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.


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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


If Beazley had become prime minister instead of Rudd, might we have had more stable government?

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Kevin Rudd was swept into office at the 2007 federal election.
AAP/Tony Phillips

Paul Strangio, Monash University

A decade ago this month, Australian voters unceremoniously ended John Howard’s prime ministership and swept Kevin Rudd into office.

From today’s vantage point, the November 2007 federal election appears like a hinge between two political eras: one stable and marked by executive mastery; the other chaotic and characterised by confounded leadership.

In reality, some of the dynamics of recent troubles – a fastening news cycle and governments in permanent campaign mode, and a domineering Prime Minister’s Office staffed by personal loyalists – were emerging in Howard’s time.

Moreover, it’s easy to forget now that the Coalition governments of 1996-2007 suffered more than their share of political storms and that Howard, frequently lagging in the opinion polls, conjured his longevity from Houdini-like escapes at election time.

Even so, it’s difficult not to view November 2007 as a dividing line in the nation’s politics. But what if the real hinge date was December 2006, when Labor removed Kim Beazley as its leader and replaced him with Rudd? That partyroom vote ended Beazley’s second period as opposition leader.

The first began after the Keating government’s defeat in March 1996. At the next federal election of October 1998, Beazley fell just short of claiming the prime ministership, despite Labor winning the two-party-preferred vote. He stepped aside following the November 2001 election, after Labor lost ground in a contest shadowed by the September 11 attacks and Howard’s exploitation of the Tampa incident to politically weaponise the issue of border control.

Beazley was resurrected as Labor leader in January 2005, after the party had first discarded Simon Crean and then conducted an ill-fated experiment with Mark Latham.

Kim Beazley’s low-key leadership style would probably have translated into a more ordered, collegial and measured government.
AAP/Mark Graham

Beazley’s fall in December 2006 was the product of a political marriage of convenience between Rudd and Julia Gillard. In the light of the civil war that duo fought between 2010 and 2013, it is ironic that in the first flushes of their partnership they were dubbed the “dream team”.

In the recently published first volume of his autobiography, Rudd is adamant that rolling Beazley was a necessary precondition to Labor’s 2007 election victory. He refers to “consistently negative personal support levels over more than a year and a half of public opinion polling” as evidence that voters “had made their mind up” about Beazley. Where have we heard that phrase before?

In her 2014 memoir, however, Gillard admitted to retrospective misgivings about deposing Beazley:

Was I wrong in my judgement of Kim Beazley in 2006? I fear I may have been, that what I inferred as his lack of interest in the work of opposition was really a more nuanced understanding of electoral politics than I then possessed … Kim may rightly have judged that we were so likely to win that a quieter biding of time in the lead-up to election day was a better approach than strenuous political exertion.

Gillard adds:

In politics you never get to run the control test. We will never know what would have happened in a John Howard versus Kim Beazley election or what a Beazley government might have been like.

For a moment, let’s entertain a counter-factual scenario. Could Labor have won in 2007 with Beazley at the helm? Beazley had been a well-liked leader at his two previous election contests: the Australian Election Studies for 1998 and 2001 found he outrated Howard on popularity.

And, while it is true that his personal approval ratings had sagged in his second coming as leader, in the six months prior to his overthrow, Labor headed the Coalition on two-party-preferred terms in nine out of 13 Newspolls.

Julia Gillard in Question Time in 2013.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Unquestionably, Rudd’s ascension to the leadership was a shot in the arm for Labor’s poll figures. The party then surged well in front of the Coalition. Yet analyses of the 2007 election result have suggested that, despite the hoopla of Labor’s leader-focused “Kevin 07” campaign, the most decisive reasons for the Coalition’s defeat was voter hostility to its WorkChoices industrial relations regime and fatigue with a more-than-decade-old government and its prime minister.

If Beazley rather than Rudd had become prime minister in 2007, there seems little doubt that it would have been a different Labor government. The knocks on Beazley as leader, which were marshalled against him in the December 2006 ballot, were that he lacked urgency, was complacent, too congenial (he “lacked ticker” in a phrase Howard had earlier deployed against him).

Yet, by contrast to the manic, controlling and grandiose tendencies that Rudd brought to office, Beazley’s low-key leadership style would in all probability have translated into a more ordered, collegial and measured government.

Indeed, as a protégé of Bob Hawke and senior minister in his governments, Beazley had a model for how to be a successful Labor prime minister. His governing experience – he was also deputy prime minister under Paul Keating – was something that both Rudd and Gillard lacked. He certainly better understood and was more of a creature of the Labor Party than Rudd, which was another of the latter’s fatal flaws.

It is also relevant to note that the deposition of Beazley in 2006 was symptomatic of a culture of leadership disposability to which a skittish Labor succumbed when in opposition to Howard. The party changed leaders four times between 2001 and 2006. This was a culture that Labor took with it into government, desensitising it to the folly of ambushing Rudd in 2010 and then toppling Gillard in 2013.

Had Labor stilled its hand in December 2006 and Beazley become prime minister in 2007, might Australia have avoided the cycle of destructive leadership instability and political dysfunction that has disfigured the past decade?

The ConversationAs Gillard observes, we can, of course, never know what would have happened: isolating out the effects of individual agency from the complex flow of historical events is notoriously problematic. It remains, though, an intriguing notion.

Paul Strangio, Associate Professor of Politics, Monash University

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

Why Adani may still get its government loan

Brendan Gogarty, University of Tasmania

Even though Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced she would be vetoing the around A$1 billion loan to Adani for a rail link to its proposed Carmichael coal mine, funds could still flow to the company.

Currently in caretaker mode for the Queensland election, the premier would need the consent of the opposition party to exercise such a right. That is very unlikely given the LNP’s longstanding support of Adani’s mine.

This means any veto could not be exercised until late November, or more realistically, December 2017.

As the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan doesn’t need state approval (but rather explicit veto) it could also mean the money will make its way to Adani, without any direct action by the state government.

How would Commonwealth money make its way to Adani?

The NAIF body was established in 2016 and administers A$5 billion in Commonwealth funds. It’s been empowered to award grants to the northern states and Northern Territory for infrastructure projects. Practically, however, these jurisdictions are used as financial conduits to pass this money to large corporations operating in northern Australia.

The NAIF is established under the “tied-grants” provision of the Constitution, Section 96, which states:

…the [Commonwealth] parliament may grant financial assistance to any state on such terms and conditions as the [Commonwealth] parliament thinks fit.

This section was intended to provide for a short-term (around ten years) mechanism for central funds to be granted to the new states affected by the restructuring of national public finances, after federation. However, the Commonwealth parliament continued to use this section well into the 20th century (and increasingly today) to grant funds to cash-strapped states.

Over time, the Commonwealth started to impose terms that required the states do things that were outside of the Commonwealth’s legislative power – such as education or, indeed, infrastructure development.

The early-20th-century High Court concluded that this was acceptable, as long as the state technically consented to the terms and conditions of the grant.

While the NAIF legislation does not require such consent, under rules issued by the Commonwealth minister the NAIF has to:

… commence consultation with the relevant jurisdiction as soon as practicable after receiving an investment proposal

In Adani’s case, the Investment Rules indicate that the “jurisdiction” is the “state or territory the infrastructure project is located”, namely Queensland. The state government after reviewing project and investment may provide:

… written notification that financial assistance should not be provided to a project.

If that is the case then the NAIF is not permitted to provide the grant money to the applicant (Adani). But that doesn’t mean the state hasn’t consented to the loan.

The problem is that the High Court has never really addressed what the word “state” means in Section 96. Specifically who should the money be paid to: the “parliament of the state”; “government of the state” or, as seems to be implied in the Palaszczuk statements the “premier of the state”?

Conventionally, when we talk of “state consent” to funds, we envision a complex process by which money is paid into a central state fund under the control of state parliament. However, the NAIF legislation appears to allow for merely the state government to consent in a very minimal way, simply by passing the money directly to Adani without the state parliament ever reviewing or approving the transaction.

The NAIF legislation also doesn’t specify who in the government might consent. To date, it is the treasurer who seems to have been most actively involved in working with the NAIF, and indeed Adani. It seems that, so long as the state has been “consulted”, unless it takes active steps to stop the loan, it will go ahead.

Does Palaszczuk have a ‘veto’ power?

The premier’s reasoning for the veto is a continuation of her government’s legacy of having “no role to date in the federal government’s NAIF Loan Assessment Process for Adani” and no “role in the future”.

These statements seem to be contrary to earlier ones by the Queensland treasurer, Curtis Pitt, that the government would “do what is required” to facilitate Commonwealth funds going to Adani. In fact, as early as November 2016, Pitt declared in state parliament:

Since we came to office, we have been working very closely with the Commonwealth government to facilitate … the NAIF – in North Queensland… It is through the NAIF facility, which the state wholeheartedly supports, that Adani can get the infrastructure support that it needs.

As a result, it would seem that everything needed to pass the NAIF funds to Adani is provided for. The only thing to actively stop it is a formal, written statement by Palaszczuk to the NAIF refusing the loan (not to the prime minister as she claimed). Given Palaszczuk’s statement that she intends to write this statement, it is clear that no formal notice has yet been issued to the NAIF.

However, it would seem that a “Master Facility Agreement” between Queensland and the NAIF has already been agreed to and set up. This agreement seems to envision the treasurer of Queensland passing the money to Adani, without it ever going into the state’s bank accounts. Hence, in May this year, the Queensland treasurer confirmed that:

Our role, for constitutional reasons, is the legal financing contract, the loan agreement including the drawdown and timing, repayment of interest — all of those things have to have state involvement constitutionally.

So, unless the Queensland opposition takes the very unlikely step of agreeing to a veto, Palaszczuk would appear to lack the power to issue one herself until after the election.

The ConversationIn the interim, NAIF has no legal restrictions on issuing the loan and, with the apparent agreement of the Queensland treasury, this money is likely to flow through to Adani. While Palaszczuk can say her government gave no active assistance to Adani, without active measures to block the loan, it would certainly be a silent partner in the process.

Brendan Gogarty, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Tasmania

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

Grattan on Friday: Turnbull government reels from new twist in the Parry affair

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Malcolm Turnbull’s current mood about how all this is playing out can be easily imagined.
Dan Peled/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The sudden exit from parliament of Senate president Stephen Parry has turned into a toxic blame game, in a further sign of a government crumbling into chaos.

Malcolm Turnbull and deputy Senate leader Mathias Cormann lashed out at Parry for not publicly revealing earlier his probable British dual citizenship, confirmed this week. Then – oops. It turns out Parry had shared his circumstances with some senior colleagues.

Unsettled by the odium now flowing in his direction, Parry has revealed that when the Nationals’ Fiona Nash in August announced she’d been informed she was a British citizen by descent, he realised he likely was as well.

He spoke to “various ministers”. Though he wasn’t ordered to shut up about his situation, the tone of the conversations suggested he say nothing until the High Court ruled in the “citizenship seven” cases, with the government believing that its two ministers, Barnaby Joyce and Nash, would be found eligible to sit in parliament.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has confirmed he was one of the ministers Parry consulted.

“Former senator Parry mentioned to me a few weeks ago that he was endeavouring to check his family’s records,” Fifield said in a statement late Thursday. “The onus is on all senators and members to satisfy themselves of their circumstances and I encouraged senator Parry to do so. He called me on Monday to say that he had sought advice from the British Home Office and had advised the attorney-general of this.”

It is believed Fifield did not discuss the timing of the court decision with Parry.

Turnbull was not among those Parry spoke to during those weeks. His current mood about how all this is playing out can be easily imagined.

Turnbull said at a Wednesday news conference in Jerusalem that he was disappointed that Parry “didn’t make public this issue … quite some time ago”.

“I learnt about it probably about the same time you did,” he told journalists.

He wasn’t the only one badly caught out. Brandis had declared he had “absolutely no reason to believe” there were any more Coalition MPs who were dual citizens. That was on Sunday television – just a day before Parry landed a grenade in his lap on Monday.

Brandis that day informed the Prime Minister’s Office, but the information was not passed on immediately to Turnbull. Why? It is said because of the lack of clarity at that stage about the facts.

What an incredible train of events. Instead of telling the Senate’s presiding officer that he should be transparent, for the sake of the integrity of both the government and the parliament, senior government members allegedly encouraged him to wait and see.

This can only reinforce the public’s deep distrust of politicians.

Richard Goyder, outgoing managing director of Wesfarmers, spoke for many when told the National Press Club (before the Parry blowback) that the affair was “almost the straw which broke the camel’s back” on trust.

“To have someone in a position of real authority in the country sit on information, and even sit on it from the prime minister, and then hope bad news went away … and not deal with it – I do think that has an impact,” he said.

And now what started out as Parry’s failure to disclose in timely fashion has morphed into something with hints of a cover up by ministers. The opposition has been given another break.

It hardly seemed possible this week could be as bad as last, which saw the Michaelia Cash-AWU debacle and the High Court blow that felled two ministers, triggering a byelection in Joyce’s New England seat. But it has been.

The Parry affair has turbo-charged the pressure for an audit of all MPs’ parliamentary eligibility, with some Liberal MPs jumping on the bandwagon, using it as leverage in the internal Liberal wars.

Kevin Andrews, a political enemy of Turnbull, said on Sky that “Australians are looking for strong and decisive leadership” – adding that if he were prime minister, he’d be asking the Australian Electoral Commission to do an audit.

Eric Abetz also backed an audit, declaring in an interview with the ABC “chances are” more dual citizens are in parliament. For good measure, Abetz, though defending Parry, said he’d have advised him to “have thrown his lot in with the other seven”.

The government has dug in against an audit, arguing it would be complex and that it’s up to individuals to check out their citizenship, or for others to bring forward allegations.

Turnbull was typically hyperbolic. “What is an audit?” he asked. “Does that mean that somebody is going to undertake extensive genealogical research on every member of parliament and senator? Undertake extensive research into foreign laws?”

Well, actually, the auditor would ask the questions that careful candidates now ask themselves and any experts to whom they may need to turn.

Obviously there’s a real fear in the government that an audit could find more MPs in breach and lead to further byelections, at worst threatening the government and at best causing a shambles. With its back against the wall, it’s been a mercy for the Coalition that Labor – probably also nervous despite having good checking processes – has been (so far) on a unity ticket in opposing an audit.

Adding to the government’s pain this week has been Liberal-National scuffling over who’ll get Parry’s lucrative post, and ugly Liberal in-fighting as conservative enemies of cabinet minister Christopher Pyne, a moderate who is a ferocious factional player, tossed out dirt about him.

The scrapping over the Senate presidency is likely to be resolved in favour of the Liberals, but it highlights the present unhelpful tensions between the Coalition partners. Equally unhelpful is the assault against Pyne, which has a further negative spin off for the South Australian Liberals, already struggling ahead of next year’s state election.

The ConversationThe Turnbull government has become like a plane with its engines stalled, hurtling groundwards, with hopes of repowering frustrated at every turn.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Why the government was wrong to reject an Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’

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Indigenous people feel powerless in their own country, as articulated in the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Harry Hobbs, UNSW

Indigenous leaders have decried Malcolm Turnbull’s rejection of the Referendum Council’s recommendations as a “real kick in the guts”, having “broken First Nations’ hearts”, and derailed the process and likelihood of Indigenous constitutional recognition.

The council had recommended a referendum be held to change Australia’s Constitution to establish an Indigenous “Voice to Parliament”. While details were to be worked out in discussion with Indigenous communities, it was envisaged that such a body would empower Indigenous people to have a voice on legislation and policy that affects them.

This idea followed an 18-month process of consultation and debate, including six months of regional dialogues with Indigenous people across Australia. At these dialogues, Indigenous people documented their feelings of voicelessness in Australian politics.

The process culminated in a constitutional convention at Uluru, where around 250 delegates agreed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Further reading: Listening to the heart: what now for Indigenous recognition after the Uluru summit?

Why was the Voice to Parliament rejected?

Turnbull, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion and Attorney-General George Brandis set out the three reasons why cabinet rejected the Voice to Parliament.

  • First, the government did not believe such a body was “desirable”, arguing that the “radical” proposal undermines equality and the principle of one-person one-vote.

  • Second, the government considered it was unclear how the Voice to Parliament would work.

  • Third, and consequently, the government argued that it would “inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament” and would therefore not be “capable of winning acceptance in a referendum”.

These reasons mirror those of an Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) research brief that was distributed to all federal MPs in July this year. The IPA argued an Indigenous voice to parliament is “radical”, “divisive and undemocratic”, and “vague”.

The IPA noted further that “Indigenous Australians already have a voice to parliament” – like all citizens, they have an opportunity to vote in elections.

Are these reasons fair?

The government’s reasons have been attacked as “dishonest” and “disingenuous”.

The Voice to Parliament was widely regarded as modest change. Instead of a judicially enforced prohibition on racial discrimination, the body was designed to provide “active participation in the democratic life of the state”.

This is important. The body would actually rectify a persistent democratic fault in Australian society. Although Indigenous people enjoy “full equality” in the electoral arena, their position as an extreme numerical minority makes it difficult for them to be heard by government.

As the Uluru statement articulates, Indigenous people feel powerless in their own country. A Voice to Parliament would merely empower:

… the First Peoples of Australia to speak to the parliament and to the nation about the laws and policies that affect them.

In this sense, such a body would not challenge Australian democracy. It would instead realise its ideals. For this reason, it was supported by many constitutional conservatives.

Further, it is unfair to dismiss the proposal as lacking detail, as it was shaped to allow parliament to design the body. In any case, issues of design had not been ignored. The Cape York Institute provided a 78-page report to government detailing design options.

Finally, in defending the decision not to proceed to a referendum, Scullion said the government knew it “would have absolutely zero chance of success”. It is unclear, however, how the government knows this for certain.

Scullion explained further that:

I don’t need evidence … we have done a lot of polling, not on this particular [] matter, but on other matters.

Ultimately, it is impossible to tell whether the body would achieve support at a referendum. Although many surveys indicate support for constitutional change, they were all conducted in the absence of a specific proposal. No polling has been done on a Voice to Parliament.

Where to now for constitutional recognition?

A Voice to Parliament is not yet dead. At the Garma Festival in August, Bill Shorten committed to the body, recognising that it represents a strong consensus aspiration of Indigenous people.

However, without government support, a referendum will not be held.

The government has said it will establish a joint parliamentary committee with the opposition to examine alternative proposals for constitutional change to benefit Indigenous people. It remains:

… confident that we can … develop constitutional amendments that will unite our nation rather than establish a new national representative assembly open to some Australians only.

But it is difficult to see how this is possible.

Indigenous people were asked directly what recognition meant to them. They have responded, and the government has dismissed their views. It is likely, then, that Indigenous people will campaign against a proposal devised by parliament. They will continue to push for a “voice”. Their struggle does not end.

Treaty, now?

The Uluru statement also proposed the establishment of a Makarrata Commission. The commission would supervise a process of agreement-making between Indigenous people and governments, and truth-telling about Australia’s colonial past.

It is not yet clear whether Turnbull supports these proposals. However, to some degree, it is immaterial.

Steps toward treaties have already been made in several Australian states and territories. Indigenous people in Victoria and South Australia are discussing how negotiations with state governments should be conducted. The Northern Territory has also committed to a process of treaty negotiations.

Further reading: Will treaties with Indigenous Australians overtake constitutional recognition?

Treaties are constitutional recognition. They can also be realised without a referendum.

Treaties have long been a desire of Indigenous people. However, they have re-emerged in recent years as Indigenous people have become frustrated at the national process of constitutional recognition. It is only natural that efforts will redouble in this area.

But while treaties are important, they will not empower Indigenous peoples at the national level. A Voice to Parliament remains a key aspiration.

In the Uluru statement, Indigenous people invited non-Indigenous Australians to:

… walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

The ConversationThe Turnbull government has chosen to ignore this call. But there’s still time for the rest of us to accept this invitation.

Harry Hobbs, PhD Candidate, Constitutional Law and Indigenous Rights, UNSW

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

Joyce will be safe in New England but the High Court disrupts the government

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In more than an understatement, Malcolm Turnbull opened his news conference after the High Court’s swingeing blow to the government by saying this was “clearly not the outcome we were hoping for”.

And indeed, not the outcome Turnbull had so unequivocally predicted when, in August, he told parliament that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce “is qualified to sit in the house and the High Court will so hold”.

As the weeks have gone by the government has become less and less confident that the position of Joyce and his deputy, senator Fiona Nash, would be upheld. At the same time, the betting on the survival of the third National, Matt Canavan, firmed, as the complexities of Italian law were examined.

Joyce himself says he wasn’t surprised he was disqualified. “In my gut I thought this is the way it was going to go,” he told reporters on Friday. As things have turned out, Joyce’s gut was a better predictor than Turnbull’s barrister background.

In a not-so-subtle dig, Joyce told the ABC’s 7.30 that tactically, it would have been better to have gone to a byelection immediately when he became aware he was a New Zealand citizen by descent, but he had deferred to the solicitor-general’s advice – which played up the prospect of a court victory.

Of the seven current and ex-MPs before the court in the dual citizenship cases, only Canavan and Nick Xenophon have had their eligibility upheld. Not that Xenophon is staying around in federal politics – he made his farewells on Friday and after clearing some odds and ends he will be off to create a storm in South Australian politics.

As well as kiboshing the two Nationals, the court knocked out One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, who is now pitching for Queensland politics; it also rejected the eligibility of the two Greens, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, who’d already resigned from the Senate.

The December 2 New England byelection that Joyce will now contest is a huge distraction for the government. As it battles with the states to get its energy policy in place, and deals with other issues in coming weeks, a mini judgement day is the last thing it needs.

The government has moved to get the byelection over as quickly as possible, with writs issued immediately.

In the only good news Joyce received on Friday, Tony Windsor, the one-time independent member for New England, announced he won’t contest the byelection.

Windsor had tormented Joyce by a submission to the High Court arguing against his eligibility, and by keeping open the option of entering the race if there was a vote.

But, apart from any other considerations, he probably judges that his chances of taking the seat would be poor. Even though he is not a candidate, the Nationals expect he will be running interference in the campaign.

It is nearly unthinkable that Joyce won’t win, whomever he now faces. Labor polls poorly in the seat. A protest vote could go to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, One Nation, and independents. But recent polling, which was done assuming Windsor ran, has shown Joyce in a comfortable position.

The court decision leaves the cabinet something of a mess. A temporary patch-up has had to be done until after the byelection, with Turnbull taking Joyce’s ministerial duties – he was sworn into agriculture and water resources on Friday – and other ministers acting in Nash’s roles. This obviously means there will be some limbo in the affected portfolios.

A permanent reshuffle has to wait. When it comes the Nationals are expected to lose a frontbench position, because in a recount for Nash’s seat a Liberal is set to replace her.

After the dust settles the Nationals will also have to elect a new deputy.

With Joyce and Nash out, the Nationals’ voice will be more muted in cabinet for a time, although at least Canavan is back, returned on Friday to his resources ministry.

The Nationals have been preparing for this court outcome (if only they had been as diligent in checking their MPs’ constitutional eligibility). Joyce has been paying a noticeable amount of attention to his seat in recent weeks. On Friday night the Nationals were setting up their Tamworth campaign office, and people were appearing in Barney Army t-shirts.

Leadership arrangements were also smoothly put in place, by the Nationals’ parliamentary party and the party’s organisation. Joyce is staying overall party leader while the party’s Senate leader, Nigel Scullion, becomes the interim leader of the parliamentary party.

But, in a sign of the immediate disruption the High Court fallout is causing the government, Turnbull has delayed his trip to Israel – he was due to leave Saturday to join the commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba.

And late Friday, the government couldn’t say who will be acting prime minister when Turnbull undertakes the Israel trip or goes to APEC soon. While Nationals might accept that Julie Bishop would be more obvious than Scullion for that role, they were not pleased to see the Bishop name in the media. They will be wanting Turnbull to observe the niceties of proper consultation.

The opposition will use the coming weeks to cause what mischief it can. Joyce being disqualified means the government has lost its majority on the floor of the house, although Turnbull told the media “we have a majority of members in the House of Representatives, even in the absence of Barnaby Joyce”. This is, if you count in the casting vote of Speaker Tony Smith.

The government has a buffer, thanks to the crossbench and the Speaker, against any no confidence vote. But prepare for coming Labor shenanigans in parliament. It won’t try a no-confidence motion that would look bad and be lost. But it could, for example, join with crossbenchers to push for a motion for a royal commission on banking, and something on penalty rates, trying to lure Queensland National George Christensen across.

Labor is also questioning the ministerial decisions Joyce and Nash made. Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said: “Every decision made by both Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash since October last year is under a legal cloud. Labor will now take some time to work carefully through the implications of the [High Court] decision.”

Just to complicate the situation further, there is a general anticipation of an imminent announcement of a Queensland state election, with neither side of politics confident in predicting the likely outcome but both anticipating that One Nation could hold the balance of power.

How the Liberal National Party polls in Queensland will have Canberra fallout, because it will be read as a pointer to the general mood there – and Queensland will be critical to the federal Coalition at the next election.

The ConversationAs for New England, while no-one anticipates Joyce will fail to retain the seat, the sort of result he gets will be important to how the government ends a difficult year.


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull government says no to Indigenous ‘Voice to Parliament’

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has rejected the Referendum Council’s call for a national Indigenous representative assembly to be put into the Constitution, effectively taking the debate about constitutional recognition back to square one.

Malcolm Turnbull, Attorney-General George Brandis and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, responding to the council’s report, said: “The government does not believe such an addition to our national representative institutions is either desirable or capable of winning acceptance in a referendum”.

The proposal for the body came late into the debate about recognising Indigenous people in the Constitution. It was driven by prominent Indigenous leader Noel Pearson, and taken up by the May convention of Indigenous people in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, before being put forward by the council.

The cause of getting an Indigenous voice also gained support from some constitutional conservatives who preferred it to adding to the Constitution or rewriting parts of it.

The longer the debate about a constitutional change has gone on, the less chance there has seemed of community consensus. It has become clear that Indigenous people will not countenance a minimalist position, while a more radical proposal would not get the support required in a referendum, which must obtain an overall majority and win in a majority of states.

ALso, many Indigenous people are now more interested in pursuing a treaty than the earlier-canvased options for constitutional change.

The council proposed that the “Voice to Parliament” would have “the right to be consulted on legislation and policies that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The government’s Thursday statement said: “Our democracy is built on the foundation of all Australian citizens having equal civic rights – all being able to vote for, stand for and serve in either of the two chambers of our national parliament.

“A constitutionally enshrined additional representative assembly which only Indigenous Australians could vote for or serve in is inconsistent with this fundamental principle.

“It would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament. The Referendum Council noted the concerns that the proposed body would have insufficient power if its constitutional function was advisory only.”

The challenge was to find a constitutional amendment that would succeed and which did not undermine the principles of unity, equality and one-person one-vote, the statement said. The government wants consideration to return now to work done over the past decade “largely with bipartisan support”.

The rejection of the Voice to Parliament was backed by Tony Abbott, who as opposition leader and prime minister promoted constitutional recognition of Indigenous people. He favoured a minimalist model and at one stage aimed for a May 2017 referendum, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the historic 1967 referendum.

Abbott said in a Facebook post on Thursday that recognition should “come in a way that brings all of us together and this proposal, for a further level of indigenous representation, was unlikely to achieve that”.

But Labor’s shadow assistant minister for Indigenous affairs, Pat Dodson, one of several Indigenous members of federal parliament, described the government decision as “a real kick in the guts for the Referendum Council”.

Pearson told the ABC Turnbull had “broken the first nations’ hearts of this country” expressed in the Uluru Statement.

“The prime minister and his cabinet have arrogated to themselves the entire judgement of this fundamental issue of how do we recognise Indigenous Australians,” he said.

“Why not just put it to the Australian people, as we are putting to a plebiscite the question about same-sex marriage at this very moment?”

The Uluru Statement Working Group said it was disappointed at the government’s decision. Its co-chair, Josephine Crawshaw, said Turnbull understood that a minimalist approach would not satisfy many Indigenous people.

The Conversation“Our aspirations are high, but the prime minister appears to believe that the Australian people will not support those aspirations. This is a very unfortunate view for the prime minister to hold, particularly when he has the highest platform to inspire all Australians to achieve great things for this country and for all its people.”

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Jacinda Ardern to become NZ prime minister following coalition announcement

File 20171019 1048 19a944m.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Jacinda Ardern is set to become New Zealand’s new prime minister.

Richard Shaw, Massey University

During the dim, distant past of New Zealand’s recent election campaign, soon-to-be-former prime minister Bill English grumbled that the “stardust” that was falling thick and fast on new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern would settle.

Well, it just has – in such quantities that some time next week Ardern will be sworn in as the 40th – and second youngest – prime minister of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

From stardust to PM

It is quite some denouement to an extraordinary period in New Zealand’s political history. A little under three months ago, Ardern was the deputy leader of a Labour Party that was polling in minor party territory. From deputy leader of a struggling opposition party to prime minister in under three months – that’s stardust on an industrial scale.

For Winston Peters, too, who is likely to become the next deputy prime minister (for the second time), it is a spectacular return to form. Three times Peters has been the veto player in the government formation process. On each occasion he has kept everyone guessing, including, it appears, members of his own caucus.

Read more: Long live the kingmaker: Winston Peters and the NZ election

So, here’s what we know. The new government will comprise a formal coalition between Labour and NZF (the first executive coalition we’ve had on this side of the ditch since 2005). As a minority administration, it will govern with support on confidence and supply from the Greens.

NZF will hold four cabinet positions and an additional slot outside of cabinet. This means that just over half of its caucus will be in the political executive. The Greens, too, will – for the first time in their history – have ministerial portfolios: three outside of Cabinet and one parliamentary under-secretary.

But there’s plenty we don’t yet know. We’re not sure who will occupy which portfolios (although we’re fairly sure Peters will be the deputy prime minister). Neither will we know the nature of the policy detail (if any) in the executive agreement and its associated confidence and supply document until next week.

Few rules to form a government

The last time NZF was in formal coalition – ironically, with the National Party in 1996 – there was an awful lot of devil in that detail. Since then, New Zealand governments have moved away from policy-prescriptive agreements to arrangements that emphasise procedural certainty and clarity. However, the attention that has clearly been paid to matters of policy in the negotiations over the last three weeks suggests we may see a swing back to a greater emphasis on policy substance.

Once the dust – wherever it happens to have come from – has settled on today’s momentous events, a number of features of this election will merit careful reflection.

In particular, questions will certainly be asked of the way in which New Zealand governments are formed. Almost alone amongst mature parliamentary democracies, there are few or no formal rules governing the process. Apart from the constitutional requirement that the government is formed by the party or parties able to demonstrate to the governor-general that they command the confidence of parliament, there is little formal guidance and few restrictions on the process.

That goes a long way to explaining why it has taken a few days short of four weeks to form this government and why, for the first time under the mixed member proportional (MMP) electoral system in New Zealand, the incoming government will not be led by the party that won the largest number of seats in the election. All of this is perfectly constitutional, but disconcerting for some New Zealanders nonetheless.

Expect big, boisterous opposition

What next? National will be furious. Expect some talk over the next couple of days of the “moral authority” the party had to govern, given that it won a clear plurality of parliamentary seats. While the constitution recognises no such thing, National certainly had political precedence on its side.

National will ride that wave of righteous anger – internally at least, if not outwardly for public consumption – for some time to come. Hell hath no fury and so forth. And if the Labour/NZF/Green governing bloc starts fraying at the edges, then National’s claim to “moral authority” will start to look a little less imaginary.

But this might not have been a bad election for National to lose. The party can now move on from the Key years, start generating fresh ideas and begin bringing through some of its younger talent as it remakes itself as a conservative force. Moreover, National will comprise a big, boisterous opposition. The parliamentary conventions and rules governing the allocation of questions in the house, speaking time and membership on select committee positions mean that it will be able to make life very challenging for the new administration.

Human face of capitalism

And what of the new government? For Labour, NZF and Greens – which between them represent 50.5% of those who cast party votes in the election (against National’s 44.4%) – this is the chance to effect change following nine years of orthodox neoliberal government from National.

Peters’ claim when announcing his decision that he wanted to be part of a government that would restore ‘capitalism with a human face’ falls far short of a clarion call for the destruction of neoliberalism. It does, however, signal a significant change in policy direction. For those New Zealanders on the wrong side of the ledger when it comes to our dire performance in health, housing, productivity, wage and salary growth, poverty and so on, that change can’t come soon enough.

The ConversationThis, then, will be a legacy government, one that represents a generational shift in thinking away from the priorities of the baby boomers towards the concerns of the millennials. The irony that such a thing has been brought about by a man on the other side of 70 won’t be lost on anyone. “Let’s do this” was Ardern’s campaign slogan. Now we get to see how New Zealand’s political odd couple go.

Richard Shaw, Professor of Politics, Massey University

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

Household savings figures in Turnbull’s energy policy look rubbery

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The big questions about Malcolm Turnbull’s energy policy will be, for consumers, what it would mean for their bills and, for business, how confident it can be that the approach would hold if Bill Shorten were elected.

The government needs to convince people they’ll get some price relief, but even as Turnbull unveiled the policy the rubbery nature of the household savings became apparent.

Crucially, the policy aims to give investors the certainty they have demanded. But the risk is this could be undermined if Labor, which is well ahead in the polls, indicated an ALP government would go off in yet another direction.

And most immediately, there is also the issue of states’ attitudes, because their co-operation is needed for the policy’s implementation. Turnbull talked to premiers after the announcement, and the plan goes to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) next month.

Turnbull describes the policy as “a game-changer” that would deliver “affordability, reliability and responsibility [on emissions reduction]”.

Unsurprisingly – given it would end the subsidy for renewables, rejecting Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s recommendation for a clean energy target – the policy sailed through the Coalition partyroom with overwhelming support.

Finkel later chose to go along with it rather than be offended by the discarding of his proposal. The important thing, he said, was that “they’re effectively adopting an orderly transition” for the energy sector, which was what he had urged.

In the partyroom Tony Abbott was very much a minority voice when he criticised the plan; his desire for a discussion of the politics was effectively put down by a prime minister who had his predecessor’s measure on the day.

The policy – recommended by the Energy Security Board, which includes representatives of the bodies operating and regulating the national energy market – is based on a new “national energy guarantee”, with two components.

Energy retailers across the National Electricity Market, which covers the eastern states, would have to “deliver reliable and lower emissions generation each year”.

A “reliability guarantee” would be set to deliver the level of dispatchable energy – from coal, gas, pumped hydro, batteries – needed in each state. An “emissions guarantee” would also be set, to contribute to Australia’s Paris commitments.

According to the Energy Security Board’s analysis, “it is expected that following the guarantee could lead to a reduction in residential bills in the order of A$100-115 per annum over the 2020-2030 period”. The savings would phase up during the period.

When probed, that estimate came to look pretty rough and ready. More modelling has to be done. In Question Time, Turnbull could give no additional information about the numbers, saying he only had what was in the board’s letter to the government.

So people shouldn’t be hanging out for the financial relief this policy would bring. Although to be fair, Turnbull points to the fact it is part of a suite of measures the government is undertaking.

Business welcomed the policy, but made it clear it wanted more detail and – crucially – that it is looking for bipartisanship.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the policy’s detail “and its ability to win bipartisan and COAG support will be critical”. Andy Vesey, chief executive of AGL, tweeted that “with bipartisan support” the policy would provide investment certainty.


The Australian Industry Group said it was “a plausible new direction for energy policy” but “only bipartisanship on energy policy will create the conditions for long-term investment in energy generation and by big energy users”.

It’s not entirely clear whether the government would prefer a settlement or a stoush with the opposition on energy.

Turnbull told parliament it had arranged for the opposition to have a briefing from the Energy Security Board, and urged Labor to “get on board” with the policy.

But Labor homed in on his not giving a “guarantee” on price, as well as the smallness of the projected savings. Climate spokesman Mark Butler said it appeared it would be “just a 50 cent [a week] saving for households in three years’ time, perhaps rising to as much as $2.00 per week in a decade”.

But while the opposition has gone on the attack, it is also hedging its bets, playing for time.

“We’ve got to have … some meat on the bones,” Butler said. “Because all the prime minister really announced today was a bunch of bones.”

“We need detail to be able to sit down with stakeholders, with the energy industry, with big businesses that use lots of energy, with stakeholder groups that represent households, and obviously state and territory governments as well, and start to talk to them about the way forward in light of the announcement the government made today,” he said.

The initial reaction from state Labor is narky. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it seemed Finkel had been replaced by “professor Tony Abbott as the chief scientist”, while South Australia’s Jay Weatherill claimed Turnbull “has now delivered a coal energy target.”

These are early days in this argument. Federal Labor will have to decide how big an issue it wants to make energy and climate at the election. Apart from talking to stakeholders and waiting for more detail, it wants to see whether the plan flies at COAG.

If it does, the federal opposition could say that rather than tear up the scheme in government, it would tweak it and build on it. That way, Labor would avoid criticism it was undermining investment confidence.

The ConversationBut if there is an impasse with the states and the plan is poorly received by the public, the “climate wars” could become hotter.


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Federal government unveils ‘National Energy Guarantee’ – experts react

Alan Pears, RMIT University; Anna Skarbek, Monash University, and Dylan McConnell, University of Melbourne

The federal government has announced a new energy policy, after deciding against adopting the Clean Energy Target recommended by chief scientist Alan Finkel.

The new plan, called the National Energy Guarantee, will require electricity retailers to make a certain amount of “dispatchable” power available at all times, and also to reduce the electricity sector’s greenhouse emissions by 26% relative to 2005 levels by 2030.

The government says it will save the average household up to A$115 a year after 2020, while also ensuring reliability. Below, our experts react to the new policy.

Read more: Infographic: the National Energy Guarantee at a glance

“The federal government will be even less important in energy policy”

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University

Business, state governments and the energy industry have been clamouring for more certainty from the federal government. Now they have it: the federal government will be even less important in shaping energy and climate policy than in the past, leaving states and territories, local government, business and households to focus on driving the energy revolution and cutting emissions.

The new policy will impose a reliability obligation on energy retailers, who will presumably have to select an appropriate mix of energy suppliers to meet it, and the devil will be in the detail. If the required proportion of dispatchable electricity is reasonable, and if retailers and new renewable energy generators are free to decide how to deliver it, then the cost and difficulty of compliance may be modest.

For example, retailers and generators could piggyback on the demand response capacity volunteered for the ARENA Demand Response project. This could help accelerate the rollout of a variety of energy storage solutions, in turn reducing the market power of the big generators and driving down energy prices.

On the other hand, if the options are limited, the obligation could increase the market power of the gas industry, meaning no relief from high wholesale prices.

It will also be interesting to see if the obligation is applied across all new generation. If so, it could significantly increase the cost of new coal generation, as retailers would have to cover the risk of failure of a large generation unit, as well as managing its slow response to changing demand.

“Australia’s electricity sector can cut emissions more”

Anna Skarbek, Chief Executive, ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

The key question is whether the emissions guarantee will be strong enough for Australia to meet its current and future climate obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Electricity creates more than one-third of Australia’s total emissions. If we don’t reduce the emissions in our electricity, then we don’t unlock other emissions reduction opportunities such as electric vehicles.

If the National Energy Guarantee aims at cutting emissions by only 26% by 2030 then other sectors across the economy would have to make greater emissions
reductions sooner.

But our research shows that Australia’s electricity sector can cut emissions by 60% below 2005 levels by 2030. Harnessing this potential will help us to reach future targets that progressively increase under the Paris Agreement.

If you don’t achieve deep emissions reductions in the electricity sector, a major strengthening of policy will be needed for the other sectors where there is less momentum currently. For example, stronger action would be needed in transport, buildings, industry and land.

Australia’s climate policy, which is being reviewed before the end of the year, will need to cover more than just the electricity sector. Other measures should include the introduction of vehicle emissions standards, a more stringent
national building code, a dramatic improvement in the uptake of energy efficiency measures across industry and stronger incentives for reforestation.

How the reliability guarantee will work

Dylan McConnell, Researcher at the Australian German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

Under the NEG retailers are responsible for ensuring continuous supply of energy. But retailers don’t always generate the energy they sell. In order to meet the NEG’s reliability obligation retailers will most likely enter into cap contracts with generators.

Unlike other kinds of contracts, which impose a fixed price, cap contracts only come into play when high demand pushes energy prices over a certain pre-agreed level. At that point, generators with flexible dispatchable power guarantee that they will provide extra energy.

The extreme peaks, where the price heads to A$14,000 per megawatt hour – only come a couple of times a year, if at all. To compensate generators for building all that extra capacity, retailers pay a daily premium. Cap contracts essentially act as insurance: they protect retailers from extremely high prices during intense demand, and they offer generators the chance of steep profits.

Cap contracts are a standard part of the market, and retailers already used them to manage their risk exposure. The Energy Security Board has said:

This reliability guarantee would require retailers to hold forward contracts with dispatchable resources that cover a predetermined percentage of their forecast peak load.

If the new reliability standards are in line with retailers own internal guidelines, the impact on the market should be minimal. But if the government imposes higher standards, retailers will have to purchase more cap contracts (or build their own dispatchable power plants).

If demand for cap contracts increase, it would most likely encourage investment in gas and hydro power plants.

The ConversationThis article was updated on October 18.

Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University; Anna Skarbek, CEO at ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University, and Dylan McConnell, Researcher at the Australian German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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