Is the COVID vaccine rollout the greatest public policy failure in recent Australian history?


Carolyn Holbrook, Deakin University; James Walter, Monash University, and Paul Strangio, Monash UniversityIs the Morrison government’s COVID vaccination rollout program one of Australia’s biggest ever public policy failures?

As COVID-19 infection numbers in locked-down Sydney show little sign of abating and Victoria extends its fifth lockdown, the prospect of life resuming some level of normality appears distant.

In recent weeks, we have learned more about the flaws in the federal Coalition government’s vaccination program. There’s the failure to procure sufficient vaccine and an accompanying over-reliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The complications with rolling out the latter have exposed the shortage of supply of the Pfizer vaccine.

While other international leaders personally lobbied Pfizer executives for supplies, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt were inexplicably passive.

Then there is the sluggish pace of the “it’s not a race” vaccine rollout, particularly among vulnerable people, such as aged and disability care residents, and frontline health workers. Only 13% of Australia’s eligible population (those aged 16 and above) are fully vaccinated, while 35.3% are partially vaccinated. That’s a long way short of the goal of a fully inoculated adult population by October 2021, as initially promised.

Exacerbating these problems has been the lack of an effective public education campaign about the vaccine. This has left a vacuum, which anti-vaxxers and the vaccine-hesitant have filled.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Morrison and Coalition sink in Newspoll on the back of rollout shambles


Fallout from a shambolic vaccine rollout

Public confidence in the government’s handling of the vaccine rollout has sharply diminished. The latest Newspoll shows disapproval of the rollout jumping 11 points to 57%.

The policy missteps, which have Australia languishing at the bottom of the OECD for the proportion of its population that is fully vaccinated, have elicited a rising chorus of condemnation.

Some of the criticism comes from usually supportive sources, such as right-wing commentators Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Divine.

Former Coalition prime minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed recently he couldn’t recall “a more black and white failure of public administration” than the vaccine program. Historian Frank Bongiorno declared the rollout “the worst national public policy failure in modern Australian history”.

Public confidence in the Coalition government and the prime minister has dropped due to the vaccine rollout.
Lukas Coch/AAP

How do we measure public policy failure?

There’s no doubt the Commonwealth government, measured by its inability to reach professed objectives, which are then repeatedly revised, has performed poorly.

Disingenuous attempts by the prime minister and senior ministers to dissimulate, or deflect responsibility to others, have been well canvassed.

But are we ready to conclude that what we are seeing is a near-unprecedented instance of policy failure, especially when there are other pressing public policy issues on which the government has also been found wanting, most noticeably climate change?

There are three principal factors for measuring public policy success or failure.

The first is an assessment of how successfully the policy action ameliorates the problem it seeks to solve. This appraisal must take into account the consequences of that action. Consequences are often unintended and unanticipated. They might not become apparent for some time and can be difficult to quantify and link unequivocally to the policy in question. For example, the Coalition’s inclination to cease support for manufacturing in Australia has led, as is now evident, to our incapacity to meet the demand even for COVID vaccine production.

Second, an assessment of policy success or failure must consider the significance of the policy. That is, the failure of a minor government program has less negative impact than the failure of an economic, social, environmental or public health policy that affects the entire community.

Third, we must take account of the reputational enhancement or damage ensuing from a particular course of action. This may have decisive effects on a government’s electoral prospects.

Applying these measures, we can say that, to date, the Morrison government’s approach to the COVID vaccination rollout fares badly on all three criteria.

On all three measures of policy effectiveness, the vaccine rollout fails.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The vaccine rollout has failed the tests of public policy success

The problem is not that the proposal – a level of vaccination that will enable the community to “live with” endemic COVID – is misconceived. It is that incompetent planning, logistics and implementation have so far prevented it from sufficiently ameliorating the threat we face.

We can see, from international comparisons, the dimensions of risk while COVID remains insufficiently checked and potentially able to generate more dangerous mutations.

Second, the significance of success or failure in this domain – brought home by recurrent lockdowns – is manifest. There are negative flow-on effects for the entire community, not only in containing the virus, but also with clear impact on the economy, mental health, domestic violence and trust in government.

We are also confronted with counter examples: Seattle, for instance, in dire circumstances not so long ago, is now more or less back to normal because of the swift uptake of vaccination.

Third, the reputational damage to the federal government is evident in a string of public opinion polls that have found a substantial decline in confidence in the Coalition and the prime minister.

… but there is one that is worse

Some other examples help us flesh out the picture. One is a public policy from recent decades that did not achieve its intended purpose: the Rudd government’s Resource Super Profits Tax and its successor negotiated by the Gillard government, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

These policies failed on at least two levels. First, they did not reap anything like the revenue that was forecast. Second, the taxes were electorally damaging for the Labor governments, engendering a fierce backlash from the mining industry.

A more significant public policy failure, with consequences that took much longer to become apparent, was the Howard government’s Aged Care Act of 1997. This legislation established the framework for the funding and regulation of the aged care system. Partially privatising the aged care sector, that policy regime is widely recognised as being responsible for the underfunding of the system and associated chronic shortcomings, which the recent royal commission thoroughly documented.

Perhaps the biggest public policy failure of recent times relates to climate action where, as with COVID vaccination, Australia ranks last among developed economies.

This has been a product of the failure of the parties, but in particular of internecine battles within the Coalition and a brutal politics that, as Martin Parkinson argues, brought about “a fracture of the political centre”, rendering it incapable of the negotiation and consensus necessary for resolution.

While the vaccine rollout has been a failure, inaction on climate change represents the biggest policy failure in recent times.
AAP/Department of Defence handout

Indeed, the intractability of climate change as a policy problem suggests that it, rather than the handling of vaccine rollout, is the biggest failure of modern times.

Despite the chaos that has been well documented, the required levels of vaccination can still be achieved, even if belatedly. The situation is potentially capable of resolution, and possibly in time for Seattle-like “normality” to be re-established. Adequate climate action, on the other hand, still appears to be incapable of resolution under this government.




Read more:
Spot the difference: as world leaders rose to the occasion at the Biden climate summit, Morrison faltered


But will the Morrison government’s mishandling of the vaccine rollout be politically fatal? Certainly, falling confidence in the rollout is translating into a decline in support for the Coalition. Yet we should be wary of jumping to conclusions.

The prime minister has until next May to hold an election. The government has ample time to play catch-up with the rollout. If further outbreaks are contained and the elusive herd immunity is achieved by then, lockdowns will have become a thing of the past. The relief at being able to move on may obliterate current disquiet.

Further, in normal circumstances, policy virtue is not necessarily synonymous with political success. The last federal election was an indicator of this. The Coalition triumphed despite a threadbare policy program. In other words, policy prowess is only ever one measure of a government’s success.The Conversation

Carolyn Holbrook, ARC DECRA Fellow at Deakin University, Deakin University; James Walter, Professor of Political Science, Monash University, and Paul Strangio, Professor of Politics, Monash University

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

View from The Hill: Morrison and Coalition sink in Newspoll on the back of rollout shambles


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraSupport for Scott Morrison and the government have slumped in Newspoll, in a major backlash against the botched vaccine rollout.

Labor has surged to a two-party lead of 53-47%, compared with 51-49% in the previous poll in late June.

The Australian reports the latest result is the worse for the Coalition this term, and if replicated at an election would deliver the government a clear loss.

Satisfaction with Morrison’s handling of the pandemic – which now sees lockdowns in the nation’s two largest states – plunged nine points in the last three weeks to 52%.

As the brought-forward Pfizer supplies start to arrive, confidence in the government’s management of the rollout is negative for the first time, with only 40% believing it being handled satisfactorily.

Morrison’s net approval in Newspoll – plus 6 – is at its lowest since the bushfire crisis, with an eight point overall shift. Anthony Albanese’s position worsened a little – he is on net minus 8. Despite a small drop, Morrison retains a solid lead over Albanese as better PM – 51-33%

Both Labor and the Coalition are polling 39% on primary votes – a two point fall for the Coalition and an equal rise for Labor.

The poll saw an 18 point drop in satisfaction with Morrison’s handling of COVID since April.

Satisfaction with the government’s handling of the rollout was 53% in April and 50% in late June – in this poll 40% are satisfied with the handling and 57% are not.

Sky News at the weekend reported Morrison had urged NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to strengthen the Sydney lockdown. She did so soon after.

The prime ministerial intervention was likely superfluous because it was already clear harsher measures were needed. But it was notable on a couple of grounds.

In the past Morrison strongly leaned to lockdown scepticism, praising Berejiklian as a woman after his own heart and pointing to the NSW gold standard of limiting restrictions.

The much more infectious Delta variant has forced a change in the positions of both leaders.

Also, the Morrison intervention looked like the prime minister playing himself into the sharp end of the current COVID action, which is concentrated at the state level.

As both the NSW and Victorian governments struggle with serious outbreaks and the detail of their lockdowns, Morrison must be frustrated with his lack of direct power – apart from repeatedly restocking the ATM.

That’s of course leaving aside the vaccine rollout, a federal responsibility, the mishandling of which Newspoll shows is dramatically burning the PM’s voter support.

Late last week, Morrison finally spoke with Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bouria. This call, federal sources say, had been scheduled some while ago. It is not clear whether that was before or after the PM heard of Kevin Rudd’s contact with Bouria.

The federal government insists the Pfizer bring-forward was entirely due to its efforts and nothing to do with Rudd. Even so, it was a bad look to be talking direct to Bouria so late in the piece, and after Rudd. It had all the appearance of catch up.

As things stand, Berejiklian, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Morrison are simultaneously under a great deal of heat.

In dealing with COVID, as Berejiklian will attest, you can go from hero to villain very rapidly; hailed in May as “the woman who saved Australia”, she’s pilloried in July for stuffing things up.

Morrison is suffering the same shift in public judgement. And things are not likely to change in the near future – despite the brought-forward Pfizer supplies, there will be shortages for some time yet.

Of the two premiers fighting outbreaks, Berejiklian is under the greater pressure. She and Andrews took different approaches: Andrews locking down immediately and Berejiklian starting with a soft lockdown that had to be toughened (then going further on shutting construction than Andrews ever has).

Even if the five-day Victorian lockdown has to be extended, the situation there appears more manageable than in NSW. On Sunday, Victoria reported 16 locally acquired new cases, while in NSW there were 105.

Berejiklian is under siege simultaneously for not acting fast and strongly enough, and for abandoning her basic less restrictive approach.

The concentration of the NSW infection in south west Sydney has also complicated the situation, because (as Victoria knows) a heavily multicultural area needs particularly good communications and sensitive handling.

This new COVID crisis has seen another round of inter-governmental bickering.

Victoria seethes with retrospective resentment about how Coalition figures (federal and NSW) blamed it last year over its second wave that resulted in hundreds of deaths, mostly aged care residents.

Melbourne then and Sydney currently both had their crises triggered by lapses in quarantine arrangements. NSW is in a much better position to cope than Victoria was – but now the virus is more virulent, and there’s little confidence the Sydney lockdown won’t extend into August.

Last week the Andrews government labelled Morrison the “prime minister of NSW”, declaring that state had been treated more generously than Victoria was in its earlier lockdown this year. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg accused Andrews of “whingeing”. Andrews had a dig at NSW.

Andrews is always a tough operator – probably why he and Morrison have a grudging mutual respect. Last week Andrews made it clear he expected Victorian workers to get the latest full federal financial help, even though, if the lockdown were only five days, they’d fall short of fully meeting the federal conditions. Morrison complied.

The latest lockdowns come as polling just released by the Australia Institute, a progressive think tank, shows people’s faith in state governments’ handling of COVID at an all-time high.

The Australia Institute has been regularly polling the question “which level of government do you think is doing a better job of handling the COVID-19 crisis?”. Respondents were asked to choose between their state or territory, the federal government, both equally, or say they didn’t know.


The Australia Institute

In August last year, 31% chose their state/territory, 25% the federal government, and 32% rated the performances of both levels of government equally.

By April, 39% nominated their state or territory; 18% the federal government; 28% both.

Early this month (just as the NSW lockdown was starting) 42% rated their state or territory as the government doing better, 16% the federal government, and 24% both equally.

In NSW in July, 39% said the state government was doing the better job, 13% nominated the federal government; and 28% put both equally. The Victorian figures were 34%, 25% and 21%.

The Australia Institute interprets the response to COVID representing “a potential realignment of state-federal relations”.

Certainly the second year of the pandemic, like the first, is seeing the states showing little deference to the federal government when they perceive their core interests are at stake. They determine the lockdowns and, now JobKeeper has gone, NSW and Victoria have shown they are willing to play hardball to extract the best financial support for their citizens. And the Morrison government knows it will pay a political price if it is seen as a skinflint.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.

The ‘car park rorts’ story is scandalous. But it will keep happening unless we close grant loopholes


Dean Lewins/AAP

Yee-Fui Ng, Monash UniversityOn Monday, a senate hearing produced yet more damning evidence about the “car park rorts” affair.

The Australian National Audit Office told a parliamentary committee a list of the top 20 marginal electorates guided the distribution of a $389 million car park construction fund during the 2019 election campaign.

Sitting Coalition MPs were invited to nominate projects for funding. In some cases, money was allocated to electorates when a project had not yet been identified. An adviser from the Prime Minister’s Office was involved in the funding allocation — the same adviser involved in the “sports rorts” incident.

Earlier this month, the Audit Office released a scathing report, finding 77% of the commuter car park sites selected were in Coalition electorates, rather than in areas of real need with congestion issues. None of the 47 project sites selected for funding commitment were proposed by the infrastructure department.

So, why do these rorts keep happening? What mechanisms are in place to try and stop them? And what further protections do we need?

Why do rorts keep happening?

Pork-barrelling involves the channelling of public funds to government electorates for political purposes, rather than proper allocation according to merit.

We have been inundated with pork-barrelling scandals in recent years. This includes the “sports rorts” scandal that led to Bridget McKenzie’s resignation from cabinet last year, and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s biased distribution of the Stronger Communities fund.

A victorious Scott Morrison with his family on election night 2019.
The Audit Office has delivered a damning assessment of the Coalition’s car park fund.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Australia has a single member electorate parliamentary system, which makes it more susceptible to pork-barrelling than multi-member electorates like Norway or Spain. The belief is that politicians who “bring home the bacon” for their constituents are electorally rewarded for doing so.

This means there are incentives for the central cabinet to strategically apportion benefits to marginal electorates to increase prospects of electoral success. There is also an incentive to bias the apportionment of funds towards the party in power.

In short, rorts scandals keep happening because governments believe that channelling money to marginal and government electorates will win them elections.

What are the accountability arrangements for grants?

At the federal level, we have sophisticated financial management legislation that provides a framework for grant rules. The Commonwealth grant rules provide a detailed set of guidelines that ministers and government officials must follow on grant application and selection processes.




Read more:
Another day, another rorts scandal – this time with car parks. How can we fix the system?


However, there are significant loopholes in the rules. For example, the “car park rorts” scandal is not covered by these rules because it involves money being channelled through the states.

Also, there are no sanctions for breaching the rules. So ministers and government officials can break the rules without any repercussions.

Who keeps an eye on the grants?

The auditor-general is the main actor who investigates federal grants administration. The auditor-general has significant coercive powers, and is independent of government. Although the auditor-general lacks the power to change governmental practices, the publicity of their reports may encourage government agencies to respond in a positive and productive way.

In Australia, parliaments have a strong constitutional role as overseers of the activities of government.

Australian National Audit Office executive director Brian Boyd
Australian National Audit Office executive director Brian Boyd appeared before a senate committee on Monday.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Parliamentary committees have become the main form of scrutiny of government in recent years. They are set up to investigate specific matters of policy or to evaluate the performance of government.

Parliamentary committees are normally tasked with making inquiries into matters by taking submissions, hearing evidence and reporting their findings to parliament. They have been highly effective identifying and investigating issues relating to government rorts.

Where to now?

To fix the system, we need to reform the rules about grants allocation and close the loopholes. We also need to impose punishment for breaching the rules.




Read more:
The ‘sports rorts’ affair shows the need for a proper federal ICAC – with teeth


It is imperative our grants administration system be reformed to ensure that taxpayer funds are protected from governmental abuse. If the ministerial discretion available in grants processes is improperly used, this can give rise to political favouritism and corruption.

Ministers, as our elected representatives, are the custodians of public trust. As part of a well-functioning democracy, it is important there is probity, transparency and accountability in the use of public funds.The Conversation

Yee-Fui Ng, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Monash University

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

Right-wing shock jock stoush reveals the awful truth about COVID, politics and media ratings


Denis Muller, The University of MelbourneA COVID-induced rancour that has broken out between Sydney’s commercial radio shock jocks and the Sky News night-time ravers over Sydney’s lockdown would be funny if it were not so serious.

It is mildly entertaining to see 2GB’s Ray Hadley excoriating his former colleague Alan Jones, now at Sky, for his “ridiculous stance” against the lockdown, with Jones calling New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian “gutless” for extending it.

Hadley went on to brand Sky’s Andrew Bolt a “lapdog” for agreeing with Jones, and Bolt retaliated by calling Hadley a “weak and ignorant man who panders to an ugly pack”.

It takes one to know one, of course, but behind all this spittle-flecked slanging there is a serious issue: the disproportionate political power of a small group of radio and television broadcasters in Sydney.

It is one factor that helps explain the procrastination and prevarication that have marked the premier’s response.

Long before COVID-19 afflicted the world, the shock jocks of Sydney commercial radio stations, particularly 2GB and 2UE, had created a successful business model built on outrage.

It is based on a political ideology that appeals to an older audience living in what Jones is pleased to call “Struggle Street”. It is not conservatism, as they like to claim, but rank reactionaryism.

In marginal electorates, largely in western Sydney, there are enough people who find this ideology attractive to make politicians nervous.

That is what has given these jocks political power incommensurate with their position in Australia’s democratic institutional arrangements.

They have become a kind of shadow government in New South Wales.

For example, in 2001, when Bob Carr, a Labor Premier, was about to appoint Michael Costa police minister, he sent Costa to Jones’s home to discuss law-and-order policy.




Read more:
The times suited him, then passed him by: the Alan Jones radio era comes to an end


In 2017, a former Director of Public Prosecutions in New South Wales, Nicholas Cowdery, QC, singled out Jones and Hadley, as well as the recently resurrected John Laws, as wielding disproportionate power over politicians and other policy-makers.

They hate, to differing degrees, independent statutory officers such as Directors of Public Prosecutions who speak out objectively on issues in criminal justice.

In more recent times, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has relied on Hadley to provide him with a friendly platform on which to propagandise.

The relationship between the two has been described as a “bromance”, although it had a temporary rupture in 2015 when Hadley tried to have Morrison swear on the Bible concerning any role he might have had in the demise of Tony Abbott as prime minister.

Scott Morrison often relies on sympathetic interviews on Hadley’s show to get his message across.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Berejiklian, as a Liberal premier, has also prospered in her commercial radio relationships, most notably from the benignity of Jones’s successor in the 2GB breakfast slot, Ben Fordham.

He was supportive of her even during the embarrassing disclosures about her relationship with the Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire, who is the subject of an ICAC investigation.

So she had a stake in not rattling the shock jocks’ cages. That meant trying to hold the line against lockdowns.

However, that calculation changed abruptly last week after the latest Sydney radio ratings showed that for the first time in 18 years, 2GB lost the breakfast time-slot.




Read more:
Contrasting NSW and Victoria lockdown coverage reveals much about the politics of COVID – and the media


The winners were the KIIS FM pair of Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O, whose shtick involves penis pageants and a determination not to be “woke”.

Horrified fellow-travellers in the right-wing commentariat pounced on Fordham. Jones was especially vitriolic. His successors, he said, didn’t have the “balls” to stand up to “cancel culture warriors”. Government, media and big pharma seemed to be all in bed together, and the media were too ready to accommodate the left.

Management at 2GB were also aghast. The Australian reported they told Fordham to take a harder line with Berejiklian, and Fordham duly delivered. Three days after the ratings results had come out, he unleashed this on-air tirade against the Premier’s lockdown decision:

The virus hasn’t killed anyone this year, but the lockdowns, the extensions, the excuses, the mistakes, the missed opportunities, they are killing this city fast. And stop telling us it’s about the health advice!

By now Berejikilian was in a bind.

There was her own hubris, proclaiming her state doesn’t do lockdowns.

There was Scott Morrison’s hostility to lockdowns, exemplified by his repeated attacks on the Victorian Labor Government. Was she to be a source of further embarrassment to him over how the pandemic is playing out?

There was Morrison’s cosy relationship with the likes of Hadley, in which their reciprocal position on lockdowns was self-reinforcing.

And there was the demonstrated willingness by 2GB station management to go after Berejiklian in pursuit of better ratings for Fordham’s breakfast show.

In the circumstances, it is hardly a surprise that she has procrastinated and prevaricated.

If, as many epidemiologists are saying, the so-called “light” approach is condemning Sydney to a long lockdown and exposing the rest of the country to avoidable risk, the role of the jocks in creating the political climate in which Berejiklian is operating since the Delta strain took hold should not be underestimated.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne

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

View from The Hill: Speaker Tony Smith, proponent of ‘order in the House’ to retire at election


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraSpeaker Tony Smith – who has been battling to force better behaviour in the House of Representatives on MPs including Scott Morrison – has announced he will not contest the next election.

Smith, 54, has held the Victorian seat of Casey – which takes in outer eastern suburbs in Melbourne – since 2001. He’s been around Parliament House much longer, though, having worked previously for Peter Costello from 1990 to 2001.

He said in a Wednesday statement his decision not to re-contest had been taken “after a great deal of thought and consideration”.

“I love our parliament and serving the Australian people. I am honoured that the Liberal Party and the electors of Casey voted to give me this privilege for two decades.

“However, I believe now is a good time to give the Liberal Party and the people of Casey the opportunity for renewal.

“I also believe the time is now right for me to pursue other endeavours following the conclusion of this forty-sixth Parliament.”

Smith followed as speaker the highly partisan Bronwyn Bishop, after she was forced to quit the post in 2015 over misuse of entitlements.

From his start in the role, Smith has been highly regarded by both sides of politics for his even-handedness and fair rulings. He said at the beginning he would not attend party room meetings and noted he had friends in opposition ranks.

One of those lobbying for Smith in the ballot (among Liberal members of the House) for the nomination was Scott Morrison, who was social services minister.

Immediately on assuming the chair Smith said parliament should be a robust place, however “it needn’t be rude and it needn’t be loud.”

Recently, against the background of the apparently intractable loud and rude behaviour, he has made a toughly determined effort to impose greater discipline on an unruly house. This surprised colleagues and shocked (and probably angered) ministers who have felt the lash of his tongue.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Bringing Scott Morrison to heel


In particular he has cracked down heavily to stop the government frontbenchers, including Morrison, flouting the standing orders, notably by giving answers that are irrelevant to the questions they are asked.

A few weeks ago Smith brought Morrison into line in a way that was highly embarrassing for the PM. After Smith insisted Morrison be relevant in answering, the PM replied. “I’m happy to do that, Mr Speaker.” To which Smith retorted, “I don’t care whether you’re happy or not. You need to return to the question.”

On the same day, Smith also dealt sharply with the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and brutally with Health Minister Greg Hunt who was repeatedly refusing to sit down when told. “The minister for health can resume his seat, full stop. I’m not going to be ignored,” Smith said.

Subsequently he told parliament: “Obviously in the course of the last week I’ve enforced the standing orders vigorously. I intend to keep doing that.” He said the reason was “to get an improvement in parliamentary standards”.

Morrison said in a Wednesday statement: “Tony has been an outstanding Speaker, in the true Westminster tradition”.

He said Smith’s “intellect, temperament, dry wit, staying above the fray and respect for the Parliament as an institution, has earned him respect, far and wide.

“Many Speakers can get caught in the crossfire of parliamentary debate. Instead, his actions have elevated debate and demonstrated the great strength of parliamentary democracy.”

Manager of opposition business Tony Burke tweeted on Wednesday: “Tony Smith leaving will be a huge loss to the parliament. He’s one of the only speakers in history to have been nominated by the government and seconded by the opposition. He’s been consistent, principled, and most importantly fearless.”

At the last election Smith held Casey on a two-party vote of 54.6%-45.4%.

Smith said in his statement he had been first elected 20 years ago this November “and have had the honor of being re-elected on six occasions making me the longest serving Member for Casey”.

He said his announcement now gave the Liberal party time to choose the best candidate for the election.

If the Coalition is re-elected it will be looking for two new presiding officers. Senate president Scott Ryan, also from Victoria, announced some time ago he would not be standing for another parliamentary term.

In the meantime, in the remaining parliamentary weeks between now and the election, which is expected in March or May, Smith will continue his quest to improve behaviour.




Read more:
New Speaker Tony Smith promises a less partisan approach


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: COVID boxes Morrison in while Albanese hits the road


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraAs the Delta strain escalated our COVID experience to a new stage of national disruption, Scott Morrison has been under a form of political house arrest, driven by circumstances and choice.

The prime minister arrived back from his G7 excursion – which seems an age ago – on June 17. He spent a fortnight in quarantine at The Lodge (including joining the House of Representatives remotely) before going home to Sydney – already in lockdown – on July 2.

Since then, after several days absent from view, it’s been COVID-dominated Kirribilli news conferences, media interviews, and no doubt an encouraging word to Jen about the coming test of home schooling. Next week Morrison moves to Canberra – to quarantine for the parliamentary sitting that starts August 3.

Anthony Albanese took a different course. He hasn’t returned to Sydney since parliament rose. He hung around Canberra initially, then headed north for a swing through Queensland. He might be missing his son and his dog but he has covered a lot of kilometres.

On Monday of last week he was in Toowoomba, in the electorate of Groom.

The following days saw him at Redcliffe (Petrie), Cairns (Leichhardt), Mackay (Dawson), and Gladstone (Flynn). He visited the seat of Griffith in Brisbane before going to Moranbah (Capricornia), where he went to a coal mine.

Returning to Brisbane, he took in Lilley on the way to the airport and a flight to Canberra this week – to avoid Sydney and so retain flexibility (although the country is now so closed, he’s running out of places to go).

Being confined during this winter parliamentary recess obviously doesn’t make any decisive difference for Morrison’s electoral fortunes. Nevertheless, it is an interference to his campaigning.

The government makes the counterpoints that the opposition leader has nothing else to do but campaign, and anyway it’s a bad look to be away from your home city in its hour of need.

Normally, Morrison would have used some of the winter break to be on the road, seen in several parts of the country, getting to out-of-the-way seats.

Instead, that work will have to be crunched into later. It all takes time, and Morrison will be even more time-poor if he makes any of several possible trips overseas between now and Christmas – to the US, the East Asia summit, the G20, Glasgow. Also eating into time are the parliamentary weeks between now and year’s end.

Maximum seat-by-seat campaigning is especially important when the chaotic vaccine program and the Sydney lockdown – and now a short one in Victoria – are throwing curveballs into the political outlook.

Until relatively recently it appeared most likely Morrison, like state and territory leaders, would have the strong advantage of “COVID incumbency” when facing the voters, probably in March or May.

Even with a slow rollout, there seemed enough time to get the job done and for things to settle. Although the Coalition has been trailing or level in the polls, the government could feel reasonably confident.

But at the moment lockdown upheavals, rollout confusion, and community anger make any assumptions courageous.

An analysis published this week of Newspolls taken between April 21 and June 26 found two-party swings against the Coalition in every state except Victoria, with the biggest swings in Queensland and Western Australia.

The analysis concluded that if this were replicated at an election, the ALP could win majority government with 78 seats (in a 151 seat House).

This should be treated cautiously, even apart from any scepticism about polls. The election isn’t imminent. And translating general swings to particular seats is hazardous. For instance, on these figures Peter Dutton would lose his Queensland seat of Dickson. Yet all we know from the past suggests Dutton is well dug in there.

On the other hand, the Coalition’s seat numbers are at a high point in Queensland and Western Australia, making it difficult for it to look for any significant gains.

It’s no wonder Morrison, dubbed by his critics the “prime minister for NSW”, is pinning hope on gaining seats in his home state. Throughout the pandemic he has heaped praise on the Berejiklian government. In the Sydney lockdown, now extended for at least an extra fortnight, the federal government’s package for the state drew accusations from Victoria of “double standards”.

Anyway, NSW can no longer be celebrated for its model handling of COVID, and the state government is under criticism for the timing (too late) and nature (too soft) of the lockdown.

People might not be enthusiastic about Albanese’s Labor, but if the opposition picked off a few seats (in net terms), it would not take much to change the map. Think a hung parliament.

The chances of that might be statistically unlikely. But it wouldn’t be a total surprise – given the government is on a razor’s edge (current House numbers are Coalition 76 and Labor plus crossbench 75), and an unfavourable redistribution has scrapped a Liberal seat in Western Australia and created a Labor one in Victoria.

The election is unlikely to see any significant influx of independents (that’s not to preclude one turning up) but on present indications we could expect most of the current House crossbenchers to be returned (excepting Liberal defector Craig Kelly).

Politically, these crossbenchers are a mixed bunch and it would be fascinating to see how Morrison and Albanese matched off as negotiators, if they were in a 2010 situation.

A small event this week triggered a comparison between how Morrison’s political persona came across in the run up to the “miracle” election and his image now.

It was announced the charges against a woman alleged to have put needles into strawberries in 2018 had been dropped. Morrison turned the Great Strawberry Crisis into a dramatic national event, rushing legislation through at breakneck speed. This was more stunt than substance but it was all about portraying him as a man of action.

The action-man image was punctured before the vaccine debacle but the failures in this stage of a real crisis (after the earlier successes) are dealing him a serious blow.

In 2019 many voters actively disliked Bill Shorten; they found Morrison a more neutral figure, the man next door, not a world-beater but okay. Since then opinions have sharpened. Women look at Morrison differently from back then. The coating of teflon has many scratches. Albanese is now the inoffensive man next door.

With the rollout a battle, this week reinforced that Morrison is hostage to events beyond his control, struggling to respond to them, a leader forced to repeatedly change tack and lines, find excuses, slap on sticking plaster, spend more money. The package for NSW, announced on Tuesday, was followed on Thursday by a proposed “more simple and streamlined” set of arrangements.

The health challenge in trying to get in front of COVID’s Delta strain is formidable. Morrison finds the politics as hard.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.

Are the Nationals now the party for mining, not farming? If so, Barnaby Joyce must tread carefully


Perry Duffin/AAP

Geoff Cockfield, University of Southern QueenslandThe return of Barnaby Joyce to the federal National Party’s top job has highlighted tensions within, and dilemmas for, the broader party – particularly on climate change policy and coal.

Joyce and some of his Queensland colleagues unashamedly support the coal industry, and the federal party appears broadly opposed to Australia adopting a target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

These are positions at odds with progressive quarters of the party, particularly in Victoria. The divisions came to a head earlier this month when, in response to Joyce’s ascension, Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh and deputy Steph Ryan sought to split the state party from its federal counterpart.

The move was unsuccessful. But Walsh later called for the party to have “a constructive discussion about the transition of our energy supplies and how we reduce our impact on the Earth we live on”.

So are the federal Nationals the latter-day party for mining, not farming? If so, what does this mean for the party’s political positioning and prospects? To address this question, we must examine the Nationals’ evolution over the past century.

surprised man seated, other man standing holding piece of coal
Barnaby Joyce’s support for coal has troubled the Victorian Nationals.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Coal as nation-builder

The National Party began federally in 1920 as the Australian Country Party, and traditionally represented farmers and rural communities. But over time, the party evolved to represent and advocate for the broader interests of regional Australia.

Economic nationalism has underpinned the party, especially since the 1950s. Under this ethos, farming, mining and basic manufacturing were considered key foundations for nation-building – a view which persists today. As the Nationals’ Senator Matt Canavan wrote in an opinion piece last month:

The restoration of Barnaby Joyce as deputy prime minister restores a strong advocate for the economically nationalist, Australia-first approach that has always served us well.

Most Nationals candidates come from rural small businesses, finance organisations and social and community services – though many have farming roots or some involvement in farming activities.

Rural communities are under pressure from dwindling populations and limited employment opportunities. In that sense, the mining industry is an important source of jobs and economic activity in Australia’s regions.




Read more:
Net zero by 2050? Even if Scott Morrison gets the Nationals on board, hold the applause


coal pile at mine
Mining is an important source of jobs in regional Australia.
Dean Lewins/AAP

The federal party’s vociferous support for mining and opposition to emissions reduction is, in part, values signalling. For many in the Nationals, coal helped build the nation, while climate change action and renewable energy represent a moral and material threat.

Regional differences also exist. Nationals’ support for mining is particularly strong in Queensland – traditionally a mining-dependent state where resource investment has long been considered a means of rural development. At both the Queensland and federal levels, strong political connections exist between mining companies and the Liberal-National Party.

In another sign of the federal party’s contemporary priorities, Joyce’s close party ally Matt Canavan recently told the Guardian:

About 5% of our voters are farmers. It’s about 2% of the overall population. So 95% of our voters don’t farm, aren’t farmers or don’t own farmland.

The Nationals’ apparent support for mining above farming exists partly because because they can get away with it. In many regions, farming and mining co-exist in reasonable harmony, both sectors enjoying the benefits of strong regional centres.

In some cases conflict does arise, such as with gas exploration in cropping country. But in those regions, disenfranchised Nationals voters typically direct their votes to micro-parties rather than Labor or the Greens. These votes often flow back to the Nationals via preferences.

Man in hard hat
Pro-coal Nationals senator Matt Canavan has downplayed the importance of farmers to the party’s constituency.
Lukas Coch/AAP

A questionable strategy

The federal Nationals’ pro-mining, anti-renewables stance may not, however, benefit the party over the long term.

First, mining is at best a very patchy contributor to rural development. Overall, net employment in agriculture is still higher than for mining and is more evenly distributed across the regions. Mining investment can ebb and flow quickly with commodity prices and the stage of project development, leaving communities with falling real estate values and an altered social fabric.

The anti-emissions control stance could also trigger conflict with major farm organisations. Many, such as the National Farmers Federation and Meat and Livestock Association, want to see a strong national emissions reduction plan, under which landowners can benefit financially by participating in land carbon schemes.

Many farmers are also interested in renewable energy as both a source of income and cheaper power. Renewables projects are proliferating in regional areas and even Joyce has been known to turn up in a hard hat to get behind them. So we can look forward to some interesting management of that cognitive dissonance.




Read more:
Renewables need land – and lots of it. That poses tricky questions for regional Australia


cows and wind turbines in field
Many farmers are interested in hosting renewables projects.
Shutterstock

Trouble ahead

Following Joyce’s return to the federal party leadership, Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh said he’s had “a very frank discussion with him about the policy differences on climate change”.

But discontent on climate policy is not confined to Victoria. Across the party, Young Nationals organisations are generally far more open to climate action than their older party colleagues.

And the hardline mining stance will not help the Nationals regain or even retain seats in areas such as Ballina in NSW, where demographic changes have eroded the party’s support.

But the biggest test of the Nationals’ farming-vs-mining rift is perhaps yet to come. The European Union and other jurisdictions are considering imposing tariffs on goods – including agricultural products – from nations such as Australia which lack strong emissions reduction policies.

While helping drive global climate action, such moves would partly be motivated by economic nationalism – boosting the international competitiveness of industries in the country/s applying the tariff. The sight of the Nationals impotently arguing for free trade in this instance will be fascinating political theatre.




Read more:
No point complaining about it, Australia will face carbon levies unless it changes course


The Conversation


Geoff Cockfield, Professor of Government and Economics, and Deputy Dean, University of Southern Queensland

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

Why is Australia ‘micronation central’? And do you still have to pay tax if you secede?


Imperial Majesty George II presents The Empire of Atlantium at Ried Flats, NSW.
Rob Griffith/AAP

Harry Hobbs, University of Technology SydneyWould you like to buy a micronation?

The Principality of Hutt River is on the market. For 50 years, the sprawling 6,100 hectare property, more than 500 kilometers from Perth, styled itself as the “second-largest country in Australia”.

It was formed in 1970 by Leonard Casley (Prince Leonard), who seceded from Australia following a dispute with the state government over wheat production quotas. Casley died in 2019 and in August 2020, his son, Prince Graeme announced he would sell the family farm to pay a A$3 million tax bill.

Despite the demise of Hutt River, many micronations continue to exist. During research for an upcoming book on micronations, I have identified at least 135 around the world.

Australia has a particular reputation for this phenomenon. Some estimates suggest a third of all micronations are located in Australia.

Why pretend to be a country?

Led by committed and eccentric people, micronations assert their claims to sovereignty in many ways. They issue passports, print stamps, mint coins, compose national anthems, design flags and sometimes even declare war on recognised states.

Prince Leonard of the Hutt River Principality.
Prince Leonard of the Hutt River Principality.
Hugh Brown/AAP

However, despite acting like a nation, micronations are not actual states. They are self-declared nations that mimic acts of sovereignty.

People decide to create their own micronation for many reasons.

Sometimes, it is an attempt to avoid the ordinary laws of the land — like in Hutt River.

Similarly, Prince Paul and Princess Helena founded the Snake Hill Principality (located near Mudgee in New South Wales) following a long-running dispute with their bank.

The Principality of Wy (Mosman, North Sydney) was established after the local council rejected an application to build a driveway.

Protest, tourism, art

Micronations may also be formed to protest government policy or legislation. In 2004, Dale Anderson sailed to the uninhabited island of Cato east of the Great Barrier Reef. He planted a flag and announced the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands to protest the passage of Australian legislation banning same-sex marriage. In 2017, Emperor Dale dissolved the kingdom following the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia.

People celebrate out the Whangamōmona Hotel.
Annual celebrations took place this January at the Republic of Whangamōmona.
Ben McKay/AAP

Not all micronations are so serious. The Republic of Whangamōmona on the North Island of New Zealand emerged when regional council boundaries were changed. Upset about the potential of having to play rugby for their neighbours, the residents decided to secede. Republic Day is now celebrated every second January, attracting thousands of tourists.

Micronations might also be used as a vehicle to critique the concept of statehood. The Kingdom of Elgaland & Vargaland, created by two Swedish artists, claims sovereignty over the areas between the borders of countries. It also asserts authority over other intervals, such as the transition from being asleep to wakefulness.

Why are there so many Australian micronations?

Three reasons explain why Australia is known as “micronation central”.

First, the act of seceding from the state and declaring one’s own country is consistent with an Australian culture that celebrates larrikinism and mocking authority. What better way to exemplify these traits than by founding your own country? As His Imperial Majesty George II of Atlantium notes, micronationalism in Australia stems “from our convict heritage and disrespect for authority”.




Read more:
Larrikin carnival: an Australian style of cultural subversion


Second, Australia is a secure and stable country. For this reason, it sees micronations as irrelevant or a nuisance, rather than a genuine threat. So long as you pay your taxes and follow the road rules, you can call yourself whatever you want.

Third, Australia is a large country with a relatively small population — its population density is just three people per square kilometre. This ranks Australia 192 out of 194 countries in the world for population density, ahead only of Namibia and Mongolia. There is plenty of room for people to create their own country.

Does it work?

If you are interested in avoiding the law, the answer is no. The Principality of Hutt River was never able to convince an Australian court it did not have to pay tax. As Justice Rene Le Miere of the WA Supreme Court noted in 2017,

Anyone can declare themselves a sovereign in their own home but they cannot ignore the laws of Australia or not pay tax.

Other would-be nation builders have faced similar challenges. The Republic of Minerva’s attempt to build a new state on a coral atoll in the South Pacific in the 1970s was ended by the Tongan military.

The nations of Abalonia and Taluga (located off the coast of San Diego) were both put down by the US Department of the Interior. The Republic of Liberland, which claims an uninhabited island on the Danube River between Croatia and Serbia, is unable to get its citizens across the Croatian border.

No micronation has ever become a state. It is very unlikely that any micronation will ever become one. This is because to be a state, an entity

must possess a government or system of government in general control of its territory, to the exclusion of other entities not claiming through or under it.

Prince Leonard may have been the lawful owner of his wheat farm, but he did not possess sovereignty over that land. Micronations may declare their independence, but they are unable to do so to the exclusion of other states.

What makes a successful micronation?

However, success should be measured against a range of motivations.

Artistic micronations, like the Kingdom of Elgaland & Vargaland, can raise challenging questions about the nature of statehood and borders. Those created for a laugh or for tourism can also succeed.

Peter Anderson, the secretary general of the Conch Republic, during a 2005 pub crawl.
Peter Anderson, the former secretary general of the Conch Republic, during a 2005 pub crawl.
Lynne Sladky/AP/AAP

The small township of Whangamōmona welcomed about 1,000 visitors to its Republic Day in January of this year. Next year, the Conch Republic in Key West Florida will celebrate its 40th annual independence celebration.

The success of micronations can also be seen in the growth of community events and social media. Every two years, micronations from around the world meet at MicroCon. Many others discuss, compare notes and become friends online.

So while Hutt River may have ended, the future of micronationalism is bright.The Conversation

Harry Hobbs, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

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

Another day, another rorts scandal – this time with car parks. How can we fix the system?


AAP/Mick Tsikas

Yee-Fui Ng, Monash UniversityYet another rorts scandal is swirling around the federal government. The Auditor-General has reported that a $389 million car park construction fund has been administered ineffectively. The minister had distributed the grants with “inadequate assessment” for eligibility.

The auditor-general’s report found 77% of the commuter car park sites selected were in Coalition electorates, rather than in areas of real need with congestion issues.

Damningly, none of the 47 project sites selected for funding commitment were proposed by the department. This suggests there has been extensive ministerial interference in the funding decision-making.

The fact this questionable allocation of funding occurred the day before Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the 2019 federal election suggests an element of “pork barrelling”: the channelling of public funds to government electorates for political purposes, rather than proper allocation according to merit.




Read more:
The ‘sports rorts’ affair shows the need for a proper federal ICAC – with teeth


What is the history of rorts in Australia?

The car park rorts is the latest in a series of rorts scandals in recent years. This includes the “sports rorts” scandal, in which the biased distribution of funds and a conflict of interest prompted the resignation of minister Bridget McKenzie.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was also accused of reducing funding to the highest ranked community safety projects and redirecting the funding to projects of his choice, including those not recommended by his department.

At the state level, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was accused of pork-barrelling with the Stronger Communities fund, as she approved $252 million funding before the state election, with 95% of funds going to Coalition electorates.

Rorting isn’t new in Australian politics. More than a decade ago, we had a previous “sports rorts” incident under the Labor Government, in which grants were distributed in favour of the Labor Party. Famously, minister Ros Kelly claimed that decisions on short-listed applications were made on a “great big whiteboard” that was erased without permanent record.

A number of empirical studies over the years have confirmed a strong partisan component to allocating grant money towards the party in power.

Why all the rorts?

Given we have had so many rorts scandals over the years, the question is why they are still happening unabated? Why hasn’t the problem been fixed?

To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the legal and political regulation of grant programs in Australia.

First, the political regulation of grant programs is generally working well. The auditor-general, an independent officer of parliament, has been vigilant in reporting on maladministration of grants in government. Many of the rorts scandals have been brought to light through auditor-general reports.

Parliamentary committees have also been vigilant in investigating grants rorts, and reporting on these incidents.

Sometimes the relevant minister resigns, sometimes they tough it out, depending on the political circumstances and the support of the prime minister or premier.

However, the legal regulation of grant programs is problematic.

Although at the federal level we have sophisticated financial management legislation that provides a framework for grant rules, there are significant loopholes in it.

For one, the government cannot make grant rules for government statutory corporations, or for grants administered under intergovernmental agreements with the states. This is problematic because many grants programs are administered by independent statutory corporations or through the states.

As I have written, there are good reasons to set up independent statutory bodies to administer government policies, rather than leave it to the politicians. This would avoid the partisan interference and short-termism that characterises modern politics. An example of the benefits of this is letting the Reserve Bank set interest rates, rather than politicians.

However, these goals are undermined if ministers interfere with the merit-based decisions of the independent bodies in favour of partisan considerations.

Another issue is that breaches of these grant rules do not result in any legal penalty. There is no penalty for breaching the Commonwealth grant rules in the financial management legislation. So there are no repercussions for breaching the rules, which may be why politicians do it with impunity.

A further problem is the limited opportunity for grant applicants to challenge partisan decisions. Courts in judicial review will confine themselves to the legality of the decisions. They will not intrude into public policy considerations by ministers, such as which applicants deserve the grants.




Read more:
Remembrance of rorts past: why the McKenzie scandal might not count for a hill of beans


How can we fix the system?

In light of the pervasive and repeated rorts scandals that have plagued Australian politics, it is time to reform the rules.

First, the loopholes need to be closed. The Commonwealth grant rules provide a detailed set of guidelines that ministers and government officials must follow on grant application and selection processes. This should be broadened to include situations where the Commonwealth distributes grants through an independent statutory corporation or through the states.

Second, there needs to be legal enforcement of the grant rules. This may lead to more effective legal challenges of partisan grant decisions in the courts.

With no legal repercussions for breaches, politicians will continue to flout the rules.

It is clear the probity of the use of public funds is essential to maintaining public trust in the Australian political system. The repeated rorts scandals in Australia undermines a basic tenet of our democracy: that allocation of public money should be administered responsibly by our elected officials.

We need to reform the regulation of grant programs in Australia to enhance the probity, transparency and integrity of the use of public funds.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.