How conservatives use identity politics to shut down debate


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One of the worst examples of identity politics came from Malcolm Turnbull on Monday’s Q&A program.
ABC News

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

Conservatives are currently obsessed with identity politics.

Almost every issue of The Australian comes with a fusillade against the ways identity politics threaten civic discourse. And a Financial Review editorial in September warned:

… thoughts, expression and questioning are now more likely to be silenced in the excess of identity politics, where race, gender, sexuality and group-think declarations have replaced class as the key political dividers.

Yet one of the worst examples of identity politics came from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his Q&A appearance on December 11. In opposing the idea of an elected Indigenous Advisory Council, he claimed that politicians such as Ken Wyatt and Linda Burney represent Indigenous Australians. In fact, they represent the electors of Hasluck and Barton – few of whom are Indigenous.

It is great that there are Indigenous politicians in parliament (Turnbull somehow forgot the two Labor senators, Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy). But they are not there to “represent” Indigenous Australians any more than Mathias Cormann is there to represent Belgian-Australians.

Political party identities

The primary identity of politicians in our system is their political party. Sometimes other identities will seem more important, as in the case of the four openly gay Liberal MPs who pushed their party toward a free vote on marriage equality, or Michael Danby’s support for Israel – which goes far beyond the views of his party.

What these cases suggest is the complex and overlapping nature of identities, and the trap of defining anyone by only one identity. Nor does belonging to a particular group, whether through race, ethnicity or gender, mean one automatically speaks “for” that group. Margaret Thatcher or Bronwyn Bishop never sought to speak “for women”.

Identity politics, as we understand them, are often assumed to have emerged from the women’s, black and gay movements in the early 1970s. There is an earlier history, linked to the development of nationalist movements in 19th-century Europe, and the growth of anti-colonial movements across European empires.

Identity politics are born when people feel excluded because of something important to their sense of self – whether it be race, gender, sexuality or language. But they are also thrust upon people, as in the tragic case of those Jews who believed themselves to be 100% German until the Nazis came to power.

A sense of a shared history is crucial to empowering people who have been oppressed, and sometimes made invisible. When I was a schoolboy in Hobart we were taught that there were no Tasmanian Aborigines, who had effectively been wiped out by settlement. Today more than 4% of the state’s population identify as Indigenous.

Not necessarily born this way

Conservatives are particularly disturbed by the idea that gender identities might be fluid, which seemed their central concern in the marriage equality debate.

Ironically many of those who defend ideas of gender fluidity also believe their sexual identity is, in Lady Gaga’s words, “born this way”. In both cases the rhetoric ignores the evidence of both history and anthropology.

Identity politics are neither inherently left nor right. Some Marxists denounced the new social movements as threatening class unity, in terms rather like those who now see identity politics as fracturing a common polity.

One of the common criticisms of Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign was that she spoke too often to specific groups, rather than in the language of inclusion. This is an odd argument given Donald Trump’s blatant attacks on Hispanics and Muslims, which were clearly an appeal to white Americans who felt their identities were under threat.

Most critics of identity politics speak as if they were above identity, when in practice their identities are those of the dominant group. Pauline Hanson excludes Aborigines, Asians and Muslims from her view of Australian identity, cloaked in the language of patriotism.

Like Hanson, those who attack identity politics are often most zealous in defending their own versions of identity. Current proposed changes to citizenship requirements are supported by an emphasis on “Australian values”, as if these are both self-evident and distinguishable from more universal values of political and civil rights.

On the same Q0&A program Turnbull defined Australian values as based upon “multiculturalism”, which acknowledges that contemporary society is a mosaic of different and overlapping identities and communities. It is possible to argue that respect for cultural diversity is a national value, while ignoring the question whether Australian law treats all cultural values equally.

In practice, cultural diversity is clearly subordinate to a legal and political system heavily based on British precedents. A genuine multicultural identity might start by extending the term “ethnic” to include people of British ancestry, as much an “ethnicity” as any other.

Identity as a means of exclusion

Identity politics threaten democratic debate when they become a means of shutting down any comment that does not grow entirely out of experience.

Writers have been criticised for creating characters who do not share their author’s race or gender; speakers shunned for expressing views that are deemed “insensitive”.

Writer Germaine Greer may have views on transgender issues that should be opposed. But they should be met with rebuttal, not a refusal to listen. Critics of identity politics are right that zealousness in protecting identities can itself become repressive.

Identity politics become dangerous when they become an argument for exclusion.

The ConversationUnfortunately, the most dangerous examples of exclusion come from those who clam to speak for “the people”, a term which itself depends upon a certain version of identity. The populists who attack identity politics do so while creating their own, limited image of national identity.

Dennis Altman, Professorial Fellow in Human Security, La Trobe University

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

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Newspoll and Ipsos give Labor a 53-47 lead as Barnaby Joyce wins convincingly in New England



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Barnaby Joyce’s big win in the New England byelection had little to do with recent political developments.
AAP/Tracey Nearmy

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted between November 30 and December 3 from a sample of 1,560, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a two-point gain for the Coalition from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 37% Labor (down one), 36% Coalition (up two), 10% Greens (up one) and 8% One Nation (down two). This is Malcolm Turnbull’s 24th consecutive Newspoll loss, six short of Tony Abbott’s 30.

32% were satisfied with Turnbull’s performance (up three) and 57% were dissatisfied (down one), for a net approval of minus 25. Bill Shorten’s net approval was minus 21, down two points. Turnbull extended his better prime minister lead over Shorten from 36-34 to 39-33, but this is still Turnbull’s second-worst better prime minister lead.

The two-party shift in Newspoll is overstated because the left-wing parties (Labor and the Greens) are stable on 47%, and the right-wing parties (the Coalition and One Nation) are also stable on 44%.

It is clear from the Queensland election seat results that One Nation preferences assisted the LNP. I think pollsters should stop giving the Coalition just the 50% of One Nation preferences that it received at the 2016 election, and instead assume the Coalition will receive 60% of One Nation preferences. This is consistent with the recent Queensland and Western Australian state elections.

On four of six leader attributes, Turnbull’s ratings fell since May, though this included the negative attribute of arrogant. Shorten only had a clear lead on being in touch with the voters (51-42).

Three weeks ago, Newspoll asked a best Liberal leader question with options for Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Peter Dutton. Bishop led Turnbull 40-27, with 11% for Dutton. This week, Newspoll also included Abbott, and Bishop led Turnbull 30-25, with 16% for Abbott and 7% Dutton. Among Coalition voters, Turnbull led Bishop 39-28. Abbott had 32% and Dutton 12% among One Nation voters.

Ipsos 53-47 to Labor

The first Ipsos poll since September, conducted between November 29 and December 2 from a sample of 1,400, gave Labor an unchanged 53-47 lead.

Primary votes were 34% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down one), 13% Greens (down one), 7% One Nation (not asked before), 4% Nick Xenophon Team, and 10% for all “others”. As usual in Ipsos polls, the Greens are higher than in other polls.

On respondent-allocated preferences Labor had a narrower 52-48 lead. This is another indication that One Nation is assisting the Coalition more than at the 2016 election.

Ipsos gives milder leader ratings than Newspoll, particularly for Turnbull. Turnbull’s ratings were 49% disapprove (up two), 42% approve (steady). Shorten’s net approval was minus 14, up two points. Turnbull led Shorten by an unchanged 48-31 as better prime minister.

Ipsos’ best Liberal leader question included the same people as Newspoll, plus Scott Morrison. Bishop led Turnbull 32-29, with 14% for Abbott, 5% Dutton, and 4% Morrison. Among Coalition voters, Turnbull led Bishop 35-29, with 18% for Abbott.

Ipsos also asked about the best Labor leader with three options: Shorten, Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese. Shorten led Plibersek 25-23, with 20% for Albanese. Among Labor voters, Shorten led Plibersek 38-24, with 17% for Albanese. Greens voters favoured Plibersek 35-21 over Shorten, with 15% for Albanese.

By 49-47, voters supported changing the Constitution to allow MPs to be dual citizens. By 71-19, they supported a royal commission into the banks. 71% thought the party leader should be allowed to lead for the full term of the government, while only 25% thought the governing party should change leaders mid-term.

ReachTEL 53-47 to Labor

A Sky News ReachTEL poll, presumably conducted on November 28 from a sample of more than 2,000, gave Labor a 53-47 lead by respondent-allocated preferences, unchanged since October. Primary votes were 36% Labor (up one), 33% Coalition (down one), 10% Greens (up one) and 9% One Nation (steady).

These vote shares may not include a small percentage of undecideds, who can be pushed into saying which way they lean. Using 2016 election preference flows, Kevin Bonham estimates this poll was 54.7-45.3 to Labor.

In ReachTEL’s forced choice better prime minister question, Turnbull had a 52-48 lead over Shorten (51-49 to Turnbull in October). Turnbull’s better prime minister leads in ReachTEL have usually been narrower than in Newspoll, which allows an undecided option.

By 69-12, voters favoured a royal commission into the banking sector. By 44-43, they favoured allowing dual citizens to serve in federal parliament. By 56-31, voters thought businesses should not be able to refuse services for same-sex couples.

Barnaby Joyce’s crushing victory at New England byelection

At the New England byelection held on December 2, Barnaby Joyce thrashed Labor by 73.9-26.1 after preferences. This was a 7.4-point swing to Joyce since the 2016 election.

Joyce won an overwhelming 64.9% of the primary vote (up 12.6), to 11.2% for Labor (up 4.2), 6.8% for independent Rob Taber (up 4.0), and 4.3% for the Greens (up 1.3). The 13 other candidates all won well under 4%, and forfeited their deposit. In 2016, Tony Windsor won 29.2%, but Labor and the Greens were only able to take 5.5 points of his vote.

While Joyce is detested by urban lefties, he is evidently very popular in New England.

The massive victory can be partly explained by the lack of competition. Unlike Windsor, none of Joyce’s opponents had the resources to run a strong campaign.

I believe that Joyce also benefited from the circumstances of the byelection. Many voters would have thought he was disqualified on a technicality, and so he received a sympathy vote. While lefties would like an early election, it is unlikely that most Australians want one. Re-electing Joyce made an early election less likely.

The above two factors also apply to the Bennelong byelection on December 16. Given the double-digit primary vote swing to Joyce, I am more sceptical of Labor’s chances in Bennelong.

Joyce’s big win had little to do with recent political developments. Booth results show he had large swings towards him on both election day and pre-poll booths, and also postal votes.

Queensland election late counting: Greens set to win Maiwar

Tuesday is the last day for postal votes to be returned for the Queensland election, and we will probably know the final seat count by the end of this week.

In Maiwar, with 86.5% of enrolled voters counted, the Greens have taken a 51-vote lead over Labor in the race for second. Preferences from a minor candidate will benefit the Greens, so their real lead is about 200 votes. If this holds Labor will be excluded, and the Greens will defeat Shadow Treasurer Scott Emerson on Labor preferences.

A Maiwar win would give the Greens their first elected Queensland MP; they briefly held a seat as a result of a defection from Labor.

The ConversationWhile still in doubt, Labor is looking more likely to win Townsville. The ABC gives it a 52-vote two-candidate lead over the LNP, and I believe the ABC’s estimate is understating Labor. Unfortunately, we currently have no official two candidate counts from the Electoral Commission of Queensland. If Labor wins Townsville, it will probably have 48 of the 93 seats: a three-seat majority.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

Coalition behind in two new polls as triumphant Joyce heads back to Canberra


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Coalition trails 47-53% in the latest Newspoll and the Fairfax-Ipsos poll, but the government goes into the parliamentary week heartened by Barnaby Joyce’s landslide win in Saturday’s New England byelection.

Newspoll published in Monday’s Australian shows the government clawing back from the massive 45-55% two-party gap of three weeks ago, and Malcolm Turnbull improving his net satisfaction rating and widening his lead as better prime minister.

But while the government improved compared with the previous poll, this is the 24th consecutive Newspoll the Coalition has lost in two-party terms.

Interviewed on Sky on Sunday, Turnbull said “I don’t run the government based on the Newspoll”, although in 2015 he cited 30 bad Newspolls as one of the reasons Tony Abbott should be deposed.

The Coalition hopes the decisive New England outcome – where Barnaby Joyce has nearly 65% of the primary vote, representing a swing of about 12.5% – means the result could be officially declared in time to have him back in the House of Representatives by the end of the week or even mid-week.

Turnbull signalled the government will take an aggressive approach to Labor in the parliamentary week – expected to be the last of the year. It will move to have certain ALP MPs referred to the High Court over their citizenship, and pursue Bill Shorten over senator Sam Dastyari’s behaviour in relation to a Chinese donor.

In Newspoll, the government’s primary vote is up two points to 36%; Labor’s is down one point to 37%. One Nation has fallen two points to 8%; the Greens are up one point to 10%.

Turnbull’s net satisfaction has improved from minus 29 points to minus 25; Shorten’s net satisfaction has worsened from minus 19 to minus 21. Turnbull’s lead as better prime minister has widened to 39-33%, compared with only a two-point advantage in the last poll.

Turnbull said he had “every confidence that I will lead the Coalition to the next election in 2019 and we will win it”.

The Fairfax-Ipsos poll showed Turnbull well ahead of Shorten as preferred prime minister (48% to 31%).

In that poll, Julie Bishop is the preferred Liberal leader (32%), over Turnbull (29%). Tony Abbott trails on 14%, followed by Peter Dutton on 5% and Scott Morrison on 4%. Liberal voters, however, prefer Turnbull (35%) over Bishop (29%) and Abbott (18%).

But voters overwhelmingly oppose a government changing leaders between elections (71% to 25% who approve). The strength of the opposition indicates the high transactional costs the Liberals would incur if they switched from Turnbull before the election.

On preferred Labor leader, people were relatively evenly split between Shorten (25%), Tanya Plibersek (23%) and Anthony Albanese (20%). Shorten had a clear lead (38%) among Labor voters over Plibersek (24%) and Albanese (17%).

The parliamentary week will be dominated by same-sex marriage and MPs’ citizenship. The government will also introduce a suite of legislation targeting foreign interference and espionage.

In his wide-ranging interview, Turnbull talked up his plan to make personal income tax cuts a focus of his pitch for the election, saying “our intention is to introduce them before the next election”.

“That’s our intention but of course you’ve got to stick to your commitment, our commitment to keep getting the budget back into balance by 2021,” he said. It remains unclear whether the cuts would be simply announced pre-election or their delivery would start then.

Turnbull indicated that in the same-sex marriage debate he will support amendments that were moved unsuccessfully in the Senate by Attorney-General George Brandis, the most important of which would allow celebrants to refuse to perform a marriage.

Whatever the fate of the Brandis amendments, the extra safeguards and restrictions unsuccessfully pushed by hardline conservatives in the Senate last week are expected to be defeated in the lower house as well.

Ahead of the release of MPs’ citizenship declarations, both sides claim the other has MPs who should be referred to the High Court.

Turnbull said he was satisfied, on the basis of the reports from Coalition MPs, “that there are none of our members that are ineligible”.

He said there were plainly a number on the Labor side whose status should be determined by the court, and if Labor would not refer them, the government would do so. This was an “acid test” of Shorten’s integrity, Turnbull said.

But Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke described the government’s proposed action as appalling. He said it was adopting “a protection racket for their own members” while planning to refer Labor MPs.

Noting that currently referrals could only be moved by a minister, Burke said that on Monday he would seek to rectify this, so referrals could be moved by either side.

Turnbull continued the government’s attack over Dastyari who, it was revealed last week, in 2016 told a Chinese donor who is of interest to Australian security agencies that his phone was likely tapped.

Turnbull said Dastyari “has betrayed Australia’s interests” and repeated that he “must go” from parliament.

He hinted the Dastyari affair was being investigated by the authorities but said: “This is a political matter and I do not give directions to our police or our security agencies on operational matters”.

But there were “a number of facts in the public domain and it’s a matter for the relevant agencies to look into”, Turnbull said.

If Shorten didn’t act on Dastyari it meant the opposition leader was putting his factional survival ahead of Australia’s national security, Turnbull said.

“It’s time for Bill Shorten to show that he’s really on Australia’s side and boot Dastyari out,” he said.

Shorten is standing by Dastyari although he has been demoted; anyway, while it could expel him from the party, Labor has no power to remove him from parliament.

The government’s legislation targeting foreign interference will strengthen and modernise offences including espionage, sabotage and treason, and introduce new offences targeting foreign interference and economic espionage.

Among the new offences, there will be ones that criminalise covert and deceptive activities of foreign actors that fall short of espionage but are intended to interfere with Australia’s democratic system and processes or support the intelligence activities of a foreign actor.

New provisions will criminalise support for foreign intelligence agencies, modelled on offences banning support for terrorist organisations.

There will be a reformed secrecy regime to criminalise disclosing information such as classified documents. This will replace old offences in the Crimes Act.

The ConversationA new transparency scheme will be established to inform the public and decisionmakers of instances of foreign influence on the governmental and political processes. Those who act on behalf of or in the interests of foreign principals will have to register that fact.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hdjfk-7dce11?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Go now: NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro’s blunt message to Turnbull


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull has faced an extraordinary attack from the New South Wales Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro, who has called on Turnbull to give people a “Christmas gift” by quitting immediately.

Barilaro’s scathing denunciation of Turnbull’s leadership came on the eve of the weekend New England byelection, where Nationals federal leader Barnaby Joyce is seeking to re-enter parliament after being disqualified by the High Court.

It is part of the rippling fallout from last Saturday’s Queensland election, where the Liberal National Party was defeated and the Nationals were left spooked by a big One Nation vote in regional areas.


Read more: Nationals force reluctant Turnbull to dress in Shorten’s banking clothes


Barilaro was furious that Turnbull denied federal factors affected the Queensland loss. “That is just a joke,” he told Alan Jones on 2GB, saying Turnbull was “completely out of touch”.

“You’ve got a party in disarray, a Coalition government in disarray and the community is not unified. And that is all at the feet of the prime minister of Australia.”

Turnbull should have apologised to the Queensland LNP and the people of Queensland “because the shenanigans and the circus that is the federal government today is the reason that we saw the shellacking” of the opposition in that state, Barilaro said.

He said he had just spent four days travelling in the southern part of NSW, where he was confronted by people from all sides of politics who kept talking about the lack of leadership federally.

If Turnbull, who could not win an election, did not leave the leadership he would be stabbed in the back in coming months, Barilaro said.

“Turnbull is the problem, the prime minister is the problem. He should step down, allow for a clean out of what the leadership looks like federally,” he said. “What we want to see federally is a reset if the Liberals and Nationals have got a chance of winning the next federal election.”

He said Turnbull had delivered very little since becoming leader. “My view is Turnbull should give Australians a Christmas gift and go before Christmas.”

The comments follow the exposure of Turnbull’s political weakness in Canberra this week, when the government was forced into announcing a royal commission on banking after a revolt by rebel federal Nationals.

The royal commission will be led by firner High Court Judge Kenneth Hayne and will be asked to deliver a final report by February 1, 2019, with an interim report before that. The terms of reference ARE tight: “it’s not going to be an inquiry into capitalism”, Turnbull said.

The Barilaro intervention will fuel more talk about the leadership, although there are not believed to be any active moves to replace Turnbull at this point.


Read more: Queensland Liberals and Nationals have long had an uneasy cohabitation, and now should consider divorce


Turnbull reacted dismissively, saying he thought Barilaro was “just trying to ingratiate himself with Alan and telling him what he wants to hear”.

He said Barilaro had “never raised these matters with me personally”.

“If that was a serious view he held, you would think that he would speak to me directly wouldn’t you?” Turnbull said on 3AW.

Turnbull said nobody had come to him to suggest his time as leader was running out.

Federal ministers rallied around Turnbull, while NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian rejected what she described as Barilaro’s “personal view”, with which she disagreed. She said she looked forward to continuing to work with the Turnbull government.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann all hit back at Barilaro.

Fifield targeted Barilaro in personal terms. “To get a run by whacking your own side requires no political skill. It’s weak. And it’s lazy. And it lacks character.” He said Turnbull “is doing an excellent job as the leader of the nation”.

This coming parliamentary week, expected to be the last for the year, is likely to be challenging for Turnbull.

A Newspoll is due, the MPs’ citizenship declarations will be considered – which also could be difficult for Labor – and the ALP will be out to put pressure on the government over penalty rate cuts and other issues in the run-up to the Bennelong byelection on December 16.

The ConversationThe mood of the week will be affected by the vote in New England. While Joyce is regarded as certain to win, there is a huge field and the size of his primary vote will be carefully watched.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Grattan on Friday: Nationals force reluctant Turnbull to dress in Shorten’s banking clothes


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Only a few months ago Bill Shorten would have thought that if he won the election he’d be delivering same-sex marriage and a royal commission into the banks early in his government.

Now Malcolm Turnbull is bringing us both – in each case, his hand forced by a (different) group of rebel backbenchers.

The marriage bill, which will go through the House of Representatives next week, has some disgruntled conservatives arcing up after the Senate rejected their amendments, but Turnbull will mark it down as one of the achievements of his prime ministership.

It’s another matter with the banking royal commission. Seldom is a government’s impotence and frustration as much on display as it was when Turnbull finally capitulated and announced on Thursday that the government would establish the inquiry it has so long resisted and denounced.

For quite a time political hardheads had been arguing the government should accept the inevitable and “own” an inquiry. Well, now it does – and what a reluctant owner it is, miserable and bitter.

Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison lamented that setting up the royal commission, which covers superannuation and insurance providers as well as banking, was “regrettable but necessary”, driven by the political circumstances in which they found themselves.

In the end, there wasn’t a choice.

The bad result for the Liberal National Party in Saturday’s Queensland election strengthened the hand and determination of the rebel federal Nationals, intent on pushing Barry O’Sullivan’s private senator’s bill for parliament to set up a commission of inquiry.

Two lower house Nationals, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien, were willing to cross the floor to give the bill the numbers there. In the background Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, on the New England campaign trail, was not resisting the flow. Joyce judged that if the issue reached the Nationals’ partyroom, the commission would get support.

The Nationals also knew an inquiry had strong public backing, a point underlined by an Essential poll this week showing 64% wanted a royal commission. That included 62% of Coalition voters.

The banks themselves came to accept that opposition had become too costly. In their Thursday letter to the government (flagged late Wednesday) advocating “a properly constituted inquiry”, the chairmen and chief executives of the four major banks said it was “in the national interest for the political uncertainty to end.

“It is hurting confidence in our financial services system, including in offshore markets, and has diminished trust and respect for our sector and people,” they wrote.

As Australian Bankers’ Association chief executive Anna Bligh, a former Queensland Labor premier, put it bluntly, it was too a big a risk to have a inquiry where the terms of reference and choice of commissioner were in “the hands of minor parties and fringe elements of the parliament”.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, O’Sullivan, Turnbull and senior ministers sparred over the issue. O’Sullivan, a tough ex-cop from Queensland, says the government didn’t try to get him to drop his bill. Rather, it was attempting to “manage time”. He knew it was working on something, though he didn’t know what.

The ministers wanted to find out when his bill would be ready for the Senate. Some say O’Sullivan put it on pause. He denies this, saying his negotiations with the Greens and others and the preparation and printing processes pushed it back to early Thursday, which helped the government.

Cabinet met first thing that morning – Turnbull’s announcement was at a 9am news conference. The bill had done its job without having to make an actual appearance in parliament.

The government’s perennial arguments – until Thursday – against a royal commission have included that it would undermine international investor confidence in Australia’s banks and that an inevitably prolonged inquiry would have delayed the reforms the government has introduced or proposed.

The first proposition will be tested now that the inquiry is to proceed. It is doubtful, however, that overseas investors are as easily frightened as the government has been suggesting. They’re surely sophisticated enough to understand the fundamentals of our banking system, and those are sound.

The government has maintained its measures are adequate to address the issues but O’Sullivan and other proponents of an inquiry insisted they would not deal with the dimension of “culture”. The banks’ “profit before people” attitude, as Nationals senator John Williams puts it.

A circuit-breaker is needed to restore public confidence in banks. But the material to emerge during the inquiry may lower that confidence further before there is any sign of its restoration.

The royal commission will be led by a former or serving judicial figure and will be asked to deliver a final report by February 1, 2019, with an interim report before that. The terms of reference will be tight: “it’s not going to be an inquiry into capitalism”, Turnbull said.

The Nationals’ brutal power play may deepen tensions between Liberals and the junior Coalition partner. Not that the Nationals care that much.

Christensen didn’t hesitate to rub salt into Turnbull’s open wound. “I just don’t understand why it took a number of National Party backbenchers to drag the prime minister kicking and screaming to this decision,” he said, in a cutting but pertinent observation.

O’Sullivan was more diplomatic, speaking of Turnbull “making his own journey”. A journey, it might be said, under armed escort.

Meanwhile, the Nationals were relishing shades of the 1937 royal commission into the banking system. As a Senate report of a few years ago recounted:
“At the 1935 election the Country Party (and the Labor Party) had promised an inquiry and when the conservative government led by Joseph Lyons was forced to form a coalition with the Country Party, he agreed to establish an inquiry”.

If it had responded much earlier to the pressure for an inquiry the government could have hoped to reap credit for appreciating the depth of public complaints and concerns.

As it is, with its grudging decision through gritted teeth, it doesn’t seem to be looking for plaudits.

But the political reality is that by establishing the royal commission it has neutralised one of Shorten’s issues.

The ConversationFor all that, it could be a Shorten government that deals with the commission’s ultimate recommendations. By the time the final report rolls round, an election will be imminent, assuming the royal commission runs on time and the government runs full term.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hdjfk-7dce11?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull talks with rebel National on banks


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull and senator Barry O’Sullivan have discussed the rebel National’s private senator’s bill for a commission of inquiry into the banks and other financial institutions.

As the stand-off continues over an inquiry, Turnbull on Tuesday publicly reaffirmed that “we are not going to establish a royal commission”.

But behind the scenes Turnbull appears to be seeking some resolution of the impasse, which could lead to his hand being forced.

It is believed he is due to have a further discussion with O’Sullivan after the bill is printed.

O’Sullivan refused to confirm Tuesday’s meeting.

The bill is now considered to have the numbers to pass not just in the Senate but in the House of Representatives as well. Two lower house Nationals, George Christensen and Llew O’Brien, are supporters, although O’Brien has cast his backing in terms of being “quite likely” to vote for it.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is fighting a byelection in New England to get back into parliament, has indicated he is very willing to have the bank inquiry issue considered by the Nationals’ partyroom, and has signalled he is relaxed about the outcome. The O’Sullivan bill will be discussed there on Monday.

If the Nationals as a party moved to support an inquiry, Turnbull would be deeply embarrassed.

O’Sullivan was inundated with suggestions for fine-tuning after circulating his draft bill, and it has taken some time for these to be dealt with and a final version to be sent to the parliamentary draftsman.

Turnbull, campaigning in Bennelong for the byelection in that seat, said the government had been concentrating on “positive steps, real reforms right now”.

“We have put more money into the regulators to give them stronger teeth and more effective powers. And of course we are setting up the one-stop shop, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, which will mean that people will have one place to go to for help and assistance with complaints and concerns with their financial service providers.

“We are constantly working to ensure that the cultural change in the banks occurs and we are getting strong support for that,” he said.

“Our focus is on results. It is on action. That is why we have not supported a royal commission.”

Turnbull argues that a royal commission would take a very long time and delay getting results.

But O’Sullivan has maintained that what is fundamental is achieving cultural change and this won’t happen without a bright light being shone on the way banks and other institution have operated.

The commission proposed in the O’Sullivan bill is one that would be set up by parliament and report back to parliament. A royal commission is set up by the executive and reports to the executive.

The ConversationEssential Media, in a poll published on Tuesday, reported 64% supported holding a royal commission into banking and the financial services industry and 12% opposed. Support among Labor voters was 72% – among Coalition voters it was 62%.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/nqtdd-7bf599?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull backed against the wall by rebel Nationals on bank inquiry


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison appear to have become hostages to rebel Nationals determined at all costs to secure a commission of inquiry into the banks.

On Monday a second federal National, Llew O’Brien, from Queensland flagged he is likely to cross the floor in the House of Representatives to support the private member’s bill sponsored by Queensland Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan to set up a commission of inquiry that would investigate a broad range of financial institutions.

O’Brien, who has inserted an extra term of reference to protect people with mental health issues from discrimination, said “I like what I see” in the proposed bill. But he added that he would respect his party’s process. The bill is due to go to the Nationals’ partyroom on Monday.

The bill, which has the numbers to get through the Senate, is supported in the lower house by Queensland MP George Christensen, who after Saturday’s Queensland election apologised to One Nation voters for “we in the LNP” letting them down.

Backed by Christensen and O’Brien, together with Labor and crossbenchers, the bill would have the required 76 votes to enable its consideration by the lower house – although when it can get to be debated there is not clear.

In a discussion last week – later leaked – cabinet considered whether the government should adopt a pragmatic position and give in to calls for a royal commission. But Turnbull and Morrison have refused to do so.

Now the cabinet looks like it will have to decide whether to own the process of an inquiry or have it forced on it.

If Monday’s Nationals’ party meeting endorsed the bill, that would escalate the situation dangerously for the government, unless it had softened its opposition to an inquiry. It would amount to the minor Coalition partner formally rejecting a government position.

Cabinet would have to back down, or find some other way through.

As the crisis over the banking probe deepens for the government, there is currently no-one with the authority or availability within the Nationals to manage the situation.

Barnaby Joyce remains leader but he’s absorbed in Saturday’s New England byelection, which is his path back into parliament. Senator Nigel Scullion is parliamentary leader but has little clout to curb the determined rebels.

With the commission push gaining momentum there is also less desire from some senior Nationals to fight it. Joyce is said to be relaxed about having a banking inquiry, which would be popular among voters and could be chalked up as a win for the Nationals.

The election loss in Queensland has strengthened the federal Nationals’ determination to pursue brand differentiation.

O’Sullivan has repeatedly referenced the example of Liberal Dean Smith’s use of a private member’s bill to pursue the cause of same-sex marriage, arguing he is following Smith’s pathway.

But there are still divided opinions within the parliamentary party about the bank probe. Resources Minister Matt Canavan, a member of cabinet, on Monday reaffirmed his opposition to a royal commission.

Joyce is likely to attend Monday’s party meeting although he will not be formally back in parliament by then.

Nationals are not clear whether they will elect their new deputy on Monday to replace Fiona Nash, who was ruled ineligible by the High Court because she had been a dual British citizen when she nominated. There is some speculation that this might be delayed to give aspirants time to lobby.

If there is no deputy leader chosen on Monday, it would mean that the minor party would be literally leaderless on the government frontbench in the House of Representatives. Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester would be the most senior National sitting behind Turnbull in Question Time.

Christensen on Monday launched a website with a petition seeking signatures for a banking inquiry.

“Misconduct is not in the ‘past’,” he says on the site. “It is not being fixed by the industry to a standard acceptable to the community. Although positive steps are being made by government reforms, gaps still exist.

“Enough is enough … unless the government acts to establish a royal commission, I will be acting before the end of this year to vote for a commission of inquiry into the banks.” The site also invites people “bitten by the banks” to “tell your story”.

The ConversationA commission of inquiry differs from a royal commission in being set up by and reporting to parliament, rather than being established by and reporting to the executive.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Queensland result, while decided on state issues, adds to Turnbull’s burdens



File 20171126 21798 1dbqne.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Queensland state election result makes the byelection in Bennelong on December 16 even more important.
AAP/Danny Casey

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Queensland election was decided overwhelmingly on state factors, as Malcolm Turnbull was quick to say on Sunday, but inevitably it has fallout for the prime minister.

Four implications are obvious in the result, which ABC election analyst Antony Green predicts will be a majority Labor government, while Inside Story’s Tim Colebatch suggests is more likely to be an ALP minority one.

First, it elevates even higher the importance of the December 16 byelection in Bennelong.

Second, it will further unsettle an already depressed and jittery federal backbench.

Third, the federal Queensland Coalition MPs will want greater attention from the government.

Finally, the Nationals – in particular the Queensland Nationals – will accelerate a trend that’s been obvious recently, which is to differentiate their brand.

Bennelong was always destined to be significant, from the moment Liberal MP John Alexander resigned (some government sources think prematurely) in the citizenship crisis. But now that things have gone badly for the Liberal National Party in a state that looms so large for the federal Coalition, the stakes rise.

Turnbull was campaigning in Bennelong on Sunday, falling back on the tried and trusted ground of border protection, claiming that “right now the people smugglers are using Kristina Keneally’s articles, her statements on this, as a marketing tool” (an assertion surely worthy of a factcheck).

He has to get deeply involved in this seat, which is on a 9.7% margin, but the flip side is that the more effort Turnbull puts in, the more he’d be personally identified with a big swing, let alone a loss. On the other hand, if the swing were contained, that would help him.

Psychologically, the Queensland result will send the Coalition’s federal members deeper into the funk caused by the unending run of bad polls and multiple problems engulfing the government. This will accentuate instability and ill discipline, although there is no tangible challenge to Turnbull’s leadership at this point.

The Queensland vote reinforces the now familiar message that people are turned off the major parties. The mid-30s primary votes for Labor (around 36%) and LNP (about 34%) scream disillusionment.

One Nation polled solidly in minor party terms (around 14%) and very strongly in its heartlands, but it couldn’t turn that into the swag of seats it had boasted about. Pauline Hanson’s party fell victim to the inflated expectations it had raised, while the LNP vote fell victim to One Nation.

The result shows the One Nation phenomenon, in terms of its ability to erode the conservative vote, remains a worry, but it does not look like a party on the move.

The Queensland result particularly resonates in Canberra because of how vital that state will be to the Coalition come the election. Federal government members from Queensland will be defensively assertive.

Even before the election, internal chatter had it that senior Queensland Liberal George Brandis would not move out of parliament in the coming reshuffle, as earlier predicted. Revamping cabinet without Brandis while preserving strong Queensland representation would be challenging – and Turnbull could not afford to have Queensland seen to be downgraded.

The federal Queensland Nationals are determined to strengthen their efforts to distinguish themselves from the Liberals and Turnbull.

Nationals cabinet minister Matt Canavan said on Sunday the state result was a “confirmation of how important it is to have a strong National Party at a federal level”.

Nationals MP George Christensen went so far as to issue an apology to One Nation voters. It won’t endear him to Turnbull, but he won’t care. One Nation is on track to win Mirani – from Labor – a seat that adjoins Christensen’s electorate with a small overlap.

He tweeted:

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Queensland Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan believes the result shows One Nation is not a threat in terms of House of Representatives seats, but highlights the need for the Coalition to fill the vacuum that party has occupied.

“Malcolm can’t do it himself,” O’Sullivan says. Rather, he says, Turnbull has to allow the Nationals to do this.

O’Sullivan is not one who advocates the de-amalgamation of the LNP in Queensland – as some are doing – but a “divisionalisation”, reinforcing the message of the separate Liberal and Nationals strands within the one party.

This is already underway, with O’Sullivan’s bill for a broad-ranging commission of inquiry into banking and other financial institutions, on which he will have final consultations with sympathisers within the Coalition and other parties on Monday.

He then intends to move a motion in the Senate to have it dealt with immediately after the marriage bill is finished there, and debated until it is resolved. Christensen is ready to back it in the lower house.

Treasurer Scott Morrison is still trying to land initiatives to show the government is acting on the banks, short of a royal commission.

The ConversationOne wonders what Peter Dutton, Liberal holder of a marginal Brisbane seat, who last week was open to the government softening its opposition to a royal commission, is thinking right now.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Voters see through Turnbull, but cool on Shorten: Queensland research


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull’s cancellation of next week’s House of Representatives sitting has been received sceptically by Queensland “soft” voters, but they still prefer the Prime Minister over Bill Shorten, according to focus group research ahead of Saturday’s state election.

Participants were dismissive of Turnbull’s claim he was rearranging the sitting times to concentrate on the same-sex marriage bill. Nor do they believe the marriage issue will boost his fortunes.

But when pressed, these voters don’t agree Turnbull is a dead duck for the next federal election. They think Australia is headed in the right direction, and there is still some hope for him.

The four groups of 10 people each were conducted on Monday and Tuesday, two in Brisbane and two in Townsville. There was a mix of gender, age and socio-economic characteristics. They were run by Landscape Research for the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

In Brisbane participants were drawn mainly from the marginal seats of Ferny Grove (ALP, 0.82%) and Everton (LNP, 1.77%) in the LNP-held federal electorate of Dickson. In Townsville they came predominantly from Mundingburra (ALP, 2.76%) and Townsville (ALP, 5.69%) in the Labor-held federal seat of Herbert. These voters, most of whom took part in the research’s earlier round, were “undecideds” when the campaign started.

In the discussions, Turnbull’s cancelling of the House’s sitting was variously described as weird, ridiculous, a “bit naughty”; a Townsville electrician thought it was done for “non-altruistic reasons, probably more political. … to push everything else out of the way.”

A retired Townsville manager declared it “opportunistic”, bound up with the citizenship crisis and fear of losing a vote on the floor of parliament. “I read this morning there’s 53 Bills that they could be dealing with that they’re not now,” said a Townsville retailer.

As for any government hope of a boost from same-sex marriage, a Brisbane retiree opined that voters would “forget about it” come federal election time.

The latest Newspoll had Shorten breathing down Turnbull’s neck on the “better PM” measure. But for people in these groups Shorten still carries baggage, especially of the union kind. Voters struggle to produce positives about Turnbull, but they agree he is better than the alternatives, in his own party and in Labor.

While some see Turnbull as weak and having to toe the party line, Shorten remains an unknown quantity for them, and choosing a weak Turnbull is still preferable for many.

Contributions from the Brisbane group of working-age voters capture their views. “I don’t think Bill Shorten is a done deal to get in”. “Bill Shorten’s got some bad things behind him, I think, when the union movement did some underhand deals”. “If he had some decent competition, Malcolm Turnbull, then I think it would be all over for him”.

Working Townsville soft voters also, when pressed, prefer Turnbull over Shorten. As one put it, it’s “the devil you know versus the devil you don’t know – what he will do”.

This research is qualitative, so numbers have no statistical significance. Bearing this in mind, as the state campaign went into its final week the result of a “mock” ballot for Saturday’s vote across the four groups was ALP 23 and LNP 17. That result is counting which of the two major parties people put first, even if that party was not given their number 1.

Many of these soft voters are eschewing the traditional flow of preferences along broadly ideological lines. If this happened widely on Saturday, it could have unforeseen consequences in key marginals.

For example among voters from Mundingburra, held by Disability Services minister Coralee O’Rourke, a number gave Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) their first vote, preferencing Labor or Greens above the Liberal National Party. Similarly, one voter in the seat of Townsville gave the Greens her number one vote followed by KAP as number 2.

In this north Queensland city, KAP doesn’t have the same extreme right wing stigma that some attribute to One Nation, and Pauline Hanson isn’t as popular as in regions further south. The appeal of KAP is as a sort of reinvention of the old Country party, giving it some attraction for disgruntled LNP and Labor people alike.

Unable to decide who to put first, many participants started with who they might put last.

“It’s a bit of a toss up between Greens and One Nation,” said a Townsville retiree, adding “they’re divisive and would make parliament unworkable”. Another Townsville participant said he would put the LNP last because “I don’t trust them – I don’t know how they’re funded”.

An Everton personal trainer was “putting Labor last. There are lots of promises on expenditure but no explaining where the money is coming from, or why they’ve not done it already”.

Opposition leader Tim Nicholls continues to carry the burden of the Newman government, in which he was treasurer. “If they were a racehorse, their form is not good,” said a Brisbane retiree. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is criticised in the wake of her Adani flip flop, the perception of achieving little for Queensland, and gaffes by treasurer Curtis Pitt.

While some voters have firmed their views on who to vote for, many remain undecided, either waiting for something to cement their decision or so disengaged that they’ve almost shut down from the barrage of news and canvassing. “I’m getting three to five phone calls a night. I’ve had it”, said a Mundingburra voter.

Despite the widespread disappointment with the major parties, very local policy decisions help some people decide. One was choosing Labor because it would renovate local schools; another, the LNP because of a commitment to fix district traffic problems.

Participants cared little about the backroom preference manoeuvrings that were receiving publicity, seeing them as “political”. Whether they will take more notice when handed how-to-vote cards on election day – the system has moved to compulsory preferential – remains to be seen.

A desire for stability ran through both Brisbane and Townsville groups, which pushed some soft voters into putting Labor first. This also steered some away from One Nation, which for many seemed riddled with internal strife, not making for a responsible crossbench presence.

Instability flows on to the government not being able to govern, and therefore not doing its job. These voters are frustrated with the lack of action and achievement at both state and federal level.

A notable part of the discussions was about a subject that, politically, is more current in Victoria and NSW than in Queensland – euthanasia (which is a state government area). The same-sex marriage ballot opened the way for opinions on direct democracy and other matters that might be considered appropriate for a people’s vote.

Voluntary assisted dying was narrowly defeated in NSW last week, but is set to pass in Victoria, once the lower house considers the amended bill which cleared the upper house in a marathon sitting this week.

Almost to a person (38 out of 40 participants) there was support for euthanasia – it galvanised younger and older voters, regional and metropolitan participants. Some saw it as more complex and important than same-sex marriage. As a Townsville voter put it, “this affects everyone”.

Twenty eight of the 40 supported a public vote to indicate to MPs how people felt. But notwithstanding their support for euthanasia some opposed a plebiscite, seeing it as a waste of money.

While many agree with the idea of tapping into voter opinion on euthanasia, they are universally unhappy with what they see as the outrageous cost of the marriage vote. They believe cheaper methods should be used for future exercises in direct democracy, such as online voting, or plebiscites held with elections.

The ConversationThey want to be heard – but it shouldn’t cost so much.

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Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Young Australians will wear the costs of Turnbull’s middle income tax cut


Danielle Wood, Grattan Institute and Hugh Parsonage, Grattan Institute

Malcom Turnbull has promised tax cuts for middle-income earners in the next budget or even earlier. The short-term political benefits of pre-election tax cuts are not in doubt. But unless the government is willing to increase taxes elsewhere to pay for these sweeteners, there will be longer-term costs for the budget and the economy. And younger Australians will wear these costs.

Young people will pay the price

If the government goes ahead with tax cuts and nothing else changes, we can look forward to the announcement in the 2021 budget of Australia’s 13th successive budget deficit. This is despite the fact Australia is in the midst of the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth anywhere in the developed world. And the unlucky recipients of this legacy of poor budget management are the young.

Grattan Institute research shows that each year the government runs a A$40 billion deficit, it increases the lifetime tax burden for households headed by a person aged 25 to 34 by A$10,000. This is based on the share of debt they would have to repay – with interest – over time. With each successive budget deficit, the tab grows for today’s young Australians.

And the government is magnifying the cost of future economic downturns. Australia was well placed to respond to the global financial crisis because of its healthy fiscal position. But with net debt now sitting at A$322 billion (18.4% of GDP), the government has less room to respond if there is another serious downturn.

Middle-income earners are hit by bracket creep

In the 2017-18 budget, the government was clear: if the senate won’t support spending cuts, then tax increases will have to do the “heavy lifting” on budget repair. And this heavy lifting is largely happening through bracket creep – growth in income taxes as a share of wages.

Middle-income earners are particularly hurt by bracket creep. Based on the wages growth projected in the 2017 budget, the average tax rates for people in middle-income groups will increase by between 1.9 and 2.9 percentage points by 2021. For example, a person earning A$50,000 a year will go from paying an average tax rate of 17.1% in 2017 to 19.5 % in 2021 – and that’s before the government’s proposed increase in the Medicare levy.

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No government likes to go to an election with taxes going up, so the temptation to “give back” bracket creep was always going to prove irresistible in next year’s pre-election budget. And as the prime minister flagged, there is also an economic case for such tax cuts. High marginal tax rates for middle income earners can significantly affect incentives to participate in the workforce, particularly for for women with children in childcare.

Tax cuts will blow the surplus

But the kicker is the effect of the promised tax cuts on the budget bottom line. The Australian government has been running budget deficits since 2009. In the last budget, the treasurer promised a return to surplus in 2021.

That promised surplus always relied on optimistic assumptions: strong wages growth, healthy growth in profits, government spending restraint, and, importantly, no cuts to income taxes. The government’s proposal is light on details, but even modest cuts to tax rates could eliminate the forecast surplus.

For example, if the government was to reduce the tax rate only in the middle bracket (A$37,000-$80,000) from 32.5% to 30%, the cost to the budget bottom line would be about A$7.3 billion in 2021, almost wiping out the promised A$7.8 billion surplus.

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If Malcolm Turnbull wants to cut income taxes but is still serious about delivering on his commitment to return the budget to surplus, then he will need to look elsewhere for revenue. Winding back the capital gains tax discount or negative gearing, better targeting of superannuation tax concessions and tax breaks for older Australians, or increasing or broadening the GST are just a few policies we could suggest.

The ConversationBut if the PM pursues the sugar hit of tax cuts without the difficult work on paying for them, then politics will once again have trumped policy and the economic future of today’s young Australians.

Danielle Wood, Program Director, Budget Policy and Institutions, Grattan Institute and Hugh Parsonage, Associate, Grattan Institute

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