%. But the leadership battle was not about electoral attractiveness.

Bishop could have stayed as foreign minister if she’d wanted. She might have chosen to do so if Morrison had been more persuasive.

It would have served his own and the government’s interests for the new PM to have pressed her much harder.

Continuity in foreign affairs for the next few months would have been useful, especially since this is not Morrison’s forte and he won’t have a lot of opportunity to get to grips with it, given an election bearing down.

Morrison is going to Indonesia this week, but he is missing next week’s Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru. In light of the concerns about growing Chinese influence in the Pacific, this is a meeting the Australian Prime Minister should be at. Instead his place will be taken by Marise Payne, Bishop’s replacement as foreign minister.

One of the issues at the Nauru meeting will be climate change, just when question marks hang over the Morrison government’s climate policy.

In domestic terms, Bishop’s high profile as a minister, even without her deputy role, would have been helpful to the Liberals’ pre-election fund-raising and campaigning. “Obviously, as a back bencher, I am somewhat constrained,” she said. Indeed.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

With Bishop gone, Morrison and Payne face significant challenges on foreign policy



File 20180828 75972 ph4bm8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Morrison will need to rely heavily on the experience of his new foreign minister, Marise Payne, and deputy leader, Josh Frydenberg.
Andrew Taylor/AAP

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

With all the focus this week on new Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s domestic challenges, less attention has been paid to the international impact of the leadership change and any new directions for Australian foreign policy.

Morrison’s foreign policy credentials are slim and his interest in foreign policy is low, not rating even a mention in his first speech to the nation as PM.

As immigration minister, Morrison presided over the “stop the boats” policy that was so unpopular with Australia’s neighbours and negotiated the disastrous and expensive Cambodia asylum deal. He may also be perceived by Muslim-majority nations as unfriendly to Muslims after the 2011 shadow cabinet leak that he urged his party to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about immigration and Muslims in Australia.




Read more:
Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister


It is therefore a good idea indeed that Morrison will make his first trip overseas as prime minister this week to Jakarta to hasten the Australia and Indonesia free-trade agreement and shore up one of our country’s most crucial relationships.

There are other big trips he’ll need to make quick decisions about. Morrison has already decided not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru next week, sending his new foreign minister, Marise Payne, instead.

After that, there’s the UN General Assembly in New York (24 Sept), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea (12 Nov), the East Asia Summit in Singapore (14 Nov) and the G20 summit in Buenos Aires (30 Nov). An Australian PM would usually attend all of these, although the Coalition has often sent the foreign minister to the UN.

New leader, same foreign policy outlook

In many ways, Morrison’s foreign policy positions are unlikely to be different from Malcolm Turnbull’s. He will likely be perceived as friendly to the US and unfriendly to China on foreign investment, but a realist and pro-free trade. Morrison made a dramatic intervention in 2016 to block Chinese companies from bidding for the NSW electricity distributor, Ausgrid, on national security grounds.

As acting home affairs minister last week, Morrison also announced the government’s decision to effectively ban Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from participating in Australia’s new 5G mobile phone networks. In reality, though, the Turnbull reset on the China relationship is likely to continue, as guided by the Foreign Policy White Paper.




Read more:
Julie Bishop shows the boys how it’s done


The leadership change was not predicated on policy disagreements, with the exception of different ideologies on climate change. The change was rather more personality-driven, a question of style. But style – and leaders – matter in diplomacy.

Many foreign policy experts have been distraught by the damage done to Australia’s international reputation by such disruptive spills, and how external messaging on good governance will be undermined.

Julie Bishop had a contentious relationship with China at times, but was largely seen as a stable presence in foreign affairs.
Rouelle Umali/EPA

The big loss here is Julie Bishop, who has been a point of stability and continuity for Australia’s international partners since 2009, when she became shadow foreign minister. The sudden, inexplicable loss of both Turnbull and Bishop will be hard for our allies (and most Australians) to understand.

Bishop will be remembered for her path-breaking role as the first female foreign minister and first female secretary of DFAT. Her legacy also includes the New Colombo Plan, her push for e-diplomacy and her passionate quest for justice for the victims of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

She did face criticism – as did the Coalition more broadly – for the inability or unwillingness to defend the aid budget from deep cuts, an asylum seeker policy that affected our international reputation, and an unwillingness to speak out on human rights, such as against Myanmar’s leaders.

Morrison’s support team

Bishop’s loss is ameliorated by two factors – the appointment of Payne and the influence of Josh Frydenberg in the leadership team.

Frydenberg, the new deputy Liberal leader and treasurer, has a strong interest and inclination for foreign policy, having worked for former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. He was very active in the Brisbane G20 Summit in 2014. He is even a published author on the liberal tradition in Australian foreign policy.

Frydenberg’s maiden speech contained a particularly beautiful narrative about how his family suffered during the Holocaust in Europe and later emigrated to Australia.

Like so many other immigrants to our great shores, all of my grandparents came here with nothing. … The welcome my family received and the opportunities and freedom they enjoyed is for me the essence of what makes Australia great.

Josh Frydenberg at his swearing-in last week.
Lukas Coch/AAP

The G20 Summit in Argentina in November is the best opportunity for Morrison and Frydenberg to shine in the international sphere. Given his newly-elevated platform at the summit, Morrison may have to moderate his constant criticism of “the new romantics of protectionism” and dislike of the World Trade Organisation. Morrison and Frydenberg should also pay heed to the difficult negotiations around the Australia-EU free-trade agreement.




Read more:
2017 Foreign Policy White Paper finally acknowledges world power is shifting


Payne’s appointment as foreign minister is also seen as a positive, as is Simon Birmingham’s elevation to trade minister. Both are hardworking, reasonable politicians from the moderate wing of the Liberal party who can manage stakeholders well. Hopefully, they will have time before the next election to bring their own style to the positions.

Mark Coulton remains assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment. He has yet to make much impact since being appointed in March, but has a welcome focus on Papua New Guinea, host of APEC.

Anne Ruston has been appointed assistant minister for international development and the Pacific. She has voted in the past against increases in foreign aid and has limited experience in the region. She should follow the example of Richard Marles, who did exemplary work in this portfolio, garnering respect in the Pacific. This role could become more difficult with Morrison deciding not to attend the Pacific Islands Forum.

Morrison should rely on Payne and Birmingham to manage Australia’s foreign policy and pay special attention to rebuilding our reputation for good governance. There is hard work to be done, and little time to do it.The Conversation

Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

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

Julie Bishop goes to backbench, Marise Payne becomes new foreign minister


File 20180826 149487 1avqe0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
After five years as foreign minister, Julie Bishop will move to the backbench.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julie Bishop has chosen to go to the backbench, to be succeeded by Marise Payne as foreign minister, and the energy and environment portfolio has been split, in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministry announced Sunday.

Dan Tehan replaces Simon Birmingham in education, in a gesture to the Catholic education sector ahead of a special deal to meet its trenchant criticisms of the government’s schools policy.

Bishop, 62, who won only a handful of votes in the leadership ballot after the “stop Dutton” forces rallied behind Morrison, said in a statement she had told Morrison “I will be resigning from my cabinet position as Minister for Foreign Affairs.” She said she had made no decision about whether she would contest the election.

Unveiling an extensive reshuffle, Morrison described his ministry as a “next generation team”. He has rewarded his supporters but also accommodated some Peter Dutton loyalists.

Energy goes to former businessman the conservative Angus Taylor, previously minister for law enforcement and cyber security, who moves into cabinet. Morrison dubbed Taylor as minister for “getting electricity prices down”.

Environment is taken by Melissa Price, previously assistant minister for the environment. The portfolio remains in cabinet.

Asked where the carve up left emissions, Morrison made clear where his priorities lay, saying the challenge in energy was reliability and dispatchable power.

Peter Dutton, the man who launched the leadership coup though failed to win the prime ministership, returns to his portfolio of home affairs. But immigration has been sliced off, going to David Coleman, previously assistant minister for finance, who becomes minister for immigration, citizenship and multicultural affairs.

This flags Morrison’s interest in the economic side of immigration. “Immigration forms part of national security policy but it also has always played an important role in economic and social policy,” he said.

Christopher Pyne becomes defence minister, achieving his long-time wish to be the senior minister in the area; his old job of defence industry goes to Steve Ciobo, who was previously in trade. Birmingham takes his place in trade.

The Morrison cabinet has six women, one extra compared with the Turnbull cabinet. They are Bridget McKenzie (Nat), Payne, Kelly O’Dwyer, Michaelia Cash, Karen Andrews, and Melissa Price.

O’Dwyer moves from revenue to jobs and industrial relations; she keeps responsibility for women. Industrial relations is back in cabinet. Michaelia Cash has gone into small and family business, skills and vocations.

Alan Tudge becomes minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population. Morrison said Tudge would be “the minister for congestion-busting”. Population has become an increasing pressure point.

Mathias Cormann remains in finance and as Senate leader, but his special minister of state job goes to Alex Hawke.

Paul Fletcher will be social services minister and moves into cabinet.

Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert, who both had to leave the ministry over controversies, are back on the frontbench. Robert is assistant treasurer; Ley is assistant minister for regional development and territories.

Michael Sukkar, previously assistant minister to the treasurer and outspoken conservative, has been dumped to the backbench.

Barnaby Joyce, still on the backbench, has been made “special envoy for drought assistance and recovery”.

Tony Abbott has not been given a job, although Morrison signalled he was open to giving him some Joyce-type role if he wanted.

Two Liberals apart from Julie Bishop, and a National, indicated they did not want to be considered for frontbench roles. The Liberals were Craig Laundy and John McVeigh, while the National was Keith Pitt, who had been assistant to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Pitt said in a statement: “I will always put the national interest and the interests of my constituents above my own. I will always put reducing power prices, before Paris.”

Morrison acknowledged at the weekend that ordinary people had been “absolutely disgusted” by the events of last week.

The exit of Bishop, who had developed a high and well-respected international profile, will send a further confusing message to other countries, which have witnessed Australia’s revolving door of the prime ministership.

Bishop, who entered parliament in 1998, has been foreign minister since 2013 and deputy to every Liberal leader since 2007.

In the aftermath of the coup, the bitterness continued to flow as the machinations were revealed.

A WhatsApp chain of messages was leaked to the ABC, in which tactics to stop Dutton ultimately winning, were revealed.

Fletcher, close to Turnbull, said in the chain: “Cormann rumoured to be putting some WA votes behind Julie Bishop in round 1. Be aware that this is a ruse trying to get her ahead of Morrison so he drops out & his votes go to Dutton. Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one.”

Cormann describes the Fletcher claim as “100% incorrect”.

Birmingham, a strong Turnbull supporter, told the ABC that a “handful of individuals” had wreaked havoc.

“We had Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership confirmed and re-endorsed just last Tuesday with a clear majority, and yet those who wanted to wreak havoc continued to do so during the week. Now, that was terribly destructive and every single man and woman in the Liberal Party room needs to put that type of behaviour behind us and make sure that we do unify for the future.”

On Monday, Morrison, who has put the drought at the top of his priority list, will make a quick trip to a drought-afflicted part of Queensland. At the weekend he met Major General Stephen Day, who is coordinating drought relief and support

Drought was “the thing that I think Australians very much want the attention of their prime minister on and right now”, Morrison told the popular regional program Australia All Over. Morrison reeled off some “encouraging” weekend rainfall numbers while noting this was “nowhere near what’s obviously needed.”

Over the weekend, the new prime minister spoke with US President Donald Trump (inviting him to visit Australia), Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

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The Conversation

Later this week Morrison will visit Indonesia, but he will not undertake the visits to multiple regional countries that Turnbull had slotted in. Australia and Indonesia have been negotiating a free trade deal, which could be signed during the visit.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

View from The Hill: A shocker performance, even by coup standards



File 20180824 149490 1blk4xp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Scott Morrison is sworn in as the 30th prime minister of Australia by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

When they turn nasty, politicians can be an extraordinarily ugly lot. This week, the Liberals looked hideous – feral, self-indulgent, thuggish and contemptuous of an electorate that would like to be able to have MPs respect its choice of the country’s prime minister.

No wonder ordinary people caught by the cameras in the vox pops were disgusted. This was a shocker performance, even by coup standards.

As Malcolm Turnbull said, an “insurgency” by the conservatives brought him down. But, in a sort of perverse justice, the insurgents were punished. Their reprehensible behaviour blasted out the leader they hated but failed to deliver them the prize they desired – installing their own man in the Lodge.




Read more:
How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM


Turnbull, by delaying the ballot, and getting the Solicitor-General to give an opinion on a question mark over Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament, helped to thwart them.

Dutton thought his prospects better than they were; Turnbull judged his own prospects to be worse than the reality.

The spill motion was carried 45-40, a tiny margin. In other words, 40 people wanted to keep Turnbull. Yet three cabinet ministers – Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash – had previously insisted to Turnbull that he had lost the party room’s support and then resigned, ensuring his political death.

No wonder that after the spill numbers were given to the party room, Turnbull said “what a farce”.

In choosing Scott Morrison, the Liberals went for the safest option among the three candidates on offer. Dutton was seen as too risky and hardline; Julie Bishop started too far behind.

But while Morrison was the best of the trio, his elevation just further emphasised the bizarre nature of it all.

There is no compelling evidence to suggest Morrison will be much more competitive than his predecessor at the election. With some voters – Liberals on the progressive side – he might be less attractive.

And what about the gnashing of teeth over Queensland? After Longman, the Dutton people insisted he was needed to hold up the vote, because Turnbull was so unpopular.

In the new order, Queensland remains unrepresented in the leader/deputy team. And if Morrison has an advantage over Turnbull there, it would be a matter of degree, hardly worth ripping apart the party.

One vulnerable Queensland seat is Dickson, held by Dutton on a 2% margin. His actions may – and should – cost him votes, although they won’t cost him a position on the frontbench. Morrison has flagged Dutton will be in his cabinet.

Josh Frydenberg is a good choice as deputy leader, a unifying rather than a divisive figure, who’s done some heroic work on the National Energy Guarantee, the fate of which is up in the air.

Frydenberg becomes the new treasurer. He’s diligent and competent, but it will be a steep learning curve, facing a savvy and experienced opponent in Chris Bowen.

As he crafts his ministry, Morrison has to balance the factions and wrangle with the Nationals, out to get the most they can after the turbulence. Nationals leader Michael McCormack has every incentive to fight hard – he’s seen by his critics as not standing up strongly enough to the Liberals.

On the policy front, Morrison has an immense vacuum on energy, a major issue for the public, at the cutting edge of the ideological divide, and the catalyst for this week’s calamity.

Is he going to keep or reshape the NEG? He wouldn’t be drawn at his news conference. He said he’d talk to his cabinet.

Will he be able to get any sort of sensible energy policy through the party room? And will he want to?

Will he pursue an energy policy that is relatively bipartisan, as business desperately wants, to get investment certainty, or will he decide to go down the route of maximising the differences with Labor, in the hope of an electoral advantage and under pressure from the ideologues?

The energy wars will continue, one way or another.

A changing of the guard, especially in circumstances like these, is always disruptive – the ripples are felt through the administrative structure of government. New ministers have to learn new jobs. Initiatives in the pipeline must be paused and reviewed. All that alone is advantageous to an opposition that is already well organised.

Not surprisingly, Morrison flagged he doesn’t want an early election. But given Turnbull says he will leave Parliament “before too long”, he seems likely to face a byelection in Wentworth. It’s on a whopping 17.7% margin, but Turnbull had a strong personal vote, and a big swing would be a setback for the new leader.

Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster is being encouraged to seek Liberal preselection. Just another twist in this saga replete with dark irony.




Read more:
Memo Scott Morrison: don’t chase the ‘base’


How the disappointed conservatives behave will determine what internal trouble Morrison faces. One thing seems clear: they won’t be satisfied unless the change of personnel produces changes in policy, notable on climate and immigration.

Abbott seems unlikely to go silent. He harbours a deep resentment towards Morrison, accusing him of disloyalty in the 2015 coup.

It will be fascinating to watch Morrison construct his post-Treasury, pre-election persona. There are multiple Morrisons. The aggressive, shouty, attack dog tearing at Labor. The lower-key, more compromising negotiator. The knock-about bloke, always talking about “the (Sutherland) Shire” and the Sharks.

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The Conversation

Then there is the Morrison who is ambitious to leave his mark as a reformer – who’d hoped to reshape the GST until Turnbull pulled the pin on him. Now he has his chance to set his own direction. But he will be buffeted by cross winds and has little time to plot his course.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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